Firearm Anatomy: Eight Service Rifles of WWII

Melange of WWII

We’ve been working up a series of images over the past few weeks here at C&Rsenal.  Well, this is the first official collection, representing eight major players in the Second World War.  This bloody conflict spanned the globe and most discussions of movements and battles require a broad perspective.  We’ve decided to focus in on the individual pieces of the soldiers’ personal weapons.  Every screw and spring counted when these men staked their lives on these machines of war.  Each piece represents a nation’s best effort to produce a weapon on a massive scale; balancing machine time, material consumption, reliability, precision, and ease of use.

Greater German Reich

Greater German ReichThe First World War taught Europe a bitter lesson about how battles would be waged in the modern world.  For many it was thought to have been the war to end all wars.  But the German people were confused by their sudden loss and later enraged by the punitive terms of the Treaty of Versailles.  Hitler’s fascist spark found light in this tinderbox and after his stunning rise to power he began rearming the country and annexing lost territories.  In 1939 the Second World War started when Germany invaded Poland and was opposed by France and Britain.

Germany’s machine quality and engineering prowess served it well at the beginning of the conflict.  But complicated devices take time and their material and manpower shortages from rapid expansion and losses on many fronts began to bleed the Reich dry.  Without strong allies in their war efforts, Germans succumbed to the sheer weight of the USSR’s and the USA’s ability to produce fresh soldiers, fresh tanks, and fresh planes.

 Karabiner 98 Kurz

Anatomy: Karabiner 98 Kurz

The Kar.98k was the standard rifle of the Greater German Reich and represented what many consider the final evolution of Paul Mauser’s Model 1898 action; its cock-on-open, front locking action and staggered box magazine are widely considered the perfected bolt action rifle.  Note that military doctrine for infantry rifles had long been that a underside rear sling mount was important for assisting in accurate fire and ease of carry on the march.  Side slings were reserved for the comfort of mounted troops.  The Kar98k was a rifle for a new, mechanized warfare where troops were constantly on the move and readily assisted with transport.  Also note the reinforced hole in the stock provided to allow a German soldier to more easily completely disassemble and service his own bolt.  This level of familiarity with one’s rifle was not always encouraged in other nations.

As time passed, many variations of individual parts were worked into the Kar98k as means to save on scarce resources ultimately leading to some rather crude looking specimens towards the end of the conflict.  One notable improvement was the use of a laminate wood stock that conserved material and even strengthened the rifle.  Other changes can be found in the form of stamped steel buttplates, welded forward barrel bands, pinned bands, omitted bayonet lugs, and more.

“Karabiner 98 Kurz” is a seemingly redundant name because of a Versailles hold over.  Post WWI Germany was not permitted full rifle production, so a copy of the Gewehr 98 was produced with a simplified rear sight and was titled “Karabiner 98″ despite its length.  When a true short rifle based on the Kar.98b was introduced it was called the Kar.98 “Short.”   It was produced by a myriad of manufacturers in dizzying numbers in order to equip the rapidly expanding war effort and saw service everywhere the German forces marched.

Multiple Views of the Kar98k

Cartridge 7.92 x 57mm Overall Length 1110mm (43.7″)
Action Bolt, front locking, cock on open Barrel Length 600mm (23.62″)
Magazine 5 round staggered, charger fed, fixed Weight 3.92kg (8.6lb)

 

 

 

 

 

French Republic

French RepublicA discussion of France’s involvement in WWII can get pretty complicated.  It was truly a divided country during most of the war and her soldiers saw service across the globe.  In 1940 a German feint into Belgium and the Netherlands drew allied attention out of France and a strong central push using their new blitzkrieg tactics overwhelmed the French military forces.  The Republic fell within six weeks.

A new government, Vichy France, was assembled to serve German interests.  Meanwhile, Charles DeGaulle gathered troops in exile and took to the colonies to organize the Free French Forces.  These two Frances fought over Africa with German and British aid on either side.  Vichy controlled Indochina was also attacked by Thailand and was forced to return captured territories when Japan stepped in to moderate.  Even US soldiers lost their lives to French guns during landings in Vichy controlled North Africa.  As the tide turned and Free French Forces made landfall in Europe their numbers swelled and the newly invigorated populace rose to the Allied cause.

Fusil modèle 1936

Anatomy: Fusil modèle 1936

French attempts at automatic rifles before and during WWI led to frustrations with the awkward 8mm Lebel cartridge.  A new 7.5mm round was developed from the American 30-06 through the 1920′s.  Since the new ammunition was meant to support automatic weaponry in parallel development, the bolt action infantry rifle in 7.5mm was almost an afterthought.  Before the MAS 36 was finalized there were already  adaptations of both the Berthier and the Lebel rifles to the new cartridge in attempts to recycle a massive small arms surplus.  With only ~1,200 converted Lebels and fewer than 50,000 converted Berthiers, a new rifle was needed.  Manufacture d’armes de Saint-Étienne took on the task.

When the French infantryman finally did receive his updated bolt action rifle it was a conservative amalgam of proven ideas and a few dated hold-overs.  The Lebel’s two piece stock with exposed receiver was retained for its strength.  A new cock-on-open bolt design utilized rear locking lugs in order to make the gun resistant to dirt and fouling like the British Lee-Enfield.  To offset the weakness of the rear lugs, the bolt body was quite large.  An aperture rear sight, mounted to the rear of the receiver, allowed for easier marksmanship training and natural aiming.  This would also usually benefit the shooter with an increased sight radius, but the front sight was actually fixed somewhat further back on the barrel than most contemporary rifles.  This sight and the “dog leg” bolt suggest there may have been some influence from the P14/1917 rifles of WWI.  A Mauser-style five round staggered, box magazine replaced the tubes and en-blocs of the Lebel and Berthier.  Oddly, it also features a dated cruciform bayonet stowed under the barrel and a dedicated stacking hook provided on the front band.  The MAS 36 also lacks a mechanical safety and was carried with an empty chamber per French doctrine.

Multiple Views of the MAS 36

Cartridge 7.5 x 54mm Overall Length 1020mm (40.15″)
Action Bolt, rear locking, cock on open Barrel Length 573mm (22.6″)
Magazine 5 round staggered, charger fed, fixed Weight 3.78kg (8.3lb)

 

 

 

 

 

Kingdom of Italy

Kingdom of ItalyThe Italian forces were practically dragged to war by Benito Mussolini.  While the people were enthusiastic about restoring their own Roman Empire in the Mediterranean, they were less than happy to be fighting European powers such as France and Britain.  The Italians were rushed to war for fear of missing out on concessions at the expected peace conference.  Mussolini feared that Germany would gobble up not only territory but all the praise.  This mad dash towards war had a predictable end as Italy suffered defeats in every front.  Faltering in both Africa and the Balkans, they were propped up by the Germans and the whole of their army was treated as something of a German reserve force.  This lead to growing resentment.

Eventually the Kingdom turned on the dictator and Mussolini was removed from power.  With German occupiers and a liberated Mussolini leading loyal fascists in northern Italy and co-belligerent Allied armies in the south, the country fell into a civil war led by international invaders.

Moschetto Modello 91/38 Cavalleria

Anatomy: Moschetto Modello 91/38 Cavalleria

The Carcano was an early smokeless gunpowder design dating from 1891.  While Italy had prospered well enough since its unification a strong industrial base had not taken hold.  The Italian military was structured around colonial ambition and wasn’t geared towards a European conflict. So the old 1891 action hung around nearly unchanged for decades.  It uses an en-bloc magazine taken from the Gewehr M1888 with a six round capacity.  Its cock-on-open bolt was inspired by the same but merged with an earlier breech loading conversion design utilizing a safety tab that releases the spring pressure off the firing pin.  While often derided, the Carcano is a strong rifle made of superior steel.  Refurbished models for the commercial market often lack polishing between the bolt and the ejector, which gives the action a grinding feel and may have contributed to the negative opinion.

This particular model, featuring a shortened barrel and folding spike bayonet, was adopted in 1893 for cavalry use.  The handy carbine was always a troop favorite and when the Italians revisited their rifle designs in 1938 it was readopted in the new 7.35mm caliber with simplified fixed rear sights.  When military demands strained logistics, the new caliber was dropped and the Carcano returned to the 6.5mm cartridge.  Its compact size made it an easy choice for couriers, cavalry, and paratroopers.

Multiple Views of the Carcano M38 Cavalry Carbine

Cartridge 6.5 x 52mm Overall Length 953mm (37.52.8″)
Action Bolt, front locking, cock on open Barrel Length 541mm (17.75″)
Magazine 6 round stacked, en-bloc fed, fixed Weight 3.16kg (6.9lb)

 

 

 

 

 

United Kingdom

United KingdomBritish troops were mobilized along with the French during the invasion of Poland.  When France fell the British suddenly stood alone as the major power in opposition to Germany.  Soldiers were committed in every theater and drawn from colonies across the globe.  The full weight of the Empire was called up to gum the wheels of the German advance.  They were also pitted against the Japanese spreading across the Pacific and the Italians in Africa.  The effort was truly enormous and remained largely unsupported until Hitler struck deep into the Soviet Union in June of 1941.  When the US finally entered the war in December of 1941, British intelligence and leadership were already honed by battle and provided a great deal of guidance for the first US troops in Africa.  British commandos would often arm and train insurgents and guerrilla armies behind enemy lines, facilitating the world fight against Axis.  If the German army stood for the strength of will of one people, the British army represented the power and ingenuity of diversity.

Rifle, No.4 MkI

Anatomy: Rifle, No.4 MkI

James Paris Lee’s vertically stacked magazine with follower, charger loading bridge, and rear locking, cock-on-close bolt were paired with William Ellis Metford’s special small-bore, black powder rifling to produce the reliable British Lee-Metford rifle in 1888.  When Britain adopted a smokeless propellent, the rifling was updated by RSAF Enfield.

A shortened Lee-Enfield, introduced at the turn of the century, saw the British through WWI.  When the UK soldiered forth to meet the German war machine they brought along old reliable.  Several factories continued to produce the No.1 MkIII* pattern through the war and beyond.  But a design that had been kicked around since 1926 came to the surface when setting up new production to meet demand.  The No.4 introduced a receiver mounted aperture sight for improved sight radius and ease of aim, a heavier barrel, and a short and simple bayonet.  Its shape evolved to fit modern machine practices and ease manufacturing, removing a lot of previously hand-fit processes and better standardizing parts.

The No.4 was produced in Britain, Canada, and even the United States.  These US rifles were marked “U.S. PROPERTY” in order to fit the Lend Lease agreement.  They were not, however, used by the United States government or soldiers.

Multiple Views of the Lee-Enfield No.4 MkI

Cartridge 7.7 x 56mmR Overall Length 1128mm (44.43″)
Action Bolt, rear locking, cock on close Barrel Length 522mm (25.19″)
Magazine 10 round staggered, charger fed, detachable Weight 4.1kg (9lb)

 

 

 

 

 

Union of Soviet Socialist Republics

Union of Soviet Socialist RepublicsThe Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, a non-aggression treaty between Nazi Germany and the USSR, shocked the world.  In most nations, fascism had been heralded as the party to dismantle communism and now the two biggest representatives of each were at peace.  The pact also included secret agreements on the means for dividing up Romania, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Finland.  While Hitler seized Poland, his ally Stalin took the same opportunity and moved through the Baltic states as well.  Despite warnings from his advisors and spies, Stalin trusted Hitler would not move against the USSR until after the British had been removed from the war.

On June 22, 1941 Germany invaded the Soviet Union in a massive surprise attack.  Despite initial victories and deep penetration by the Germans, the ponderous Soviet juggernaut did not collapse and its people did not break or fracture.  They fought back and with aid from the British and Americans, along with expanding industrial capacity and sheer manpower, the USSR became a major threat to the Reich.  The Eastern Front was seen as a meat grinder as the two powers threw men and machines into the fight.  Partisan armies rose up from villages behind German lines and harried troops and logistics.  When the dust settled Germany was split, with the East occupied by Russian soldiers.

Винтовка Образец 1891/30

(Vintovka Obrazec 1891/30)

Anatomy: Vintovka Obrazec 1891/30

Russia’s Mosin-Nagant rifle was first adopted in 1891 after trials that ultimately combined a heavily evolved Berdan II bolt, provided by Captain Sergei Mosin and an improved magazine system from Léon Nagant.  There is some debate on what inspired Mr. Nagant’s magazine, but its inclusion on his trial rifle placed it at the forefront.  The final product featured a split bridge receiver, cock-on-open bolt, and was a whopping 51.5 inches long.  Its single stack, five round magazine was designed for rimmed ammunition and used an interrupter to facilitate proper feeding.

In 1893 a shorter and handier M91 Dragoon rifle was developed for specialty troops.  In 1930 the Soviet Union dropped the original long M1891 as their standard infantry rifle and updated the Dragoon into the M91/30 pattern.  While often dismissed as a rough and unrefined rifle, the Mosin-Nagant served well through Vietnam and proved itself rugged, reliable, and deadly.  It was produced in incredible numbers and still remains available as inexpensive milsurp.  While it did not inspire any major descending lines of rifle design, it has certainly drawn many into being C&R collectors today.

Multiple Views of the Mosin Nagant M91/30

Cartridge 7.62x54mmR Overall Length 1230mm (48.43″)
Action Bolt, front locking, cock on open Barrel Length 730mm (28.74″)
Magazine 5 round stacked, charger fed, fixed Weight 3.95kg (8.7lb)

 

 

 

 

 

Empire of Japan

Empire of JapanJapan had long sought to take control of the entire Pacific, along with the Chinese mainland.  Following events from the Japanese invasion of China, especially attacks on the USS Panay and the Massacre at Nanking, the US suspended aviation fuel and scrap metal shipments to the Empire.  Despite massive territorial gains in China, Japan was still depending on US shipments to fuel their military expansion.  In 1941 a gasoline embargo by the British, Dutch, and Americans forced Japan’s hand.  They sought to cripple the US naval fleet and near simultaneously seize British and Dutch colonies in the Pacific in a bid for energy independence.  Expectations were split between a protracted conventional naval war with the US or that the American people wouldn’t have the stomach to fight over islands they couldn’t name.

Japanese invasions of Dutch, US, and British colonies were efficient, formidable, and victorious.  However, the tenacity of the British and American troops was astounding.  Guerrilla actions carried out by Philippine, Australian, and other Pacific peoples were a constant thorn in Japanese plans.  The Empire had also not accounted for rapid advancements in aircraft designs by a country capable of quick prototyping, building, and testing.  Instead of a surface naval war, Japan was treated to a steady invasion by an island-hopping, airfield-building, mainland bombing enemy with now superior equipment.  Despite a clear view of the coming defeat, the imperial soldiers fought on and took to self sacrifice by charging tanks with explosives and piloting planes into ships.

 九九式短小銃

(Kyu Kyu Shiki Tan Shoujuu)

Anatomy: Kyu Kyu Shiki Tan Shoujuu

The first Arisaka rifle, the Type 30, was something roughly akin to a Mannlicher design.  In 1905 it was overhauled from the ground up by Kijiro Nambu and the resulting Type 38 was a marvelous departure.  The rifle borrowed its forward bolt lugs, extractor, and staggered box magazine from the German Mauser 1898 design.  Locking strength was improved and the bolt redesigned with a simple and reliable cock-on-close action.  The iconic safety knob at the rear allows for manipulation with a gloved hand and serves as a gas shield in case of a ruptured casing.  Two piece stocks were used to maximize their strength because of the light weight wood available in the Pacific.  It was fitted with the same long Type 30 bayonet geared for hand to hand combat that supported a Japanese doctrine of mass bayonet charges to capture fortified positions and scatter the enemy.

Lessons from the ongoing invasion of China encouraged the Japanese to seek out a stronger cartridge to pit against the Chinese 7.92mm.  Favoring the British .303, they produced a near copy with a rimless casing.  A very slightly modified Type 38 action was paired with some extra features such as a wire monopod, anti-aircraft volley, and rear aperture sights to produce the Type 99.  Early rifles also featured a chrome lined barrel to protect against the corrosive environments found throughout the East.

As the war progressed, more and more features of the Type 99 were dropped.  Dust covers, monopods, aircraft sights, and chromed barrels disappeared from the assembly line.  Almost a separate variant, the Type 99 “Last Ditch” featured a fixed rear sight, half length handguard, roughly finished wood stock, and crude sling fittings.

Multiple Views of the Arisaka Type 99

Cartridge 7.7 x 58mm Overall Length 1143mm (45″)
Action Bolt, front locking, cock on close Barrel Length 654mm (25.75″)
Magazine 5 round staggered,  charger fed, fixed Weight 4.19kg (9.1lb)

 

 

 

 

 

United States of America

United States of AmericaJapan’s attack should not have been such a strong motivator for a European invasion but the people and leadership saw Germany as the true threat on the global stage.  Before a pretense could be found, however, Hitler declared war on the USA.  While it took some time to fully gear up, the American soldiers were soon crossing both the Atlantic and the Pacific.

After pushing through Africa and on to Italy, US and UK soldiers invaded Fortress Europe in 1944.  Failures in the Netherlands and the slow push of Operation Queen frustrated American efforts at first.  But Germany’s massive surprise offensive in December of 1944 had the lines moving again.  Despite gains, the German war machine could not reach its true goals or sustain the new front.  Its collapse yielded a somewhat easier invasion of the western half of the country and the diverted resources meant a Soviet push yielded the same.  In 1945 Germany surrendered.

In the Pacific, the US was reeling from Japanese assaults.  Aircraft became a primary focus for American advancement over the sea and a winning strategy was formed.  Instead of a protracted war for control of territory, they simply took strategic islands that could support airfields and ignored heavily defended areas of little interest.  Replacement ships and aircraft and the new island airfields guaranteed a US victory.  But Marine forces were finding that taking even a square mile of land from the Japanese was never easy.  Fighting to the last man, imperial forces took on suicidal tactics.  Sights of self immolation and booby trap laden wounded took a toll on the American soldiers and a mainland invasion meant risking more civilian lives.  Ultimately, the US opted to use two nuclear bombs in a bid to shorten the war and as a show of force to the Soviet leadership pushing for more European territory.  This is still a controversial decision today but Japan did surrender and the war in the Pacific ended.

United States Rifle, Caliber .30, M1Anatomy: M1 Garand

The Garand was a feat of forward-thinking military investment.  Semi-automatic infantry rifles were being investigated and experimentally developed in every major gun manufacturing nation by the middle of the 1930’s.  The US was the first to make a strong commitment to adopt one of these self loaders as their primary arm.  A Canadian-born, US citizen by the name of John C. Garand submitted a reasonable design for a machine gun to the U.S. Bureau of Standards during WWI.  He was snapped up by the Springfield Armory in 1918 and put to work on a semi-automatic shoulder arm.  His experimental rifle, using the Danish Bang inspired gas-trap system to power an operating rod which drove back a twisting bolt, competed against the Luger-like Pederson rifle with a toggle jointed delayed blowback action.  Ultimately the Pederson’s requirement for lubricated ammunition and complicated manufacturing requirements knocked it out of the running.

Long before it became apparent the US would join another international war, the Springfield Arsenal underwent a massive change to improve manufacturing and expand for the new rifle.  By 1936 the first batches were coming off the assembly line.  Further refinements eliminated the unreliable gas trap, resolved feeding issues, and simplified springs.  Despite many hurdles, the US had stuck with its plan and was unique in the world when it entered the war with an eight round, semi-automatic rifle that was robust, reliable, and ready for action.

The Garand was a resounding success in the field and was snapped up and shipped out to every theater of the war.  In the Pacific, where Marines had been fighting an unyielding enemy with bolt action Springfields, they were warmly welcomed and prized for their ability to lay down a superior volume of fire and function in horrible conditions.  General George S. Patton declared the Garand “the greatest implement of battle ever devised.”

Multiple Views of the M1 Garand

Cartridge 7.62 x 63mm Overall Length 1103mm (43.5″)
Action Semi Automatic, front locking Barrel Length 610mm (24″)
Magazine 8 round staggered, en-bloc fed, fixed Weight 4.37kg (9.5lb)

 

 

 

 

Republic of China

Republic of ChinaIn the 1930’s the Kuomingtang had nearly unified all of what is now modern China by defeating or assimilating the factious fiefdoms who had reigned and warred since the fall of the Qing.  A second wave of warlord activity kicked off a series of civil wars and stretched the military limits of the nation.  Seizing the opportunity, the Empire of Japan invaded Manchuria in 1931.  An uneasy ceasefire followed.  With the final operations of a war with the Chinese communists on the horizon in 1937, Japan invaded.

Chinese equipment and training had been built up from the German model with direct advisement and aid.  Support vanished in 1938 as Japan put pressure on their new ally to stop reinforcing their enemy.  Soviet support had been provided in China as a means to prop up a more enticing opponent for Japan and avoid a war in Siberia.  With the Soviet-Japanese Neutrality Pact of 1941, this also evaporated.  Atrocities committed by the invading forces did draw some new allies in the form of US and British support.  With the US entry into the war, China was given a chance to strike back.

During this time, however, the Chinese Communist Party had grown.  When the Empire of Japan surrendered in 1945 the civil war carried on.

八八式 阳步

(Bābā shì hànyáng bùqiāng)

Anatomy: Bābā shì hànyáng bùqiāng During the 1890’s the Qing Dynasty began their own small arms production and licensed rights to produce the most advanced service rifle they could find: the German Gewehr M1888 Commission Rifle.  Chinese clones began rolling off the line at Hanyang in 1894 as exact copies of the original 5 round, en-bloc fed, and barrel jacketed rifle.  In 1904 an improved stepped barrel replaced the jacket and in 1910 the rear sight was updated to Kar.98 pattern.  While the Type 88 was officially replaced by the Zhong Zheng Shi, production continued.  With Japanese advances the Chinese arsenal system necessarily became more fluid and the original Hanyang Arsenal became the 1st Arsenal.  In 1938 its rifle factory was relocated to 21st Arsenal now settled in Chungking and manufacture began again.  In 1944 the factory finally switched to the Zhong Zheng Shi rifle.

In 50 years time, over 1 million had been assembled and combined with original German M1888 rifles imported it was one of the most common service rifles in China.  While multiple factories eventually brought the Zhong Zheng Shi into the spotlight, for most of the war the Chinese rifle was the Type 88.

Chinese-Mauser-Type-Han-Full

Cartridge 7.92 x 57mm Overall Length 1251mm (49.25″)
Action Bolt, front locking, cock on open Barrel Length 743mm (29.25″)
Magazine 5 round stacked, en-bloc fed, fixed Weight 3.87kg (8.5lb)

 

 

This series is available in our Print Shop as individual prints or a collection.  Proceeds will go towards maintaining the site and expanding the WWII Small Arms Anatomy project.

If you would like to keep up to date on any new articles or Anatomy photos just choose between Twitter, Facebook, or RSS.  You can also just check out or Gallery page.

Special thanks goes out to the r/guns community for their continued support of the project.

 

9 Responses to “Firearm Anatomy: Eight Service Rifles of WWII”

  1. Colt says:

    Hello, I have subscribed your video on the youtube. So far, I have not found the episode and animation of Mauser 98K. I am not quite clear for the Sleeve Plunger Lock’s purpose when lock and unlock steps. Can you make some clear details about this aspect, Thank you in advance!

    • Othais says:

      We have not done the Kar 98 K as it was not part of WWI. But the appropriate animation is in the Gew.98 episode. The plunger lock does not serve any purpose for unlocking or locking the bolt that I know of. It merely keeps the sleeve and cocking piece from rotating around the bolt body when the action is open.

  2. ayures says:

    Any chance you’ll fire up the store again and sell more prints or did that ship sail when the kickstarter ended?

    • Othais says:

      The print shop is still open, the rifles poster just isn’t available in it yet. I’ll get it priced and dropped in around the end of January.

  3. Petter Bøckman says:

    Looks like the buttplate for the Lee-Enfleid in the top photo with all the guns have been misplaced. It should be brass with a trapdoor.

  4. Pamela Graboski says:

    Where could I sell two recently discovered mags for the Beretta 1934?

  5. Steve Hunsader says:

    It’s March of 2017 and your ‘Print Shop’ link is not available. Any chance that you have inventory on some of your items?

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