The Italian 6.5x52mm Mannlicher-Carcano Rifle

By Chuck Hawks

The Italian government adopted the Mannlicher-Carcano M-91 bolt action rifle and the 6.5x52mm cartridge in 1891. This rifle and cartridge served the Italian military through two World Wars, victoriously in the First, and in a losing effort in the Second.

The M-91's used in WW II were, in the main, not very well made rifles; nor were they particularly accurate. Although the M-91 was always nominally a 6.5mm rifle, during the long years of production the bore and groove sizes of barrels varied considerably, which certainly did not help the rifle's reputation for accuracy. At least some (and perhaps all) M-91 TS Carbines were rifled with an unusual gain twist in their handy 21" barrel. By the end of the Second World War many of the M-91's had actions that were rather loose. In addition, the Mannlicher-Carcano action is not an easy one to adopt to a telescopic sight (although it can be done). For all of these reasons the M-91 is not the best military rifle to use as the basis of a sporter--in fact it is probably one of the worst. They are, however, inexpensive.

The one real virtue of the M-91 is that it was a fast to operate. Perhaps this was partly because the action was not real tight, and partly due to the Mannlicher design. But for whatever reason, the bolt slid very easily and very fast in its recess. A buddy of mine owned an M-91 Carbine, and I remember it as being the fastest bolt action military rifle I ever cycled. Practically anyone, with a minimum of practice, could shoot a Mannlicher-Carcano rifle quickly.

A number of these rough rifles were brought home as "war trophies" by GI's after the conclusion of hostilities in 1945. Later on the Italian government declared the remaining M-91 service rifles surplus. A large number of them found their way to the United States, where they were sold to shooters seeking an inexpensive or knockabout rifle for deer hunting.

Unfortunately, one of these surplus Mannlicher-Carcano rifles was used by Lee Harvey Oswald to assassinate President John F. Kennedy in 1963. The eventual result of that sad affair was the Gun Control Act of 1968, as if it were the M-91 rifle and all of the law abiding gun owners in the US who were to blame for the death of the President, rather than the man who actually fired the shots. Once again symbolism triumphed over substance in the US Congress. In any event, the whole unfortunate affair served to further blacken the reputation of the M-91 Mannlicher-Carcano.

The 6.5x52 cartridge is something of an oddity, as least as loaded for the Italian government. For one thing, it used a Berdan primer of odd and generally unobtainable size. Another is the counterboring of the inside of the case neck, which extended to just above the shoulder; the original bullet was seated in this counterbored area. These peculiarities make 6.5x52 Italian military brass just about impossible to reload.

For the shooter with a Mannlicher-Carcano rifle in good shape, factory loaded 6.5x52 ammunition and brass is available from Norma. Norma brass uses standard large rifle Boxer primers, and is excellent for reloading.

The newest of the WW II surplus rifles are over 60 years old and slowly going out of service, and there are no civilian rifles being chambered in 6.5x52, so the 6.5x52mm cartridge will likely become obsolete at some point in the future. At the present time, however, ammunition and reloading components are available, so there is no reason not to enjoy shooting a serviceable Mannlicher-Carcano rifle if you happen to own one.

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Copyright 2005, 2011 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.