There were around 40 million casualties in the “war to end all wars,” World War I. These were due to a combination of many factors, such as terrible health conditions and new technologies entering the battlefield. According to some reports, there were 20 million deaths and over 21 million wounded attributed to the four-year long war, including military and civilians from both the Allied and Central Powers.
Infantries were equipped with rifles, especially early in the war, as machine guns and heavy artillery were not as commonly used prior to WWI. Most of the armies included bayonets for their soldiers' rifles to provide effectiveness in holding or capturing positions.
Common World War I Rifles - Allied Forces
The Lee-Enfield rifle was the staple of the British army from 1902. It is the basic British infantry weapon, which had a short magazine and replaced the earlier version of 1895. It was 44.5 inches in length and remained a bolt-action rifle that fired 10 rounds normally over 1-2 minutes. It was a 0.303 caliber ammunition rifle with rimmed cartridges in the British Army’s arsenal for years.
The rounds were configurable as single-bullets or five-round clips. The Lee-Enfield offered a higher fire rate than the U.S.’s Springfield, which has a five-round magazine.
The Berthier Model 1907 was an improvement of other models, such as the 1886 Lebel, and was used as the primary service rifle of the French infantry during the outbreak of World War I. There were modified versions of the gun, such as MLE 1916, that were late to enter World War I. The Model 1907 was mass-manufactured during this time.
As mass-manufacturing and the war progressed, it was quickly acknowledged that the three-shot Berthier rifle was not suitable for comparison with other combat rifles in terms of reloading.
Frequent reloading and the inability of the gun to fire after encountering mud and grit led to the production of five-round clips and a spring trapdoor to prevent the dirt and grit from entering the new rifle versions.
The Mosin-Nagant 1891 was a bolt-action rifle; Russian Captain Sergei Mosin was the main contributor to the design of this rifle. It had a five-round magazine box placed internally. What’s interesting is that just a year after its production in 1891, the Russian military adopted it in 1892.
After adequately reconfiguring the bolt handles, the Mosin-Nagant could adjust 3.5 to 4x telescopic sights on the firearm. Russian snipers, who would benefit from this change, would still have to contend with above-average weight and length of the rifle compared to other Allied rifles.
Carcano M91 rifle (Modello 1891) came into the final development phase during 1890 on the request of the Italian Army. It was tested in 1891 and became part of the infantry service during March of 1892. It had a folding bayonet during 1893, which became an essential part of the Carcano M91 model.
After experiencing a combat rush during the First Italo-Ethiopian War in 1895, nearly 2,500 units were manufactured for the Italian infantry. Nearly 700,000 more Carcano M91 rifles were produced for WWI during the initial outbreak. Reliable and accurate, the Italian troops depended on this rifle for years.
The M1903 Springfield was the primary rifle for WWI service, and continued to be used as a sniper rifle until the 1970s. Over 800,000 rifles had been produced by the time the U.S. Army was set to join the war. While some improvements were necessary, the M1903 provided soldiers with an accurate and reliable rifle.
Common World War I Rifles - Central Powers
Austria-Hungary & Bulgaria
Initially, the Austro-Hungarian armies used Mannlicher M1895 and Bulgaria had begun using the M1895 in the Balkan Wars just before World War I. The M1895 bolt-action served as a precise manufacturing and operating template for the Canadian M1905 Ross rifle.
The Mannlicher M1895 was chambered with the 8x50mm Mannlicher, but Austria-Hungary decided to replace the M1895 with the version that used 8x56mm rounds for robust support during combat outbreaks.
Germany’s Mauser 1898 was likely one of the most effective rifles of the war. This bolt-action rifle served in both World Wars, firing a 7.92mm cartridge.
An extensive range of rifle variants, both of Allied and other Central Power infantry principal rifles, were based on the templates, designs, and qualities of the Mauser. It was seen as an effective rifle for maximum combat engagement, especially for the German front-liners.