By Terence Lapin
In an era when typical military rifles were well over four feet long it was inevitable that shorter versions should exist as well. Russia’s M1891 infantry rifle, which at 51.37" and 9.62 lbs. was already obsolescent in an age of shorter, lighter firearms, was a good candidate for miniaturization.
The earliest short versions of the M1891 Mosin-Nagant appeared in the1890s as carbines made for use by certain Russian police units. The three models of this carbine are extremely rare ---only eleven copies of the first model are thought to have been produced; in this writer’s opinion it should be considered only as a prototype--- and are highly unlikely to be encountered. Thus, for practical purposes the first carbine I will discuss here is the M1907, which is often, though incorrectly, called the M1910.
The Russo-Japanese War (1904-05) was a disaster for the Russians, though it did provide an opportunity for certain inadequacies in their small arms to be noticed and addressed, including the need for a general-issue military carbine. The result was the M1907 carbine: at just under 40" long and 7.2 lbs. it was a much more manageable weapon than the infantry rifle.
[Author’s Note: The Dragoon- and Cossack models of the Mosin-Nagant, smaller versions of the infantry rifle, are outside the scope of this article.] The M1907 is easily recognized and distinguishable from later carbine models by its stock, the handguard and fore-end of which extend to within 1.17" of the muzzle face, thus nominally precluding the attachment of a bayonet. That being said, however, the third version did have a bayonet scabbard permanently attached to the side of the stock, indicating that a bayonet was originally contemplated for use with it.
The M1907 carbine has a simple blade as a front sight, and a rear sight marked in graduations from 4 through 19 (i.e., 400 to 1900 arshini, an arshin being an old Russian unit of measurement equivalent to about 28"), but this was changed to a new sight with graduations of 4 through 20 (i.e., 400 to 2000 arshini) after the adoption of the more powerful M1908 cartridge, whose improved ballistics included extension of the bullet’s range. The new round also required a change to the back of the hand guard around the rear sight, and the addition of a recoil bolt to avoid damage to the stock and the shooter; these alterations were made in 1909-10.
The changes caused by adoption of the M1908 round have resulted in much confusion among firearms collectors and historians: they are the origin of the misnomer "M1910" so often applied to this carbine, as that was the year the new features generally began to appear on Mosin-Nagant rifles and carbines.
The M1907 carbine was produced until about 1917, but the weapon was never made in large numbers: the total is believed to be well under 400,000. There are rumors that production of this carbine continued into the 1920s, but this writer has never found any substance to them. Although the first two carbine models were produced at the Sestroryetsk arsenal, all M1907 carbines were made at Izhevsk.
In 1930 the Soviets began production of a shorter, lighter and more modern version of the M1891 rifle (the M1891/30), but the need for a carbine never quite went away. The result of that need was the M1938 carbine. This weapon, like the M1907, was intended to be used primarily by troops other than combat infantry and therefore was not meant to carry a bayonet. Although much more of the barrel is exposed on the M1938
--- 4.12" from the muzzle face to the hand guard, as compared to 1.17" on the M1907 --- the ring around the muzzle on which the front sight is mounted does not permit either the M1891 bayonet or any of the Soviet-era M1891/30 bayonet models to fit the M1938 carbine.
The M1938 carbine is 40" long and weighs 7.62 lbs. --- very slightly larger and heavier than its predecessor. Its rear sight is a smaller, simplified version of that found on the M1891/30 rifle, graduated in hundreds of meters and marked from 1 to 10; the front sight is a cylindrical post surrounded by the protective ring mentioned above. The M1938 was produced only at the Izhevsk arsenal; the
Tula arsenal produced neither M1907 nor M1938 carbines, and the Sestroryetsk arsenal was devoted to making automatic- and semiautomatic weapons until it was abandoned in 1941, shortly before being overrun by German forces during World War II.
The shorter length and lighter weight of the carbine made it popular with the soldiers, and as the war dragged on there was sufficient demand for a version having a bayonet to warrant development of an updated carbine. The new weapon was in essence nothing more than the M1938 carbine with a folding, permanently-attached bayonet. About 50,000 experimental carbines were produced at Izhevsk in 1943, and were tested in combat beginning in November of that year. By February 1944 the new weapon had proved itself and was adopted as the M1944 carbine.
Production of the M1938 ceased in 1945; some can be found in M1944 stocks, indicating an overlap of production between the two models. The M1944 stocks are themselves characterized by a long groove along the right side of the fore-end of the stock into which the bayonet fits when folded back in what Russians call the "march position".
Because of the differences in weight and center of gravity the M1938 and M1944 carbines do not have identical aiming properties. Excess trajectory (i.e., the varying trajectories above the point of aim) differs between the two, for example, and the M1944 was designed to be fired with the bayonet extended --- what the Russians refer to as "battle position". The weapons are otherwise quite similar.
The M1944 was produced at Izhevsk until at least 1948. There is a report, which I am unable to confirm, that it was being made as late as about 1956. M1944 carbines were produced during late World War II at the Tula arsenal as well as at Izhevsk, though in small numbers.
After the war the M1944 went into production at the famous arms works at Radom, Poland (1949-c.1962) and in the Hungarian arsenal at Budapest (1952-1955); it was also made at the Chongqing arsenal (Factory 296, sometimes called Factory 26) in the People’s Republic of China (1953-c.1963). The Chinese designate their model the "Type 53’, after the year of its adoption. In all cases production was almost certainly on machinery provided by the Soviet Union but using some local materials, in particular local woods for the carbine furniture. Although it was not made in other Warsaw Pact countries the M1944 was also used by the East Germans, Albanians, and other nations of the old East Bloc. The M1944 carbines with Romanian markings, though probably assembled in Romania, are in my opinion comprised mostly of parts made elsewhere.
The M1944 carbine, like most Mosin-Nagant models, has had extraordinary staying power. It was used extensively wherever the Soviets and Communist Chinese were involved, directly or otherwise: the Middle East, Africa, Indochina, Cuba, Afghanistan, and other problem areas. As late as this year (1999) it could be seen in television coverage and print reports on the fighting in the Balkans.
The odd little gun known as the M1891/59 carbine should be mentioned at this point. It superficially resembles a M1938 carbine but is made of old M1891 and M1891/30 rifles cut-down and restocked in, usually, cut-down rifle stocks. This weapon can be easily identified by the marking 1891/59 stamped above the chamber, and by the rear sight, which is that of the M1891/30 rifle with the distance numbers above 10 (i.e., 1000 m) crudely ground off. The length of the rear sight bed, being that of a rifle, requires a rifle’s hand guard --- another characteristic in which it differs from the M1938. The front sight of the M1891/59 is the usual ring-around-the post variety found on the M1891/30 rifle and the M1938 and M1944 carbines.
Dealers’ hype to the contrary, M1891/59s are not a Bulgarian military product but are simply old rifles recycled in Russia during the 1950s for use by militia, railway guards, and so forth. Because it is a government-produced small arm made in what were evidently fairly large numbers I consider it to be a legitimate Mosin-Nagant variation.
In roughly the same category as the M1891/59 is the M91/38 carbine. Like the M1891/59 this is a carbine cannibalized from rifles, almost certainly by the Czechs during the1950s. It resembles the M1891/59, but can be distinguished from it by a T-in-a circle marking on the receiver. Unlike the M1891/59, the M91/38 commonly has the polygonal receiver of the original M1891 rifle rather than the round receiver found on all but the earliest M1891/30s. It is not seen in the United States as often as the M1891/59, but is not especially rare.
Sturdy and dependable, the Mosin-Nagant carbines are sure to be with us for many years to come.
Terence Lapin’s latest book, The Soviet Mosin-Nagant Manual, an English translation of the Soviet army’s own training manual, with explanatory notes, is available directly from: Hyrax Publishers, P. O. Box 10885, Arlington, VA 22210, for $15.95 plus $2.75 s & h. (and 72¢ sales tax from VA residents). Checks or money orders only.