1895 Nagant vs. 1895 Nagant Part 1
The Russian Version of BBs vs. Pellets
By Dennis Adler
I know, all we hear about is Russia, Russia, Russia, but I’m taking about Mother Russia, 19th century Russia and the golden age of firearms, a time when America’s captains of industry and armsmakers courted the Russian Czars and lavished them with presentation pistols. Samuel Colt was among the first with a magnificent Gustav Young engraved and gold inlaid 3rd Model Dragoon and a pair of matching 1851 Navy Model revolvers that he personally presented to Czar Nicholas I in 1853 and 1854. By the end of the 19th century, everyone from Colt to Smith & Wesson had sold arms to Russia, but in 1895 Czar Nicholas II turned to the Nagant Brothers in Belgium and purchased their newest double action revolver to rearm his military.
The first revolvers to be carried in significant numbers by the Imperial Russian Army was a modified Smith & Wesson Model 3, followed by the Second Model Russian Smith & Wesson revolver and Third Model (also manufactured for the Russian military in Germany by Ludwig Loewe and at Russia’s Tula armory). The S&W topbreak models were used until the early 1890s, by which time it was determined (throughout Europe and with Russia following suit) that sidearms should be of a smaller caliber. The current S&W models were chambered in .44 Russian. It was also determined that a military revolver should be a double action, single action design, actually in keeping with British revolvers which had used double action, single action firing systems since the 1870s. Even the U.S. turned away from the legendary .45 Colt Peacemaker models and began fielding .38 caliber Colt double action revolvers by the late 1880s and into the early 20th century.
Leon and Emile Nagant’s proposal to the Russian military was an innovative double action, single action 7-shot revolver chambered in 7.62x38mm (.30 caliber) utilizing their improved gas-seal design. Manufactured at their armory in Liege, Fabrique d’Armes et Leon Nagant, Leon and Emile’s gas seal employed a clever mechanical repositioning of the cylinder, which moved forward and against the forcing cone when the hammer was cocked, thereby completely sealing the cylinder gap. The nose of their 7.62mm cartridge case (the bullet was literally recessed inside the shell case) projected 1.5mm beyond the front of the cylinder chamber, which was far enough back from the forcing cone so as not to impede rotation before the cylinder moved forward into the firing position. This put the nose of the cartridge case into the forcing cone thus making a nearly perfect gas seal. The details of the Nagant’s operation were far more complex than that simple description, and involved the trigger design, cylinder, the pawl and the slot in which it traveled, a vertically-moving wedge block that forced a locking piece against the base of the cartridge to be fired, thereby preventing any rearward movement of the cartridge or the cylinder until after the gun was discharged. Last, there was a spring (compressed when the cylinder moved forward) that pushed the cylinder back to its rest position after the hammer fell and the trigger was released. This freed the cylinder to rotate to the next chamber. The gas seal allowed as much of the gunpowder charge as possible to be channeled behind the 7.62mm bullet giving it a higher velocity.
The Russian Army adopted the Nagant revolver as its standard sidearm in 1895, officially naming it the Revolver Sistemy Nagana obrazets 1895 goda (Nagant system revolver Model 1895). The Nagant was so well received that the patent rights were purchased so the revolvers could be manufactured at Russia’s Tula, Sestroryetsk and Izhevsk arsenals. This proved to be a better outcome for Fabrique d’Armes et Leon Nagant which only manufactured 20,000 Nagant revolvers for the Russian military between 1895 and 1898, after which the Russians built another 180,000 between 1898 and 1902. By the beginning of WWI, production had reached 436,210 Model 1895 revolvers and they remained in use a remarkable half a century, including throughout WWII.
In its time, when horse soldiers were still leading the attacks, the Nagant was regarded as one of the best cavalry handguns in the word. It was both ahead of its time and at the same time, antiquated by its old style loading system compared to the topbreak S&W models already in use by the Russian military, and the swing out cylinder design developed by Colt in 1889. The other factor was having been introduced only a few years before the first practical semiautomatic pistols would come into use. Nevertheless, the Nagant Model 1895 stayed in service and remains one of those classic 19th century handguns that have withstood the test of time. As a CO2 model the Gletcher Nagant version brings all of the guns exceptional features to bear. Gletcher even has a variation of the gas seal concept using the floating forcing cone and corresponding recesses at the front of each cylinder chamber. This is common on most CO2 revolvers but really works with the Nagant design. When the cylinder rotates the floating forcing cone is pushed back by the cylinder and when the gun is cocked it moves forward again into the recess in the face of the chamber, thus creating its own de facto gas seal.
The Gletcher Nagant is probably one of the most historically well thought out air pistols in recent years. A better finish or weathered finish on the black models (the plated models, however, look impressive), real wood grips and some original factory markings on the frame would make these airguns as close to perfect as possible.
In part 2 we will examine the firing mechanism, fit and finish, and field stripping.