|Rifle||Mosin Nagant wz.91/98/26||Manufacturers||Arma and W.R.N.1|
|Action||Rotation Bolt||Barrel Length||23.6″|
|Magazine||5 rounds||Weight||8.2 lbs|
The unusual gun pictured above is not some unholy abomination born in a hobbyist’s garage. It is, in fact, a Polish Army service rifle issued as stop gap measure during the Interwar Period. While there are very few hard facts available about these rifles due to their rarity, we’re going to do our best to record what we’ve found below.
Modern Poland was born out of the Treaty of Versailles in 1918 following WWI. The nation was formed from territories scattered amongst the Soviet Union, German, and Hapsburg Empires and had immediate trouble with its neighbors. Versailles did not establish firm boundaries for the reborn country and before they were solidified Poland’s military was already actively expanding and defending them. The period between 1918 and 1922 saw three Silesian Uprisings, the Polish-Ukrainian War, the Polish-Lithuanian War, and the Greater Poland Uprising involving Germany. Most importantly though, the Polish-Soviet war ran from 1919 until 1921 and exhausted both combatants. The peace treaty at Riga divided Ukraine and Belarus between the two nations. This left Poles in Soviet territory and many people resentful of Polish rule.Needless to say, Poland was very concerned with its own military strength. In fighting to define, expand, and defend its borders we see the Polish Army grabbing up anything they can lay hands on dating back as far as 1867/77 Werndl single shot rifles. By 1922 armed force had proved its worth and effectively set the boundaries of the country. In the aftermath attention was on standardization and the first matter was ammunition. Poland favored the German 1898 Mauser design and its 7.92x57mm cartridge. While there were plenty enough Gew.98 rifles to choose from in the post war years, the need to rearm must have been great because at least two factories were tapped to convert stockpiles of Russian Mosin Nagant M1891 rifles to the 7.92x57mm cartridge at great effort and presumably expense.
Mosin Nagant rifles were plentiful in the new Polish territories and many more were available in neighboring countries for sale or capture during the various boundary wars. Before standardization efforts the Mosin Nagant represented roughly 20% of rifles in soldiers’ hands. When the Mauser became the standard it must have seemed a waste to just dispose of these rifles, especially with enemies at every border. A conversion process was begun in at least two factories; sources suggest more but we have only observed two manufacturers markings so far. The process had to be simple so as not to distract from Mauser refurbishment and production. By all appearances, the Mosins were intended to be a quick fix, with the army preferring to go ahead and get one rifle cartridge in place as quickly as possible to ease supply instead of just waiting exclusively on Mauser production.
The first Polish Mosin Nagant conversions are recorded as being a simple shortening and rechambering of the rifles for the 7.92mm cartridge. Sources differ as to whether or not this is just considered a wz.91/98 or a wz.91/98/23 and we do not have an example of either model to be sure. Currently, we can only speak to the wz.91/98/25 and 26 conversions. Both variants are commonly referred to as the wz.91/98/25 and the recorded difference is just a change from a one piece interrupter/ejector into a two piece configuration. The origin of the designation wz.91/98/26 is also blurry but we’ve opted to adopt it in this article to make clear there should be two distinct variants based on the interrupter/ejector. If anyone has clearer source material please feel free to discuss these designations in the comments below.
The Karabinek wz.91/98/26 represents a complicated series of changes to an original Russian Mosin Nagant m1891. Two distinct factory markings on the few examples available point to production by Arma in Lviv and the Central Weapons Works No. 1 in Warsaw. Both facilities appear to have carried out the same processes listed below:
- A new, shorter, stepped, 7.92x57mm barrel was produced (not sure who produced these)
- Original Russian stocks shortened
- Wood shims installed to accommodate the smaller barrel and chamber
- Handguards shortened
- Mauser 98 style bayonet lugs and forward barrel bands fitted to stocks
- Magazines were reshaped and widened to accept 7.92x57mm cartridge shoulder
- Magazine feed ramps widened and angled lower
- Rear sights flattened and ground to accommodate flatter trajectory of new ammunition
- Front sights appear to be taller and were pinned in place
- Charger guides essentially ground off and recut further back on the receiver
- New, reshaped interrupters were installed on the model 25
- New, reshaped interrupters and a separate ejector were installed on the model 26
- Bolt heads were ground down and reshaped to seat the 7.92x57mm cartridge
- Firing pins were shortened
- Concave gaps were ground into the underside bolt lugs to assist with cartridge feeding
- Various sling fittings were used, most likely dependent on resources available
It has been stated that new bolt heads were produced for these conversions but we took a pair of calipers and a jewelers magnifier to our example. It utilizes the original, unchanged Mosin Nagant extractor. The bolt face is set back from the Russian example by about the width of the channel that rings the Russian bolt face, implying they were ground down to the channel. The wall around the bolt face appears to have been folded in with extreme force and then reshaped to form the seal for the 7.92x57mm cartridge. Small lines of the fold can be seen at the edge of the bolt face and through the ejector channel. Reuse of the original bolt would have saved some machine time and expense and with this last bit of recycling, only the barrels, barrel bands, and bayonet lugs would have been new production. More than likely, the latter two were sourced from WWI spares whenever possible as well.
Markings on these rifles can be very descriptive or absolutely spartan. Arma production seems to be the most naked and offers only a Polish eagle crest, caliber stamp, and a feint “ARMA LWOW” on the left side of the receiver, which is often poorly struck and confused for an importer’s stamp. Remember, this stands for the “Arma” factory in Lwow which we now know as Lviv, Ukraine. Warsaw production appears to be much more descriptive and may display the date of manufacture on the barrel. It will also display the marking “W.R.N.1” which stands for Warsztat Rusznikarski Nr 1, or Gunsmith Shop No.1, which would be a workshop of the Central Weapons Works No. 1. Any of these conversions can be dismantled to check for the original Russian date under the receiver tang. Unfortunately, our example is either a very early production rifle or was produced by Westinghouse because there are no markings on the tang.
A big part of the conversion process was geared towards the use of a standard Polish bayonet. It has been suggested, and we agree, that the most appropriate bayonet for this rifle would be a wz.22 bayonet made by Perkun. This bayonet lacked a muzzle ring from initial production, unlike the Radom production.
Wz.91/98/25 and 26 rifles may have been second standard small arms but they certainly saw plenty of use. We have also seen it recorded as late as 1927 that Poland made trades of some 30,000 Gew.98 Mauser rifles and carbines for 40,000 Mosin Nagants. They were used by rear echelon troops, engineers, artillery, and cavalry from remanufacture until the mid 1930’s. Mauser production had caught up and nearly every front line unit was now properly equipped.
The wz.91/98 rifles, however, did not disappear. 12,000 rifles found their way to the state police, 3,000 made it to Spain, and several hundred were given to the forestry service. Most of the released rifles found their way to the Border Protection Corps, Korpus Ochrony Pogranicza, (KOP). This force was formed in 1924 as a part of the Polish Army specifically constituted as a defensive measure against Soviet incursions and bandits on the eastern borders. It was an army corps led by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and combined the roles of the military with the police and border guards. They were also used as a mobile reserve and saw action against both the German and Soviet invaders of 1939. The Germans then pressed the rifle into limited use under the designation Karabiner 497. This presents a unique journey for at least some of these rifles as we imagine an early production American rifle making it to Russia, falling into Polish hands, and then being captured by the Germans.
The wz.91/98/25 and 26 rifles seem extremely unusual at first. Anyone used to handling an average Mosin Nagant will find them curious and perhaps even delicate. Most seem to require a little babying, but this may be more from their hard use and poor care than anything else. When I began researching this rifle I just couldn’t believe it was a good idea at the time. The Romanian trade seemed especially strange to me, but the more I think on it the decision makes sense. 40,000 Mosins in hand beat 30,000 Mausers that would distract your primary factories from production to repair. The Polish needed guns immediately and the Mosin Nagant is a strong, weather resistant rifle. Many of their soldiers were already familiar with the gun and would have been happy to retain something they trusted. The conversion process is intimidating, but the individual steps are not complicated and could be performed at smaller shops and would not slow Mauser production. Unlike other quick conversions, this one paid obsessive attention to the change over in both ballistics and magazine performance. Overall, the gun does not seem any weaker and while I’m unable to give it an extensive field test I’d bet on it feeding and functioning fine.
Regardless of anything else. These guns are interesting and rare. If you have the occasion, certainly pick one up. If you already own one, please let us know about it below. We’d love any additional images of markings or sling configurations people would care to provide.