Mannlicher–Schönauer rifle Y1903/14
|Place of origin||Austria-Hungary|
|In service||1903–1941 (military)|
|Used by||Kingdom of Greece
|Wars||First Balkan War
Second Balkan War
World War I
World War II
Greek Civil War
|Designer||Otto Schönauer &
|Weight||8.44 lb (3.83 kg)|
|Length||48.25 inches (1,226 mm)|
|Barrel length||28.55 inches (725 mm)|
|Cartridge||6.5×54mm Mannlicher–Schönauer (military and Model 1903)
8×56mm Mannlicher–Schönauer (Model 1908)
9×56mm Mannlicher–Schönauer (Model 1905)
9.5×57mm Mannlicher–Schönauer (Model 1910)
30-06 Springfield, .243 Win and .270 Win (Model 72)
|Muzzle velocity||2,223 ft/s (678 m/s)|
|Effective firing range||~600 metres (660 yards)|
|Feed system||5 round rotary magazine|
|Sights||front barleycorn; rear tangent
adj. from 200 to 2000 m
The Mannlicher–Schönauer (sometimes Anglicized as "Mannlicher Schoenauer," Hellenized as Τυφέκιον Μάνλιχερ or Όπλον Μάνλιχερ-Σενάουερ) is a type of rotary-magazine bolt-action rifle produced by Steyr Mannlicher for the Greek Army in 1903 and later was also used in small numbers by the Austro-Hungarian armies. Post war use was for civilian use such as hunting and target practice.
In the late 19th century, the classic Mannlicher designs for the Austro-Hungarian army were based on the en-bloc magazine, a straight-pull bolt mechanism and were designed for obsolete large caliber cartridges. Following the introduction of smokeless powder in the Lebel rifle at the end of the century, the Steyr factory worked on new Mannlicher designs, using more effective modern cartridges. These were offered for the consideration of the Austro-Hungarian Army, for export to other armies and for the civilian market.
The Mannlicher–Schönauer rifle was one of these novel designs. The rifle action was designed by Ferdinand Mannlicher and the rotary magazine by his protegee Otto Schönauer of the Österreichische Waffenfabriksgesellschaft (Austrian Arms-Manufacturing Company; now Steyr Mannlicher). While the more famous Mannlicher M1895 used the less common straight-pull bolt, the Mannlicher–Schönauer had a conventional turn-bolt, more reminiscent of the Gewehr 88 and other typical military bolt-action rifles. At first sight many confuse it with a Mauser rifle, due to the similar bolt and handguards. The Mannlicher–Schönauer may be identified by the split in the rear of the receiver which allows the bolt handle to pass through, and double as an emergency locking lug when closed, in case of failure of the primary locking lugs. The characteristic that sets this design apart from others of the era though was the innovative Schönauer rotating spool magazine.
The original design, introduced at the World Fair as the Model 1900, allowed the development of either service or sport versions depending on market response. While small sporting concerns, such as William Evans of London, purchased actions for their rifles, only the Greek Army expressed interest in the design for military use. Their specifications may have dictated some of the rifle's characteristics. The Greek Army requested two main versions, one long rifle of 1230 mm length and a carbine of 950 mm length for use by cavalry and non-infantry troops. Both types were termed Model 1903 (not to be confused with the M1903 Springfield). The weight was around 3.75 kg, the magazine capacity was five rounds and was fed by a stripper clip system, or by single rounds if need arose. The 6.5×54mm MS cartridge had traits of a hunting round; even though it had a projectile with a rounded point, it was ballistically efficient, improving accuracy at moderate ranges. The rotary magazine contributed to the smooth feeding and high rate of fire without jamming. The rifle was manufactured to high a standard and was made with tight tolerances, raising costs but improving reliability and durability. The 1903 Mannlicher–Schönauer carbine's light recoil, familiar iron sights—similar to those of the Mannlicher M1895; graduated up to 2000 m—and its quick-handling properties brought it widespread praise. In spite of being an excellently-made weapon, Greece could have easily bought the ubiquitous Mauser rifle instead, which is perfectly serviceable, and which was available in huge numbers, and for far lower prices than the Mannlicher–Schönauer, particularly following WWI. A Mauser 98 cost roughly half as much as a Model 1903, depending on era and particular model of rifle.
This rifle should not be confused with its more widely manufactured cousin, the Mannlicher M1895, or with the so-called Mannlicher–Carcano, made infamous in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, by Lee Harvey Oswald. However, the ballistics and penetration of the 6.5×52mm Carcano cartridge loaded with the 160-grain full-metal-jacketed 6.5mm bullet in the rifle used by Oswald are essentially identical to that of the big game hunters using the same bullet with the 6.5×54mm Mannlicher–Schönauer.
The military Mannlicher–Schönauer was not commercially successful, in the sense that it did not attract many contracts for export. The unusual design and calibre, the high quality, high cost, and the fact that no major power adopted it, contributed to the results. Other foreign Mannlicher clients opted instead for versions of the issue rifle of Austria-Hungary, the M1895, or simpler turn-bolt rifles like the M1893 and the Dutch M1895. The Mannlicher–Schönauer M1903 though fulfilled the specifications of the Greek Army and the first major contract was signed by the Greek Government in 1903. This contract was part of a major modernisation plan; until then the Greeks were using single-shot, black powder rifles Gras rifles. Most of the Greek Gras were made by the Steyr factory and that might partly explain how Mannlicher advertised their new design.
The Mannlicher–Schönauer rifle was the main small arm for the Greek military for some of the most active years of its modern history. Greece was almost continuously in state of war between the years 1904–1922 and 1940–1948. The version history of this rifle is rather confusing. It appears that the Greeks issued four main contracts. The original Steyr-made Y1903 ("Y" stands for model in Greek), started being supplied in 1906–07 to a total of about 130,000 long rifles and carbines. This was the main weapon during the victorious Balkan Wars of 1912–13
The Greeks seemed satisfied with the rifle's performance and their armoury was increased with a new batch of 50,000 rifles from Steyr in 1914, with the model Y1903/14, presenting minor improvements, most obviously the addition of a full handguard. These rifles were used for the first time in World War I. When the war broke out, the Austrians stopped the delivery of the rifles, as Greece chose to be neutral for the first three years.
Following the Asia Minor Campaign (1919–22), the Greeks were in urgent need of serviceable weapons and tried to get Mannlicher–Schönauer rifles from every possible source in order to replace war losses (almost 50% were captured by the Turks). Starting in 1927, Greece received about 105,000 "Breda" marked Y1903/14/27 rifles. This Italian factory might have used Austrian captured parts and machinery, or more likely, might have just mediated on behalf of the Steyr factory, due to treaty restrictions with the Austrian weapons manufacturer. These rifles saw extensive use against the Italians and Germans in World War II and many passed to the resistance fighters and thence to the combatants of the Greek Civil War that followed. The last official contract was in 1930, when they received 25,000 more Y1903/14/30 carbines, this time directly from the Steyr factory.
Despite its good performance, it was only the Greek government that chose the Mannlicher–Schönauer as official service rifle. The Portuguese military also favored the Mannlicher–Schönauer, but it was deemed too expensive and the locally-designed Mauser-Vergueiro, which paired a bolt based on that of the Mannlicher–Schönauer with an action based on the Mauser 98, was adopted instead. However, due to expediency other countries made limited use of them too. At the outbreak of World War I, a significant number of 6.5 mm Mannlicher–Schönauer rifles manufactured for Greece under the 1914 contract were sequestered and, due to urgent needs, used by the Austrian Army. After the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, these were passed on as war reparations to the original intended recipient, the Greek Army. Small numbers also saw occasional use by Greece's enemies as captured war booty, but mainly by reserve units.
Philippidis gun and Rigopoulos improvement
The weapon was chosen instead of the Greek-designed "Philippidis gun" ('Οπλον Φιλιππίδου), itself based on an earlier model of the same Austrian manufacturer, after intense lobbying against the Greek design in 1905. This caused a serious political crisis, with accusations about "national treason" heard in the Greek Parliament. The Philippidis gun was officially approved for a 1925 order, but, again, the Mannlicher–Schönauer was produced (by Breda in Italy), due to (reportedly) late submission of the Greek designs to the Italian manufacturer and/or cost factors.
An improvement of the Mannlicher–Schönauer was designed by Lieutenant Rigas Rigopoulos during World War II (spring 1941), incorporating both modified and totally redesigned parts to dramatically increase firing performance. Though approved by the Greek military to be produced in Volos, the improvement never went into production, due to Greece's invasion by the Germans.
A civilian version of the rifle, also introduced in 1903, proved very popular with deer and big game hunters worldwide. In the UK, along with the 7×57mm Mauser, the 6.5×54 MS probably accounted for more red deer during the 20th century than all other rifle cartridges put together. British sportsmen generally preferred a single-trigger mechanism, rather than the double set triggers popular in Europe. The 6.5×54 cartridge fell into disfavour with British deer-stalkers after the passage of the 1963 Deer Act because the bullet's muzzle velocity failed to reach the legally required minimum when fired from typically short, carbine-type MS barrels. The rifle continued to be manufactured in various forms (full, half-stock and take-down models) until 1972, and although production was interrupted during the Second World War, it eventually re-commenced in 1950. The most significant modification to be made to the rifle, during its period of manufacture, was introduced in 1925 when the action was lengthened to accommodate such cartridges as the .30-06 Springfield, .243 Winchester (carbine models), and .270 Winchester. Additionally, a magnum length version was produced in .264 and .458 Winchester Magnum for the U.S. market, as well as 6.5×68mm, 8×68mm S, and others for the world market. The rifle remains popular due to its aesthetic qualities, compactness, the smoothness of its action and its precision and quality of manufacture. The rifle is also known for its low recoil when chambered for the original 6.5×54 cartridge.
The early years of the 20th century saw what was fundamentally the same rifle being offered in various other, larger Mannlicher–Schönauer calibres including the 8×56mm Mannlicher–Schönauer Model 1908, the 9×56mm Mannlicher–Schönauer Model 1905 and the 9.5×57mm Mannlicher–Schönauer Model 1910, but none of these sold as well as the 1903 Model in 6.5mm.
Legendary American writer Ernest Hemingway frequently used the rifle, and mentions it in some of his writings, most notably The Short, Happy Life of Francis Macomber. WDM "Karamojo" Bell, a prominent elephant (ivory) hunter in Africa in the early 20th century, also used the rifle in its original 6.5×54 chambering with considerable success. The ability of the diminutive 6.5×54 cartridge to take the largest and most dangerous of the big game species, such as African elephant and Cape Buffalo, was due in the main to the high sectional density of the 6.5mm projectiles used in the rifle, although precise placing of the shot was imperative. Because the original factory loads for the 6.5×54 used projectiles that were long and heavy (160 grains) relative to their diameter, they proved capable (in solid form) of very deep penetration through muscle and bone. This, coupled with the relatively low recoil of the fired cartridge, facilitated accurate shot placement into vital organs such as the heart and particularly the brain.
Ironically, Steyr-Mannlicher currently manufactures a rifle known as the "Classic Mannlicher", which it bills on its website as "a direct descendant of the world famous MANNLICHER [sic] Schoenauer models". In fact, this rifle is available in almost every modern caliber except the original 6.5×54mm cartridge. (Note: a modern cartridge, the 6.5mm Grendel, very closely duplicates the ballistics of the 6.5×54mm.) Although the modern "Classic" Steyr-Mannlicher rifles still incorporate some original features, like the butter-knife bolt handle, the distinctive actions and rotary (spool) magazines of the original Mannlicher–Schönauer rifles are no longer used.
High production costs and the difficulty of fitting telescopic sights to the rifle's split receivers eventually resulted in a decision to terminate production in 1972. Models produced had been: 1900, 1903, 1905, 1908, 1910, 1924 High Velocity Sporting Rifle, 1950, 1952, 1956 Monte Carlo, 1961 Monte Carlo All-Purpose, Magnum.
Due to its popularity, the rifle is still manufactured by independent gunsmiths (such as Erich Schöder) in its country of origin. Spare parts are also still widely available.
- L.S. Skartsis,Greek Vehicle & Machine Manufacturers 1800 to present: A Pictorial History, Marathon (2012) ISBN 978-960-93-4452-4 (p. 222)
- Christos Sazanidis, Ta Opla ton Ellinon (Arms of the Greeks), Maiandros, Thessaloniki (1995)
- Secret War: Greece-Middle East, 1940–1945: The Events Surrounding the Story of Service 5-16-5 by Rigas Rigopoulos, Turner 2003 free PDF
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