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.
Looks more like a completely new rifle, except possibly, for the barrel and receiver…an the sights. doesn’t seem too practical to me.
CB in FL
On the one hand, it clearly wasn’t all that practical because nobody bought it. On the other hand, the barrel and receiver are easily the most difficult parts to make, so using them unaltered (and the bolt body as well) goes a long way towards a cheap conversion. The stock would have to be new, and the piece fitting over the muzzle, but the other new parts look fairly simple as best I can tell.
Being french, I still can tell you what this document is : nothing but an excerpt of a 12/01/1938 dated contract between the to-be Swede A/B SNABB 38 company and the (now defunct) French company SAGEM, primarily known for making tools. The two last pages have been added later, since the A/B SNABB 38 company was then existing since the 12/14/1938. That second part lacks some pages, since the 5th article is not even complete.
He’s right, it’s not a manual at all but a contract.
It looks like an interesting idea if you were buying a kit to convert a single rifle. However, I would question the economics of it for converting national stocks of millions of rifles.
In order to convert millions of rifles:
1) You would to set up a production line, so you would still have that capital and labour expense.
2) Next, you would have to deal with the fact that your existing national stock would probably include multiple versions of your “standard” rifle, which would mean your production line would need to deal with those variations. On top of that, armourers would have made various non-standard repairs over the years, increasing the variation yet more.
3) Rifles would have to be sorted and inspected as they arrived, with the dodgier ones scrapped.
4) You would have to store large numbers of rifles that were of the “wrong model” for your current production set up, as mixed lots of them came in from storage, or (worse) from unit issues. While theoretically a regiment (or other unit) might *supposed* to all have the same rifle, in practice soldiers would glom onto the more “ally” looking models whenever possible (e.g. the SMLE version of the Lee-Enfield, versus the newer ones). That’s assuming that they don’t have a different rifle altogether from what they were supposed to (e.g. a Lee-Enfield rather than a Ross).
5) Worn parts would need to be replaced, as the self-loading mechanism would probably more sensitive to the rifle’s condition than manual operation would be.
6) A lot of older rifles were originally hand fitted and didn’t have interchangeable parts. That means you may have to hand fit your self-loading mechanism on each individual rifle as well.
7) Each finished rifle would need to be inspected and tested to make sure that it worked safely and reliably.
And after all that, you still wouldn’t have new rifles. You would just have re-conditioned old rifles that were now self-loading. The costs of doing all this could escalate quite rapidly and unexpectedly after you got into production. If I was a Minister of Defence, I would be very nervous about signing off on a mass scale retro-fit of this type.
Alternatively, you could just make all new self-loading rifles. Your rifles would all be new and have many years of life ahead of them. They could be designed to use more modern (1930s era) production technology. They would all be the same (when new). The overall financial risk would be much lower as you wouldn’t be dealing with a lot of unknown production inputs. And you would have a much better rifle.
Yep, you are completely correct. In fact, in my readings on the Charlton conversion of Enfields in New Zealand, they ran into every one of these specific issues.
Funny thing, the name Snabb (most likly an old “soldiers-name”, wich often were given according to the caracters traits such as Stark/Strong, Modig/Brave, Stormare/Assaulter ect) means Fast. That could have been a good slogan for selling the gun – “Soldat Snabbs snabbskjutare”/”Fasts Faster rifle”, or something like that.
Anything on the background of how these conversions came to be and how Snabb came to be involved?
Nope…unfortunately I don’t have any information on the development or the inventor.
Oh, didn’t notice you have this posted in two places:
Made the same comment in the other one, but here goes:
Sorry, but you have it a bit backwards here.
“Snabb” is the Swedish word for “fast / quick”, and the French document speaks of a “A/B Snabb 38″. A/B was the common abbreviation for “Aktiebolag” (now it’s usually shortened as “AB”), meaning a stock company, so proper translation would be “Ltd. Quick [conversion] 38″.
It seems this company is represented by Leo Warkol, approaching SAGEM (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SAGEM) about the invention of Per Harry Erik Rehnberg, which would be the conversion kit with the Swedish patent number 6057 and French patent 432 069. As I don’t speak French I can’t say for certain what the rest is about though.
Here are a couple links to the US-patent online:
And finally something where it might be worth digging deeper if you are interested:
When the contined war (as its known at least still in 1948 when my most relevant litterature on the subject were published) approached swedish armed forces needed a semi instead of their M/96 (actually a mauser 1994 small ring).
Since they had hundreds of thousands, not to mention ammo and parts, conversion was the sought solution.
The conversion were to complicated and the army dropped the plans, but the patent for the proposed solution survived.
In 1942 it was time again, but now they issued a competition for an easy to manufacture, reliable rifle in 6,5×55 Swedish Mauser caliber. The competition were open for any person or company to enter.
This was won by a small engineering company and is based on their gaspumps, earlier they had never made weapons. I spoke to a very old man involved in that later project when researching true model year of the M/1942 swedish semi auto. Turns out they designed, got it approved, manufactured and issued within that one year of 1942. Close proximity to a hostile army sure drives creativity and productivity.
If I recall Correctly they built a drop in semi auto bolt for the 1903 Springfield, I read about it in one of the older issues of the NRA magazines. I’ve also seen one at a local gun shop I went on that day and didn’t buy it. About a month goes by and I read the article on it and saw the picture which looked just like what I saw, so I kept reading and found that they were expensive and rare. The one at the gun store was being sold for $150 and when I went to go and buy it I found someone beat me to it, that really broke my heart. You should go and find one to show on forgotten weapons because the gun was cool. If I recall correctly it was re-chambered for a pistol cartage, which for good reason shortened the bolts length of travel.
You are thinking of the Pedersen Device.
Swedish conversion museum photos. Enjoy!
Here’s a Krag as well:
That’s not a Krag conversion; it’s a Brondby rifle…
Ups! Sorry wrong link. Here it is.