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In 1895 for the Tsar’s Imperial Army and Navy, the Russian military establishment adopted the Belgian-designed Nagant M1895 revolver in 7.62x38R, replacing the military’s older Smith & Wesson .44 Russian big-bore break-tops. Despite its relative shortcomings, the Nagant was and is a fascinating design firing an extremely unique cartridge. It soldiered on for decades, far exceeding its mainstream active-duty life. Officially taken out of service in 1953, the firearm continued to see use by postal inspectors and other non-military governmental entities well into the 1980s. Nagants in good enough shape to be salvaged were part of the Soviet’s massive refurbishment program in the years following World War II.
The primary reasons behind the huge postwar overhaul of large, obsolete rifle and revolver stockpiles were the anticipation of an impending WWII, and the plan to call up seasoned veterans in defense of Mother Russia. Already familiar with their old Mosin-Nagant rifles and Nagant revolvers, those veterans would likely have required very little new training and would easily and rapidly reintegrate into the armed forces. With the development of newer semi-automatic rifle and pistol designs that would have required extensive retraining, the issue of quick mobilization became more important. However, time passed and those veterans eventually aged beyond the point of viability. Meanwhile semi-auto and full-auto rifles took over the world’s battlefields. The stocks of long-outdated ordnance morphed from being a military asset to a monetary asset, and the weapons were sold to U.S. importers by the boatload.

Quite a departure from the much larger, S&W-contract, single-action revolvers Russia bought from S&W in the 1870s, the Nagant was an attempt to keep pace with other double-action revolvers being adopted by major military powers at a time when smokeless gunpowder was allowing higher energy figures to be achieved with smaller projectiles. It was also a matter of Russian national pride, a “we made it here” sidearm.

Initially built in two versions, the “soldier’s model” was reportedly a single-action revolver because higher-ups wanted to deliberately slow down the rate of fire of peasant conscripts who were (in the leadership’s estimation) likely to burn up too much ammunition with a weapon that fired rapidly. This model was issued to support personnel and other non-frontline troops who couldn’t carry a rifle in daily duties, such as signal troops, artillery troops, machine-gun crews, engineers, Cossacks (mounted troops) and communication troops. The “officer’s model” was identical to the soldier’s model except for its double-action capability, which was considered more appropriate for the Russian Army and Navy officer corps, who were more disciplined. This officer’s model was also issued to police and special inspectors…

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