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Carcano: Kennedy Assassination Rifle

Hidden History: The Carcano is the Rifle Used to Assassinate President John F. Kennedy

Photos by Danny Michael

Throughout history, firearms have been used by countless people for many different reasons. They were initially developed as a way to evolve warfare beyond confrontations of melee, but the technology quickly outpaced military strategy and opened the door to a growing market for sport.

By the 1500s, firearms weren’t just cumbersome hand cannons or arquebuses that used a burning rope to operate, they could be rifled, shrunken down to handgun size, and operate with an ignition system that didn’t require a slow burning match. With those developments, the uses of firearms expanded even further. This expansion, however, instilled a concern by royalty for misuse and, more specifically, for assassination.

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Prior to the introduction of the concealable firearm and the invention of rifling, an assassin armed with a firearm needed to be in close proximity to a public figure to cause harm. But new technology brought new concern. The first recorded public assassination with a firearm dates to 1570. James Stewart, 1st Earl of Moray, was assassinated in Scotland with an older technology — the matchlock carbine. Almost 15 years later, newer, more compact technology, the wheel-lock pistol, was used for an assassination in the Netherlands, killing William the Silent, Prince of Orange.

This trend continues throughout history, often with smaller handguns. However, similar to the first assassination with a firearm, longer guns have allowed for tragedy at a distance. Fast-forward several centuries, and this trend continued with presidential assassinations in the United States. In November 1963, President Kennedy was riding through the streets of Texas in an open-top 1961 Lincoln Continental when he was murdered.

While there are many theories disputing the official accounts of the event and debating ballistics, for the purposes of this article, I am focusing solely on the Carcano Model 1891/38 rifle housed in the National Archives collection and identified as “Mannlicher-Carcano Rifle Owned by Lee Harvey Oswald and Allegedly Used to Assassinate President John F. Kennedy.”

Lee Harvey Oswald’s Firearm
The firearm and related archival material are currently in the National Archives. Images and information about the case can be found online and are available for free.

The “Carcano” rifle was originally designed around 1890 by Salvatore Carcano, who was the chief technician at Turin Army Arsenal. It was made until the end of World War II and used by Italian troops in World War I and Italians and Germans in World War II. It’s been used by other countries in conflicts as well. The original model was the 1891; it was an Italian bolt-action smokeless powder firearm. The Model 1891 has a sight that could range to 2,000 meters and a battle sight at 300 meters. The original barrel was long, which reflected a historic tradition that was effective for older military tactics. This type of warfare, however, was outdated by World War I. In response, many countries started developing the concept of a short rifle, including Italy.

This is not the Carcano rifle owned by Oswald. However, it is the same model. Carcano Model 1891/38, 6.5x52mm cartridge, serial number AY6819, date: 1940. Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Cody, WY, USA. Gift of Olin Corporation, Winchester Arms Collection, 1988.8.1738.

In 1938, the Model 91 was modified and designated the Model 38. It has a shorter barrel of about 21 inches. The bolt handle was also turned down, and the rear sight was fixed with a 200 meter zero — a departure from the Model 91. Initially, it was chambered in 7.35x51mm, although after 1940, it was made in the original 6.5x52mm cartridge. This was the model owned by Oswald. But how did an Italian firearm made in 1940 end up in an American’s hands decades later — especially with tightening restrictions in Italy on guns following World War II?

Postwar Surplus Rifle
Throughout history, firearms have been used interchangeably for military and civilian purposes. Companies ramp up production during wartime, leaving large quantities of firearms available to be sold on the civilian market after the war ends. Oftentimes, these guns are sold at an inexpensive price. After the Civil War, for example, Springfield Rifled Muskets could be found for $6. That trend continued into the 20th century with Springfield Model 1903s and M1 Garands, to name a few, in the U.S. But this phenomenon happened around the world — and it included Carcano rifles.

Some Carcano rifles were sold by the Italian Army through the New York-based Adam Consolidated Industries. They were advertised for purchase in places like American Rifleman. The original advertisement Oswald saw didn’t specify the model of Carcano. Initially, they were meant to be sold as Model 1891 TS carbines, but in 1962, the company couldn’t acquire that model and swapped in Model 91/38s.

In March 1963, an “Alek Hidell” purchased, through the mail, one of these Carcano Model 91/38 with an additional telescopic sight. Hidell was an alias for Oswald. The purchase took place on March 12 after Oswald had seen an ad in American Rifleman. He ordered it from Klein’s Sporting Goods in Chicago and paid $19.95 plus postage and shipping. It was shipped to “Hidell’s” PO Box on March 20. This particular firearm, serial number C2766, was made at the Royal Arms Factory in Terni and was manufactured in 1940. It’s chambered in 6.5x52mm — a cartridge invented in the late 1800s. This firearm has been oddly designated “Mannlicher Carcano” because of some features similar to Mannlicher’s firearms.

Oswald, who previously was a U.S. Marine with a checkered service record, had his wife take photographs of him with his rifle and a revolver he owned holding The Worker and The Militant newspapers. According to his widow, Oswald used the rifle first in an assassination attempt against retired U.S. Army General Edwin Walker at his home in Dallas, Texas. During this attempt, his shot struck a window frame, forcing Oswald to hide the rifle and flee. He returned for it later. Infamously however, he allegedly used this rifle to fire upon President Kennedy in November of the year he purchased the firearm.

The Warren Commission discovered that Oswald kept the rifle wrapped in a blanket in the garage of a friend a few weeks before President Kennedy’s assassination. They determined that he snuck the rifle into the Texas School Book Depository the morning of the assassination in a brown paper package. He allegedly told coworkers it was curtain rods. Oswald later disputed this and gave a conflicting report saying that he only brought a lunch box and did not own a rifle. The rifle was discovered on the sixth floor after the assassination.

The firearm and surrounding brass cartridges were then examined in a series of tests that exchanged hands a number of times. Those tests have helped to fuel speculation regarding the theories that exist about other firearms, other shooters, etc. But for the purposes of this article — and yes, you can call me a wuss — I’m not going down that rabbit hole.

Sullied History
A phenomenon occurs when a firearm is used in a tragedy and/or crime. A gun used in one incident can forever brand it as associated primarily with that tragedy. For example, the Cody Firearms Museum constantly gets calls at the museum for the Lincoln assassination gun, which was a Henry Deringer pistol. That firearm, like the Carcano, has a much larger history beyond its use in an assassination, but because of that one instance, much of that history is lost or considered not relevant anymore.

The Thompson submachine gun is another example. It’s considered a gangster gun because of a handful of notable uses by organized criminals. However, many who don’t study firearms are completely unaware of the larger quantity of Thompsons issued by the military during World War II, but they know of two used in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre or one used by John Dillinger.

Even today, the demonization of modern sporting rifles because of its infrequent, but notable use in some mass shootings has obfuscated the everyday uses of these guns by millions that aren’t marred by tragedy. But those few instances have led not only to public fear but a fear that has translated into federal and state enacted and proposed assault weapons bans across the country.

While the use of firearms in a tragedy is an important history to tell, should it be so prominent that it completely erases a much larger history? Or can it be an important addition that neither eradicates nor glorifies its overall history? In traditional firearms scholarship, there has been a distinct discord between sterilizing the history and glorifying it, which has caused a rift in different audiences’ understandings of said object. Perhaps an acknowledgment of the bad, coupled with the overall history, could help open a dialogue for people to discuss whether one bad usage should condemn and sully the history forever.

This is the actual rifle allegedly used to assassinate John F. Kennedy. Photos courtesy National Archives.

Carcano Model 1891/38 Bolt Action Rifle
Caliber: 6.5x52mm
Serial Number: C2766
Overall length: 40.2 inches (CFM version)
capacity: 6-round internal magazine
Action: 600 M +
Optics: Ordnance Optics 4×18 sight

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10 responses to “Carcano: Kennedy Assassination Rifle”

  1. izraul says:

    Oswald did not pose with the rifle, nor did his wife take the photo. She was threatened & forced by the FBI to say she took the photo. The first thing out of Oswald’s mouth when Fritz showed him the photo was, “That’s fake.It’s not me. Someone superimposed my head on someone else’s body.” I’ve ran those photos through different forensic software and can without a doubt they are fake.

  2. Izraul says:

    And no, the Carcano wasn’t used to assassinate Kennedy. There’s actually Carcano rifles with the same serial number. Google “the second carcano.” You can actually see one of the rifles had its serial number changed from 2763 to 2766.

    Also in the Warren Commission report, page 443, the military marksmen that tested the rifle said it was unusable and could have not killed the president unless by accident. They couldn’t even get it to shoot straight.

    • Deuce Sanders says:

      Kleins Sporting Goods received 2 rifles with S/N C2766. One was the rifle purchased by LHO as shown on Warren Commission Hearings Vol. XXI Pg. 700, and another was shipped to Kleins on June 18, 1962. This is on WCH Vol. XI Pg. 205 and is a statement by Louis Feldsott of Crescent Firearms. I wonder who got the other 99 rifles that were part of the same shipment as Oswald’s.

    • Chip Moore says:

      Baloney. Those rifles are every bit as accurate as other military firearms of the period. Subsequent claims of inaccuracy are due to subpar ammo using bullets that do not fully engage the lands and grooves of the rifle barrel (you do know what those are–right?)
      As far as testing of the actual rifle/scope combo. that was done weeks to months after the gun had been recovered and handled by many. The scope tube was dented and the mount is of thin stamped metal that could easily be damaged–starting with Oswald’s possibly tossing it aside as he left his sniper’s nest. That scope mount also allowed use of the iron sights–use of which is plausible.

      • izraul says:

        The model rifle may be what you say it is, but the particular rifle found on the 6th floor was in fact deemed “unusable” by the military & FBI experts who tested it. Here’s what they said.

        -Shims had to be applied to the telescopic sight before the rifle could be aimed. Even after the telescopic sight had been repaired, it proved unreliable and inaccurate.

        -The condition of both the bolt and the trigger pull meant that the rifle could not be aimed accurately.

        -“They [the US Army marksmen] could not sight the weapon in using the telescope, and no attempt was made to sight it in using the iron sight. We did adjust the telescopic sight by the addition of two shims, one which tended to adjust the azimuth, and one which adjusted an elevation”: [Warren Commission Hearings, vol.3, p.443]

        -“Every time we changed the adjusting screws to move the crosshairs in the telescopic sight in one direction it also affected the movement of the impact or the point of impact in the other direction. … We fired several shots and found that the shots were not all landing in the same place, but were gradually moving away from the point of impact.”: [Warren Commission Hearings, vol.3, p.405]

        -“There were several comments made — particularly with respect to the amount of effort required to open the bolt. … There was also comment made about the trigger pull … in the first stage the trigger is relatively free, and it suddenly required a greater pull to actually fire the weapon.”: [Warren Commission Hearings, vol.3, p.449]

        What that means is the 6th floor was a piece of crap that could barely shoot. But please… go on about how you know so much about it.

      • izraul says:

        Furthermore, Oswald sucked at shooting. He barely passed. One of the baddest snipers who ever lived (Carlos Hathcock) tried to recreate the shots with a working rifle, and he couldn’t do it. You really think Oswald was better than Carlos Hathcock? It should be a crime to even mention them together in the same sentence. Oswald was exactly where he said he was… at the front door. He was able to name every person he worked with that was outside. How would he know who was out there if he was on the 6th floor? He wouldn’t.

  3. Deuce Sanders says:

    The rifle found in the Texas School Book Depository Building was 40.2″ long and was the Carcano Fucile Modello 91/38. I’m not convinced that that’s the rifle Oswald owned. This rifle weighs 7.44 lb. and 100 of them would weigh 744 lb. The Lufschultz Fast Freight Shipping Company recorded the weight of the 100 rifles and 10 crates as 750 lb. WCH Vol. XXI pg. 693. That leaves just 6 lb. for the combined weight of 10 shipping crates. Something doesn’t add up.

  4. Jacques Navarre says:

    Oswald was down stairs drinking a coke….while JFK was sent into the killing zone….The first shot entered his neck from the front….a hole was burst through the wind shield…also from ….the front…with the suppressed sound ….two different bullets with the report of a firecracker…..Kennedy’s arms raise at the same instance…bullet curves from front of neck downward greatly affecting spinalcord….Nicoletti..and Roselli….with rifles directly behind JFK….rifles fire one bullet impacts curb a miss Teag hit by shapnel in cheek…near the over pass tunnel…..large bluish discharge of gun smoke near Zapruder….from a subsonic .458 Winchester….explodes Kennedy skull as another bullet strikes partially evacuated brain case area fired from just above ground level….smoke smelled by Yarboro’s wife at ground level in the car directly behind Kennedy’s phenominal targeting face of Kennedy not disintegrated….Jackey…not hit….5.6 very long secounds of 3 Salvos fired 11projectiles and or bullet ruts identified….car with JFK does ……(n o t)… at first impact to JFK’s neck…… accelerator (does not)—..go full throttle…..Beyond comprehension…..while Oswald sips his coke…..”At..12:30….noon….Our Problems with the Irish Mafia will be Over”-LBJ Speeking to his mistress at the Michelsen Mansion the nite before the “big event”… …..as E. Howard Hunt called it….on his filmed death bed confession to his son

    • izraul says:

      Wow… everything you said was wrong. Clearly people don’t understand angles & positions. Do you know where a shooter would have to stand to hit Kennedy from the front? The windshield wasn’t an entrance. It came from the back and ricocheted into the back of the mirror. And Nicolleti and Roselli weren’t even there. Neither was that liar James Files. I know exactly where the shooters were and who they were because I found them in 2 videos and 1 photo. Both holding rifles. The evidence has always been there. The problem is too many people choose to listen to dunces and liars. The shooters were exactly where the shot comes from, and where 200+ witnesses said they saw them. In the pergola behind Zapruder. I was even able to identify them using digital software and facial recognition techniques Hermanio Diaz & Eladio del Valle. Herminio made the head shot from the middle pergola window.

      Watch the Nix film and you’ll see someone tampered with the video right when he shoots. The whole frame drops down to cover that window right when he fires in some of the versions. But you can still see both their shadows on the back wall. You can see them in the Moorman photo and Darnell film too.

      Both were members of the assassination hit squad “Operation 40” funded by George Bush. Zapruder knew they were there too. His filming position wasn’t an accident. He was a member of 2 propitiatory CIA organizations along with George De Mohrenschildt, Clint Murchison, David Byrd, George H. W. Bush, Neil Mallon and Haroldson L. Hunt, the lady who swore LBJ in, and his business partner who actually married George De Mohrenschildt, Jeanne LeGon.

  5. Jacques Navarre says:

    The evaluators could not Zero that Carcano when tested……they had to disassemble…the scope mount….put in shims….reassemble…it…..the rifle was 18 degrees off…..remember a con-artist only needs a gullible listener to grift a “mark”…….untill you have done the scholarship…and dug through a half mile of cow pie…..if yer looking for the truth you’llfind it….in spite of the damned lies….90percent of most domesticated people are to doomed to the ophate of the masses….their own baseless views

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