Since the introduction of the first bolt-action rifle in the days after the American Civil War and continuing to the present day, one design in particular has been universally acknowledged as being the smoothest operating of them all: the Krag-Jorgensen. Among knowledgeable riflemen, the highest praise one can bestow upon a bolt-action repeater is that, “It’s almost as smooth as a Krag!”
The Krag-Jorgensen rifle was developed in the late 1880s by Ole H. Krag, the director of the Norwegian state arsenal in Kongsberg, and Erik Jorgensen, the arsenal’s chief designer. The pair had begun work on a bolt-action, repeating rifle in the mid-1800s, and when the French announced the adoption of the Fusil d’Infanterie Mle. 1886, the first smallbore smokeless-powder rifle, their efforts went into high gear.
Because French secrecy kept the formula for smokeless powder from other countries, Krag and Jorgensen’s early designs used an 8mm cartridge with a fully jacketed bullet backed by a 70-grain charge of compressed blackpowder. As finalized in 1888, the design’s most distinctive feature was a machined, case-like receiver that was located horizontally beneath the bolt. It contained a magazine that was loaded by means of a hinged gate. One swung the gate open towards the muzzle, which compressed the magazine follower and spring, and then manually loaded rounds into the magazine. The cover was closed, which released the follower to force the cartridges sideways up a ramp into the action from the lower left-hand side. As on most early military repeating rifles, a magazine cutoff, operated by a pivoting lever on the left rear of the receiver, was fitted to permit the rifle to be used as a single-loader with the magazine’s contents held in reserve.
The Krag’s bolt was a one-piece unit with an extractor that ran along its top. A single, front lug locked into a matching mortise in the front of the receiver, and when the bolt was drawn all the way to the rear, the lug also served as the boltstop. To provide additional locking, the bolt handle turned down into a notch at the rear of the receiver, and the bolt’s guide rib bore on the front of the receiver bridge. The Krag’s bolt and magazine system allowed cartridges to be chambered smoothly and permitted very rapid manipulation of the bolt.
As the Norwegian army had recently adopted a tubular-magazine, repeating rifle–the Model 1884 Jarmann–the kroner-pinching bureaucrats in Oslo displayed little enthusiasm for this new development. So the Krag was entered in trials being held by a number of armies, and in 1889, the Danish army adopted the rifle as the Gevaer m/89. A Danish-pattern Krag was entered in the 1892 U.S. Army trials, but it was rejected.
Krag and Jorgensen redesigned their rifle to meet the American prerequisites. It was chambered for a .30-caliber smokeless cartridge; it had a Mauser-type wing safety; and it featured a new loading-gate cover that opened out to the right side to make reloading faster and fumble-free. Suitably impressed, the U.S. Army adopted the improved rifle in 1893 as the U.S. Magazine Rifle, .30 Caliber, Model 1892.
In 1892, the Norwegian army began trials to find a replacement for the Jarmann rifle. After extensive field trials, the Krag-Jorgensen rifle was officially adopted as the Krag-Jorgensengevaer M/1894.
The Model 1894 was produced from the finest materials and featured a pistol-grip stock made of walnut. Later stocks were also made of beech. To enhance accuracy, a free-floating barrel was used, and finely adjustable front and rear sights were fitted.
The Krag was chambered for the 6.5×55 Mauser cartridge, which was known in Norway as the 6.5mm M/94 Skarpe Patroner. It had the multiple advantages of high retained velocity, low trajectory, mild recoil, and deep penetration, and its lighter weight allowed soldiers to carry more ammunition. The M/94 cartridge used a 156-grain FMJ, roundnose bullet traveling at 2,378 fps. A change in propellant was approved three years later, and the round was renamed as the M/97 Skarpe Patrone. The ballistics apparently remained unchanged.
While the factory in Kongsberg tooled up to produce the new rifle, a contract for approximately 30,000 rifles and carbines was placed with Österreichische Waffenfabriks-Gessellschaft of Steyr, Austria. Kongsberg began production in 1896, and by the time manufacture ceased in 1923, in excess of 165,000 Krag rifles and carbines were produced.
Four different Krag carbines were produced: the M/1895 Kavaleriekarabin (Cavalry), M/1897 Bergartilleriet og Ingeniorvapnet (Mountain artillery and Engineer), M/1904 Ingeniorvapnet (Engineer), and M/1907 Feltartilleriet (Field artillery). All had 20.5-inch barrels, but the former two were fitted with half-length stocks, while the latter two had full-length stocks.
In addition to producing rifles for the Norwegian armed forces, Kongsberg sold Krags to reservists and members of the Norwegian rifle association. Among these serious shooters, the Krag quickly gained a reputation for extraordinary accuracy. It was also discovered that the 6.5×55 was an excellent big-game cartridge, capable of taking animals up to the size of the Scandinavian moose.
It is generally agreed that the Krag had two shortcomings. First, when Ferdinand von Mannlicher and Paul Mauser introduced their clip- and charger-loaded magazines, manually loaded military rifles became obsolete. Second, while the single locking lug made for smooth operation, it was not capable of providing sufficient strength for high-pressure cartridges. The Norwegians did not see this as a problem, as the 6.5×55 cartridge functioned within the Krag’s pressure limitations of about 45,000 psi.
In 1912, the Krag-Jorgensenkarabin M/1912 was adopted and intended as a general-issue rifle for all branches of the service. Despite its designation as a carbine, it was, in fact, a short rifle with a 24-inch barrel. Field service showed the Model 1912 did not quite live up to expectations, and although production continued until 1935, only 30,000 units were produced.
In 1925, the Norwegian army upgraded its issue cartridge. The 6.5mm M/25 Skarpe Patroner featured a 139-grain spitzer bullet at a velocity of 2,600 fps and required new sights to be mounted on all rifles and carbines, although the range adjustments remained unchanged. Rifles and
carbines with the recalibrated sights had a “D” stamped on the sight base under the leaf.
The Norwegian Krag had its baptism of fire in South Africa. With war with Britain threatening in the late 1890s, the Boer republics purchased a hodgepodge collection of rifles from European arms dealers, including some Model 1894 Krag-Jorgensens. It has been reported that the more elegant Krags were usually issued to high-ranking Afrikaner officers.
When the Wehrmacht invaded Norway in 1940, the small Norwegian army put up a stiff resistance but was soon overwhelmed by superior numbers and blitzkrieg tactics. To release standard weapons for frontline troops, the Germans issued captured Krags to their occupation troops in Norway. In 1943, Kongsberg assembled a modified Krag carbine for German occupation troops and collaborator Vidkun Quisling’s security forces.
After the war, some Model 1894s and Model 1912s were assembled from parts, and limited numbers of Krags were issued to the postwar Norwegian army and reserves until being replaced by American and ex-German rifles. Kongsberg also produced Krag sporting rifles for Norwegian hunters: the Model 48 and Model 51 Elggevaer (moose rifle) were chambered for a special reduced-load 7.9×57 Mauser cartridge produced by Norma.
Krags remain extremely popular in Norway, especially among target shooters of the National Rifle Association of Norway. They inspire the same kind of loyalty that Americans feel towards the Model 1903 Springfields and M1 Garands.
Shooting A Model 1912 Krag
For this report, I test-fired a Norwegian Model 1912 carbine from my personal collection. It is dated 1918 and is in extremely nice condition with the late-model rear sight and a worn but shiny bore. My only complaint is that the trigger has a fairly heavy, albeit crisp, letoff.
Century International Arms kindly supplied a quantity of 1970s Swedish surplus and new-production HotShot 6.5×55 cartridges, to which I added some Federal Premium sporting ammunition. I ran the Krag through its paces firing off an MTM Predator rest on my club’s 100-yard range. Despite a lowest rear-sight setting of 100 meters, it tended to print high, and it took me a few rounds to gauge how much “Kentucky elevation” to use. Once I had the measure of that, I was quite pleased when my second group–fired with the Federal ammo–put five rounds into a well-centered 2.25 inches. All brands of ammo shot to the same point of aim, and all my groups were in the 3-inch range, which I think is a pretty good performance for an old military rifle that isn’t getting any younger.
Bolt manipulation was smooth, rounds chambered and extracted easily, and the Krag magazine was just plain funky to load.
As the lucky owner of a rather nice collection of U.S. Krags, I make no bones about being a died-in-the-wool “Kraggie,” and I was pleased to see that the Norwegian cousin lived up to the family reputation for accuracy and shootability. Once you accept that it is slow to load and you must stick to ammunition of original ballistics, the Krag is one of the most pleasurable rifles I have ever fired. And that bolt…it is smooth!