by Sandy Keathley
Today I am going to shoot one of my Communist rifles. It’s not very high-tech, but a lot of fun.
I am a Federally-licensed collector of “Curio & Relic” firearms, specializing in the Russian Mosin-Nagant rifles. These are bolt-action combat rifles, very powerful, and very durable. They were first built for the Army of the Czar in 1891, with some modifications in 1930 and 1944.After World War II, as the Russians moved to semi-automatic technology (the SKS, and then Kalashnikov rifles), they gave the machinery for build the bolt-action rifles to other members of the Communist bloc, so the last version of the Mosin rifles, the M44 Carbine, continued to be made in Poland, Romania, Hungary, and China until at least 1960. Even as late as the 1950s, the Soviets were anticipating another war in Europe, so they kept building these, at arsenals in Belorus and the Ukraine, and it is now estimated that there are upwards of 40,000,000 extant in the world. For that reason, the prices are quite moderate by collector standards, ranging from $100 for a standard 1943 91/30, up to $400 for a Finnish-captured 1916 “Peter the Great” WWI M91, or $600 for a sniper rifle with scope.
The magic allure of the Mosins is in the history and longevity of these rifles, easily the most ubiquitous battle rifle in history. They were simple, with few moving parts, almost all of which were interchangeable even across models, and could be fired and maintained even by illiterate peasant draftees. They were inexpensive to build, powerful (2700 fps), and reasonably accurate; it was not hard to kill an enemy soldier at 300 yards. Over the 7 decades+ they spread around the world, thanks in part to the Communist urge to help rebels overthrow governments. Stalin sent thousands to the rebels in the Spanish Civil War, some of which found their way to S. America; Mao made millions, and sent them to Manchuria, Korea, and Indo-China, where they helped defeat the French, and set up the coming war in Viet Nam. They were used in Viet Nam and Cambodia, and made their way to Indonesia. The Russians, meanwhile, left tens of thousands of them behind in Afghanistan when they pulled out.
While collectors think of them as obsolete, it is beyond dispute that some Mosins, retrofitted with modern scopes, are in use today by the Taliban in Afghanistan, and by the rebels in Syria. A Syrian rebel sniper was photographed by Time Magazine with his Mosin M44. The odds are extremely high that some Mosins are in use today in Iraq. Yes, they are low-tech, but reliable, and easy to obtain in large quantity. There are still millions in storage in Russia, slowly being sold off to the collector market, and a cache of Chinese Mosins was recently discovered in a warehouse in Albania.
To make it even better, it is customary for armies and governments to stamp markings on the rifles to indicate their ownership, so these rifles may have obscure markings to indicate odd mixtures of czarist, Soviet, Finnish, Spanish, German (Nazi), or other possession. In 1916, several million were made on contract to the Czar by Remington and New England Westinghouse. Some of those were sold to Americans, and have never been to Russia, while others were used by US troops fighting in the Russian Civil War in 1918.
It’s an odd and curious history, and a fascinating detective hobby.