In 1895, the new Tsar of Russia, Nicholas II, approved an innovative revolver for his enormous army. At the time Imperial Russia was the only country in the world who mustered a military of more than a million men in peacetime. Once war was declared, the Tsar could count on another 14 million reservists to answer his call. They needed arms, and the Nagant M1895 revolver was their standard sidearm.
An enterprising pair of Belgian firearms inventors, Emil and Leon Nagant, has patented and sold, from their factory in Liege, a number of revolvers to the armies of Sweden, Norway, and Greece in the 1880s and 90s. When word came that the Tsar was eager to update the 1870s era Smith and Wesson .44 revolvers they carried with something more modern, the pair proposed an interesting design. Whereas most revolvers of the time offered either five or six shots, the Nagant brothers proposed a 7-shooter (take that Smith and Wesson!).
To increase the power of its .32-caliber round, the gun used a sliding cam that moved forward to seal the space between the revolver's cylinder and the barrel chamber, making it gas tight and therefore increasing the fps of the round. The round itself, 7.62x38R, had a small O-ring that expanded when fired to further this seal with the barrel so that no gas would escape except through the muzzle along with the bullet.
The Nagant, due to its sealed cylinder and special ammunition, is one of the very few revolvers that can be silenced. It is rumored that Russian and later Soviet agents used Nagants so equipped for 'wet work' for nearly a century.
The barrel was 4.5-inches long which gave the weapon an impressive 10.5-inch overall length and a weight of a manageable 29-ounces. It was a fixed-frame design in which the cylinder did not swing out but instead remained mounted to the frame. To load and reload a gate was used at the rear of the right hand side of the cylinder and the chambers were worked and then rotated, worked and then rotated. It sounds slow but once you got the hang of it a skilled shooter could fire and reload 14-21 aimed rounds in less than a minute.
Use of the Nagant
Compared to the handguns of the era, the Nagant was not the best, but it could hold its own. The British Webley was larger and carried a much more powerful .455 round. The German P08 Luger had a faster reload and its 9x19mm Parabellum cartridge outclassed the Russian one. Against the Japanese army's Type 26 and the French Modle 1892 revolver, it was superior.
The Nagant was sold to Tsarist Russia in two types, a double action version for officers, and a single action version for cavalrymen and sergeants. After a few years of production in Belgium, the Nagant brothers supervised the establishment of Russian production at the Tsar's Tula works. The revolver, even though it was seen as something from another time, was so popular that the Soviets kept it in production after the Tsar was dethroned in 1917 for another thirty years. Although the TT-33 pistol officially replaced it in 1933, the Nagant was still kept in front line service through 1945.
After World War Two most of the stocks of these revolvers were pulled from their units, arsenal refinished to like-new condition, and placed in storage with a heavy coat of Cosmoline on them. The Soviets never liked to throw anything away and the thought of having a few hundred thousand of these guns in warehouses...just in case...appealed to them.
(photo from J&G)
And so they sat for decades, until...
Even though more than two million of these were produced, up until about 1989 these revolvers were pretty hard to come by in good shape in the United States. Then, just as oddly as it started, the Cold War just stopped one day and the Soviet Union disappeared. The new countries of Russia, the Ukraine, and Belorussia etc. etc. etc. that rose from the ashes of the old worker's paradise found they had thousands of these Nagants in arsenal storage. Not expecting WWIII just yet, these countries sold them for fast cash and pristine stocks of these revolvers began washing up on the shores of North America for as low as $40. Since then, prices have doubled but even then, they are a bargain for the history and functionality they provide. They pop up on AIM Surplus, J&G , and others for $79-$99 all the time in excellent condition, normally with the pebble leather flap holster, disassembly tool handle, and steel cleaning rod.
The holster is a good and sturdy design that originally was to protect the revolver from the elements of the intense Russian winter and dusty summers. As such, it will keep the firearm relatively clean and intact either in secure and dry storage or in field use. Usually these come complete with a leather lanyard that connects the butt grip of the revolver to the holster. This was for horse mounted cavalrymen who were liable to drop their revolver if their horse was injured, fell, etc., and ensured the rider that at least when he managed to stand up, his Nagant would still be attached by a leash.
Here you see a Nagant with the aftermarket .32ACP replacement cylinder. These run about $60-80 and allow you to shoot 32 ACP ammo, which is more available, especially in defense loads.
While Nagant ammunition was once rare, the glut of these revolvers since 1989 on the surplus market has meant that the ammo has also ramped up. New production from Prvi Partizan PPU brand features a 98grn lead core copper jacketed bullet, brass case, and non-corrosive brass for about $25 per 50 round box. Surplus Soviet made stuff in 1092-round sealed tins of 108-grain lead core bi-metal jacketed FMJ bullets with brass cases and corrosive Berdan primers run about $300, which means you can plink for about 30-cents a round. It's not the cheapest ammo out there, but hey, it's out there.
For the price of these revolvers, how can you beat it?