Like its successor, the AK-47, the Model 1891 Mosin-Nagant and its numerous variations was one of the most widely dispersed military rifles of all time.
Seeing combat in its homeland of Russia/USSR, Eastern and Western Europe, the Middle East and Asia — not to mention as a training rifle in the United States in World War I — the Mosin-Nagant is among the top ten of the most successful bolt-action service rifles ever. Almost 40,000,000 were built in Russia/Soviet Union alone.
As its more commonly-recognized designation indicates, the Mosin-Nagant was taken into Russian service in 1891 and was a combination of designs by Russian Captain Sergi Ivanovich Mosin and Belgian native Leon Nagant.
The successful adoption of a smokeless powder rifle by the French in 1886 was not lost on Captain Mosin who began working on some ideas of his own. These were further improved, amalgamated with some ideas of M. Nagant, and the Mosin-Nagant became a reality.
A bolt-action repeater with external five-round box magazine which could be loaded via a stripper clip, the action was simple and strong. The two-piece bolt (the entire bolt mechanism only had seven parts) was composed of a rotating dual-lug head and body. An elongated bolster on the base of bolt handle locked on the receiver bridge when the bolt handle was lowered.
By modern standards, this probably doesn't sound all that strong but, in fact, it was sturdy enough to deal with the rifle's rimmed, tapered 7.62x 54mm cartridge, a .30 caliber round that had performance similar to that of the later .30-06. A cocking piece on the rear of the bolt also served as a safety.
Basically, the action was smooth and reliable, rounds being easily stripped from the magazine and chambered and empties being forcefully ejected.
Despite its more common cognomen "1891 Mosin-Nagant," the rifle was officially known as "Three Line Rifle, Model 1891." This name was derived from the caliber which was expressed in a now-obsolete Russian unit of measurement the liniya ('line"). One liniya equaled 2.54mm, thus three liniyas equaled 7.62mm.
Like other military infantry arms of the period, the Mosin-Nagant was fairly long — some 51 inches overall — which stretched out to 68 inches with the bayonet, which in Russian service regulations,was supposed to be attached 24/7. Soldiers were not even issued scabbards for the long, slim cruciform blade.
The rear ladder-style sight was originally graduated in arshins a Russian measurement equal to one pace or 28 inches. In later incarnations of the rifle, the measurements were changed to meters.
Initially, Mosin-Nagants were made at three arsenals in Russia, as well as by Chatelleraut in France. Seeing service in such early conflicts at the Boxer Rebellion in China in 1900 and the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, by the beginning of World War One, there were still not enough 1891s to equip the burgeoning Russian Army.
Contracts were let to Remington and Westinghouse in the then-neutral United States. Difficulties with Czarist inspectors as well as the onset of the Russian Revolution of 1917 resulted in few, if any, Yankee guns making it to the Motherland during Russia's involvement in the Great War.
Many ended up being used in the U.S. for training and some were later given to White Russian troops after the war and were also carried by American soldiers during the Siberian Expedition of 1920.
Though minor modifications to the Mosin-Nagant were constantly being made, in 1930 the rifle (unofficially termed the "1891/30" or "91/30") got a more general facelift, the principal ones being a shortening of the gun's overall length and the replacement of the original flattened, faceted receiver with a cylindrical one.
Older guns were altered, and thousands of arms captured during the Winter War (1939-40) were refurbished and modified by the Finns. Until the more recent importation of Russian and Eastern Bloc rifles, Finnish Mosin-Nagants were the ones most commonly encountered in the United States.
Mosin-Nagants were made in many variants — from long rifles and carbines to sniper rifles. Ultimately they were manufactured in a plethora of countries including Poland, China, Finland, North Korea and Hungary. Truly a universal weapon — and one that is still occasionally seen on the battlefield. Less belligerently, they are great, historical collector's pieces and also a lot of fun at the range.