The Serbian M78/80 Is One Of The Rarest Of Mauser Rifles.
I’ve been a collector almost all of my life. While I have dabbled in a number of different historical periods, my true passion in the field of collecting started on my 8th birthday. My Grandmother accompanied me to the local “Army-Navy” store were I selected a WWI M1917 Brodies helmet. Ten years later, I had the nucleus of a basic WWI US Infantryman’s uniform and equipment. Since then I’ve never looked back. Fifty years and 30 mannequin displays later, I have my own museum.
In 50 years of collecting, I’ve come across some amazingly rare items, however nothing has ever quite matched my One of 110,000. This beautiful rifle put a serious dent in my bank account at the time. Fifteen years later it would be hard to put a price tag on it. The rifle in question is the ultra-rare Serbian Model 1878/80 Mauser-Milovanovich Infantry Rifle.
Finding any of the original Serbian Mausers in their original 7x57mm chambering and configuration is difficult enough, locating any of the early Serbian issue black-powder cartridge weapons ranks right up there with the Holy Grail in Mauser collecting. Acquiring any Model 78/80, regardless of condition, would be worth crowing about, but in this particular case the example in question is in near mint condition, has never been fired and after 129 years, still retains the original matching bayonet serialized to the rifle.
The absolute beauty of this rare, near mint Serbian M1878/80 Mauser Infantry Rifle is readily apparent in this full-length photo, accompanied by the original M1880 yataghan bladed bayonet serialized to the rifle when it was completed in 1883. Serbian troops referred to this rifle as the “Koka” or “Kokinka” based on the nicknames of Major Kosta Milovanovich, whose influence on the design was substantial.
Mauser-Milovanovich Infantry Rifle
Following the Russo-Turkish War, Serbia became an independent Principality. The modernization of the Serbian Army was of paramount importance if Serbia were to maintain their newly won freedom. A poor country, Serbia couldn’t afford to develop their own weapons systems and as such, had to purchase from local or foreign sources. A Commission was formed for the purpose of establishing the criteria for firearms for field trials, prior to acceptance by the Serbian Army.
A total of 40 different designs were submitted for testing. Eventually, the field was narrowed and when the dust settled, the rifle adopted was a design submitted by Mauser based on an upgraded version of the German Model 1871 Infantry Rifle. The head of the Serbian Commission, Major Kosta Milovanovich, was heavily involved in the development of the various improvements featured in the final design, particularly the adoption of the cartridge. He believed the ballistics of the German 11x60mmR could be improved upon and the Major was instrumental in the decision to chamber the new rifle for the 10.15x63mmR cartridge originally chambered in the Norwegian Jarmann.
To maximize the efficiency of the cartridge design, the rifle barrels were cut with the newly developed “wedge” cut rifling. While traditional rifling features lands that are parallel for the entire length of the barrel, the lands of “wedge” rifling taper and become gradually thinner from the chamber to the muzzle. Other design features further differentiate the M78/80 from the German M71, the most noticeable of which is the addition of a raised bolt guide incorporated in the receiver tang.
Like the German M71, the Serbian M78/80 is a bolt-action, single-shot black-powder cartridge rifle. Due to the burning rate of black powder, rifles of this era had extremely long barrels to maximize velocity, particularly with the recently developed bottlenecked brass cartridge case. The 340-grain bullet was paper patched had a diameter of 10.15mm or .411 inches. In the pre-jacketed-bullet era, paper patching lead bullets reduced leading and fouling of the rifling during sustained fire. The overall length of the M78/80 rifle is 51 inches. The 4-groove, wedge rifled barrel is 31.5 inches long.
The sights consist of a barleycorn front sight with a ladder-style rear sight. The battle sight is set at a range of 292 yards, while the maximum range setting with the ladder deployed is 2,700 “steps” which equates to 1,970 yards. These maximum range settings typically found on weapons of this period were intended for use in plunging volley fire directed at large enemy formations or field works, not to engage individual targets. The 340-grain bullet of the 10.15x63mmR centerfire cartridge exited the muzzle at 1,680 fps. When compared with the 1,350 fps velocity of the contemporary US issue .45-70-405 load, the ballistic advantages of the bottlenecked cartridge become obvious.
The rifle weighs 9.9 pounds, and the action is designed with a split receiver bridge. When the bolt is closed and rotated downward, the bolt root abuts the face of the receiver wall in the open bolt way on the right side of the action. This provided the only means of locking the action closed during firing, a common feature adequate with the typical pressures developed by black-powder cartridge ammunition. The bolt lacks any forward lugs at all, but does include a claw style extractor mounted on a rotating ring just behind the bolt head. A Mauser-style flag safety is mounted on the rear of the bolt. A retention ring that prevents the bolt from sliding out of the rear of the action is mounted via a large screw on the right side of the bolt.
The stock is Walnut harvested from forests in the Rhineland. The barreled receiver is married to the stock with screws mounted through the receiver tang and the rear triggerguard flange, through the forward triggerguard flange and the action, along with three barrel bands, the uppermost of which sports a bayonet lug on its right side. Sling swivels are mounted on the underside of the buttstock and on the bottom barrel band, another feature that sets it apart from the German M1871 Mauser from which it was developed. A clearing rod is mounted in a channel under the fore-end of the stock.
The finish of this Model 1878/80 Mauser is still beautiful despite its age, particularly considering the fact that it was manufactured in 1883. The Walnut stock has a beautiful oil finish. The receiver retains the original color case hardening. The stock furniture, i.e. the barrel, sights, barrel bands, sling swivels, trigger, triggerguard, screws, bolt retention ring and buttplate were all finished in a deep, rich, rust-blue achieved through multiple treatments in a steam cabinet. The entire bolt is finished “in the white” as is the clearing rod.
The Model 1880 saber bayonet was designed with a Yataghan blade. This style was a carryover from the age of muzzleloaders where the tip of the blade curves away from the muzzle to reduce the likelihood of spearing your own hand while ramming a bullet or musket ball down the barrel with the bayonet mounted on the rifle. The overall length of the bayonet is 23-7/8 inches with an 18-3/4-inch-long blade. The wooden grips were given an oil finish identical to the rifle stock and the blade, crossguard and pommel are finished “in the white.” The bayonets were serialized on the crossguard to match the number of the rifle with which they were originally issued. Bayonet production was subcontracted to Gebrueder Weyersberg, one of the many manufacturers of high-quality blades in Solingen that produced military weapons as well as civilian cutlery.
The Model 1878/80 Mauser saw combat for the time in during the Serbian-Bulgarian War in 1885. As was the case with all of the black-powder cartridge rifles of this era, they were rapidly replaced with the advent of smokeless powder. The French Mle 1886 Lebel ushered in the age of the small-caliber, high-velocity cartridges chambered in magazine-fed repeating rifles. While Serbia purchased a series of 7x57mm bolt-action rifles designed by Mauser beginning with the Model 1899, the decision was made to convert a percentage of the existing inventory of single-shot Model 1878/80 Mausers to repeating rifles, chambered for the 7x57mm smokeless cartridge. The conversions included the addition of a 5-round magazine that could be loaded with Mauser’s patented chargers or stripper clips as they are generally referred to today.
The Military Institute in Kragujevac, Serbia reworked an estimated 48,493 M1878/80 Mausers to the new configuration. The 7x57mm rifle barrels required for the conversion were purchased from Steyr of Austria. After the conversions were completed, the inventory of remaining unaltered M1878/80 rifles stood at 50,132. Both the new M80/07 conversions as well as the original unaltered single-shot M78/80s, saw extensive frontline service during the Balkan Wars as well as the early years of WWI.
By John Sheehan
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