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From the History Books Historical

Russia’s Winchester Model 1895

by Garry James   |  October 18th, 2011 20

Russia's Winchester Model 1895On paper, at the beginning of World War I, the Russian Army was the most formidable land force in the world. With almost three million men under arms, it was a potential juggernaut that terrified the German general staff. The only problem was, supplies and equipment were woefully short, and over a third of the army didn’t  even have guns! A solution was found from a most unlikely source when  the Winchester Model 1895 lever-action rifle entered the service of the czar.

The standard-issue Russian infantry rifle at the time was the Model 1891 Mosin-Nagant. It was a very good bolt-action repeater; the only problem was the Russians couldn’t make enough of them. At the Battle of Tannenberg, for instance, half of the Russian infantry went into battle unarmed and had to pick up the rifles of their fallen comrades.

This terrible shortage of arms caused the Russians to turn to the neutral United States for a solution.

As well as contracting with Westinghouse and Remington to make Mosin-Nagants, they went to Winchester and ordered 300,000  long-barreled musket versions of the Winchester Model 95 lever-action, chambered in the service caliber of 7.62 x54Rmm.  The 7.62x54Rmm fired a 210-grain .30 caliber bullet with a muzzle velocity of almost 3,000 feet-per-second, pushing it up into the .30-06 class. Despite their rims and thick girth, the cartridge functioned well in the gun, and reliability and accuracy was excellent.

Ultimately more Russian 95s would be manufactured than any other variant of that gun.

Though it may seem unlikely, the Model 95 was an excellent choice. Winchester was already tooled up for it and it was strong enough to handle the stout Russian round. The Model 95 was John Browning’s first lever-action specifically designed for smokeless powder. All that was necessary was to take it from a sporting configuration to a military one was to stretch the barrel and fit it with a bayonet lug and charging bar so the gun could be loaded with a stripper clip.

Actually, the 95 musket was not really a new arm. In 1898, the American secretary of war had ordered 10,000 of them for use during the Spanish American War, but the conflict was so short they never made it to the front. Later on, some were used in the Philippines, though. These guns did not have charging bars, as the issue American rifle of the period, the Krag-Jorgensen, was not clip loaded. Most of these guns ended up being sold of surplus to Caribbean and Central American countries.

Up to this time all lever-action rifles fed from a tubular magazine, but the pointed bullets of the new high-powered smokeless rounds made this hazardous because of the danger of setting off rounds placed nose to primer in the tube. Model 95s eliminated the problem by featuring a five-round box magazine that was loaded through the top of the receiver

The rifle didn’t have a safety catch, relying upon a hammer half cock to do the job. The lever though, had a hinged lower portion that locked into position and prevented the action from being opened unless the shooter’s hand is actually pushing down on the loop.

The entire contract of 300,000  Model 95s were delivered to the Russians in 1915-16.

But with the onset of the Bolshevik Revolution and the withdrawal of Russia from the war, the 95’s fate becomes cloudy. Some have turned up with markings indicated that they were sold to Republican forces during the Spanish Civil War, and many thousands were later re-imported to the U. S. in the 1960s where they were offered at very reasonable prices.

Today, the Russian Winchester 95  remains one of the most romantic and unusual arms of the Great War. They are sought-after collector’s items, and at the same time,  sad reminders of a once-proud regime’s unpreparedness  for war.

  • Fernando Tejero

    It's a nice article! As usual Mr. James delivers! He is one of my favorite gun scribes. I've been reading his articles way over twenty years, or perhaps more. Hey, time flies! I'm a huge fan of the Mosin-Nagant ( I've got a Finish Mosin-Nagant 91/30 that is extremely accurate) and of the 7.62x54R cartridge. Of course, I'm also fond of the Winchester '95. However as the Win '95 in the Russian caliber is quiet scarce; i haven't seen anyone in Argentina yet.
    According to the figures Mr. James mentioned in his article,if with the long musket barrel and a 210 -grain slug the '95 achieves nearly 3,000 fps it's not only in the .30/06 league but also in the .300 Winchester level too ( as per Frank Barnes 'Cartridges of the World a .300 WM gets 3,070 fps with a 180-grain bullet. in its factory loading.

    Kudos to Mr. James.

  • Gil

    –oneof my "shoulda's–had dan opportunity to buy one in near-NIB condition about twenty years ago–and didn't–

  • wjkuleck

    Gary, according to published shipping manifests, some tens of thousands (if memory serves) of Winchester 1895s were shipped to Spain during the Civil War. Many years ago I totted them up; I can do so again if you wish.

    Regards,

    Walt Kuleck

  • Tom V

    I find the 210gr bullet @ 3000fps a bit difficult to believe. I'm thinking around 2400. Good article though.

    • Fernando Tejero

      Tom, I'm of the same idea. I think it must be a misprint. With a 181 gr bullet from a 28 3/4 inch barrel it achieved about 2,600 fps. A 21o gr. at nearly 3000 pfs would put the round above the performance of a.300 Win Magnum with factory load ( 180 at 3,070 fps according to Frank Barnes' Cartridges of the World.
      I'd like Garry James to shed some light on this issue.

  • T F Elder

    Mr. James,

    I have always heard that John Browning designed the Winchester model 1894 for "smokeless
    powder", and that it was the first. Is this incorrect?

    And yes, I am aware that Winchester chambered black powder cartridges, .32-40 &
    .38-55 in the model 94 in 1894 and then offered the .25-35 & 30-30 in 1895.

    If the model 1895 was the first, then Browning designed the 94 as a black powder rifle.

    A 210 gr. bullet at 3000 fps puts the 7.62 x 54mmR between the WinMag at 2900 and the
    .300 RUM & .30-378 Weatherby at 3100.
    That old Russian is a lot stouter than I ever thought!

    The best I can determine, the 7.62 x 54mmR pushs a 200 gr. bullet at 2400fps and a 220 gr.
    bullet at 2300fps, both MAX.

    Tom

    • Garry James

      Tom, et al:

      Yes, you all are 100 percent correct. Don't know where in hell that figure came from. Can only say it was bad editing on my part. Mea culpa. Do appreciate you bringing it up. Now, according to "Cartridges of the World," a military 147-grain BT moves out at 2,886 fps. Must have mixed and matched velocities and bullet weights somehow.

      • Fernando Tejero

        Thanks for you reply. These misprints usually happen. I'm a huge fan of yours and have been reading your articles for a very long time.

        The Mosin-Nagant is one of my favorite battle rifles.i've got a Finnish Mosin 91/30 that is very accurate and a Chinese Carbine.
        Keep up the good work, Gerry.
        Best regards.
        Fernando

  • Chris Alexander

    I had an email exchange a few years ago with Christian Cranmer, of IMA-USA (the guys who discovered and bought the Nepal cache of Martini-Henries and other British arms) about the fate of the almost 300,000 russian contract 1895's that seem to have fallen off the face of the earth. Turns out they have also been an interest of his. His best guess is that the Soviets shipped them East to what are now the independent Islamic republics (the "stans"). Even if they can be found, he says the U.S. government is reluctant to issue import permits, citing Lend Lease restrictions (I know they weren't Lend Lease, YOU know they weren't Lend Lease, but just try talking sense to gun hating bureaucrats).

    • JRB

      Glad to hear someone is on the case! That leaves some hope of owning one in the future. After the fall of the current regime that is.

  • Adam Bradley

    Everything I knew about the Winchester 95 was limited to the Theodore Roosevelt connection. It's a great article Mr. James! Thanks for the knowledge everybody. Also while i'm thinking about it, were there any major differences between the Russian Army version and the U.S. Army version other than the charging bar and the round they were chambered for?

    • Garry James

      The U.S. Army Model was in .30-40 and, as you note, had no clip guide. Basically it looked similar to the Russian model, but the rear sight was different. The U.S. Government purchased 10,000 for use in the Spanish- American War, but mysteriously rejected practically all of them. They were put in storage for about 10 years and then sold surplus.

  • Adam Bradley

    Thank you very much Mr. James. I greatly appreciate it.

  • Nick F

    Great article, ironically posted the same day that I actually received one of these that I'd purchased. Very neat rifle, I'm actually a little surprised at how well it handles. One thing I've always wondered and perhaps someone can shed some light on, why weren't these marked with the usual cross Mosin-Nagant stamp found on so many other foreign-procured Russian weapons of the era? Instead mine, and all the others I've examined, has an XИ3 in box stamp on the receiver and stock.

  • Russian

    Also You can get Russian military surplus here: http://www.Soviet-Power.com

  • strider98

    about 4 years ago I went to a gun shop in Houston, and they had at least 6 of the '95s in 7.62 MN. As I had recently purchased an M44 and my dad has bought several of them (including a pristine 91-30 from 1938 just last week) I was amazed by this and have since tried to find one where I live now, but no dice.

  • John Owens

    I have a Winchester model 1895 with a serial number of 15115 and the computer tells me that it was manufactured in 1898 it's in good shape any idea on a value or rareity?

  • Eric

    just purchased one from an auction with full wood stock all original just need a bayonet , they are Great filling gun in your hand they new how to make guns back than another was sold a few days later and sold for Double what i paid so if you see on and can afford it buy it i say again buy it , my sons already to inherit it look forward to shooting it , have one in 30/40 just need one in 303 .

  • Charlie

    it isn't one of the Russian 1895s, but I did inherit my grand father's 1895. it is in excellent shape, and has been well taken care of. Some one told me I should use a lighter load bullet because of the rifles age, and because it is a lever action. Is there any merit to this? and if so any suggestions on what I should purchase for ammo, or should I hand load my own rounds?

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