Rifle: Italian Carcano M38 Cavalry

Carcano M38 Cavalry Tilt

Rifle Carcano M38 Cavalry Manufacturer various
Cartridge 6.5x52mm, 7.35x51mm Overall Length 36″
Action Rotation Bolt Barrel Length 17.6″
Magazine 6 rnds enbloc fed Weight 6.6lbs

 

We’ve covered the original Carcano M1891 before. But for the sake of our Anatomy Series let’s skip ahead and talk about the M38 Cavalry in detail.

WWII was especially rough on the Kingdom of Italy. The nation was goaded into a war footing by the fascist government of Benito Mussolini, who was eager not to be out done by Hitler’s Reich. The public was sold the idea of “Mare Nostrum” or “Our Sea” and an Italian domination of the Mediterranean. A colonial mindset and weak industrial base meant that Italy’s military forces were equipped with somewhat lighter gear than other world powers. The Second Italo-Ethiopian War was a military and political success for Mussolini that he soon repeated in Albania in 1939. But declaring war along in 1940 meant challenging other first rate nations and Italy would pay the price for their leader’s arrogance.

Any details on the overall development of the Carcano can be found in the article linked above. With the adoption of the Carcano long rifle the cavalry was ready to replace their out dated Vetterli black powder carbines. The new action was stocked into a familiar pattern and size, emulating the existing cavalry carbines, and paired with a shorter adjustable sight in 1893 to form the Moschetto Modello 91 da Cavalleria. One major difference was that the Vetterli’s socket bayonet (stored reverse on the barrel) was replaced with a similarly stowed cruciform that could be swung into position on a hinge at the front of the barrel. The decision to use these spike bayonets was because Cavalry were issued full length swords and the addition of a knife bayonet to their kit would make for a clattering mess. This is the same consideration we see on the later Japanese Type 44. Other than the addition of a short handguard and some variations on locking the bayonet this rifle remained unchanged until 1938.

Carcano comparison

Lessons learned in North and East Africa left the Italian military itching for improved ammunition. Their 6.5x52mm cartridge was the first of its kind and while that’s a proud accomplishment it had not shaken loose some design flaws. In an attempt to gain better penetration, flatter trajectory, and more fatal impacts on soft targets a new 7.35x51mm cartridge, with a modern spitzer bullet, was adopted.

POV-Carcano-M38-Cavalry fProduction of one new rifle and two updates in 7.35 began in 1938, but we’re only addressing one of these today. The Moschettoa Modello 91/38 Cavalleria was essentially the same rifle as the early M1891 pattern with only a few minor changes. Other than the chambering and dropping the gain-twist rifling method, the only significant alteration was that the adjustable rear sight had been replaced with an incredibly simple fixed rear notch. This was a radical departure in military small arms thinking. The Italians had made the ambitious decision that most engagements were at a range best suited to a 200 meter battle sight (ultimately true in much of WWII) and that an adjustable sight was likely just a distraction. Ranged engagement should be handled by more appropriate equipment than riflemen.

Many collectors have trouble at first determining the differences between Carcano rifles. We have an overall guide for that but the 1891 and 1938 Cavalry models can be quite similar. The single best determining factor is the shape of the chamber area of the barrel. On the earlier Carcano these are octagonal. The M38 series have rounded barrels. Most M38 Cavalry carbines have simple, fixed rear sights. The exception is that when FNAB switched back to 6.5mm production they continued using the adjustable rear sight. There are three major variations on the cavalry bayonets. All three were tried with the original 1891 but by the 1938 version the matter was settled on the push button style. However, some surplus parts were used in assembly and small numbers have been found with slider-type locks.

 

Carcano-M38-Cav-resize

The Carcano action is loaded with a six round enbloc clip that is retained as a component of the magazine. A spring-loaded follower meets the lowest cartridge and applies pressure upwards. As the bolt travels forward is strips the top cartridge from the clip and feeds it into the chamber. The sear attached to the trigger catches the cocking piece at the rear of the bolt and holds it in place as the bolt handle is turned down. Two front-locking lugs on the bolt body are turned into mortises in the front of the receiver in this same rotation. When the trigger is pulled the cocking piece and attached firing pin are released and driven forward by spring pressure to discharge the cartridge. When the bolt handle is raised a sloped surface at the back of the bolt body meets an opposite slope on the cocking piece and forces it rearward until it catches on a notch in the bolt body, cocking the action. As the bolt is pulled back the extractor claw drags the spent casing out of the chamber. A spring-powered ejector presses against a groove in the bottom of the bolt that grows deeper towards the bolt face. The spent casing is pulled into this ejector and flicked out of the action. With the bolt close the rifle can be set on safe by depressing the tab at the back of the bolt and rotating it upwards. This takes pressure off the firing pin spring, puts spring pressure against the cocking piece, preventing the rifle from firing. When the last cartridge is loaded the follower is too narrow to support the clip and so it falls free of the action or, if snagged, is pressed out by the next loaded clip.

Carcano M38 Cavalry Left Side

Manufacture of all three 7.35mm Carcano rifles was short lived, with only 200,000 or so M38 Cavalry models being produced by Terni, Beretta, Fabbrica Nazionale Armi Brescia, and Gardone Val Trompia before being changed over. The new cartridge was proving to be a logistical nightmare. It’s advantages were not worth the chaos and strain added to the Italian armed forces, which were already being pushed steadily towards their limits by a Fascist government looking towards still more colonial and even European expansion. In early 1940 production was switched back to the 6.5 caliber ammunition. Only Beretta, Gardone V.T., and FNAB continued manufacture. Most of the 7.35 cavalry carbines were moved to rear guards and paramilitary organizations. Production did not end until 1943 in most factories, 1944 by FNAB with roughly 1,600,000 M38 Cavalry carbines in 6.5mm assembled.

It is not uncommon to find these carbines with large repair sections on the right side of the stock. These are actually another attempt at military recycling and these stocks were originally cut for the 91/28 T.S. with attached grenade launcher. Production was stopped before the surplus of pre-cut stocks could be used so they were trimmed and patched for use with the M38 Cavalry.

These handy little carbines were favorites among troops. Besides cavalry they served with the military police, Bersaglieri, artillery, and motorized troops. While the light rifles shouldered well they could also be issued to horse and bicycle troops with scabbards for easier transport. They were also the natural choice for paratroops. The cavalry carbines served in every theater of WWII with the Italians, including Africa, Europe, and the Mediterranean and appear to have been well liked over other variants due to being exceedingly light and small. A small run of exceptionally rare Carcano M38 Cavalry carbines were fitted with black stocks, nickel plated fixtures, and marked on the receiver with a fasces over “DUX.” These carbines were provided to Mussolini’s private guard.

When Italy signed the armistice in 1943, the M38 Cavalry wasn’t done fighting. Italian troops in Albania, Greece, and Yugoslavia either surrendered their arms or joined the rebels and both cases put the Carcano on the front line against the Germans. Carcano rifles remained on both sides of the Italian Civil War.

Carcano M38 Cavalry right Side

Carcanos were also seized by the German military after the armistice and these appropriated rifles have been much misunderstood by collectors. Some cavalry carbines were seized, unchanged, by German defenders and have German eagles with HZa Jt3 stamped on their stocks. A small number were also converted into single-shot 7.92x57mm emergency rifles intended for the Volkssturm (although few, if any, were delivered). These will be marked “7.9” on the barrel and “HK” in an oval on the receiver. Post war conversions to 7.92x57mm are more common on the collectors market and regularly confused with the much rarer German program. These were a commercial decision in order to market the rifles in the Middle East theater. Most were sold to Egypt for training purposes. They are marked 7.92 on the rear sight. No dedicated 7.92mm enbloc clips have been noted so we assume they were used as single shots.

In the end the Allied occupation of Italy brought a host of better small arms into the country and post-war the Carcano was finally allowed to retire from standard issue usage. It did, however, make the rounds in the surplus African market and many were even spotted in the Libyan Civil War.

Dating your Carcano is usually pretty simple as most are stamped with a three digit year code (941 for 1941) and a fascist date in roman numerals next to it. Somewhat redundant but add 22 if you want to make the conversion. Some later production models lack the date marking but can be determined by their serial number. We’ve provided the likely dates below.

Carcano M38 Cavalry Top Side

Overall the Carcano as a whole gets a bad wrap. Again, in the Model 1891 article we’ve gone over a little of where this came from. But just to recap, the actions are very strong and rarely, if ever, fail. The M38 Cavalry carbines tend to be found in good condition because their light and somewhat sporty shape means there really isn’t much to modify short of losing the bayonet. The 300 meter sighting does require a 6 o’clock hold but otherwise they are usually accurate shooters with moderate recoil. The actions can often feel stiff but this is usually from refurbishment and some lubrication and use tend to get them running smooth again.

 

48 Responses to “Rifle: Italian Carcano M38 Cavalry”

  1. phil polley says:

    I have one of these rifles but the action is missing I was wondering if there is a store or something to get the gun working again

    • Othais says:

      I’m not sure what you mean by the “action.” In my mind that encompasses the bolt, receiver, and magazine assembly. I would guess you mean the bolt, but I’m unsure of where to find one. Gunbroker does tend to see a lot of spare parts over time though.

  2. roger rice says:

    I have one of these rifles that says gardone vt 6.5, is it still concidered an Italian carcano m-38 cavalry model? Thank you for your time.

  3. David says:

    May be a dumb question but still curious, do you know if the fixed sights on the m38 can be removed/replaced with the adjustable sights found on the m1891? or are the sights a part of the receiver

  4. Hunter Kopp says:

    Will a m39 short rifle buttplate fit on a calvary carbin?

  5. Hunter Kopp says:

    I might buy a Carcano calvary the rifle, but is missing the buttplate. Does this carcano have its own style buttplate or will others work?

  6. Steve says:

    On a whim, I purchased an M-1938 carbine, with the adjustable rear sights. The bayonet is missing and the bayonet mount has been machined off. The machining work and re-blue was first class and not the normal “bubba” hacksaw type work.

    I have since seen another carbine with identical bayonet removal technique. I was wondering if you had any idea if this was an arsenal alteration or just coincidence?

    • Othais says:

      Unfortunately I really haven’t been tracking sporterized methods. There are several importers who did modify incoming Carcano though.

  7. Steve says:

    Thanks for the response, that is what I was afraid of. Will I be able to find the correct mount and bayonet? I have searched the normal sources and came up empty. If I can’t return it to “natural” condition I will make it go away. (I don’t like sporterized military rifles)

    It is a shame that it was buggered, it is a descent rifle otherwise.

  8. Billy says:

    Gotten possible what I thinks is a m38 Carvalry with spike bayonet (push button to unlock swing around and pull back to lock in position), its barrel is round between receiver and rear sight. sight is adjustable in range (battle sight-600m to 1500) stamped behind sight is F.N.A. BRESCIA above that is stamped RE (hard to read) then a crown with 37-XVI stamped on barrel. its a 6.5 used for years hunting

  9. james says:

    the markings r on rear of barrel not sure what I got.. …..(41-xlx)……..(xt2564) think its the m38 with adjustable rear site

  10. Mike says:

    Just picked up a m38 Beretta Gardone 1944-xx.Pristine bore,readable stock cartouches,no import marks.Shoots well with (expensive) norma ammo.Found clips at Numrich Arms.Great site,excellent article.I’m into vintage military arms.Any idea where I can find a sling?

  11. john says:

    Do you know any of the import history of how these entered the U.S.? Did any of the big companies bring them in?
    Trying to figure out how I ended up with a M38. It came thru family.

  12. John B says:

    Got one with serial# MH 4525 what caliber would it be?

    • Othais says:

      Should be marked on the site base. It is always best to confirm with a gunsmith on old used rifles as rechambers are common.

  13. louis lombardo says:

    i have a fully operating carcano in 7.35 caliber. does have a colectable value and can you give a dollar value

  14. Dan says:

    My grandfather has an M38 Carcano chambered in 7.35… Everything on it is in great shape, and it has little to no rust. Bolt works fine, it’s been cleaned thoroughly. Only thing is, there is no magazine for it. Would you happen to know where one could find magazines for the M38 in 7.35?

    • Othais says:

      I’m sorry to say that outside of a search on Google I have no special knowledge of parts sources.

    • Der Gebirgsjager says:

      The 7.35mm was basically just a necked up 6.5mm case using a .30 cal. bullet. Other than that the cases are the same, and both rifles use the same clip.

  15. Joseph says:

    I have a carcano i recently picked up from an individual. It has the serial number and a small crown stamped on it. That along with made in Italy is the only markings on the rifle. Not even a caliber stamp. Can anyone help me figure out what model and caliber this might be? Thanks.

  16. Brandon G says:

    I have been collecting ww2 bringback/surplus rifles for only 15 years now, many types of rifles have gone through my hands over the years, but I had never bought any carcano rifles until recently. I stayed shy because of the many stories of them being mostly junk, with some having cut down gain twist rifle barrels, and ammunition being very hard to find the good stuff, especially the 7.35 with the 6.5 being slightly easier to find.Also being a reloader, the correct diameter bullets for the 6.5 are rarer then hens teeth. Even though, going against my saying “never buy import marked guns due to resale, I bought a cavalry carbine import marked by CAI in st. A VT. Marked by FNAB made in 1940 with the adjustable rear sight, condition of the rifle is about 55-60% overall, With the stock being dug up mildly but with a what seems to be a arsenal repair upper handguard as it is much cleaner looking but made with the same wood and seems correct. I must say though, this little guy is probably the best handling carbine out of all my bolt action carbines from that era. It handles like a m1 carbine but bolt action, the action can be cycled without removing your cheek wield like an Enfield rifle so rapid aimed fire is able to be done quite fast. It seems to me the only comparable rifle to be the no.5 Enfield carbine, which is heavier and has a much more stout recoil, but I do prefer the 10 round mag. The only question I really have about the rifle, is there any markings on the rifle that would tell me which branch of the military issued my rifle, like how my Berretta m35 has a two letter stamping indicating the air force used it? The stock has some markings but are not easily readable, I know one is the serial number, but the other I see is a large circle just next to the serial number on the stock, which shows old lettering but is now unreadable due wear and a light stamping to start with. Also were all the stocks numbered to the rifles, or just the early to mid war, like some Mauser, t99,t38, and others were. Great write up anyways, it is always relieving to read such write ups that are not copies from wiki , rewrote from a clueless guy whom I guess you could call a “poser” gun writer.

  17. Peter says:

    Where can I buy just the underslung spike bayonet?

  18. Felicia says:

    I have a Carcano Calvary M38, Gardone V.T., the serial number is QN6112. Can you tell me the year of manufacture?

  19. David Harvey says:

    I have a cavalry carbine with fixed sights and a bayonet wobble of 1/4 to 1/2 inch vertically and horizontally. Still hoping to hear of a simple fix, the push button spring is tight and no apparent wear to either the channel or the sides of the bayonet other than apparent clearance between both. Someone mentioned tig welding metal to the bayonet and then filing down to fit. Another mentioned thin washers that would only tighten the horizontal wobble. Thanks, DH

  20. Mike says:

    You could use a padded vise and a digital caliper to eliminate the horizontal play.The vertical play is due to either wear on the button or the bore on the bayonet base.Welding and re-boring the hole to the diameter of the button should work.Good luck!

  21. hank jayroe says:

    I have a italtion carcano ammo I got is too long I thik it is a carbine not familiar with this rifle can you help me find the right ammo says 6.5 caliber what I have is winchester match 6.5creedmoor 140 grain match bthp

  22. Mario says:

    One of these has to go on my must-have list. My father was in the Italian tank corp in WWII and I have photos he left me showing him with one of these but I had never known before what type of rifle it was.

  23. Genghis says:

    I just inherited what I believe is a M38 Carcano cavalry carbine. Based on all the above replies and threads I’ve determined the following identification:
    S/N “B2421” (with matching stock S/N!)
    Made by “Gardone VT”
    “938 XVI” is stamped just above the Gardone VT stamp on top of the barrel
    It has the adjustable sights (strange for a M38?)
    The bayonet is rock solid; no play whatsoever! (It took me a few minutes to figure out how to deploy it though…)
    It is missing the enbloc clip. Hope I can find one at one of the local gun/collector shows.
    Also, the stock is stamped with a now illegible stamp just forward of the rear sling attachment site. Can’t make out what it says…

    Any clue as to the caliber/cartridge? Do I have to remove the adjustable sight and see if that info is stamped underneath the sight?

    Any more info is greatly appreciated.

    Thanks

    • Othais says:

      You actually probably have a 91/28. They were still being made until the M38 came out, so they can be dated 1938. It would explain the adjustable sight. Should be 6.5mm

  24. Bill Bosworth says:

    Excellent article. Any idea where I could purchase a handguard for a Model 91? It’s 4 3/4 in. long

  25. Gus Rydholm says:

    I have a carcano but it appears to be a chilrens training rifle. I’ve heard the term “Macheto Baillla.” It looks like a cav rifle but is smooth bore. Does anyone have any information on this?

    • Othais says:

      The gentlemen behind “Italy’s Battle Rifle” frequent Gunboards Forum. I’d highly recommend posting there with some photos!

  26. Dan says:

    I picked up an m38 as a trade add-on and have no place for it in my collection. It has no handguard, rear strap mount, or forward strap mount, but the rest is there and it functions very smoothly. Is it worth it to buy the replacement parts to restore it, or is this one destined to be a wall-hanger? Near as I can tell, including parts, shipping, and my original trade value, I’ll be into the thing for around $200 or so.

  27. Adam says:

    Cleaning one of these up for a buddy. It was his grandpa’s, who served in the war. Have it very nearly clean and in working order. Just wondering what the stamps (cartouches) on it mean. Besides the 7.35 mm, and the stamp with the same number as the bolt/receiver, there is one with a crown in it and what looks like ( gun was in rough shape after sitting open to the elements in a basement corner since the 70’s) a crown with the capital letters F, A, and G and then a 39 under those. Any help would be appreciated.

  28. Greg traut says:

    I have a Beretta Gardone 1940xv lll 6.5, in very nice shape. I do not have sights where rear sight would be. There is a groove in barrel.Front sight has small hole in barrel. I bought a used barrel and took sites off. Its a loop type sight and won’t slide all the way down on my barrel.The new barrel is machined down from the rest of the barrel.Too big. What do I need to look for? picture, part number or something. Thank you, Greg

  29. Richard says:

    I have a Carbano Gardone VT 6.5 caliber that was giving to me. I think it’s a M1938, but not sure. Has a fixed rear sight and a gold under bayonet. The serial # is either OX4865 or QX4865, hard to tell. I read the where the butt stock and barrel should have the same serial#, but the butt stock for this rifle has SS511 and 16 in a circle. Can you help with as much information? Thank you!

  30. jole says:

    how to get ammo for that i cant foumd a gum but how to get ammo for that is that ilegal

  31. Mike Hollis says:

    I am so grateful that I found your excellent website and article. I have inherited a carbine that needs some tlc to be put back into it’s original shape. But before I can proceed I need to properly identify it. What I do know is it was made in Gardone V.T. Italy. I believe it’s a Carcano carbine but it doesn’t have a trigger guard magazine, it has a trigger guard that looks like it holds a magazine(not built in) that is fitted with a block of wood that makes it useable as a single shot only. The under part of the forearm has a 6″ groove the appears to be for a folding bayonet. The mounting ring that holds the forearm to the barrel is also grooved for the bayonet and is also the front sling mount which is on the left side and perpendicular to the barrel. The rear sling holder is on the left side of the stock is also perpendicular to the barrel. The guard and front sling mount are painted a flat golden color. The breech end of the barrel is stamped with 3 numbers a hyphen and 3 roman numerals, Gardone V.T., 2 letters 1 number a space and 3 numbers(I believe 6 markings to be the serial number) and then it’s marked with the 6.5-257 indicating cal. What information I have found was in book Bolt Action Rifles by Frank de Haas, but I haven’t found any photos that match what I’m holding. until I found your site. With your articles help I now know it was made in (1)943 in the XXI year of the fascist government. But I’m still confused because it doesn’t have the right trigger guard magazine or the wood on top of the barrel between the sling mount and rear site,other wise it’s a perfect match to your photo. Any help or book recommendations I should review is greatly appreciated.

  32. Todd Thompson says:

    I have what I think is a 91/38 Calvary carbine, fixed sights, 6.5 cal stamped on rear sight. serial# on stock and chamber read TO 300. Anyone have any idea what factory and year produced on this rifle?

  33. John says:

    So I have a Carcano but the serial number on it says 3909 it also has a stamping on the barrel with re I don’t know who that would be It also says on the barrel cal st alb VT 6.5carcano hey idea what I have

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