M38 Carcano: Best Bolt Rifle of World War Two?

During the 1920s, Italy was concerned about insufficient lethality with their 6.5x52mm cartridge, and began experimenting with larger bore diameters. By the late 1930s they settled on a new 7.35x51mm round, based closely on the existing 6.5mm cartridge case. They also planned to replace the original M91 rifles with a much more compact and more modern short rifle for the infantry. This design was adopted as the M38, and it featured side-mounted sling attachments, a folding bayonet more like a fighting knife than the old sword type, and did away entirely with the long-range adjustable sight, instead opting for a fixed 200m notch.

I submit that this configuration was the ideal one for World War Two, and Italy was the only nation to really adopt a reality-based rifle design. The use of rifles beyond 300m was almost unheard of during the war, and the fixed sight both reduced production overhead and also made the rifles more durable and soldier-proof. It retained the 6-round Mannlicher clip that was fast to load, and both the 7.35mm and 6.5mm cartridges were closer to intermediate cartridges than other contemporaries like the 8×57 and .30-06. The M38 is handy, inexpensive to make, and comfortable to shoot. I think it is a massively under-appreciated rifle.

Thanks to InterOrdnance / Royal Tiger Imports for providing this carbine from their Ethiopian imports for the video!


    • You said it, I call it Dallas rifle. I am still not clear as to what round it was chambered for. Was it 7.35 or 6.5? It is said, that the pristine bullet found on stretcher was of latter caliber.

  1. In comparison to what? I also feel that good and bad military rifle designs become associated with respective performance of the countries military. For example, I also feel that the: French MAS 36 was underappreciated, and little attention is paid to the many Czechoslovakian designs.

    • Coincidentally, Carcano rifles were constructed out of POLDI steel, originating of what became later Czechoslovakia.

    • “(…)feel that good and bad military rifle designs become associated with respective performance of the countries military(…)”
      There is also linked factor: recognizing in post-war culture. This affect more heavier equipment – some examples TIGER tank and PANTHER tank become well-known due to being featured in numerous movies (see Band of Brothers for example), BISMARK is known for its last battle, as portrayed in Sink the Bismarck! and so on. Now try to think about Italian tanks or warships such known to wide public.

  2. So where did the idea that the Carcano was a “crappy” gun come from? I have heard that ALL Carcanos were not even good enough to bring home and wonder ?

    • I look at it as AK of WWI; simple and rugged. There is nothing particularly visually attractive about it.

    • See the above comments on the famous Kennedy mess. People who questioned the possibility of an old surplus rifle doing the final blow would exaggerate the “slow as molasses” operating speed of the bolt cycle. Nobody wanted to believe that the president got nailed by a maniac with an old rifle from a losing country. So how do they want to discredit the thing? Make rumors of Italian rifles exploding or falling apart just because an American punched them. I could be wrong.

      • Cherndog:

        I think I have to disagree with you. When the Warren Commission Report was delivered in 1964, the American people were quite happy to believe the official story that the assassination was carried out by one man who fired three rounds from a Carcano.

        It is only over the subsequent years, as more information has become known to the public, that trust in the Warren Commission’s verdict has declined.

        As a case in point, it is a fact that there is a wound in President Kennedy’s back, and another wound in his throat. For the assassination scenario of the Warren Commission to work, these two wounds have to be made by the same bullet. To this end, the Warren Commission did not show any photographs of the wounds, but instead drawings, made by an artist who himself did not see any photographs. Instead he was given an oral description of where the wounds were.

        The result is that in the Report, the drawing shows a wound in the rear of JFK’s neck. In reality, the wound in his back was six inches below the collar of his suit. It was adjacent to this third thoracic vertebra, that is, three vertebra below his neckline, in his upper chest.

        The doctor who examined this back wound at the autopsy, Pierre Finck USA, said it was on a downward path, and also that his finger only went into it a short way. The doctors could not connect this wound to JFK’s neck wound. They only made that assumption the next day, when they were writing their report.

        So you will see that a bullet fired some 60 feet above JFK, travelling on a downward trajectory, is alleged by the Warren Report to have exited his throat, just above his collar and tie. This is clearly impossible.

        The doctors at the autopsy did find bruising to the top of JFK’s lungs. I would offer the explanation that a bullet hit him in the back and did not exit his body. It is most likely that this is the bullet, CE399, which was found on a gurney at Parkland Hospital and which is called the “magic bullet”. It is slightly deformed, but otherwise in good condition.

        So I find the arguments as to whether the Carcano “could” have fired the three shots which the Warren Report states were fired a bit academic. I don’t think any rifle could have fired a rifle on a downward trajectory into a man’s back, and have it exit out of his throat, higher than its entrance.

        • Sound reasoning. I’d add – 3 shots in 5 seconds! Find me a man who can do that and hit moving target. The test done by J.Ventura was outright entertaining. He was “only” a Seal, right?

          • Before WWII in Italy Carcanos were used for competitions with collapsible targets. Six targets, human sized, at 200m distance (Kennedy was hit at a max. distance of 84m).
            To have hopes to win a match, you had to hit 6 targets in 4.6-4.7 seconds. Someone did it in 4.1-4.2 seconds. 5.5-6 seconds were pretty average.

          • Here we go… a magic. Maybe they used for action goat grease from Friuli 🙂

          • I am always suprised when this “3 shots in 5 seconds” comes. Actually, it is 2 shots in 5 seconds, because the timing starts with the first shot. Considering the extremely mild recoil of the Carcano and its smooth operation (at least mine is), I do not see why it should not be possible for a former Marine using a scope.
            The negative conclusions, based on “Oswald only qualified as a sharphooter” or “neither a Hollywood movie director nor a former Navy SEAL could do it when they tried”, are unconvincing to me.
            This is not to say the official version is the truth. But firing 2 aimed shots in 5 seconds is by no means impossible.

          • Oswald did train as a sniper with the USMC. Bill James, more famous as a baseball statistician, in his book “Popular Crime,” mentions that CBS news hired a ballistics expert to examine the evidence, setting up a target track and shooting position that replicated the Dallas scenario. Their expert made all three hits and beat Oswald’s time. This expert came up with some surprising explanations for the JFK evidence on hand, but I refer you to the book.

            A relation of mine owned one of these in 7.35, purchased over-the-counter for less than $20 from the same Chicago sporting goods store that sold to Oswald a 6.5 by mail order. It was home-sporterized, and I think scoped. I was allowed to handle it and the bolt worked plenty fast. The owner complained he couldn’t hit anything with it but his colleague Mike would borrow it and punch out bull’s-eyes.

            We know from a two-gun match on InRange that Mr. M can shoot a 7.35 accurately enough, though I think the malfunction he suffered resulted from shooting it left-handed. If he can acquire more ammo perhaps he should loan it to Karl for a try.

          • @JPeelen: The Sixth-Floor Museum in Dallas has actually replicated the shot from the Book Depository window. An expert marksman was hired. A platform was constructed at the proper height and distance. Personally, I happen to be in the camp that there was a conspiracy. Nonetheless, the conspiracy theorists often would have us believe Lee Harvey Oswald was a bad shot–he may have been by USMC standards, but I’d bet the worst USMC trained shooter is very, very much better than the typical untrained Joe six-pack. Many would deride the Carcano rifle. Recall from Oliver Stone’s JFK film: “The world’s worst shoulder weapon.” Simply not so.

            Oswald was capable of achieving the shots. The question now is the sequence of the wounds suffered by the two men–POTUS JFK and Governor Connally. It is discussed that the Texas Governor had fragments in his wounds, yet here we have the “magic bullet” completely pristine but for every land and groove from the rifling. Up post, the back and throat wounds to JFK are discussed. I’m not sure why so many erstwhile expert marksmen are on record saying that it was impossible for Oswald to have made the three shots (if three only there were?) “because they couldn’t have done it…?”

          • LDC:

            Lee Harvey Oswald was not a sniper, he qualified with an M1 as a Marine rifleman. However, after he left the USMC in 1959 he is not known to have owned or used a rifle until 1963.

            I find the question of whether the Carcano “could” have fired three rounds in five, six or eight seconds a bit academic. The real question is whether only two rounds, the rounds which hit Kennedy and Connally, could have produced the wounds they exhibited. We know for a fact that one round missed, and we know for a fact that only three used cases were found, so it had to be two rounds which did all the damage.

            Now one bullet was found on a gurney at Parkland Hospital. The two gurneys which had carried the two men had simply been left in the corridor. No-one knows which was which. The Warren Report merely decided it must have been found on Governor Connally’s gurney because that fit in with their theory. I think it is far more likely to have been the bullet which hit JFK in the back, and did not exit.

            In the president’s limousine, the remains of the other bullet, which the Warren Commission determined hit JFK’s head were found. These consisted of the tip of the bullet, and its tail. No middle.

            In the X-ray of JFK’s skull, a shower of fine metal fragments can be seen along the top right of his skull. I find it hard to believe that the centre part of the Carcano bullet fragmented, leaving the tip and tail to be found in the car later.

            I do think that JFK was hit in the right front of his head by a high velocity bullet, which blew a hole out of the back of his head. All the doctors and nurses at Parkland who saw this wound agree it was a large hole in the back right of his head. The two Dallas PD motorcyclists who were behind the car to the left were showered with high velocity bone and brain debris, in a direct line to the grassy knoll, in front and to the right of the car.

            This bullet blew out a section of the rear of JFK’s skull which was found on the grass behind his car, and which has become known as the Harper fragment. It was examined and photographed by doctors in Dallas, and then sent to Washington, where it has been “lost”.

            I am intrigued by recent analyses of the photos of the Harper fragment and the autopsy photograph of the back of JFK’s skull. It is argued that put together, these show that a bullet did hit the back of JFK’s head, low down, and that it was a shot from the rear, as shown by the bevelling in the bone.

            If this is the case, it is possible that this bullet, travelling downwards, may have left JFK’s throat, and hit Governor Connally sitting in front. This bullet broke several of Connally’s ribs and his wrist, and I find it plausible that the two bullet fragments in the car came from this bullet.

            Again, there is no need to disrespect the Carcano, or to argue about Oswald’s skill with a rifle. President Kennedy’s autopsy was rushed and unsatisfactory. But as more information has come out regarding the wounds of Kennedy and Connally, we now know far more than was released with the Warren Report in 1964. I think the wound evidence points to JFK having been hit twice from behind, and once from the front. I think the rifle which hit him and Connally from behind was a 6.5mm Carcano, the rifle which hit him from the front was firing a high velocity bullet which broke up inside his head, leaving the string of metallic fragments, and which blew out the back of his head. Whether Lee Harvey Oswald was the shooter from the School Book Depository is another matter.

        • I once shot a red deer from a high tree stand. Bullet entered in its path to the heart, made a little wound into it and apparently rebounded and left the body through its entrance wound. Up to this day I wonder what happened.

    • Carcani have existed in a post truth universe for around 80 years.

      “Never believe anything, until it has been officially denied”

  3. For curiosity sake, was Carcano rifle/ mosketo (trying to help with pronunciation) is bolt furnished with “primary extraction” feature? We are used to see it on Mauser 98 as part of bridge, which in this design is missing. Maybe I should look into previous videos, unless someone can help me out.

    • Hi Denny,

      The Carcani use Louis Schlegelmilch’s system, with the extraction cams concealed in the small inner collar at the front of the locking lug recess in the receiver ring.

      It’s would be interesting to know how much documentation survives

      My limited understanding is that Mannlicher and Steyr had remonstrated with the German authorities over the use of Mannlicher’s patented bloc clip in the Gew 88 without permission /licence.

      As a result, Steyr had been granted rights to manufacture sell and develop the Gew88 design.

      The Italian commission had tested Gew88 and Mauser 89 rifles, but had rejected both
      But had paid for the use of the en bloc clip and Steyr had granted a licence to manufacture Gew 88s as part of that.

      It seems reasonable (to me) that Carcano had permission to draw upon design features of the Gew88.

      The Extractors are interesting

      And first style extractor went through a tunnel under the right/ bottom locking lug.

      The later pattern extractor is styled like the Mauser ’89, and fits above the locking lug. But with an extended claw to give controlled feeding

      I’m guessing (a complete guess) that the second pattern had waimed for Mauser’s patent to expire

      Interestingly, early style bolts seem to have been brought out of storage and used in later guns.

    • I think the No. 4 is let down by the rimmed 303 cartridge. The P14/M1917 hybrid Mauser-Enfields might arguably be a better action.

      I would say that the aperture sight on the No. 4 is better, and the later-war fixed distance battle sights are a good compromise for manufacturing while still being easier to use.

  4. I remember this being really inexpensive (paper-boy route affordable)in my formative years, thanks to Interarms and others. Opted for the slightly pricier (but not by much) 33/40 in the more available 7.92mm.

  5. “(…)both the 7.35mm and 6.5mm cartridges were closer to intermediate cartridges than other contemporaries like the 8×57 and .30-06.(…)”
    In order to exploit milder recoil you need rifle able to fire in full-auto or at least self-loading. I have doubt if rifle cartridge (in reasonable – as used as common rifle cartridge by military) does affect Rate-of-Fire significantly, but that would need actual testing
    claims that Some of the M38 rifles, issued to the African corps, also were chambered for the German 7.92×57 Mauser ammunition.
    If above does hold true, that would allow to determine if used cartridge significantly influence Rate-of-Fire of same system rifle.
    That being said “true” intermediate cartridge and weapon to fire it was crafted and tested in Kingdom of Italy in inter-war period, namely MOSCHETTO AUTOMATICO PER FANTERIA TIPO TERNI Mod. 1921. see 9th image from top here http://quarryhs.co.uk/Assault.htm
    It used …7.35×32 rimless round, a shortened and necked-out version of the standard 6.5×52, which fired a pointed 8.7g (134.5 grain) bullet at a claimed 600 m/s…
    which lead to interesting question: did it influence later 7,35×51 cartridge as used in M38?
    That being said there was self-loading 7,35×51 cartridge self-loading rifle developed in Kingdom of Italy namely Armaguerra Modello 39 see: https://guns.fandom.com/wiki/Armaguerra_Mod._39
    I am wondering: was 7,35×51 cartridge developed for self-loading rifle, but actual situation forced production of non-self-loading rifle for that cartridge xor it was developed for repeating rifle and self-loading rifle for that cartridge requirement emerged later?

    • I think lighter recoil and lighter ammunition are benefits even in a bolt-action rifle. They can’t be exploited as fully as they can in other actions, but they still offer advantages IMO.

      I’d take this, a 6.5mm Swede, or a 7mm Spanish over an 8mm Kar98K, especially if I had to carry the rifle and the ammo any distance. They make people do that. Barbaric!

      • After cursory search I can’t find following information: what is overall mass of 7,35 x 51 mm cartridge?

        • That’s a really good question. (By which I mean, of course, that I don’t have an answer.) The bullet was 128 grains, which was somewhat lighter than the 154-grain bullet used int he 8mm Mauser of World War II, but that’s not the whole answer. The brass case and powder charge were probably lighter also, but by how much?

          The case for a savings in weight is probably stronger for the 6.5mm Carcano than the 7.35mm, but I don’t know.

          • Grazie!

            Some nasty lookin’ bullets, no? Aluminum in the front and lead in the back…probably for ballistics reasons of the lighter 7.35-mm bullet?

          • You are welcome.
            To lighten the bullet and to displace the center of gravity backward, so that it would have tumbled easier in the body.

    • I think both italy and japan were thinking about having a better machine-gun round when they went to bigger calibers.

    • There is a significant controversy about how the 7.9×57 Carcani came about.

      Whether they were for use in operation Barbarosa or simply for use by people who were well away from the front line.

      Again controversial
      My understanding is, that there is perhaps a single example of an original clip for 7.92

      The position of the claw of the clip retaining catch differsome in the 7.92 rifles.

      I gather that clips for 6.5 and 7.35 can be altered to feed 7.9, but I gather that it’s a lot of work and feed is not very reliable.

      Because of the slight differencein the diameter of the cases, you cannot get six rounds of 7.9 into a 6.5 / 7.35 clip.

      The possibilities of a fair comparison of rate of fire with a 7.9mm gun are very slim.

  6. I have read, (only read w/no back up so I can’t swear to it!!) that the German army in Africa laughed at their Italian buddies’ rifles as pieces of junk. Looking at the German’s Mausers and comparing them, the Italians agreed and moral suffered. Maybe if the Italians were not “gun guys”, they didn’t know how to appreciate the true value of what they had and let the Mauser’s looks deceive them. Who really knows…..just say’n.

    • Metal finish, bluing and walnut stock on some examples of the Carcano, is right up there with the best of German gun making.

      Beech wood was also used for stocks from quite an early date (I’d need to look it up).

      I don’t have enough knowledge to know whether different plants achieved different levels of quality of fit and finish, and whether there is a significant difference between private manufacturers and the state sector arsenals.

    • This is interesting. The comments by German DAK men you mention echoes what foreign observers(on Franco’s side) wrote during the Spanish Civil War: they derided the rifles and carbines used by Italian troops (CTV) in Spain. At least this was the opinion of Portuguese officers; one report I remember described the Carcano as a “crude looking” and “substandard” rifle; the Portuguese were then about to purchase their brand new m/937 Mausers from Germany while starting the conversion of their old Mauser Vergueiros m/904 to Kar98k lenght and 7.92 caliber. The Spanish Nationalists, while always willing to use whatever they could lay their hands on, also scorned the rifles of their Italian allies…
      Of course, the Italians used only 6.5 Carcano rifles and carbines in Spain.
      So, looks can indeed play an important role in the perception of guns, even by professional military guys.

      • Ah the Mauser Vergueiro in its orignal 6.5-mm caliber…. Expensive! In the U.S. one finds the 7,92×57-mm versions and no one can be convinced that the conversion work was done at Fábrica Braço de Prata! Very nice rifle.

        • Yes Dave, the conversion work was done at Braço de Prata (FBP) after the Portuguese decided to do it themselves, using the local workforce instead of paying a very high price for the job abroad. Before the adoption of the 7.92 caliber by Portugal there was some thought about converting a sizeable stock of Mauser-Vergueiros to .303 (around the late 20s/early 30s). The converted m/903-39 is a very nice rifle indeed.

          Original Mauser Vergueiros m/904 are very to hard to find, in any condition. I remember seeing one a few years back in a private collection in Italy. A superb rifle in pristine condition, with almost 100% of stunning DWM blueing still present…

          Btw, the arsenal at Braço de Prata got some of the tooling needed to produce the rifle, but local production plans were shelved after the Portuguese got thousands of SMLEs from their British allies from 1917 onwards.

      • Since the Italian fascists were practically winning the war for them, Franchists didn’t miss an opportunity to underrate their contribution. In reality they accepted even scrap material of the Italian Army.

        • Absolutely true. It also must said that the German contribution, while not so important – quantity-wise – as the Italian one, was also vital for Franco and his Nationalists, especially in what regarded its air compenent, the Condor Legion, and last generation field and AA artillery.

  7. You’ve got to be kidding, I had a pristine one in the 70’s that couldn’t hit a pie plate at 50yds!

    • What diameter bullets were you using?

      6.5mm Carcani need a .268″ diameter bullet.

      Most 6.5mm bullets are .264″ diameter; .002″ under diameter.

      7.35mm bullets need to be around .300″ diameter, not .308″.

      Also, what was your barrel length – had some importer bubba’d a gain twist barrel by cutting it down – so it wasn’t stabilising the bullets?

  8. I think part of the ‘best’ definition has to include manufacturing and resource management. I gather–being no ‘twue’ expert–that the SMLE and No4 both required particularly finicky manufacturing processes. And while the actual guns were fine, there was a less than optimal production rate.

  9. Only it was crude bolt action rifle in an age where semi-autos and machine guns ruled. If anything it was the surrender of the bolt action rifle concepts to the reality that they were not any good anymore. The fact that bolt actions were used in the War to such a great extent was due to most of the major powers not having anything better than bolt actions and as a result a lot of soldiers fought ineffectively and died a lot more than semi-auto wielders.

    • Do you have figures on that? It seems intuitively likely, but I’ve never seen the case made.

      • Research before the 1960s showed that the average conscript could not be relied on in battle to fire his rifle at the enemy. Interestingly, this problem seemed to go away when they got full-automatic capability in Vietnam; instead, they prayed and sprayed. So it seems that most riflemen needed the emotional support of a full-auto stream of fire to face the enemy. A semi-auto rifle was at least a step forward over a bolt-action.

        • Already in 1905, examining the battelfields of the Russo-Japanese war, Władimir Fiodorow (the future designer of the Fiodorov Avtomat) noticed that, in battles fought at short distance, where all rifles should have been adjusted to battlesight, the sights of the rifles left on the ground after the battle were indifferently regulated to all the possible distances, and concluded that conscripts couldn’t be entrusted to properly use adjustable sights.
          He even observed that, in mud and snow, Manlicher actions tended to be more reliable than Mauser actions (the passage of the clips and the bottom hole kept the action cleaner).

          • That is genuinely interesting; and with you naming the man who did the study I have at least a chance of finding more. This kind of informative and referenced comment was common a few years ago on here. It still has informative comments, but references seem less obvious. But there again: this is like the Open University compared to YouTube comments.

            On the other hand, for this video, I skim read a lot of comments and saw not one from a ultra concentrated, conspicuous, conspiracy convert.

        • Those are just the, long since discredited, lies of SLA Marshall. While true hit percentage was likely a problem, the only documentation anywhere- from any military ever- that states any significant number of soldiers didn’t fire (whether study or anecdotal), is the nonsense spouted by “SLAM”. This has prove. To be a lie, his “studies” fabricated, and he himself lied about his combat experience.

          • While it is clear that SLAM boasted of a lot more research than he actually did, it is quite untrue to say that his is the “only documentation anywhere” about soldiers failing to participate in the firefight. Long before, and where SLAM got the idea from, this observation was made by Charles Ardant du Picq in “Tirs à la carabine” in “Études sur le combat”. A few years before the first publication of SLAM’s “Men Against Fire”, Lionel Wigram (“The forgotten father of battle drill”) made a similar observation after witnessing numerous British platoon attacks in Sicily in 1943. Both Ardant du Picq and Wigram were fighting soldiers, and indeed both were killed in action.

    • “…not having anything better than bolt actions and as a result a lot of soldiers fought ineffectively and died a lot more…”

      I cannot disagree more. There is no more accurate individual weapon than manually operated rifle. Losses were due to 1.howitzers, 2.machineguns, 3.poisonous gas, 4.rifles and hand-grenades.

      • Mortars, mine-throwers and similar devices belong to no.1 group. They were the major reapers and maimers.

        • Poison gas in No.3? I hardly think so… And what about WWII? Per the original comment you are responding to, only one nation had a standard-issue semi-auto, and many more designs augmented the arsenals of the other belligerents. Pretty much every combatant nation in WWII went to war with a bolt-action rifle–very many of these quite long in the tooth…

  10. “Unheard of”? Did the Italians not have any battles in the desert or plains? Or were their riflemen able to defer all their long-range fires to excellent GPMGs (Germany) or ubiquitous CAS (USA)?

  11. Counter-intuitive and bold argument… The bit about the sights as they were actually designed is interesting. The average Finn issued one of these resented the gun, and they had a poor reputation… Possibly the absence of adjustable sights? Personally, I’d rather tote one of the Italian M38 Carcanos than any iteration of Mosin-Nagant, but I’m certainly very familiar with the former and not the latter.

    Personally, I think the best bolt-action rifle design of WWII was the MAS Mle. 1936, which edges out all rivals with a fast Mauser-type charger clip loaded magazine, a very simple bolt design–sort of a cock on opening Arisaka–the short throw of the bolt, and the absolute simplicity and robustness of the design. Fewest parts of any comparable service rifle too. Aperture sights.

    If we are to buy Mr. M’Collum’s claims of the unappreciated virtues of the M38 Carcano, then we simply must apply the same argument to the qualities of the Type 99 substitute standard or “last ditch” Arisaka, yes?

    Simple, four-piece bolt, cock on closing, Mauser type magazine fed a rimless version (7.7×58-mm) of Britain’s doughty .303, shorn of all fripperies–including finishing and sanding the stock–made industrially more efficient what with a wooden butt plate simply tacked on with three nails, and a fixed aperture sight. Of course I don’t know offhand what the minimum “point blank” setting for the fixed rear sight was, so perhaps the Italian M38 wins? If the M38 Carcano, then why not the so-called “last ditch” substitute standard Arisaka, eh?

    So there!

    • I meant to say the latter, not the former. I’ve got a ton of Mosin-Nagants and no Carcano, although the Finnish [SA] 7.35-mm has tempted me a time or two!

      Nice observation about the Soviet, Bulgarian, etc. use of a stock groove to differentiate by sight or tactile qualities the 5.45×39-mm Kalashnikov from the 7.62×39-mm versions!

    • The Finnish government requested the sights to be zeroed for 100m instead of 200, so fucking the entire logic of the system (being able to hit a human-sized target from 0 to 300m aiming at the center of mass). Zeroed for 100m, the bullet dropped too much first to raeach 200m, so at normal combat distance.

      • Thanks for the explanation, even with the vulgarity. I should think “negating the entire logic of the system” of the fixed rear sight should suffice without the “f-bomb?” In any case, that is a substantive comment. I had simply thought it was prejudice and a “not invented here” type of rejection. As you know, Italian politico Berlusconi insulted Finnish cuisine and food after a visit there, and so one can go to a pizza chain there and order a “Berlusconi” pizza pie that has rye in the crust, reindeer meat, and chantrelle mushrooms–delicious! Certainly the FIAT fighter planes seemed welcome along with much else…

  12. I own one of these in 6.5mm. It is handy and light. If you must have a bolt action rifle in a modern war where many armies are using semi-autos (plus multiple squad level full autos), this might as well be it.

    The reality is that few if any battles of WW2 were decided based on rifle quality. Tanks, air power, artillery, logistics, MG’s maybe…

  13. Hi I have a carcano model 38 in 8mm Mauser and the history is not so clear about the rifle if you can help me thanks

    • It might be a Volkssturm last ditch modification, although the vast majority of Italian carbines used by the Germans late in WWII had no modifications whatsoever, and were in the original 6.5×52-mm. Germany fought in Italy with Mussolini in the RSI up north, so they were able to systematically loot the peninsula of resources thought important to the Reich.

      Other 7.92×57-mm single-shot conversions of the Carcano were done in Egypt during the Nasser period as low-cost training rifles before soldiers could get hands on the Hakim Ljungman-system 7.92×57-mm semi-auto rifle. Some may have headspace issues, in which case they are unsafe. Recoil will be very stout.


    • What Dave says is basically correct. Having Italian rifles available, the attempt was made to convert them to the German 7.9 mm rifle cartridge. But it failed, because even in the desperate situation these weapons had an unacceptable dispersion.
      This is not a fault of the Carcano design. My own 7.35 mm shoots flawless for a military rifle. But I think the barrel walls simply became too thin when re-boring for 7.9 mm.
      P.S.: “8 mm Mauser” is “fake news”, because Mauser had absolutely nothing to do with the development of this cartridge, which took place in state arsenals, just like .30-06 in the U.S. “7.92” is the Czechoslovak designation, chosen after 1918. In Germany, this caliber was “7.9” mm from 1888 through the end in 1945.

      • I think that this is a bit tendentious? I mean, “8mm Mauser” is simply a non-official name in order to differentiate it from the plethora of 8mm rifle cartridges, no?

        8×50-mmR “Lebel”
        8×50-mmR “Mannlicher”
        8×52-mmR “Mannlicher”
        8×56-mmR “Hungarian”
        7,9×57-mm “Mauser”
        7,9×33-mm “kurzpatrone”
        8×58-mmR “Krag”
        and so on…

        • 8 mm Mauser is the “official” name used by SAAMI, which thereby created a counter-factual connection of Mauser with the development of this cartridge.

          8x57IS is the “official” CIP name, originating in Germany after WW1. Letter I stands for Infantry and S for the larger bullet diameter of the military 7.9 mm S-Patrone (Germany originally used a J instead of I, but that is a story by itself.)
          Designation 7.9×57 and civilian 8x57IS are unique identifications by themselves. I see no need to add the name Mauser, which is historically wrong at that.

          • Again, I don’t think it was a counter-factual to indicate the Mauser firm developed the cartridge, but more like this: Q: “Huh? Which 8-mm rifle cartridge?” A: “The Mauser one…”

    • as to ventura:

      he was a udt stationed in the phillipines, and never set foot (or swam in the waters of) viet nam. such is my understanding. if i am wrong, i beg correction. as to the other aspects of his service, i am absolutely ignorant.

      it is to be understood that the udt was rigorous and dangerous, no doubt about that.

  14. Capsule review: “Italy fielded one of–perhaps ‘the best’–bolt action rifle in WWII, but no one noticed because they had one of the worst LMGs…?”

    • Because to have the best bolt action rifle in WWII was as important as to have the best shoelaces.

  15. Not necessarily the best but “perhaps conceptually the best bolt action rifle”. That excludes the Garand which is head and shoulders above everything in concept end execution.

    Of its competitors the Mosin-Nagants suffer from having an action that was outclassed when it was new. The Kar98K was designed with a strong action though other aspects of it are completely out of date by WW2. The Lee-Enfields are generally excellent, their weak point is the rimmed cartridge which can cause problems even with the correct procedures, the alleged weak action is strong enough in practice. The MAS-36 is well below most others as a design however in concept it has to be up there, it was as uppised to be cheap, simple, and easy to use for conscripts, it achieved all those. The Arisakas Type 99 is good or excellent all round, other bolt action rifles may do some things better but as a conceptual package it’s my pick as the best.

    • Ian is on a path of becoming legend, but some of his reviews still need more research, so best not to rush with conclusions, for now.

      I can’t watch that Hickok, nothing wrong with his knowledge and attitude, but he’s too old for my taste of video visual presentation.

  16. friends:

    if you have access to “bolt actions of the world” by frank de hass, a technical editor for many years w the american rifleman, you will learn that the carcano rifles were basically derived from the 1889 mauser action. de hass also ventures the opinion that the action was sturdy and serviceable. in addition, p.o. ackley, a recognized authority on rifles and ammunition, opines that the carcano was a strong and serviceable action.

    finally, as to the 6.5x51mm round. an elephant hunter by the name of w.d.m. bell used a rifle in 6.5 caliber, almost identical in size and ballistics to the carcano, in a mannlicher rifle to app. 1100 large bull elephants for the ivory trade.

    the rifle and cartridge were fully capable, assuming both were maintained and serviced as any rifle should be, of performing the assassination of president john kennedy. and, marines were trained rifleman in those days, as they are now.

    you can argue many things about president kennedy’s murder, but it is a foolish pastime to argue about the weapon that killed him.

    john jay

    • oops!!

      bell shot app. 1000+ elephants w/ the 7x57mm mauser, using 173 grain solids. he switched to that caliber weapon when the ammunition supply for his 6.5x54mm mannlicher schoenauer, with which he shot “only” several hundred elephants, became problematic. otherwise, he was quite content w/ his 6.5, if sources are to be believed.

  17. Many of the rifles of WWII suffered from the fact that most of the lessons from WWI had been pretty much ignored, and the implications of those lessons set aside. About the only people who really learned anything were the Germans, and their conclusions were that the individual rifleman was so unimportant as to be barely a footnote in their considerations. Which is why they put so much effort into the MG34/42 family, and emphasized machine guns and mortars.

    The rest of mad crew stumbled onward, still worshiping the gods of the known distance range and the individual rifleman. Which is why we have the spectacle of the US adopting the first semi-automatic rifle for individual riflemen in a caliber that quite frankly, was obsolete before it was adopted. Had they plumped their money down on a Garand in something like the 6.5 Swede, packaged up an upside-down BAR with a pistol grip and a decent tripod, we’d have likely kept using those until Vietnam, maybe further.

    Everywhere in the world, there was utter denial and deliberate ignorance. The Italians did what they did not out of a recognition of reality, but because they had crap for money and resources. I defy anyone to show me the Italian doctrinal papers and manuals that spelled out the rationale Ian lays out for the M38 Carcano. I seriously doubt that such paperwork exists, and if it does, I doubt that there’s a lick of serious logic or reasoning to it. The fact is, nobody got it right, and the only people that really come out of it all looking even halfway responsible were the Germans.

    The premise is nuts, TBH. The M38 didn’t spring forth from some wellspring of rationality and clear thought, it stemmed from about the same sort of insanity that the M16 did, and it’s only accidental that the whole thing worked as well as it did.

    Someone show me the translated documents, I’ll change my mind. Until then, I think the M38 is actually more the Italian M16 than anything else. If it isn’t, someone please explain to me the adoption of the M1 Garand and the later BM59, both of which represent over-powered irrationality at its finest.

    • After WWI the Italians too recognised that the bolt action infantry rifle was practically useless, the “Battaglione Nuovo Tipo” (new type batallion) realised by the Central Infantry School of Civitavecchia in 1922 was so structured.
      five companies:
      – General Staff Company of 310 men on four platoons: mixed platoon, diggers, explorers and comunications.
      – Three small arms companies of 150 men each on four platoons: mixed platoon, three small arms platoons. Each small arms platoon out of 42 men had two squads of twenty men and a light machine gun for squad. The squad consisted of a non-commissioned commanding officer, an assistant commander, seven machine-gunners and eleven “musketeers” (it had been intentionally avoided to call them “riflemen” because at the same time it was expected to equip all of them with “automatic muskets”, and infact the Arsenal of Terni was experimenting the Terni 1921).
      – Heavy weapons company of 210 men on four machine gun platoons, a mixed platoon, a platoon of mm.37 cannons on four squads with one cannon each. Each machine gun platoon was equipped with two heavy machine guns.

      So, under the 1922 regulation, a 970 men batallion had 18 light machineguns, 8 heavy machineguns and four 37mm guns. Of the men in first line, 1/3 were directly serving a machinegun and it was well known at that point that, once in action, the men tended to gather around the machinegun. http://www.14-18.it/getImage.php?id=305&w=800&h=600&c=0&co=1&f=0&t=0&.jpg

      This regulation had been worsened in 1928, when the LMGs had been taken out of the infantry squads (whose members had been called “riflemen” again) and formed a dedicated squad in the platoon. Their place in the infantry squads had been taken first by the (short lived) 1928 Carcano TS with grenade launcher and then by the Brixia mortar.

      As for the rationale of the M38 rifle, it was largely explained even in newsreels. Yes, after the attempts to adopt a semiauto rifle in 1921 and 1930 it was a second best, but simply there wasn’t the money to equip all the army with semiauto rifles. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PJmyugxzppM

      • Thank you very much! Wasn’t the Terni M 1921 the moschetto automatico developed under Raimondo Foa, a select fire carbine chambered for a true intermediate round, the 7.35×32? Despite the ankward feeding system, I think Foa was on to something with that carbine/cartridge combo.

        • There were two proposed versions of the Terni 1921. A semiauto only with prismatic detachable magazine, that would have been the infantry rifle (“senza la raffica”, “without burst” https://ic.pics.livejournal.com/raigap/40496274/928974/928974_original.jpg ) and a full auto version, that would have been the LMG with a “strip-feed box” magazine, similar to that of the Fiat-Revelli 1914 ( https://ic.pics.livejournal.com/raigap/40496274/929057/929057_original.jpg ).
          Other than the economic reasons to have infantry rifle and LMG sharing most components, under the “Battaglione Nuovo Tipo” regulation, LMG gunners should have moved along with the riflemen, so there was an advantage in adopting an LMG having about the same weight of the infantry rifle. At the same time, the low-placed detachable magazine was not considered apt for firing in prone position, that’s why the LMG version had the weird “multiple column” magazine.
          The rifle was tested along two SMGs in 9mm Glisenti and the “Roma 1922” rifle (made by the Roma Arsenal. Similar to the Terni, and using a shortened Carcano case as well, but in 6.5mm). The Terni 1921 was considered to be the only viable one, but at that point the traditionalists in the Army begun their work. Especially the LMG version was criticised for “summing up the defects of the single shot rifle and those of the machinegun, instead of their strenght” (obviously, without a quick exchange barrel, or any form of cooling, it would have overheated quickly) and obviously there were concerns about the round being too anemic.
          The critics gained the upper hand, and the 1928 regulation, grouping the LMGs in a dedicated squad in the platoon, allowed to use heavier “10kg class” LMGs with quick exchange barrel in a full blown cartridge, and the subsequent attempt to select a semiauto rifle (the one “won” by the Scotti Mod.X) was for a rifle in 6.5 Carcano.
          Power-wise the proposed cartridges for the Terni 1921 were mid way between the .30 Carbine and the .300 Blackout. So short of a 7.62X39, but good for the job to me.

          • Dogwalker, thanks for clearing it up for me. I remembered only the full auto version, that’s why I mentioned the “strip-feed” box magazine! The traditionalists in the Army had some points regarding the LMG version though, as it must have been too light for the intended role. After all, it was just a full auto version of the semiauto version with detachable magazine.

            As for the cartridge tested in the Terni 1921, I fully agree with you. It was well within true intermediate round territory and adequate for the intended purpose, as you wrote.

    • 1. The original John Cantius Garand rifle design was 10-shot any-side-up en block clip fed in .276 Pedersen, recall. Incompatibility with the machine guns in .30-06 killed the .276. The redesign was bigger, heavier, and an 8-shot, clip-fed, air-cooled, shoulder-fired weapon. Since most troops in the combined arms mechanized infantry would be ammo bearers, this presented a problem, which was “solved” after a fashion by the U.S. carbine cal. .30 M1.

      2. The American Civil War was ignored by the Europeans. Already defensive field works had sprung up anyplace the armies remained in relatively close contact. Strategy called for bold offensives and taking control of areas with roads, rivers, rail-roads, etc. but tactically it would seem that most battles favored the defenders. World War I on the Western Front turned into a siege of one army versus the other. An attacker moved beyond his effective logistics–the “Etappen schweine” in the German Army–while the defender could relatively remain closer to the enormous logistics bases just out of artillery range. Witness the fate of the German army in the March 1918 Kaiserschlacht.

      3. Does it ever occur to the fans of various German tactical innovations, for example, their superb MG34/42 general purpose machine guns, or, for that matter, the Tiger tank, that these weapon systems would seem to be excellent defensive weapons? The MG42s six spare barrels and enormous quantities of ammo, for example. As the Reich shrank back to various defensive lines, the Westwall being a more expensive and elaborate Sigfriedstellung/ Hindenburg line of sorts, and the demented corporal-cum-messianic-führer declared this city and that a frontline “festung” fortress city, the breakthroughs in German engineering look decidedly defensive rather than offensive.

      4. The M1 Garand and the BM59 were developed because Italy was in Nato. It’s not that deep, really. .30-06 was the de facto Nato standard, and later 7.62×51-mm was. Note that the Italian army adopted the MG42 as the MG3. The camouflage uniforms–the very first–developed in the 1920s, the telo mimetico continued in service for quite some time. So too the steel helmet. So too the hand grenades. M1 carbines and Beretta moschetti, check and check. A manually operated bolt-action rifle did not, by and large, persist long in Nato use–UK and France excepted one supposes.

      Greece used the M1 Garand for conscripts, and the “over-powered irrationality” of the G3. Germany stuck with the G3 for a long, long time. Iam McCollum’s episodes about the Nato cartridge caliber controversy apply here.

    • “(…)About the only people who really learned anything were the Germans, and their conclusions were that the individual rifleman was so unimportant as to be barely a footnote in their considerations. Which is why they put so much effort into the MG34/42 family, and emphasized machine guns and mortars.(…)”
      I want to add that following Great War size of German was limited. This mean they could not train new men every year like for example France. This promoted, lets call it “inflatable” organization – to be easily grown used new man without requiring long training.

  18. IMHO There is no mystery here. It is enough to recall that in Italy there were heavy machine-gun battalions. Which, although supported the actions of infantry units, were an independent unit. Therefore, they could have weapons for other ammunition without any problems.
    The Italians are just one of the few who made the right conclusions, as for the rifle, from the Great War. They realized that the infantryman does not need weapons firing a powerful “machine gun” cartridge. Since he still has a weak chance of hitting to the target beyond 200-300 yards. A long rifle is useless in various constructions, and a powerful cartridge means heavy recoil.
    First they made a beautiful (mostly) carbine. Compact and lightweight. With a simple “short” sight and a lightweight bayonet. Under the same cartridge they take a light machine gun to directly support the infantry.
    In fact, a fairly progressive system. They were 20 years earlier, until it became clear that the main violin was with a machine gun, but not with a rifle. 😉
    To simplify and reduce the cost, carbines were made by shortening rifles. But it turned out that most of the rifles that were in the service have worn trunks. This, along with progressive rifling, destroyed accuracy.
    It became clear that we needed new grooves. In addition, complaints of insufficient stopping power of 6.5 mm rifle bullets were common. The bullet was copied from the English one. The new cartridge itself has a power and recoil momentum of about 7.62×39, which is good for an infantryman with a carbine. On the manufacture of a new barrel again saved money.
    Something like this new caliber appeared.
    And the Second World War prevented the complete spinning of the new system.

    • Very interesting. Thanks. I might add that much is written in English about the German and even Austro-Hungariak Stoßtruppen and the invention of fire and movement from Oskar Hutier and so on in WWI, while French infantry and Italian post-Caporetto Arditi tactics are largely ignored.

  19. I have to wonder whether the Regio Esercito would have had better luck improving the hitting power of 6.5mm Carcano by simply designing a spitzer bullet in 6.5mm. Other nations’ 6.5mm bullets do not seem to have acquired any special reputation for impuissance, and indeed the Japanese 6.5mm was renowned for its wounding power. I continue to be astonished by how long the Italians persisted with round-nosed rifle bullets; as far as I can make out, they are the only nation to have introduced an LMG before standardizing spitzer bullets.

  20. Ian,
    You recommend the M38 Carcano Carbine in 7.35×51 Carcano as a good choice for the best WWII carbine.
    I agree that the M38 has many virtues; may I suggest the Arisaka Type 38 Carbine as a competitor for the best carbine?
    Let’s compare the two.
    T38 Arisaka Carbine overall length is 2.0 inches longer with a barrel length 1.2 inches longer than the M38 Carcano Carbine.
    The T38 Arisaka Carbine weighs 11.6 ounces or .73 pounds more than the M38 Carcano Carbine.
    The 6.5x50SR Japanese cartridge velocity is 20 fps faster with a greater ballistic energy 204 ft lbs. than the T38 7.35×51 Carcano.
    With both zeroed at 200 yards, the trajectory at 100 yards are within .1 inch of each other.
    The size, weight and performance seem pretty close between the two carbines.
    The Japanese version of the M91 Carcano rifle, the Beretta Fucile Tipo I per L’esportazione, or Japanese Type I has a smooth action, is accurate and reliable and has light recoil. It uses five round clips and can be topped off by dropping a round into the chamber. If the Type I came in both rifle and carbine versions, I would happily use a carbine.
    But the Type I does not have a carbine, so let’s compare the Arisaka T 38 Carbine and the Carcano M 38 Carbine.
    Action: The action is a marvel of design and production and the strongest bolt action of WWII.
    Gas escape vents: The top of the action, just above where the bolt locks into battery, has two gas escape vents, not out the back of the bolt, into the shooter’s face as on the M38.
    Bolt: I can field strip the bolt in three seconds, clean it and have it back in the action in less than a minute. I do not know whether or not the M38 rises to this standard.
    Sight: flip-up ladder sight, shorter than the rifle, marked to “20,” 2000 meters, ahead of the action as compared to the fixed M38 sight. Both sights have a notch and sit on the receiver at the same place.
    Stock furniture: The Arisaka barrel has much better protection than that of the Carcano. The T38 carbine has stock furniture protecting the top and bottom of the barrel instead of a bayonet resembling the resting bar of the MP38/MP40 below and nothing on top.
    Barrel: The accuracy and durability of the barrel comes from chrome lined polygonal rifling. The M38 has constant right hand 10 inch twist rifling.
    Safety: The Arisaka safety knob on the end of the action goes on and off with a palm strike, quick, robust and secure. The M38 safety requires the thumb to safe the carbine.
    Loading: The Mannlicher clip detachable type magazine works much faster than the Arisaka enclosed magazine. The downside of the Mannlicher magazine system appears when missing the clips. The M38 becomes a single shot rifle; the Arisaka can take a full five round load. To shoot the M38 single shot, the cartridge has to be inserted into the bolt head after the bolt is removed. It has to be snapped snugly in the bolt or it will come out when inserting the bolt into the action. That makes for a slow single shot rifle.
    Evaluation: Each carbine has about the same form, weight, caliber effectiveness, accuracy and usefulness at 200 years/meters.
    The Arisaka T38 has a stronger action and better barrel protection.
    The Carcano M38 reloading ergonomics are far better using the Mannlicher clips than the T38. When the clips are gone, the M38 becomes a single shot rifle. I suspect that the Italian designers attached the bayonet to the barrel to make the rifle into a single shot lance without the Mannlicher clips.
    Results: The Carcano M38 and the Arisaka T38 are about equal in all variables except the loading system. With the Mannlicher clips, the M38 has the edge. Without the Mannlicher clips, the M38 becomes a lance. Without its clips, the Arisaka continues to function as a useful weapon.
    Conclusion: If you like lances, go with the Carcano; if not, the Arisaka.

  21. Dogwalker,
    What a good catch!
    This reveals to me my bias in regard to a service weapon and its ammo. The bias comes from handling most of the primary weapons of WWII/Korean War. Different weapons used standard service rounds with different loading systems, for example .30-06/7.62×63mm ammo for the eight round enblock clip for the M1 Garand to the belts of the M1919.
    With a unique cartridge for the M38, why not only issue the ammo in the Mannlicher clip for the carbine? Makes sense to me and thank you for drawing my attention to their elegant solution.

  22. As a military historian, I get annoyed when a email feature or TV program of the “great weapons” or “guns that won the war” kind comes on and invariably praises the Mauser ’98 or Carcano as the greatest bolt-action rifle in history. In these programs, they almost invariably, for an obscure reason, ignore the truly greatest bolt-action rifle in history, the British Lee-Enfield. Forgive me if I rant; military historians tend to do that, especially when they have actually worn a uniform and are in their 80s.

    The Lee–Enfield is a bolt-action, magazine-fed repeating rifle that served as the main firearm of the military forces of the British Empire and Commonwealth during the first half of the 20th century, and was the British Army’s standard rifle from its official adoption in 1895 until 1957 (by which time the Mauser had been a museum piece for 15 years).
    It features a ten-round, detachable box magazine, loaded with the .303 inch (8.3mm) British cartridge manually from the top, either one round at a time or by means of five-round chargers. When it was introduced with the rifle’s first appearance in 1895, it was almost unique among military rifles. The Lee-Enfield was the standard issue weapon to rifle companies of the British Army, colonial armies (such as India and parts of Africa), and other Commonwealth nations (such as Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Canada) in both the First and Second World Wars. Although officially replaced in the UK with the L1A1 SLR [Self-Loading Rifle, British description of semi-automatic] in 1957, it remained in widespread British service until the early/mid-1960s and the L42A1 sniper variant remained in service until the 1990s. As a standard-issue infantry rifle, it is still found in service in the armed forces of some Commonwealth nations, notably with the Bangladesh Police, which makes it the second longest-serving military bolt-action rifle still in official service. Total production of all Lee–Enfields is estimated at over 17 million.
    The Lee–Enfield takes its name from the designer of the rifle’s crucial bolt system—James Paris Lee—and the factory in which it was designed, the Royal Arms Factory in Enfield, near London.
    The bolt has a relatively short throw and features rear-mounted lugs (on most contemporary rifles they are front-mounted), and the operating handle places the bolt knob just rearwards of the trigger at a favorable ergonomic position close to the operator’s hand. The designers used helical locking lugs to allow for chambering imperfect or dirty ammunition and so that the closing cam action is distributed over the entire mating faces of both bolt and receiver lugs. This is one reason the bolt action and closure feels so smooth and rapid, especially in comparison with, for example, the clunky Mauser. The rifle was equipped with a detachable sheet-steel, 10-round, double-column magazine, a very modern development in its day. To further facilitate rapid aimed fire, the rifle can be cycled by most riflemen without loss of sight picture – i.e. keeping the target very close to the foresight.
    These design features facilitate rapid cycling and fire compared to other bolt-action designs like the Mauser. The Lee bolt-action and 10-round magazine capacity enabled a well-trained rifleman to perform the “mad minute” – firing 30 aimed rounds in 60 seconds (which, remember, includes reloading the magazine twice), making the Lee–Enfield the fastest military bolt-action rifle of the day. The world record for aimed fire by any bolt-action rifle was set in 1914 by a musketry instructor in the British Army—Sergeant Frank Snoxell—who used his Lee-Enfield to place 38 rounds into a 24inch target in 60 seconds, a record for bolt-action rifles never surpassed.

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