The Moschetto M95 carbine is a modification of the Mannlicher-Steyr 95 rifle, as used by the Austro-Hungarian Empire during WWI. Italy captured a number of these guns during WWI, and received many more after the armistice. Meanwhile the collapsed empire’s neighbors inherited some, especially Bulgaria, which adopted it as it’s main carbine in the inter-war period. The M95 was a standard carbine of the Italian colonial forces and Bulgarian army during WWII, and also saw some use by the German army which acquired them via overrunning Poland and Greece; who had themselves previously captured or inherited them from the Austro-Hungarians. The Yugoslav and Hungarian armies also used it to a smaller extent during WWII. Finally, the USSR had some left over from Imperial Russian stockpiles of WWI.
The M95 carbine was a straight-pull bolt weapon. Unlike the turn-&-pull motion bolt action rifle shooters are used to, the M95 only required a back-and-forth motion. This allowed for very rapid return to battery – under a second by a good marksman. This carbine used a five-round internal enbloc, which dropped out the bottom. There was no bayonet lug; the nib under the forward end of the stock is a device to link M95s together, so that they could be rested teepee-style when not in use. The sling attachments were on the left side, not bottom.
The M95 fired the WWI-era 8x50R Mannlicher cartridge. This cartridge was definitely an item of the 19th century, as seen by it’s non-spitzer bullet.
Italy never rechambered any of it’s M95 carbines. Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and Greece all rechambered their M95s to the 7.92mm Mauser cartridge. Hungary rechambered some of theirs to the 8×56 cartridge; these have a huge H stamped on the action to warn the shooter of the correct ammunition and were redesignated Puska M31. Some German-used examples were rechambered to 8x56R; this was actually done by Austria prior to Germany annexing it and they were stamped with a large S.
Many Italian examples are marked “AOI” (Africa Orientale Italiana / Italian East Africa) on the stock; these were used in Italian Somalialand and Eritrea, and later in the conquest and occupation of Ethiopia.
(A M95 carbine still with the original Steyr acceptance mark and the Austro-Hungarian Empire coat of arms stamp. The Italians and Bulgarians usually obliterated these and restamped a crown or lion, respectively; and new acceptance marks – either AC or CE for Italian army use. Examples with the original imperial mark are collectible today.)
When British troops overran Italy’s African colonies and liberated Ethiopia, most of Italy’s stockpile was lost there. Much of the remainder was lost when Italy’s Balkan front collapsed and it lost control of it’s former possessions there, Dalmatia and Albania. The postwar Italian army did not use the M95.
Bulgaria was the main post-WWII user. Besides whatever of it’s inventory remained when it switched from the Axis to Allies in 1944, the USSR donated all the M95s it had – the remnant of it’s own original inventory, plus examples captured from Germany, Italy, Poland, and Hungary during the war. The Soviets did not like the M95 and Bulgaria was the only one if it’s new eastern European satellites to have any interest in it after 1945.
Bulgarian army examples of the post-WWII era often have serials pressed onto the wood stock, and might have any (or a combination of) the original owner’s markings. The Bulgarian army used the M95 carbine throughout the 1940s and maintained some in reserve into the 1950s, when a sufficient quantity of Soviet-made guns were available.
Yugoslav partisan forces during the war captured a number of M95s, in addition to those hidden when the country was occupied. The weapon (originally intended for a cavalry saddlebag) weighed only seven pounds and was easier to conceal than a full-length rifle. This made it ideal for guerrilla warfare. It was said that it’s ergonomic design and light weight also made it ideal for female shooters. Many still remained at the end of the war in 1945, often hand-decorated by Tito’s partisans. The reforming Yugoslav army (JNA) briefly used them in the late 1940s.
The M95 was not adopted by the postwar Greek army, however a sizable amount were in circulation when the Greek Civil War began in 1946, and were used by both sides. Many of these were provided to the communist side by Yugoslavia, which shared a border with Greece, and by Bulgaria which saw an opportunity to both help the communists and weed out non-7.92mm M95s from it’s own inventory.
Despite having been occupied by Italy during the war, the M95 carbine was not used for very long by the postwar Ethiopian army. It was already being phased out by 1946.
Along with Bulgaria, Somalia was the other main user of the M95 after WWII. The northern part of the country (the former Italian Somalialand) was a UN mandate while the southern part remained a British protectorate. The two halves joined as an independent country in 1960. Some ex-Italian M95 carbines remained; when the British departed these were simply left behind and incorporated into the new country’s army. Meanwhile other M95s were used by local militias. There were still M95 carbines in Somali use as late as 1958. During the 1977-1978 Ogaden War, a Soviet adviser to Ethiopia claimed that the Somalis were still using this gun, but there is no evidence of it and it may be confusion with some other weapon.
When the British completed their East Africa campaign, management of captured Italian firearms was haphazard and sloppy. A few AOI-stamped M95s somwhow ended up in Palestine, where a handful were used by both Arabs and Israelis during the 1948 war. Very low numbers also ended up as far south as Kenya and as far east as Pakistan.