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Re: Looking for a Spanish American issue rifle...

Posted by Ernie Brandt on Friday, 5 September 2014, at 5:42 p.m., in response to Looking for a Spanish American issue rifle..., posted by Sean McCarthy on Friday, 5 September 2014, at 4:29 p.m.

Would have been the 1873/84 Springfield "trapdoor" rifle or the newer U.S. Krag-Jorgensen rifle.

From The American Rifleman


By 1890 the United States was lagging behind other industrialized nations in the development of a modern military rifle. Many of these nations had developed—or were in the process of developing—bolt-action, repeating military rifles chambered for “reduced-caliber” smokeless-powder cartridges. By contrast, the standard U.S. service arm at the time was still the single-shot, blackpowder .45-70 Gov’t “Trapdoor Springfield.” In order to address this issue, the U.S. Army Ordnance Board appointed a “Magazine Gun Board” on Nov. 24, 1890 to “consider and recommend a suitable magazine system for rifles and carbines for the military service.”

The Board’s report and recommendations were finalized Aug. 20, 1892, which gave ample time for interested parties to submit examples for consideration. All of the rifles were required to be chambered for a .30-cal. smokeless-powder experimental cartridge developed by Frankford Arsenal. A total of 53 rifles, including the standard service arms from 10 foreign countries, were submitted. The remaining rifles were from various U.S. and foreign inventors or manufacturers.

After the various rifles were thoroughly and exhaustively tested, the consensus was that the bolt-action Danish Krag-Jorgensen had won. The Ordnance Board’s final report stated:“[The] Krag-Jorgensen [is] … vastly superior for use in the United States service to any weapon adapted to single fire loading only,” and urged that the Krag “be adopted forthwith.”

One of the Krag’s salient features was the horizontal box magazine and loading gate on the right side of the action/receiver that enabled it to be loaded and unloaded with the bolt open or closed. Like many of the other repeating military rifles of the era, the Krag was fitted with a magazine cut-off that permitted it to function as a single-loader with the magazine held “in reserve” as required. The bolt locked by means of a single lug at the front. While not the strongest of actions, it was satisfactory given the pressures generated by the .30-cal. smokeless-powder cartridge. Bolt operation was exceptionally smooth, and the Krag soon gained a well-deserved reputation as one of the slickest bolt-action rifles of all time.

With the Ordnance Board’s endorsement, it would seem that the Krag would soon be put into production. As is often the case when dealing with the government, however, politics intervened. The fact that a foreign gun was chosen over the American designs was an unpopular decision with some of the interested parties, and this displeasure was soon voiced to their respective congressional representatives. Surely, it was reasoned, there had to be a home-grown rifle at least as good as the foreign intruder.

Congress mandated that any further development on the Krag be suspended and that a “Board for Testing Magazine Rifles of American Invention” be appointed. The new Board convened on March 1, 1893, and 14 rifles were submitted for testing. After evaluating all 14, none were judged equal or superior to the Krag. The Board’s summary report stated: “[N]o American invention has been recommended,” and the path was finally cleared for the Krag to go into production at Springfield Armory.

U.S. Model 1892 Krag The new rifle was adopted as the “United States Magazine Rifle, Caliber .30, Model of 1892.” The rifle was 49.1 inches in overall length with a 30-inch barrel and weighed about 9.3 pounds without the bayonet or sling. A one-piece cleaning rod was located under the barrel. The cartridge was designated as the “.30-40,” for its .30 cal. and 40 grains of smokeless propellant. The bullet weighed 220 grains, and the muzzle velocity was approximately 2,000 fps. The knife bayonet selected for the U.S. Krag was similar to the one designed for the Swiss Schmidt-Rubin Model 1889 magazine rifle.

The first Model 1892 Krag rifles were completed by Springfield Armory on Jan. 1, 1894, and by October of that year sufficient numbers had been manufactured to permit limited issuance. To troops accustomed to the ponderous single-shot, smoke-belching, blackpowder .45-70 Gov’t Trapdoors, the trim new bolt-action .30-cal. repeating rifle was eagerly received. A cavalry carbine version of the Krag was envisioned, but delays in getting the rifle into production resulted in a carbine being put on hold and, other than two or three prototypes, no Model 1892 Krag carbines were fabricated.

As the new Krag rifles began to see use, a number of deficiencies came to light, requiring minor redesign of some components. One of the most common complaints was the lack of windage adjustment for the rear sight.

U.S. Model 1896 Krag By 1896, there were enough changes made in the original design to warrant a new designation, and the “United States Magazine Rifle, Caliber .30, Model of 1896” was adopted. Although the basic Krag action remained relatively unchanged, there were numerous modifications, including the elimination of the under-barrel cleaning rod in favor of a jointed three-piece rod carried in a buttstock recess, the strengthening of the stock, and an improvement to the rear sight—still lacking windage adjustment, however.

The Model 1896 Krag was also manufactured in a cavalry carbine variant with a 22-inch barrel and a shortened stock (with ring and bar attachment). As was the case with their infantry counterparts, the cavalry troopers armed with single-shot Trapdoor carbines looked forward to receiving the new bolt-action repeating carbines with great anticipation. By May 1896, all regular U.S. Army cavalry units were equipped with Model 1896 Krag carbines.

Both Model 1896 Krag carbines and rifles used identical receivers. Early production receivers were marked with the year of manufacture, “1896,” on the left side along with “U.S./Springfield Armory” and the serial number. As production continued, the receivers were marked “Model 1896,” regardless of the actual year of manufacture. As with the Model 1892 rifle, the stocks were marked with an inspection stamp on the left side that contained the initials of Springfield Armory’s master armorer and the year of production. The Model 1896 carbine rear sights, along with all subsequent Krag carbine sights, were marked “C” (to denote “carbine)” but were otherwise identical to the corresponding rifle sights, except for different range graduations to compensate for the shorter carbine barrels.

Soon after the Krag carbines were in service, they saw some use against the remaining renegade Apaches who still terrorized parts of Arizona and New Mexico throughout the late 1890s. During this period some Krag carbines were also carried by cavalry units patrolling Yellowstone Park to prevent game poaching.

Spanish American War The Krag’s first significant combat use occurred during the Spanish-American War of 1898 when Model 1892 Krag rifles, along with some of the newer Model 1896 rifles and carbines, were used by U.S. troops in Cuba. Because of a shortage of Krags, most of the volunteer units that served in the conflict were armed with the old .45-70 Gov’t Trapdoors. Some of the volunteers noted sardonically that the “regulars,” who were paid to fight, had the new repeating Krags while those who volunteered were stuck with obsolete single-shot guns. Nonetheless, the most famous volunteer outfit of the war, the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry, better known as the “Rough Riders,” was armed with new Model 1896 Krag carbines. It is probable that the political influence of unit’s second-in-command, Lt. Col. Theodore Roosevelt, had something to do with the outfit being armed with the new bolt-action carbines rather than Trapdoors.

While the Krag acquitted itself reasonably well during the war, some deficiencies became apparent when it went up against the Model 1893 Mauser rifles used by the Spanish. The Mauser’s clip-loading capability was markedly superior to the Krag’s magazine design, which had to be loaded with individual cartridges. Also, the Mauser’s stronger bolt-action mechanism enabled it to use higher-velocity cartridges having more power and better performance than the .30-40 Krag.


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