Updated: Jun 30
As part of the project of the full list of the infantry weapons used by the Soviet invading contingent in Afghanistan, we present an article about the Mosin-Nagant rifle. Soviet Army was very limited in its sniper capabilities by the late Cold War era. The invasion of Afghanistan has shown, that this doctrine was not suitable at least for the ongoing conflict. Later wars would further prove that the lack of sniper rifles in the forces must be addressed. And as dozens of years before, the gun adopted in 1891, almost 100 years before the invasion of Afghanistan came to the rescue.
Mosin-Nagant rifle in the Soviet Army
The history of sniping within the Soviet Army is more or less known to the general public. It was not a big thing before the big war. It did get a lot of development after Soviet aggression against Finland and during the Second World War. But then again it started to fade away when the Red Army was renamed to Soviet Army.
By the late 1950s, there were not many, if any at all, Mosin-Nagant sniper rifles on active duty in the regular infantry regiments. The army was rapidly developing into a highly mobile force and the key to the Soviet military doctrine was speed and firepower. In simple words, Soviet doctrine would rather prefer another soldier who can burst a full AK magazine than one sniper round.
Of course, such a doctrine was far from adequate. And in an unusual set of events, Soviet higher military and industrial command realized that during peacetime. Not having a section-level weapon to deliver effective fire at the enemy beyond regular 7.62 AK was a problem and the SVD was a solution.
But adapting Dragunov's masterpiece did not mean that all the Mosin-Nagant rifles were dismantled or sold. They were and still are present in the military storage facilities in big numbers. And it is very likely that this is how they got into Afghanistan.
Mosin-Nagan in Afghanistan
In the very early days of the invasion, it became obvious that this new type of warfare will not require highly aggressive and massive artillery strikes, but instead, things will have to be done in low key fashion.
Wide and long open areas of Afghanistan, as well as specific terrain, made it painfully obvious that infantry will actually have to fight away from its vehicles. This meant, that long-range weapons with good optics such as BTR machine guns and BMP canons were not always available on a section level.
This situation needed a rapid response. However, the absolute majority of units involved in the initial invasion were from the Turkmenistan Military District (TurkVO). Not all military districts in the Soviet Union were born equal. TurkVO was considered a "low priority", hence the big war was always planned in Europe. The military units in TurkVO were armed with one generation older weapons than the rest of the Armed Forces - having T-62 tanks instead of T-64 and AKM rifles instead of AK-74. The SVD rifles were (and still are) rare. There just simply were not enough of them to quickly equip all infantry units.
So at the dawn of the invasion, the SVDs were not easily available to the invading forces. This did change by the end of 1981. But until then, Mosins were in the game. Given the photographic evidence, it looks like Mosins were first issued in the early spring of 1980. It also seems that they were issued only to airborne units, but this conclusion is only based on the fact that there are not any photos (maybe yet!)
Given that these were the early days of the invasion, there is no documented evidence of the actual usage of the rifle by the troops. In the best case, veterans would briefly mention the presence of the Mosin-Nagant rifles in the unit, but without any details. UPD: A very curious thing was spotted by one of our Guest Authors in a famous video depicting the battle preparation for Operation Magistral. In this screenshot, we can clearly see a soldier with sniper Mosin-Nagant preparing his equipment for the upcoming operation. The video was made in the winter of 1987/1988, so there is, in fact, proof of Mosin-Nagant being used even so late into the war.
Using Mosin-Nagan for reenactment
Using this sniper rifle for reenactment would be somewhat tricky. While there is absolutely no doubt that Mosin-Nagant rifles were in fact used in Afghanistan in quite some numbers, there is a very precise time slot in history when they were actually used and not just stored in the armory.
To be precise, we are talking about the early months of the invasion until the spring of 1982. There is no hard evidence that these rifles were ever used after that, as SVDs were in full supply by this time. You should also limit yourself to using Mosin for reenacting airborne units of 56th DShB and 345 PDP. Until further research on infantry units, this will be a safe bet.
The impression itself would not be too complicated. You would need M69 tropical uniform or jumpsuit overalls, as well as RD-54 and other regular equipment. 6B2 body armor wouldn't hurt either. And the rifle itself, of course. These are still common. One thing which is yet to be worked out is the ammunition pouch for the rifle. Apart from one photo in the previous section of this article, which shows the usage of the standard Mosin-Nagant ammo pouch, it is unclear what soldiers used to hold their ammunition. We can assume, that because snipers would not need to carry too much ammo load with them, dumping couple dozen rounds in the pockets was not a problem.
So, overall, it is kind of strange that no one done this impression yet. Or maybe I am just not aware, which is equally as strange.