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The Mosin-Nagant rifle had been in use for decades at the start of WWII and had seen use in several conflicts beginning with the Russo-Japanese war. During that interval, a number of different configurations had been tested. The most recent major change was in 1938. Original model 1891 rifles were over 50 inches long without the bayonet. These were shortened slightly over time but even the 1930 version had only lost a couple of inches. This was fine on the open field but if you had to work inside a city or worse inside a building, that rifle was hard to bring to bear. So in 1938 it got a haircut and ten inches disappeared from the barrel.
The 1938 rifle also got a new rear sight and an updated stock. These modifications were carried over into the M1944 along with the addition of a permenantly attached folding bayonet. The only key difference between a 1938 stock and a 1944 stock is the inletting on the right side of the stock for the bayonet to rest in when folded. In all but a few minor aspects, the stocks are otherwise identical.
As noted, this rifle is classed as a M1944, often just written as M44. However there is some doubt in my mind about this. You see, disassembling and inspecting this rifle shows that while the rifle is configured as a 1944, the receiver is from 1942. It is entirely possible that these was simply a leftover but given the rate at which these rifles were being produced, that is somewhat doubtful.
The other factor is that everything on the rifle is stamped from the Izhevsk arsenal except for the bolt body, which has had its serial number ground off—which also obliterated the arsenal mark—and electro penciled with the new number, and the barrel. In the case of the bolt, the rest of it is properly stamped from Izhevsk so this was simply a mating of different parts during an arsenal overhaul.
On the other hand, the barrel, is stamped not from Izhevsk but from Tula. With the barrel stamped 1944 and the receiver 1942, it seems more likely to me that this rifle is not an M44 but actually a M38 that has been updated to the M44 configuration. This supposition is supported by the fact that the barrel has two sets of inspection stamps on it, one being crossed out in favor of the others.
It must be understood though that many M44 rifles were built on reworked receivers and stocks from earlier rifles. I have also been advised that the 1944 M44 was only made at Tula. There are also additional marks on the receiver and receiver tang that I do not believe are original to this part. This too suggests a rework. When the barrel and receiver were mated, it looks very much like they were blued together since the coloring one to the other is absolutely consistant. So this is not merely a rifle that has been rebarreled. With the serial numbers being placed on the various pieces by hand all at the same time (the style of numbering is very consistant), that also lends credence to a rework. So it may well be that this rifle is every bit a Tula M44. Some of the experts in the circles I haunt lend their oppinion to this interpretation.
Regardless of when the parts were matched, beit during original assembly or during refubishment, the rifle is currently in 1944 configuration, and appears to have been made that way at the arsenal, bearing inspection and proof marks that seem to have been placed there as part of that operation.
During wartime production, the Soviets, under pressure from both the Germans and the Finns, sought means to speed production of rifles in any way they could. The most efficient method was to examine the manufacturing operations and function of the rifle and eliminate unnecessary operations. Among these was a complete polish of the barrel after it was machined. Only the barrel shank and muzzle have been finely machined and polished on this rifle. The remainder bears pronounced machining marks but this causes absolutely no detriment to either fit or the durability of the finish.
Another method of reducing production complexity which appears on this rifle was to simplify some of the operations on the receiver. This receiver is what is termed a "high wall" receiver because of the configuration of the left side. You can see the difference in the accompanying photo. Along with this, the area on the interior of the receiver, behind the barrel threads, rather than being tapered was cut clean through. Sometimes this was done as part of a rebarreling operation rather than as part of the initial manufacturing process.
Perhaps the quickest way to identify a M44 is by the fact that it contains a permenantly attached, folding bayonet. The basic design of the bayonet did not change, still being a cruciform style blade, but it was shortened. The M44 only extends 12 inches past the muzzle as compared with 17 for the earlier 91/30. This, too, made work in close quarters somewhat easier on the average soldier.
Staying On Target
Since this rifle was assembled so late in the war, it is not likely that it saw much use. That has left the bore in quite good shape. Early fall is typically a very busy time of year for me these days so it was a couple of weeks after I picked this rifle up before I was able to get it down to my local rifle range for a bit of field testing. Thus far, every Mosin-Nagant I have picked up has shot high. This rifle was no exception with rounds floating about twelve inches high at 100 yards. After settling in and making the necessary adjustments, I was able to print patterns measuring six inches. I'll admit, though, that since I had appointments that afternoon I wasn't taking quite the time I should have. I'm confident that if I had been more careful, I could have gotten that pattern tighter. This is evidenced by the fact that when I was checking the drift at the start of my session, I was able to put four rounds into just over an inch at 50 yards.
One thing about a shorter rifle is that felt recoil is most deffinitely greater. The weight of the bayonet helps take care of some of this but the missing mass of that extra ten inches of barrel gets noticed pretty quickly. An interesting side effect of the folding bayonet though is that the harmonics of the barrel change when the bayonet is deployed. That means your point of impact will also change. I was curious to see just what the effects of this would be so I set up a large target out at the 50 yard line and fired five rounds with the bayonet folded and five rounds with it deployed, always aiming at the bulls eye.
The results of this test were pretty interesting. The rounds fired with the bayonet extended were just about straight on while those with the bayonet folded floated five inches off to the left. What that means is that as a soldier, you have to be aware of what your rifle will do when you fire it. In close, it makes little difference since the round will still cause a lethal wound. But if you've got a target a good distance off and aren't making the required correction, you'll probably miss and if you can't see the round impact, you may not even be aware of what's happening. I suspect many of the troops were not concious of this little oddity unless they were experienced marksmen.
The evolution of the Mosin-Nagant rifle is a pretty interesting story. The Russian M44 is not quite the final incarnation but was the last one Russia itself made. There would be subtle changes before production ceased but the rifle I have is pretty typical of what will be found. M44s are not quite as common as the 91/30s but can be found at pretty well any gun show.
It may not be the sleekest rifle out there but it was not built to be pretty, it was designed to do a job; a practical rifle for a practical need. Production figures for the Mosin-Nagant are pretty staggering and can at best only be estimated. Because of the lack of records, we have absolutely no idea how many of these rifles China made or how many might be in storage in that country. We do know that Chinese M44s were made starting in 1953 and production continued until at least 1961 before being completely replaced by the SKS and, later, the Kalashnikov rifle.
Mosin-Nagant rifles have been used all over Europe and Asia and have even made the odd appearance on the Arabian peninsula. There were several Vietnam war trophies brought back and some have documentation to prove that they were battlefield captures. Even today, the Mosin-Nagant can still be seen on occassion in Afghanistan. With surplus rifles still abounding, it will be interesting to see just how long they continue to be found on the world's battlefields.
Oct 5, 2009