The Krag in the Pacific: Against Insurrection and Rebellion
American soldiers in the Philippines had a somewhat easier time of it, although they too carried an unfortunate mix of Krags and Springfields. Although the war in the islands ended quickly after the Battle of Manila Bay, troops in the Philippines soon had another war on their hands, this time against Filipino insurgents seeking their independence. American soldiers expecting to fight regular Spanish soldiers instead found themselves fighting a war against native guerrillas. Here, the Krag’s problems were not so noticeable. The Filipinos were not uniformly armed with Mausers, but rather used whatever weapons they could scrounge. The superior training and discipline of the Americans put the Krags to effective use.
As the insurrection went on, Krags became more common since the war with Spain was over and there was no need to divide production between two fronts. On June 10, 1899, the 1st Colorado Regiment took part in an assault on a guerrilla-held position near the rebel-controlled town of Paranque. The attack began at 6:30 am with the regiment massing on the American left. Forming a skirmish line, the Americans initially had hard going through rough terrain until they got within some 800 yards of the Filipino defenses. Under fire, the Americans began their real work. Arthur Johnson, an enlisted man with the regiment who was also a news reporter (the 1st Colorado had two such reporters in its ranks), described the action: “Above the pop and sputter of the Mausers and Remingtons and the loud bang of the Krag-Jorgensens could be heard the shrill commands of the officers. ‘Fire by volleys’ brought the long even music of war which tells on the enemy.” The Colorado soldiers carried the position after a hand-to-hand fight in the trenches.
On December 2, 1899, another correspondent, Richard Little, watched a Krag-carrying American sniper kill rebel General Gregorio del Pilar as he and 60 of his men sought to block a narrow mountain pass. With dramatic prose, Little reported, “Then came the spiteful crack of the Krag rifle and the man on horseback rolled to the ground, and when the troops charging up the mountainside reached him, the boy general of the Filipinos was dead.” The Krag became immortalized in a marching song, a popular ditty that said in part, “Underneath the starry flag, civilize them with a Krag, and return us to our beloved homes.”
Krags were also carried into battle by American troops during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900, when an American force formed part of the Relief Expedition to China to rescue foreign missionaries under siege by the nationalistic Society of the Righteous Harmonious Fists, or Boxers. Some Chinese troops were armed with the Krag’s nemesis, the Mauser, but the expedition nevertheless succeeded.
Replaced by the Springfield Model 1903
Lasting damage to the Krag’s prestige already had been done. Veterans of the Spanish-American War, including Theodore Roosevelt, were now entering politics and demanding that the United States improve its arsenal. A new board convened to find a suitable improvement on the Krag. In the end, the Springfield Model 1903 rifle came into service. An excellent weapon, it would serve the U.S. Army well for decades. It was so close in design to the Mauser that the U.S. government later paid Mauser $200,000 to avoid a lawsuit for patent infringement.
This was not the end of the Krag story, however. Krag rifles continued to serve in reserve units for some time until a sufficient stock of 1903 Springfields was built up. The rifle was also used for training during World War I, when there was a shortage of rifles for frontline use. After the war, the Krags were disposed of, with many being sold as surplus to the public, where they became a popular hunting rifle. Today, Krags are a desirable antique among collectors of military weapons.
The Krag Outside the U.S.
While the American-made Krag is the most famous model, two other nations used the rifle for a much longer period of time. Denmark used the Model 1889 Krag rifle as its standard service rifle up to World War II, chambered for an 8x57mm cartridge. A number of variants were made, including a carbine and a sniper rifle; production totaled about 140,000. When Nazi Germany occupied Denmark in 1940, it took over many of the rifles, which later saw second-line use in the Wehrmacht.
The only other major user of the Krag was Norway, which adopted its own version of the rifle in 1894. Like the Danes, the Norwegians continued to use Krags up to World War II, when Norway was defeated and occupied by the Nazis. The Norwegian model fired a smaller 6.5x55mm round. It differed from the American Krag primarily in the absence of the magazine cutoff. The Germans ordered a number of Krags made for them along with several other Norwegian weapons, but only a few thousand were actually manufactured.
The Krag had only a brief service life in the U.S. Army, and the weapon’s troubled development story rivals that of any modern weapon system. But in American hands, the Krag-Jorgensen rifle served conspicuously in the war that catapulted the United States onto the world stage and gained it valuable overseas holdings in Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam. The notable victories of the Spanish-American War—San Juan and Kettle Hills, Manila Bay, and El Caney—guarantee the Krag a lasting place in American military history.
Originally Published November 13, 2018.