One of the most historically important moments in modern history comes from Dallas, Texas, at 12:30 CST on November 22nd, 1963. The assassination of John F. Kennedy has been torn apart and sewn back together over and over again. It’s been dissected, researched, and fictionalized. It’s the subject of conspiracy theories and even memehood. One part of the assassination that isn’t disputed is the rifle. The Carcano Model 38 Infantry rifle certainly doesn’t appear to be a rifle used to change the world.
The Carcano Model 38 Infantry Carbine
The original Carcano was introduced in 1891 as the world moved to bolt-action battle rifles instead of single-shot carbines. The rifle is an Italian design and was created by Salvator Carcano. From 1891 to just after World War 2, some form of Carcano served with the Italian military and police forces. The Carcano Model 38 Infantry Carbine was one of the more modern Carcanos.
The rifle is often called the 91/38, meaning it has the same overall design as the 1891 rifle, but this particular variant was created in 1938. This bolt-action rifle served as the main rifle of the Italian armed forces in World War Two. It chambered the 6.5x52mm cartridge and fired from an internal box magazine fed by En Bloc clips.
The Carcano series is often viewed rather poorly by modern shooters. While the rifle did have its issues, it wasn’t nearly as bad as many make it out to be. The Carcano utilized a rimless round way back in 1891 and was the first infantry rifle to chamber the 6.5 mm cartridge. Using En-bloc clips was fairly clever and held a mighty six rounds of ammunition.
The Carcano series of rifles was well known for being quite reliable and very simple. P.O. Ackley tried to blow one up and break the action and reportedly just couldn’t do it. The 6.5mm cartridge offered lower recoil, lightweight ammo, and a fast-moving cartridge. They were very robust rifles and were well suited for the infantry forces. The accuracy wasn’t stellar, but it was pretty standard for an infantry rifle of the time period. The problem came from its ammo.
The Problem with The Carcano
The problem with the Carcano comes from the ammo. The 6.5x52mm round is a fine idea, but it’s limited by its use of a round bullet. The lack of a Spitzer-style bullet affected its overall performance. A round bullet is less stable and tends to tumble. That’s great for hitting a threat but gives it poorer performance when compared to a Spitzer-style bullet.
The Carcano rifle was also met with issues due to the quality of the ammo the Italian forces were loading up. They were loaded with different powder consistencies, which wouldn’t be an issue if you had a division loaded entirely with one powder type.
However, the main problem was that an individual soldier would often be equipped with a grab bag of ammo, and a single six-round clip would have ammunition from different lots intermixed.
This resulted in poor accuracy and performance. The Italian military noted that the rifles had performance issues at both close and long ranges. The Italian military sought to replace the round with a 7.35mm Spitzer-style projectile, but the massive scale of World War 1 made replacing the 6.5mm cartridge a non-starter.
The Kennedy Rifle
Lee Harvey Oswald ordered his 91/38 Carcano rifle from Kelin’s Sporting Goods of Chicago for the princely sum of 19.95 with a 4X telescopic sight attached to the rifle. Kelin’s advertised the rifle as a 6.5 Italian Carbine, and that was seemingly enough to Oswald. In an attempt to be clever, he used the name Alek Hiddell to order the rifle. This was before the era of FFLs, and it was mail-ordered right to his home.
The original ad showed a slightly shorter Caracano M91 TS. The Caracano TS had a 17.7-inch barrel versus the Carcano 91/38’s 20.9-inch barrel. Oswald didn’t seem to mind the difference. The scope was reportedly a cheap Japanese 4X optic. The objective lens was a meager 18mms, and the scope was mounted by Kelin’s but imported by Ordnance Optics. The rifle had sling swivels and even had a sling.
Oswald must have zeroed the rifle well because as well all now know he was capable of making the shots that killed President Kennedy. The Carcano wouldn’t be anyone’s first choice, but it’s clearly a rifle that could be used by a skilled shooter.
These days, you don’t hear much about the Carcano rifles, but they can be had for a very low price. I would go as far as to call them the modern Mosin in terms of price, so grab one now if you have any interest because, like the Mosin, prices will only go up.
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