The Russian M 38 and M 44 Carbine
By Bob Campbell
Above: One of the more common Chinese variants of the M 44. This one has suffered its bayonet and forearm to be removed.
The rifle pictured in this photo is one of the oldest type rifles used in the Korean Conflict. While dated in design it proved to be reliable in the harshest of conditions. The Mosin Nagant rifle was introduced in 1891. It proved to be the majority rifle for Czarist forces in Russia and later served the Soviet armies as well. This rifle developed a reputation for extreme ruggedness and excellent accuracy. It was long and heavy but certainly instilled confidence in its power, reliability, and long range accuracy.
The rifle was a standard bolt action with a five round magazine. The bolt hand was not turned downward as with more modern designs such as the Mauser 98, Lee Enfield, and American Springfield. The straight out handle is slower to actuate than other designs but an accomplished rifleman could show a modicum of speed with the rifle. The Mosin Nagant chambered the powerful 7.62 x 54R cartridge, a .30 caliber round similar in power to the American .30-06 cartridge.
Changing conditions on the battlefield led to the adoption of a carbine based on the Mosin Nagant action. The original was the M 38. The M 44 was similar but featured a folding bayonet in the forward portion of the abbreviated stock. Otherwise the carbines are very similar.
We might ask why such a hoary design was chosen for the new carbine. The truth of the matter seems to be there was nothing else available. The new type semi auto rifles had not proven completely reliable, and shortening a gas system makes for more, not less, complication. The SKS was months or years away from service. The need for a shorter weapon for street and house to house fighting was evident. The new carbine filled a definite need for a short weapon for ease of carrying for mechanized troops. It is true the short submachinegun was in full production but a rifle caliber carbine would prove far more efficient. The M 38 and M 44 carbine was hardy enough for excellent use with the bayonet. It also had enough power to penetrate light cover and web gear and accoutrements at long range.
I tested an example of the Mosin Nagant carbine at length. I found it to be far handier in action than it first appears. Firing from behind cover, from a braced position, the rifle performed well. It handled quickly when moving from one position to the other. The safety was a drawback, however, for rapid manipulation. The safety is engaged by pulling the large cocking knob out and twisting it clockwise to the right. To ready the gun for firing, the knob was twisted in the opposite direction.
The cocking handle was more difficult to use quickly in rapid fire than other types but did offer good leverage. Ejection of fired cartridge cases was excellent due to the rugged claw type extractor of the M 44. As for accuracy, this is among the most accurate short carbines I have ever used. In practical terms, at least to one hundred yards, it is as accurate as the long Mosin Nagant rifles. It is far more accurate than many short rifles that have more firepower.
More modern weapons used during the Korean conflict outclass the M 44. The M 1 and M 2 carbine offered much more firepower and the Garand was a fighting implement light years ahead of any bolt action rifle. Even the Lee Enfield, a design of equal age, was more advanced than the Mosin Nagant. But the carbine served in the hands of millions of Communist soldiers.
All of the M 38’s and M 44s used in Korea were supplied by the Soviet Socialist Republic. Interestingly, the Chinese began manufacture of this design for themselves during the 1950’s. Most sources give a 1953 date as the date Chinese Communist manufacture began. Production figures are unavailable but it seems the carbine has been manufactured until relatively recently judging from the condition of many of those encountered in surplus sales. I have seen these rifles offered in the pages of Shotgun News for as little as thirty to forty dollars. They certainly will not break the bank as a collector’s gun although the Russian version may be a little more difficult to locate.
The M 44 was seen in Vietnam as well. It is an interesting piece of history, a rifle forced into action far past its prime but one which proved deadly just the same.
Specifications for the M 1944 Carbine
Weight: 8.9 pounds
Caliber: 7.62 x 54 mm Russian
Length: 40 inches
Barrel length: 20 inches
Magazine capacity: 5 rounds
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