Some friends and I own WW2-surplus rifles, specifically, Mosin-Nagant 91/30s and M44s. All of these guns have arsenal stamps and serial numbers. I wanted to find out if anybody knew the best way to discover the history behind them. Should I start with the importer or go directly to the Russian government? Or (as I think) is it rather unlikely that there will be any extant records about them at all?
The importer will have nothing on them and the Russian government couldn’t care less. If you are trying to trace when it was issued to what soldier, you are SOL. You can’t even trace that with military weaponry issued in this country. Just try to get the background of that CMP Garand you just bought. There are books and websites that can tell you what the various markings mean, but that’s about as far as you are going to be able to go.
There are websites that detail which arsenal stamp means what, and if you can find someone who speaks Russian you may be able to call the company, if it still exists, and they might be able to provide you with a bit more information.
But tracking down the comrade who carried your rifle is going to be pretty much impossible. From what I understand, a lot of the M44’s and 91/30’s that have been imported into the US never actually saw combat, and were sitting in crates in warehouses for decades before being sold.
Good luck, keep us posted.
Surplus Rifle it shows arsenal stamps for different rifles.
This page has lots of links for proofs and markings on Mosin-Nagant rifles.
Of course this is only going to tell you about the manufacture info of the rifle, not about where it has been and who used it
I don’t think it’s actually possible to trace the wartime issuance of Russian service firearms, for two reasons:
The Russians were more concerned about actually getting the guns made and shipped to the front than worrying about trvialities like recording serial numbers and where the guns with those serial numbers were going, and
A lot of the records were destroyed, either deliberately or in the course of fighting, during WWII.
For example, no-one knows how many Nagant M1895 revolvers were made, because the Russians destroyed all the records at Tula Arsenal in 1941 when it looked like the Germans were going to capture it. All that’s left is educated guesses based on arsenal markings, years of manufacture, and comparing serial numbers.
It is, however, a very safe bet that any M91/30 or M44 made between 1941 and 1945 was issued and probably saw combat. They were refurbished in the 1950s (look for a marking that looks like a square with a vertical line through the centre), and bought back up to spec before being placed in storage, and after the Wall came down in the '89 they got shipped to the US en masse.
The only clues you’re going to get with regards to issue is if there are Ministry of Interior markings on them (indicating use in the Gulags, amongst other things), “SA” markings (Suomi Army, indicating capture and re-use by the Finns during the Winter War), or things like East German Border Police markings.
M91/30s were also made by Remington and New England Westinghouse at the end of WWI, when Allied troops went into Russia to try and forestall the Revolution, but these are clearly marked as such.
M91/30, M38, and M44 rifles were only made in Russia by the Tula Aresnal and the Izhevsk Arsenal (now Izhmash). Izhmash are still making civillian guns, but no M91/30s or M44s have been made since the late 1960s, as far as anyone can tell.