Editor's note: Mr Berkovitch is the Secretary of the Historical Firearms Society of South Africa and from time to time has written notes on the Krag-Jorgensen rifle in the Society's Journal. These notes have been compiled into one article.
After the Jameson Raid the Commandant-General of the 'Zuid-Afrikaanse Republiek' made enquiries from various dealers in Pretoria and the Cape Colony, Stein and Hunter of Port Elizabeth (South African agents for the Birmingham rifle makers, Alfred Field & Co.); T.W. Beckett & Co. (Pretoria agents for Westley Richards of Birmingham); Sigvald Larsen, agent for the Norwegian Krag-Jorgensen Rifle Co., and other agents for various rifles. Sigvald Larsen did his best to convince the Commandant-General that the Krag-Jorgensen, used by the Danish and American military forces, was better than the Martini-Henry rifle, but the Commandant-General would not take his advice. A commission of two Officers from the Staatsartillerie also tried to convince him that the Krag-Jorgensen was one of the best rifles ever tested by them. The Commandant-General had no faith in the 6,5mm calibre of the Krag-Jorgensen, against the 11,4mm (577/450) of the Martini-Henry, and ordered only 100 Krag-Jorgensens with 25 000 cartridges (250 per rifle).
Krag-Jorgenson Rifle No. 4001 on display in the S.A. National Musuem of Military History, Johannesburg
Three countries adopted the Krag-Jorgensen rifle for military use:
Norway: Model 1894 Calibre 6,5mm
Denmark: Model 1889 Calibre 5mm
U.S.A.: Model 1892, 1896 and 1898.
Calibre of all three models: 30/40.
A collector from Norway, Ivar Evjevollen, provided the following information. The 6,5mm Krag-Jorgensen Rifle M/1894 has a round 75 cm long barrel with four grooves, diameter at muzzle 15mm, bayonet catch under the barrel and a stock of walnut with pistol-grip and hand-guard. An iron box with butt-plate-trap is supplied for accessories. The rifle has a turning holt action with a box-magazine for 5 cartridges loaded through the right side of the gate. Rifles with serial numbers 89601-90601 have a telescopic sight. The bayonet was either a short or long knife-blade, the hilt and blade being in one piece, while the grip plates are of wood. The short bayonet has a one-edged 21,5 cm blade and the long bayonet has a 36,7 cm blade, two-edged at the point. Scabbards are of steel.
Rifles of the army pattern, without butt-trap, were issued to the Navy and to the Rifle Association. The latter also used the regulation pattern. The rifles are marked:
KONGSBERG: Crowned K, the date of the year and serial number.
OESTERREICHISCHE WAFFENFABRIK, STEYR: Steyr, the date of the year, serial number and a crown over M.P. (Controller's initials).
Rifles sold to the Rifle Associations and to civilians were marked with a lion on breech and were fitted with a turning bolt.
We now come to the rifles used in South Africa. The Norwegian collector says that the Sigvald Larsen of our records was a Norwegian and the agent in South Africa for the Krag-Jorgensen rifle. He must have been an agent for STEYR and not a Norwegian Company as previously thought. At this period, Norway was busy arming herself for war - which did not happen - and would certainly not have sold off weapons to another Government.
The Krag-Jorgensen rifles in South Africa which I know about are: Serial
69 D.R. De Wet 1896 STEYR
116 Prof F.V. Lategan ? STEYR
120 Bloemfontein Museum 1896 STEYR
124 (See note) ? ?
130 ? ? ?
165 V. Bresler 1896 STEYR
3881 Africana Museum 1896 STEYR
4001 S.A. National Museum of Military History 1897 STEYR
5768 1897 STEYR (Bolt No.9378)
The difference between the first and the last of the very low numbers is just less than 100, in the next series of numbers, which are 3881 and 4001, it is only 20, whilst in the last it is over 1700, and in the bolt numbers, the difference is 3600.
(Note on No. 124: Vere Bresler of Pietermaritzburg has seen a photograph of General Tobias Smuts holding a Krag-Jorgensen, and the picture is so clear that, with a magnifying glass, the serial number is visible. The whereabouts of this rifle is now unknown).
It is obvious that Sigvald Larsen managed to obtain supplies of the earliest Krag-Jorgensen rifles that the STEYR factory produced, and it is possible that they were in use in South Africa, even before the Norwegians' rifles. From Norway, there is no record of these weapons being supplied to South Africa and it is possible that the deal was illegal! The difference between the early serial numbers and later numbers can be for a number of reasons. If it is assumed that the numbers 69-165 were part of the 100 rifles purchased by the South African Government, as General Tobias Smuts is holding number 124; the other numbers could be one of two assumptions, either one of them, or both. Sigvald Larsen could have been selling Krag-Jorgensens to civilians as well as the Government, or the Scandanavian contingent at Magersfontein, could have been using them. Miss Fiona Barbour of the McGregor Museum in Kimberley has picked up a number of Krag-Jorgensen cartridge-cases (doppies) on the battlefield of Magersfontein and, in two particular places, a number of them very close together.
If any reader knows of any Krag-Jorgensen rifles not listed, the author would like to know the owners' names and the serial numbers and manufacturer of the weapons.
In February 2010 the following e-mail was received by the web-site:
Having read your article, the Museum of the Royal Dragoon Guards is in possession of a Krag Number 147 With the STEYR 1896 on it. Hope this is of use
Capt (Retd) Alan Henshall
Asst Regt Sec/Curator
3 Tower Street
Tel 01904 642036
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