The Mauser-based Model 1889
rifle and its variants were the inaugural products
of what became Fabrique Nationale, and they served the Belgian military for nearly
50 years and in two world wars.
The small nation of Belgium barely avoided involvement in the Franco-Prussian
war of 1870. After that near miss, the Belgians decided a modern, well-equipped
army was required to dissuade possible foreign invaders and also to secure
the nation's colonial interests. Belgium's quest for a repeating
military rifle started in 1880 when state arsenals tried to convert singleshot
Comblain rifles. The results were not satisfactory, and other existing
rifle designs were studied. Official military trials started in 1886 and
included rifles from Kropatschek, Francotte, Remington-Lee and Nagant.
The trials' results were generally unsatisfactory as well, and the tests were extended through the end of 1888. Various designs were introduced and rejected throughout that period. A contender from Mauser was introduced in November 1888 and, although the Mauser became an immediate favorite, the trials board recognized problems with the design of the magazine and the extraction of cases. While promising, the Mauser did not participate in the 1888 field tests. Instead, the board requested that certain modifications be made to the rifle prior to continued testing. The modifications were implemented, and the Mauser was resubmitted in 1889.
The Century Turns To FN
The May 1889 trials included designs from Mauser, Mannlicher, Nagant, Schulof and Pieper. At the conclusion of rather comprehensive comparison and field-testing, the Mauser was selected as the new Belgian service rifle, along with the smokeless and rimless 7.65x53 mm Belgian Mauser cartridge.
As early as the beginning of the trials, the government had established a close liaison with the Belgian arms industry as there was significant political pressure to have the guns manufactured domestically in the armsmaking center of Liege. Bids had been requested from local manufacturers as early as 1887, and, although no specific rifle design had been specified, a quantity of 150,000 rifles was indicated. An order of 150,000 rifles represented a tremendous amount of work, and local gun manufacturers realized that the quantity was well above their individual manufacturing capacities. Therefore, the Liege manufacturers agreed to unite their resources for the contract. More than 10 arms manufacturers joined together, and, in August 1889, formed the legendary arms conglomerate Fabrique Nationale d'Armes de Guerre, or simply FN.
FN was awarded the contract despite the fact that no rifle had yet been accepted. Upon selection of the Mauser, a manufacturing license was obtained from Mauser Waffenwerke, and technical assistance was acquired from Ludwig Loewe in Germany. The FN factory was still under construction when the board of directors learned that the government was also seeking to buy 3,000,000 7.65x53 mm Mauser cartridges. As a result, FN expanded into cartridge manufacture. Factory construction continued throughout 1891. The first three Model 1889 Mauser rifles were assembled on December 31, 1891, and the 150,000 rifle contract was completed by New Year's Eve 1894.
The Model 1889 was a five-shot, magazine-fed bolt-action rifle, and it was among the most advanced designs of the day. Indeed, this first order, and the high regard in which the Belgian Army held the FN Mausers, helped to create FN's impeccable reputation. Orders for Mauser rifles began to come in from a number of countries, but these were usually for other Mauser designs and not the Model 1889.
The Belgian military identified a need for a military carbine, and an initial order for 200 was placed in 1893. It evolved through the years and was adapted for use by several branches of the military. No less than five carbine variations existed in the pre-World War I days, and these variations demonstrated only small differences in overall length, stocks and sling swivels.
Another 20,000 rifles were ordered from FN in 1903 and again in 1906. The Model 1889 slowly replaced the obsolete Comblain rifles until re-equipment was completed by 1908. Interestingly, the Belgian military was extremely progressive in the acceptance of modern designs, but rather slow at replacing outdated equipment.
The Manufacture d'Armes de l'Etat (State Arms Manufacture) was the Belgian state arsenal. The license to manufacture Mauser rifles had been issued to the Belgian government and not directly to FN. Consequently, the government had the right to produce both parts and complete rifles. The state arsenal had a limited role prior to World War I, concentrating primarily on repairs and spare parts.
M1889 Carbine Pictures
The 1916 Carbine and Rifle
There was a major overhaul of Model 1889 in 1916. It consisted only of general repairs and, in some cases, the addition of a loop near the muzzle to allow the use of the converted French bayonets. There were more than five different variants of the 1889 carbine in service; some were repaired and a sling connector and sling swivels added. It should be noted that not all 1889 Mausers were overhauled to 1916 standards, and the reference to guns that were not overhauled at this time as 1889/16 models is incorrect. Guns manufactured in Birmingham, England, and at Hopkins and Alien in Connecticut fit the Model 1916 nomenclature better.
The Interwar Years
The 1889 Mauser remained the standard long arm of the Belgian military after World War I, and no modifications were introduced, although soldiers had complained that the barrel jacket got hot after repeated firing. No new rifles were purchased from FN, either. Guns were overhauled at La Manufacture d'Armes de l'Etat, and parts as well as receivers were manufactured there. The first receivers marked "FABRIQUE D'ARMES DE L'ETAT" (State Arms factory) showed up after World War I and, although marked differently, were products of the same state arsenal.
Aware of post-war military budget reductions, FN marketed an economical training rifle in order to sell the military on the idea of saving ammunition. The "Carabine Scolaire" (scholastic carbine) was introduced after the turn of the century and was a .22 LR, single-shot, scaled-down version of the 1889 rifle. It came complete with scaled down-bayonet, cleaning rod and an option for fixed or adjustable tangent sights. The military did not buy into the concept, and FN sold the trainer solely to military academies.
The Model 1935
The Model 1935 was the first departure from the 1889 design. By the late 1930s, very few new rifles had been purchased since World War I, and the looming threat of Nazi Germany made the Belgians review their arms. Among the rifles available were some Turkish and German Mausers received as war reparations. The Belgians decided to modify them into a new rifle. The stocks came primarily from Turkish Mausers, the small parts and bolts came from the German Mausers, while the receivers and barrels were newly manufactured. The external box magazine was no longer used, and the rifle was chambered for the 7.65x53 mm Belgian Mauser cartridge, but it was the first rifle to feed the newer spitzer bullet version.
The Model 1889/36
It was decided during the Model 1935 assembly program to update the old 1889 Mauser rifles and carbines, which were converted to a new Model 1936 configuration. New barrels and receivers were mounted on existing Model 1889 parts, and the new model was made to feed the newer spitzer bullet cartridge. The stock was modified and shortened, and the barrel jacket finally abandoned.
The legacy of Belgium's turn-of-the-century Mausers rifles is one of technological innovation in arms-making for the sake of a nation's security. Ultimately, it also resulted in the birth of the military and civilian armsmaker now simply known as "FN."
M1950 FN Short Navy Rifle
Copyright National Rifle Association of America
Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved