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.

1. M1911

Image from Illegitimate Barrister on the Wikimedia Commons
Image from Illegitimate Barrister on the Wikimedia Commons

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.

An US Marine fires the M1911 during an exercise in 2013.
An US Marine fires the M1911 during an exercise in 2013. Image is public domain.

2. Lee-Enfield

Image is public domain
Image is public domain

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.

A Canadian rifleman with a Lee-Enfield during the Battle of Ortona in 1943. Image is public domain.
A Canadian rifleman with a Lee-Enfield during the Battle of Ortona in 1943. Image is public domain.

3. Mosin-Nagant

Image is public domain
Image is public domain

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.

A modern sniper variant of the Mosin-Nagant as displayed by Finnish Defence Forces in 2013. Image is public domain.
A modern sniper rifle based on the Mosin-Nagant, as displayed by Finnish Defence Forces in 2013. Image is public domain.

4. Nagant M1895

Image from Hohum on the Wikimedia Commons.
Image from Hohum on the Wikimedia Commons.

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

Image is public domain.
Image is public domain.

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.

US Marines equipped with the M1903 Springfield in Italy during WWI.
US Marines equipped with the M1903 Springfield in Italy during WWI. Image is public domain.

Edit 9-15-2015: corrected typos. 

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21 thoughts on “5 World War I Guns That Are Still Used Today

  1. Nice try on the first two guns, but you earn an F! The 1911 you show in the picture is a 1911A1 NOT a WW1 original 1911. The second gun is a WW1 Lee Enfield number 1 Mark 111, while the battle picture shows a soldier using a Lee Enfield number 4 Mark 1.
    I liked the story,….a little more research would have produced sweeter fruit….

  2. Two points. Return fire welcomed.

    The 50 cal MG would be a close choice, essentially unchanged and revolutionized mechanized combat. Ma Deuce is an old girl.

    The “secret” of the Lee Enfield was, in large measure, due to the placement, in the rear, of the bolt handle. This minimized hand movement, and allowed very fast rate of fire, by manual reloading, comparable to a machine gun. In mass frontal attacks, the infantry fire was devastating.

  3. The author missed the most powerful of military weapons from WW1 still being manufactured.
    Ma Duce the M2 Browning Heavy Machine Gun and .50 BMG cartridge.
    Requested by General John J. Pershing during WW1 and still being used today by all the military services and other countries too numerousness to list.

    The M2 HMG and .50 BMG has been a solid performer that has no equal and gives no sign of being replaced anytime for decades.
    Ma Duce is still the grand old lady that the US Military can not do without.
    Still red-hot since WW1
    There is nothing else in her weight class that can replace her.

  4. Should have included the 1917 series of Colt and S&W revolvers that were still in use I my time during the VN period. The same basic design is still in production and still a fine backup weapon when hunting.

  5. I have a Mosin Nagant, I can get a 1895 Nagant revolver if I can find an extra $100 to $200 and in stock somewhere. I would LOVE to have both the Lee-Enfield and the 1903 Springfield, or even the M1 Garand, but those are beyond my means.

  6. Would have been nice to have a picture of an M1911 rather than an M1911A1.

    I own 1911s, have owned an ’03 Springfield, and have shot everything on the list except the M1895 Nagant wheelgun.

  7. You missed the US M1917 Enfield on your list. I just wrote an historical article on that rifle the other day. and It’s still on active service with the Danish Slædepatruljen Sirius as their service weapon. They use if for it’s high reliability in the harsh conditions of high Arctic Greenland where they patrol.

    1. I must agree. From what I have read the Army turned in their M1903s, Sgt York, write in his biography, “we received our British guns today”, this was before moving up to the front. The US Marines kept their M1903s, from what I have read.

    1. May I disagree. It was not a rip off. The US Government paid Mauser, for the right toproduce the M 1903, until we went to war. The receiver is a Mauser design.

  8. Except for the Nagant M1895 I would agree with every weapon included in this list. I own and regularly shoot all other weapons included except for the M1895 and have a degree of respect for all of them with the possible exception of the Mosin-Nagant rifle……a hard shooter. The Enfield is an exceptional bolt action rifle.

  9. YES. The Most, GREAT Gun’s To This Day. ??? I Have Them All. And Love The Way thay Shoot. All GREAT. But I Have A Thomson’s Mech. Gun, YES. , One of The Best, With The. M1911a1. Yes, In 45.Great Team. To Gether. YES. Goods Luck. I Love My GUN’s.

  10. I might add that the Lee Enfield No.1 Mk.3/5 is also used by Indian national police units, and of course, irregulars in the frontier regions of the Afghan-Pakistani border, where they still manufacture the tough and accurate rifle. Examples used by the Afghan mujahiddin in the 1980’s were credited with bringing down Soviet gunships (although perhaps not the heavily armored Mi-24 Hinds). A fitting replacement for the infamous Afghan ‘jezail’.

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