Bolt-action rifles were standard during the whole period of World War I, and some served until after World War II, particularly the Lee-Enfield; the Springfield 1903, which was first issued as an infantry rifle and then later as a sniper rifle; the Mauser, although shortened from the Gew 98 to the Kar 98k; and others. Bolt-action magazine rifles were an important type of weapon and represented the high point of manually operated arms, but the effort required to use them over long periods of action was tiring and often meant that after every shot, while reloading, the rifleman came out of the aim, resulting in a reduction of firepower for nations using these rifles. The United States led the way in introducing the first general-issue SLR, the Garand M1, and after World War II all other nations followed the trend, especially as Germany had also introduced the concept of the assault rifle.


Lee’s Rifle Designs.

The British Army in 1860 was equipped with the Martini-Henry, lever-action, single-shot rifle in .443-inch caliber, but events in the firearms field in Europe led to the establishment of the British Small Arms Committee under General Philip Smith in 1863. Its task was to examine the new bolt-action and other rifles with a view to reequipping British infantry with a bolt-operated magazine rifle.

The committee remit stated that it was to consider “the desirability or otherwise of introducing a magazine rifle for naval or military use, or both.” A large number of rifles were presented for examination, some of them from abroad, but only three weapons were chosen for extensive trials. The three were the Lee magazine rifle, an improved Lee with a Bethel Burton magazine, and the Owen Jones magazine rifle. The Bethel Burton magazine varied from the magazine system of the other two by being mounted high on the upper right side of the receiver.

All rifles were in caliber .45 in the 1855 trials, and the Owen Jones fell at this hurdle. By the time the 1887 trials took place the Lee rifles were both recalibered to .402 inch, in barrels designed by William E. Metford, who had invented the polygonal rifling method. The result was the choice of Lee’s rifle with his own magazine.

On the Continent, however, the Swiss had just reduced the caliber of their service rifle to .295 inch, and suddenly the British caliber looked too big for modern weapons. This led to the decision to reduce the caliber to .303 inch, which was a momentous decision. The problem persisted, however, in the powder used, for the British had no smokeless powder available for the new caliber. Metford came to the rescue and drew up a specification for the rifling and the chamber of the new weapon.

This rifle was to be known as the Lee Metford, and 350 examples were made in 1888 and issued for troop trials. At this time Joseph J. Speed was working at the Royal Small Arms Fa c t o r y, and he designed some magazine refinements that were incorporated into this rifle. (His designs were also marketed commercially as Lee-Speed rifles, made by the Birmingham Small Arms Company.) The trial weapons had a muzzle velocity of 1,850 feet per second (fps), produced by a cartridge charge of 70 grains of compressed black powder, developing a chamber pressure of 18 tons per square inch.

In anticipation perhaps of developments soon to come, the rifle was sighted to 2,000 yards, but with the cartridge powder initially used the accuracy of the weapon was unsatisfactory. Despite this problem the rifle underwent various modifications and after 1891 had a 10-round magazine (approved by the new Small Arms Committee in December 1891); other, less significant changes were made until, in 1899, the Lee-Enfield Mark I appeared. There was little of significant change except for the removal of the cleaning rod, which had been fitted under the barrel in the ramrod style up to that time.

The cartridge propellant problem had persisted for a short time, but by 1891 Hiram S. Maxim, Sir Frederick Abel, and the Nobel firm all and separately arrived at the solution, which was cordite (a compound of 58 percent nitroglycerine, 37 percent guncotton, and 5 percent mineral jelly). The resulting compound was smokeless and left almost no fouling deposits in the weapons firing the new cartridges. The important factor for the soldier was that with the increased power of the cartridge the trajectory of the bullet was flatter, meaning that lower standards of marksmanship would still produce better results than in the black-powder days. Further, increased ranges could be covered, and the concept of rifle fire used against groups of men, horses, and, later, vehicles, was born.

One more improvement was made to produce what was now called the Cartridge SA Ball Magazine Rifle Mark I. In the blackpowder era, lead was quite sufficient for ball ammunition, as it was not subjected to stresses that it was incapable of handling. Lead when fired with cordite propellant, however, was subject to pressures in the rifling that it was incapable of withstanding, and rounds were either “stripping” (going through the barrel without being gripped by the rifling) or deforming when gripped by the rifling.

In 1875 Major Bode of the Swiss Army had invented a design for a jacketed bullet that could cope with the higher pressures, and this was supplemented by another Swiss, Major Eduard Rubin, who designed a copper-jacketed bullet that could not only cope with the pressures in the new rifles but also could withstand the effect of the torque produced in the barrel by the rifling.

As noted above, the British and the Swiss had made drastic reductions in the caliber of their service weapons. As a result of this caliber reduction, to ensure that the round had military efficiency (that is, it would be capable of wounding or killing the target), the bullet had to take on a long profile, with the jacket surrounding a core of lead or other similar heavy filling. Further, bullets had to have ballistic weight, otherwise the long-range performance would be adversely affected by the fact that the velocity of a light bullet falls off very rapidly due to air resistance.

So between 1889 and 1891 the British changed from black powder to cordite in their new .303-inch service rifle. It was with slightly modified versions of the 1899 rifle that the British went to war in 1914, when, during the retreat to the Marne, German troops assumed the British had a lot of machine guns because British infantry rifle fire was so rapid and accurate. The British Army continued to use bolt-action rifles until the late 1950s, when the self-loading rifle (SLR) was issued. British bolt actions were extremely smooth to operate and, despite the fact that they were often criticized for being rear-locking, maintained a reliability for service second to none. In World War I the Lee-Enfield Rifle No. 1 and its variants did sterling service, not being superseded until the latter half of World War II by the Lee-Enfield Rifle No. 4. The bolt, which was the heart of the system, was, with very minor modifications, the same throughout.


It is interesting to note that in its history, the U. S. Army has issued only two bolt-action rifles to U. S. troops, the Krag-Jorgenson 8mm and the Springfield Model 1903 caliber .30. The first was an abject failure, the second being a copy of another famous weapon-the German Mauser Gew 98. It is also interesting to note that whereas in Europe the bolt action appeared in the 1840s, the United States persisted in the use of single-shot breech loaders such as the Springfield and the Sharps carbine.

The weapon was issued in small numbers and was spectacularly successful. At Hoover’s Gap on 24 June 1863 during the U. S. Civil War, a mounted brigade of Union infantry was moving toward the gap to clear the area of advanced Confederate pickets. That these infantry were mounted was one fundamental change in tactics; that they were armed with Spencer’s rifle was another. The weapons, however, had been bought by the soldiers themselves, because General James Wolfe Ripley refused to supply Spencer rifles. The troops had each spent $35 on their own rifles, 12 and the effect of this was terrible as far as the Confederate soldiers were concerned.

Both sides in the U. S. Civil War were armed overwhelmingly with breech-loading single-shot muskets or rifles. The refusal by General Ripley to consider Spencer and other similar-action rifles was utterly negligent, causing the deaths of thousands of men whose lives would have been spared by the issue of the decisive repeating rifles. There can be little doubt that if the North had had Spencer rifles and carbines, the South would have surrendered far earlier than it did.

Why the Spencer’s repeating rifle was essentially sidelined is detailed above, but the mind-set toward procurement and that at the Springfield Armory seem to have been almost traitorous as far as the well-being of U. S. infantry was concerned. One can only wonder what would have been the effect had Custer’s troops been armed with the Spencer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

The decision was made, albeit delayed, to examine the European fascination with bolt-action rifles, and in 1891 General Daniel W. Flagler was appointed the new chief of ordnance for the U. S. government. Although considered by the conservative General Stephen V. Benét (his predecessor) to be even more conservative, Flagler was looking to the future and to the replacement of the old trapdoor black-powder single-shot rifle then on issue to the U. S. Army. In his first annual report he wrote unequivocally that the United States was years behind the rest of the developed world in that it had not adopted a modern, small-caliber, high-velocity magazine-type rifle, and he added that what remained of the army was seen as underarmed.

General Benét had been obdurate in his refusal to consider rearming the infantry, even though the Hotchkiss, Lee, and Mauser designs were all superior to the trapdoor Springfield in every respect. General Flagler was determined to change this, but he had two problems. One was a Springfield Armory staff totally unwilling to consider new ideas; the other was that he had none of the new smokeless powder, which was only available outside the U. S., to make cartridges for any new weapon. Luckily the second problem was solved by Hiram Maxim, who made his own, and 500 pounds of Wetteren powder was obtained from Belgium.

The designers at Frankford Arsenal were now equipped to design the new caliber .30 cartridge as soon as the rifle and its magazine were decided upon. General Flagler now reassembled the Rifle Board, under Captain Stanhope E. Blunt, to examine all submitted weapons. Fifty-three weapons were submitted, including some of the very best from Europe. There were no U. S. designs for the simple reason that U. S. rifle makers were unable to cope with the new powder.

The board and General Flagler decided it was important that U. S. inventors participate and to this end issued a supply of the new cartridge and some new caliber .30 barrels. By doing this, less financially well-off manufacturers could also participate, and no one could manufacture nonstandard barrels or ammunition for the tests. Having said that the general was a man who looked to the future, it is important to realize the philosophy driving the search for a magazine rifle. The magazine was seen not as a supply of replaceable ammunition but as a safety device, only for use in extremes, when single loading was dangerous. In other words, the army was looking for a rifle that had a reserve of ammunition in the magazine, but this was not to be used while there was time to load each cartridge singly, just as the old Springfield had been operated. The magazine contents were to be used only in the last stages of an operation, when loading single rounds would be too slow. The old principle of accurate long-range shooting was still alive.

The Mauser rifle was the first to run afoul of this particularly arcane train of thought, because it could not be loaded with single cartridges. The German Army wanted rapid-fire weapons, so the weapon was loaded with five rounds in a clip, and German soldiers were issued all their ammunition prepacked in clips. At the time much opinion was against the magazine rifle in principle, and the New York Times reported that an unidentified source claimed that he had

repeatedly put twenty-three shots in one minute from a Springfield rifle into a target two feet square at 200 yards . . . the only gain in labour one obtains with a magazine gun over a single-loader is the handling of cartridges and the time gained in the handling is practically far more than offset by the time lost in shifting magazines and misfires when magazines are emptied.

The Krag Rifle

Despite efforts to encourage U. S. inventors, no weapons were forthcoming, and the board reported in September 1892 that it had made its choice: the Krag-Jorgenson. This rifle was the brainchild of Norwegians Captain Ole Krag and Erik Jorgenson. (Krag was a captain in the Norwegian artillery and superintendent of the Konigsberg Armory; Jorgenson was an engineer.) The rifle was already in service with the Danish Army. The weapons were designed for U. S. use to fire the .30/40 rimmed cartridge, and the first issue was made to troops in October 1894. The weapon weighed 9.35 pounds, was 49.14 inches long, with a 30-inch barrel. Subsequent modifications were introduced as the Models 1896 and 1898, but all suffered in comparison with European magazine rifles from one glaring defect: they were intended to be loaded singly, with the magazine serving as an emergency reservoir only.

U. S. reaction to the choice was predictably one of outrage, and the board was accused of predetermining the outcome. Certainly the Krag failed the Rifle Board tests on a number of occasions, and the weapon was nevertheless reworked at Springfield Armory, sometimes by the inventor himself. Efforts to have U. S. designs considered after the event were determined, but no U. S. design managed to get consideration, in part due to the fact that the same board members sat in judgment of these late entries.

Not only was the Krag doubtful as far as its magazine and loading system was concerned; in comparison with other infantry rifles of the time, it was the longest and heaviest. Interestingly, although the feed mechanism was not really suited to the modern maneuver style of warfare, it did turn out to be quite accurate. The Danish Army used it for some years, and a modified version was bought by the Norwegian Army.

The U. S. Army thus had its first magazine rifle, and it soon appeared that it was not an altogether felicitous choice from the point of view of the troops. Despite some claims to the contrary, the accuracy of the weapon was found wanting and was not as accurate at 600 yards as the old Springfield. Experience in general pointed to the fact that the weapon was not performing well, and accuracy altered as the weapon heated up. Again, parts were prone to fall off (particularly the magazine cutoff, which when in operation forced the rifleman to load single cartridges), weaknesses in metallurgy produced a bolt that jammed, the ramrod head was too big to fit the barrel, and there had been some cartridge accidents as well. The problems were confronted to an extent, but a real test was soon to face the rifle in Cuba.

Spanish rule in Cuba had been a sore point with the U. S. Congress for some time, and in 1898, following a revolt by revolutionaries, Congress recognized the independence of Cuba; an army was raised, to be commanded by U. S. General Nelson A. Miles. Spain then declared war on the United States, and General Miles asked that his troops be armed with Winchester rifles, which had been turned down by the Rifle Board in favour of the Krag. Although Miles got approval to test the Winchester, General Flagler failed the rifle for not meeting the (unspecified) standards of performance of the army, and the United States went to war. The National Guardsmen who formed the main body of General Miles’s army were armed not with the Krag-Jorgenson but with the old black-powder trapdoor Springfield. The number of Krag-Jorgenson rifles available was insufficient for an army of 200,000 men, and production at Springfield Armory could never hope to equip all the men with the new rifle.

The army that finally went to Cuba was a sorry sight; some 150,000 men were still wearing heavy wool uniforms, armed with antiquated rifles, and supported by artillery that also used blackpowder propellant. Furthermore, these ill-equipped troops were to come face-to-face with the Spanish service rifle: the Mauser. One description of the first encounter with this rifle and its effect is very telling. William Hallahan writes in Misfire:

On July 1, 1898, at the Battle of San Juan Hill, ordnance people expected to get their questions about the Krag answered. True, there were too few Krags, only enough for the Regular Army and Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, but enough to give measure. As they proceeded through the Cuban countryside, U. S. troops soon encountered a terrifying sound-a terrible buzz that turned into a high shriek as it went whizzing past their heads into tree trunks and branches. A man hit in the arm by the force of it would spin on his heels and be slammed down on the ground. . . . The deadly accuracy of the Mauser stopped the Americans’ advance more than once with a seemingly incredible volume of fire from such a small force of Spaniards.

The Krag could not hack the fighting; its muzzle velocity was too low and thus its range was limited, and the problems of loading single cartridges into a rifle while on the move do not need to be stressed. The Mauser, by contrast, was providing what the Spanish defenders needed against superior numbers: firepower. Although Teddy Roosevelt’s famous Rough Rider charge against the Spanish position on San Juan Hill ended in victory, it was at the cost of 1,300 U. S. casualties out of an attacking force of 5,000. The Krag-Jorgenson was tested against the Mauser after the war ended, and the Mauser penetrated 9 inches farther into a wood block than did the Krag. It was obvious that the Krag rifle was not up to European standards and would have to be rapidly replaced.

General Flagler died in 1899, not the most popular of men with those riflemen who had gone to Cuba armed with the Krag. After his death, certain other disturbing facts emerged about the tests in 1892, one of which was that the Krag had been tested to 30,000 pounds of breech pressure, whereas all other entries were subjected to tests of 40,000 pounds. This indicated once more that the Rifle Board had not been entirely professional in its deliberations.

The Springfield ’03 Rifle.

A new appointment was needed, and the chosen officer was General Adelbert Buffington. This was another passed-over officer for whom the post at Springfield was simply a bookmark until his retirement. He ordered that the Krag be redesigned to take the higher-power powder and cartridge that were needed, and it seems that performance was enhanced so that the rifle was capable of safely firing a 200-grain bullet at 2,300 fps. However, General Buffington was soon to retire, and in his place was appointed Captain William Crozier, inventor of the Springfield M1901 rifle.

It seems rather strange that the inventor of a rifle that was to be considered for service should be put in charge of the very institution that would further his prospects, but that is the system that appointed Crozier. Like many others whose jobs have been the result of favor or even fraud, Crozier stayed put. However, his term of office would only be four years, so like U. S. presidents, his deeds would be limited to a certain extent.


General Crozier, as he had instantly become, had a very senior backer. This was President Teddy Roosevelt, who had succeeded President William McKinley after the latter’s assassination in September 1901. So on 7 April 1902 Crozier authorized the first production of the new Springfield 1901 rifles. By 16 February 1903 the work was finished and the rifles were ready for testing. In no time at all the rifles were tested and reported to have been successful, and the rifle became the Springfield Model M1903 rifle.

Once the rifle was issued, a few modifications were needed. The cartridge clip was faulty, and so a changed version was issued. The rod bayonet of the original was, at the president’s request, changed to a knife bayonet. The cartridge was also altered and the rifle rechambered to fire it. The new DuPont powder, a cooler-burning mix, was used as propellant in the cartridge, and, once altered to fire this cartridge, the weapon was regarded as nearly perfect. The .30- 06 round was to see service for a long time and eventually caused singular problems for weapons designers.

There were those at the time, however, who thought that the Springfield M1903 was very similar to the German Mauser design. On 15 March 1904 the first rumors surfaced that Springfield was in breach of a Mauser patent on the ammunition clip. Then other similarities began to surface, and in no time Crozier was forced into offering royalties to Mauser for two patent infringements on the clip and a further five on the rifle. Then came news that the U. S.-made Krag also infringed Mauser patents. The matter was one of utter embarrassment for the United States, which had no alternative but to pay Mauser what it was owed. This totaled some $200,000 by the time it was all over.

General Crozier was duly appointed by President Roosevelt to a second term, and as soon as this was done, another round of patent infringement talks had to take place. The injured party on this occasion was the Deutsche Waffen und Munitionsfabrik (DWM) firm in Berlin. It announced that its patent covered the U. S. .30-06 cartridge and sought recompense. This matter dragged on until 1920, when DWM brought suit for royalties owed. The U. S. government arrogantly told DWM it had no case, as the patent had been seized in 1917 as enemy alien property during World War I. The government failed to convince the judge and was ordered to pay DWM $300,000. It appealed but was finally required in December 1928 to pay the original sum plus interest, a total of over $412,000.

It is interesting to note that when the United States entered World War I, in 1917, there was a severe shortage of rifles for the American Expeditionary Force. A history of the 37th Division of the U. S. Army describes the problem in some detail:

The Springfield rifle had superseded in our army the Krag, which we had used in the Spanish American War. In that conflict, the Spanish Army had a rifle of German design, the Mauser. Our ordnance officers at that time considered the Krag to be a more accurate weapon than the Mauser. Still, we were not satisfied with the Krag, and after years of development in 1903 we brought out the Springfield, the most accurate and quickest firing rifle that had ever come from an arsenal. . . . But as war became inevitable for us and we began to have a realisation of the scale on which we must prosecute it, our ordnance officers studying the rifle problem became persuaded that our army could not hope to carry this magnificent weapon to Europe as its chief small-arms reliance. A brief examination of the industrial problem presented by the rifle situation in 1917 should make it clear even to a man unacquainted with machinery and manufacturing why it would be humanly impossible to equip our troops with the rifle in developing which our ordnance experts had spent so many years.

The Model 1903 rifle had been built in two factories and only two-the Springfield Armoury, Springfield, Mass., and the Rock Island Arsenal at Rock Island, Ill. Our Government for several years prior to 1917 had cut down its expenditures for the manufacture of small arms and ammunition. The result was that the Rock Island Arsenal had ceased its production of Springfields altogether, while the output of rifles from the Springfield Armoury had been greatly reduced.

This meant that the skilled artisans once employed in the manufacture of Springfield rifles had been scattered to the four winds. When in early 1917 it became necessary to speed up the production of rifles to the limit in these two establishments those in charge of the undertaking found that they could recover only a few of the old, trained employees. Yet even when we had restaffed these two factories with skilled men their combined production at top speed could not begin to supply the quantity of rifles which our impending army would need. Therefore, it was obviously necessary that we procure rifles from private factories.

Why, then, was not the manufacture of Springfields extended to the private plants? Some ante helium effort, indeed, had been made looking to the production of Springfields in commercial plants, but lack of funds had prevented more than the outlining of the scheme.

Any high-powered rifle is an intricate production. The 1917 Enfield is relatively simple in construction, yet the soldier can dismount his Enfield into 86 parts, and some of these parts are made up of several component pieces. Many of these parts must be made with great precision, gauged with microscopic nicety, and finished with unusual accuracy. To produce Springfields on a grand scale in private plants would imply the use of thousands of gauges, jigs, dies, and other small tools necessary for such a manufacture, as well as that of great quantities of special machines. None of this equipment for Springfield rifle manufacture had been provided, yet all of it must be supplied to the commercial plants before they could turn out rifles.

We should have had to spend preliminary months or even years in building up an adequate manufacturing equipment for Springfields, the while our boys in France were using what odds and ends of rifle equipment the Government might be able to purchase for them, except for a condition in our small-arms industry in early 1917 that now seems to have been well-nigh providential.

Among others, both the British and the Russian Governments in the emergency of 1914 and 1915 had turned to the United States to supplement their sources of rifle supply while they, particularly the British, were building up their home manufacturing capacity. There were five American concerns engaged in the production of rifles on these large foreign orders when we entered the war. Three of them were the Winchester Repeating Arms Co., of New Haven, Conn.; the Remington Arms-Union Metallic Cartridge Co., of Ilion, N. Y.; and the Remington Arms Co. of Delaware at its enormous war-contract factory at Eddystone, Pa., later a part of the Midvale Steel and Ordnance Co. These concerns had developed their manufacturing facilities on a huge scale to turn out rifles for the British Government. By the spring of 1917 England had built up her own manufacturing facilities at home, and the last of her American contracts were nearing completion.

Here, then, was at hand a huge capacity which, added to our government arsenals, could turn out every rifle the American Army would require, regardless of how many troops we were to put in the field.

As soon as war became a certainty for us, the Ordnance department sent its best rifle experts to study the British Enfield in detail. They returned to headquarters without enthusiasm for it; in fact, regarding it as a weapon not good enough for an American soldier. A glance at the history of the British Enfield will make clear some of our objections to it. Until the advent of the 1903 Springfield the German Mauser had occupied the summit of military rifle supremacy. From 1903 until the advent of the great war, these two rifles, the Mauser and the Springfield, were easily the two leaders. The British Army had been equipped with the Lee-Enfield for some years prior to the outbreak of the great war, hut the British ordnance authorities had been making vigourous efforts to improve this weapon. The Enfield was at a disadvantage principally in its ammunition. It fired a .303 calibre cartridge with a rimmed head. From a ballistic standpoint this cartridge was virtually obsolete.

In 1914, a new, improved Enfield, known as the Pattern 14 was brought out in England and the British government was on the point of adopting it when the great war broke out. This was to be a gun of .276 calibre and was to shoot rimless, or cannelured, cartridges similar to the standard United States ammunition. The war threw the whole British improved Enfield on the scrap heap. England was no more equipped to build the improved Enfields than we were to produce Springfields in our private plants. The British arsenals and industrial plants and her ammunition factories were equipped to turn out the old “short Enfield and its antiquated .303 rimmed cartridges. Now England was obliged to turn to outside sources for an additional rifle supply and in the United States she found the three firms . . . willing to undertake large rifle contracts. Having to build up factory equipment anew in the United States for this work, England found that she might as well have the American plants manufacture the improved Enfield. . . . Accordingly, the British selected the improved Enfield for the American manufacturer, but modified it to receive the .303 rimmed cartridges. This was the gun that we found being produced at New Haven, Ilion and Eddystone in the spring of 1917. The rifle had many of the characteristics of the 1903 Springfield but it was not so good as the Springfield in its proportions and its sights lacked some of the refinements to which Americans were accustomed. . . . The ammunition it fired was out of the question for us. Not only was it inferior but since we expected to continue to build the Springfields at the Government arsenals we should, if we adopted the Enfield as it was, be forced to produce two sizes of rifle ammunition

The rifle had been designed originally for rimless ammunition and later modified; so it could be modified readily back again to shoot our standard .30 calibre Springfield cartridges.

It may be seen that the Ordnance Department had before it three courses open, any one of which it might take. It could spend the time to equip private plants to manufacture Springfields, in which case the American rifle program would be hopelessly delayed. It could get guns immediately by contracting for the production of British .303 Enfields, in which case the American troops would carry inferior rifles with them to France. Or, it could take a relatively brief time, accept the criticism bound to come from any delay, however brief such delay might be and however justified by the practical conditions, and modify the Enfield to take our ammunition, in which case the American troops would be adequately equipped with a good weapon.

The decision to modify the Enfield was one of the great decisions of the executive prosecution of the war-all honour to the men who made it.

The three concerns which had been manufacturing the British weapons conceded that it should be changed to take the American ammunition.

The Eddystone plant finished its British contracts on June 1, Winchester produced its last British rifle on June 28, and Ilion on July 21, 1917. Winchester delivered the first modified Enfields to us on August 18, Eddystone on September 10 and Ilion about October 28.

The progress in the manufacture was thereafter steadily upward. During the week ending February 2, 1918, the daily production of military rifles in the United States was 9,247 of which 7,805 were modified Enfields produced in the three private plants and 1,442 were Springfields built in the two arsenals. The total production for that week was 50,873 guns of both types, or nearly enough for three army divisions. . . . All troops leaving the United States were armed with American weapons at the ports of embarkation.

Ten months after the U. S. declared war against Germany we were producing in a week four times as many rifles as Great Britain had turned out in a similar period after 10 months of war, and U. S.  production was then twice as large in volume as Great Britain had attained in the war up to that time. By the middle of June, 1918, we had passed the million and one-half mark in the production of rifles of all sorts, this figure including over 250,000 rifles which had been built upon original contracts placed by the former Russian government.

The production of Enfields and Springfields during the war up to November 9, 1918, amounted to a total of 2,506,307 guns.

The Enfield thus became the dominant rifle of our military effort. With its modified firing mechanism it could use the superior Springfield cartridges with their great accuracy. The Enfield sights, by having the peep sight close to the eye of the firer, gave even greater quickness of aim than the Springfield sights afforded. In this respect the weapon was far superior to the Mauser, which was the main dependence of the German Army. All in all to a weapon that made scant appeal to our ordnance officers in a few weeks we added improvements and modifications that made the 1917 Enfield a gun that for the short-range fighting in Europe compared favourably with the Springfield and was to the allied cause a distinct contribution which America substantially could claim to be her own.

The Industrial Revolution and Machine-Gun Prototypes

The fundamental changes, including manufacturing and financial practices, that came about during the Industrial Revolution greatly speeded machine-gun development. The first patent using the term “machine gun” was issued in the United States in 1829 to Samuel L. Farries of Middletown, Ohio. This grant seems to imply that the term was to be assigned to any mechanically operated weapon of rifle caliber and above, regardless of whether the energy necessary for sustained fire was derived mechanically or from some other source of power. As it turned out, however, the weapons of the nineteenth century would all be manually operated. Because it was always necessary for a gunner to aim the weapon, there seemed to be no reason why he should not also furnish the power to feed and fire the gun. The challenge for inventors was how to devise a mechanism to make that possible.

In the 1850s, Sir James S. Lillie of London attempted to combine both the multibarrel and the revolving chamber systems. He arranged 12 barrels in two rows. Each had a cylinder, as with a revolver, behind it. A hand crank tripped the hammers of each unit, either simultaneously to produce a 12-barrel barrage of fire, or consecutively to produce a continuous ripple of fire from each barrel in turn. The problem with Lillie’s gun was that it took a long time to reload. Thus it had little appeal for the military and the only specimen ever made now resides in the Royal Artillery Museum at Woolwich in London.

In the United States, other inventors continued to work on perfecting a multifire weapon. Improvements to percussion caps and subsequent developments in the evolution of the cartridge paved the way for new advances. Ezra Ripley, of Troy, New York, took advantage of the paper cartridge developed by Samuel Colt and the Ely brothers of England to patent a hand-cranked machine gun. Ripley achieved sustained volley fire by a compact firing mechanism that allows the gunner to fire one shot, or the whole volley, with a quick turn of the handle. The weapon consisted of a series of barrels grouped around a central axis. The breech lock, made in the shape of a revolving cylinder, was loaded with the conventional paper cartridges of the time. The breech was then locked into place by securing the operating handle. This aligned the chambers containing the cartridges with the rear of the barrels. With a turn of the handle, the firing pin was cocked and released, firing the weapon. Once the weapon was fired, the gunner then pulled the firing assembly rearward, removed the empty cartridges and reloaded the empty chambers. As preloaded cylinders were made available, a single operator was able to produce more sustained fire than a company of men using the standard muzzle-loading musket of the day. However, U. S. military observers evaluating Ripley’s prototype expressed serious doubts about overheating of the barrels and ammunition resupply. In the end, the U. S. Army, which ordered little more than conventional arms like muskets and cannons during this period, was not interested in Ripley’s invention. Nevertheless, it was a promising weapon that had many features that greatly influenced machine-gun design for years.

Some of the difficulties incurred by arms inventors in marketing their ideas were reduced with the onset of the U. S. Civil War; the needs of industrialized warfare spurred weapons inventors and added new impetus to the development of volley-fire weapons and ultimately the mechanical machine gun. One of the most effective of the volley-fire weapons during the Civil War was the Billinghurst-Requa battery gun, built in late 1861 by the Billinghurst Company of Rochester, New York. Designed by Joseph Requa of Rochester, this weapon was yet another revival of the fourteenth-century ribauldequin brought up to date. The weapon consisted of 25 rifle barrels mounted side-by-side on a light wheeled carriage. The barrels were each loaded with a brass cartridge containing gunpowder and a bullet and having a hole in the base. A steel block closed all 25 breeches and was perforated to allow the flash from a single cap, which was placed on a nipple on the iron frame and fired by a hammer, to pass through and ignite the 25 cartridges in a ragged volley, after which the 25 barrels had to be emptied of the spent cartridges by hand and reloaded before the gun could fire again. It produced a blast of fire that could cut down a charging enemy.

The Billinghurst-Requa battery gun, although primitive by later standards, had a few unusual features that merit mention. Requa had solved the inevitable long pause for reloading by making his weapon a breechloader. The clip-loading feature and quick means of locking and unlocking the bolt allowed for a decent rate of fire. The gun was demonstrated in New York shortly before the Civil War broke out, and several were purchased by the Union and the Confederacy. They were used to protect vulnerable points, notably bridges and similar places where an enemy attack could be channeled into a narrow space and a sudden blast of fire delivered. As a result, these weapons became known as bridge guns. Despite its potential, the battery gun had its limitations and did not represent a great leap forward in rapid-fire technology. Additionally, there were questions about how such guns would best be used on the battlefield. The gun was demonstrated for the Ordnance Select Committee in London in 1863, and the observers attending were less than impressed. The committee thought that the gun could not be a substitute for any existing field guns and questioned its utility for the infantry. Ian V. Hogg, a modern expert on weapons and their development, maintains that “this short report pinpoints the greatest problem facing the early development of machine guns: how were they to be used?”1 Most military observers saw them as some sort of artillery weapon and contended that they should be handled in the field in the same manner, that is, setting up some distance from the enemy to take him under fire. According to Hogg, “It was this ques tion of method of employment that was to be the greatest brake on the early development” of the machine gun. Very few observers realized the potential of these weapons and how they would change the nature of armed combat.

A different approach during the Civil War was taken by Wilson Ager (sometimes spelled Agar). His invention was called the Coffee Mill because the ammunition was fed into the top through a funnel-shaped hopper resembling an old-time coffee grinder. Ager’s gun, also known as the Union Repeating Gun, was unique in that it had only one barrel. A number of steel tubes, into which powder and a bullet were loaded, provided the firepower; on the end of each tube was a nipple on to which a percussion cap was placed. The tubes were then dropped into the hopper and gravity-fed one at a time by rotating the crank. This pushed the first tube from the hopper into the chamber of the barrel, locked the breech block behind it, and then dropped a hammer onto the cap and fired the caliber .58 Minié-type bullet out of the barrel. Continuous rotation of the crank withdrew the empty tube and ejected it, then fed the next tube in, and so on. The gunner’s mate had the job of picking up the empty tubes and reloading them as fast as he could, dropping them back into the hopper.

The gun, which Ager described as “An Army in Six Feet Square,” worked reasonably well, particularly for its day. The inventor claimed that the weapon could fire 100 shots per minute. This was probably an exaggeration, and that claim was no doubt received with great skepticism. This response was probably well-founded, because 100 shots per minute meant exploding a pound or so of gunpowder every minute. In truth, the gun probably could not have withstood the heat generated. (The problem of heat buildup in the barrel would be one of the recurring difficulties that had to be overcome in the development of an effective machine gun.) Nevertheless, Ager conducted a demonstration firing for President Abraham Lincoln, who was so impressed with the weapon that he authorized the purchase of 10 units on the spot. Eventually Ager sold more than fifty Coffee Mills to the Union Army. Generally, they proved to be unreliable in combat and were never employed en masse. According to one reference, they were incorporated into the defenses of Washington and were only occasionally fired at Confederate positions along the Potomac River. 3 They were usually relegated to bridge duty, like the Requa. In the end, the Coffee Mill was not adopted in great numbers because contemporary authorities, failing to see its great potential, condemned it as requiring too much ammunition ever to be practical.

Captain D. R. Williams of the Confederate Army invented a mechanical gun that was also used during the Civil War. This weapon, a 1-pounder with a bore of 1.57 inches and a 4-foot barrel, was mounted on a mountain howitzer-style horse-drawn limber. This weapon was really a cross between a machine gun and a light repeating cannon. The firing mechanism was operated by a hand crank located on the right side. The weapon used a self-consuming paper cartridge and was capable of 65 shots per minute. It was fairly reliable but had a tendency to overheat when fired for extended periods. The Williams gun was first employed on 3 May 1862 at the Battle of Seven Pines in Virginia. Some historians maintain that this was the first machine gun to be used in battle, but weapons historian Ian V. Hogg disputes this claim, arguing that the Williams gun cannot be classed as a true machine gun, since it was necessary to put each round into the feedway by hand. The Williams, according to Hogg, “was simply a quick-firing breech-loader, operated by a hand crank.” Nevertheless, these weapons were used by the Confederacy for the rest of the Civil War with some success.

Another American, General O. Vandenberg, also invented a new weapon, a volley gun designed for “projecting a group or cluster of shot.” This weapon employed 85 to 451 barrels, depending on the size of the projectile for which it was designed. Each barrel was loaded with a bullet and then the breech was closed. When the operator manipulated a lever, measured charges of powder were dropped simultaneously into each chamber. The method of ignition was percussion: a centrally located charge ignited the whole volley simultaneously. With so many barrels, the weapon was extremely heavy. Vandenberg built the first guns in England and tried to market them there. The British showed some interest in it for use aboard ships but believed that it had little potential as a land weapon due to its weight. Vandenberg, at the outbreak of the Civil War, made many attempts to sell the weapon to the U. S. government. He even gave three weapons to the secretary of war for testing. After very comprehensive field trials, it was found that it took nine hours for one man to clean the bore and chambers of the weapon adequately after firing. This maintenance problem and the weight issue doomed the weapon, and it was deemed unacceptable for Union service. Several of these guns were used by Confederate forces, but they were stamped with the name of the British manu facturing company, Robinson and Cottam. There is a record of one being used in the defense of Petersburg, Virginia.

The Gatling Gun

The most famous and successful of the mechanical machine guns was invented by Richard Jordan Gatling. Rather than practice medicine after completing medical school, Gatling spent his life inventing things, including a steam plow, a mechanical rice planter, and a hemp breaker. However, it was in the area of repeating arms that Gatling made his name. In 1861, taking advantage of the progress that had been made in machine tooling, he combined the best principles of the Ager and Ripley guns (although he denied that he had been influenced by either weapon), overcoming their more objectionable features. Because of his successful designs, Gatling has generally been credited with being the progenitor of the modern mechanical machine gun.

Gatling was fully aware of the problems with heat buildup from multiple explosions in a rapidly firing weapon. To overcome this, he designed the weapon with six barrels that would be fired in turn. This ensured that with a total potential fire rate of 600 rounds per minute, each barrel would only fire 100, allowing them to cool down.

The first Gatling gun, patented in November 1862, consisted of six barrels mounted around a central axis in a revolving frame with a hopper-shaped steel container similar to the Ager. The barrels were cranked by hand. The weapon used small steel cylinders that contained a percussion cap on the end, the bullet, and paper cartridges for the charge. It was loaded by placing the steel cylinders into the hopper above the gun, which fed the rounds into the breech by gravity. As the handle was turned, the six barrels and the breech mechanism revolve, each barrel having a bolt and a firing pin controlled by a shaped groove in the casing around the breech. As the breech revolved, the bolts were opened and closed and the firing pin released from the action of studs running in the groove. When any barrel was at the topmost point of revolution, the breech bolt was fully open and as it passed beneath the hopper a loaded cylinder was dropped into the feeder. As the barrel continued to revolve, the bolt was closed, leaving the firing pin cocked; as the barrel revolved to the bottommost point, the firing pin was released and the barrel fired. Further revolution caused the bolt to open and the empty case to be ejected, just in time for the barrel to reach the top again with the bolt open, ready to collect its next cartridge and casing.

Gatling made arrangements for six weapons to be manufactured for an official test by the Union Army. Unfortunately, the factory in which the guns were being made was destroyed by fire, and the guns and all his drawings were lost. The inventor was not deterred, however, and he was able to raise enough money to manufacture 12 new guns. This time he did away with the metal cylinders, using rim-fire cartridges instead. This made the newer weapon easier to load and more reliable. Gatling boasted that the gun could be fired at the rate of 200 shots per minute.

Despite Gatling’s claims, which were to be borne out by subsequent events, the Union Army failed to adopt the gun for two reasons. First, the army’s chief of ordnance, Colonel John W. Ripley (later brigadier general), strongly resisted any move away from standard-issue weapons. The other reason was suspicion that Gatling’s sympathies lay with the South. Although he had located his factory in Cincinnati, Ohio, Gatling had been born in North Carolina, which had joined the Confederacy. Therefore, to many among the Union leadership, his politics and sympathies were suspect. Gatling even appealed directly to President Lincoln, pointing out that his deadly invention was “providential, to be used as a means in crushing the rebellion.” Despite Gatling’s offer to help the North win the war, many in the Union high command felt there was something odd about a Southerner offering a new gun to the Union and thus refused to even consider Gatling’s invention. The only use of the Gatling gun during the Civil War occurred when General Benjamin F. Butler of Massachusetts personally purchased 12 guns for $1,000 each and later put them to good use against Confederate troops besieged at Petersburg, Virginia.

In 1864, Gatling completely redesigned the gun so that each barrel was formed with its own chamber, thus doing away with the separate cylinder and its attendant gas-leak problem. The gun now fed center-fire cartridges from a magazine on top. The cartridges were gradually fed into the chamber by cams as the barrels revolved, then fired at the bottom position, and were extracted and ejected during the upward movement. As the barrel reached the top it was empty and ready to take in the next round. The great advantage of this system was that it divided the mechanical work among six barrels so that all the machinery operated at a sensible speed. By this time, Gatling had refined the gun’s design considerably, increasing the rate of fire to 300 rounds per minute and improving reliability.

Gatling intensified efforts to sell the gun to the U. S. government. He published a publicity broadsheet in 1865 that informed the world that his gun bore “the same relationship to other firearms that McCormack’s Reaper does to the sickle, or the sewing machine to the common needle. It will no doubt be the means of producing a great revolution in the art of warfare from the fact that a few men can perform the work of a regiment.” At Gatling’s urging, the U. S. Army finally agreed later that year to conduct a test. Pleased with the results, the Army formally adopted the Gatling gun in 1866, ordering 50 of 1-inch caliber (with six barrels) and 50 of 0.50-inch caliber (with 10 barrels). Gatling entered a contract with Colt’s Patent Fire Arms Company of Hartford, Connecticut, to manufacture the guns for delivery in 1867. Gatling was so pleased with this arrangement that for as long as the U. S. government used the Gatling gun, it was manufactured by Colt.

Even though the U. S. Army had adopted the Gatling gun, there were two schools of thought among military men, both in the United States and elsewhere, about the best way to use it. One believed they should be used as artillery fire support; the other advocated its use for defending bridges and for street defense. Neither side recognized its true potential was as an infantry support weapon. This would be a recurring theme within the world’s armies regarding the Gatling gun and subsequent machine guns, as doctrine and tactics failed to keep pace with technological advances.

With the Civil War over and the arms embargo enacted during the war lifted, Gatling and the Colt’s Patent Fire Arms Company began marketing the weapon overseas, aggressively entering arms competitions throughout Europe. In each case, when a properly designed cartridge was used, the Gatling gun out-shot every competing design. In Great Britain, some military leaders had recommended the adoption of the machine gun, but cost considerations led Parliament to refuse to appropriate funding to develop such weapons. Nevertheless, the British Army tested Gatling’s weapon at Woolwich in 1870 in competition with the Montigny Mitrailleuse, a 12- pounder breechloader firing shrapnel, a 9-pounder muzzleloader firing shrapnel, six soldiers firing Martini-Henry rifles, and six soldiers firing Snider rifles. The Gatling fired 492 pounds of ammunition and obtained 2,803 hits on various targets; the Montigny 472 pounds for 708 hits; the 12-pounder 1,232 for 2,286 hits; and the 9-pounder 1,013 pounds for 2,207 hits. The British were impressed with the Gatling’s accuracy, its economy, and the fact that in timed fire it got off 1,925 rounds in 2.5 minutes. The test went so well that the British adopted the Gatling in caliber .42 for the Army and caliber .65 for the Royal Navy.

Great Britain became one of the first countries not only to recognize the utility of the Gatling gun but also to put it into action. After some initial difficulties with the new weapon during the Ashanti campaign of 1873 in the territory that is now Ghana, West Africa, the British Army wholeheartedly endorsed it. Events elsewhere in Africa contributed toward the acceptance of the Gatling gun. In South Africa on 22-23 January 1879, the British had suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Zulus under Cetshwayo at Isandlwana. In retribution for this defeat, a force of 4,000 infantrymen and 1,000 cavalry under the command of Lord Chelmsford set out to punish the Zulus. On July 4, the British, armed with two Gatling guns, engaged the Zulu warriors at Ulundi. The Gatlings wrought havoc among the Zulus, who had never gone up against such devastating fire. When the battle was over, more than 1,500 Zulus lay dead, most due to fire from the Gatlings. From then on the Gatling gun became a mainstay of British expeditionary forces in places like Egypt and the Sudan. Modern-day historian Robert L. O’Connell maintains that the Gatling and subsequently the Maxim machine gun were so popular with British colonial forces because “from an imperialist standpoint, the machine gun was nearly the perfect laborsaving device, enabling tiny forces of whites to mow down multitudes of brave but thoroughly outgunned native warriors.”

Over the next few years, most major armies in Europe, as well as those in Egypt, China, and much of South America, purchased Gatling’s weapon. The Russian government, preparing for war with Turkey, ordered 400 Gatlings. A Russian general was sent to the United States to oversee their manufacture and inspect the units before acceptance and shipping. With considerable cunning, he replaced the original Gatling nameplates with his own before the guns were shipped to Russia. Not surprisingly, some Russians claimed that Gatling had stolen important elements of the Gorloff model, which was called the Russian Mitrailleuse.

Despite Russian claims of originality, the Gatling was popular and saw use in many theaters. The inventor continued to work for 30 years on improvements and conducted many exhibitions throughout Europe and South America. Various models of varying calibers were introduced. By 1876, a five-barreled caliber .45 model was firing 700 rounds per minute and even up to 1,000 rounds in a short burst. By the mid-1880s, the armed forces of almost every nation in the world included Gatling guns among their inventories.

The Gatling was an effective design and remained in use until technology evolved such that a single barrel could be manufactured to withstand the heat and wear of multiple firings. After that advance, the Gatling disappeared. Before then, however, the Gatling saw long war service in countries, primarily as a instrument of colonialism, whereby small numbers of European soldiers could defeat large masses of native troops in Africa, Asia, and elsewhere.

Despite the increased firepower of the Gatling, it had some limitations technically and tactically. The multiple barrels prevented excess heat buildup, but they were also a liability due to their weight. The weapon was best used in defensive situations because it was too heavy and unwieldy to use on the attack. For that reason, Gatlings were usually relegated to the artillery to be used in batteries, rather than distributed to infantry and cavalry units. There were a few instances where this was not the case. The Americans first used the Gatling against a foreign enemy during the Spanish-American War in 1898. Under the leadership of Captain John H. “Gatling Gun” Parker, a Gatling unit was organized and employed against the Spaniards at Santiago, Cuba. Parker took it upon himself to push the guns, mounted on carriages, forward on the flanks of the attacking force, keeping up with the advancing infantry and effectively clearing a path for them. This was the first use of the machine gun for mobile fire support in offensive combat. Parker quickly became one of the pioneers in the development of a tactical doctrine built around the use of the machine gun in support of the infantry.

The Gatling gun and its inventor were way ahead of their times. It was the only weapon in history to progress from black powder to smokeless powder, from hand power to fully automatic, and eventually to an electric-drive system that allowed 3,000 rounds per minute. All this was accomplished without any change to its basic operating principle before being abandoned as obsolete in 1911. It was also a design that would have applications in the modern era.

WWI Austro-Hungarian Small Arms Part I

Roth-Steyr Models 1907 and 1912

Austria-Hungary finally moved to replace its aging Rast-Gasser revolvers with the Roth-Steyr 8mm Pistol Model 1907 and the 9mm Steyr Pistol Model 1912. Österreichische Waffenfabrik Gesellschaft (Steyr) manufactured some 60,000 Model 1907s; Fegyvergyr of Budapest produced another 30,000. The Model 1907, or Repetier Pistole M. 07, served as Austria’s first semiautomatic pistol and, issued to the Kaiserliche und Königliche Armee (Ku. K), saw wide use during World War I. Its well-publicized use by aircrews during the war also earned it the title Flieger-Pistole (Flyer Pistol). Austrian pistols were stamped with the Austrian double-headed eagle and date, with Hungary marking its pistols with the country’s crest and date of issue. A brass disk fixed to the right grip panel denoted regimental issue. In addition to Austria-Hungary, the Model 1907 also saw service with the Australian Air Service.

The Model 1907 is a recoil-operated weapon and was designed by Georg Roth and Karel Krnka. Its 10-round internal magazine in the grip is loaded with chargers or stripper clips. The Model 1907 is also somewhat unusual in that although the action of the breech mechanism reloads the pistol it does not cock its striker. The striker was activated by an independent trigger mechanism that, as in a double-action, required a deliberate and heavy trigger pull to cock and fire the pistol. This feature was most probably intended as a safety measure, as the Model 1907 was initially destined for issue to cavalry units. It may have lessened the chances of accidental discharge while on horseback, but unfortunately for infantrymen and others it did make the Model 1907 difficult to aim accurately. The Roth-Steyr was a well-built weapon but was expensive and difficult to manufacture. It was also somewhat bulky, with a large knob on the rear of its bolt, giving it something of the appearance of a child’s ray gun.

The most widely issued semiautomatic pistol among Austrian forces during World War I was chambered for the 9mm Steyr cartridge and was known by a number of names. It was variously called the Model 1911 (or M11) in its civilian version, the Steyr Pistol Model 1912 (or M12) in its military form, and officially as the Selbstiade Pistol M12. It was also popularly known as the Steyr Hahn, (hahn meaning to “hand” or “hammer”), in contrast to earlier hammerless models. Some 250,000 Model 1912s were manufactured and issued before Steyr ended its production in 1919. The Model 1912 was also used by Chile and Romania, and during World War II a number were rebarreled to 9mm Parabellum and issued to Nazi troops. The slides of Nazi reissue Model 12s were stamped “08” to distinguish them from their original 9mm Steyr chamberings.

Unlike the Model 1907, the Model 1912 was more conventional in its outer appearance, superficially resembling the squared lines of the Colt-Brownings of its day. Still, the eight-round magazine, although located in the grip, was not removable and was charged by means of stripper clips guided by a slot machined into the top of the slide. It was also fitted with a hold-open device that keeps the slide open after firing the magazine’s last cartridge. This was a distinct advantage to combat troops in that it alerted them to an empty magazine in the heat of battle. The Model 1912 was equipped with a thumb safety on the left side of the frame near the hammer, and another safety prevents the pistol from discharging unless the slide was fully closed. Despite such measures, it was still possible for the Model 1912’s main safety to become partially disengaged, allowing it to accidentally fire.

The locking of the action was accomplished by means of corresponding slots and ribs in the barrel and inside of the slide. Upon ignition, the barrel and slide remain locked during the initial recoil, but as the bullet passed through the barrel the internal cams twisted the barrel to the left, freeing the slide and allowing it to continue in its rearward cycle. This movement opened the action to eject the casing, cocks the pistol’s exposed hammer, and strips a fresh cartridge from the magazine. The Model 1912 was a rugged pistol but, as were other Steyr designs, already outdated when it was introduced, owing to its lack of a detachable magazine.

Frommer Stop

While a member of the Austro-Hungarian Empire during World War I, Hungary insisted on arming its Honved (Army) officers with a domestic semiautomatic pistol-the Frommer Stop-rather than its allies’ Steyrs. The early designs of Rudolf Frommer (1868-1936) of the small arms firm Fegyver és Gépgyar Részvénytarsasag of Budapest reflected his close association with both Krnka and Roth. His pistols were thus beautifully engineered but typically overly difficult to manufacture and maintain for military use. Frommer patented the Frommer Stop pistol in 1912, and it became known in Hungary (for obscure reasons) as the 19 Minta Pisztoly, or Model 1919 Pistol. Possibly as many as 329,000 were manufactured before production ceased in the 1930s (Ezell 1981: 233).

The pistol operates on a turning bolt mechanism and is a long recoil-operated weapon-a needlessly complicated system for its relatively underpowered 7.65mm (caliber .32) Browning cartridge. The Frommer Stop also presents a somewhat unique appearance in the use of a tubular spring housing above the barrel. The housing contains both the recoil- and bolt-operating spring; a clever economical use of space, it presents a tricky arrangement for a soldier to disassemble in the field.

Unlike the Steyrs, the Frommer is fitted with a grip safety and a more modern detachable seven-round box magazine released by a catch at the base of the grip. External metal components are blued, and grips are of vertically grooved walnut and marked with the “FS” logo in an oval. The Frommer was generally unpopular among Hungarian troops, as it lacks stopping power and is more delicate when compared to other contemporary military pistols. Fegyvergyar manufactured a more powerful Frommer chambered for the 9mm Browning (caliber .380 ACP) cartridge at the end of World War I, but apparently few if any made their way to front-line troops.


A German designer who made a significant mark on rifle design, even though his weapons were never adopted in Germany, was Ferdinand von Mannlicher. He was born in 1848 in Bohemia and was educated in Vienna at the technical college. In 1876 he went to the World Exhibition in Philadelphia, where, instead of concentrating on the railway exhibits since he worked for Austrian railways, he became sidetracked by the Winchester and Hotchkiss weapons exhibits.

Mannlicher went into rifle design from that moment and received honors for his work, including a Gold Medal at the 1900 International Exposition in Paris. Although many of his designs were failures, his place in rifle history is assured because of his inventive genius. One significant design was a semiautomatic rifle patented in 1895, improved by 1900, which was operated by gas tapped from the barrel that forced a piston to actuate the mechanism. This principle is at the heart of most SLRs today. One area in which his weapons still survive is that of stalking, for Mannlicher sporting rifles made around 1900 can still be seen doing excellent work in the Scottish Highlands.


M1885 Rifle

Straight-pull bolt action. Clip-loaded magazine.

Cartridge: 11.15 x 58R Werndl.

Length: 52.3in (1328mm).

Weight: 10lb 8oz (4.8kg).

Barrel: 31.8in (808mm), 6 grooves, rh.

Magazine: 5-round box.

M/v: 1444 fps (440 m/s).

M1886 Rifle

As M1885, new sights.

Cartridge: 11.1 5 x 58R Werndl.

Length: 52.2in (1326mm).

Weight: 9lb 15oz (4.5kg).

Barrel: 31.7in (806mm), 6 grooves, rh.

Magazine: 5-round box.

M/v: 1444 fps (440 m/s).

1886/90 Rifle

M1886 rifles converted to fire 8 x 50R Mannlicher cartridge.

M/v: 2035 fps (620 m/s).

1888 Rifle

M1886 rebarreled.

Cartridge: 8 x 50R Austrian Mannlicher.

Length: 50.4in (1281mm).

Weight: 9lb 1oz (4.4 kg).

Barrel: 30.2in (765mm), 4 grooves, rh.

Magazine: 5-round box.

M/v: 1755 fps (535 m/s).

1888/90 Rifle

Model 1888 with new sights for M88/90 cartridge.

M/v: 2028 fps (618 m/s).

1890 Cavalry Carbine

Straight-pull bolt.

Cartridge: 8 x 50R Austrian Mannlicher.

Length: 39.6in (1005mm).

Weight: 7lb 5oz (3.3kg).

Barrel: 19.61 in (498mm), 4 grooves, rh.

Magazine: 5-round box.

M/v: 1886 fps (575 m/s).

1890 Gendarmerie Carbine

1892. As cavalry carbine.

Details: as M1890 Cavalry Carbine.

M1895 Rifle

Straight-pull bolt.

Cartridge: 8 x 50R Austrian Mannlicher.

Length: 50.4in (1280mm).

Weight: 8lb 5oz (3.78kg).

Barrel: 30.1 9in (765mm), 4 grooves, rh.

Magazine: 5-round box.

M/v: 2030 fps (620 m/s).

1895 Short Rifle

Straight-pull bolt.

Cartridge: 8 x 50R Austrian Mannlicher.

Length: 39.49in (1003mm).

Weight: 6lb 13oz (3.09kg).

Barrel: 19.68in (500mm), 4 grooves, rh.

Magazine: 5-round box.

M/v: 1902 fps (580 m/s).

1895 Cavalry Carbine

Similar to short rifle.

Details: the same

M1914 Rifle

As German Gew. 98 but with a different stock.

Cartridge: 8 x 50R Austrian Mannlicher.

Length: 50.19in (1275mm).

Weight: 8lb 13oz (4.0kg).

Barrel: 30.7in (780mm), 4 grooves, rh.

Magazine: 5-round integral box.

M/v: 2034 fps (620 m/s).

WWI Austro-Hungarian Small Arms Part II

Machine Guns

Maxim traveled Europe while demonstrating his weapon. He was accompanied by Albert Vickers, a steel producer from South Kensington who had become intensely interested in Maxim and his invention. In 1887, Maxim took one of his guns to Switzerland for a competition with the Gatling, the Gardner, and the Nordenfelt. It easily out-shot all competitors. The next trials were in Italy at Spezzia. There the Italian officer in charge of the competition requested Maxim to submerge his gun in the sea and allow it to be immersed for three days. At the end of that time, without cleaning, the gun performed as well as it had before being subjected to this officer’s unusual demand. The next trial was in Vienna, where an impressed Archduke William, the field marshal of the Austrian Army, observed that the Maxim gun was “the most dreadful instrument” that he had ever seen or imagined. History would prove the archduke’s observation to be only too true.

Many observers were first skeptical toward Maxim’s claim that his weapon could fire 10 shots per second and maintain that rate of fire for any extended length of time. At the Swiss, Italian, and Austrian trials and those that followed, Maxim made believers out of all who saw the weapon in action. One exception was the king of Denmark, who was dismayed at the expenditure of ammunition and decided that such a weapon was far too expensive to operate, saying that it would bankrupt his kingdom.

In 1888, Maxim formed a partnership with Vickers, an association that would last until Maxim’s seventy-first birthday. Having successfully demonstrated his weapon in Europe, Maxim and his new partner began producing the machine gun. The first production model was capable of firing 2,000 rounds in 3 minutes. It was very well built, easy to maintain, and virtually indestructible. By 1890, Maxim and Vickers were supplying machine guns to Britain, Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, and Russia.

In Austria in 1888, Archduke Karl Salvator and Colonel von Dormus patented a very simple gun using the blowback system. This gun was unique in that it did not have a breech lock. Because of that, it could use only relatively weak cartridges. Nevertheless, the design was sold to the Skoda company of Pilsen, where it was manufactured as the Skoda Mitrailleuse Model 1893 Machine Gun. Later modified as the Skoda Model 1909, this weapon remained in service in the Austro-Hungarian Army through World War I, during which it was primarily used for fortress defense. In 1893, another Austrian, Captain Baron Adolph von Odkolek, took his idea for a gas-operated machine gun to the Hotchkiss company in France.

By 1907, the Austro-Hungarian Army had become disenchanted with its Skoda machine gun and turned toward a new model invented by the German designer Andreas Wilhelm Schwarzlose. His design, first patented in 1900, employed a blowback system in which the gun was operated by the rearward movement of the breechblock. The Schwarzlose, first introduced in 1905 and manufactured by Steyr in Austria, was cheap, simple to understand and operate, and solid and robust. In fact it was so heavy that the parts never seemed to wear out, and many of the Austrian guns used in the coming war would be around for use in World War II. It was also sold to the Netherlands, Greece, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, and Sweden.       

Škoda M1909

Manufacturer(s) Škoda

Production began 1909

Production ended 1917

Technical specifications

Machine gun

Caliber 8x50mmR

Action Delayed blowback

Length 945mm

Barrel length 530mm

Weight 41.4kg

Feed system Belt

Cyclic rate 425rpm

Maximum effective range 1000m

Muzzle velocity 2030fps

The M1909 is a machine gun made by Škoda during the Austro-Hungarian era. The weapon was a belt fed derivative of the Salvator Dormus M1893. Although it was unable to compete with the more reliable Schwarzlose m/07, it was used in the same period, albeit mostly by reserve and home guard battalions within the Austro-Hungarian armed forces.

The M1909 is a 8x50mmR calibre, water cooled, delayed blowback operated machine gun. The operation is unusual, it uses a rolling block that operates as the bolt, which is delayed by the friction of a tilting block against the return spring when the round is fired. The cocking lever is on the right side and also has a folding stock.

Schwarzlose machine gun

Maschinengewehr (Schwarzlose) M. 7

Other name(s) M.7/12, 07/12

Manufacturer(s) ŒWG

Technical specifications

Weapon type Medium machine gun

Caliber 8×50mmR Mannlicher, 8×56mmR, 7.92x57mm Mauser, 6.5x53mmR, 6.5×55mm, 7.62×54mmR, .303 British

Action Toggle delayed blowback

Length 945 mm (37.2 inches)

Barrel length 530 mm (20.9 inches)

Weight 41.4 kg (91.8 pounds)

Cyclic rate 400-580 round/min (M.07/12), 600-880 round/m (MG-16A)

German arms designer Andreas Wilhelm Schwarzlose patented a basic design for a machine gun in 1902. He subsequently sold his patent rights to the Steyr arms factory in Austria, which produced the first guns of the Schwarzlose pattern in 1905. After two years of trials and development, the military forces of the Empire adopted the Schwarzlose machine gun in 1907; this gun was also later adopted in a range of calibers by the Netherlands and Sweden (who both manufactured Schwarzlose machine guns under licence until the 1930s), and by Greece, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey – all before the World War I. In 1912 it was modified with the introduction of stronger parts and slightly reshaped retarding levers (struts). The primary visible difference between original M1907 guns and modified M1907/12 guns is the lack of the gap between the hump on the receiver and the barrel jacket on the latter guns.

After the WWI and the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a great many Schwarzlose guns were adopted by smaller countries that emerged from the remains of the Empire, such as Czechoslovakia (which put the gun into production) and Hungary. Many Schwarzlose guns also went to Italy as war reparations, and subsequently saw some use during WW2, mostly in Africa in the original 8x50R caliber. Another user of Schwarzlose machine guns was Russia, which captured several thousands of Austrian machine guns during the early parts of World War One.

The Schwarzlose machine gun, although overshadowed by more famous weapons such as the Maxim or Browning, has its own merits. It is quite simple in construction, robust in service, and usually quite reliable. Its drawbacks come from its basic design, which centers on a retarded-blowback action. This action calls for a relatively short barrel so that the chamber pressure drops before the case begins to leave the chamber; otherwise it would rupture – although when the Czechoslovak army converted their old 8x50R Schwarzlose machine guns to the more powerful 7.92×57 Mauser ammunition, they had no problems associated with high pressure, even with new, significantly longer barrels. Nevertheless, most of the Schwarzlose guns retained short barrels throughout their service life. This obviously limited the muzzle velocity and thus the maximum range and possible bullet penetration at any given range, compared with contemporary guns with a locked breech. The short barrel also called for a dedicated flash hider, to suppress the significant muzzle flash which otherwise would blind the gunner at night. Finally, the lack of primary extraction required an integral oiler, which squirted a small amount of oil into the chamber just before chambering the next round. Nevertheless, the Schwarzlose was a good weapon and saw considerable use through both world wars, although during the Second World War it was mostly relegated to second-line troops, fortifications and other such uses.

The Schwarzlose machine gun is a retarded-blowback operated, water cooled, belt-fed weapon that fires from a closed bolt. The method of operation requires a heavy breechblock, connected to the receiver through a pair of knee-joint struts. When the bolt is in battery, the struts are folded forward, with their joint axis lying relatively low above the barrel axis. Upon firing, the pressure of the powder gases acts on the breechblock through the base of the cartridge case. The rearward movement of the breechblock unfolds the struts, but because of a carefully arranged redirection of forces through the struts and joints, most of the initial pressure is transferred to the receiver. Upon further recoil, joint axis rises above the barrel, and thus the recoil force is re-distributed with more and more of it being used for bolt acceleration. Upon recoil, the bolt compresses a massive and powerful return spring which forces it forward and into battery once the recoil stroke is completed. The charging handle is attached to the axis of the forward strut, and has to be rotated back to cycle the bolt.

Due to the lack of primary extraction, the Schwarzlose has to use oiled cartridges. To avoid the problems associated with factory-oiled or waxed ammunition (which tends to collect fine dust and then cause jams) the gun has an internal oiling system which squirts a small amount of oil into the chamber just before the chambering of each round. This system includes an oil reservoir, located in the receiver’s top cover, and a small oil pump, which is operated by the reciprocating bolt.

The belt feed system is very simple, and involves few parts. The major part is the star-wheel, located in the lower left corner of receiver. Upon bolt recoil, the star-wheel is rotated for one step by the interaction of the cam surfaces on the bolt and the wheel. Each cartridge has to make three steps in the feed before being presented to the bolt for chambering, therefore initial belt loading requires three deliberate pulls on the charging handle. The feed direction is from the right side only, ejection being to the left.

The trigger system also is of rather simply design. It involves a separate striker, a striker spring and a sear, mounted on the bolt. The sear is cocked by a lever attached to the rear bolt delaying strut, and this cocking movement adds to the retarding force applied to the bolt. After cocking the striker is held to the rear by the sear. The thumb trigger is located at the rear of the receiver, and once pushed by the operator, it holds the connection bar so it trips the sear when the bolt is in battery. A manual safety is located next to the trigger and blocks it unless pushed forward by the operator’s left thumb. Dual spade grips are located horizontally at either side of the receiver, and can be folded up for storage or transportation.

 The most common mounting was a tripod of solid construction, with tubular legs of adjustable height and traverse and elevation mechanisms. An optional armored shield was available for this gun, which was unusual in that it also provided frontal and lateral armored protection for the thin metal of the water jacket. Alternatively, a low-height, lightweight tripod was provided for the “light” role. This tripod had no traverse and elevation mechanisms.

Barnitzke Machine Gun (Flywheel delayed blowback)

7.92x57mm cartridge


The German Gustloff Barnitzke light machine gun. Derived from the MG 42 by Karl Barnitzke, the weapon used an unusual delayed blowback action consisting of two flywheels in a rack and pinion arrangement. The flywheels were exposed to dust and mud, and were overcomplicated in design, and the gun remained a prototype only

The information on this gun is really really scarce, the only thing known about it is that it’s a prototype. It is  a delayed blowback machine gun and to quote “during firing the bolt opening is delayed by the rotational inertia of two flywheels, which are driven by a rack and pinion arrangement on the bolt carrier”. Though similar to the MG-42 it was supposed to replace, its internal design differed greatly and the complexity of this weapon possibly led to no further development after WW2.

Other Rare MGs Mauser LMG Modell 1934, Wollmer LMG Modell 1926, Gustloff Barnitzke LMG, MG-131 Ground Version

During the war a number of companies produced the MG 42, although never in the numbers needed to keep up with the ever increasing demand. These included Gustloff-Werke in Suhl, Mauser AG-Werke in Borsigwald, Steyr in Vienna, Grossfuss in Dobeln, and Maget in Among them, 129 MG 42s were made each day from 1942 through 1945. More than 400,000 units were produced (17,915 in 1942,116,725 in 1943, 211,806 in 1944, and 61,877 in 1945).

Machine Guns WWI: Issue, organization and doctrine


The German MG08, fitted with an optical sight and an armoured cover for its water-jacket.


A graphic representation of machine gun cones of fire and beaten zones. Taken from British machine gun training notes.

The level of machine gun issue in the armies of the major powers in 1914 was roughly equivalent. The Russians were actually the most lavishly equipped on paper, with an eight-gun company attached to each regiment. However this remained a sadly theoretical scale of issue for some Russian regiments, for whom even riles were a scarce commodity. The Russian Army was 833 machine guns short of its official scale of issue at the outbreak of war. Once the fighting began this situation worsened, as pre-war forecasts of wastage proved to have been far too low. Efforts were made to increase production and to negotiate purchases from abroad. It was not until 1916, however, that production exceeded the average rate of wastage, which stood at 600 guns per month. Russian machine-gunnery was further hampered by a severe shortage of small arms ammunition, which prevailed throughout 1915.

Austria-Hungary, Russia’s chief enemy in 1914, also suffered from a shortage of riles, due to pre-war parsimony. Conversely, small arms ammunition was very plentiful – undoubtedly to the benefit of the machine-gunnery of the Habsburg Empire’s armed forces. When their former ally, Italy, attacked in May 1915, machine guns were to prove the mainstay of the successful defensive campaign mounted by the outnumbered Austro-Hungarian forces. They took a particularly high toll of Italian troops attempting to force the valley of the River Isonzo. Italy had rather neglected the machine gun, with only two guns attached to each regiment (which were composed of either three or four battalions). The elite Alpini fared rather better, with two guns per battalion. Italy purchased 892 Vickers ‘C’ Class machine guns between 1910 and 1914. Reports reaching Britain suggested that they were intended for the defence of Italy’s northern frontiers. The coming of war cut off any further possibility of commercial purchases from Britain: such was the need for machine guns in the British Army that selling them to neutral nations was out of the question. Consequently the Italians were obliged to turn to an indigenous design: the Revelli, named for its designer Abiel Bethel Revelli. Like the Schwarzlose, the Revelli worked on the delayed blowback principle, although, just to complicate matters, the barrel also recoiled for a short distance after firing. The delay was effected by a swinging wedge mechanism. In another echo of the Schwarzlose, the cartridges had to be lubricated to ensure clean extraction. The Revelli did not possess the ruggedness of its Austrian counterpart and its potential for unreliability was only enhanced by its use of a unique open magazine, containing fifty rounds. The troubles of Italian machine gunners were compounded by the fact that the Italian Army used a rather underpowered 6.5mm cartridge. As the war progressed the Revelli was supplemented by considerable numbers of the St Etienne gun, supplied by France – thereby augmenting the quantity, if not the quality, of Italian machine guns.

The most effective user of machine guns in the first year of the war was the German Army. German machine-gunners held a decided advantage over their opponents: not because they possessed more guns, but for organizational reasons. Ostensibly the German provision of two guns per battalion matched arrangements in the British and French Armies. However the German guns were organized in a separate company, which was considered the thirteenth company of each three-battalion regiment. This meant that instead of being distributed piecemeal to the three battalions of the regiment, the machine guns remained under the direct control of the regimental commander, and were often grouped together in action. Indeed German regulations specifically stipulated that machine guns should always be under the command of the senior officer present. In addition to the machine gun companies of infantry and cavalry regiments, eleven independent machine gun ‘detachments’ (Abteilungen) were available to corps commanders – these had originally been intended for use in conjunction with the cavalry.

One of the earliest lessons learnt by machine-gunners during the First World War was that this type of ‘brigading’ of guns could greatly enhance their effectiveness, by concentrating their firepower at crucial points. A clear example of this occurred on 26 August 1914, during the Battle of Tannenberg, when, near that village, a Russian counter-attack was shattered by the concentrated fire of the six machine guns of the German 150th Infantry Regiment. In the West, the battle of Le Cateau witnessed the offensive use of ‘closely massed’ German machine guns. The Germans went further than other nation in laying down field regulations for the employment of machine guns. Concentration of fire was encouraged and it was considered a ‘mistake’ to advance machine guns closer to the enemy than 800m if effective supporting fire could be delivered without so doing. Nevertheless, in common with other armies, the Germans still thought in terms of a war of manoeuvre; thus their regulations contained instructions for such activities as firing upon enemy bivouacs by night.

Another advantage held by the Germans was the specialist nature of their machine-gunners and machine gun officers. American historian Dennis Showalter has pointed out that this effect was enhanced in wartime because the limited numbers of trained machine-gunners meant that there was little interchange of machine gun officers and NCOs between first line and reserve regiments (the reverse being the case with their counterparts in rile companies), therefore ‘an active machine-gun company was likely to take most of its peacetime cadre into the field, with corresponding benefits to morale and stability’. However, before attributing too high a level of preparedness to the Imperial German Army, it would be wise to reflect on what this meant for machine-gunnery in reserve formations, which were expected to fight at the Front and which, in many instances, lacked machine gun companies altogether. This fact, added to the natural wastage of the stock of machine guns that occurred in combat, meant that German divisions in the field were running short of them by the autumn of 1914. Of the eight German divisions primarily involved in the Battle of the Marne (those of III and IX Armeekorps of von Kluck’s First Army and X and X Reserve Armeekorps of von Bölow’s Second Army), only one could deploy its full complement of machine guns (twenty-four). Others fared less well, with one division having only six – the average per division being fifteen. Shelford Bidwell and Dominick Graham, in their indispensable work Fire Power, assert that each German battalion was furnished with a machine gun company. This is certainly not so, except in the case of Jöger Battalions, which were not grouped in regiments. This fact is not only implicit in the levels of equipment quoted above, but is also proved by the reliable figure we possess for the total number of guns available, which simply would not support such a scale of issue. Contemporary Allied observers certainly did credit the Germans with more Maxim guns than they possessed, with estimates of up to 50,000 being bandied about. This might be taken as a sign of the effective use made by the Germans of the guns that they did have, but was also a consequence of the general pre-war tendency to underestimate the potential effect of machine gun firepower.

The situation in the French Army could hardly have been more different. Although the French level of machine gun issue met the two guns per battalion ‘norm’ of the period, their policy was to use only one at a time. This was due to the unreliability of their guns. It was thought better to keep at least one gun firing continuously, rather than risk two failing simultaneously. Naturally, the grouping of guns was not a consideration in this context. The reliability problem was not just a fault of the bizarre mechanism of the St Etienne gun. It was a general failing of air-cooled machine guns. Due to the state of metallurgy at that date, air-cooled guns inevitably began to lose accuracy in sustained fire, due to expansion of the barrel. Tests conducted with Hotchkiss guns revealed that the expansion was such that bullets began to fail to take the riling after three to four minutes of sustained fire. The Colt ‘Potato Digger’ became dangerously hot after 500 rounds had been discharged. Water-cooling, although more cumbersome, was far more efficient.

Such considerations were of marginal interest to most in the French Army of 1914. Their tactical doctrine was one of attack. The infantry assault with the bayonet was to be pressed home as soon as the enemy’s defensive fire had been neutralized. The riles and machine guns of the infantry would play a part in this neutralization phase, but the main work would be done by the artillery – specifically by the 75mm field gun. The French Soixante-Quinze was an excellent weapon, but the reliance that the French placed upon it certainly retarded the development of machine-gunnery in their army. As it turned out, the 75 was found to be vulnerable when brought forward to aid the assault. The Germans had not invested all their hopes in a single weapon system and, although their 77mm field gun could not match the 75, they could engage it in counter-battery fire with the 105mm howitzers with which their infantry divisions were also equipped. Moreover, field guns firing in the open made a tempting target for enemy machine guns.

The situation altered as France was forced onto the defensive. In other armies in 1914 the machine gun came to the fore as the primary source of defensive firepower – indeed the French infantry suffered grievously at the hands of German machine-gunners during the Battle of the Frontiers. How-ever, in the French Army this role was performed with great success by the Soixante-Quinze, which could indeed develop a frightening level of destructive power. A four-gun battery of 75s, firing at a rate of ten rounds per minute (just half of the twenty rounds theoretically possible) could put 10,000 shrapnel balls per minute into an area 100m by 400m. That is to say ten times more projectiles than four machine guns firing at the standard French cadence moyenne of 200–300 rounds per minute. Little wonder that the German soldiers referred to the French gunners, in their dark blue uniforms, as the ‘Black Butchers’.

Thus, for the time being, the machine gun remained a mere adjunct of infantry firepower, although the French field regulations made the following succinct differentiation: ‘The infantry must advance and shoots to advance; the machine gun must shoot and advances to shoot.’ This phrase, agreeably elliptical though it is, cannot mask the fundamental absence of machine gun doctrine in the French Army of 1914.



Designer Mikhail Kalashnikov poses with its AK-74 assault rifle



AK 47 info 1

All Kalashnikov military rifles operate with the same basic gas-piston and rotating-bolt system. Features for recognition are the short fore-end and handguard, the gas cylinder above the barrel, and the curved magazine.


Probably the most recognized and certainly the most common assault rifle of the twentieth century. It first appeared in 1949, originally with wood for the furniture, but later it was made of plastic. The simplicity and durability of the weapon have made it the favorite of armies and militias across the world, and many Western soldiers have often expressed the wish that all of their weapons be as simple and reliable as an AK47.

Since its first issue, the rifle has been made in many countries (not always under license) and in many forms. It has been lightened, shortened, fitted with telescopic sights, and generally has served as the standard for the infantry of many countries.

The most distinctive feature of the weapon is its curved magazine, originally designed for 30 7.62 x 39 mm M1943 rounds, the Russian short cartridge designed during World War II.

Its simplicity is clear, but an additional design feature is that the body has a great deal of clearance, meaning that the working parts and the spring have gaps around them so that dust, sand, and mud can fall away from the working parts as they move, and can also fall away from the body through the gaps in the bottom. This weapon is rightfully one of the most reliable rifles: true stories exist of soldiers burying the weapon in sand or mud and digging it up months later, still capable of firing.


Cartridge: 7.62 x 39mm M1943.

Length: 34.2 in (869mm).

Weight: 9lb 7oz (4.3kg).

Barrel: 16.3in (414mm), 4 grooves, rh.

Magazine: 30-round box.

M/v: 2329 fps (710 m/s).

Rate of fire: 775 rpm.


1950. As AK-47, but with a folding wire butt.

Details: as AK-47 except Length, butt folded: 27.5in (699mm).


Various modifications were made to the original AK47, including a folding stick version, but the main changes were in the manufacturing process. The Russians experimented with machined receivers but went back to the original sheet metal receiver quickly, and the new design was known as the AKM.

1959. Modified AK-47 with manufacturing shortcuts.

Cartridge: 7.62 x 39mm M1943.

Length: 34.49in (876mm).

Weight: 8lb 7oz (3.8kg).

Barrel: 16.3in (414mm), 4 grooves, rh.

Magazine: 30-round box.

M/v: 2329 fps (710 m/s).

Rate of fire: 775 rpm.


1960. As AKM, but with steel folding stock as AK-S.

Details: As AKM, except Length, butt folded: 25.9in (657mm); Length,

butt extended: 35.2in (895mm); Weight: 7lb 13oz (3.5kg).


1975. Shortened AKM-S for armoured infantry.

Cartridge: 7.62 x 39mm M1943.

Length: 28.4in (722mm).

Weight: 7lb 6oz (3.35kg).

Barrel: 8.9in (225mm), 4 grooves, rh.

Magazine: 30-round box.

M/v: 2116 fps (645 m/s).

Rate of fire: 800 rpm.


In the early 1970s a new cartridge was developed (the 5.45mm x 39.5mm M74), which may have been due to studies made of the U. S. 5.56mm x 45mm round (otherwise the U. S. .223 Remington). So the AKM was redesigned to fire this cartridge, and the new weapon became the AK74. If anything, this rifle is more reliable than the AKM, because the cartridge rim of the M74 round is thickened to allow the even heavier bolt of the AK74 to extract the round without tearing through the rim, another problem with the M16.

The Russians had thus arrived at the same conclusion as the European and U. S. military: the smaller caliber round did more damage out to its optimum range of about 300 or 400 yards and allowed assault rifles to be built that could fire the round on full automatic. By the late 1960s all modern armies were equipping, or planning to equip, with small-caliber rifles, and the Russians had taken the lead in producing a rifle that today is still regarded by combat soldiers as the most reliable weapon available. It is this reliability that causes many soldiers to comment that they would rather have an AK74 or even an AK47 or AKM in preference to their issue rifle-be it a variant of the M16, the Israeli Galil, the German G3, or the British SA80.

1974. Reduced caliber AKM.

Cartridge: 5.45 x 39.5mm.

Length: 36.5in (928mm).

Weight: 8lb 8oz (3.9kg).

Barrel: 15.8in (400mm), 4 grooves, rh.

Magazine: 30-round box.

M/v: 2953 fps (900 m/s).

Rate of fire: 650 rpm.


1974. Folding-stock version of the AK-74.

Details: the same, except Length, butt folded: 27.16in (690mm).


1980. Reduced caliber AKM-SU with folding butt.

Cartridge: 5.45 x 39.5mm.

Length, butt extended: 26.6in (675mm).

Length, butt folded: 16.61in (422mm).

Weight: 5lb 15oz (2.7kg).

Barrel: 8.11in (206mm), 4 grooves, rh.

Magazine: 30-round box.

M/v: 2411 fps (735 m/s).

Rate of fire: 700 rpm.


1996. Similar to the basic AK-74.

Cartridge: 5.56 x 45mm NATO.

Length: 37.1in (943mm).

Weight: 7lb 8oz (3.4kg).

Barrel: 16.34in (415mm), 4 grooves, rh.

Magazine: 30-round box.

M/v: 2985 fps (910 m/s).

Rate of fire: 600 rpm.