Peace Dividend – Part 4
Before the Tokarev was the standard sidearm of the Soviet armed forces, there was the Nagant. The Nagant M1895 Revolver was a seven-shot revolver designed and produced by Belgian industrialist Léon Nagant (of Mosin-Nagant fame) for the Russian Empire. In addition to military use, Russian (and later Soviet) police used it.
Other Nagant revolver designs were also adopted by police and military services of Sweden (7.5 mm M1887), Norway (M1893), Poland, and Greece (M1895).
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Production began in Belgium, but was soon moved to Russia. While officially replaced by the Tokarev semi-automatic pistol in 1933, the Nagant was still produced and used in great numbers during World War II. It remains in use with some rear-echelon Russian forces.
The Nagant M1895 was a 7-shot design, originally single-action but soon double-action versions were more prevalent. The Nagant used a proprietary cartridge, 7.62x38R, which featured an unusual “gas-seal” system in which the cylinder moved forward when the gun was cocked to close the gap between the cylinder and the barrel, providing a boost to the muzzle velocity of the fired projectile.
The cylinder/barrel gap is gone when the gun is cocked. And look at the size of that firing pin!
The M1895 mechanism has an internal spring inside the cylinder which, as the trigger is pulled the hammer is cocked and turns the cylinder and then moves it forward against the spring’s tension, closing the gap between the cylinder and the barrel.
That spring tension does not help the double-action trigger. Crapgame calls this my “hand-exerciser”, because of the very heavy double-action trigger.
The cartridge, also unique, plays an important part in sealing the gun to the escape of propellant gases. The bullet is deeply seated, entirely within the cartridge case, and the case is slightly reduced in diameter at its mouth. The barrel features a short conical section at its rear; this accepts the mouth of the cartridge, completing the gas seal. By sealing the gap, the velocity of the bullet is supposed to be increased by 50 to 150 ft/s (15 to 45 m/s).
However, success had its price. Nagant revolvers had to be reloaded one cartridge at a time through a loading gate with the need to manually eject each of the used cartridges, making reloading laborious and time-consuming. The Nagant does provide the shooter with an ejector rod to push out the empties. Unlike a Colt or Ruger single-action revolver (with a rod mounted parallel to the barrel), the Nagant’s ejector rod hides inside the axis of the cylinder. You turn the end of the rod, pull it out, and then twist the ring that holds the rod out to aim the rod into the charge-hole.
The Nagant M1895 was made in both single-action and double-action models before and during World War I; they are known colloquially as the “Private’s model” and the “Officer’s model”, respectively. Production of the single-action model seems to have stopped after 1918, with some exceptions, including examples made for target competition. Most single-action revolvers were later converted to double-action, making original single-action revolvers rather rare.
The Nagant’s sealed firing system meant that the Nagant revolver, unlike most other revolvers, could make effective use of a sound suppressor, and suppressors were sometimes fitted to it. During World War II, a small number of Nagant revolvers used by Russian reconnaissance and scout troops were outfitted with a variety of sound suppressor known as the “Bramit device”. Silenced M1895 Nagant revolvers, modified in clandestine workshops, also turned up in the hands of Viet Cong guerrillas during the Vietnam War as assassination weapons. There is an example of a silenced Nagant M1895 in the CIA Museum in Langley, Virginia, USA.
Not sure how the silencer fitted on. And, I am not sure how the standard fixed sights could be used when a silencer was attached. The sights themselves are very close to the bore axis.
In addition to the standard Nagant, there were also target versions made with heavy barrels and adjustable sights. There is considerable variance in the sights, barrel profile/length, and grips of the target versions.
The ammunition can be expensive; lately I have seen the prices drop from $35/box to $25/box. Prvi Partizan ammo: 98gr flat-point jacketed bullet at 738fps (118 ft/lb energy). Fiocchi also makes ammo; it is supposed to be loaded much hotter (a common observation about Fiocchi). Not much recoil with the Prvi Partizan, and while the sights were off a bit, the gun can shoot well in single-action mode.
Some people claim that the Nagant can be fired using the .32 Smith & Wesson Long, and .32 H&R Magnum cartridges, but this practice is not generally advised. The Nagant revolver was not designed to fire these rounds, which have different dimensions and in the case of the .32 H&R Mag, much higher chamber pressures, so the shooter should be aware of the risks before attempting to use them in the revolver.
There is another option. Aftermarket cylinders for .32 can be installed by the shooter, allowing them to safely fire .32 ACP. I ordered one from Century. Removing the cylinder is easy. With the ejector rod withdrawn and rotated to the side, just pull out the axle that holds the cylinder in place. You can then push the cylinder forward a little and pull it out.
With any Soviet-made item, parts interchangeability is hit-or-miss. The cylinder clearly indicated in the ad, and in the instructions, that it might need some minor machining to fit & function in a particular gun. While it mounted on my gun just fine, the movement was balky. I would pull the trigger and it would only come halfway back. Even cocking the gun manually would not fully rotate the cylinder.
I am not a gunsmith, but after examining the gun’s workings with the .32acp cylinder, it seemed like the cylinder was rotating too far which was causing the lockup. While holding the Nagant with a 2-hand (righty) hold, I rested my left thumb lightly against the cylinder to apply some resistance to rotation. That seemed to work; it would function when the trigger was pulled and when I cocked the hammer. I am not sure what gunsmithing would be needed to enact that change permanently. If I solve the issue, I will post an update.
I tested the cylinder with some Prvi Partizan .32acp. Accuracy was not as good as the Nagant ammo, and I noticed some very fine curls of copper shaving on the front of the cylinder. Not sure if that is due to a difference in bullet diameter or a slight misalignment of chamber and bore. It did not impede function.
In all, these are interesting and ingenious guns, especially for a 115-year old design. And you can find them for $150 or less!