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The Mosin Nagant Rifle: A 3 Part Series

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Part 1: The Birth of the Mosin Nagant

The Mosin Nagant rifle is not a particularly attractive rifle, but it is tough, dependable, fairly accurate and has a long and fascinating history. Wikipedia describes it as “a 5 shot, bolt-action, internal magazine-fed, military rifle developed by the Imperial Russian Army and used by the armed forces of the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union and various other nations.” With more than 37 million units produced since its inception in 1891, the Mosin Nagant is one of the most mass-produced military bolt-action rifles in history, And despite not being manufactured for almost 40 years ago, it is still in use in a number of countries.

The Modernization of the Imperial Russian Army

During the Russo-Turkish War (1877–78), Russian troops equipped mostly with Berdan single-shot rifles suffered heavy losses against Turkish troops carrying Winchester repeating rifles, especially at the bloody Siege of Plevna. This showed Russian commanders the need to modernize the Imperial Army.

In 1889 the Russians formed a “Special Commission for the Testing of Magazine[-fed] Rifles” led by General-Major N. I. Chagin (“the Chagin Commission”). Two of the designs tested were submitted by Captain Sergei Ivanovich Mosin of the Imperial Army and Belgian designer Léon Nagant.

When testing trials conducted by multiple Russian military units concluded in 1891, every unit expressed a preference for Nagant’s rifle; the Commission voted 14-10 to approve that design. However, General Chagin ordered subsequent tests conducted under the Commission's supervision during which Mosin's rifle showed its advantages, leading to its selection over the Nagant. Some speculate that timely intervention by certain high-place military officials led to the selection of a “domestic model” over a “foreign” one.

A Blending of Designs

Originally dubbed the 3-line rifle, Model 1891, the Mosin Nagant was officially adopted by the Russian military in 1891. Although the base design was Mosin’s, several details were incorporated from Nagant's design. One such detail is the attachment of the magazine spring to the magazine base plate. Another feature is the form of the clip that could hold five cartridges to be loaded simultaneously into the magazine. Another element is the form of the "interrupter", a specially-designed part within the receiver that prevents double feeding.

A Potential Scandal Averted

Despite his rifle design not being selected, Nagant filed a patent suit, claiming he was entitled to the sum the winner was to receive from the Chagin Commission. It appeared that Nagant was the first to apply for the international patent protection over the "interrupter", although he borrowed it from Mosin's design initially. Mosin could not apply for a patent since he was an officer of the Russian army, and therefore the design of the rifle was owned by the Government and held the status of a military secret. A scandal was brewing, with Nagant threatening he would not participate in trials held in Russia ever again, and some officials proposing to expel Nagant from any further trials as he borrowed the design of the "interrupter" after it was covered by the "secrecy" status and therefore violated Russian law. But in the end, the Commission recognized that Nagant was one of the few producers not engaged by competitive governments and he was generally eager to cooperate and share experience and technologies, so they paid him 200,000 Russian rubles (the sum that Mosin also received). The rifle did not officially receive the name of Mosin so as not to provoke further debates with Nagant. This turned out to be a fortuitous decision, as in 1895 Nagant's revolver was adopted by the Russian army as the main sidearm.

Despite the Imperial Russian Army’s refusal to use either the Mosin or Nagant names, and because of Nagant's attempts to use the uproar for publicity, the "Mosin Nagant" name was adopted by Western countries (the rifle was never called this in Russia).

In Part 2 of this series, we will explore the manufacture and early war-time use of the Mosin Nagant. In the meantime, check out our full line of high-quality gear and accessories available for modern day use of the enduring Mosin Nagant rifle.