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WWI Bayonet Adaptations of Captured

Model 1891 Three-Line-Rifles

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When the madness caught hold and all of Europe marched off to war in August of 1914, little did anyone realize what the next four bloody years of insanity would bring to mankind. The scramble to get in the war before it ended brought hundreds of thousands of volunteers who were afraid that they would miss the great fun. After all, everyone said, "the war will be over by Christmas!" Christmas came and went and the death toll rose ever higher. With it the call for more cannon fodder resulted in the mobilization of entire populations all across Europe. No one had foreseen warfare on this scale and the arsenals of each combatant nation were ill prepared to arm the millions of men who were eventually to be called up. The need for rifles was critical for every country involved in the early phases of the war. The temporary answer was to empty out every warehouse and every arms depot that contained anything that would fire a bullet, regardless of the age or practicality of the weapon. Nearly every pattern of breechloader that was produced in large numbers from 1866 to 1914 saw some service during WWI. It would be easier to compile a list of the handful of patterns that were not used than it is to list those that saw service! Many of these rifles never fired a shot in anger. In each instance, whenever possible, the outdated blackpowder single shots were restricted to rear echelon troops. Obsolete weapons were issued in order to free up more modern front line service rifles for the troops being sent into the meatgrinder at the front. This was the norm in every country except Russia, where single shot rifles such as the Berdan II and the French Gras, were front line issue throughout the war. Between 10% and as high as 30% of Russian soldiers who went into battle during WWI, did so without any rifles at all! They were simply issued a few stripper clips of ammunition. Even a blackpowder single shot rifle is preferable to waiting for the man in front of you to stop a bullet! This critical shortage of weapons persisted throughout the War, the Revolution and Civil War that followed.

The conditions, which prevailed during the early phase of the war, saw the failure of large-scale military offensives launched by each of the major powers. The French Plan 17, saw the destruction of entire army corps. Blue and red clad Poilus, gripped by the spirit of "elan" and the cult of the attack, were mowed down by the tens of thousands by German machine-guns and artillery. The unexpected rapid mobilization and invasion of Eastern Prussia by the Russian Army, caught the German General Staff completely by surprise. This lead to the shifting of two entire divisions from the German right flank enveloping movement in the West, across Germany to the East, to support the beleagured German forces on the Prussian border. Little did the German high command realize, that an entire Russian Army would be destroyed at Tannenberg, before the two transferred German divisions would even arrive on the scene. Had these two wandering divisions remained, where they were originally deployed on the extreme right flank of the German envelopment, the German Army in the West might very well have succeeded in carrying the Schliffen plan to it's intended conclusion. But this was not to be. The critical moment had arrived. Galliani wrote his name in history along side the taxicab drivers of Paris. The Battle of the Marne was to result in the failure of Germany to quickly knock France out of the War.

Meanwhile, in the Balkans, the Austrians expected to roll over Serbia with their superior numbers. They had failed to take into account the difficult mountainous terrain as well as the dogged determination of the small, but tough, Serbian Army, which consisted of every able bodied man or boy from the age 15 to 60. The majority of the Serb units were composed of tough mountain tribesmen who had seen combat against the Turks and Bulgars during the 1st and 2nd Balkans Wars. Even in times of peace, they lead a very difficult life under extremely arduos conditions. They were raised on a steady diet of hardship which had prepared them well for what was to come. The Austro-Hungarian Army crossed the frontier in the opening days of the War expecting to mop up the Serbs in a matter of weeks. They had their nose severely bloodied instead.

While all of this occurred, the Russian advance, which had saved France, stumbled and bumbled it’s way into the unprecedented disaster at Tannenburg. Each of these early failed offensives left large quantities of material in the hands of the enemy. In the case of Tannenburg, that meant that well over 200,000 rifles and millions of rounds of ammunition, fell into German hands. The Germans desperately needed these weapons to equip the additional recruits that were being mobilized for the protracted war that nobody, save Lord Kitchner, had foreseen. It is with these rifles that we shall begin to trace the use of the Russian Model 1891 Three-Line-Rifle by the Central Powers during WWI.

With the acute shortage of suitable rifles that existed in 1914 and early 1915, it did not take long for both the Germans and Austro-Hungarians to put to use the huge numbers of captured enemy rifles which had fallen into their hands in the opening months of the war. The weapons that were recovered from the battlefield were collected and shipped to arms depots for sorting and salvage operations. When and where the need was great, some percentage of the rifles inspected, were issued immediately from the arms depots without alterations of any kind. Since large quantities of bayonets were recovered from the battlefield along with the salvaged rifles, captured bayonets would have been issued with most of these rifles. The standard Russian practice of keeping the bayonets fixed permanently to the rifles presented the Germans and Austro-Hungarians with a problem. The Russians neither produced nor issued scabbards. The captured bayonets therefore lacked scabbards, which could be issued with the bayonets. One wonders as to how many Russian soldiers lost an eye or worse to this rather unusual practice! This is the beginning of the long and interesting lengths to which the Germans and Austro-Hungarians went to equip troops armed with captured Three-Line-Rifles, with functional bayonets.

German and Austro-Hungarian M91 Scabbards

Several different types of bayonet scabbards were designed and produced for issue with captured M91 Russian bayonets. There is evidence to suggest that some of the first bayonets issued to Austrian troops may have been issued in leather scabbards from one or more of the various obsolete patterns of Austro-Hungarian socket bayonets. Model 1854 Lorenz bayonets were still to be found in stores. Metal scabbards had been produced for the special Model 1895 Mannlicher bayonets, which were issued to the Hungarian Lieb- Garde Regiment and Hungarian Mounted Gendarmerie. Both of these bayonets utilized the quadrangular blade of the Model 54 Lorenz with the crossguard, grip and pommel of the M95 Mannlicher bayonet. All of these early socket bayonet scabbards could be utilized with the M91 Russian socket bayonet on an emergency basis.

The long-term solution to the absence of Russian scabbards was to produce new ones for issue with the captured Russian bayonets. The Germans produced a scabbard made of zinc, which is round, has a ball finial tip and centers the bayonet in the scabbard through the use of a throat insert. The throat contains a cruciform cutout, which conforms to the shape of the quadrangular blade. The scabbard has a round frog stud, which retains the bayonet scabbard in the German, leather issue bayonet frog. The scabbard will fit in a wide variety of the WWI German pattern frogs. German scabbards were painted feld grau, the standard color for most, but not all, German bayonet scabbards. It is possible that some percentage of these scabbards were painted black as well. The same scabbard was used with a different throat insert for some of the German pattern ersatz bayonets, which utilized old socket bayonet blades. An example of this can be seen in the scabbard that was issued with the P56 ersatz bayonet. This bayonet was constructed using the blade of the English Pattern 1856 socket bayonet with one of the standard types of ersatz grips and crossguards.

The Austro-Hungarians produced a much simpler version of scabbard, which would accommodate the standard M95 bayonet frog. The Austro-Hungarian scabbards were produced from steel and were just large enough to permit a snug fit with the four sides of the bayonet making a slip fit contact with the side walls of the scabbard without the necessity of a throat insert. The frog stud on the Austro-Hungarian scabbard was the same shape as that found on both the Model 1888/90 and Model 1895 Mannlicher bayonet scabbards. It consisted of a tongue-like, flat piece of metal, which extended from the front of the scabbard making a 90 degree right angle turn. This particular scabbard terminated in a simple rounded tip without a finial. Austro-Hungarian scabbards were painted in varying shades of olive green, black, or gray.

German and Austro-Hungarian Replacement Bayonets

Many authors writing about the Ersatz pattern bayonets, which were specifically designed for the captured Model 1891 Three-Line-Rifles, question why special production was necessary. Along with the hundreds of thousands of rifles captured, there must have been suitable quantities of captured bayonets? I don’t personally believe that this should be considered a great mystery. First of all, take into account the fact that during the course of the entire war, anywhere from 10% to as high as 30% of the Russian soldiers who were engaged in front line combat, went into battle without rifles. They were instructed to "find" one once the battle started! The Russians were so pressed for weapons, that approximately 425,000 Model 1874 French Gras, blackpowder single shot rifles were front line combat weapons throughout the war. They served alongside outdated Berdan II single shot rifles, Italian Vetterli-Vitali blackpowder repeating rifles, Russian single shot Krnka rifles, U.S. Krag-Jorgenson rifles, Japanese Arisaka rifles, etc. etc. In total, there were an estimated minimum, of 20 to 25 rifles of foreign pattern, used by Russia in WWI. With shortages that necessitated the use of such obsolete weapons in front line service, within a supply chain that could not provide a rifle for each soldier, I would hazard a guess that the Russians did not universally receive bayonets. It is more than likely that there was never a one-to-one ratio of bayonets to rifles, captured by the Central Powers.

In addition, WWI was a logistical nightmare! It is very likely that at times, stockpiles of rifles and bayonets could be found at different locations within the supply system, but not necessarily together. Local shortages are known to have existed when the items required might be available elsewhere in large quantities. There was a constant problem of supply with the millions of men engaged in fighting across hundreds of thousands of square miles. It was very difficult to make certain that the right replacement equipment was sent to the right location at the right time. With these factors in mind, it is not surprising that there was a need to provide replacement bayonets for some percentage of the hundreds of thousands of captured Russian rifles.

Austro-Hungarian Ersatz Pattern Bayonets

The Austro-Hungarians produced a variety of different types of replacement bayonets for issue with the Russian Three-Line-Rifle. The most common of these bayonets was nearly identical to the standard Russian socket bayonet. The only major difference lay in the design of the slot, which engaged the front sight base of the rifle when the bayonet was fixed to the rifle. Russian socket bayonets were produced in three different patterns. In each case, however, the basic pattern was the same. The slot, which engaged the front sight base slipped over the muzzle of the rifle, stopped at a right angle in the slot, at which point the bayonet was rotated to the right, before it could be seated completely to the termination of the slot. The locking ring was positioned so that the bridge that cleared the front sight was aligned with the slot. Once seated completely, the locking ring was rotated to the locked position behind the sight base, thus locking the bayonet in place on the rifle. The slot, when viewed from above, takes a 90-degree turn before clearing the locking ring. The Austro-Hungarian version of the socket bayonet lacks this feature. The slot is straight. To fix the bayonet on the rifle, the locking ring bridge, is aligned with the slot and the bayonet is slipped strait down on the sight base without any twist being required. The locking ring is then closed behind the sight base to firmly fix the bayonet to the rifle. These bayonets were produced in Vienna at the Artilleriezeug-Fabrik (AZF) and are usually marked E.A.IX or with a double-headed Austro-Hungarian eagle. E.A.IX is an abbreviation of Erzeugungs.Abteilung IX, which translates as Production Department 9, the IX being a Roman numeral. This was the department within the depot, where the majority of these bayonets were produced. At first glance, they can be mistaken for a Russian issue bayonets as the actual shape of the bayonet is in every way, identical except for the slot. These bayonets are quite rare today and command a high price among collectors.

The second pattern of Austro-Hungarian Ersatz bayonet is rarer still! It was of very simple, yet very ingenious design! A piece of square metal strip was heated at one end, after which it was twisted around a specially designed mandrel in a cork-screw fashion. The diameter of the mandrel was equal to that of the rifle barrel. The opening at the end of the corkscrew shape, corresponded with the thickness of the sight base of the M91. After approximately 1- turns, the slot formed by the corkscrew twist, was reduced in dimension to achieve a friction fit when tightened against the sight base of the rifle. The remaining portion of the metal bar extended in a strait line beyond the muzzle of the rifle. The tip of the bar at the business end of this crude bayonet was then ground to a chisel point. This type of bayonet was produced for both models of captured Russian rifles, the Model 1891 Three-Line-Rifle as well as for the Berdan II.

It is not known how many of these bayonets were produced, however, both are extremely rare today, which may or may not indicate, that the numbers produced were small. Without the aid of actual production figures it is hard to draw conclusions. Logic dictates to some that the rarity today should be considered as proof of the small numbers produced. In the case of the corkscrew pattern, this does not necessary prove compelling. After the war, these shaped strips of metal cannot have been seen as more than scrap metal from a practical standpoint and who knows how many were simply melted down and destroyed. This question will probably never be answered.

German Ersatz Pattern Bayonets

Compared to the Austro-Hungarians, the Germans developed and produced a much wider variety of Ersatz bayonets. Among them, were a couple of patterns that were intended solely for issue with the stores of captured Russian Three-Line-Rifles. It is interesting to note, that while the Austro-Hungarians utilized greater numbers of reissued Russian rifles, they produced a smaller variety of bayonets designed to fit them. Perhaps they were given the majority of the captured Russian bayonets? This is a possibility that should be studied further. Never the less, many of the Three-Line-Rifles used by the Germans were issued with captured Russian bayonets. The balance were issued with one of the many Ersatz models which were produced in a wide variety of patterns.

The first pattern of German bayonet that we shall consider, was made with a tubular section which engaged the muzzle of the rifle. For those of you who have Anthony Carter’s great work on Ersatz bayonets, he refers to this pattern as EB 54. To this tube was attached a knife blade which was approximately 12.6" in length. There is a slot in the tube, which was designed to engage the sight base of the rifles front sight. The central portion of the tube was fitted with a broad, knurled locking ring of different design than that typically found with a traditional socket bayonet. It functioned, however, in the same fashion. The bayonet was seated in a straight line with the slot passing down over the sight base at which point the locking ring was closed behind the sight base, thus locking the bayonet in place over the sight base. These bayonets are very rare today and must have been relatively expensive to make. As far as is known, they were produced in fairly small numbers. These bayonets could be used without alteration to the rifle.

German Ersatz Patterns Requiring Alteration to the Rifle

Aside from the single bayonet listed above, all of the other German Ersatz pattern bayonets, which were issued to German troops with captured Model 1891 Three-Line-Rifles, required some type of alteration in order for them to be mounted on the rifles. The most common means of accomplishing this, but by no means the only way, was to fit the muzzle of the rifle with one of the special tubular adapters. Once in place, these adapters allowed the use of any of the Model 1888/98 Ersatz bayonets with the converted rifle. This entire class of bayonet was produced with a double diameter muzzle ring which was split open on the top of the muzzle ring. These bayonets had a long slot in the back of the pommel. It was a very ingenious design that when mounted on the Gew 88’s short, side mounted bayonet lug, the larger portion of the double muzzle ring slipped over the section of the Gew 88’s muzzle, ahead of the barrel jacket. The ring portion of the crossguard formed a stopping point as it made contact with the front of the Gew 88 sight base. This prevented the short bayonet lug from seating any farther than the locking catch in spite of the overall length of the slot. When the same bayonet was mounted on a Gew 98, the split opening in the top of the muzzle ring passed by either side of the Gew 98’s front sight base. This pulled the muzzle tight into the smaller diameter opening in the double diameter ring. Since the split ring passed along the sides of the sight base, it allowed the long slot in the pommel of the bayonet to fully engage the long bayonet lug on the Gew 98. This ingeniously simple, but effective, design allowed the bayonets to be issued interchangeably to troops armed with either Gew 88 or Gew 98. Hence the model designation of 88/98 was used to differentiate these bayonets from the patterns that would only fit one or the other German issue rifles.

The tubular adapters which were designed to fit the various captured enemy rifles consisted of a tube which corresponded to the diameter of the rifle barrel. Externally, the tubes were stepped in such a fashion as to reproduce the relationship between the external diameters of the muzzle and barrel jacket of the Gew 88. The bayonet lug was mounted on the right side of the adapter. The lug was the same length as is found on the Gew 98. This allowed for a strong lock up, as both the muzzle ring, as well as the long bearing surface of the full length slot, supported the bayonet.

Different adapters were produced to fit the Model 1891 Three-Line-Rifle, the French Model 1886/93 Lebel and the French Model 1907/15 and 16 series of Lebel-Berthiers. There were two different adapters, which were designed to fit the Three-Line-Rifle. Externally they functioned the same with the only difference being the manner in which they were attached to the muzzle of the rifle. Both adapters required the cutting back of approximately 1.25 inches of tip of the rifle stock and the permanent removal of the Russian pattern nosecap. The top barrel band was remounted several inches back of the removed section of stock in order to secure the top handguard and provide a sling swivel location for the earlier pattern Three-Line-Rifles, which lacked sling slots. Both types of adapter slipped past, and locked behind the sight base of the Three-Line-Rifle’s front sight, the difference in the two being the method used to lock them into position. The more common style, has a long panel with a partial ring around it’s base that slips into place into the adapter slot behind the sight base. The partial ring mounts over the body of the adapter and is then tightened in place with two screws, which pass through taped holes in the ring and the adapter body and then butt up against the barrel to lock the adapter in place. Once again, the genius is in the simplicity of the design. The second type varies only in the locking method, which is utilized to secure the adapter to the muzzle of the rifle. It has the same type of arrangement as the first style mentioned above with the exception of a tightening bracket which fits behind the rear sight base. The bracket goes over the section that covers the sight slot and butts up against the sight base. Once in place, the bracket is tightened via a screw that draws and tightens the two ends together under the body of the adapter. Once the rifle was properly fitted with an adapter, then any of the Model 88/98 Ersatz pattern bayonets could be utilized with the rifle.

Bayonet Studs attached to original Russian Nosecaps

In most current sources, the tubular adapters are listed as the only method used by the Germans to allow the use of German issue bayonets with captured foreign rifles. This is simply not the case. In addition to the use of adapters, there are a number of other means through which the Germans accomplished this. The next method we will discuss, entailed the welding of a German style bayonet stud, to either the right or left side of the regular nosecap that is found on the Three-Line-Rifle. The Russian nosecap is not exactly a robust structure. It was not intended to support a bayonet. The nosecap is attached to the tip of the stock by a lone screw, which passes through the sides of the nosecap securing it to the stock. The addition of the bayonet stud allowed a side mounting arrangement in a manner similar to that, which is achieved with the use of the tubular adapter. The bayonet studs were welded or braised in place. There are a wide variety of types and sizes of studs attached to the rifles stored in the basement of the Royal Belgian Army Museum in Brussels. These rifles are believed to have been altered in Belgium during the war and were issued to the garrison there, who were known to have been equipped with Three-Line-Rifles. Some of the studs have two catch points, which would have allowed them to be issued with some of the export patterns of bayonet, which were requisitioned by the German authorities when the war began.

Another interesting coincidence, which I believe is no coincidence at all, is the existence of the special pattern Ersatz bayonet, which Carter cataloged as EB 20. This bayonet is known to have been produced for use with captured Three-Line-Rifles. Both Carter and Walters in their respective books, list it as having been designed for use with the adapters. The bayonet in question has a " to 1" long tubular section, which is braised or welded, in place inside the muzzle ring of the bayonet. The tube is designed to slip over the rifle’s muzzle and has a section in the muzzle ring, which is notched to lock in place by engaging the front sight base of the rifle. Anyone who has handled a Three-Line-Rifle with an adapter, knows that an excellent attachment is achieved with any standard Ersatz bayonet without the addition of a tube in the muzzle ring. This is due primarily to the long stud and slot arrangement like that found on the Gew 98. Both Carter and Walter’s add that the photographic evidence suggests that these bayonets may have only been issued to units stationed in Belgium and in particular, the garrison of Brussels. It is my opinion that the addition of the tube was intended to give additional support to the strength of the attachment of the bayonet when mounted on the rifles converted in the manner described above. The presence of the tube would serve to relieve the otherwise, excessive pressure on the weak Russian nosecap with the bayonet stud attached. These bayonets were most likely produced with the sole intent of being issued with the rifles, which were converted in this fashion. They were not, however, the only bayonets issued with this type of conversion. A very close inspection of the previously mentioned photograph of the group of sailors from the I. Matrosen-Division, taken in Kiel in 1918, will reveal that the majority of the rifles pictured have been converted with the addition of the stud attached to the Russian nosecap.

If you examine the photo carefully with a magnifying glass, you will see that only three of the rifles actually have muzzle adapters while the balance have been adapted through the welding of mounting studs on the right side of the nosecaps. Most of the rifles, which do not have bayonets mounted, clearly have Russian nosecaps with bayonet lugs mounted on the stock forends. The other obvious difference is the double step, which is present only on the adapters. If you look carefully at a decent copy of this famous photo, you will note that the only individuals with adapters on their rifles are the two sailors on either side of the NCO in the back row and the sailor on the extreme right, also in the back row. When you consider the fact that rifles converted with the tubular adapters required the permanent removal of the nosecaps, the rifles pictured cannot have been cut back for the adapters! This is an illustration of the problems inherent in studying only bayonets, or only rifles, without the benefit of having a thorough knowledge of both. As can be seen in the photographs accompanying this article, there is substantial variation to be found among the rifles altered in this fashion. Some have the stud added to the right side while others have it mounted on the left side. To my knowledge, this type of conversion has not been written up on either side of the Atlantic. This goes to show how much is still out there that needs to be uncovered and published!

Gew 98 H Type Conversions

The next type of alteration which was performed on captured Three-Line-Rifles has only come to light very recently. For the discovery of this type of Central Powers conversion, I have to extend my heartiest thanks to Kevin Carney! Kevin is completely responsible for bringing this variation to light. With his contacts in all the right places, Kevin had the knowledge to both recognize the unusual and the good sense to grab every one that he could find! After giving Kevin the credit he deserves, I have to take the blame for the fact that few of you out there will ever see any of these rifles! Outside of my collection that is! One went to Tuco, one to Karl-Heinz, Kev kept one or two for his collection, one or two others may have escaped and like the glutton that I am, I grabbed every other one that I could get my hands on! After studying these rifles at length and cataloging all of the markings, there is no question that they are a WWI variation. They have been adapted, in a very clever manner, to accept the standard issue, German Ersatz bayonets, and in a few cases, regular issue bayonets. A Gew 98 H-style top barrel band and nosecap with bayonet bar have been adapted to fit the barrel and forearm of the Russian Three-Line Rifle. The Russian nosecap and top barrel band have been removed, the forend of the stock has been cut back, and a specially manufactured assembly, which is identical in design to that found on the Gew 98, has been added to the forend of the stock. The bayonet lug/nosecap assemblies are held in place with a screw, which passes through the H band and stock on some of these conversions, while others employ a barrel band retaining spring.

One of the most interesting features of these alterations is the fact that some of the Gew 98 nosecaps with bayonet bar, appear to have been produced specifically for these conversions, while other have been altered using standard Gew 98 production parts. At first glance, you would assume that all of the parts are standard Gew 98 parts. However, this is not the case with some of these rifles. I first discovered this when I tried to attach a Model 98/05 bayonet to one of these rifles. It wouldn’t fit! I then systematically attempted the same thing with the eight different rifles I have in my collection of this pattern. Six out of the nine rifles in my collection, will only accept the Ersatz pattern bayonets while the other three will accept standard issue models as well? I repeated the process with a Model 1898 Quillback and then with a Model 71/84. After repeated attempts, it became very apparent that none of the standard issue German bayonets other than the 88/98 series of Ersatz bayonets would fit the majority of these rifles. In addition, some of the H style barrel bands have parade hooks while others do not?

Both Kevin and Karl-Heinz have one of these rifles in their collections, which will mount the standard issue bayonets as well as the 88/98 ersatz patterns. This may imply that early prototypes for this conversion were in fact completed using actual Gew 98 parts. On the balance of the group, which is available for study, the bayonet bar is slightly larger and of rougher manufacture than those which are found on issue Gew 98s. Otherwise, they are exactly alike in every way. Were they converted using standard Gew 98 parts, there would be no reason why the standard issue bayonets would not fit the on the bayonet bar of all of these rifles. There is only one conclusion that can be drawn from this. Some percentage of the bayonet and nosecap assemblies had to have been specially produced for this conversion. When you think of the lengths that were required by the Germans to produce the special tubular adapters, which were used on many of the captured and reissued foreign rifles, there is no reason to suggest that they would not have gone to the trouble of manufacturing special H style barrel band/nosecap assemblies for a this type of conversion.

Due to the difference in thickness found in the Gew 88 bayonet stud versus the Gew 98 stud, the 88/98 pattern Ersatz bayonets were produced with a slightly wider slot than was to be found on the standard issue Gew 98 bayonets. These bayonets were produced by a large number of small shops. This was necessary to relieve the pressure of having to make huge numbers of bayonets at the government arsenals. This allowed the government arsenals to concentrate on rifles, machine guns and other more complex weapons systems. The bayonet slot tolerances were opened up to allow for the manufacturing variation that was to be expected with large scale production from a wide variety of shops, many of which, had never produced weapons before. The slightly oversized dimension of the bayonet studs found on the majority of Gew 98 converted rifles correspond perfectly with the slot dimensions of the entire series of 88/98 Ersatz bayonets. I do not believe this to be a coincidence. Every photograph that I have encountered which was taken during the war of a German or Austro-Hungarian soldier armed with a Three-Line Rifle, shows them as having been issued with either a captured Russian bayonet or one of the various patterns of ersatz bayonet. I have yet to uncover any photographs what so ever, showing German troops armed with captured Three-Line rifles, who were issued with regulation pattern bayonets.

In addition, over the years that I have collected both WWI rifles and bayonets, I have encountered a significant number of German ersatz pattern bayonets, which have had the open muzzle ring partially or completely bent closed. Like every other collector, I had assumed that these bayonets had simply been beaten around over the years and that the muzzle rings had been bent inward accidentally. Taking a selection of these bayonets and fitting them to this type of conversion was quite surprising! Those bayonets, which have the two wings of the muzzle ring almost completely, closed, fit perfectly over the muzzle of the Gew 98 adapted rifles. I believe this to have been intentional. From a common sense standpoint, if I were issued one of these rifles along with a bayonet with an open muzzle ring, I would certainly hammer the two ends of the muzzle ring down over the barrel of the rifle if it would provide a tighter fit. I would imagine that the same thing was done with ersatz bayonets as they were issued with other rifles. Common sense tends to dictate certain practices, particularly when at some point your life may hang in the balance! In addition, each unit in the field had their own armorers who were trained to handle the simplest of repairs and necessary alterations.

German or Austro-Hungarian Conversions?

When I received the first Gew 98 H-band converted rifle of this pattern, my first thought was that it was a German conversion. The rifle in question is marked with a German eagle, has two Duetches Reich cartouches on the stock, along with what appears to be a German Naval mark. On the top of the buttplate tang, it is marked with either a U or an O over the number 331. It is very crudely marked with the work having been done with a hammer and punch. This is typical of the work done in the field by a company armorer who lacked a set of proper stamps. It is difficult to tell if the person who added the markings simply failed to close the top of an O or bent the two uprights of a U inward by mistake. Since this rifle surfaced, another one has appeared which is unquestionably marked to a German sub, the U-73. This marking is found in the proper location as marked on Naval issued weapons. The rifle is marked on the stock wrist just back of the trigger guard. The U-73 marked rifle is undoubtedly of German issue. The first rifle mentioned, may have been marked to the U-331, or the mark might be an O in which case it was issued to some other, as of yet, unidentified formation. It is difficult to tell! In addition to these two rifles, Kevin has another U-boat marked Three-Line Rifle in his collection.

As more of these rifles have surfaced, Kevin and I have catalogued the markings found on the larger population. Interestingly enough, the majority of them bear a variety Austro-Hungarian arsenal marks or capture marks? Several are marked with the Steyr K, while others are found with the R mark as used by the Fegy Gevar arsenal in Budapest. Just as Steyr used OEWG as it’s early company mark, Fegy Gevar used FGGY. On the Model 95 Mannlichers, markings were simplified further with Steyr replacing OEWG and Budapest replacing FGGY. The K was used to mark small metal parts on Steyr weapons such as the barrel bands, nosecaps, trigger guards, etc while the R served the same purpose on the Fegy Givar, or Budapest produced weapons. In addition, the K and R were also used to mark captured enemy weapons, which were reworked or refurbished at either of the respective facilities.

In examining the additional markings which are found on the small population of these conversions, two are unquestionably marked for issue to U-boats, several are German unit marked, while other have letter and number markings which are unidentifiable, but may represent depot markings. These marks generally consist of a single letter and number stamped into the buttplate of the rifle. If they are in fact depot markings, when you take this into consideration along with the rifles that bear either the Steyr K or the FGGY R, it appears that this pattern of alteration may have been more common than the small surviving numbers would indicate. Three-Line Rifles with tubular adapters are very rare these days, yet they were very common during the war as well.

The wide variety of both Austro-Hungarian as well as German markings, found on these conversions, raises a very interesting question. Did both Austria-Hungary and Germany perform these conversions? Were they converted by Austria-Hungary for Germany? Were they produced by Austria-Hungary for issue to Austro-Hungarian troops who were then issued German pattern ersatz bayonets? Or, where many of these rifles captured by Austro-Hungarian forces and then given to the Germans for conversion? After much consideration of all of the possibilities, I believe that they were most likely converted in Austria-Hungary and or Germany for issue to German troops who fought on the Eastern Front, attached to Austro-Hungarian units, which were also issued captured Three-Line Rifles. In addition, some of the conversions may have been shipped directly to Germany, or they may have been carried back to Germany by troops returning from the Eastern Front . I base this hypothesis on a number of factors.

There exist large numbers of Austrio-Hungarian Model 95 Mannlicher bayonets, which bear German acceptance marks. Most, but not all of them, are marked with the Imperial crown/W cipher over 17, on the spine of the blade. A few have surfaced which are marked crown/W 18. The Ernst Busch Company of Solingen produced all of the German marked M95 bayonets identified to date. In addition, smaller numbers of Model 88/90 Mannlicher bayonets have been found, which are marked with German acceptance marks as well. It has been suggested in bayonet collecting circles, that these bayonets were issued to German troops who were headed for the Eastern Front, where they were to be attached to Austro-Hungarian formations. For ease of supply, they were to be issued with Model 95 Mannlichers. One can easily argue this point. But then why not issue them Austro-Hungarian produced bayonets along with the rifle? As much sense as this argument makes, it doesn’t explain the presence of the German issue marks on M95 Mannlicher bayonets. If Germany produced these bayonets for Austria-Hungary, why apply German acceptance stamps at all?

Along the same lines, could these Three-Line conversions have been intended for German troops who were to be attached to Austro-Hungarian formations, which were armed with captured Three-Line Rifles? The Austro-Hungarian Army used tens of thousands of captured Russian rifles. They produced their own types of ersatz bayonets to fit them. Once again, why go to the trouble of altering the rifles in this way when they were already churning out ersatz socket bayonets, which required no alteration to the rifles at all? There are arguments against every potential hypothesis that can be put forth to explain German type conversions produced by Austro-Hungarian arsenals. We may never know the answer to this, which makes the converted rifles that much more interesting!

The issue of captured Three-Line Rifles to the U-boat fleet is well documented. When the war began, all the U-boats in the fleet, were equipped with two Maxim machine guns. These were issued for the purpose of detonating floating naval mines. In 1915, Germany was suffering a severe weapons shortage of every type as manufacturing could not keep pace with the number of recruits who were being mobilized. The Maxims were withdrawn from service on the U-boats for reissue to the Army and were replaced with two captured Three-Line Rifles each U-boat. It is also know that large numbers of captured rifles, many of which were Russian Three-Line Rifles, which were issued to Naval units serving both with the fleet and on shore.

Ultimately, the evidence, which may partially confirm or refute this hypothesis, may be found in the form of photographic evidence. As part of my ongoing research I intend to scour the archives of several key museum photographic collections in search of one or more photographs, which might exist, portraying troops armed with Gew 98 adapted Three-Line Rifles. There are many known photos of both German and Austro-Hungarian troops armed with reissued captured enemy rifles. The famous photo of a small detachment of the Matrosen Naval unit taken at the dock yards in Kiel comes to mind. The troops are armed with captured Three-Line Rifles. They have been issued with various patterns of 88/98 Ersatz bayonets. Most of the rifles have been altered through the addition of bayonet bars welded to the sides of the original Russian nosecaps. In nearly every published copy of this photo, the alterations are wrongfully identified as all having tubular bayonet adapters. Careful examination shows this not to be the case. Several rifles do in fact, have tubular adapters, however, the majority have adapted nosecaps. Remember when you look at this photo, that rifles which have had the tubular adapter fitted to the muzzle, have had the nosecap completely removed. Note in the photo, how many nosecaps are visible, even with the bayonets mounted! This is the only pattern which these rifles can possibly be. Along similar lines, somewhere out there, there exists one or more photos depicting troops armed with Gew 98 adapted Three-Line Rifles. Be they German or Austro-Hungarian, I hope to find one sooner or later!

The Gew 88 and 92 Lebel-Berthier Altered Rifles

Along with the Gew 98 type bayonet conversions, there emerged from the same import lot of weapons, two very unusual rifles. Both were converted to accept bayonets in a similar fashion through the alteration of the top barrel band and nosecap. In the case of these two rifles, however, one has been altered through the addition of a Gew 88 top barrel band with bayonet lug, while the other has been adapted through the addition of the nosecap of a Lebel-Berthier carbine. Any of the standard bayonets which, will fit the Gew 88, will mount perfectly on the first rifle, while the second accepts the French Mlle. 1892 Carbine bayonet.

The Gew 88 altered rifle has been done in a fairly crude manner. In the case of the Gew 98 altered rifles, the parts used were without a doubt, purpose made for these conversions. The Gew 88 alteration has been done with an original Gew 88 top band. As the internal dimensions of the band exceed the dimensions of the exterior surfaces of the Model 91 rifle, it was necessary to add sheet metal shim stock to effect a tight fit of the barrel band. The sheet stock has been tacked into place through the use of small nails. In addition, a small threaded piece of metal tube has been welded to the end of the muzzle? The purpose of this last addition is unknown. The fact that the piece is threaded is obviously the key to it’s purpose. Perhaps it was used with some type of rifle grenade launcher? Most likely, its purpose will never be known.

On the other hand, the Lebel-Bethier conversion is very well done and the standard French bayonet mounts perfectly on the rifle. Since the dimensions of the forend of both the Mlle 92 and the Three-Line-Rifle are very similar, the new nosecap has been mounted in a very clean fashion. I believe both of these rifles to be of WWI vintage as well. I don’t believe either of these to be post war conversions as there were so many surplus rifles of every variety available on the international arms market, there was little need to go to such extremes to alter standard model rifles to fit unusual bayonets. In addition, the Germans used large numbers of captured French rifles, including the Lebel and the Lebel-Berthier series. The Austro-Hungarian inventory of captured and reissued rifles, which was taken in 1918, also lists both the Lebel and the Lebel-Berthier as being used in Austro-Hungarian service.

Rechambered and Altered Model 1891 Three-Line-Rifles

In his excellent work, De Drie Linen Gewher, Karl-Heinz Wrobel featured two of the different patterns of conversion as used by the German for the rifles they rechambered to 8x57mmJS. The most common of the two utilized one or the other of the two forms of tubular adapters as discussed earlier in this article. The second pattern, however, incorporated a most unusual and quite unique variation of nosecap barrel band combination. Once again, as was the case with the Gew 98 type alterations, the parts for this adaptation were purpose made specifically for these rifles. It is not known how many Three-Line-Rifles were rechambered by the Germans. The most frequently encountered form of alteration is most easily identified by the new location of the rear sight. Due to the ballistic differences between the 8x57mmJS and the Russian 7.62x54mmR, the rear sight had to be moved back on the barrel toward the octagonal section of the receiver. The rear sight covers most of the original Russian markings, which are normally found on the barrel between the receiver and rear sight.

In the case of the second type of 8x57mmJS conversion, the new nosecap, barrel band and bayonet stud, are the most conspicuous alterations. The noscap incorporates a most unusual parade hook. The bayonet stud is very similar, but not identical, to that found on the Gew 98. It will accept any of the standard Gew 98 issue bayonets rather than strictly the Ersatz patterns as is the case with the Gew 98 altered rifles.

The Austro-Hungarians also rechambered rifles for their standard service cartridge, the 8x50mmR. This was a fairly easy conversion as the 8x50mmR cartridge is rimmed and of similar dimensions to the original Russian cartridge. Unlike their German counterparts, the Austro-Hungarian altered rifles were issued with Russian captured or Austro-Hungarian produced socket bayonets. To date, I have not come across any information that would indicate that the Austro-Hungarians altered any captured rifles, of any type, to accept standard Austro-Hungarian issue bayonets. In every instance, it appears that they produced special ersatz pattern to make up any shortages that existed in bayonets for reissue with captured rifles. The Russian Model 91s that were rechambered to 8x50mmR can be identified by the altered range markings on the sight base of the rifles. The standard Russian distances of 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, were polished off the left side of the rear sight base and in their place were marked 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. In addition, the chamber or barrel may or may not be marked OEWG for Osterreichische Waffenfabriks Gesellschaft, more commonly known as Steyr, or AZF for the Artilleriezeug-Fabrik in Vienna. Both of these arsenals converted captured Three-Line Rifles from 7.62x54mmR to the M93 8x50mmR Austro-Hungarian cartridge. It is believed, but not yet confirmed that Steyr and AZF performed all of the conversions to 8x50mmR. Other than the possible alteration of the sling swivel arrangement to enable the use of the Model 95 Austro-Hungarian sling and the renumbering of the range markings on the left side of the sight base, these rifles do not appear any different externally than they did in Russian service.

The Ottoman Empire

Outside of German and Austro-Hungary, the Ottoman Turks used very large numbers of captured Russian Three-Line-Rifles. By late 1917, several entire front line army corps were equipped with Model 91s. While the Turks made alterations to the rear sight leaves or bases on some of these rifles, there is no evidence that has come to light so far, to indicate that they made any attempts to adapt any of these rifles for use with the various patterns of Turkish bayonets. The photographic evidence would suggest that they issued captured Russian bayonets only. Both Germany and Austria-Hungary supplied the Ottoman Turks with a wide variety of war materials, throughout the war. It is very possible, albeit unproved, that ersatz bayonets of German or Austro-Hungarian construction could have been sent to Turkey. More research needs to be done in this area.

Bulgaria

In the past several years with the large influx of Russian Model 1891 rifles from various sources, a small number of rifles have surfaced which bear very crudely executed rampant lions on the barrel or receiver. The original Czarist markings have been defaced. Many of these rifles bear later applied Bulgarian markings and there is little doubt that they were at one time, used by Bulgaria. The difficult issue is to determine whether or not these rifles were used in Bulgarian service during WWI. The Bulgarians fought the Russian Army alongside the Austro-Hungarians and did in fact capture large enough numbers of Three-Line-Rifles to warrant reissue to Bulgarian troops. Rifles could also have been supplied to Bulgaria out of the stocks, which were captured by either Germany or Austria-Hungary. Germany did supply Bulgaria with 230,000 Gew 88s in 1917. It is quite possible that Model 1891 Three-Line-Rifles could have been supplied to Bulgaria by Germany. There is photographic evidence to support the use of some amount of Three-Line-Rifles by Bulgarian troops during the war. However, the evidence deserves additional study and like the Ottoman Turks, there is no evidence to suggest that any alterations were made to the rifles themselves. With no arms manufacturing capabilities of her own, the Bulgarians were the least likely candidate to have made alterations to any of the captured equipment that they put into service.

A Perspective on WWI Logistics

When you stop to think of the huge task it was to supply the demands of so many troops fighting across such a vast expanse, for a period of four continuos years, then you begin to realize the tremendous potential that existed for solving problems on a very local level. While the major supply lines were filled and refilled during the course of the war, the need to occasionally apply some local ingenuity in order to solve an immediate problem becomes apparent. For this reason, I believe there are probably more variations of altered rifles that exist, which have not yet been published. When you consider for instance, the wide variety of methods used to alter captured French Gras bayonets for use with German issue rifles. Why were there so many different forms of alteration rather than one standard method? Because they were altered at different times, in different depots and arsenals and with different types of equipment. For this very reason, I believe that there are likely to be other patterns of alteration that will come to light as the interest in WWI collecting grows. Perhaps another arms deal in Eastern Europe will result in the emptying of another warehouse that will contain a dozen rifles of an unknown pattern. It’s one of the aspects of our hobby that keep it continually interesting!

In closing, I would like to thank Kevin Carney for all of the time and effort he has put in on so many of the projects that we have worked on together. In addition, Kevin has contributed a very large number of excellent rifles to my collection! He has been a wonderful friend and a constant source of information. Without Kevin, many of the items that have come to light relative to this article might still be in obscurity. Right along side Kevin, I have to thank Karl-Heinz Wrobel for all the same reasons. He is a wonderful friend and has contributed so very much to our hobby. His work on the Mosin-Nagant is without question the finest book in existence on this subject. And like Kevin, Karl-Heinz is an absolute Gentleman! Then there is the proofreader of all proofreaders and one of the most knowledgeable collectors in our field, Mr. John Wall. John is more brutal than any high school English teacher I have ever known! He has a broader understanding of the English language than they do as well! My thanks, once again, for your help John! And of course, without Tuco, none of us would be able to share any of this with each other. This is by far, the finest firearms related sight on the Internet! My hats off to you, Tuco, even if you do look allot like Eli Wallach!

As has been the case with our other subjects of ongoing research, if any of you out there have an unidentified pattern of conversion, or one that has been identified here or somewhere else, please contact Tuco and provide whatever information you can. The broader the subject group, the more helpful it is in drawing conclusions or inferences! As I have written this, any and all mistakes, which any of you might find, must be laid at my doorstep. My apologies! Thank you one and all for your help!

John P. Sheehan

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