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Web Blast: The Successful Straight Pull

The Austro-Hungarian Model 1895 Mannlicher

John Sheehan

From The January 2009 Issue Of GUNS Magazine

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The Model 1895 Karabiner, shown here in its later version after the addition
of a bayonet lug and stacking hook shortly before WWI (top). Due to an effective
retrofit program, examples of the original version without these two features
are almost non-existent. The Model 1895 Stutzen (upper middle), The Model
1895 Stutzenkarabiner (lower middle) and Karabinerstutzen (bottom) round
out the short models.

Franz looked back down the cliff, loosening his grip on the rope with his left hand in order to allow a little blood to flow back into his fingers. The rope was taut with his weight and his two companions, Johannes and Rainer, who were following his every move, watching where he placed each foot as they negotiated the path leading to the observation post high in the Alps.

Johannes was struggling with the cliff, the altitude and his equipment. Recruits this green would have never been allowed in an Alpine Regiment before the war. But the war was already 3-years old and the quality of the replacements deteriorated with alarming regularity.

“Concentrate,” Johannes thought to himself! “One mistake and they would be lucky to find his body. No,” he thought, “they won’t even look!” He shifted his weight to the right, banging his M1895 Stutzencarabiner against the side of his rucksack. The extra packets of ammunition stowed in his bread bag didn’t seem like such a good idea now. His equipment and supplies weighed heavily upon his shoulders, the straps digging deeply in spite of his heavy woolen tunic.

He strained to get a good toe-hold to haul himself up the next step when suddenly a shot rang out up above and to his left, the sound bouncing off the face of the cliff and echoing down the canyon. He heard a scream and suddenly felt a loosening of the rope below him. He looked down just in time to see Rainer’s body tumble twice, bouncing off of two rocky outcroppings before disappearing in the mist below. This can’t be happening! He was snapped back to reality as a bullet ripped through his rucksack. The impact spun him around, one hand coming loose as he dangled precariously on the face of the cliff. The sound of the second shot was still reverberating across the peaks when he heard the report of Franz’s carbine.

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The easiest way to identify the various models of the carbine is through the
sling swivel configuration. The Model 1895 Karabinerstutzen (top) is easily
identifiable by the presence of a side mounted sling bar rather than a sling swivel.
This was the last variation produced during the Great War. The Model 1895
(upper middle) Stutzenkarabiner was the first general-purpose carbine with
two sets of swivels which allowed this model to be issued interchangeably to
both mounted troops or infantry. The Model 1895 Stutzen (lower middle)
was issued to specialist ground units who’s function precluded the carrying
of a full-length rifle. The Model 1895 Karabiner (bottom) has side mounted
sling swivels only. This is the version of the M95 originally issued to mounted units.

“Hurry Johannes!” Franz stroked the bolt back and forth, stripping a fresh round from the Mannlicher clip. The straight-pull of the M95 bolt allowed Franz to rapidly get off a second round, driving the Italians to ground.

In response, a ragged fusillade erupted from the Italian patrol across the ravine. They had taken cover in a rocky outcropping. Bullets slapped the granite boulders, sending thousands of tiny rock fragments whizzing through the air in all directions. Franz winced as his face was blasted with a high-velocity cloud of granite splinters and lead fragments. His Alpine goggles saved his eyesight, but did little to protect the exposed skin on his face from the stinging granite. Blood trickled down Franz’s cheek, staining his tunic.

Johannes scrambled up the remaining length of rope, finding no sure footing, pure adrenaline making up the difference. As he reached the edge of the cliff, Franz pulled him safely over the edge. The Italians opened fire, bullets impacting all around them. Could they reach the relative safety of the sandbag barricade?

Three geysers of granite, snow and shrapnel erupted among the Italians. Johannes emptied the last round in his magazine before turning to run towards the safety of the sandbagged OP. Additional shots rang out as two more rifle grenades cut a high arc across the ravine before exploding among the rocks, screams of agony and curses in Italian a testament to the accuracy of the covering fire. Their comrades manning the OP whom they had come to relieve had come to their aid just in time!

The Austro-Hungarian Empire of the Hapsburgs was 296-years old when Arch Duke Ferdinand, the heir to the Dual-Monarchy and his wife were shot to death by Gavrilo Princip while driving through the streets of Sarajevo, Serbia, on June 28, 1914. The Empire had long been in decline, her days of greatness part of a by-gone era. Even so, and in spite of the problems brought on in a polyglot army with more than a dozen different languages spoken among the ranks, the K.u.K. was still a force to be reckoned with. When the Austro-Hungarian Army mobilized in response to the troublesome Serbs, they did so with a modernized uniform and an interesting array of small arms. Their primary issue shoulder arm was the Model 1895 Mannlicher.

Beginning with the French breakthrough of nitro-cellulose power in the early 1880s, the high velocity, high-pressure, small-caliber smokeless powder cartridge swept across Europe. Earlier rifle designs, which utilized the bolt handle base closing against the receiver sidewall to lock the action, were inadequate for the pressures generated by the new smokeless powder cartridges. The actions had to be beefed up substantially to now safely withstand the strain of continued firing. This problem was solved by different designers in different ways. In the case of Austria-Hungary, the resolution led to a very interesting and unique rifle.

The M1895 rifle was designed by Ferdinand Ritter von Mannlicher, one of the most prodigious small arms designers of the latter part of the 19th Century. An unusual weapon, it is one of a handful of designs from this period with a straight-pull action.

In operation, Mannlicher’s dual forward locking lugs in a rotating bolt head engaged two camming surfaces in the receiver that rotated and locked the action closed with the forward motion of the bolt. This design was strong enough for the new Austro-Hungarian smokeless powder cartridge, the M93 8x50mmR. The straight-pull action was theoretically faster to operate than more traditional designs, which required the upward and downward motion of the bolt to lock and unlock the action, however, in actual field service it was discovered the straight pull design lost some of its edge in speed.

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Problems

The action lacked the leverage to execute primary extraction without muscling the bolt backward to gain enough inertia to remove the locking lugs from battery in order to start the bolt rearward. If any combination of circumstances resulted in a stuck cartridge, extraction could only be achieved by hammering the bolt knob to break the tension enough to start the bolt rearward. Many Model 95 Mannlichers seen in the collector’s market today show evidence of hammering on the forward portion of the bolt knob.

Other shortcomings included a very lightweight, thin barrel (by military standards) which heated rapidly during a firefight and shifted the point of impact of the bullet substantially away from the point of aim. Then there was the cut out in the bottom of the magazine well designed to allow the Mannlicher clips to drop out of the bottom of the action as the last round in the clip was chambered. In the muddy, filthy conditions of WWI trench warfare, mud, dirt and debris entered the action through the clip ejection port. It was never really successfully resolved with the Mannlicher design.

The final shortcoming of all Mannlicher designs was the en bloc clip. When first introduced in the Model 1885 Mannlicher, it was a revolutionary system, yet it was forever eclipsed by the simpler and more efficient Mauser “charger” system. The en bloc clips at the heart of the Mannlicher system placed five rounds in a single packet, all of which were pushed downward into the magazine as a single unit. All Austro-Hungarian ammunition came packaged in boxes of 10 rounds in the form of two fully loaded clips per box.

The system’s single greatest drawback is the magazine couldn’t be topped off. If a soldier fired two or three rounds and there was a lull in the action, he had two choices. He could either leave the partially expended clip in the magazine, or he had to remove the clip entirely, the remaining rounds now being loose and replace it with a new one. By the same token, any collection of loose rounds a soldier accumulated had to be loaded into an empty clip before use. If caught without any clips at all, a soldier was suddenly armed with a single shot since the magazine wouldn’t function sans clip.

The Model 1895 Mannlicher was chambered for the M93 8x50mmR cartridge. When first introduced in the Model 1888 Mannlicher rifle, it had a roundnose, steel jacketed, lead-cored bullet over a charge of black powder in Berdan-primed cases. This loading was replaced in 1893 and the new M93 cartridge had a copper-washed cupro-nickel jacketed bullet of 244 grains atop a 42.3-grain charge of a nitro-cellulose smokeless powder. This loading developed 2,030 fps and was the primary load through WWI.

The Model 1895 Mannlicher was produced in five different general configurations for issue to different troop types. These included the Infantriegewehr, the Cavalry Karabiner, the Stutzen, the Stutzenkarabiner and the Karabinerstutzen. Each of the four versions of the M95 were based on the same overall design, the differences being found in the length of the barrel, the stock furniture and the rear sight.

The M1895 Infantriegewehr was 50.1″ in overall length with a 30.1″ barrel, weighing 8.35 pounds with a walnut stock. The barrel, receiver, magazine, triggerguard, barrel bands, front and rear sights were all finished in a deep black oxide finish, while the bolt, receiver tang, bolt-way, buttplate and facing of the sight ladder were finished in the white. Rifles produced from mid 1917 onwards exhibit a poorer quality finish when compared to pre-war and early wartime production. The Infantriegewehr had a stacking hook on the left side of the top barrel band and a bayonet lug underneath the band for mounting the M1895 pattern bayonet.

The M1895 Cavalry Karabiner differs from the Infantriegewehr in terms of overall length, weight and the location of the sling swivels, which were mounted on the left side of the stock wrist and on the left side of the lower barrel band. This configuration combined with the special equipment belt worn by mounted troops allow the carbine to be slung across the back without the bolt digging into the troopers back with the constant bouncing while in the saddle.

The cavalry equipment belt has a special leather strip stitched to the back of the belt to accommodate the carbine stock in combination with the sling. The Karabiner as originally issued lacked both the stacking hook and the bayonet lug found on all of the other versions of the M95. Otherwise, the Karabiner was identical to the rifle in general configuration with the exception of the 19″ barrel and the carbine-pattern rear sight. Later on, just prior to WWI, most of the cavalry carbines were retrofitted with top barrel bands, which included a bayonet lug and a stacking hook. Original unaltered Karabiners are extremely rare today, as the refitting program appears to have been exceptionally thorough.

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A large percentage of the Austro-Hungarian Southern Front stretched across some
of the highest peaks in the Alps. Nearly every European army had some percentage
of specialist trained mountain troops. Most of these soldiers were drafted from
mountainous regions of their homeland, for obvious reasons. This Austro-Hungarian
Alpine trooper appears as he would have in 1917 during the peak of some of the most
hard fought engagements in the “war above the clouds.” Note the baggy knicker-length
climbing trousers and the Alpine woolen hose worn in place of the more common
standard issued puttees. In addition, our soldier carries an Alpine rucksack instead
of the usual hair-covered cowhide Infantry pack. On the left side of his fatigue cap
can be seen the “edelweiss” badge worn by the Austro-Hungarian Alpine units either
on their collar tabs or on their cap. Edelweiss only grows in the highest elevations of
the Alps above the tree line, hence it’s use as a badge for mountain troops.

More Variants

Three other interchangeable variations of the carbine, the Stutzen, the Stutzenkarabiner and the Karabinerstutzen, exist and were issued to specialist troops, including field artillery, machinegun crews, lines of communication units and telegraph units.

The difference between the specialist carbines and the cavalry carbine was to be found in the addition of a bayonet lug and stacking hook on the top barrel band and in the sling swivel configuration. The Stutzen predated WWI and had a single set of sling swivels mounted underneath the bottom barrel band and underneath the butt of the stock in the same manner as on the infantry rifle. The primary difference is found in the rear swivel of the Stutzen, which rotated 45 degrees away to the left side of the stock.

In addition to the swivels found on the Stutzen, the Stutzenkarabiner had a second set of sling swivels mounted on the side of the bottom barrel band and through the side of the stock wrist the same as the cavalry carbine. This allowed the handy carbine to be issued interchangeably between mounted units and specialist troops. The Karabinerstutzen adhered to the same concept with dual sets of swivels, the only difference being the addition of a sling bar on the side of the bottom barrel band rather than a true sling swivel. All three of the specialist carbines had 19″ barrel lengths as per the cavalry carbine.

During WWI, every variation of the carbine became popular with frontline infantry and particularly sturmtruppen formations. First and foremost due to the handier characteristics of a carbine in the confines of the trenches and later on when the hand grenade gradually replaced the rifle as the primary infantry weapon.

With the implementation of sturmtruppen tactics, specialist grenadiers equipped with sacks of grenades “bombed” their way from traverse to traverse and bay to bay in enemy trench systems with carbines slung over their shoulder, accompanied by a team of bayonet-wielding assault troops who rushed in to finish off anyone still alive after the barrage of grenades. This was extremely dangerous work considering the nature of the “game” being played combined with the unpredictable nature of WWI-era hand grenades.

The Model 1895 Mannlicher was a revolutionary rifle when first introduced. However, it was rapidly eclipsed by other superior designs such as the German Gew 98 and the British No.1 Mk III Enfield. The Austro-Hungarian Army actively looked for a design to replace the M95 right up until 1915, but the project was scrapped when it was decided changing weapons mid war would simply place too great a strain on supply and logistics.

The Model 1895 Mannlicher soldiered on through the remainder of the Great War. Despite it’s numerous drawbacks, the Model 95 performed well enough to contribute to the defeat of Russia and Romania and to hold the Italians and other Allies at bay until the house of cards collapsed in 1918. The soldiers who fought with this interesting historical weapon did not complain and used the unique weapon to their advantage through four long years of war.

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A staggering array of bayonets were produced for the Model 1895 Mannlicher
both before and during WWI. Ersatz patterns introduced during the war could
easily be produced in small shops throughout the empire to allow the major
arsenals to concentrate their efforts on the manufacture of firearms. The
terminology used to describe most of the ersatz patterns are modern terms
applied by collectors. To the soldiers of the K.u.K. who were issued these
weapons, a bayonet was either a standard pattern or an ersatz pattern. These
include (clockwise, upper right) Model 1917 ersatz bayonet with metal grip,
Model 1895/88 (original blade of M1888 Mannlicher married to the grip, hilt
and pommel of the M95 bayonet), Model 1895 standard issue, Model 1895 NCO
bayonet with a re-curved quillion and a pommel swivel for the issue bayonet knot,
Model 1895 Hungarian Gendarmerie bayonet, Model 1870 Italian bayonet captured
and converted to fit the M95, Model 1917 ersatz flat stave bayonet, Model 1917
ersatz twist bladed bayonet, Model 1917 ersatz twist grip bayonet.

Markings

All four variations of the Model 1895 Mannlicher exhibit the same markings stamped on top of the receiver over the model designation “M95.” The majority produced by Steyr of Austria are marked as such, while the balance were produced at FGGY (Femaru Fegyver es Gepgyer) in Budapest, Hungary and marked “Budapest.”

Ahead of the receiver, atop the barrel is the Austro-Hungarian acceptance mark, following three formats with slight variation based on issue. “W.n, Eagle, Date” is found on weapons originally issued to the first line units of the Austro-Hungarian Army, the K.u.K. (Kaiserlich und Koniglich). The Wn refers to the acceptance performed in ViennaHungarian Army, the K.u.K. (Kaiserlich und Koniglich). The Wn refers to the acceptance performed in Vienna (Wien in Austrian), the double-headed imperial eagle was the symbol of the Hapsburg Monarchy, followed by the last two numbers of the year the rifle was accepted.

“Lw, Eagle/Date” denotes original acceptance by the Landwehr, the Austrian ready reserve, including veterans of the regular army considered capable of performing frontline service. Landwehr Regiments fought alongside the K.u.K., their effectiveness as a fighting force was almost indistinguishable from their regular army counterparts.

“Bp/Shield/Date” is found on rifles inspected in Budapest and originally issued to the Hungarian Honved. The Honved was the Hungarian equivalent of the Austrian first line reserves, the Landwehr. The Bp is the abbreviation for Budapest while the shield replacing the Hapsburg eagle in the acceptance stamp is the Royal Coat-of-Arms of Hungary.

Double eagles or shields found in place of the single versions of the same device in the acceptance stamp indicates the weapon was accepted during the reign of Emperor Karl I (Karl Franz Joseph), who ascended to the Hapsburg Dual Monarchy following the death of Emperor Franz Joseph on November 21st, 1916. These rifles and carbines will always have an acceptance date of 1917 or 1918 following the double-device.

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This barrel marking “W.n, Eagle, Date” indicates acceptance and issue
to the first line units of the Austro-Hungarian Army, the K.u.K in 1917.

WEB BLAST EXTRA

Historical Photos

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Historical War Photos

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