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A brief history of the m/95 Mannlicher

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Posts: 855

(6/7/05 22:28)

Reply A brief history of the m/95 Mannlicher


Copyright 2004 Charles W. Karwan


The M95 Mannlichers


There is no question that Ferdinand Ritter von Mannlicher was one of the greatest arms designers of all time. His straight pull and turn bolt rifle designs were adopted and used by his native Austria as well as Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, China, Turkey, Netherlands, and many others. The German Gewehr 88 8x57mm "Commission Rifle" used a Mannlicher magazine system as did all the Italian Carcanos. Indeed the clip system used in the M1 Garand is just a minor variation on the Mannlicher system.

Mannlicher's most successful and prolific rifle was the M1895 Mannlicher straight pull bolt action that was adopted by Austria, Hungary, and Bulgaria as their primary rifle and remained so throughout World War I and well after. Indeed the M1895 was the most prolific straight pull rifle ever made by a substantial margin. It was also used extensively in World War II by those countries as well as by Italy, Yugoslavia, and Greece as well as some of the smaller eastern European countries..

Most of Mannlicher's early design efforts were in the area of straight pull rifles. Straight pull rifles are bolt actions which are operated simply by pulling the bolt handle straight to the rear to unlock the bolt and eject the fired round. Pushing it straight forward chambers a round and locks the bolt. This is in contrast to a turn bolt action where the bolt must be manually rotated to the left to unlock then pull back to eject, push forward to chamber a round, then rotate the bolt to the right to lock.

The first of these straight pull rifles to be adopted by Austria was the 11mm M1886 Mannlicher, though there was a Model 1885 test rifle that preceded it. The M1886 rifle used a swinging locking block at the rear of the bolt to lock the bolt shut. This was soon followed by the similar M1888 chambered for the 8x50mm R cartridge with a black powder load and then the M1888/90 set up for a smokeless powder version of the same cartridge. The main difference is the sight range markings for the flatter shooting cartridge.

In 1890 Mannlicher designed a shorter more compact straight pull action for carbine use which was adopted by the Austrians. It was also considerably stronger than the older action because it used a rotating bolt head with dual opposing locking lugs. When durability and strength problems developed with the older swinging locking block action the Austrians decided to replace it with the M1890 carbine action for both rifle and carbine use. This was the M1895 Mannlicher that is the subject of this piece. I should also note that the M93 Swiss Mannlicher carbine is basically the M90 action chambered for the 7.5mm Swiss cartridge using a detachable box magazine rather than the Mannlicher magazine.

The M1895 (M95) Mannlicher straight pull (there was also a M1895 Mannlicher turn bolt) was adopted by the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1895 chambered for the same 8x50mm R cartridge used in the M1888/90 Mannlicher straight pull. This cartridge fired a heavy 244 grain round nosed bullet at only 2030 fps. When most of the other major world militaries switched to lighter spitzer (pointed) bullets at higher velocities, Austro-Hungary delayed because of the large quantities of M1888/90 rifles on hand that were not strong enough to tolerate a higher pressure loading even though the M95 could handle such a load.

The M95 was first produced by Steyr in 1895 but by 1897 production also commenced at the Hungarian arsenal (FEG) in Budapest. The location of manufacture is clearly marked on the top of the rifle's receiver. Production was continuous in both locations until the end of World War I. Both arsenals also produced M95 rifles and carbines for Bulgaria. These appear to be identical to the Austro-Hungarian versions except that the top of the forward receiver ring on the Bulgarian rifles sport an extremely attractive lion crest and the place of manufacturer is on the side of the receiver. If a M95 has its original barrel, the date of original manufacture can often be ascertained by inspecting the barrel proof mark which ends with the last two digits of the year of manufacture.

When the M95 was adopted it had a very slim barrel, making it the lightest standard infantry rifle of its time. Its shorter action and bolt travel and straight pull operation also made it one of the fastest bolt action rifles to operate in rapid fire.

The Mannlicher magazine system is also decidedly faster to load than the Mauser stripper clip system since the entire packet of cartridges, clip and all, is inserted into the rifle. In addition, this magazine system handles rimmed cartridges with complete reliability with no danger of the cartridge rims getting interlocked in the magazine and causing a jam as can happen with other bolt actions chambered for rimmed cartridges. There is a button in the front of the trigger guard that will eject the clip and any rounds in the magazine if it is pressed with the bolt open.

The M90 and M95 actions have controlled round feeding with a non-rotating claw extractor, and a strong safe breaching system similar to that of the M98 Mauser. Please note that no Mauser had any of these features before the M90 Mannlicher and no Mauser had all of these features until the Mauser M98. I am quite sure that Mauser copied all of these features from the M90 Mannlicher.

The dual opposed front locking lugs offer similar strength to the Mauser rifle as well. The manual safety is a very simple lever that locks the firing pin when engaged whether the firing pin is cocked or forward. The end of the striker has a pronounced thumb piece that allows easy recocking in case of a misfire.

Soon after adoption of the M95 rifle, a variety of extremely handy M95 carbines were also adopted. These varied primarily in their sling loop locations and bayonet fittings with respect to whether they were intended for issue to cavalry, artillery, or other troops. The sights on all of the M95 variations are of the V-notch rear and barley corn (tapered post) front type. The battle sight zero for the rifle is usually 500 meters making the rifle shoot high at normal ranges. There is a flip up ladder sight for even longer range shooting.

Since Steyr was a major producer of the M98 Mauser for export purposes, by 1914 the Austrians had decided to replace the venerable M95 Mannlicher with a Mauser M98 type rifle chambered for the rimless 7x57mm Mauser round in a high velocity spitzer loading. The primary motivation was not so much dissatisfaction with the M95 but rather the realization that a rimless high velocity round would be better suited for use in the automatic weapons that were then quickly becoming so important in warfare. However, the outbreak of World War I made such a changeover impractical. Consequently, production of the M95 was increased to meet the considerable mobilization requirements of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Bulgarian militaries in World War I.

Interestingly in World War I the Russians captured so many M95 rifles that they issued them to their own troops. Thus M95 Mannlicher rifles and carbines ended up being used by both sides on the eastern front, sometimes in direct opposition to each other.

Basic operation of the M95 is quite simple. Just grasp the bolt handle and pull it straight to the rear. When the bolt body is pulled to the rear a cam rides in a track that causes the bolt head to rotate to unlock thereby allowing the bolt assembly to move to the rear.

When the bolt handle is pushed straight forward the bolt body moves forward until the bolt head contacts the barrel then a cam rides in a track that rotates the bolt head to the locked position. Thus the straight forward and back action is translated automatically into a rotating action for the locking lugs. This is the same way the bolts operate in many self loading weapons with rotating locking lugs such as the AK-47 and the M16.

With the bolt to the rear, insert a loaded clip into the top of the action until it clicks and is retained. Note that the clip will only enter if oriented so that the cartridges are angled to the rear with the top one forward. Pushing the bolt all the way forward will chamber a round and lock the bolt. The trigger pull is of the military two stage type. When the first stage is pulled it automatically locks the bolt body from moving to the rear. This keeps gas from a split case or pierced primer from pushing the bolt body to the rear and thereby causing the locking lugs from unlocking. At the same time if the bolt body is not all the way forward this interlock keeps the striker from being released.

After the round in the chamber is fired and the trigger is released the bolt handle can be pulled directly to the rear which will unlock the bolt head, extract the fired case, and eject it. Then the cycle can be repeated. On chambering the last round, the empty clip is ejected from the bottom of the rifle.

The M95 Mannlicher served the Austro-Hungarian and Bulgarian forces with distinction in World War I and it is difficult to find any significant complaints about the rifle's performance. The troops liked their high rate of fire and the rifles functioned about as reliably as any other rifle in the difficult muddy conditions of the trench warfare thanks to a large extent to the use of high quality ammunition.

The major complaint about the M95 Mannlicher was that the rifle was too long for trench warfare, though the carbines were just fine. The major complaint about the light little carbines was that they kicked too hard. One complaint was that the M95 magazine could not be easily topped up during a pause in the action. With the Mannlicher clip system the shooter had to eject out the clip and rounds in the rifle and insert in a full clip to top up. I am not sure this is all that big of a deal since a trained operator can accomplish the ejection and reload in just a few seconds.

Some criticized the Mannlicher magazine system rifles because they can not function as a repeater unless a clip is present. Actually that never became a problem because all the rifle ammunition was issued preloaded in the necessary clips. Some people also criticized the fact that the bottom of the rifle's action is open to allow the expended clip to be ejected. It is true that dirt can get into the rifle there but it also falls out rather easily and was rarely a problem. All in all the M95 Mannlicher proved to be quite a satisfactory combat rifle.

Production of the M95 ended in Austria and Hungary with the close of World War I. However, as a result of war reparations the Czechs received machinery and parts to build M95s and at least 5000 were built by them in the post WWI period. These are marked on the receiver with the Czech arsenal name and are highly desirable M95 variants. Estimates of total production of the M95 run as high as 6 million for all models by all manufacturers and it could be more. Either as war reparations or as captured weapons, M95 Mannlicher rifles ended up in large quantities in the hands of the Yugoslavs, the Italians, and the Greeks beside the Austrians, Hungarians, and Bulgarians.

The Italians made ammunition for their M95 rifles and issued them well into World War II with many showing up with the Italian forces in North Africa. The Yugoslavs chose to convert many of theirs to shoot the rimless 8x57mm Mauser cartridge. It appears that the conversions were done in Yugoslavia but some may have also been done in Belgium or by Steyr to the same pattern.

Typically these rifles are marked M95/24 or M95M. The conversion work is fairly extensive. It includes a new bolt head, extractor, ejector, and barrel. They have a much handier barrel length of about 24 inches and the stock is cut down to match. The hole in the bottom of the magazine is closed and a permanent internal clip arrangement for the 8x57mm round is installed. The rear receiver ring is milled to take a standard Mauser stripper clip. The result is a pretty neat rifle that does away with most of the criticisms of the original M95. The magazine can be topped up with single rounds, the hole in the magazine is closed from dirt, no clip is needed for the rifle to work as a repeater, the rifle is a handy length, and the 8x57mm round is ballistically very superior to the original 8x50mm R round. Reports that these rifles are not safe to shoot are nonsense.

The Austrians and Hungarians took another path with their M95 rifles. They wanted a ballistically superior round that would give better long range performance in their machine guns and would also allow easy conversion of the 8x50mm R machine guns and M95 rifles that they had on hand in huge quantities. Working together they developed a round designated the 8x56mm R that only required rechambering and sight recalibration. The Austrians designated it the 8mm M30 and the Hungarians designated it the 8mm M31. M95 rifles and carbines converted to this round by Steyr have a large S stamped on the barrel in front of the receiver. Those converted in Hungary have a large H stamped in the same place. It appears that Bulgaria also adopted this cartridge but the conversions of their rifles and carbines seem to all have been done in the Austrian or Hungarian arsenals.

Ballistically the 8x56mm R cartridge launches a 206 grain spitzer boat tail bullet at about 2300 feet per second. Its heavy streamlined bullet really carries a long way. The recoil of this round in one of the light little M95 carbines is pretty stout. Interestingly the 8x56mm R cartridge uses a bullet that is .329 in diameter while the 8x50mm R used a bullet .323 in diameter. In many cases the original barrels were converted indicating they had probably been made oversize in the first place.

While some M95 rifles were converted to 8x65R mm in rifle form, it seems that many more rifles were converted to carbine length at the same time as the caliber conversion, probably for issue to machine gun crews and other non-infantry troops. Most of the M95 Mannlichers on the current surplus market are these 8x56mm R M95 carbines.

The 8x56mm R cartridge probably set a record for the shortest production life of any standard military rifle cartridge. It was adopted circa 1933 and by 1940 the Austrians relegated it to reserve and rear echelon status and the Hungarians did the same by 1943. There was only one rifle that was ever originally chambered for the 8x56mm R round, the Hungarian M35 a turn bolt type Mannlicher. All the rest were conversions from 8x50mm R. In 1940 production of the M35 was changed to the 8x57mm round creating the M98/40 which was used by the German forces and in a slight variation also by the Hungarian forces as the M43. Production of the 8x56mm R ammunition was ended by the middle of the war.

The surplus 8x56mm R ammunition is usually dated in the late 1930s and has a Nazi eagle as part of the headstamp indicating manufacture after the German takeover of Austria. To the best of my knowledge the 8x56mm R round was never manufactured commercially or in any sporting type configuration until just recently.. Indeed it does not appear to have been manufactured at all since World War II until recently.

With the proper dies, ammunition in 8x56mm R can be made fairly easily using boxer primed 7.62x54mm R Russian brass. Accuracy with the common .323 8mm bullets is generally poor but new .329 specialty bullets intended for the cartridge should work well. The 8x50mm R ammunition is still loaded in Austria if you can get it or ammunition can be made from 7.62x54mm R Russian if you have the right dies.

What ever the chambering, the M95 Mannlicher is a far better rifle than most people give it credit for. It was certainly very significant historically. It was always made from first class materials with first class workmanship. It is quite an interesting design that was the only truly successful straight pull bolt action to see significant combat. They are fun to shoot and interesting to collect.




C+R Collector Gun Forums


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Well TL, now you have done it.....


I am gonna have to add a M/95 to the family.


Good work


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ok, i am ready to buy one of these gems... but should i get an austrian or hungarian? is one better machined that the other? my plan is a little open sighted rifle with curved buttplate, horn/ebony tip, open sights, short foreend... like this...


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That's not too dissimilar from what I have planned. I haven't noticed any real difference in quality. But I haven't handled that many either.

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