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M1916 Fedorov: Russia’s First Assault Rifle?

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(I will fix the misspelling in the thumbnail shortly)

I have been trying to get my hands on Fedorov M1916 rifle for a while, and I finally had the opportunity at the NFC, part of the British Royal Armouries. The Fedorov was designed in the years just before World War One, and originally chambered for a proprietary 6.5mm cartridge (also designed by Fedorov) and using a fixed magazine. It was a development of the understanding of infantry firepower that came from the Russo-Japanese War, although Czar Nicholas II did not think it was a useful type of rifle. Once the Great War changed attitudes of many military figures, the Fedorov saw a comeback. Inspired by the tactical concept of the French Chauchat automatic rifle, Fedorov fitted the rifle with a 25-round detachable box magazine and rechambered it for the 6.5mm Arisaka cartridge (which Russia had supply of by way of the UK). In this new format, a small number were produced and issued before the Russian Revolution caused the nation to leave the war.

Fedorov and his team were established at the Kovrov Arsenal (originally built and equipped by the Danish Madsen firm to make light machine guns, but that plan never reached completion). There they perfected the production tooling for the guns, and produced them form 1921 until 1925, making about 3200 in total. They saw service during the Russian Civil War, and were apparently well liked despite a reputation for being a bit finicky and delicate. They were pulled out of service and warehoused in the late 1920s, although they would be reissued during the Winter War with Finland.

Overall, the Fedorov is a remarkably good rifle for its time period. Had further development been possible or encouraged, it could probably have been simplified substantially, although history has shown that there was no true future for recoil-operated military shoulder rifles. The tactical concept behind the design was excellent, and rather ahead of its time. The idea of equipping each man with effectively a portable machine gun would not see true successful implementation until the German Sturmgewehr, but Russia could have beaten them to the punch by some 25 years had the circumstances been a bit different.

Many thanks to the Royal Armouries for allowing me to film and disassemble this very rare rifle! The NFC collection there – perhaps the best military small arms collection in Western Europe – is available by appointment to researchers:

Forgotten Weapons
PO Box 87647
Tucson, AZ 85754

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