Axis milsurp rifles are rarer than their allied counterparts. Their ammunition is rare and usually expensive, but they have a classic charm which modern polymer rifles lack. Much like their national counterparts, the Italians lag behind in terms of accuracy and quality, while the Japanese and German firearms pick up the slack. The Mauser in particular stands out among these rifles as the bolt action that shaped the early 20th century.
Italy – Carcano rifle
Chambered in a wide variety of calibers, but most commonly 6.5x52mm or 7.35x51mm Carcano, this rifle was the standard issue rifle for the troops of Fascist Italy during World War 2. Its ammunition is harder to find than Italian victories from the war, and the rifle has a service history more inconsistent than a bowl of unevenly cooked spaghetti.
First produced at the turn of the 20th century, this milsurp rifle first saw large-scale military service against Berber and Abyssinian troops during the Italian conquest of North Africa in the mid-20s and early 30s. Its 6.5mm round was ineffective at stopping enemy infantry charges at short range, even though the tribesmen the Italians engaged frequently wore no type of protection whatsoever. It was also reported to be poor for sniping, since its blunted bullet dropped faster and had lower velocity than the sharp-nosed rounds of other nations thanks to its subpar aerodynamics.
The Finns were shipped thousands of Italian Carcano rifles for their Winter War with the Russians, but discarded them at every opportunity for the same reasons modern owners get rid of their Carcanos – ammunition was hard to find and the iron sights could not be adjusted. Within the Italian Army itself, the Carcano was called the “humanitarian rifle” since it couldn’t hurt anyone on purpose.
On the other hand, this was the rifle Lee Harvey Oswald used to assassinate JFK. Using a 6.5x52mm Carcano equipped with a 4x scope made with Japanese glass, the same quality used in modern precision riflescopes like the modern Sightmark Pinnacle, Oswald was able to get a headshot on President Kennedy from his hidden position inside the Texas Book Depository, 55 yards away. On the other-other hand, in an FBI report, Oswald’s rifle was test fired at 100 yards and had a grouping of 5 MOA, making it a lousy rifle by today’s standards. Despite its flaws, this milsurp rifle is still unique in its design, especially with its classic wooden stock.
Japan – Arisaka
The Japanese terrorized the nations within their Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere with the help of the Arisaka rifle. Available in several different models and two calibers (6.5x50mmSR and 7.7x58mm), the Arisaka has had a long and storied history, seeing service everywhere from the Russian Revolution to the sands of Iwo Jima.
When tested by the US military and the NRA after the war, the Type 38 was determined to have the most durable receiver of any bolt-action rifle of the war and is one of the few to feature a dust cover for extra protection from the harsh environments of a mid-20th century battlefield.
The Type 38 was designed to fit the unique needs of the Japanese army, which required rapid movement and maneuvering in tight spaces like the tunnels of Suribachi. Because of these battlefield requirements, the carbine variant of the Arisaka is one of the lightest service rifles of the war, weighing only 7.4lbs compared to the rifles of other great powers which weighed in the 8-9lb range. Its 6.5x50mmSR round also has comparatively little recoil compared to the 8mm Mauser round used by Japan’s ally. It also had a very flat trajectory with relatively little muzzle flash, making it accurate and hard to detect from a distance. However, the 6.5x50mmSR round was found to be underpowered compared to the ammunition used by all the other factions, so in the mid-30s, the Japanese decided to replace their Type 38 with the 7.7x58mm Type 99.
To accommodate for the new round and its stronger recoil, the Type 99 Arisaka was made to be larger than its 38 counterpart and weighed similar to a German Mauser rifle. It also featured a collection of features with varying degrees of usefulness. For example, it sported flip-up anti-aircraft sights. It should be obvious that expecting a soldier with a bolt-action rifle to shoot down a plane would be like expecting a man to kill a whale with a butterknife.
More useful, on the other hand, is Its built-in monopod. This feature would still be welcome on a modern bolt action rifle, even when some shooters prefer external monopods and tripods. Some long-range precision rifles with picatinny rails will still sport foldable bipods, spiritual descendants of the shooting supports of the World Wars.
Unfortunately, as Japan began to lose the war, its resources dwindled, and it had to cut corners in its production. Type 99 rifles can be found in three conditions: initial production, intermediate, and “last-ditch.” This third type of rifle was manufactured without the precision and care of earlier manufactured rifles, and was missing some parts such as the anti-aircraft sights, which even the Japanese considered to be useless by war’s end.
Germany – Kar98K
Mauser’s venerable Karabiner 98 (achtundneunzig) Kurz is the rifle that helped the German war machine steamroll through Poland and France.
Among milsurp collectors, the Mauser Kar98K and its copies are frequently said to be superior to its Soviet rival, the Mosin Nagant, although this is a matter of debate. The German bolt-action has less recoil despite its larger round thanks to its wider stock and a grouping of less than 1.5 MOA at 100 yards, while the Soviet Mosin’s accuracy varies wildly from 1 to 6MOA.
One of the more attractive features of the Kar98K is its bent bolt, which allows for a faster and more comfortable cycle without getting in the way of any mounted optics the way a straight bolt does. The Kar98K also has its share of accessories, both contemporary and modern. Aside from the bayonet every bolt-action rifle of the period was expected to have, the original Kar98K could be fitted with a suppressor, and modern Kar98Ks have a wide variety polymer stocks and railed scope mounts to choose from.
Used from the beginning to the very end of the war, this rifle continues to see limited service to this day both in parades and in combat. The Kar98K was widely copied by various nations, which led to its wide proliferation throughout many of the wars of the 20th century and beyond. Even the Soviets, Nazi Germany’s hated enemy, captured and refurbished thousands of rifles to issue them to Soviet troops. US troops encountered the Kar98K alongside AKs and RPGs during the 2003 War in Iraq, and Donbass separatists continue to use the old Nazi rifle together with weapons in various stages of operability in their fight against the Ukrainian army, a testament to the rifle’s durability and longevity.
Which of the Axis rifles would you like to own? Tell us in the comments below!
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