The 1895 Nagant 7.62mm. Revolver
I know, with certainty
that in that lacquered purse of yours
nestled against powder case and mirror
sleeps a black stone; seven deaths
in a poem to his fiancee, Vera Slonim
The Revolver Systemy Nagana obr 1895g, aka the Nagant Model 1895, is a pistol that might have been designed by Dr. Seuss. It doesn't look all that strange but trust me, it is.
The design goes back to the late nineteenth century, when the super-conservative Russian military finally and grudgingly agreed to modernize their arsenal. The standard sidearm of the Tsar's forces was a big .44 revolver by Smith & Wesson, a powerful and effective though old-fashioned weapon. (If you saw Doctor Zhivago, that's what Lara shoots Komarovsky with.)
Why they chose this particular replacement is still a mystery, but the Nagant brothers of Belgium had good connections in St. Petersburg, and it is very likely some palms got greased. In any event the Imperial brass decided on the Nagant double-action revolver which had already been adopted by various countries (Sweden, Belgium, Serbia, etc.) - but in a new version, incorporating a principle the Nagants had more or less ripped off from a fellow-Belgian named Pieper.
The result is a classic example of overengineering applied to a largely imaginary problem. A revolver, even a top-quality one, has to have a slight gap between the cylinder and the barrel; otherwise the cylinder won't be able to turn once it heats up from firing. A certain amount of gas therefore escapes at this point with each shot; and Pieper's idea, taken up by Nagant and sold to the Russians, was that this needed to be eliminated in the interests of power and efficiency.
It was a bullshit theory; as has subsequently been determined, the escape of gas from a well-made conventional revolver amounts to only a negligible loss of velocity - certainly not enough, in terms of practical ballistics, to justify going to a lot of trouble about it. (Especially considering the underpowered cartridge used by the Nagant.) And it's probably significant that nobody but the Russians ever went for it.
Be that as it may, the Nagant mechanism is ingenious. As the hammer is pulled back - either by the thumb or by double-action trigger motion - the cylinder not only rotates, but also moves forward on its axis, until the front of the cylinder almost touches the rear of the barrel. The front of the cylinder is also recessed, so that it partly encloses the end of the barrel; and then, to complete the seal, a special cartridge is used, that protrudes from the cylinder and closes the tiny remaining gap.
All of which, of course, adds some complexity to the mechanism - although not as much as you might think; it's really impressive how they managed to accomplish all this with such a modest number of moving parts - and tends to make the trigger pull hard and rough. In fact most Nagant owners nowadays fire single-action only, finding it impossible to hit anything with the stiff DA pull.
(In the old Tsarist army most Nagants were single-action only, with double-action models issued only to officers - who presumably were considered to need a firepower advantage over the troops. Most of these were converted to double-action, however, by the Communists after they took over.)
The Nagant was obsolete even when it was adopted; much better designs were already being made by Colt, Webley, and others. All the same, it became very popular in the Russian and then Soviet forces, for its accuracy and its rugged reliability. In fact "nagan" became a common generic term for "revolver" in Russian, as "Colt" had earlier done in American English.
And even though it was supposed to be replaced in the twenties and thirties by the excellent Tokarev semi-automatic pistol, it soldiered on clear through World War II; and even in postwar years was often seen on the belts of cops, prison guards and the like. It was also supplied to various Communist allies; quite a few Nagants turned up in Korea. Even today I understand it is occasionally carried by night watchmen and security guards in its native country.
With the fall of the USSR, the old Nagants began to show up on the US surplus market, often at amazingly low prices. In recent years the 1895 has become the bargain of the handgun world; I got mine for $75 plus shipping, which is less than you'd pay for one of those damned Jennings suicide specials.
Despite this, the Nagant hasn't sold very well (which is probably the main reason prices have remained so low). Partly this is because it looks funny; partly people are put off by the poor DA trigger pull and the slow reloading process. Mostly, though, it's the ammunition situation. The only commercial company loading the weird 7.62x38mm. round is Fiocchi, and their loads are not only excruciatingly expensive but grotesquely underpowered, useful only for paper punching. There is also some Russian-made ammo around, a bit more powerful but still strictly target stuff, and not easy to find.
In an effort to get around the problem, various outfits sell a Korean-made replacement cylinder to adapt the Nagant to the .32 auto cartridge. Unfortunately these don't always work well and often need to be hand-fitted by a gunsmith.
All this is unnecessary. The Nagant will cheerfully digest ordinary American .32 S&W Long cartridges, or the considerably more powerful .32 Magnum. This last puts the old pistol back in the running as a serious weapon; there are commercial hollow-point loads for the .32 Mag that are not too far behind the standard .38 Special in effectiveness. For some reason not many people seem to know that the Nagant will take these commonly-available .32 loads; if word could be gotten out I think this would become a much more popular firearm.
(Some people have broadcast dire warnings against using any cartridge but the one for which the weapon was designed. These are the same sort of people who carry a modern revolver with the hammer down on an empty chamber, and drive 55 even when nobody's looking, and wear a rubber when getting a blow job, and so on. Somebody like that really should leave guns alone altogether. In fact plenty of people routinely shoot .32 S&W and Magnum loads in Nagants with no harm done, barring bulged cases - which doesn't hurt anything unless you plan to reload them - and occasional stiff extraction. The Nagant is a very solidly constructed weapon and capable of handling reasonable pressures; after all, the original Russian military load was more powerful than the .32 S&W and not far below the modern .32 Mag.)
My own Nagant is nothing special, in collector terms; some people have gotten lucky and scored old Tsarist pieces, including some real rarities, out of these grab-bag clearance sales. The one I got, however, is a very ordinary model made in 1945 - the last year of production - at the Izhevsk arsenal, and refinished before going into storage.
But in one respect I got an authentic rarity: a Nagant with a good clean double-action pull. Only twelve pounds, which is comparable to most ordinary modern police weapons, and quite smooth; in fact it's a better DA pull than the Chiefs Special I used to own, and comparable to the old Police Positive that was my first handgun. I can keep all seven rounds in the boiler room of a standard humanoid-silhouette target at twelve feet, point-shooting one-handed from waist level, with double-action rapid fire; and I've got arthritis in my hands and nerve damage in my trigger finger. (See the Mosin page.)
So for me the Nagant is a valuable defensive weapon as well as a fascinating bit of military and engineering history; in fact I think it's going to become my primary home-protection piece, because the Czech Canceler has too much penetration. But I wouldn't recommend that anybody else buy one for that purpose, because the odds are heavily against getting one with a decent DA pull.
Oh yes. Reloading. In order to reload the Nagant revolver you have to:
1. Flip open the loading gate on the right side of the frame.
2. Unscrew the rod underneath the barrel till it comes loose, pull it forward, and then rotate the housing in front of the cylinder so that the rod lines up with the chamber next to the loading gate.
3. Use the rod to punch out the empty cartridge case.
4. Rotate the cylinder by hand to bring the next chamber in line and use the ejector rod again.
5. Repeat until all chambers are empty.
6. Swing the ejection rod back into position under the barrel, push the rod to the rear and screw it snugly into place.
7. Push seven fresh cartridges into the chambers, one by one, via the loading gate.
8. Close the loading gate.
9. Look up at the German infantry squad who have been watching you doing this.
10. Stick your head between your legs and kiss your ass dosvidanya.
Obviously not something you'd want to do under pressure. But I don't plan to fight any wars with mine so what the hell.
And apart from the awkward loading procedure this little gun is more fun than a Fredericks of Hollywood catalog. For all its weird appearance, it actually balances and handles very well indeed; it fits my hand nicely - which it shouldn't, the grips are small and my hands are big, I don't understand that at all but I sure appreciate it - and it's light and handy to carry. All this for less than a hundred bucks. You gotta love it.
Weight..................1 lb 12 oz