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Arms History - Krag vs Savage - The Finals of the 1892 US Military Arms Trials

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The People's knowledge and ability at Arms has always been the very essence and muscle protecting the core of liberty. It was the arrogance of an Imperial tyrant attempting to confiscate our Arms in 1775 that sparked the American War for Independence. The lessons of that 8 year conflict were cemented into the American consciousness proving to the world that only an informed and armed people can be free. The American Firearms culture as it is known, is based on the proved individual right of self determination and protection. After the Revolution this truth was immediately codified into law in the Bill of Rights. I think it important that folks have some knowledge of Arms history, not just the political history, but the cultural history of the Arms themselves.

With that said, I'd like to re-introduce a pair of shoot-able and most effective historical long-arms that were first introduced at the end of the 19th Century. One is a Norwegian invention, the 1892-'98 bolt-action Krag-Jorgensen rifle. The other is all American, the 1892-'99 lever-action Savage rifle. Both were patented in America in 1893, so they were state of the art Arms in the 1890s. Though they're of two different action types and functional designs, they have more in common than one would suspect at first glance. From the very beginning their stories are intertwined and even today as hunting rifles, these two have prompted decades of campfire banter as to which is the better deer and elk rifle. The competition between them has flourished for well over 100 years...

Here they are in their original military configuration...

Shown above is a photo of a Springfield Model 1898 U.S. Krag Infantry Rifle that was recently offered for sale
by the Rock Island Auction Company. It is typical of the over 500,000 rifles and carbines that were produced
at the Springfield Armory between 1892 and 1904 when the Krag production ended.

Above, is a photo showing one of about a thousand or so Model 1899 .303 caliber military rifles produced by
Savage Arms Company from 1895 to 1914. This extremely rare rifle with its bayonet was recently offered
for sale by Nadeau's Auctions. This rifle was part of a consignment of 800 produced for the Montreal Canada
Home Guard before WWI. The 1892 U.S. Military trial rifles offered by Savage were similar to this one in

It all started back in 1892 when a new and unique lever-action repeating rifle was submitted by Arthur W. Savage to the US Arms Board. It was entered as a contender to replace the old single shot Model 1873 Springfield as the service rifle for the U.S. Army. At the same time, along with 52 other entries, a new side magazine bolt-action, the Norwegian Krag-Jorgensen rifle was entered in the competition as well. In their military configurations shown above, both were chambered with the new caliber .30/40, the .30-US cartridge. So the trial here was not only to determine the military suitability, durability, and performance of the rifles themselves, but the cartridge as well. Only one of the 54 entries would be chosen however, only one could become the first smokeless powder, high velocity repeating rifle issued to the U.S. Army.

The rifle above is typical of the Model 1873 Allin-Conversion,
Model 1873 Springfield "Trapdoor" rifle, shown along with a
close-up of it's open action and the 45/70 cartridge it fired.
This rifle was replaced by the U.S. Krag in 1892.

When the smoke cleared and all was said and done, likely because bolt action rifles were the up and coming thing with most military powers of the time, the bolt action Krag was the one adopted by the U.S. government for manufacture at the U.S. Springfield Armory.  This insured the .30/40 Krag's place in American political history. When it was superseded by the Springfield Model 03A3 in 1903 it was never manufactured again. The last of about 500,000 U.S. Krag rifles and carbines, rolled out of the armory in early 1904. Most of it's 20th century popularity however, came later when it was sold to the public on the surplus market in the 1920s and '30s.

The Krag's robust construction, it's ease of operation and excellent accuracy, were all reasons for the Arms Board's decision. The Krag has that late 19th Century "built to last" appearance about it. It feels solid when you handle it. True to it's "Guilded Age" roots, the precisely machined action and unique side-fed, drop-gate, cartridge magazine looks like it's right out of a Jules Verne novel. The magazine's strength and flawless function was a simple yet elegant answer to the rather explosive problem most repeating rifles had up to that time. Virtually all repeaters by the late 1880's had tubular magazines that stacked cartridges nose to tail inside a tube under the barrel or inside the butt-stock. This almost assured premature discharge of the stack due to recoil when using the new high velocity cartridges with their hard jacket pointed bullets. There are hundreds of patent files from the 1880s and '90s addressing this "tubular" dilemma. The Krag offered a unique solution.

The lever-action Savage by the same token, is just as solid and accurate, yet it's appeal arises for distinctly different reasons. Though conceived and perfected in the 1890's like the Krag, the lever-action Savage must have seemed like something from the future, so sleek and modern was it's appearance.  Even the 1892 military model was as smooth and elegant in it's lines and feel, as it was simple and strong in it's innovative mechanics. It's magazine and carrier system solved the tube magazine problem with a top fed, 8 round rotary magazine. It was easily fed with either loose cartridges or from a stripper clip -- quite novel for it's time in a lever-action rifle.

Above left at the top, is a Model 1899 from 1901 chambered in .303 Savage. It's followed by sectional drawings
of it's action and 5 round magazine. The change from 8 to a 5 round magazine was made on it's predecessor
the Model 1895, to reduce the bulkiness of the rather pot bellied 8 round 1892 military design seen in the 1893
patent drawing shown on the right. (Click on images for larger view.)

The Savage was truly ahead of it's time. It could handle all but the largest most powerful 20th century cartridges with ease, no small feat for a lever-action. Though it lost the 1892  U.S. military trial, the Savage Arms Company, newly formed in 1897 took it's little lever-action on to commercial success.  With continuing improvements the Model '99 Savage blasted out of the 19th century like a shot. By the end of the 20th century well over a million of them had been built in a dozen modern calibers before it's production was discontinued here in the states in 1998. The Model 99C continued to be made in Spain until 2004 however.

On the left above, is a page from the original 1893 Krag patent showing the action with
the loading gate open in 3 views with a sectional view in the middle. (Click on the image
for the full sized drawing.)... On the right is a view of the loading gate after the cartridges
have been rolled into the magazine cavity before the cover is snapped closed. There was
a specially designed 5 round loading clip patented in 1901 by R.W. Scott that sped up
the reloading process even further. 

The Krag was even quicker to load with loose ammo... you just flip open the magazine side cover and roll 4 or 5 cartridges side-by-side over your finger tips above the spring loaded carrier into the magazine cavity -- close the cover, cycle the bolt and you're chambered and ready to fire. You can load it much faster than you can describe it. The Krag has the smoothest and quickest cycling bolt action ever produced. It's also an attention getter at the range. One can just imagine the wonderment of the old U.S. Cavalrymen as they exchanged their out-dated Trapdoor Springfields for the new Krag bolt-action repeaters. They must have seen them as industrial miracles in the age of smokeless powder.

When the bolt-action Krag was decommissioned for sale to the public after WWI, the Savage '99 lever-action already had over 20 years of commercial success under it's belt. However, this did not stop the Krag from being grabbed up at low surplus prices by shooting enthusiasts who sporterized it for target and hunting purposes. Soon, it proved itself a "top notch" quality sporting Arm. In many cases the surplus Krag was restored to its exact military configuration confirming it's history. The Second Amendment guarantee that the people be armed, mandates the surplus sales. Through it's the careful restoration by the people which assures the Krag takes it's place along with the Savage in a new chapter, as 3 dimensional documents of truth, in our political and cultural Arms history. A history that stretches back over 4 centuries to the Matchlock muskets of the Pilgrims and Jamestown settlers.

Here are two sporterized examples of these rifles.

This rifle is a commercially produced "300 Savage '99" made in 1950 and is original. The factory scope
was replaced 8 years ago with a new 4 power Simmons. It is a tack driver at 200 yards.

This is a very nicely done Model 1898 30/40 Krag sporter in the Monte Carlo style very popular
in the 1960s and '70s... It started it's life in 1898 looking very much like the first photo here.

Here in a side by side comparison
are the cartridges these rifles fire.
on the left, the 300 Savage, introduced
by Savage in 1920 on the right,
the .30-US or .30/40 Krag.

All in all, it's good that the 1892 military arms trials went the way they did. Had the selection gone the other way, what we call the .30/40 Krag today might well be known as the .30/40 Savage instead. Had the Krag-Jorgensen rifle lost the trial, it may have slipped into obscurity as a relatively unknown European transitional design. It's also possible that if Savage's rifle had become the military standard of the time, he may not have formed the Savage Arms Company in 1897 which took his unique lever-action onward as it did to great success in the commercial market as the improved Model '99. We may have never seen Savage's now classic, "new" commercial cartridges that appeared after the turn of the 20th Century. These include the Newton .22 High-Power, the .250/3000 Savage, and of course, the cartridge that the trusty ol' .30/40 Krag has had to contend with now for the last 90 years, the legendary "300 Savage". What a marvelous competition it's been.


"The moment the idea is admitted into society that
property is not as sacred as the law of God, and
that there is not a force of law and public justice
to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence"

~John Adams

Last Edit by Gladstone


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