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Mosin-Nagant Dot Net Presents:

A "Frenchman" : The First Russian Rifle Mosin-Nagant M91

History of the Three-Line-Rifles-Production in Chatellerault

By: Karl-Heinz Wrobel


It is a fact: The first mass-produced rifles Mosin-Nagant M91 were not manufactured in “Mother Russia“. Though the large factories of Tula and Izhevsk and the smaller one in Sestroretsk received the production order in 1891, the first rifles came from Chatellerault in France. To understand why, it is necessary to know the historical and political situation at the end the 19th century.

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The first Mosin Nagant with early features

Historical Background

In the time from the 15th to the 17th September 1884 three European monarchs met in the Russian castle Stierniewicze, Emperor Wilhelm I. of Germany, Emperor Franz Joseph I. of Austria and Czar Alexander III. Alexandrovitch of Russia. A treaty was signed, the so called "Rückversicherungsvertrag“, which established an alliance between those countries.

After the lost war against Germany 1870/71 the other main country in territorial Europe, France, was completely isolated. The German chancellor Bismarck was the father of both this isolation and the new alliance. His intentions were to end the danger of a two-front-war against two powerful enemies, France and Russia. It was a very tricky alliance and only a political genius like Bismarck was able to handle it. However the young Emperor Wilhelm II. of Germany did not like this strong old man at his side, so Bismarck was forced to retire. One of the new advisers of Wilhelm II. was a man in the foreign office, Geheimrat Baron von Holstein. This man was sure, that France with its Republican Government and Russia with its Monarchy never would come together. Therefore Wilhelm II. refused to renew the “Rückversicherungsvertrag“. The “thin wire to Petersburg“, as Bismarck once called it, was cut off.

Baron von Holstein was wrong. Now the political situation of the agricultural country Russia had become extremely difficult. Great Britain was the main enemy of Russia at this point and now the possibility of a new powerful enemy with gigantic technical resources just on the other side of the western border of Russia, Germany, arose. And Russia had no more allies, it was isolated like one certain other country in Europe. Therefore it was nearly inevitable that those countries came together. Bismarck’s nightmare, the two-front-battle, came out of its grave. After first consultations between France and Russia the upcoming alliance was set on a military base too. July 25th, 1891, a French fleet visited the holy grail of Russia, the harbor of Kronstadt.

How desperate Czar Alexander III. needed new allies will be illustrated by the following little story: During the visit of the French fleet the absolute Monarch, introduced by God and reign of life and death of his subservients, took off his hat and listened or better had to listen to the Marseillaise, the song of the French Revolution, the battle song of the French people, who had cut off the head of another Monarch, the French King Louis XVI. August 22nd, 1891, a military treaty was accepted and signed august 18th, 1892; September 17th, 1892, the French President Sadi Carnot visited Russia and December 27th, 1892, the Czar signed the French/Russo Treaty.

Chatellerault

Chatellerault (in medieval times Castrum Heraldi or Castellum Airaldi) is the capital of one Arrondissement in the French Department Vienne near the railway from Orleans to Bordeaux. In 1883 there were 15.244 inhabitants. The weapons factory was founded July 14th, 1819, and started the production of edged weapons with 67 workers. Beginning 1829 first rifles were manufactured. From 1866 they made the Chassepot rifle with 2.187 workers and from 1874 the Gras rifle. 1883 the factory had 1.800 workers in 5 so called „Ateliers“. During the Russian order roundabout 2.000 workers were occupied in 1893 and in June 1894 5.794 men. In 1895 the amount of workers decreased to 2.000 again. After WW II not enough orders came in and so the factory was closed in 1968.

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The Factory

The Treaty

May 10th, 1890, first official consultations between the representatives of the Czar and the ones of the French weapons factories happened. The businessman and French representative of the factories, Adrien Treuille, had been authorized by the French War Ministry, to run the negotiations. His partners on the Russian side were Lieutenant General Tschagin, head of the Russian commission for the acquirement of a rifle with small caliber, and the Russian military attaché in Paris, Lieutenant General Baron von Freedericksz. The first agreement on 300.000 single shot rifles was may 21st, 1891. The executing factory should be Saint Etienne. Some weeks later the order was changed. July 16th, 1890, Mr. Treuille got a new, pretty uncertain, order on 500.000 magazine fed rifles. At this time it was not clear, what rifles should be manufactured and at what cost. But a new factory was chosen: Chatellerault. Up to now the reasons for the relocation from Saint Etienne to Chatellerault are not clear.

December 31st, 1890, General Freedericksz told Mr. Treuille, that the order would work. Up to June 1st, 1891, the (handmade) five master weapons should be in Chatellerault. They really arrived in time. The technical department of the French Artillery took the rifles to pieces and examined them. After that the price for the single weapon was fixed: 48,65 Francs including the bayonet. Added to that price had to be 3 fr for the production expenses, 0,35 fr for proof shooting and another 7 fr as fees of the factory. The total price therefore arose to 59 fr. It was a good deal for the French factory, because the average costs for one rifle soon decreased from 50,8942 fr to 37,9802 fr in November 1894. It is interesting to know, that essential parts of the raw material, like the stock-wood, raw barrels and the raw steel for the entire chamber had to be delivered from Russia.

The treaty was signed December 19th, 1891. The French Government accepted to deliver 503.750 Three-Line-Rifles M1891 in the time from 1892 up to 1894. A Russian control commission came to Chatellerault October 20th, 1891. First there were only two persons, Colonel Sokerine as head of the commission, and Lieutenant Prince Gagarine. January 1893 the next member, Captain Kholodovski, and September 12th, 1893, the last one, Captain Orloff, arrived in Chatellerault. But there were many delays in starting the production. Blueprints, tools etc. did not come in time from Russia. It was April 18th, 1892, when some very important parts, like the master barrel and a master bayonet, arrived. So the first rifle M. 1891 was assembled only in July 1892.

The following table shows the number of established machines and employed workers during the production of the Three-Line-Rifles in Chatellerault:

Production Data

September

1892

January

1893

January

1894

January

1895

Amount of workers 880 1.231 4.706 3.535
Machines for producing the barrel 1.133 1.366 4.022 3.295
Proofmachines 1.210 1.642 4.072 3.752
Toolmachines 1.425 1.756 4.076 3.753
Installation machines 1.551 1.934 4.090 3.755

Building one rifle needed altogether 42 hours of work with 1446 different stages of work and 812 proof measurements.

Production, Deliverance

In the treaty you find that in the first nine month of production Chatellerault had to produce the parts of the rifles only, not to assemble rifles. In the tenth month, which means from July 19th to august 19th, they had to assemble 100 rifles per day in 25 working days per month. There had to be an increase of production every month, 175, 250, 325, 400, 475, 550, 625, 700, 775, 850 and 925 per day in the next months. From July 19th, 1893, there had to be a production of 1.000 rifles per day, which means 25.000 per month. The last month of this high production should be the 33rd from June 19th to July 19th, 1894. After that there was a monthly decrease from 800, 600 and 400 per day in the following months and than there should be a daily production of 200 from October 19th, 1894 to January 19th, 1895.

It seems that the factory fulfilled the time schedule very well, though different French sources tell us different dates of deliverance. So the facts remain a little bit sketchy. One source says, that the first 25.000 rifles had been assembled by September 1892 and shipped from Dünkirchen to St. Petersburg, where they arrived October 3rd, 1892. In 1894 alone there should be a production of 475.000 rifles! Another source tells us the total amount of assembled rifles in September 1892 to be 153 and the daily production 4 rifles. In January 1893 the total production was 3.520 rifles with 150 rifles assembled daily at the end of this month. Up to January 1895 the total production shall have been 461.800 rifles M91. If you remember that the first five rifles have been accepted in December 1892, a fact clearly proofed by the letters of Colonel Sokerine, the source telling us about the deliverance of the first 25.000 rifles in September 1892 is obviously wrong.

But it is a fact too that Chatellerault delivered all weapons in time. The last crate with the number 25.129 was delivered April 25th, 1895 with the remaining 17 rifles. Altogether not 503.750 rifles, but 503.539 "only“ were shipped to Russia.

Production data per year can be estimated nearly exactly by checking the remaining rifles:

Year of manufacture

1892

1893

1894

1895

Amount of production

~22.000

~128.000

~330.000

~24.000

The first pattern of the Chatellerault rifles has the following characteristics:

Stock

- slim, one part

- sling swivels at the upper band and at the front of the magazine housing

- no recoil bolt

Handguard

- without

Bands

- without inside cuts for the metal fingers of the handguard

- open tightening screws

Cleaning rod

- short with the long head

Finger rest

- with finger rest behind the trigger guard

Rear part of the cocking piece

- large with steps

Frontsightbase

- low

Sight graduation

- base 400 to 1.200, leaf 1.300 to 2.700 arshini

Years of manufacture

- 1892 to 1893

Factories

- Chatellerault, Tula, Izhevsk, Sestroretsk

 

khchatproof1.jpg (8105 bytes)khchatproof2.jpg (6262 bytes)

 

Brands

The barrel of the „French“ rifles always shows the Czarist double headed eagle and the Cyrillic inscription Copy of kyrillisch1.jpg (3035 bytes) (weapons factory Chatellerault), the year of manufacture and the serial number of the rifle with an „N“ as a prefix. The main factory brand has three lines, the upper one with the word „Orushejnyj“ slightly curved over the second straight line with the word "Sawod“ and the third straight line with the word „Chatellerault“. This word is not a word-for-word transcription of the name „Chatellerault“, but shows that name in the way it was spoken in the Russian language. All characters have the same size.

All main parts have been stamped with the parts logo of the factory, an encircled "C“ (for Chatellerault). This character is not the Cyrillic "S“, like it is found on Serbian rifles Mosin-Nagant. All weapons show the brand of the Russian proof commission, the „Copy of kyrillisch3.jpg (1711 bytes) “  on the barrel.

Differences to the Russian made rifles

All parts of Russian and French made rifles M1891 have the same dimensions. You can use every part of a „French“ rifle in a Russian one. The reason for that is, that all tools and gauges were made in one factory only, Sestroretsk, whereas Izhevsk was responsible for the steel for all rifles. Some of those tools for the chamber can be seen here.

chart1.jpg (14571 bytes)

chart2.jpg (21331 bytes)

chart3.jpg (32412 bytes)

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Here the charts are continued

chart5.jpg (18495 bytes)

chart6.jpg (49178 bytes)

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But some little differences can be found! On every Russian or American rifle Mosin-Nagant M91 and all dragoon or Cossack rifles M91 you find the (Russian, not Finnish!) graduation of the backsight on the left side of the base (or stamped into the wood of the handguard, on the left side too). The Chatellerault rifles have the marks 4, 6, 8, 10 and 12 (for 400 up to 1.200 arshini) stamped on the right side of the base, like it can be seen in the following photo.

Khchatsight.jpg (28180 bytes)

It does not matter, whether the sight leaf of the rifle is the first one, graduated up to 2.700 arshini, or the second one, graduated up to 3.200 arshini. Most of the old Chatellerault rifles backsights have been changed to the curved sight leaf to fit the new cartridge M1908 (and got the recoil bolt), but that happened by changing the sight leaf only, not the base.

On Russian Three-Line-Rifles M91 you find the character „goda.jpg (1102 bytes)“(Cyrillic „g“ = „goda“ = year) just behind the year of manufacture. Here is the second difference: Chatellerault rifles M91 do not have that character. The third difference is the Czarist eagle. You do not find it on the chamber, but on the barrel only.

Serial numbers

In front of every serial number of a Chatellerault rifle you find the sign „N“, which is no Cyrillic character (you cannot find it in the Cyrillic alphabet), but of German origin, indicating „number“. All digits of the number are exactly on one line and parallel to the other inscriptions on the barrel. Russian weapons got their numbers starting newly every year with 1. That was different in Chatellerault. Here the numbering was continued over all years.

In Chatellerault the first serial number of the year 1892 was not the number one. The numbers of the first five rifles, produced in July/august and accepted in December 1892, are known: 707, 757, 760, 780 and 786. The reason is that all rifles got their numbers before they were proofed and accepted. Therefore rifles, which became finally rejected and destroyed later, are in the system of numbering too. That means that there are higher serial numbers than the amount of accepted weapons.

Year of manufacture

1892

1893

1894

1895

Range of serial numbers

707 - ~27.000

~27.000 - ~150.000

~150.000 - ~485.000

~485.000 - ~510.000

You find the serial numbers, which are a little bit smaller than the Russian ones, on the normal four places, on the barrel just beyond the year, on the bolt, on the magazine cover and on top of the metal buttplate.

Technical Changes

There are many differences between the first five prototypes that arrived in Chatellerault in May 1891 and the normal rifles produced since 1892. The prototypes had different graduations on the back sight base for instance. The trigger guard was rounded at its backside. And the bold handle was still the same as can be seen on the old Berdan-II-rifles. So many modifications had to be done even before mass production started in Chatellerault. But during the normal manufacturing it was just the same. Some improvements came, like a better frontsight, sometimes a alteration was done to simplify production only.

Finger-rest

The first rifles from Chatellerault are the crown jewels of those rifles. They should have the finger rest just behind the trigger guard.

Khchatrest.jpg (55894 bytes)

June 4th, 1893, Colonel Sokerine wrote a letter to Lieutenant Colonel Camps, director of the Chatellerault factory, to inform him that the finger rest should be abandoned. From that time all rifles were built without them. That means that finger rests can only be found on rifles built within eleven month from the start of production. Therefore finger rests are extremely rare. Round about 80.000 rifles from Chatellerault and another round about 40.000 from all three Russian factories have been made with them. To find a rifle with a finger rest became even harder, because it was ordered to remove the finger rest from the older rifles. Many of those rifles got a matching piece of wood inletted in the stock, or a plain piece of metal, screwed at the same place, instead of the finger rest. Very few rifles with the rest survived.

The rifle without the finger rest is the second pattern of the Chatellerault rifles with the following characteristics.

Stock

- slim, one part

- sling swivels at the upper band and at the front of the magazine housing

- no recoil bolt

Handguard

- without

Bands

- without inside cuts for the metal fingers of the handguard

- open tightening screws

Cleaning rod

- short with the long head

Finger rest

- without

Rear part of the cocking piece

- large with steps

Front sight base

- low

Sight graduation

- base 400 to 1.200, leaf 1.300 to 2.700 arshini

Years of manufacture

- 1893 to 1894

Factories

- Chatellerault, Tula, Izhevsk, Sestroretsk


Cleaning rod

The short cleaning rod with the longish head is another significant feature of the first rifles Mosin-Nagant. It is not as long as the barrel. In the barracks it should be used to clean the chamber area only. Normal cleaning of the barrel had to be done with a cleaning cord. But the cleaning cord did not prove and became replaced by a wipe rope, made of copper wire. But in the field cleaning of the barrel had to be done with the cleaning rod. To do so two of the short rods were screwed together. After that a round grip had to be screwed into the free head of the rods, which served as handle for the rod.

Khchatrod.jpg (65883 bytes)

 

The following table shows the dimensions of the short cleaning rod:

Length overall: 426,085 mm

Length head: 28,575 mm

Diameter shaft: 4,445 mm

Diameter head: 7,238 mm

This cleaning rod was in use up to 1896. During that time it was reworked and changed several times. With the first pattern the shaft was bruined, but the head of the rod phosphated. That changed in 1893. From then the head became bruined too. In January 1894 the opening in the head became increased from a diameter of 4,47 mm to 4,52 mm.

The construction of the cleaning rod was a little bit weak, because the head only was screwed on the shaft. The main problem caused by this was, that the head was rattled loose and became lost. Another problem was the normal use of the rod for building pyramids with the rifles. Doing this caused considerable powers to the rodhead, for instance by rough putting together or removing the rifles from the pyramid. Therefore the Russian Artillery Commission asked the factory of Chatellerault to make trials with another connection of both parts and tell the costs of an alteration. Colonel Sokerine reported to St. Petersburg and march 29th, 1894, the new attachment of the head by soldering was approved. The requirement was, that the soldering had a power against breakage of 58 kg/cm. Short after that the first 10 new cleaning rods arrived. The new gauges were sent to the factory April 2nd, 1894. The result of the next trials was a power against breakage of 70 to 85 kg/cm, and so the approval was no problem.

The well known long cleaning rod with the short head, seen at nearly all rifles M91, came in 1896. Therefore all rifles, produced in Chatellerault should have the short type with the long head. But I fear you will find none. There are some rifles with short cleaning rods in museums; some lucky collectors have very few too, but nearly all other ones have been altered to fit the new rod.

Epilogue

Khchatbell.jpg (69662 bytes)

The successor of Czar Alexander III., who was assassinated November 11th, 1894, Tzar Nicholas II., donated a bell to the church Saint-Jean-l´Evangéliste à Chateauneuf in Chatellerault, showing the portraits of the political fathers of the treaty, Czar Alexander III., Czar Nicholas II., the French Presidents Sadi Carnot, assassinated too June 24th, 1894, and Faure. On the bell there is a motto too: "For peace and understanding of the nations".

Beside this the Czar appreciated the efforts of the French officers and controllers involved in the manufacture of the rifles. All of them were donated a medal. Military persons got the award St. Anne and civilians the award St. Stanislaus.

April 25th, 1895, a great banquet was celebrated in Chatellerault on the occasion of the farewell of the the Russian Mission. That was the official end of the Russian-French cooperation for manufacturing the Three-Line-Rifles. April 30th, 1895, the last 9 crates were shipped to Russia. But they contained parts of weapons and the possessions of the members of the Russian Mission only.

Before he left, Colonel Sokerine requested the French Government to destroy all documents, like blueprints and drawings, and all models of the rifles together with all machines and gauges, as far as they were used for the Russian rifle. Because of the observance of secrecy he the asked for the delete of that chapter of the history of Chatellerault dealing with the manufacture of the rifle M91.

But: The documents still exist. The entire correspondence of the Russian Mission with the factory, the French War Ministry and some other French sub-factories, like Rouart, survived, including drawings and blueprints. The reason is that the factory (and the French Government of course) intended to make one or better more other deals with that rifle. And so Adrien Treuille spoke with the Serbian Government in 1897 to sell several thousand rifles Mosin-Nagant M91. But it seems that there were negotiations between the Serbs and the Russian Government too that time and so Chatellerault did not get an order. French newspapers reported great interest of Bulgaria too. But the Bulgarian Government denied this: Because of the bad financial situation of the country it is impossible to obtain the new rifle from France. A letter of the factory of September 15th, 1915, tells us, where all documents, gauges, tools and other stuff of the Russian rifles were stored to make new production possible: In the cellar in very large and heavy wooden crates.

So the French business interests made the Russian observance of secrecy fail. But that did not really matter. The espionage of that time was as good as today. Just a short time after the first rifles were assembled in Chatellerault the British Secret Service got some in its hands. Up to now it is unknown, whether the rifles came from Russia or from France. The weapons were examined by the British. After that they reported the results to their American friends. On demand of the US-War-Ministry the US-military-attaché in London got one rifle too from the British Secret Service.

Official consultations between Great Britain and Russia first happened in the middle of the 90th. An agreement was signed, stating the exchange of the ordinance rifles between both countries for visiting and test purposes. Therefore Great Britain sent the British ordinance rifle of that time to Russia. But on the Russian side a nice little deception happened. Not knowing that the British had the rifles already, the Russians dedicated a very special „adopted rifle" to Great Britain: It was nothing else than the old and in 1891 rejected test rifle of the Nagant brothers with the serial number 424 with its test bayonet, which is slightly different to the normal pattern of the Russian bayonet too. That is the way the Belgium weapons came into the famous Pattern Room collection in Nottingham.

Khchattang.jpg (18427 bytes)

Tang marking

Some last words: I want to say THANK YOU to Vic and Tuco  for this great forum with its "collection“ of great users and writers, Tuco and Vic included of course. It is full of knowledge and I enjoy it very much (too much, as my wife would say). Thank you again for your great work, my friends.

Karl-Heinz Wrobel


 
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