RIA: Russian Winchester 1895 in 7.62x54R

The Winchester 1895 was the last of Winchester’s lever-action rifles, and has an interesting place in a couple different parts of world history. On the one hand, the 1895 in .405 Winchester caliber is known as Theodore Roosevelt’s “Big Medicine” for safari hunting. On another, it was the object of the largest military lever-action purchase ever, made by the Russian Czar during World War I.

The Russian military was woefully under-equipped at the outset of WWI, and needed rifles wherever it could find them. While waiting for a contract with Remington (and later New England Westinghouse) to provide Mosin-Nagant rifles, the Czar’s military ordered 300,000 model 1895s from Winchester. These rifles were purportedly going to be available immediately form Winchester’s existing production line, although in reality it took several months before deliveries began, The rifles were modified by Winchester to accept standard Mosin-Nagant stripper clips, and were chambered for the 7.62x54R cartridge.

They saw heavy combat use, and reportedly performed well, despite the lever action system having some fundamental inferiorities compared to bolt action rifles in a military context. What made them feasible was the action designed specifically for full-power smokeless rifle ammunition and the box magazine design which avoided the potential problems of spitzer cartridges in a tube magazine.

61 Comments

  1. That was a fascinating piece. I have long admired this rifle, and the action is like a Swiss watch.

    I was interested that the piece is marked 7.62mm, when neither the USA nor Russia used the metric system. The Russians would have called it a three line rifle back then, so I wonder why Winchester did not mark it that way? As you point out, the sight is marked in arshins after all.

    I remember an article once in the American Rifleman which said that the Russian inspectors for Mosin Nagant production in the USA were real idiots, rejecting perfectly serviceable rifles for no good reason, even smashing the stocks to make their point. I wonder how many of the Mosin Nagant order got through in the end? Incidentally, the “backwards N” is pronounced “ee”.

    I do wonder why the Russians did not take advantage of the production facilities at Winchester and order 1894s in .30-30? They would have been an excellent carbine for cavalry, artillery, engineers etc, and would have released Mosin Nagants for the infantry. I am sure Winchester could have churned out 1894s without missing a beat. It’s all moot now of course, but I find these questions from history to be of great interest, and I especially like to see how the study of firearms is linked to broader historical developments.

    • “I was interested that the piece is marked 7.62mm”
      I suspect that it might be added after by Soviet Government which choose to use metric system.

    • “the study of firearms is linked to broader historical developments.”
      In WW1 Russia get heavy “weapons-hunger”
      From “ОТЕЧЕСТВЕННЫЕ АВТОМАТЫ (ЗАПИСКИ ИСПЫТАТЕЛЯ-ОРУЖЕЙНИКА)” by А. А. МАЛИМОН:
      Prewar calculation states that maximal performance of rifle factories was 40000 rifles/month. First problems with quantity occurred in late 1914, but it became severe in 1915. North-West Front lacked 320000 according to V.G.Fyodorov. Some Regiments fighting Germans in fall of 1915 has as low as 20% of weapon that they should have. First weapon-acquiring mission was done in August 1914 to Japan, in 1915 there was same mission to European allies of Russia. It was led by V.G.Fyodorov [designer of Fyodorov Avtomat]. Following weapons were bought:
      Japan: 6,5mm Arisaka Model 1897 and Model 1905, 7mm Mexican Arisaka
      France: 8mm Lebel, 11mm Gras and Gras-Kropatschek
      Italy: 10,4mm Vetterli
      Allies of Russia: 8mm Mannlicher Model 1889 and Model 1895
      There was some trials to recover rifle lost in Manchuria in 1904-1905 (from local villagers) but it failed.
      Cartridges for Japanese Ariska were produced in England (45000000/month)
      This lead to incredible mixture of types of used rifles which mean hard ammo supplying and rifle repair.

      • Additional information to production of 6.5mm Japanese cartridge from:
        http://ww1.milua.org/bulletsArisaka.htm
        In 1914-1918 it was produced in Great Britain mainly for Russia needs by Kynoch Ltd. and Royal Laboratory Woolwich. It was also used in Great Britain for training (as .256 Ball Mk I and .256 Ball Mk II, differing only in powder). It has bit bigger primer than Japanese-made cartridge. Headstamp: K 16 or K 17 II for Kynoch, R L for Royal Laboratory
        In 1915-1916 it was produced in Petersburg (Petersburg Cartridge Plant, Петербургский патронный завод) with rate 200000 examples per month, it also has slightly different primer

    • Did not Winchester get the U.S. to use some 1895 Winchesters at the time of the Spanish American War? I remember reading an army report telling of poor field maintenance and serviceability in the Philippines filed some time after the Spanish American War. I also remember handling an 1895 Winchester with U.S. Army unit markings from the time of the Spanish American War and the Moro Uprisings. The ones used in the Philippines during the Moro Uprisings must have a fascinating personal histories.

      • Specifically the 1895 Winchesters issued in the U.S. Army and used in the Philipines were in 30 US Army, (30-40 Krag) to the younger crowd. They had no “stripper clip ears”, since the U.S. army did not have such for the 30 Army cartridge. Also, did not Winchester or the DCM sell Russian contract Winchester 1895s in the Ruski cartridge which had not been delivered, or paid for, after the Great War, in addition to MANY Mosins? Also were not some of the late 1895s in the Ruski cartridge snapped up by the U.S. Army, at the initiation of U.S. introduction to the Great War. So little time – not enough 03’s. I know that the U.S. troops in Russia, when the Red Russians were fighting the White Russians, used many Mosins due to ammunition availability and poor logistics. A lot happened but little is written in the U.S. history books. Some very interesting memoirs did come out for posterity. I do believe that some private Canadian Units bought Winchester lever actions for use early on in The Great War.

      • The Amerian soldiers fightin in in the Philippines were singing a song compposed and performed during the civil War (Tramp, Tramp, Tramp, The Boys are marching, with their own words:
        Damn, damn, damm the Filipinos.
        And then
        Underneath our starry flag,
        Civilise them with the Krag.
        Regards, Andrzej

  2. There is a 1928 Russian silent film STORM, OVER ASIA which depicts a popular uprising against the British Troops occupying Mongolia (?) circa 1918.
    The perfidious Albions are equipped with Winchester 95s. Some shots in there of troops drilling with them and one wonderful scene of a file of riot control
    “Thommys” racking and aiming with parade ground precision.

  3. The tube magazines with pointed bullets was a no-no, but when except for cav. did an Army adopt a lever action? You are supposed to have your belly on the dirt when firing and recycling.

    • Well, the Ottomans used Winchester rifles against the Russians. Some of those lever-action pieces had water jackets because they were used as fortress defense heavy snipers… But that was late 19th century.

    • According to the article on substitute standard French Army rifle procurement in the Shotgun News Treasury 15. the French bought over 15,000 M1894s in .30-30 WCF for issue to auxiliary troops. They can be recognized by French acceptance stamps and having rear sights similar to the M1888 “Commission” bolt-action rifle, graduated from 100 to 1200,that are clearly marked “METERS” on the sight’s slide.

      cheers

      eon

    • @TomTB – “but when except for cav. did an Army adopt a lever action?”

      The Martini-Henry was the standard rifle of the British Empire during much of the later part of the 19th century. It was a lever operated single shot rifle and highly regarded as a very robust and reliable rifle.

      The lever wasn’t a problem in normal use, as at the time of adoption infantry still fired in ranks kneeling and standing as dense ranks were essential if you didn’t want to get mown down by thousands of charging Zulus or Afridis. It was apparently a problem when used from fortifications or trenches, as the rifle had to be withdrawn from the parapet or turned sideways in order to operate the lever. This was mentioned in the siege of Mafeking, where old Martinis were still in use by some volunteer auxiliary troops.

      Of course when magazine rifles and smokeless powder were introduced, higher rates of fire became practical, forcing infantry to cover and making the lever a liability. By WWI the Winchester was obsolete, but it was less obsolete than some of the other odds and ends the Russians were scrounging up elsewhere.

  4. Another excellent and informative presentation!
    Question. I noticed the bayonet lug.
    The Russian guns did not take the standard spike bayonets.
    What type of bayonets did they take?
    Did Winchester build and supply bayonets for the Russian 1898s?
    Are the bayonets available for purchase and what would they likely sell for?
    Any comment about the slings and what went into the butt stock compartment?
    Regards
    Pat

  5. Say again, Ian, 04:26 the Russians ordered 3 million ’91/30s’ from Remington and Westinghouse? Err, wasn’t that a bit too early for the 1930 model rifle? OK, just nit-picking, as usual.
    Finally someone reviewed the Tsar Winchesters! These were used amongst others by the elite Latvian Rifles, both during WW1 and Revolution, when they were protecting Kremlin. Many were also left in Poland, and although they were long obsolete by that time, there are photos of Warsaw Uprisers with at least two of these rifles (in different cut-off parts of the city).

    @Pat: Winchester supplied the rifles with ALL equipment, including a knife-type bayonet. Check Luke Mercaldo “Allied Rifle Contracts in America” book for further details.

    • “Tsar Winchesters”
      Wait, what is proper: TSAR xor CZAR?

      Also, Russian manual for Winchester 1895 printed as late as 1941 exist.
      (Винчестер образца 1895 года: Описание, правила обращения и уход; Москва;Ленинград: Гос. науч.-техн. изд. машиностроит. лит., 1941)
      So probably some were still in Soviet service as late as 1941.

      • @Daweo – “what is proper: TSAR xor CZAR?”

        They’re both correct, although it could be argued that from a technical standpoint “tsar” is more correct.

        It comes down to a transliteration issue. The Russians use a different alphabet with a different number of letters than the Latin alphabet, so transliterating Cyrillic letters to Latin letters can be somewhat arbitrary as there is no one-to-one correspondence between the alphabets. Convention as applied to other words though seems to favour “tsar”.

        On the other hand, “czar” has established itself as a spelling in the English language, so some would argue that this makes it acceptable as an English word.

        By the way, “Tsar” derives from “Caesar”, as does “Kaiser”.

      • The Soviet losses in summer 1941 lead to acute shortage of rifles and pretty much anything usable in 7.52x54R was taken from storage and issued to troops. The Winchester 1895 was also used by Finnish artillery and second line troops during the Winter War.

      • I know I’ve seen at least one photo of Soviet troops armed with Winchester ’95s.

        During the initial [Stalin-caused] catastrophe in 1941, Soviet replacement troops were lucky to have ANY type of weapon.

        I know Berdan IIs were issued during WWI. I wouldn’t doubt that a few were issued in WWII as well.

        • “I know Berdan IIs were issued during WWI. I wouldn’t doubt that a few were issued in WWII as well.”
          Very probably, Russia has strong inclination to store old weapon, so it can be used during darkest days.
          Few years before WW1 Russian weapons depots still reported that they have some percussion rifles and Model 1838 mortars.
          Russian reports from shortly before WW1 outbreak, reports 363 019 Berdan rifles in storage. Many Berdan rifles after Russian Civil War were converted to hunting shotguns, it fired 12, 16, 20, 24, 28 or 32 gauge shotshell, one of factories doing conversion was TOZ (Tula), but it didn’t reach big-scale until Lenin launched NEP. Some Berdan rifle (without modification) withdrawn from Army were transfered to forest service.

        • The Finnish Army, perhaps not surprisingly, used Berdan IIs as training rifles during the Winter War. Some logistical units were also issued with them and those ones may have seen some actual combat, although there is no record of such.

    • Oh Lord have mercy! And check out the Artillery Luger at the same site! Plus, it looks like you could step out the door, throw a rock, and hit the Russian border. What does one need to buy a gun in Finland, besides money?

      • An official permit from the local police, which is granted on grounds of “acceptable purpose”. Those are hunting (a separate hunting license is also required), sport shooting, collecting, army reserve training (only for semi-auto AKs) and storing as a “keepsake”. Handguns have stricter requirements than long guns, which I won’t go to in detail here, but shooting sports are the only acceptable purpose (handgun hunting is not legal).

        Like a wrote, the Winchester 1895 is a common rifle in Finland. An unknown, but fairly large number (as in several thousands) of them were captured from Russian troops in 1918 when they were disarmed following the independence, and many were used in the Civil War of 1918. After the war perhaps most of them went to home with the soldiers of the victorious White Army and used as hunting rifles. Most were eventually sporterized. The ones that were returned to Army depots after the civil war saw some additional military service during the Winter War. The remaining were sold to individuals after WW2.

        The artillery Luger is quite a deal. Probably the seller is trying to get rid of it fast for some reason. The market for collectible pistols is limited in Finland as well, which keeps prices low, unless the item is really unique.

  6. 11:50 – Russian markings. The Cyrillic characters read: ‘H’ ‘i’ ‘Z’ or ‘Hi3′, as Cyrillic Z and 3 are very similar one to another and sometimes misleading – viz ammo headstamps ’38’ and 3B’which are two different plants in two opposite ends of USSR.

  7. Seems like potential for a two gun match here. Eon with the Russian Winchester versus Karl with the contemporary Mosin. Could be interesting.

    • I would put my money on the Winchester over the Mosin. However, if steel cases are used, there is a dirty or corroded chamber. or there is a pressure excursion the Winchester may fail since as a lever gun it has such weak primary extraction as opposed to the mechanical advantage of a bolt.

  8. Twice in this video you refer to Remington acceptance marks. Was that a slip of the tongue, or was Remington somehow involved in this deal?

  9. “The Winchester 1895 was the last of Winchester’s lever-action rifles, and has an interesting place in a couple different parts of world history.”
    Not true. Winchester Model 71 (firing .348 Winchester – cartridge unique to this gun) is lever-action rifle which entered production in 1935, so it is 40 year later.

    • I may be incorrect, but on previously handing the Winchester model 71, it seemed to be just a cheapened 1886 which was easier to fabricate. I believe that Ian is correct in that the Model 1895 was the last (truly new design) lever gun for the big “W” until the Model 88 was birthed.

    • If we’re including re-branded and slightly re-engineered rifles, there’s also the Model 53, 55, and 64.

      And there’s the Model 88, (the lever gun that wants to be a bolt action ^__^).

      And there’s the Model 150, 250, 255, and 9422 .22 rifles.

      From an engineering and production standpoint all the post-1964 Winchesters were re-designed to be cheaper to manufacture as well, with many of those decisions re-thought and modified over time.

      So, yeah, not “the last.” ^__^

  10. On 21 Oct 1914 Canadian Minister of Militia and Defence asked Winchester for a quote on M1895 muskets cal .303″ MkVII with bt and sling and received a reply of $19 plus $5 for bt and sling for 50000. On 28 Oct the M&D ordered 10000 but Winchester replied they were sold out of M1895s til Oct 1915.

    • I believe that TR (Theodore Rex himself) actually carried a Winchester 1895 in 30 US Army while serving with “The Rough Riders” in Cuba. The remainder of the group had the Krag. I have seen US martially market Winchester 1895s, but all were in 30 US Army, 30-40 Krag.

  11. How would a Savage Model 99 with a full stock and bayonet lug compare with the Winchester 1895? No hammer means less flinch time for the user, right?

    SAY SOMETHING!

    • From: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winchester_Model_1895
      The Model 1895 in .30 Army was also entered into an 1896 New York National Guard rifle contract competition, but finished second to the Savage Model 1895 due to the Winchester rifle lacking a magazine cutoff and magazine counter. Winchester strongly disputed the results of the contest, arguing that the competition had been rigged in Savage’s favor, and the ensuing political controversy led to the cancellation of the contract.

  12. BTW, the Winchester Model 1895 was not Winchester’s “last” lever-action rifle design.

    The Model 71, a revised M1886 chambered for .348 WCF, debuted in 1935 and survived in production until 1961.

    And the entirely new-design Model 88, in .308, .358, and .243, was introduced in 1959 and was finally dropped in 1973. Internally and externally, it closely resembled the Sako VL63 Finnwolf.

    cheers

    eon

    • I wouldn’t be surprised if the Sako VL63 was actually inspired by the Winchester 1895’s popularity in Finland as a hunting rifle. Sako has traditionally been (as it is today) a bolt action shop, so making a lever action rifle was kind of surprising. I don’t actually know if that was the case, but it’s a definite possibility.

  13. One can see a lot of use of an ex-Imperial 1895 Winchester musket in the 1975 Akira Kurasawa film “Dersu Uzala”.

    As an aside, I would love love love to come across one of the Canadian contract .303 Winchester 95s.

  14. Showing up to a Cowboy Action Shooting event dressed as a Russian bandito with one of those and a Nagant revolver would probably confuse quite a few people.

  15. I have always hoped that someone would discover a Russian warehouse full of refurbished 1895s. They have been know to make the most of war surplus. However, between the Winter war and the Spanish Civil War, I have a feeling all of these rifles are scattered to the four corners of the globe . But you never know

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