Thursday, December 18, 2008

Did I actually get gulled?

Many years ago, I had the fortune to meet an old man at an antique arms show. He'd just walked through the front door with an old rifle and I, younger and largely unfamiliar with non-US military arms at the time, asked him what he had.

Well the old man showed me a rifle which I vaguely recognized as being a Russian Mosin-Nagant. It has a 1936 date and the Soviet hammer and sickle crest and I was somewhat interested, even though I didn't at the time collect such things.

The old man went on to tell me how he'd fought in World War Two in Europe, and how his unit finally met up with a unit of Russian soldiers at the Elbe River in Germany. The man told me that during the subsequent drinking and fraternization that went on, he'd traded a Russian "a .45 that wasn't mine" (referring to a US 1911A1 .45 automatic pistol that was not assigned to him) for this rifle. He said that he'd had the rifle ever since but now just wanted to get rid of it. The asking price: $50.00.

Now this was before the US commercial market was flooded with massive quantities of surplus Mosins as the Russians began selling them for hard currency in the 1990's. The Russian arms were somewhat scarce, and liking the rifle for it's historical significance and the honest wear it had--wear that hinted of hard use and battled fought (it was pretty beat and showed signs of extensive rebuild and repair), I bought it.

For years, it's pretty much been a static piece in my collection, gracing a spot on one of the racks but not being fired due to it's age and history and the fact that Mosins really don't appeal to me as shooters. (Finnish-manufactured Mosins excepted, but those are a whole different breed of cat.) But a recent cursory inspection showed that this rifle required a detail-cleaning to stop what looked to be some finish aging around the wood-line, so I took the opportunity to spend much of last night completely disassembling it to clean it, oil it, and document it's inner markings.

First off, I noticed that except for the barrel and receiver, virtually no part on this rifle was original to it. The Russians put a weapon's serial number on virtually every piece, and the factories where the parts are made also stamp them. Ideally, every part should have the same number and stampings. But nothing matched on this rifle.

The Barrel was manufactured at the Ishevsk plant in 1936. as indicated by the markings on it. This was one of Russia's four major arms-manufacturing complex and their symbol was the little arrow inside the triangle, as shown here.

And also here. This is the underside of the receiver tang. Like the barrel, it was made at Ishevesk in 1936. The two were probably assembled there when the rifle was built. All of the parts on this rifle should have these marks, but that's definitely not the case here. The rifle's buttplate has an Ishevsk stamp, but a different serial number, indicating that it was originally part of a different rifle. The stock bands and retaining clips all have small star-shaped stamps, indicating that those were made at the Tula plant some distance away, again, obviously for other rifles.

This magazine assembly no longer has a legible arsenal stamp, but it's floorplate serial number is, again, from another rifle.

And then there's this bolt. I love this bolt.

This bolt has stamps from two factories that I never expected to find on this rifle: those of the Remington Arms Company of New York, USA, and New England Westinghouse, also a US-based company.
Both of these companies had contracted with the Russians to manufacture Model 1891 Mosin rifles during World War One, and apparently parts from the bolts from one rifle made by each company were at some point combined into a single working bolt and installed on this rifle. So there are two more different serial numbers just on the bolt assembly.

So how did this rifle get all of it's original parts swapped out and replaced with components from other rifles? And where did this happen? Was it damaged during it's hard years of service on the Eastern Front and the march through Germany? Or did it have another history in another war far from the gates of Berlin?

Well according to some preliminary research that I've done, it now appears that this rifle might well have been one of the quantity of Mosins that Stalin sent to help the Communist forces in the Spanish Civil War just prior to World War Two. 1936 saw a lot of Mosin rifles sent there as covert aid to the Communists, and a large quantity of older M91's had been sent there too, so that might explain how this bolt came into proximity with the rest of the rifle. I honestly don't know yet and may never figure it out. I don't want to believe that the old man lied to me, but according to the Mosin experts that I've been talking to, the odds are at this point that this rifle was much more likely a veteran of service in the Spanish Civil War before being re-sold in the 1950's to Navy Arms, at that time a large US importer of surplus firearms. But if the rifle was in Spain, then there's no way that the kindly old man picked it up in Germany. It's a puzzle.

So what kind of world is it where old men make up tales just to sell a rifle for $50? And truth be told, is it a bad one? I don't think so. Because it really doesn't matter if this rifle fought in Eastern Europe or Spain. What matters is that it definitely fought somewhere and undoubtedly would tell some great stories if it could talk, and more to the point, I've had much more than $50 worth of fun tinkering with it and digging into it's past. It doesn't really matter where it's been. What matters is that it's MY Mosin now, and that's not likely to change in the foreseeable future.

1 comment:

  1. If you ever decide to find out why it's the assemblage it is, I'd recommend going over to and posting on The Collector's Forum, Mosin Nagant HQ.

    Vic, Tuco, or someone over there will be able to tell you what there is to be known about it. If they don't know, no-one does.