Friday, July 1, 2011

Rifles far and wide

At the turn of the twentieth century some international rifle designs were conventional while others were innovative. The Mexican Mondragon was remarkably advanced, as was the philosophy proposed for its tactical employment. In Japan and Russia, two countries that had fought for dominance in the East, two reliable but conventional weapons, the Arisaka and the Mosin-Nagant, were produced for the infantry.

Japanese small arms
The 1905 Japanese 6.5mm Arisaka Rifle Type 38 was a development of the earlier Type 30 rifle designed by Colonel Arisaka and was often referred to by the Japanese as the Arisaka Sampachi (or Sampachi Shiki Hoheiju). It was fundamentally a Mauser rifle based on the Gew 98 but with changes to the safety and cocking mechanisms. The combination of the light cartridge and the long barrel made the Type 38 a very easy rifle to fire because of its low recoil. At 127.5cm/50.2in long, however, it was a difficult rifle for some of the smaller Japanese soldiers to handle, particularly when fitted with its Type 30 sword bayonet. The Type 38 was exported to Thailand and also used by the Chinese. It had a five-round magazine and weighed 4.2kg/9.3lb. The Type 38 carbine was only 86.9cm/34.2in long, and some were produced with a butt that folded to the right for paratroopers.
After World War II some Arisaka Type 38 rifles were converted to fire the US .30-06 cartridge and used by South Korean forces. The Chinese modified captured weapons to fire 7.92mm Mauser ammunition.

Mexican invention
In the early 1890s the Mexican inventor, engineer and army officer Manuel Mondragon, a graduate of both the Mexican Military Academy at Chapultepec and the French Academy at Saint-Cyr received a request to design an advanced infantry rifle from President Porfirio Diaz.

By the close of 1891, the initial design had been completed and a year later, on 18 October, the first prototypes went for evaluation. The 25th Infantry Battalion received 50 improved versions for troop trials on 27 September 1894. This Model 1894 had a safety catch with three settings: "A" for automatic, "L" for safe and "R" for use in the manual straight-pull bolt-action mode. The rifles were intended to be fired as single-shot weapons but could be switched to automatic in the assault.

The rifles had a fixed eight-round magazine using an enbloc Garand-type clip of special 6.5 x 52mm/ 0.26 x 2in Mondragon cartridges made by SFM in Paris. They were made in Switzerland owing to the lack of indigenous production facilities. However, although the design was advanced, it was also overly complex, not entirely "soldier-proof" and ultimately the weapon was too costly to be issued to the entire Mexican Army.

Old and reliable
The Russian Mosin-Nagant Model 1891/30 bolt-action rifle weighed 4kg/8.8lb empty, had a muzzle velocity of 81m/s (metres per second)/2,661ft/s (feet per second) and, although an old design, was robust and reliable. Until 1930 the iron sights on the rifle were graduated in the archaic linear measurement of arshins (0.71m/2.3ft), but the Soviet government redesigned the rear sight in metres.
A German soldier looks down the x 4 P.E. side-mounted telescopic sight on a captured Russian 7.62mm calibre Mosin-Nagant Model 1891/30 rifle during the first days of Operation Barbarossa, the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union of 1941.

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