|Cartridge||8x50mmR, 8x56mmR||Overall Length||50.1″|
|Action||Straight Pull Bolt||Barrel Length||30″|
|Magazine||5 rnd enbloc||Weight||8.3 lb|
The Austro-Hungarian Empire kept up with the smokeless revolution in fits and spurts, but finally settled on an elegant and unusual rifle in Ferdinand Mannlicher’s Model 1895 rifle. These guns would serve reliably all the way through WWII.
Mannlicher had actually designed much of what would become the M.95 service rifle all the way back in 1884. At that time he had shown the government of Austria-Hungary a prototype straight pull rifle feeding from a gravity-fed hopper. He reasoned that a straight-pull rifle would require less contortion and displacement of shooters taking up firing positions on the battlefield. It would therefore aid in maintaining cover and allow for faster follow-up shooting. While the officials completely discounted the hopper, they were curious about the straight pull action. His first design of this kind already displayed the familiar bolt body with helical grooves nested in a matching bolt sleeve. On this version, however, the locking lugs were roughly centered on the bolt, keeping them well back from the chamber. This was done to prevent fouling from black powder cartridges.
Unfortunately for the M.84, it was just too complicated to manufacture; it was over engineered and ahead of its time. But the straight pull idea was still an enticing one. So Mannlicher designed a much simpler system using a falling wedge. We’ll cover this Model 1885 and the adopted 1886 rifle more in future articles. For now, know this arrangement was acceptable for its 11mm black powder cartridge but lacked the strength necessary to make the jump to smokeless. One very important feature introduced by these guns, however, is the Mannlicher enbloc clip system. Here we see five rounds preloaded into a simple metal clip, which can be inserted wholly into the action of the rifle, where it remains until all the ammo is expended. On the trials Model 1885, the clip would be ejected out of the top of the action after the last round. On the simplified Model 1886 service rifle, it would fall out the bottom when the last cartridge was chambered. This system would go on to be widely adopted by other military rifles even up to the U.S. M1 Garand of WWII.
The story of the French development of Poudre B and subsequent arms revolution should be familiar to those who have been reading the site. To summarize: everything before 1886 was black powder driven, making small bore difficult due to fouling and limiting the range of small arms because of its lower power. When France adopted their Modele 1886 Lebel rifle, its 8mm smokeless cartridge doubled the effective range of military rifles and every modern nation was caught off guard. Austrian chemists, racing to catch up with the French, began a series of compressed black powder, semi-smokeless, and eventually truly smokeless cartridge upgrades. This saw the Model 1886 rifle updated in 1888 and again in 1890 to accommodate small bore and semi-smokeless advances in ammunition.
By 1890 Austria-Hungary wanted a carbine for cavalry and specialty troops. The 1886 action’s overall length made it unsuitable for this roll and it was clear that cartridge design would soon surpass its strength limit. Mannlicher dusted off his 1884 design and made some improvements. With less fouling to worry him, he could move the locking lugs right up to the bolt head, just behind the bolt face. This greatly increased locking strength and reduced the overall length of the action. He also added a round cocking piece to the rear and moved the safety over to the left side of the bolt body, in the form of a switch. This could interrupt the action in both the cocked and de-cocked positions. Another important feature was added in the form of a non-rotating, full length extractor.
The Model 1890 carbine was a huge success. It proved to be reliable, accurate, light, and easy to use. It was also more than strong enough for the M.93 8x50mmR truly smokeless cartridge. And with that adoption the government was ready for a new service rifle and decided to base it off their favorite new carbine. Very minor adjustments were made and the clearest change in the action is the shape of the cocking piece, now more thumb friendly. The furniture, however, would be much larger.
Mannlicher’s improved rifle was officially adopted in 1896 as the Osterreichisches Repetier-Gewehr M.95. It features a whopping 30″ barrel which was kept thinner and lighter with advances in metallurgy. The full length stock and handguard were also kept slim, so despite being very long, the M.95 feels almost elegant compared to other rifles of the era. The semi-pistol grip stock and continued use of a straight pull bolt also made this an excellent handling rifle for marskmen. Sighting was changed from the M.90 and now used a familiar sliding ladder graduated up to 2,600 schritt (an Austrian pace, roughly .75 meters) with a battle sight set for 500 schritt. It chambered the 8x50mmR M.93 cartridge. It was followed by several carbine and short rifle variations but we will cover these another time. You can also see a rough outline in our Q&D Guide.
Now Austria-Hungary was a dual monarchy and in something of a bid at “separate but equal” the military forces were roughly cloned in both Austria and Hungary. This meant that when Österreichische Waffenfabriksgesellschaft in Steyr, Austria began production, an identical line was started in Budapest, Hungary at Fegyver- és Gépgyár. Both produced entire guns although sometimes parts were shared between the plants. Ideally the factory in Budapest would equip Hungarian units and the Steyr plant the Austrians, but this wasn’t really effective so both shipped wherever necessary. The receivers of M.95 rifles will be marked either Steyr or Budapest, clearly noting where they were made. Small parts for Austria are marked “K” and Hungarian ones “R.”
Strangely, the M.95 would outlive its own government. The Dual Monarchy carried these rifles into the Boxer Rebellion and then the First World War. Being on the losing side, Austria-Hungary was effectively broken in two, with the creation of the Austrian Republic and Kingdom of Hungary. Both nations chose to retain the old M.95 and would eventually continue to improve it. In 1930 the Austrians developed the M.30 Spitzer cartridge, an 8x56mmR powerhouse developed to improve machine gun fire. The old M.95 was overbuilt and could handle the new ammo, so massive numbers were reconditioned and rechambered. At this point many long rifles were also shortened to a standard carbine length, but that will be another article. Many did keep their full length and will be found with a large, sans-serif “S” stamped over the chamber and a new two-digit date. Hungary followed and adopted the M.30S in 1931, beginning their own refurbishment process and marking the chambers with a large “H.” In 1934 Bulgaria would do the same, using an “S” as well although, it appears, with serifs. This process was so complete that original chamberings are uncommon and usually show signs of being in other countries during the upgrade process.
The M.95 had been well received and became not only a staple at home but was also sold abroad. Most notably, Bulgaria adopted the gun and it is not uncommon to find these rifles with the Bulgarian roaring lion crest on the receiver. These examples will also have sight graduation not just on the left side of the leaf but also on the right. Bulgarian rifles were carried through the First and Second Balkan Wars. Before WWI they acquired even more rifles, surplussed from the battlefields of WWI. Since the Bulgarian contract rifles had serialed bolts and the Austro-Hungarian examples didn’t, you’ll often find electro-penciled serial numbers on Bulgarian refurbished bolts.
Greece also brought in a number of the rifles and Albania did order 4,000 at one time, although never officially adopting the gun. During WWI large numbers would be captured by the Entente and would be re-fielded repeatedly. Italy received probably the largest surplus of these guns as reparations after the war. They would remain in their original 8x50mmR chambering and go on to serve with Askari in the Ethiopian campaign and WWII. They are often found marked AOI for Africa Orientale Italiana. When the British retook East Africa they shipped captured M.95 rifles to India to serve as trainers! When founded, Yugoslavia also had a great surplus of M.95 rifles and carbines. They issued them for years as second line rifles but eventually began a conversion process to rechamber them in 7.92x57mm as the M95M. Czechoslovakia inherited the gun as well and even produced more for a short time before switching to the Mauser. M.95 rifles also found their way into pro-communist hands during the Spanish Civil War. Even Finland had a small surplus of these guns before trading them off to Bulgaria for more Mosins!
With that impressive resume it is hard to understand how these guns go so unrecognized outside of the core collector community. They have a battle pedigree comparable only to the Mosin-Nagant. They can be found relatively inexpensively and are a treat to handle. It should be said, however, that the carbines are among some of the meanest recoiling standard issue rifles, especially when chambered in 8x56mmR. But don’t let that stop you from trying out another huge piece of military history.