Carcano Production Changes, Subcontractors, Markings

I. Production Changes:

The various types and models of the Carcano underwent production changes during their life. This has been described (in some brevity) in the "models.html" page.
What we are addressing here, in more depth now, is something different: the production changes of single parts and elements of the gun. Although it might appear at the first glance that the Carcano has remained mostly identical during all of its production time, this is not quite the case in detail. A number of minor changes have been made (the same development as with the Mauser M 98, which famous rifle system in reality was frequently changed and altered, and did not at all remain static). In the case of the Carcano, most notably affected was the bolt.
Also, the quality of surface finish (smoothness, polishing) varies over time and with the manufacturer; pre-World-War-I Carcanos are much nicer finished, generally speaking. The quality and strength, however, and the functional tolerances, were not affected by changes, not even with late war production guns. Carcanos had realized and implemented the dire necessities of modern wartime mass production to their fullest extent already in World War I, incidentally ahead of most other military firearms, and from then onward had no need to lower their standards further (it would be worth a study of its own to compare the progressive steps of simplication, time and raw materials economy in wartime production of different countries, as Albrecht Wacker and Friedrich Graf each have already undertaken it for the German Kar 98k).

Now, for examining the single parts:

1. Extractor and locking lug:
The old type extractor (of which, again, two submodels are written to exist - we have only observed one so far, however) went throught the right locking lug (the lug situated to the right hand of the shooter when the bolt is closed). We therefore also speak of a "split-lug type extractor".
The shape of the old extractor is a smallish paw, not unlike the German Mod. 1888 ("commission rifle", of which significant features of the carcano were derived). While not giving the cartridge case's rim the fast and sturdy grip of the Mauser-type claw extractor, the "old type extractor" is quite sufficient for everyday usage. Nevertheless, the Italian ordnance office was not entirely satisfied.

The old extractor had three disadvantages:

Therefore, in 1912, a new extractor was designed and rapidly put into production. Old style bolts were declared obsolete, redrawn from the guns and put into arsenal storage (careful quartermasters won't throw away anything that might be needed sometime - and indeed, they were drawn out of storage again, 30 years later !). The new extractor runs alongside the right locking lug (instead through it, as before), and curves into a hook- shape before the lug, ensuring about 200 % more contact with the cartridge rim.

One other important feature: the new extractor also sports a hidden gas escape opening. In addition to the small externally visible circular gas escape opening in the bolt, a second and larger (rectangular) gas escape opening is situated in the extractor mortise. In case of emergency, and a lot of gas being propelled backwards through the firing pin hole that the single visible gas escape hole can't handle, the gas will break its way out through this second hatch and the extractor will be blown out of its mortise (and be safely caught within the receiver ring). A simple and flexible design !

2. Cocking piece cam in the bolt
The joint safety/decocker has a small protusion, a nut that runs in a diagonal channel (cam) of the rear bolt body. The first model bolt and the early second model bolts (we are not sure when exactly the change was effectuated; but not before 1912) have a smallish "bay" into which this protusion of the safety must be rotated in order to strip the bolt and to take out the joint "firing pin/spring/safety/cocking piece/nut" assembly (which procedure takes about 2 seconds). However, this optical disassembly aid weakened the bolt body, and I have personally seen two bolts which - probably due to over-hardening of the now thinner metal - have cracked exactly here. The newer style shape of the guide channel leaves a bit more metal.

It should be noted and underlined here, in this context, that both first model and early second-model bolts are regularly found on late World War II Carcanos (e.g. M 91/41 long rifles). This is fully okay, and cannot be considered a "mismatch". It is estimated that in the urgencies of wartime production and sub-contracted parts manufacturing, the shelved old bolts were pulled from arsenal storage to speed up current production - rather have a new rifle with a (correctly headspaced) old bolt now, than a new rifle three months later. In all likelihood, these seemingly "mixed and non-matching" Carcanos were already factory assembled in the way we see them today - and this also explains why so many old "serial numbered" bolts can be found on late Carcanos.
It would also be possible and thinkable - but much less likely - that the factory reworking and reconditioning which hundreds of thousands of Carcanos underwent (together with reblueing and restocking) after World War II (mostly between 1946 and 1948, thus possibly indicating a government-orchestrated labour procurement project in the dire post-war times) is responsible for the mix-up of old bolts with new guns - but then, just why should so many phased-out bolts from isolated storage have been put (after the war was over !) into rifles which themselves had only been made 2 to 5 years earlier, and which had seen little combat use, thus hardly having a chance to develop excess headspace ?

3. Buttstock
The first buttstocks (up to 1914/1915) were made of decent walnut, and some quite beautifully. When Italy entered the Great War, exigencies of mass production asked for other stockwoods of which a more plentiful supply could be had, and which would not need as much drying time. Thus, the change first towards ash, then towards the soon-to-become-and-remain predominant beech took place. I am not sure whether maple stocks also exist.
Whether guns of the intermediate times returned to walnut stock, I do not know; World War II saw exclusively beech stocks. Many of them were spry and cracked at the rear upper receiver tang, behind the metal recoil lug, and at the rear magazine stock screw - these smallish cracks are almost a typical condition. Wooden inserts are frequently found installed at the receiver tang, to counter-act or remedy this. Equally common are pinned-into-place wood replacements of the wooden ridge piece at the left receiver bridge.
Many Carcanos and many Vetterli-Vitalis were restocked after WW II in the factory repair and reconditioning program. These new stocks bear an oval post-war date stamp (like FAT 1946 or FAET 1948) together with the newly stamped (and on occasion hastily mistyped) original serial number, and often the letters "PL" at the receiver side of the stock. At least on occasion, walnut replacement stocks seem to have been used too (I own an reblued M 91 rifle made in 1918 with a 1946-stamped, near pristine walnut stock), but 95 % or more of the new stocks are beech.

4. Folding bayonet
A plethora of different combination of bayonet bases and pertinent front sights exist. We count three blade locking mechanisms (sliding latch; lever; push-button); and then various transitional models, factory modernizations, and various front sights (together at least 10 sub-types).

5. Bolt nut
The serration of the bolt nut outer (backward) rim is slightly different, depending upon the contractor.

6. Lower barrel band
The M 91/41 rifles use two different barrel bands: the first model was an altered M 91 barrel with a side sling bar welded on. The old producer's marking is sometimes visible under the bar. The second model uses a one-piece (stamped or forged ?) barrel band with integral sling bar; its outer silhouette is also different and does not show the slight waist of the M 91's barrel band.

7. Safety
The safety has coarse checkering on its thumb tab. Both the density (lpi) and the shape of the diamonds (flat or pointed) differ, as does the machining on the forward side (smooth surface; circular marks; diagonal scratches).

8. Nose cap
a) The Moschetto 91 TS (91/24; 91/28; 91/38) are truly notorious for their unsurmisable variety of nosecaps. Trying to systematize them is like taking and broom and setting out to sweep the forest.
b) The nosecap of the M 91 rifle and of the first M 91/41 rifles differs from the later M 91/41 rifles; these latter have a reinforcement ridge along the right screwhole. Its purpose is not quite clear to me; maybe to serve as an attachment point for a muzzle-installed grenade launcher ?

9. Magazine housing / trigger guard
This joint part has some slight but discernible shape differences as to its lower bellyside, and can be found in a slightly "straighter" and slightly more "curved" form. All the Moschetti TS 38 in 8mm that I have seen show the more curved belly.

II. Subcontractors and parts markings

Many Carcano parts show minuscule markings or stampings. Richard Hobbs and I assume that these are, in most cases, not military inspectors' stamps, but subcontractors' markings. The Italians - like Germany, the United Kingdom and the USA - used an extensive system of subcontractors who produced various rifle parts, with a high degree of specialization; final assembly (and the manufacture of some central components such as receivers and barrels) was effectuated in the state arsenals or arms factories which are stamped as "manufacturer" on the barrel base. The exact identification is made difficult by the fact that some parts do seem to show inspectors' marks, by the further fact that inspectors' marks often have the same size, shape and style as subcontractors' marks, and by the fact that quaint factory foremen's or internal assembly marks also show up frequently.

A comprehensive list of all these markings, identifying and explaining them, is one of the central and main desiderata of all Carcano research. Until we find the master list of codes in an Italian military archive (or maybe still in Terni, SMALT), Richard Hobbs and I have endeavoured to supply a preliminary listing of all those parts that regularly show markings, together with an indication of the markings that we have found (and their relative incidence).
Every help and addition here is much welcome !

a) Parts which are regularly marked:

b) Parts which are only (very) occasionally marked

III. Further Markings

1. The hard core of the markings, so to speak, is situated on the barrel base. Up to 1935/36, the barrel base remained half-octagonal, a 7feature taken over from the predecessors, the Vetterli(-Vitali) rifles. The lower half (in the stock) remained round, while the upper-half was half-octagonal, showing five planes (facets).

The facets usually show the following data:

In addition to these, an accuracy mark (two stylized crossed rifles under a two-ring bullseye target) is found on about 10 % of the barrels. It is stamped either on the first or the fifth facet (respectively, somewhere on the round barrel base of the later barrels), but has also been observed on the stockwood. I am not sure whether it denotes an especially tight barrel (like the

We are still unsure about the significance of the profusely encountered marking "crown over TNI in circle", attributed to Terni (rarer found on WW I guns is "crown over OCR in circle", likely denoting Rome). It might be a manufacturers' stamping - but it is also found on parts made by other contractors. It might be an acceptance ("inspectors")stamp - but why only on some parts ? It might be an factory assembly stamping. Or a military proof mark (but why would a proof mark be found on the trigger guard, of all places ?).