The Mannlicher-Schönauer (sometimes Anglicized as "Mannlicher Schoenauer," Hellenized as Τυφέκιον Μάνλιχερ or Όπλον Μάνλιχερ-Σενάουερ) is a type of rotary magazine bolt action rifle produced by Steyr-Mannlicher for the Hellenic Army/Greek Army in 1903 and later was also used in small numbers by the Austro-Hungarian Armies.
In the late 1800s, the classic Mannlicher designs for the Austro-Hungarian army were based on the en-bloc magazine, a straight-pull bolt mechanism designed for obsolete large calibre cartridges. Following the introduction of smokeless powder in the Lebel rifle at the end of the century, the Steyr factory worked on new Mannlicher designs, using more effective modern cartridges. These were offered for the consideration of the Austro-Hungarian Army, for export to other Armies and for the civilian market.
The M-S rifle was one of these novel designs. The rifle action was designed by Ferdinand Mannlicher and the rotary magazine by his protegee Otto Schönauer of the Österreichische Waffenfabriksgesellschaft (Austrian Arms-Manufacturing Company; now Steyr Mannlicher). Interestingly, while the more famous Mannlicher M1895 had a straight pull bolt, the bolt of the M-S has a rotating action, more reminiscent of the competing Mauser design. At first sight many confuse it with a Mauser rifle, due to the similar bolt and handguards. The M-S may be identified by the split in the rear of the receiver which allows the bolt handle to pass through. The characteristic that sets this design apart from others of the era though was the innovative Schönauer rotating spool magazine.
The Greek Army requested two main versions, one long rifle of 1230mm length and a carbine of 950mm length for use by cavalry and non-infantry troops. Both types were termed Model 1903. The weight was around 3.75kg, while the magazine capacity was 5 rounds and was fed by a strip system. The 6.5×54mm MS cartridge had traits of a hunting round; even though it had a projectile with a rounded point, it was ballistically efficient, improving accuracy at moderate ranges. The rotary magazine contributed to the smooth feeding and high rate of fire without jamming. The rifle was manufactured to high a standard and was made with tight tolerances, raising costs but improving reliability and durability. The 1903 M-S carbine's light recoil, familiar iron sights - similar to those of the Mannlicher M1895 graduated up to 2000m - and its quick-handling properties brought it wide-spread praise.
This rifle should not be confused with its more widely manufactured cousin, the Steyr-Mannlicher M1895, or with the so-called Mannlicher-Carcano, made infamous in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, allegedly by Lee Harvey Oswald. However, the ballistics and penetration of the 6.5×52mm Carcano cartridge loaded with the 160 grain full metal jacketed 6.5mm bullet in the rifle allegedly used by Oswald are essentially identical to that of the big game hunters using the same bullet with the 6.5×54mm Mannlicher-Schoenauer.
The military M-S was not commercially successful, in the sense that it did not attract many contracts for export. The unusual design and calibre, the high quality, high cost, and the fact that no major power adopted it, contributed to the results. Most of the foreign Mannlicher clients opted instead for versions of the issue rifle of Austria-Hungary, the M1895. The Mannlicher-Schönauer M1903 though fulfilled the specifications of the Greek Army and the first major contract was signed by the Greek Government in 1903. This contract was part of a major modernisation plan; until then the Greeks were using single-shot, black powder rifles (Gras rifle). Most of the Greek Gras were made by the Steyr factory and that might partly explain how Mannlicher advertised their new design.
The M-S rifle was the main small arm for the Greek military for some of the most active years of its modern history. Greece was almost continuously in state of war between the years 1904-1922 and 1940-1948. The version history of this rifle is rather confusing. It appears that the Greeks received four main contracts. The original Steyr-made Y1903 ('Y' stands for model in Greek), started being supplied in 1904–1905 to a total of about 130,000 long rifles and carbines. This was the main weapon during the victorious Balkan Wars.
The Greeks seemed satisfied with the rifle's performance and their armory was increased with a new batch of 50,000 rifles from Steyr in 1914, with the model Y1903/14, presenting minor improvements, most obviously the addition of a full handguard. These rifles were used for the first time in WW1. When the war broke out, the Austrians stopped the delivery of the rifles, as Greece chose to be neutral for the first three years.
Following the Asia Minor Catastrophe, the Greeks were in urgent need of serviceable weapons and tried to get M-S rifles from every possible source in order to replace war losses (almost 50% were captured by the Turks). Starting in 1927, Greece received about 105,000 "Breda" marked Y1903/14/27 rifles. This Italian factory might have used Austrian captured parts and machinery, or more likely, might have just mediated on behalf of the Steyr factory, due to treaty restrictions with the Austrian weapons manufacturer. These rifles saw extensive use against the Italians and Germans in World War II and many passed to the resistance fighters and combatants of the Greek Civil War that followed. The last official contract was in 1930, when they received 25,000 more Y1903/14/30 rifles, this time directly from the Steyr factory.
Despite its good performance, it was only the Greek government that chose the M-S as official service rifle. However, due to expediency other countries made limited use of them too. At the outbreak of World War I, a significant number of 6.5mm Mannlicher-Schönauer rifles manufactured for Greece under the 1914 contract were sequestered and, due to urgent needs, used by the Austrian Army. After the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, these were passed on as war reparations to the original intended recipient, the Greek Army. Small numbers also saw occasional use by Greece's enemies as captured war booty, but mainly by reserve units.
Two Greek-designed improvements for the weapon during Greek Army use never materialized: one was the so-called "Philippides design," which failed to go to production in 1925 due to a late submission of designs to Breda, which had undertaken construction in Italy; and another, designed by Lieutenant R. Rigopoulos just before World War II. This latter design incorporated both modified and totally redesigned parts to dramatically increase firing performance. Though approved by the Greek military, the weapon never went into production due to the interruption of tests in Volos after Greece's entry in the war.
A civilian version of the rifle, also introduced in 1903, proved very popular with deer and big game hunters worldwide. In the UK, along with the 7×57mm Mauser, the 6.5×54 MS probably accounted for more red deer during the 20th century than all other rifle cartridges put together. British sportsmen generally preferred a single-trigger mechanism, rather than the double set triggers popular in Europe. The 6.5×54 cartridge fell into disfavor with British deer-stalkers after the passage of the 1963 Deer Act because the bullet's muzzle velocity failed to reach the legally required minimum when fired from typically short, carbine-type MS barrels. The rifle continued to be manufactured in various forms (full, half-stock and take-down models) until 1972, and although production was interrupted during the Second World War, it eventually re-commenced in 1950. The most significant modification to be made to the rifle, during its period of manufacture, was introduced in 1925 when the action was lengthened to accommodate such cartridges as the .30-06 Springfield and .270 Winchester. Additionally, a magnum length version was produced in .264 and .458 Winchester Magnum for the U.S. market, as well as 6.5x68, 8x68S and others for the world market. Although no longer in production, the rifle remains popular due to its aesthetic qualities, compactness, the smoothness of its action and its precision and quality of manufacture. The rifle is also known for its low recoil when chambered for the original 6.5×54 cartridge.
The early years of the 20th century saw what was fundamentally the same rifle being offered in various other, larger Mannlicher-Schoenauer calibres including the 8 x 56 mm Model 1908, the 9 x 56 mm Model 1905 and the 9.5×57 mm MS Model 1910, but none of these sold as well as the 1903 Model in 6.5mm.
Ernest Hemingway frequently used the rifle, and mentions it in some of his writings, most notably The Short, Happy Life of Francis Macomber. WDM "Karamojo" Bell, a prominent elephant (ivory) hunter in Africa in the early 20th century, also used the rifle in its original 6.5×54 chambering with considerable success. The ability of the diminutive 6.5×54 cartridge to take the largest and most dangerous of the big game species, such as African Elephant and Cape Buffalo, was due in the main to the high sectional density of the 6.5mm projectiles used in the rifle, although precise placing of the shot was imperative. Because the original factory loads for the 6.5×54 used projectiles that were long and heavy (160 grains) relative to their diameter, they proved capable (in solid form) of very deep penetration through muscle and bone. This, coupled with the relatively low recoil of the fired cartridge, facilitated accurate shot placement into vital organs such as the heart and particularly the brain.
Ironically, Steyr-Mannlicher currently manufactures a rifle known as the "Classic Mannlicher", which it bills on its website as "a direct descendant of the world famous MANNLICHER [sic] Schoenauer models". In fact, this rifle is available in almost every modern caliber except the original 6.5 × 54mm cartridge. (Note: a modern cartridge, the 6.5 mm Grendel, very closely duplicates the ballistics of the 6.5×54mm.) Although the modern "Classic" Steyr-Mannlicher rifles still incorporate some original features, like the butter-knife bolt handle, the distinctive actions and rotary (spool) magazines of the original Mannlicher-Schoenauer rifles are no longer used.
High production costs and the difficulty of fitting telescopic sights to the rifle's split receivers eventually resulted in a decision to terminate production in 1972. Models produced had been: 1961 Monte Carlo All-Purpose, Magnum, 1956 Monte Carlo, 1952, 1950, 1924 High Velocity Sporting Rifle, 1910, 1908, 1905, 1903 and 1900.