Rifles of the First World War

All troops, both foreign and American, serving in WWI were issued a bolt-action rifle. Due to their reliability and accuracy, bolt-action rifles were common in combat through WWII, and the Model 1903 Springfield saw action through the Korean War. Even though machine guns and fully automatic rifles replaced many bolt-action rifles, snipers continue to use precision bolt-action rifles today.

German Mauser Gewher Model 98

The German Mauser Gewehr Model 98, chambered in 7.92mm, paved the way for many other bolt-action rifles. In fact, the Mauser action is the most common action found in bolt-action rifles today. Therefore, it is not hard to believe the claim that the German Mauser is the most successful bolt-action rifle ever made. Designed by Peter Paul Mauser in 1898, it had a 29” barrel, a full-length wooden stock, and a Lange Vizier sight (U-Notch rear) which was adjustable from 400 to 2,000 meters. Even though the Mauser only held five rounds, it was a very reliable weapon. 3,500,000 of the Model 98 Mauser were produced from 1898 to 1918.


The British Lee-Enfield (SMLE) is also a highly influential bolt-action rifle from WWI. Over 17 million Lee-Enfields have been produced in different models and configurations. It is also the longest serving bolt-action rifle. James Lee designed and first introduced the Lee-Enfield in 1907. The Royal Small Arms Factory in Enfield, made the first Lee-Enfield; hence the rifle’s name. The Lee-Enfield was successful because it held 10 rounds, while other bolt-action rifles only held 5 rounds. It could shoot 12 rounds per minute. It was also quick to reload. Sharpshooter Sergeant Alvin C. York used an Enfield to face down and kill over 20 Germans, capturing a further 132.

Springfield 1903

The American Springfield 1903 incorporated design elements from the Spanish Mauser 93, the Krag, and the German Mauser 98. After a few experimental prototypes and modifications, the model 1903, with a 24-inch barrel and a 5-round internal box magazine made the cut to go into production. When America joined the War, The Springfield 1903 was in high demand. Remington, Winchester, and Eddystone were contracted to produce the bolt-action rifle for American troops. By the time the U.S. had entered the war, 843,239 Springfield 1903 had been made. During the Springfield’s first run, each rifle cost the U.S. government $26 to produce! The Springfield 1903 was the shortest and lightest of the WWI bolt-action service rifles. In 1919, the U.S. War Department stated that the Springfield Model 1903 was “probably the best infantry rifle in use in any army.” From 1903 to 1936, Springfield Armory produced more than one million of these rifles. Did you know? J.D. Pedersen made a device that allowed a modified 1903 to shoot a smaller pistol-sized .30 caliber round from a 40-round magazine that replaced the bolt of the rifle? These 1903 rifles were designated as Mark 1.


The Russian Mosin-Nagant, first produced in Tula, was the culmination of collaboration between Belgian designer, Leon Nagant and a Russian Army captain. The Mosin-Nagant was also called the “Nagant Three Line.” It is chambered for the 7.62x54R (.30 caliber) cartridge, and can be easily found reasonably priced today at gun shops, gun shows, and at auction. Over 37 million Mosin-Nagant bolt-action rifles have been made, and it has been in service since 1891. It was the longest of all the bolt-action rifles to serve in WWI.


Despite rumors of the Carcano’s firing pin breaking off and hitting you in the eye, this Italian bolt-action rifle served well through WWI and WWII. The M1891 Carcano used a modified Mannlicher-style magazine and held six rounds – one more round than most of the bolt-action rifles used in WWI. The design allowed the Carcano to have a minimal report when shot; a viable feature to have in wartime. The Mannlicher is chambered for the 6.5×52 rimless cartridge. The barrel life of the Carcano only lasted about 4,000 rounds, causing the barrel to need replacing in the field. The Carcano, though, is most infamous for its role in the assassination of President Kennedy.

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (6)

  1. Fairly sure that York used a M1917 which was the us version of the P14 Enfield which is a different rifle than your SMLE.

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