Nagant Target revolvers and .22s

Nagant target revolvers

The Nagant gas seal system for revolvers lends itself well for target use. Most revolvers have the problem of precisely lining up the chamber of the cylinder with the bore of the barrel. When a cartridge is fired, the bullet must cross the gap between the cylinder and the barrel. When the bullet reaches the barrel, it is captured in a forcing cone, which guides the bullet into the barrel where the grooves of the rifling grab it, and guide it down the barrel. If the alignment of the bore of the cylinder and the barrel is not perfect, the bullet can be slightly “shaved” or deformed in the cone and will not fly true. This weakness of the design of the revolver is why automatic and single shot pistols are usually more accurate than revolvers.

Automatics, on the other hand, put the cartridge in the chamber, but the extra motion of unlocking the system and capturing energy to reload the pistol can cause some inaccuracy. A single shot just shoots the bullet and is by far the most inherently accurate system, but a rate of fire that is measured in tens of seconds per round doesn’t lend itself well to some forms of rapid fire competition.

A.A.Smirnskii Text 1
Fellow of the HTK AU A.A. Smirnskii (Член НКТА АУ А.А. Смирнский)

The Nagant gas seal system moves the cylinder of the revolver forward to lock the face of the cylinder securely with the stub of the barrel and in the process the front of the cartridge case is pushed into the opening of the bore of the barrel. Since the mouth of the cartridge case is in the bore of the barrel as the cartridge is fired, just like an automatic or a single shot pistol, there is no travel across a gap between the cylinder and the barrel or chance to damage the bullet. Alignment is assured to be 100% correct. There is no uneven leakage of gas from a gap between the cylinder face and the barrel because the gap is completely closed by the cartridge case. There is no extra motion of the system to cause vibration or inaccuracy. The rate of fire in single action is as fast as a skilled shooter can cock the hammer. The gas seal revolver is an excellent compromise in events that require multiple shots fired in a relatively short period with extreme accuracy.

For these reasons the Nagant M1895 revolver and its descendants continue to be used to this day, not as a service revolver but as at sport or target revolver. The Nagant revolver had been used as a target revolver before the First World War, by using it in single action fire for competition in center fire (large bore) competition events. There had been plans to improve it, but its stability and accuracy were satisfactory for the time and the modifications were never carried out during that period.

After the conclusion of the Civil War the new Soviet government set about improving the weapons used to arm the Workers and Peasants Red Army (RKKA) and to develop and supply it with new models of weapons. A competition to develop a self loading pistol was declared and, from the experiences gained in the First World War and the Civil War, the government also took over the rework and modernization of the existing weapons on hand, including the revolver. Active participation in this work was carried out by a member of the Scientific – technical committee (Научно-технический комитет НТК) of the Artillery directive (Артиллерийское управление АУ ) A.A. Smirnskii (А.А. Смирнский)

Sight on a Belgain Contract revolver
The original Belgian Nagant front sight. The Russians changed it to a simple half moon sight when they started production at Tula in 1898 because it was easier to manufacture and didn’t damage the holster when the revolver was withdrawn.

Smirnskii was a famous athlete and in1913 he established a world record shooting small bore rifles at a distance of 50 meters, scoring 194 points out of 200 possible. In 1925 under his leadership tests were carried out to determine the optimum shapes for the front sight and the rear sight cutout of the Nagant revolver. Revolvers were tested with various front sight shapes: the notched half round front sight of the Belgian model (like the revolvers supplied by Nagant under the military contract in 1896-98), a notched sight with straight 1.25 mm blade and a straight sided blade with a thickness of 2mm. Revolvers with rear sight cut outs of various shapes were also tested: the standard ‘V’ shape, semicircular with a width of 2mm and square shaped cutout with a width of 2mm were all evaluated. Examples of these are shown later in this article.

Results of these tests showed that the best results were achieved when shooting revolvers with the front sight blade shaped like the original Belgian models and a half round rear sight notch. Shooting, during the course of the tests, also revealed that the thin gap between the side of the square front sight and a square rear sight groove severely fatigued the eye during sighting.

As a result of these tests a test batch of 1000 revolvers was ordered from the Tula Factory. These revolvers had the half round rear sight groove with a width of 2.5mm and the Belgian model sight with a 1.25 mm thick sight blade. Tests with these revolvers would eventually lead to the sight change of mid 1932.

Examples of the test sights

A 1923 dated revolver with the straight sided front sight blade. Several revolvers with this version of front sight have been observed. (Could this be the straight side version from Smirnskii’s testing?)

Side view of the 1923 test revolver Right view of the 1923 test revolver
Side views of the 1923 with the straight sided front sight.
Side view front sight 1923 test revolver View of the rear sight on the 1923 test revolver
The front sight and the rear sight with its rounded groove.
3/4 view of the straight front test sight Rear view of the straight front test sight Front view of the straight side front test sght
Views of the front sight. This is a very nicely made straight blade with a width of 2mm

The trigger mechanism of this revolver has been worked over to reduce and clean up both the single and double action trigger pull.

Besides slightly reshaping the contact surfaces of the trigger and the hammer, it was common practice to reduce the load on the trigger by either wedging a bullet under the lower leaf of the main spring or grinding it down to weaken it. The cut down bullet preloads the lower leaf of the spring and takes load off of the trigger and makes the double action trigger pull much easier. This example has had both of these measures applied and it has a very nice trigger pull, both in single and double action.

View of the trigger mechanism 1923 test revolver View of the trigger mechanism 1923 test revolver cocked
Views of the trigger mechanism on the 1923. Note how the lower leaf of the main spring bends in the middle where it has been thinned.

Here is another example of a probable 1923/25 test revolver. This version of experimental sight has been seen on several 1923 dated revolvers. The front sight has slightly different shape. It is a basic half moon with a notch, but the rear surface of the notch is not vertical like the later 1932 sight. Additionally the cross section shape of the sight blade is a pure pyramid with a very minimal thickness at the top.

Detail of the 1932 production front and rear sights showing the cross section with its straight sided top.

Detail of the 1923 experimental front and rear sights showing the cross section with its pointed top.

There seem to be a lot of odd sights found on 1923 dated revolvers in general – was Smirnskii’s testing program really in 1925?

The Soviet Shooting Program

1920s Target revolvers
A pair of target adapted revolvers from the 1920’s Top: a long barreled .22 caliber revolver dated 1925. The rear sight is still a ‘V’ shaped groove in the frame. Bottom: a 1927 dated service revolver with a ramp type front sight and a half round groove rear sight.

The “Festival of Red Shooting” (‘Праздник Красного стрелка’) of the USSR was established in July of 1925 and was carried out under the slogan “The country must have accurate shooting” (‘Стране нужен меткий стрелок!’). In September of 1925 the Soviet government encouraged the newly formed shooting organizations with the slogan: “Proletariat! Give us accurate shooting!” (‘Пролетарии! Даешь меткого стрелка!’) This greatly increased the popularity of the shooting sports, which in turn created a demand for both improved target models of the Nagant Service revolver and for models of .22 caliber rim fire weapons which could be used for low cost mass training in the shooting sports.

The Society for the assistance of aviation and chemistry or Osoviakhim (Общество содействая авиции и химии – Осовиахим) was founded in 1927. The following year the Soviet government gave it supervision of shooting sports development in civilian organizations. The Osoviakhim shooting cup was competed for by all organizations in the country. This competition promoted the popularity of shooting sports amongst the population (especially amongst youth) and helped individuals to learn shooting skills. A significant role in the development and popularization of sport shooting in the Soviet Union was played by Peoples Commissar of Defense of the USSR Klement Efremovich Voroshilov (Клемент Ефремович Ворошиов), a the great lover of shooting himself.

In February 1929 the presidium of the shooting section of the Osovakhim established the qualification levels for shooting the revolver. This classification was first designed and set by the presidium of the shooting section of the VCQK (ВСФК Высшего Совета физической культуры Supreme Council of Physical Education) and ВЦИК (Всеросси́йский Центра́льный Исполни́тельный Комите́т All-Russian central Executive Council) 28 January 1926 and was originally put into effect on 1 January 1927.

There were two principle classifications for shooting the revolver; the Beginner’s (Тировая) and Field (Полевая) Classifications.

The course of fire for Beginner’s Classification was carried out at a distance of 25 meters using the service revolver (or 5.6 mm small bore revolver) at a № 5 target. 7 cartridges were fired and time on fire was unlimited, but exit from the firing line was forbidden. Scores required for achieving First or Second Class of the Beginner’s Classification are shown in the table below. Shooters achieving the necessary scores received a certificate.

Beginner’s Classification

Level Revolver Model 1895 (7.62 mm) Revolver Caliber 5.6 mm
First Class 50 55
Second Class 45 50
Satisfactory 40 45

Before attempting the Field Classification it was required to have first successfully completed the Beginners First and Second Class. The course of fire for the Field Classification consisted of two stages and was as follows:

  1. Slow fire at a № 5 target at 50 meters. 10 cartridges were allowed, three “sighters” and seven for score. Seven minute time limit to complete the stage.
  2. Rapid fire at a № 5 target at a range of 30 meters. Seven cartridges were allowed (no “sighters” were permitted) with a 30 second time limit to complete the stage.

The course of fire was carried out in a single attempt without a break between the two stages. It was permitted to attempt the Classification an unlimited number of times, but not more than one attempt was allowed in a single day. Scores to achieve the proficiency levels of the Field Classification are shown below. Scores are the sum of the two stages and the maximum possible combined score for the two stages was 140.

Field Classification

Classification For ordinary shooters For shooters of MPSO “Dynamo”
(МПСО ‘Динамо’)
First Class - Master marksman 90 100
Second Class – Outstanding marksman 85 90
Third Class - Good marksman 80 85

Shooters who successfully completed the Field Classification were given a certificate and earned the right to wear an award badge to show their achievement. [The Russian Nagant, Koldunov ctp 46-47]

The Early 7.62 mm Target revolvers

The first target revolvers were common service revolvers, often with some work done to the trigger mechanism to make the single action hammer release a bit better. A.A. Smirnskii’s testing had shown that improving the sights of the revolver would increase accuracy and several examples of altered revolvers have been observed from the 1920s and early 1930s with modified sights. The most observed model, although still somewhat rare, is the model from the 1925 -1932 period. The front sight insert has been replaced with a sight that has a straight post and a horizontally ribbed ramp to reduce glare.

The earliest example of these has been observed on a 1923 dated revolver and the latest on a 1932 dated revolver. Shown below is a 1927 dated example.

Left view of the 1927 target revolver Right view of the 1927 target revolver
Right and left views of the 1927 target revolver with the ramped front sight
Text 1
Detail of the ramped fron sight on Serial 10793 from 1927 production. This particular example seems to have a higher post than the other observed examples of this model.

Text 1
Here is a detail of the rear sight groove on Serial 10793 from 1927. This type of rear sight would not be put into production until mid 1932.
Text 1
Drawing of the modified front sight. The version shown in this drawing is closest to the version seen on the last example, the 1932 SA marked example. This example from a period book on preparation of small arms for target shooting.

A slightly different version of the ramped front sight. This one is on a 1931 dated revolver (SA marked). The rear sight on this one is still the early ‘V’ shaped groove. It should also be noted that this revolver has just about the finest trigger cleanup ever observed by the author on a standard M1895 service revolver!

Left view of the SA marked 1931 target revolver Right view of the SA marked 1931 target revolver
Right and left views of the SA 1931 target revolver with the ramped front sight
Left view of the SA marked 1931 target revolver Right view of the SA marked 1931 target revolver
Right and left views of the ramped front sight on Serial 15801 1931 production. The base has been cut further down to make the blade higher on this example.
Original 'V' type rear sight on the SA marked 1931 target revolver Right view of the SA marked 1931 target revolver
Left - this revolver still has the early style 'V' shaped rear sight. Right -detail of the SA marked sideplate serial 115802 1931 production.

Another SA marked Nagant with the ramped sight. This sight exactly matches the 1934 drawing.
Photos courtesy Allen Henry

Left view of the target sight on a 1932 target revolver Right view of the SA marked 1932 target revolver
Left and right views of the ramped target sight. The circled ‘П’ mark is original and found on revolvers in approximately the 60-75,000 serial range in 1932 with the new style notched sight. This revolver is in the 69,000 range. The mark is not found on revolvers in the 50,000 or late 70,000 range!
Top view of the target sight on the 1932 SA marked target revolver
Top view of the ramped target sight.

A fourth example of this sight was shown in a volume of the 1966 series called Kleine Waffen-Bibliothek by H.B. Lockhoven.

Picture from KWB of the 1923 target revolver
The picture of a 1923 target revolver shown in Kleine Waffwen-Bibliothek

To be continued ...

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