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The Estonian Use Of The Mosin

Nagant Line Of Rifles/Carbines

 

From Brent Snodgrass

 

Introduction From The Author:

The Baltic nation of Estonia has a rich and interesting military history, but much of the nation's history has been clouded by the once powerful Danish, Swedish, German, Russian, and later Soviet domination of the region. In the 20th Century Estonia gained independence from Imperial Russia in 1918 but lost its freedom to the Soviet Union in 1940, being swallowed up and made a part of the USSR. In 1941 Estonia was under the occupation of Nazi Germany only to once again be seized by the Soviets in 1944. This great dominion claimed by foreign powers has left the history of the small Estonian nation both clouded and misunderstood by those of us in Western nations. What is worse is the fact the USSR tried to erase all facets of Estonian history. Luckily for the world Estonia is today alive and well. Its history is slowly starting to be uncovered for the rest of the world to see, and in coming years more and more information dealing with Estonia will come to light. One segment of this history that is being uncovered deals with the Estonian issue of the Mosin Nagant rifle and other issue arms of the period.  This article will try and cover this subject in as much detail as possible, but the reader must recall some of this information is sketchy at best. Estonia is a nation whose history is just coming to light, after suffering for years under the darkness of the Soviet Iron Curtain.  As this is the case it is somewhat challenging to fill in all the blanks but the author will attempt to share what information has come to light

It should be noted that much of the information seen here is quite original to those outside of the Baltic State region. The details of this article were uncovered by the author while dealing with a number of parties inside Estonia, Finland, and the former Soviet Union, and is being shared to a Western based audience for the first time. Two people that need to be mentioned by name for their invaluable assistance in my research are Toe Nõmm, Head of Armament Section Of The Estonian Ministry Of Defense, and Hannes Walter of the Laidoneri Museum. While there were others that have assisted me in my quest for information, the details and assistance provided by these Estonian gentlemen and researchers was without a doubt what lead to much of what will be seen here. I can not express my gratitude enough for their help on this work. It would never have happened without them and both should be praised for helping to spread Estonian history to a new outlet. Not only have their efforts furthered my own education of the region, but their efforts are also leading to the further education of military arms collectors worldwide.

UPDATE - Please note that Hannes Walter has passed on.  He was a fine man and a true son of Estonia.  All researchers in Estonian history lost a friend with his passing.

 

Background

Due to Estonia's location it has been a region of much warfare and conquest. As is often the case the history of the region has been written by the victors. As such much of known Estonian history is not about Estonia or its people but is about those that stole the freedom of the resident population. Also the fact that Estonian was annexed by the former Soviet Union further adds to the lack of knowledge or understanding of the nation's history to those located in the Western nations. To offer insight into Estonia and their military it is necessary to outline the general history of the nation/region.

Key Dates In Estonian History-

1208: German based knights from the Livonian Brothers of the Sword invade Estonia.

1218: Danish King Valdemar II controls Northern Estonia.

1343: The Danes sell their area of Estonia to German knights.

1558-1583: The Livonian war is the downfall of the German knights in Estonia. Sweden takes control of Northern Estonia while Southern Estonia is under the control of Poland and Lithuania.

1710: Russian Peter I conquers the region.

1721: The Treaty of Nystad officially makes Estonia a part of the Russian Empire and many powers are restored to the "Baltic German" lords of the region.

1880's-1890's: The period of "Russification " begins not only in Estonia but other frontier areas of the Russian Empire.

1918: In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution Estonian independence is declared on February 24th.

1918-1920: The Estonian War Of Independence

1920: February 2 the independence of Estonia is officially recognized by Soviet Russia

1939: The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Estonia is deemed in the sphere of Soviet influence. The Soviet Union demands access to military bases in Estonia, Latvia, and Finland. Latvia and Estonia concede these bases, Finland does not leading to the Finnish-Soviet Winter War.

1940: Soviet troops occupy Estonia on the 17th of June. August 6th Estonia is made a part of the Soviet Union. Wholesale and massive deportations take place. Execution and mass murder are common occurrences under the watchful eye of the new Soviet overlords.

1941-44: The occupation of Estonia by Nazi Germany.

1944: In September Estonia is once again occupied by the Red Army starting another cycle of Soviet oppression in Estonian history.

1944-53(?) : The anti-Soviet resistance group known as "The Forest Brothers" carry on a guerilla type war with the communists. Over 15,000 of the "Forest Brothers" would die and countless Estonians were deported to Siberia or other labor camps in the USSR in this time period.

1991: In August Estonia declares itself an independent nation. On September 6th the Soviet Union recognizes Estonian independence.

1992: The Republic Of Estonia is re-established.

2004: Estonia becomes a member of NATO

An Independence War photo showing the front lines. Notice the M91 rifles in the trench line. Photo From Ben Miller.

 

Mixed Arms And Equipment- Russian Domination To Estonian Independence War

As Estonia was under Imperial Russian control the main modern era arms seen in Estonia were of Russian origin. In the 1890's the Mosin Nagant Model 1891 made its first appearance in Estonia, replacing the older Berdan rifles issued to Russian troops and Estonians serving in the Russian Army. The Mosin Nagant was the standard issue rifle to all Imperial Russian troops and garrison soldiers of this time period. In 1918 Estonia as a nation declared its independence in the wake of the Russian revolution. The vacuum of power created by the fall of Czarist Russia also created new nations such as Finland, Latvia, and Lithuania.  While at first it seemed as if the new powers to be in what was to become the Soviet Union were to be hands off in regards to the freedom of these new nations, it did not take long for the Bolsheviks to alter their thinking and plans were made to bring these “rouge” nations back to the fold.  In November of 1918 the War Of Independence was underway in Estonia.  It should be noted there was not only two factions fighting in Estonia as many nations still were interested in the Baltic region.  Factions of Whites, Reds, Baltic German forces, and Estonian liberation fighters were all taking part in the warfare in Estonia.  By 1920 the Independence War was over with Estonia’s freedom ensured and the birth of the First Estonian Republic was underway. As Estonia had no standing army at the time of the War, the freedom fighters were in desperate need of arms, ammunition, and issue equipment.  The call for aid was heard and many nations met this call with assistance.  The reasons for assistance were mixed as some assistance was based on the fact it was the noble and correct thing to do while other nations provided aid knowing that a free Estonia would help to strengthen their own power base in the new world being shaped by the end of WW1.

Estonian fighter in the days of the Independence War or just after.  The sleeve band reads " Kitsarööpmeline Soomusrong" which translates to

"Narrow-tracked Armored Train ".  - My thanks to Nublu in Estonia for assisting on the sleeve patch and its meaning. Photo Brent Snodgrass

 

Mosin Nagant Model 1891 Rifles In Estonia - Key Dates And Numbers

1918: By the end of the Independence War the Estonians held over 40,000 Russian made M91 rifles - these either left in Estonia by former Imperial Russian soldiers or were rifles captured during the fighting.  Almost 20,000 of these were used as spare parts or for later production due to condition.

1918-1920: Estonia receives 64,000 M91's as war aid.  All of these rifles are USA manufactured rifles that had been stored in England. While these rifles were sent as "aid" they were paid for by the Estonians in 1922.

1926:  The Estonian depots have over 80,000 M91 rifles in their stocks, but 12,000 of these were sold and traded to Poland (Poland then sent these to Finland)

1939: The depots in Estonia have almost 66,500 M91 rifles in stock.  57,750 are in Estonian Army service, 8408 are in Kaitseliit service (this is the Estonian version of the nation guard), and a smaller amount serve in the police and border guard units.  There are also 2000 Model 1907 Carbines in Estonian service but almost all are in poor condition.

Other Arms In Estonian Service

At the end of the Indpendence War there were some 65,000-70,000 non Mosin Nagant rifles in Estonian stocks.  These were a mix of arms by mainly Japanese, British, or German made rifles.  Finland for example sent over 10,000 Japanese rifles-carbines to Estonia in 1918-1919 to assist in the Estonian fight for independence. In the mid 1920's Estonia purchased a large amount of P14 rifles from Great Britian, these paid for in a deal that sent M91 rifles to Poland with these rifles later going to Finland.

British P-14

1926: 29,115

1939: 41,050

Japanese Rifles And Carbines

1926: 24,611 - Most of these seeing service in the Kaitseliit or the Border Guards.

1939: 24,333 - By 1939 these arms were only in Kaitseliit service.  It should also be noted that from 1929-1935 there was a massive program in Estonia of converting the Japanese arms to .303 British.  This work was done by "Arsenal" for the Kaitseliit and the program was to include all Japanese rifles; however, it is not known if all the Japanese arms underwent this conversion or it this was just done to most of the arms in Estonia.

Mauser Model 1898

1926: 4,272 - These were leftover rifles from the World War One and Independence War period and were not an important rifle to the Estonian Army.

1939: 40,000 - The 40,000 rifles are somewhat of a mystery as it is not clear just what these rifles might be.  The rifles were logged in as goods in 1939 but it is not clear if these rifles were K98's, VZ24's, or another version of 98 Mauser.  There have long been rumors of Czech made VZ24 rifles sent to Estonia and it is possible this shippment are indeed these rifles.  The book is still out of this however and more research needs to be completed.

A Japanese Type 30 rifle in the time of the Estonian Independence War. Notice the rifle has some modifications to it. There is an added front sight hood and the stock also has a side sling swivel that has been added. It appears such alterations was done on the local level but on a rather large scale, making use of spare parts and utilizing poor condition rifles-carbines.  It is also clear that some rifles were cut down to an intermediate size in the time frame of 1918-1925.  This rifle appears to be one of these based on its size - not as long as a rifle but not as short as a carbine. Photo Brent Snodgrass

 

An Estonian military depot in 1927 showing Mosin Nagants and other mixed arms. Photo Brent Snodgrass

The Estonian Production Of The Mosin Nagant

The Estonians also produced their own versions of the Mosin Nagant, following in some regards the same practice in Finland of making use of Russian receivers and parts but creating an improved version of rifle.  In 1930 work began at “Arsenal” on the Estonian domestic version of the Mosin Nagant with the process running until it was stopped by Soviet occupation in June of 1940.  There were a number of Estonian models manufactured by “Arsenal” but all made use of Russian receivers, bolts, and magazines.  The Estonians did produce new stocks or altered Russian stocks (much in the same way the Finns altered such stocks), new barrels, new sights, and also produced other various parts.  Total production of Estonian Mosin Nagants was 27,815. Sadly at this point there are not photos of these models to share in the article.  This is mainly due to the fact that many of these rifles were lost under Soviet rule so few examples are known in the world.  The author is working on permission to share not only photos of some of these models but also publishing original manuals and production design drawings; however, this permission has not yet been granted so the work on this project is only partly done.

Modernized Model 1891 Rifle:

This was a more modern version of the older Russian M91 rifle.  The new production rifles were fitted in most cases with a new Estonian barrel but in some cases Russian barrels were used.  As was done by Finland the Estonians stamped a metric measurement scale on the rear sight base and the rifles were sighted without the use of the M91 bayonet – this was a change from the Russian standard of sighting rifles with the bayonet fixed.  The barrel length is the same as the Russian M91. 15,200 of these rifles were produced.

Model 1933 Also known as the KL.300

The rifles were fitted with a new Estonian made barrel of 695mm in length.  The barrel was also a thicker or heavier barrel than the Russian versions. A new hooded front sight was added and the rear sights were a metric version.  There was also work done on the trigger making the trigger into a two stage not the one stage as was standard on the M91 rifle.  4,025 were produced.

Model 1935

A near copy of the Model 1933 but with a shorter 600mm barrel.  6,770 produced.

Kütipuss Model 1933 and Model 1938

This was a special production rifle for the more talented marksmen in the Estonian Army. The rifles had an Estonian 695mm barrel, new sights, improved triggers, and a front barrel band that accepted a British P14 bayonet.  Many of these rifles were also shimmed and had other accuracy improvements added. 520 were produced.

Model 1931 Sniper Rifle

This was an interesting rifle that combined receivers and bolts from British P14 rifles and an Estonian made barrel.  The magazines were Mosin Nagant in origin.  There was a new stock produced for the rifles and the rifles were equipped with Lyman diopter sights.  Two calibers of the rifles were produced – 303 Brit and 7.62X54R.  Total production was 1,300.  Note – it is not known what the ratio 303 British to 54R. This is not really a true Mosin Nagant but still should be mentioned in this section.

Vabaüpuss Model 1933 and Model 1935

What is called a "free rifle" in Estonia this was a special production rifle for use in World Championship shooting events - events the Estonians excelled at in the 1930’s.  These rifles were fitted with special stocks, diopter sights, and other improvements.  The rifles were not equipped with magazines.  All parts were made at “Arsenal” with only a few dozen of the rifles produced.

Estonian Rifles - Barrel Markings From Top To Bottom

Arsenal Cogwheel - A stylized cogwheel combined with a short barrel spire.

ARS Followed By Two Digit Number

For Example

ARS 36 D - The marking of Arsenal is ARS as it would appear on Model 1933 and Model 1935 rifles.  The 36 in the example given is the date of production so this number can range from 33 (1933) to 40 (1940).  The D it is thought to stand for the D round (Soviet round).  The D can appear to the right of the numbers or below.

Other Markings

F Fagersta Steel (Swedish)

U Uddeholm Steel (Swedish)

P Poldi CKV Steel (Czech)

P.K. Poldi CKV hard bar steel (Czech)

It should be noted that more research needs to be done on the various markings that can appear on the Estonian made Mosin Nagants – as well as the meaning of some of the various markings.  Even the Estonian Ministry Of Defense is unsure of the exact meaning of some of the markings that can be encountered.  It also seems there was not an Estonian Army property marking used on these rifles.

Finland And Other Notes

For many years there have been rumors of Finnish produced Mosin Nagants being sent to Estonia in the late 1920’s or early 1930’s.  There are examples of Finnish made Mosin Nagants that have scrubbed markings and have a large E stamped on the barrel shank or receiver, and it was these rifles that were thought to have been sent secretly to Estonia.  The Estonian records and their Ministry Of Defense state this information is incorrect and no Mosin Nagants manufactured in Finland came to Estonia in this time frame.  They do state that some Finnish Mosin Nagants arrived in Estonia in the World War Two years either with Estonians that served in Finland during the Winter or Continuation Wars or with Estonian troops trained in Finland (the so called Erna Group) that returned to Estonia in 1941 to fight the Red Army.  In more recent times Finland did supply Estonia with older arms, which included the Mosin Nagant, but this was after Estonian independence in 1991 and the rifles sent did not have any special markings.  As such the Finnish made Mosin Nagants with the E marking can not be viewed as being a secret Estonian contract. There were also 2000+ Finnish volunteers who took part in the Estonian War Of Independence as a part of the Pojhan Pojat Regiment but Estonian records seem to state these soldiers were armed when they arrived in Estonia - so did not bring their own arms. Also the use of the M91-30, M38 Carbine, M44 Carbine, and like Mosin Nagants are not covered in this article as most of these were used while Estonia was a part of the USSR.

Sadly much of the information as well as the examples of Estonian Mosin Nagant production have been lost due to the years of Soviet rule.  The Soviet Union in many cases tried to erase segments of Estonian history as it was felt Estonian history should be replaced with Soviet history.  Due to these actions it is very hard to locate and piece together evidence that completes the story of Estonian production.  Fortunately there are people in Estonia that are working to reestablish their history and the efforts of these Estonians will benefit historians and gun collectors.   Toe Nõmm, Head of Armament Section Of The Estonian Ministry Of Defense, is one such person of note as his works are widely known in Estonia and Finland.  I am working with many in Estonia on telling the story of the Estonian First Republic military history to the Western World and it is hoped that these continued relationships will uncover even more information on the Mosin Nagant story in Estonia. Sadly for the collector there will never be large amounts of these rifles on the market.  The years of Soviet rule took its toll on Estonian made rifles and most have been lost or even possibly destroyed. Examples of these arms are almost impossible to locate today.

Regards – Brent Snodgrass

 

Photo And Caption Section

 

1930's photo of an Estonian light machine gun unit.  They are armed with the Madsen M20 LMG and the M91 Mosin Nagant. The tunics are the model 1925.

Photo Brent Snodgrass

 

Estonians in training with the Madsen LMG and the Mosin Nagant.  This photo from the mid 1930's.  Photo Brent Snodgrass

The British P14 rifle was in wide use in Estonia and it is common to see these rifles in photos;

however, the Mosin Nagant was in far greater use than the P14 with the Estonian armed forces. It is a common mistake that many believe the P14 to be the standard issue rifle when this was not really the case. - Photo Brent Snodgrass

An Estonian soldier wearing the Model 1925 uniform and armed with a M91 along with bayonet. The period of this picture is the 1920's. Photo Brent Snodgrass

 

Finnish 7.62X54R match ammo made by VPT in an Estonian language box.   Over 8 million of these rounds were sent to Estonia in 1934-1935.  Photo from the fine book - Suomalaiset sotilaspatruunat 1918-1945 by Mika Pitkänen and Timo Simpanen.

 

A group of soldiers in the 1930's with their M91 rifles. Model 1925 tunics. - Brent Snodgrass

 

 

Kaitseliit members in training in the late 1920's with a Maxim machine gun. The Kaitseliit were the Estonian National Guard (much like the Finnish Civil Guard) and in 1939 had over 43,000 male members and 20,000 female members. The standing Estonian Army in 1939 was a bit over 15,000 but when fully mobilized the number

was closer to 110,000. -- Photo Brent Snodrass

 

Photo Section Page Two

 


 
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