The Soviet M44 Carbine: The Last of the WWII Mosin-Nagants

Text and Photos by Charles Brown

Following the drubbing Imperial Russian troops, armed with single shot Berdan rifles, took during the 1876/1877 war with the Ottoman Turks armed with Winchester repeating rifles, the Russian General Staff decided the time was ripe for a repeating rifle of its own. After fiddling around trying to adopt the Berdan to some sort of magazine fed weapon the powers that be decided to open a competition for an entirely new firearm design.

By 1889, when three rifles were submitted for final trials, several things occurred. France had introduced the first small bore, smokeless propellant, magazine rifle, the Mle 1885 8mm Lebel, and everybody jumped on the bandwagon re-equipping the troops with small bore magazine rifles – or at least thinking about doing so. The three rifle designs considered finalists by the Czarist Army’s Special Commission for the Testing of Magazine Rifles were submitted by Captain Sergei Ivanovich Mosin, a Captain Zinoviev, and Leon Nagant, a Belgian firearms designer. Originally, the Commission favored Nagant’s submission, criticizing Mosin’s design as being prone to failures to properly feed the rimmed 7.62x54R cartridges from the magazine. The General in charge of the Commission personally intervened and decreed that further tests of Mosin’s design be undertaken. The new series of tests, which not surprisingly gave the advantage to the hometown entry, was officially named “3 line Rifle, Model 1891” and adopted forthwith.

Czarist Imperial Russia used several archaic units of measure at the time. In the case of the bore the “line” was .1 inches making the rifle a .30 caliber firearm and they also used a linear unit of measure, the arshin, in use since the 1500’s and standardized in the 1700’s at 28 inches or about .71 m or .78 yards to regulate the rear sight on the Model 1891. Eventually the Soviets adopted the metric system and started overhauling the entire existing store of rifles in 1930 and re-graduating the sights in meters.

It is not perfectly clear which parts of Model 1891 rifle as adopted were actually designed by Nagant. Usually, he is credited with the design of the original one piece interrupter/ejector that prevented double feeding and jams associated with the unholy alliance between rimmed cartridges and box type magazines and the stripper clip for magazine charging. However, some sources claim that Nagant, who was apparently a sore loser filing a patent suit after Mosin’s design was adopted, actually borrowed the interrupter from one of Mosin’s earlier designs. After the 1930 changes about the only thing with Leon’s fingerprints left on the rifle were the attachment of the magazine follower spring to the floor plate.

In any event, Mosin-Nagant is a western term, as neither Czarist Russia nor the Soviets used it much if at all. If anyone’s name was attached to the rifle it was usually Mosin’s as in Vintovka Mosina.

All of the variants, and there were many, shared a mechanically common receiver, bolt and trigger/magazine group design. There are two exterior configurations; the receivers produced prior to about 1935-1936 were made with flats and these are commonly called “hex” receivers. Those produced later were round as a production expedient.

The Mosin design features a bolt with a separate head with two forward locking lugs that engage cuts in the receiver. The lugs are horizontal when the bolt is locked. The rear of the straight bolt handle base, which is located in the ejection/loading cut in the receiver, bears against the receiver as a third or safety lug when locked. The bolt throw is just over 90 degrees and the firing pin is cocked as the bolt handle is lifted. While ergonomically a disaster, it is an extremely strong action.

The bolt face completely encloses the cartridge head and uses a hook type self sprung removable extractor. There is no real provision for escaping gas from a ruptured cartridge, although given the design of the bolt and 7.62x54R cartridge, ruptured cases are not as likely as one would think even given the erratic quality of ammunition.

The trigger has a considerable amount of free travel before all of the slack is removed, but the author’s sample M44 breaks cleanly.

The cocking piece at the rear of the bolt also acts as the safety. To place the rifle on safe the cocking piece is pulled to the rear compressing the 30 pound or so firing pin spring and rotated 90 degrees to the left (counter clockwise); this locks the firing pin. This is likely the second worst feature of the design as the safety is difficult to engage or disengage under normal conditions. The worst feature of the design is the firing pin itself. Its length is adjustable and must be set using a combination tool provided with each weapon. If the firing pin protrudes too much you will have a pierced primer; if it doesn’t protrude enough you don’t get ignition. Given the educational level of the average Russian conscript infantryman when this weapon was introduced or even through the “Great Patriotic War,” this doesn’t sound like a very soldier proof weapon.

The Czar and his Bolshevik successors dithered with the ideal length of the barrel for the using troops and a pronounced obsession for cruciform socket style bayonets. The original barrel length for the rifle was 31.6 inches. However, a model known as the M1891 Dragoon Rifle featured a 28.8 inch barrel making it what everybody else came to call a “short” rifle. This shorter barrel became the standard in 1930 when rifles were refurbished as the M91/30 or new rifles were produced. Many photographs of Imperial Russian or Soviet troops marching, or in combat situations, show troops with fixed bayonets on the weapons that will accept them. This appears to be a part of the Czarist/Soviet doctrine of using mass attacks including bayonet charges, the so-called “Russian Steamroller.”

The first Mosin carbine appeared in about 1907; stocked to the muzzle it did not take a bayonet. It was intended for cavalry use and had a 20 inch barrel. The next carbine was the M1910 also with a 20 inch barrel, however this weapon did have the usual cruciform bayonet and besides cavalry use it was intended for use by artillerymen, pioneers, teamsters and various other support troops. This had the standard unprotected blade front and leaf rear sight graduated in arshins. Weapons equipped with bayonets were sighted with the bayonet fixed, which will affect the point of impact at least on the target range. None of these firearms had windage adjustable rear sights – windage adjustments were done by drifting the front sight.

By 1938, the Red Army had veered back to a carbine without a bayonet. The M38 still had the 20 inch barrel now with a notch tangent rear sight graduated out to 1,000 meters and a hooded post style front sight. When it came to carbines the Soviets couldn’t leave well enough alone, apparently some faction in the Red Army wanted to see a bayonet on a carbine and eventually they prevailed.

The M44 carbine was the last WWII Soviet produced Mosin variant with the first 50,000 or so coming out of the Izhevsk Arsenal in 1943 where production continued until about 1948. The Tula Arsenal apparently produced the M44 in 1944. Absolute production numbers vary from source to source, but suffice it to say that there were a lot of them. Total production of Mosin rifles/carbines is usually estimated to be in the vicinity of 37 to 38 million. They have been used all over the world by everybody under the Soviet sphere of influence, and some who weren’t.

As bolt action rifles in the Red Army became obsolete by the introduction of the SKS chambering the intermediate 7.62x39 cartridge, also with a folding bayonet, and the AK47, the Soviets foisted off all of the older weapons on their client states. What they couldn’t get rid of was refurbished and placed into stores.

Next to the French the Soviets were the world’s greatest hoarder of really obsolete military hardware. With the partial thaw in the Cold War and collapse of the Soviet empire all of the obsolete firearms in stores became a source of hard currency what with the insatiable demand in the U.S. for nearly every sort of military anything.

The M44’s distinguishing feature is a folding bayonet hinged on the right side of the barrel with a spring loaded catch operated by sliding the muzzle ring toward the end of the bayonet to unlatch it and pivot it forward. The muzzle ring slips over the end of the barrel to lock the bayonet in place.

The M44 is a virtual clone of the M38 except for a cut in the forend to allow for seating the folded bayonet and a barrel about .4 inches longer to accommodate the bayonet muzzle ring.

Depending on the density of the stock wood, often what appears to be some kind of some kind of birch, the M44 weighs just under 9 lbs – about 1.4 lbs heavier than the M38 due to the bayonet. The one piece stock was originally oil finished and featured a separate upper handguard with a steel ferrule on either end retained by two split bands and band springs. The action is retained in the stock by two screws, one through the top rear of the receiver and the other through the bottom forward of the magazine housing. The metal is finished nearly black with the bolt in the white. Standard rifling is 4 groove, 1 turn in 9.5 or 10 inches, right hand twist.

Wartime Soviet quality left much to be desired, their biggest down fall was disparity in the bore’s groove to groove measurement which can vary from .311 to .314. This combined with ammunition of uneven quality caused these carbines and the other Soviet produced small arms to suffer from accuracy issues. Red Army standards required that the carbine’s point of impact with the sight set at 100 meters, the battle setting, be within +/- 33 cm at 350 meters.

M44 ammunition is standard 7.62x54R Ball and is the oldest cartridge still in use by a world power. Some of the former Soviet Socialist Republics use it as a sniper round and for machine gun use. It started out with a 210 grain round nose jacketed bullet, but after Germany introduced the 7.92x57 cartridge with the “spitzer” or pointed projectile most countries opted for similar designs and in 1908 the 7.62x54R got a 147 pointed grain projectile sometimes called “light Ball.” With the adoption of the spitzer round, the Mosins also got a stock reinforcing bolt. Over the intervening years many variants on this cartridge have been developed. The 7.62x54R has moderate body taper to aid in primary extraction, and a very thick rim on a convex head to resist being torn off by the hook style extractor.

The M44 hasn’t been produced for almost 70 years but surprisingly they turn up all over the world, in nearly every war, conflict, insurrection, revolt, coup, uprising and rebellion from Angola to Vietnam and all stops in-between. The U.S. and the Soviets, using surrogates, faced off all over the world and handed out vast quantities of small arms to everybody who claimed to be on their side. These policies bit everyone in the nether regions. Soviet troops in the what… the 20th Afghan War, but who’s keeping count, came under fire from M44s and the billions of rounds of 7.62x54R that were furnished by the Soviet Union and their satellite states.

The Soviets have also come under fire from this weapon in the Chechen Wars and in other rebellious ethnic political subdivisions birthed by the Soviet collapse. U.S. troops also have also had bad experiences with the M44 in Korea, every banana republic, Africa, Vietnam, Afghanistan and the First and Second Gulf Wars.

Regardless, The M44 is a stout and dependable weapon, not the most operator friendly, but a weapon available in large numbers with almost unlimited supplies of ammunition firing a full power military cartridge that is still being produced after 122 years.

This article first appeared in SmallArmsReview.com on November 1, 2013


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