Historians and gun collectors often point to World War Two for its wide variety of iconic and vastly influential firearms, but it should be noted that the technology of warfare truly changed decades earlier, during the trench warfare of World War One—or the Great War, as it was known at the time. The First World War saw the introduction of wireless communication, tanks, aircraft, submachine guns, and more reliable firearms that left behind nineteenth-century tactics. Guns were now more accurate, able to fire off more shots, and faster to reload.
The five guns on this list saw action during WWI and performed so admirably that they were also utilized in WWII just over two decades later. In fact, due to a combination of reliability, cost-effectiveness, and good design, these firearms stayed in service long after their contemporaries have been retired and phased out of service. To qualify for this list, the firearm has to have seen action in WWI and still be in service (even if only for training) with a military or law enforcement organization today.
Let’s face it, we all expected this one to be on the list. You won’t see a car designed in 1911 driving around the streets today, but you will still see plenty of 1911 pistols at the range. This time-honored design by John Browning remains one of the world’s best-loved and most trusted handguns, despite what all the naysayers might say. Any design that not only survives 100 years, but instead thrives and remains one of the most popular combat pistols today is worthy of acknowledgment. Variations of the classic 1911 is still in service with in select units within the United States Armed Forces (Marine Corps Special Operations Command, Delta Force), several law enforcement agencies, the South Korean Air Force, and others.
This bolt-action, magazine-fed rifle is one of the longest-serving firearms in modern history. First introduced in 1895, the Lee-Enfield rifle and its variants have seen action in just about every major conflict of the 20th century. The Lee-Enfield also has a long list of current users, including police units in Pakistani and Bangladesh, as reserve weapons across Commonwealth countries, and as drill weapons in the Canadian military. Until recently, the Lee-Enfield was also the primary armament of the Canadian Rangers.
If not for the Mosin-Nagant, the Lee-Enfield would be the oldest bolt-action rifle in service today. However, by just a few years the venerable Mosin has taken that title. First developed in 1891, this rugged and reliable rifle has become one of the most mass-produced rifles in history—with more than 37 million units built. In modern times, the Mosin-Nagant and its variants are popular with both new shooters (due to their affordability) and collectors (for the firearm’s rich history). Current users include Bulgaria’s 101st Alpine Battalion, a smattering of Russian law enforcement agencies, and for ceremonial purposes by Brazilian and Polish military forces.
4. Nagant M1895
This seven-shot revolver was designed by Leon Nagant in 1895, just shortly after he contributed to the design of the much more well known Mosin-Nagant rifle. Like the rifle, this revolver proved to have the same kind of staying power and outlasted the regime it was designed for, the Russian Empire. The Nagant M1895 is perhaps most famous for its service under the Soviet Union, and was unique at the time for its ability to be suppressed.
The revolver is currently in use by select Russian law enforcement units, the Syrian army, and Ukrainian railway security personnel.
5. M1903 Springfield
The standard infantry WWI rifle for US armed forces, the M1903 Springfield, may have been eclipsed by the M1 Garand, but its design is still appreciated the world over. Designed in 1903, this bolt-action rifle is popular with hunters due to its potent .30-06 Springfield round and with collectors as well. Perhaps the most famous user of this rifle is Ernest Hemingway, who used an M1903 in his hunting trips in Africa.
While the M1903s can still be found in some law enforcement use, the rifle is mostly relegated to drill use in the US military. The US Army Drill Team prizes the Springfield especially for its balance, which makes it popular with color guards.
Edit 9-15-2015: corrected typos.