THE FINNISH M1891 MOSIN-NAGANT RIFLE
Copyright (c) 1998-99 David S. Markowitz
I recently acquired a Finnish M1891 Mosin-Nagant (M-N) rifle in excellent condition, which has proven to be a nice shooter. Because the Finnish rifles are easily available on the surplus market at reasonable prices, I've put together this article to provide shooters and collectors with some information on these weapons.
Fig. 1 - Finnish soldier armed with M1891 Mosin-Nagant.
In 1886, France adopted the 8mm caliber Modele 1886 Lebel rifle, the first military weapon designed to use small bore cartridges loaded with smokeless powder. This set off an arms race of sorts, and within a few years all major military powers adopted similar weapons. For example, Germany adopted the M1888 "Commission Rifle" in 7.9x57mm caliber, the USA adopted the M1892 Krag-Jorgensen in .30-40, and in 1891, Czarist Russia adopted the Mosin-Nagant "3-line" rifle to replace its stock of obsolete single-shot, black powder Berdan rifles. (Note: The Russian designation "3-line" is derived from the old Russian measuring system. It refers to the bore diameter, and translates to about 0.3" or 7.62mm)
The M-N rifle combined an action designed by Colonel Sergey I. Mosin (also erroneously spelled "Moisin") of the Imperial Russian Army, and a magazine developed by a Belgian, Nagant. In contrast with other bolt action military rifles, the bolt design is complex, the safety is not easy to apply or disengage, and the overall feel is somewhat awkward, at least until one gets used to it. These points aside, however, the M-N went on to serve several countries over several decades as their standard or substitute-standard military rifle. During this time, it was proven to be a reliable, sound, and rugged design capable of very good accuracy.
The M-N used an old-fashioned angular cruciform bayonet, which was mounted by placing its tubular socket around the rifle's muzzle. It looks like it belongs on a muzzleloading musket, not a breechloading bolt action rifle. The Russian Army did not issue scabbards with these bayonets, although the Finnish Army did.
Finland declared its independence from Russia in 1918, after the latter had withdrawn from World War One. During 1918 and into 1919, Finland was involved in a civil war, in which the Finns fought both amongst themselves, and Russian troops who'd been stationed in Finland before it became independent.
After the end of the civil war, Finland adopted the M-N as it standard military rifle. Since that time, Finnish military weapons have in general followed those of Russia and the Soviet Union. This turned out to be a smart move on the Finn's part, since it made it easier for them to integrate stocks of captured war materiel into their chain of supply during the Winter War of 1939-40, and the Continuation War of 1941-45.
The first M-N adopted by the Finns was the M1891 rifle. It was followed by a series of improvements. The most recent of these is a sniper rifle adopted in 1985 by the Finnish Army. These latter rifles are outside the scope of this piece, however.
Finnish M1891s can be identified by several features which set them apart from Russian or Soviet guns. The two easiest clues that a rifle is Finnish is the marking "SA" in a square box stamped on the breech end of the barrel. "SA" means "Soumen Armeija", or Finnish Army.
The other giveaway indicating that a M-N rifle is Finnish is a two-piece stock, joined with interlocking fingers just below the rear sight and below the rear barrel band. The Finns made their rifle stocks this way to prevent warping of the long pieces of wood. If you handle one of these rifles, you will be impressed at the craftsmanship involved in this modification. Although you can see the joint in the wood, you won't be able to feel it if you run your finger over the joint. In general, Finnish rifle show better workmanship than Russian or Soviet guns.
One more indication that an M1891 is Finnish, rather than Soviet, is that the Finns added loop-style sling swivels to the rifle. Russian or Soviet rifles have holes in the stock for a sling to be attached.
Incidentally, the Finns didn't make their own receivers. Instead they used receivers captured from the Russians/Soviets, or bought on the international arms market. Additionally, the vast majority of Finnish rifles have the earlier, pre-1930 hexagonal receivers, not the 1930 and later round receivers. The date of the receiver's manufacture (if it's pre-Soviet) will be found stamped under the tang, but you have to remove the action from the stock to see it. The date stamped on the barrel shank in front of the receiver is the date the barrel was made, not the date the rifle was originally made.
Other technical details of the Finnish M-N rifles which are shared with the original Russian guns are as follows:
- Two-piece bolt with a removable bolt head which carries the locking lugs. Unlike most bolt actions, the lugs are horizontal in the receiver when the bolt is locked. The head turns with the bolt, and the rifle cannot be fired if accidentally assembled without the bolt head.
- The safety is engaged by pulling the prominent cocking piece back and rotating it to the left. It is disengaged by reversing this motion. Compared with the safeties on the M1898 Mauser, M1903 Springfield, or the Lee-Enfields, this M-N feature is awkward.
- The magazine holds 5 rounds in a single-column, and projects below the stock and forms part of the trigger guard. It incorporates a novel feature, an "interrupter" which holds the second-from-top round down in the magazine, so that the top round can be fed into the chamber without jamming. This feature is necessary because the 7.62x54R cartridge for which these rifles are chambered has a rim larger in diameter than the body of the case. The interrupter allows the weapon's operator to load the rounds into the magazine without regard to whether or not each succeeding cartridge's rim is in front of the one on the round below it. It is worked by the action of the bolt.
- The magazine can be loaded one round at a time, or through the use of a 5-round stripper clip. Stripper clips may be made of brass or steel.
The specifications of the M1891 Mosin-Nagant are as follows:
Weight: 9.62 lbs. empty w/o bayonet & sling 10.63 lbs. w/bayonet & sling Length: 51.37" w/o bayonet (68.2" w/bayonet) Barrel length: 31.6" Magazine capacity: 5 rounds Rate of fire: 8 -10 rounds per minute Sights: Rear: Leaf, adjustable for elevation, graduated to 3200 arshins (2496 yards) Front: Unprotected blade, drift-adjustable for windage Ammunition: 7.62x54R Approx. Muzzle Velocity For 182 grain "heavy ball" - 2660 fps (at 25 meters) For 147 grain "light ball" - 2886 fps
Fig. 2 - A group of Finnish soldiers in snow camoflage.
Although I have a modest collection of rifles and handguns, my primary motivation in buying an M1891 M-N rifle was as a shooter. My rifle was re-barreled and restocked by VKT (Valmet) between 1941 and 1943, one of 45,000 so rebuilt. The barrel is dated 1941. The stock is the typical two-piece Finnish design and shows only minor handling dings. The bore is in mint condition. So far, I've tried two kinds of ammunition in it.
The first ammunition which I tried was some Chinese-manufactured light ball. This has steel cases and bullet jackets. Both the cases and jackets are copper-washed. This shot fairly well, and grouped into under 3" at 100 yards from the bench. Some shots were fliers, so I am certain this ammo will probably print groups under 2". My rifle shot this ammo to point of aim at 100 yards with the sight set as low as possible.
This Chinese ammunition has corrosive primers, so it's necessary to thoroughly clean the rifle the same day it's shot. Use hot, soapy water, or GI bore cleaner, and follow this up with regular bore cleaner such as Hoppe's No.9 or Ed's Red. After you're done, leave a light coat of oil in the bore. Check it for the next couple of days to make sure that you did a good job. If you don't you'll find that your bore has rusted.
The second type of ammunition which I tried was 182 grain heavy ball manufactured by Privi Partisan in the now-defunct Yugoslavia, and imported several years ago by Hansen. This has reloadable brass cases and gilding-metal jackets, and non-corrosive primers. It's very clean and shoots under 2" at 100 yards when I don't flinch. This ammunition shoots to a higher point of impact than the Chinese light ball. Unfortunately, due to the heavier bullet, it also recoils noticeably more than the light ball ammo. Compared with a No.4 Mk.I Lee-Enfield or an M1 Garand, the recoil with this ammunition is heavy.
As of the time this is written (September 1998), you can also get reloadable ammunition from Lapua (Finland), Norma (Sweden), and Sellier & Bellot (Czech Republic). All of these are high-quality. Ammunition has also been imported from Russia, Hungary, and Bulgaria. The latter 3 are generally non-reloadable, Berdan-primed, and I would advise treating them as being corrosively primed, even if not advertised as such.
I enjoyed shooting the rifle a great deal, and look forward to more shooting with it. Considering the sights, the groups that I got show it to be a real tack-driver. For anyone looking for an inexpensive ( < $100) but accurate and collectible piece, the Finnish Mosin-Nagant is a good choice.
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