The Krag: America’s first modern rifle, by way of Norway
As a country, the United States has a long history of inventing and perfecting some of the best military systems in the world. However, there was a decade or so that included one of our first foreign wars in which Uncle Sam’s GIs carried a rifle designed by a team of guys named Ole and Erik who hailed from Oslo. Officially designated as the Springfield Model 1892, it’s commonly just called the Krag.
Why was it invented?
In the early 1890s, the standard rifle of the U.S. Army was the Model 1873 “Trapdoor” Springfield, which was basically a single shot rifled musket only slightly evolved from the Civil War through the addition of a breechloading door conversion that allowed it to take a .45-70 blackpowder cartridge. Custer’s men carried these rifles at their last stand. Thoroughly obsolete when compared to the new Mauser, Lee-Metford, and Lebel bolt-action rifles used in Europe, Uncle was fast looking for a new gun that did the same.
This led them to Norway.
Major Ole H. J. Krag of the Royal Norwegian Army, along with gunsmith Erik Jorgensen of the Kongsberg munitions factory had in 1886 produced a very decent rifle chambered in 8x58mmR to replace the Danish Army’s Remington Rolling Block rifles single shot rifles in the same caliber. This Krag-Jorgensen design was bolt-action with a side-opening speed-loading magazine that could be rapidly charged with five rounds in just a second or two.
A magazine cut-off, which allowed the rifle to be shot, reloaded, and shot again without touching the 5-rounds in the mag, gave the Krag a “reserve” of ammunition that at the time seemed impressive. The Krag-Jorgensen has one of the smoothest bolt travels ever due to its single forward-locking lug because of this design.
Strong and accurate, the Danes had adopted it in 1889 to be ready to use it if the Mauser-armed Germans came and the Norwegians were looking at it for much the same reasons.
The two Norwegians however had heard of the U.S. Army’s notice for rifles to trial in 1892 and sent a few to Governor’s Island New York to compete for the much bigger prize there.