Rifle History: The Legendary Mosin-Nagant’s Lesser-known Little Brother

December 8, 2020 Topic: Security Region: Americas Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: GunsWeaponsSoviet UnionRiflesHistoryMosin-Nagant

Rifle History: The Legendary Mosin-Nagant’s Lesser-known Little Brother

The Soviet Union wanted to make the Mosin-Nagant the standard-issue infantry rifle for all Soviet soldiers. It didn’t quite happen.


The Mosin-Nagant’s story begins with the Russian Empire. About a decade before the turn of the nineteenth century, the Russian Empire was quite literally on the hunt for a new service rifle to replace the American-developed Berdan rifle. The rifle was widely produced, and though it benefitted from a rugged, sturdy design and was reasonably accurate, the rifle was significantly hindered by its single-shot design.

The Mosin-Nagant addressed the lack of capacity via a five-shot nondetachable magazine design and was chambered in the 7.62x54mmR cartridge, which some of the Berdans were also chambered in.

Though the Mosin-Nagant was indeed a better option than the Berdan, Soviet weapon designers wanted to incorporate a few improvements to the design. One of the primary shortcomings of the Nagant was overall length. At approximately fifty-one inches long, the rifle was not very maneuverable. When the Nagant’s long spike-style bayonet was attached, length dramatically increased to over five feet, and weight shot up to around ten pounds.

To rectify these issues, a shorter carbine variant was produced—with the intent of replacing the 1891 vintage full-length rifle.

The Lesser-known Carbine

The Nagant carbine, alternatively known as the M44L had several features unique to itself. First and foremost, the rifle had a shortened, nondetachable bayonet that swiveled along a pivot mated to the barrel and locked in place beneath the barrel via a spring-loaded clip. It also used a shortened stock, rather than just a sawed down stock.

Compared to the full-length Nagant’s twenty-nine-inch barrel, the shorter carbine variant’s barrel was a bit shorter, at twenty-four inches, making the M44L somewhat more maneuverable in tighter, urban environments. Despite the improvements, however, the rifle was not destined to be the USSR’s standard-issue weapon, and would only be manufactured in limited numbers.

A Sign of the Times

The German surrender and subsequent end of World War II put the kibosh on M44L development. Rather than further refining the design and issuing it in large numbers, the design—along with the parent Mosin-Nagant—was abandoned. Soviet gunsmiths turned instead to fully-automatic designs, eventually landing on what would become by far the most widely produced rifle in history, the rugged and ubiquitous AK-47.


Though there is no question that postwar Soviet weapons were vastly superior to most of their wartime predecessors, the M44L makes for an interesting case study in addressing the drawbacks caused by an overly-powerful cartridge and rather long and heavy rifle. And, while the Mosin-Nagant and variants are no longer produced, they do pop up in far-flung battlefields today, where they are prized for their simplicity, reliability, and ammunition availability—the 7.62x54mmR cartridge is still produced today. Not bad for a design from 1891.

Caleb Larson is a Defense Writer with the National Interest. He holds a Master of Public Policy and covers U.S. and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.

Image: Wikimedia Commons