Swiss K31 Rifle: This Straight Pull, Bolt Action Rifle From WW2 Is Now a Popular Collector’s Item

Photo Credit: Bunkerfunker / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0
Photo Credit: Bunkerfunker / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0

The Schmidt-Rubin Karabiner Modell 1931, better known as the Swiss K31 rifle, was the standard-issue firearm for the Swiss Armed Forces for decades. Widely considered to be one of the best of its time, it gained a shining reputation for its precision, quality and reliability. Since being retired in the 1950s, it’s become a prized part of many rifle collections, with a unique quirk that only the lucky may find.

Technical specifications of the K31

Swiss K31 rifle against a white backdrop
Swiss K31 Rifle. (Photo Credit: XDukez / Wikimedia Commons / Copyrighted Free Use)

The K31 is a straight-pull, magazine-fed, bolt-action rifle. The bolt handle is pulled directly back to unlock the action and eject the spent cartridge case in one smooth, swift motion. It then pushes the handle forward to insert a new cartridge, and rather than being manually turned and pulled back, the karabiner cocks the striker and locks the action.

The K31 uses 7.5 x 55 mm Swiss GP 11 rounds, and the magazine is held in place with a spring latch attached to a trigger guard. It’s easily detached and extends about an inch below the rifle, but is rounded as to prevent any snagging or discomfort.

One noted flaw of the K31 is that engaging and disengaging the safety is awkward for those who are right-handed, which makes up the majority of users. The ring, which is large enough for a gloved hand, requires 16 pounds of effort to draw. It then has to be turned 45 degrees to the right to apply, after which the user has to reach over to manipulate it.

A necessary upgrade from its predecessor

Magazine sitting half-inserted in the breech of a Swiss K31 rifle
A loaded charger clip is inserted into the breech of a Swiss K31 rifle. (Photo Credit: GaryArgh / Gary Hall / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0)

Before the K31 rifle, the Swiss Armed Forces had multiple variations of straight-pull, bolt-action rifles, including the Model 1911. Over time, it was discovered these firearms were too long and heavy to be effective for real-time use. As a result, the Swiss military issued a rifle redesign in 1932.

The redesign featured a shorter receiver, which allowed for the rear sight to be placed closer to the user’s eye. It also cut in half the amount of time it took for the firing pin to hit the cartridge upon the trigger being pulled.

This new firearm was officially adopted in 1933 and became the country’s standard-issue rifle for 25 years. Over 528,000 were issued to Swiss soldiers, who praised it for its accuracy. Despite the K31’s quality, however, it never saw use on the battlefield at any point during its production.

The K31 was at the ready during WWII

Six Swiss K31 rifles hanging on a wall
Swiss K31 rifles in storage. (Photo Credit: Schweiz12 / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0)

Switzerland is well-known for keeping neutrality in times of conflict and has maintained peace with its neighbors for decades. However, during the height of the Second World War, the country was effectively surrounded. Like a sitting duck, Switzerland was essentially fenced off by German-occupied Europe and Fascist Italy.

While the Allied powers eventually defeated the enemy and the war came to a close, Switzerland needed to be prepared for anything, should its neutrality be compromised. As a result, officials equipped the country’s citizenry with one of the best battle rifles of the time: the K31.

The Swiss-manufactured rifle sports a unique feature

Close-up of the sight measure on a Swiss K31 rifle
Close-up of the sight measure on a Swiss K31 rifle. (Photo Credit: Zach / Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

One of the most unique features of the K31 is of a more personal quality. As Switzerland mandates military service for young men, and so many of the rifles were issued, each features a note stating when it was first issued and to whom.

On the day a K31 was issued, the soldier’s name, his place of birth and the location where the rifle was issued were recorded on a piece of paper and placed under the buttstock cap. Today, one can still find the names of the soldiers the rifles once belonged to if they remove this steel cap.

Additionally, once their year of mandatory service was complete, soldiers had the option to purchase their K31s and bring them home. After only one year of use, many have remained in excellent shape over the decades.

The K31 is popular among collectors

Swiss K31 rifle against a beige backdrop
Several Swiss K31 rifles remain in excellent shape. (Photo Credit: Armémuseum / Swedish Army Museum / Wikimedia Commons CC BY 4.0)

After 25 years of production, the K31 was finally replaced, when the Swiss government introduced the SIG SG 510 battle rifle. Since its replacement, the firearm has become popular with collectors. Its accuracy and precision make it a fun rifle to use at shooting ranges, and the majority of K31s have been kept in fantastic condition, making them an ideal addition to any collection.

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With hundreds of thousands of these rifles produced, many have crossed the Atlantic to join the American rifle market at a relatively reasonable price. As well, K31s that still have the papers within their buttstocks are considered incredibly valuable, making collecting the rifle all the more enjoyable.

Samantha Franco

Samantha Franco is a Freelance Content Writer who received her Bachelor of Arts degree in history from the University of Guelph, and her Master of Arts degree in history from the University of Western Ontario. Her research focused on Victorian, medical, and epidemiological history with a focus on childhood diseases. Stepping away from her academic career, Samantha previously worked as a Heritage Researcher and now writes content for multiple sites covering an array of historical topics.

In her spare time, Samantha enjoys reading, knitting, and hanging out with her dog, Chowder!