A reader named Roy sent us a link to a very interesting system for converting bolt action rifles to semiauto function. One of them was sold back in 2009 at auction, and (interestingly) the exact same gun is coming up for sale again in a couple weeks at Rock Island.
The conversion was apparently done by a Swedish engineer named Snabb in 1938, and was intended to be a design that could convert any typical bolt action rifle into self-loader. From Rock Island’s description:
The Snabb was well balanced, simple and rugged design that was intended as a low cost alternative to replacing large stocks of bolt action rifles with new semi-automatics. Though mechanically successful, the higher than anticipated price, coupled with the outbreak of the Second World War, ruined the Snabb’s chances. A long gas trap is fitted to the muzzle, which runs to a gas tube driving an operating rod. The original bolt has been altered to accept this rod, with the handle shortened, a safety screw installed into the firing pin hole, and a dust cover installed on the rear of the receiver, which encloses the bolt and the new mechanisms. An extension has also been installed on the magazine, a safety switch on the right side of the cover, and the trigger mechanism has been fitted with an extended trigger bar and a disconnecting sear for semi-automatic fire.
This description sounds very much like the German Gewehr 41 designs made by Mauser and Walther – a system that works well enough on the square range, but doesn’t hold up very well to combat conditions. At least three Snabb conversions are still floating around – the afore-mentioned 1917 Enfield, one built on a 1903 Springfield rifle (which sold at auction in 2009 for $5500), and one built on an 1893 Mauser which is going up for auction in December.
The 1917 version coming up for sale includes some documentation, which we have compiled into a PDF:
It’s in French, though, and we haven’t yet had a chance to transcribe it into a translation service, so we don’t know what it says. We know the conversion idea didn’t catch on, but clearly someone put some real work into it to have surviving examples of three different types. The ingenuity of the conversion is notable, even if it didn’t create a viable combat rifle. If Snabb had been pitching his idea about 30 years earlier, he might have found some enthusiastic buyers.