September 13, 2023
The firm of Fegyver-és Gépgyártó Részvénytársaság (“Arms and Machine Manufacturing Company”) was founded on February 1891 in Budapest, Hungary. One of its first contracts was to manufacture the new Gyalogsági Ismétlõ Puska 88-90M (Repetier-Gewehr M.88-90 Mannlicher) for the Hungarian branch of the Austro-Hungarian army, known as the Honvédség. It began production of the improved Gyalogsági Ismétlõ Puska 95M (Repetier-Gewehr M.95) in 1907 for both Austro-Hungarian forces and for sale to other countries. The company was renamed Fémárú, Fegyver- és Gépgyár (“Metalware, Arms and Machines”) — better known as FEG — in 1935.
During WWI, the Honvédség was equipped with the Gyalogsági Ismétlõ Puska 88-90.M and Gyalogsági Ismétlõ Puska 95.M. While Austro-Hungarian forces stopped the Russian invasion of Galicia, and, with German support, eventually pushed back the Russians they suffered hundreds of thousands of casualties doing so. The war bankrupted the Dual Monarchy, caused the downfall of the Hapsburg monarchy and the union of Austria and Hungary was dissolved. On November 3, 1918, both countries signed an armistice with the Allies.
The Hungarian Republic was proclaimed on 16 November 1918. Shortly afterwards, Czech, Rumanian, and Serbian troops — encouraged by France attempted to annex parts of the new nation which led to the collapse of the government. A 1919 coup by the Hungarian communist party led to the creations of the Hungarian Soviet Republic led by the megalomaniacal Béla Kun. Counter revolutionary forces under Admiral Miklós Horthy, former Commander-in-Chief of the Austro-Hungarian navy, with the assistance of Rumanian troops, defeated the communists and restored order
On March 1, 1920, the National Assembly of Hungary re-established the Kingdom of Hungary, but chose not to recall the deposed King Karoly IV (former Kaiser Karl I) from exile as the return of the Habsburg Emperor was unacceptable to the Entente powers. Instead, National Army officers voted to install Horthy as “regent” a position he would hold — under a series of prime ministers and continual political unrest — until 1944. In June 1920, Hungary signed the Treaty of Trianon with the Allies, the provisions of which required Hungary to surrender more than two-thirds of its pre-war territory.
From 1935 until 1944, Horthy’s rule was bolstered by the Nyilaskeresztes Párt — Hungarista Mozgalom (“Arrow Cross Party — Hungarist Movement”), a pro-German, national socialist militia that combined radical nationalist aspirations with anti-Semitic violence. The new Honvédség, continued to use the same weapons it had while part of the Dual Monarchy, with the basic infantry rifle being the Gyalogsági Ismétlõ Puska 95.M. The M.95 rifle was Herr Ferdinand von Mannlicher’s most successful military design. It used a straight pull bolt with dual frontal locking lugs that are rotated in and out of engagement by the action of two lugs bearing on helical grooves cut into the bolt head cylinder. But Mannlicher’s magazine generated much more enthusiasm than his straight pull bolt action. Perfected in 1886, it was the first really practical method of rapidly recharging a rifle’s magazine. The heart of the design was a metal clip or packet that held five cartridges and was inserted into, and became part of, the rifle’s magazine. A spring-loaded follower, integral with the magazine body, pushed cartridges up into feeding position. After the five rounds had been fired the empty clip fell out of a small hole in the bottom of the magazine housing.
According to some “experts,” this system had three shortcomings: 1. without the clips the rifle is reduced to a single shot weapon; 2. the magazine cannot be “topped off” with loose rounds; 3. the clip ejection opening allowed debris to enter the action. In spite of these supposed faults, the Mannlicher magazine was very successful and rifles utilizing it were adopted by the armies of Austria-Hungary, Italy, Holland, Rumania, China, Germany, Greece, Turkey, Chile, Siam and Bulgaria. In spite of this, in 1914, Austria-Hungary announced the replacement of their M.95s with a rotary magazine Mannlicher-Schönauer, the short lived Repetier-Gewehr M.14. However, WWI and the demands of total mobilization made Austria-Hungary’s plan to adopt a new rifle impossible. Manufacture of M.95 Mannlicher rifles went into high gear at Steyr and FEG and continued until the end of the war.
The 8mm scharfe Patrone M.93 was an 1890s style cartridge with a short, fat rimmed case 50mm long that was loaded with a 244-grain round-nosed, FMJ bullet that was pushed to a rather unimpressive 2,040 fps. The cartridge was never updated with a high velocity Spitzer type bullet so as to allow continued use of the of older M.88 and M.88-90 Mannlichers the Austro-Hungarians had in service. Around 1925, the Austrian army, the Bundesheer, in cooperation with the commercial ammunition firms of Roth and Hirtenberger, began development of a new rifle cartridge. In order to make it easier to adapt existing weapons to the new cartridge, it was based upon a rimmed case 56mm in length loaded with a 208-grain FMJ Spitzer bullet with a muzzle velocity of 2,395 fps. While this may not sound like much of an improvement in ballistics, the use of modern propellants and the aerodynamic shape of the bullet lowered trajectory, improved retained velocity and increased range.
The new cartridge was adopted as the 8mm M.30 scharfe S-Patrone (a.k.a. 8x56R Mannlicher) and Steyr began converting existing weapons for it. The following year the Hungarians adopted the cartridge as the 8mm 31M. éles töltény and FEG began updating their Mannlichers for it. Most rifles had their barrels shortened to 19.7 inches and re-chambered, new front sights with hoods installed while the rear sights were recalibrated for the new cartridge. The re-chambered rifles were marked with an “H” (for Hegyes Töltény — “pointed bullet”) on the chamber and were known as Gyalogsagi Hosszù Puska 1931.M (Infantry Short Rifle Model 1931).1 Not completely satisfied with the 1931.M, the Honvédség began looking about for a more modern rifle. The engineers at FEG began work in 1932 and by 1935 had designed a rifle that combined characteristics of the M.95 Mannlicher, Infanteriegewehr 88, Lee-Enfield, Mannlicher-Schönauer and the FN and CZ 98 Mauser short rifles — along with a few novel ideas. After trials the new rifle was adopted as the Gyalogsagi Puska 1935.M.
To retrogress for a moment, we must discuss another aspect of the 1935.M’s background. In 1888, the German army adopted the Infanterie-Gewehr 88, the so-called “M1888 Commission rifle. It used a modified Mannlicher en-bloc magazine system and a was based on the designs of a German engineer, Louis Schlegelmilch. It featured a tubular split bridge receiver with a two-piece bolt that cocked on opening. The bolt handle passed through and turned down in front of the split bridge receiver and acted as a safety lug. It was locked by two frontal lugs on the bolt body directly behind the bolt head and the separate non-rotating bolt head contained both the extractor and ejector.
Schlegelmilch’s bolt was easier to manufacture and just as strong, if not stronger, then Mannlicher’s M.95 pattern and became the basis for a series of Steyr rifles that were sold to Rumania, Persia, Portugal and the Netherlands. The basic Gewehr 88/Mannlicher bolt was further improved by Otto Schönauer and served as the basis for a military rifle adopted by Greece in 1903 which was to become world famous as the Steyr-made Mannlicher-Schönauer sporting rifle. Without a doubt, the 1935.M’s most distinguishing feature is a two-piece stock similar in appearance, but of a different design, to the English Lee- Enfield. The two-piece stock was a result of a shortage of suitable hardwood, because most of Hungary’s wood producing mountainous regions had been given to Romania and Czechoslovakia by the victorious Allies after World War 1.
The buttstock is attached to the receiver by a through bolt. Unlike the Lee-Enfield the 1935.M’s butt socket is not integral with the receiver and is fitted between the receiver tang and the end of the trigger guard and held in place by the rear-guard screw. The top and bottom of the butt socket are milled out to fit tightly over the tang end of the trigger guard to prevent it from rotating. Hooks at the top and bottom of the butt socket also engage grooves in the tang and trigger guard to further secure it in place. Again, unlike the Lee-Enfield, the fore end is tenoned into the butt socket making for a stronger and more rigid design. As was stated above, the cock on closing bolt was based upon that of the Mannlicher-Schönauer (M-S) with a heavy-duty extractor mortised into the separate, non-rotating bolt head. The ejector is mounted on the left side of the bolt and is also similar to that used on the M-S. Dual frontal locking lugs are positioned behind the bolt head while a guide rib runs most of the length of the bolt. The straight bolt handle is part of this rib and turns down in front of, and bears on, the split bridge receiver to provide additional locking surface.
A M.95-style thumb piece allows manual re-cocking or lowering of the firing pin while a Mauser-type wing thumb safety could be applied whether the bolt is cocked or not. While a very strong design the 35.M suffers from one of the Infanteriegewehr 88 breed’s chronic faults, the bolt can be assembled, and the rifle fired without the bolt head in place. This is partially rectified by the fact that unless the bolt head is in place the bolt stop must be manually depressed before it can be inserted into the receiver. While some feel the bolt handle is too far forward for easy manipulation, the bolt has a smoothness of operation inherent to the Mannlicher-Schönauer design. A single gas escape hole in the bolt that directs gases from a ruptured case, or pierced primer, down the left locking lug raceway where it is vented out the thumb clearance cutout in the left side of the receiver.
The 1935.M’s magazine is pure Mannlicher and was loaded with the M.90-style clip that could only be inserted into the magazine one way (note: there are finger grooves on the “top” of the clip so that the shooter could tell if he was inserting it properly, even in the dark). When a five-round clip in inserted into the magazine the tail of the follower projected from the clip ejection opening as a way of showing the magazine was fully loaded. A full-length handguard runs from the rear sight base to the muzzle band, and the barrel and muzzle band are held in place by screws through the stock. Dual sets of sling swivels on the side and bottom of the stock allow the rifle to be used by either infantry or mounted troops. A simple tangent rear sight, adjustable from 100 to 2,000 meters, was mated to an inverted blade front sight that was protected by a hood.
Four versions of the 35 M. szurony (bayonet) were produced, two each, infantry and cavalry models, and they are even more fascinating than the rifle itself. All feature a 13-inch double-edged blade and mount via a thumb catch on the left side the muzzle ring that mates with a stud under the front sight band while the hilt fits over a projecting stud on the muzzle band.2 But their most unique feature is that the cavalry model bayonets have an auxiliary front sight, adjustable for windage, mounted on top of the muzzle ring. This system is used to compensate for the change in point of impact from the weight of the bayonet. This feature from the earlier Repetier-Stutzen M.95 Mannlicher, which had a similar sight arrangement on the bayonet muzzle ring. I cannot fathom why it was felt only necessary for their cavalry, and not infantry, to have this auxiliary sight on their bayonets?
Some 35.M rifles issued to bicycle troops did not accept a bayonet and a prominent stacking rod was attached to the muzzle band. Production of the 1935.M took place at FEG from 1936 to 1942 with about 163,000 units being made. It is also believed that limited production was undertaken by another firm in Budapest, Danuvia Gepgyar. While the 35.M was the standard rifle of the Honvédség, it never completely replaced all of the 31.M Mannlichers in service, especially after Hungary began expanding its armed forces during World War 2. The 1935.M saw service with Hungarian troops taking part in Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union and was also used by Hungarian units assisting in anti-partisan operations in Central Europe and the Balkans.
Even though not enough of the new rifles were available, photographic evidence seems to indicate that the Nyilaskeresztes Párt — Hungarista Mozgalom were issued the 35.M, possibly before regular army units. The 35.M proved a sturdy, reliable rifle, so much so in fact that a modified version was adopted by the German Wehrmacht to supplement their Karabiner 98k Mausers. The German version, known as the Gewehr 98/40 was chambered for the 7,9mm Patrone sS and can be recognized by its charger loaded Mauser style magazine, Karabiner 98k style side mounted sling, bayonet bar and turned down bolt handle. It is reported that 138,400 were manufactured and, as with most non-standard rifles, were not usually issued to front line troops but saw wide service with security units and anti-partisan troops in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. In 1943, under pressure from Germany to standardize arms and simplify supply, the Hungarians adopted the 7.9x57 cartridge as the 7,9mm 43M. éles töltény. FEG re-designed the 35.M and the new rifle the Gyalogsagi Puska 1943.M — which was little more then the Gewehr 98/40 with Hungarian style fittings and bayonet — was adopted.4
Note: according to Hungarian collector Laszlo Somogyi some 43.M rifles were produced with laminated wood stocks.
Production began in 1944 and approximately 76,000 were produced before the war ended. The post-war Hungarian government resumed the production of the 1943.M between 1947 and 1948, but only about 15,000 were made before the Hungarians were “convinced” by their new Russian allies to switch over to Soviet pattern weaponry. Several years ago, Century International Arms provided me with an Austrian Karabiner M.95/30 which was almost identical to a Puska 31.M. It was in very good condition with about 90% of its blue finish and a nice stock with only a few handling dings. The bore was worn but clean. It was marked Steyr M.95 with a large “S” on the chamber and bore markings that indicated it was taken into service in Vienna in 1917.
My good friend Vince DiNardi supplied me a Gyalogsagi Puska 1935.M from his extensive collection to test fire and photograph for this article. It was made in 1940 and was in extremely nice condition with a clean bore. Overall workmanship and quality of materials were first class. I noticed that the rifle’s serial number was prominently marked on the buttplate, apparently as a help when inventorying racked rifles. Fellow collector Clyde Roper lent me a Gewehr 98/40 that was made by FEG in 1943 and was in VG+ condition with a mirror bright bore — although it was missing its cleaning rod. Have you ever wondered where all those cleaning rods went to??? It bears the Heereswaffenamt manufacturer’s code “jhv” and was adorned with eagle/swastika markings on most major parts.
Recently, I came to the realization that I don’t enjoy recoil any more. Accordingly, I test fired the rifles from a Caldwell Lead Sled rest on my club’s 100-yard range. The M.95/30 and 35.M were fed a diet of Hornady 8x56 Hungarian ammunition while the Gewehr 98/40’s magazine was charged with Prvi Partizan 8x57. With the M.95/30s light weight and the heavy 216-grain bullet, recoil was, to put it mildly, on the uncomfortable side and, even with the rear sight on its lowest setting of 300 meters, it tended to print low forcing me to use some “Kentucky elevation” but most of my five shot groups were in the four-inch-plus range. Loading a bolt action rifle with Mannlicher clips is without a doubt the fastest way to charge a magazine. Saying that I realize I can now expect to hear choruses of protests from all the Mauser fans out there. But calm down folks, I’m not saying the Mannlicher type magazine is superior to the Mauser, just faster to reload. Or am I?
Next up was the 1935. It and the 98/40 both had the typical two-stage military trigger pulls, but with crisp let offs while their sights provided clear, sharp sight pictures. They had very comfortable fitting stocks and some of the smoothest operating bolts I’ve ever worked — and that’s not an easy thing for one of the world’s most ardent Krag-Jorgensen fans to admit! As with the M.95/30, the first round out of the 35.M’s clip required a hefty shove, but after that, the other four fed effortlessly and it ejected empty cases very positively. Empty clips fell out as soon as the fifth round was chambered. With their rear sights set on 100 meters, both rifles printed close enough to point of aim to keep me happy. But the 98/40 proved the better shooter of the pair because, not matter how hard I concentrated on sight picture and trigger pull the 35.M tended to string rounds vertically.
My impression of these Hungarian rifles? The Karabiner M.95-30’s recoil bordered on painful, but I was able to put rounds where they were supposed to go at 100 yards. The 35.M and 98/40 were both fine handling, accurate rifles and deserve a better reputation than Mannlichers usually receive (I sometimes think the firearms press is controlled by a secret clique of Mauser lovers). I believe the 35.M and 98/40 compare very favorably with contemporaries such as the Karabiner 98k Mauser and No. 4 Lee-Enfield and would have served any soldier carrying them very well. I would like to thank the following for providing materials used to prepare this report: Vince DiNardi, Clyde Roper, Laszlo Somogyi, Josef Mötz, Reinolf Reisinger, Tibor Hovarth, Heino Hintermeier, Century International Arms, Rock Island Auction Co.