of 488/488

03 Rifles an Illustrated History of Their Impact

  • View

  • Download

Embed Size (px)


Military HistoryRifles an Illustrated History of Their Impact

Text of 03 Rifles an Illustrated History of Their Impact


Other Titles in ABC-CLIOs

WEAPONS AND WA R FARE SERIESSpencer C. Tu c k e r, Series EditorAir Defense, Shannon A. Brown Aircraft Carriers, Hedley Wilmott Ancient Weapons, James T. Chambers Artillery, Jeff Kinard Ballistic Missiles, Kev Darling Battleships, Stanley Sandler Cruisers and Battle Cruisers, Eric W. Osborne Destroyers, Eric W. Osborne Helicopters, Stanley S. McGowen Machine Guns, James H. Willbanks Medieval Weapons, James T. Chambers Military Aircraft in the Jet Age, Justin D. Murphy Military Aircraft, 19191945, Justin D. Murphy Military Aircraft, Origins to 1918, Justin D. Murphy Pistols, Jeff Kinard Submarines, Hedley Paul Wilmott


David Westwood

Santa Barbara, California

Denver, Colorado

Oxford, England

Copyright 2005 by David Westwood All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review, without prior permission in writing from the publishers. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Westwood, David, Dr. Rifles : an illustrated history of their impact / David Westwood. p. cm. (Weapons and warfare series) Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 1-85109-401-6 (hardback : alk. paper) ISBN 1-85109-406-7 (eBook) 1. RiflesHistory. 2. Military weapons. I. Title. II. Series. TS536.4.W48 2005 683.4'22dc22 2004028931 05 06 07 08 / 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 This book is also available on the World Wide Web as an eBook. Visit abc-clio.com for details. ABC-CLIO, Inc. 130 Cremona Drive, P.O. Box 1911 Santa Barbara, California 93116-1911 This book is printed on acid-free paper. Manufactured in the United States of America

for a.c.w.In memory of my father, who taught me to take care of the countryside.



xi xiii


Introduction to Encyclopedias of Weapons and Warfare Series, Spencer C. Tucker xv

chapter one militaries in the fourteenth centuryWhat Is a Firearm? The Sixteenth Century The Snaphance The Flintlock 12 13 1 8


chapter two ball, bullet, powder, and cartridge: the development of the propellant and the projectile 19The Musket Ball The Mini Ball 19 26 27 31

The Composite Cartridge Major Treadwells Report

The Modern Military Cartridge 33




chapter three breech-loading rifles


The Breech Loader and the British ArmyThe Albini and Braendlin 50 The Burton Rifles 51 Major Fosberys Rifle 52 The Henry Rifle 52 The Joslyn/Newby Rifle 54 The Martini Rifle 54 The Peabody Rifle 55 The Remington Rifle 56

The Tests The Result

57 58 59

The Martini-Henry Service Rifle

chapter four the percussion system


The Percussion System in the British Army Lever-Action Repeating Rifles 71

chapter five rifles and ammunition in 1855The History of Rifling 84 87


The Rifle as a Military Weapon

chapter six the bolt-action rifleThe Repeating Bolt-Action Rifle Lee and the British The French Lebel Conclusion 113 95


The Mauser Rifle and Other German Makes 102 The United States and the Bolt-Action Rifle





chapter seven self-loading rifles


German SLR Development during World War II U.S. Self-Loading Rifles 123The M14 Rifle 131 New Rifle, New Caliber 132

Russian SLR Developments The British Army and the SLR Conclusion 146

133 141

Significant Rifles and Rifle Systems


Appendix A: The Schn Report Appendix B: Rifles and Rifle Makers Glossary Bibliography Index 457 470 433 445

261 287

About the Author


This book will show how the infantry rifle first appeared and why. It will trace the history of the rifle from its early, rather successful start, through a series of near-disasters and singular successes, into the bolt-action, magazine-fed, rifle of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. There can be little doubt that in its formative years the military rifle was far less effective than the long bow, but that the long bow was impossible as a modern battlefield weapon due to the effect of artillery and the machine gun. There are many points in time where one can ask whether a particular weapon could have changed the course of history. In fact only one rifle with this potential springs to mind, and that is the very earliest of the successful designs: Colonel Fergusons rifle of 1775. Had British troops been armed with this weapon, the length of the Napoleonic Wars might well have been curtailed and the War of 1812 might have had a different conclusion. Manpower is one of the main criteria for armies in the field. More men in the battle line means more men firing. In the shortrange combat of the nineteenth century this was most important. If you had more men, then you had greater firepower. The corollary to this was that with massed ranks of men all they had to do was take a rudimentary aim and massed firepower would do the rest. The arrival of the empty battlefield of the twentieth century (caused by machine-gun and artillery fire) meant that men were now living below ground level, emerging only to attack or to move around in daily tasks. The rifle was of little real significance in such conditions, except for the trained sniper. Snipers have a reputation of being deadly men whose activities involve underhanded methods of warfare; in fact they merely use the terrain in which they are operating to their advantage and they exercise a skill in marksmanship of which the average soldier is incapable.xi



Modern rifles demonstrate a number of characteristics that are perhaps indicative of the nations issuing them to their troops. The British, having been somewhat disappointed not to have their bullpup design accepted in the 1950s, now have a bull-pup of their own, the history of which has not been happy. America has a dubious history in regard to the M16, especially its ammunition, and the efforts of some officials to bar this weapon from consideration are questionable. The Russians, however, came up with a really good design and then stuck to it: the AK47. The actions behind the scenes in weapons development, especially after the formation of NATO, sometimes are beyond belief, with nationalistic attitudes having more sway than common sense. But that is the way of the world, and the only people who seem to have suffered are the PBI, the Poor bloody infantry, who get all sorts of crazy ideas foisted on them, often in the hope that they might work really well. The history of the development of the rifle is peopled with many inventors who just wanted a military contract, but also with men of ideas whose inventive nature brought about significant improvements. Rather than name them here, the reader is invited to go into the book where their names (and the names of some of the others) are to be found.


I have a number of people to mention whose names cannot be recorded: to all of them (they know who they are) my sincere thanks. To those I can name goes the same dedication. The latter are Martin Pegler, Major John Conway, Philip Abbott, Richard Jones, Rob Sharrock, and their respective staffs, all of whom provided me with time and the opportunity to work in their collections. Royal Armouries are based in Leeds, and their collections are second to none in worldwide terms. The Weapons Collection of the Small Arms Corps, based at the School of Land Warfare in Warminster, Wiltshire, is equally important to the student of firearms, especially because there there is a working Ferguson rifle. Others who started me on the long trail to this book include Rodney Bond, John Cannon, Dr. David Chandler, Dr. John Pimlott, Dr. Simon Trew, Professor Alan Lloyd, and Mr. Mike Simpson. I should also mention a long-suffering and patient wife, Ros Westwood, and two springer spaniels, Glinka and Puta, who often only got to walk after I had finished a long day at the Apple Mac!



Weapons both fascinate and repel. They are used to kill and maim individuals and to destroy states and societies, and occasionally whole civilizations, and with these the greatest of mans cultural and artistic accomplishments. Throughout history tools of war have been the instruments of conquest, invasion, and enslavement, but they have also been used to check evil and to maintain peace. Weapons have evolved over time to become both more lethal and more complex. For the greater part of mans existence, combat was fought at the length of an arm or at such short range as to represent no real difference; battle was fought within line of sight and seldom lasted more than the hours of daylight of a single day. Thus individual weapons that began with the rock and the club proceeded through the sling and boomerang, bow and arrow, sword and axe, to gunpowder weapons of the rifle and machine gun of the late nineteenth century. Study of the evolution of these weapons tells us much about human ingenuity, the technology of the time, and the societies that produced them. The greater part of technological development of weaponry has taken part in the last two centuries, especially the twentieth century. In this process, plowshares have been beaten into swords; the tank, for example, evolved from the agricultural caterpillar tractor. Occasionally, the process is reversed and military technology has impacted society in a positive way. Thus modern civilian medicine has greatly benefitted from advances to save soldiers lives, and weapons technology has impacted such areas as civilian transportation or atomic power.




Weapons can have a profound impact on society. Gunpowder weapons, for example, were an important factor in ending the era of the armed knight and the Feudal Age. They installed a kind of rough democracy on the battlefield, making all men alike tall. We can only wonder what effect weapons of mass destruction (WMD) might have on our own time and civilization. This series will trace the evolution of a variety of key weapons systems, describe the major changes that occurred in each, and illustrate and identify the key types. Each volume begins with a description of the particular weapons system and traces its evolution, while discussing its historical, social, and political contexts. This is followed by a heavily illustrated section that is arranged more or less along chronological lines that provides more precise information on at least 80 key variants of that particular weapons system. Each volume contains a glossary of terms, a bibliography of leading books on that particular subject, and an index. Individual volumes in the series, each written by a specialist in that particular area of expertise, are as follows: Ancient Weapons Medieval Weapons Pistols Rifles Machine Guns Artillery Tanks Battleships Cruisers and Battle Cruisers Aircraft Carriers Submarines Military Aircraft, Origins to 1918 Military Aircraft, 19191945 Military Aircraft in the Jet Age Helicopters Ballistic Missiles Air Defense Destroyers We hope that this series will be of wide interest to specialists, researchers, and even general readers. Spencer C. Tucker Series Editor



Militaries in the Fourteenth Century

Foot soldiers during the Middle A g e s used pikes, bows, and crossbows. Industry took a great step forward with the appearance of the blast furnace; steel was now available for the manufacture of weapons as well as plowshares. Crossbows benefited with steel bows, giving them a range of about 400 yards.1 The firearm had already made an appearance in China, and the technology was slowly becoming known in the West. Added to this was the discovery of gunpowder, which made firearms a practical concept. Cannons were the first weapons made to use the new powder, and interestingly the arrival of cannons in arsenals led to the creation or consolidation of nation-states, because they were the only groups able to afford such highly expensive weapons. Add to this the fact that the firearm was eventually to lead to the demise of the knight on the battlefield in favor of the much cheaper-to-arm infantryman; thus military development is a much more important factor in social development than it is often credited for.

WHAT IS A FIREARM?It is not too difficult to define firearm, and one attractive version appears in a Harry Potter book, in a newspaper report that refers to a gun (a kind of metal wand which Muggles [i.e., nonmagicians]1



use to kill each other).2 There is a lot of truth in this definition, allowing of course for the imaginative use of the word wand. Firearms were impossible until the fire appeared; this was of course gunpowder, which seems to have originated in the thirteenth century. There are a number of discussions on the subject and it is valuable at the outset to understand what is meant within the framework of this work by the term firearm. A firearm is one that uses the power of a propellant to fire a projectile. To limit the definition further to the subject of this book, a rifle is a hand weapon that is used to arm infantry soldiers (and others) for use on the battlefield and that has a barrel, a method of reloading or a loading mechanism, a method of firing, and the means to aim and handle the weapon all assembled together in one unit. There are a number of very significant stages in the development of the infantry rifle, which begin in the days before rifling was invented, and again before the modern composite cartridge was conceived. This book will deal with the changes using both a chronological and a holistic approach, so sometimes the date will be important, but sometimes the theme will take over in preeminence. Gunpowder appears in many texts, and there was a suggestion that the Hindu (Gentoo) Laws of 300 B.C. mentioned it, but this has been discounted. The Chinese probably were the first to use gunpowder, but as a pyrotechnic (to frighten the horses) rather than as a propellant. The real origin seems to have been in the mid-1200s in Europe, as a result of Arabic alchemical experiments, books relating to which appeared, via Spain, at that time.3 However, once more the Arabs did not use the mixture as a propellant; it seems that this doubtful honor is due to the Europeans, who were almost certainly the inventors of the firearm. Gunpowder is a simple mixture of saltpeter, charcoal, and sulfur. The proportions can vary, as can the fineness or otherwise in texture of the component materials. What was important was that when confined and fired, it almost instantaneously produced a large amount of gas, which was harnessed eventually in the barrels of weapons so that a projectile could be forced out of the barrel at the chosen target. Rather like the flashes and bangs caused by wands in the magical adventures of Harry Potter, when gunpowder was first seen, it too was regarded as a remarkable mixture that when ignited sound[ed] like thunder and flashes in the air can be made, indeed greater horrors than those produced naturally.4 However, here Roger Bacon is referring to a pyrotechnic, or a propellant for rockets, not a propel-



lant in a firearm to project a bullet out of a barrel. The invention of the firearm was, however, so closely allied to the appearance of gunpowder that the first firearms were being made less than 100 years after Bacon first referred to the properties of gunpowder. Although the powder itself was initially variable in performance, the invention of granulation in the 1420s made the powder both safer to handle and more reliable in the field.5 The history of firearms and gunpowder is full of apocryphal tales (reading still like the Harry Potter books), and one legend is that of Black Berthold, a monk of either German or Greek origin who is credited with the invention of the first gun and possibly with the discovery of gunpowder as well. In fact he never existed, although like many legends, there is an element of historical truth to the story. It seems clear that the first written evidence of guns is that of the edict of the Council of Florence of 11 February 1326. This ordered that two officials were to be appointed to make iron bullets (or arrows) and metal cannons for Republican defenses. As earlier weapons, from which the gun was to take over, fired arrows, the initial concept seems to have been to make weapons using gunpowder to fire arrows. This would achieve a twofold improvement in weaponry: the projectile would be propelled faster and further, and it would be accompanied by a morale-affecting flash and bang. This latter factor would have been particularly effective on the battlefield against cavalry, whose horses would have been spooked by the light and sound of the detonation. The development of the firearm6 follows on from that of cannons. Cannons were big and unwieldy, but they had the advantage that they could use the new propellant without too great a risk of rupture from the forces generated on detonation. But ingenuity soon led to handguns (guns that were handheld, not the modern pistol-type weapon) on the same principle, although the artistic representations left to us today stretch credulity when the weapons and men are shown together. There can be no doubt that firearms were used by infantry, for the simple reason that they could not (at the time) be fired effectively from horseback, and mounted knights were unlikely to take the personal risks involved in firing such new and apparently dangerous weapons. Further, such weapons were not covered by the code of chivalry and so were left to the lower orders. The written history of firearms grows in strength from about 1340; various artistic impressions are also to be found, but they are often questionable by virtue of the fact that artists create what they see, not necessarily what is there, and, unlike a modern video cam-



era, can reproduce only a moment of history rather than a sequence. By the end of this century the use of firearms had become general. One of the best sources concerning firearms is the accounts of the English Royal Chamber that controlled the royal armory and arsenal in England in the second half of the fourteenth century. The earliest records relate to the purchase of sulfur and saltpeter (1333/1334), but the significant entry from 1345 (the first of many) refers to repairs to guns with arrows and pellets.7 Guns held in the Tower of London in 1346 were ordered to be sent to France to support King Edward IIIs campaign against the French as part of the Hundred Years War; also to be sent were storage chests, large and small lead pellets, pieces of lead for making pellets, and barrels of powder, saltpetre and sulphur. Another order was for 912 pounds of saltpeter and 886 pounds of sulfur, so it is certain that cannons were part of the military armory at the time. Possibly handguns were also issued, and there is one reference to hand engines called guns.8 The manufacture of firearms appears to have been commonplace by the mid-1300s,9 and by 1373/1375 there is a record of a payment made for attaching handles to eight guns ad modum pycoys or in the style of pikeshandheld weapons. References to lead and pellets bring the conclusion that small arms were being manufactured, although there are still a number of references to arrows among the accounts, although the arrows were a far cry from the wood and feather long bow projectiles, now being metal with iron fletching. Whatever the obscurity of these early documents, certainty comes in the writ of 7 November 1388 that refers to three small cannon called handguns.10 At what exact moment in the fourteenth century the first firearms were made is of less importance than the fact that man had extended warfare from pitched, hand-to-hand fighting toward a concept of fighting at a distance: the range of the firearm now being the maximum fighting range on the battlefield. The archery arm had had great effect for centuries, but shooting was about to undergo a quantum change over the next few centuries until the present day, when a sniper can kill at over 1,000 yards with one shot. However, the practicality of this concept has been limited only by the ingenuity of man, infantry in particular, and even today the bayonet is still issued as a last-ditch weapon to turn the rifle back into a pike, when attackers, by skill at field craft, can come into body-contact range. Many of the earliest examples of firearms have been losteither just plain lost, destroyed, rusted away, forgotten, or otherwise disap-



These two drawings show foot and mounted firearms. The problems of aiming and recoil can be appreciated, and unless the horse was well trained, its reaction to the firing of a hand cannon must have been spectacular. From W. W. Greener, The Gun and Its Development, Cassell & Co., London, 1910, p.45 ff.

peared, and the firearms historian today is limited in physical examples and restricted by artistic depictions of the weapons. The Swedish National Historical Museum in Stockholm has an example of a very early weapon, the Loshult gun. This is similar in external appearance to the famous Milimete gun, illustrated in the treatise De Nobilitatibus, Sapientiis et Prudentiis Regum (On the Duties of a King), written by the eponymous Walter de Milimete for King Edward III in 1327.11 Both are bulbous at the breech and were intended to fire iron arrows rather than bullets. Fifteenth-century manuscripts show three ways in which the firearm was held for firing: resting the stock over the shoulder, tucking the gun under the arm, or resting the gun on the ground so that the muzzle pointed upward. In all cases woodwork had appeared that enabled the barrel to be controlled and a rudimentary attempt at aiming made. It should be remembered that the firearm at this earliest stage of its development was still something of a novelty, and was more useful in frightening horses than in killing men. One of the difficulties facing the operator of these very primitive handguns was firing it. The barrel was loaded with a set amount of black powder, and the projectile poured (if shot) or loaded on top of the propellant. A trail of gunpowder was then laid to lead from the



touch hole to the propellant charge. Finally, to fire the weapon a slow match (developed by artillerymen) was applied to the powder trail, which, some of the time, set off the main charge, and with a flash and a combustion of fires, and by the horror of sounds,12 the weapon discharged. But if it was raining, or if the powder was wet, or there was a high wind, and so on, there was a less than even chance of any explosion at all, and the gunman would be flattened by the opposition without mercy. Reliability is a theme we will return to time and again throughout this book. No matter how horrifying and devastating a weapon may prove to be in theory or in the demonstration, it is of no use whatsoever if it cannot perform regularly and effectively in the hands of the men who have to carry it in battle. History is full of weapons that just could not do their job when it came to the test of action, either because they were too weakly constructed, were not properly designed, were worn out or broken, or were far too complex in design to be continually functional in the one place where all these faults spell death to the user: the battlefield. Once the idea of handguns was seen to be of some value, the next task for the gunmakers and designers was to devise a way of firing the weapon mechanically, rather than with an easily lost or extinguished handheld slow match. The problem they faced was that they had to continue to employ the slow match, as no other ignition system had yet been invented. Thus the matchlock was born. The earliest form was a simple lever, pivoted on the stock of the weapon, which allowed the firer to use his forefinger to bring the lit end of the slow match to contact with the touch hole. He could now use both hands to control his weapon and maintain his aim, and only one finger was needed to fire. As Claude Blair points out, this was an economy of effort that has not been improved on to date.13 It was at this very moment that the modern firearm was created; although weapons of the period do not bear more than a passing resemblance to todays assault rifles, the firearm now had a barrel, weapon furniture (the wooden stock, and perhaps a fore end), and a firing mechanism. The sighting method was still rudimentary, with perhaps only a barleycorn foresight and no rear sight, but the basics of the firearm were laid down for further development. It took another 300 years or so before the rifle was born, and the main problems facing soldiers and weapon makers were to produce better and more reliable firing mechanisms, make effective sighting systems, and explore in what way reloading could be made quicker and easier. During the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries there was a definite social structure that was reflected in the military forces of the



period. There were no such things as standing armies, rather the gatherings of servants of kings and nobles who took the field either for conquest or defense.14 The higher the mans social standing, the better equipped he was. Knights, at the top of the tree, held sway on the battlefield for a long period, until the Welsh archers in English service at Crcy showed what a clothyard arrow could do to armed mounted men. The revolution in military affairs caused by this defeat of the French knights came about at the same time as the firearm was going through its earliest development. The infantryman (to use a loose term) was becoming the most effective element on the battlefield, and when his efforts were combined with effective artillery and coordinated cavalry, a new era of warfare would dawn. However, firearms were still extremely slow to load and reload, difficult to aim, prone to the effects of weather (unlike cutting weapons and arrows)in short, a lot needed to be done before the firearm was to become the only infantry weapon. The first important development had been the mechanical means of firing the weapon. A second development was the realization that the wooden stock, originally no more than an extension behind the firearm for convenience, could be adapted to allow the firer to place the rear end of the wood against his shoulder. This meant that the recoil of the weapon could be better controlled; previously there was no resistance to the recoil, and the firearm could and would move uncontrollably on discharge. The idea probably originated with the fitting of a hook fitted to weapons used for wall defense. To control recoil this hook was placed over a wall or other firm point, so that recoil did not throw the weapon about too much, which otherwise led to spoiling the aim and almost certainly to a degree of wariness among gunners who were using the piece. The development in the firearm field was to take the stock or butt of the weapon and not merely make it suitable for fitting into the firers shoulder but to bend the angle of the stock so that the barrel lay in the line of sight from firer to target. This idea led to the development of the arquebus (or harquebus), but this occurred a little later in the timeline. The invention of the matchlock led to refinements, and soon the sear lock appeared. In this system a spring was introduced to the lock; the spring was linked to the cock and was under pressure while the weapon was loaded and cocked, ready to fire. When the trigger was pressed the spring forced the cock and its slow match into contact with the touch hole and the weapon fired. The first matchlock illustration is in a German manuscript of 1411.15 The spring lock appears around 1470, and searlock mechanisms survived until the



The matchlock firing system. In this example there is a spring that forces the cock and match into the priming pan. Here the trigger lever compresses the spring when the weapon is fired. The movement of the cock depends upon the pressure applied by the firer. Courtesy of David Westwood.

early seventeenth century. In addition, some weapons were fitted with a pivoted, hand-operated pan cover in metal, which protected the priming powder, and had the added advantage that a gun could now be carried loaded and primed for use. The touch hole was also altered, in that it was drilled from the side of the barrel and not from the top, as had been the standard in the days of hand firing. So toward the end of the fifteenth century the firearm could be fired by one finger, could be carried loaded and ready to fire, and the stock was developing toward the modern form. The weapon could be sighted along the barrel and aimed with some degree of accuracy as rear sights were introduced, and recoil was contained by the firers body through his shoulder. There is documentary evidence of these new stocks,16 which were often called Landsknecht stocks (Landsknecht Kolbe) due to the frequency with which they are seen in illustrations of the Landsknechts, the mercenary infantry of the sixteenth century.

THE SIXTEENTH CENTURYUp to the sixteenth century the majority of firearms produced had been intended for use by the common man, the pressed infantry of the medieval period. The fact that this weapon had given him supe-



The Wheel Lock Principle. Courtesy of David Westwood.

riority over his social superiors had not gone unnoticed, especially among the social superiors who were threatened by this new arm and, by inference, those who wielded it. However, the sixteenth century brought the invention of the first really mechanical firing method, whereby simple pressure on the trigger set in motion a chain of events that caused the weapon to fire. This was the wheel lock. The introduction of the wheel lock brought with it an increase in the stature of the gunsmith. Previously he was regarded merely as someone who could forge metal and make tubes with it, to build the barrels of the earlier firearms. Now he began to attract the status of a clock maker, a far higher calling than heretofore. He became an engineer in miniature, not just the wielder of a large hammer. The wheel lock works in the same way as a Zippo lighter. A piece of iron pyrite (the flint) creates sparks by being in contact with a wheel that is forced to rotate mechanically. The sparks created take the place of the match in the matchlock, and the weapon is fired. The illustration above shows the principle by which it worked. To set up the wheel lock the firer had to wind up the lock with a key, which coiled the chain around the wheel. The free end of the chain was under tension from the spring so that when the trigger was pressed, the spring forced the chain to rotate the wheel. This in turn caused the serrated wheel to strike sparks from the flint to fire the weapon. The illustration shows a typical wheel lock and the following one shows it in some detail. The iron pyrite (the flint) was held between the jaws of the cock. The two bridles hold in the wheel from both sides of the lock and the inner bridle also supports the mainspring, which is a substantial V-shaped spring. The weapon is first loaded



with powder, wadding, and ball from the muzzle. Once this has been rammed down the weapon is ready to prime. To do this the lock chain has to be wound round the wheel with a key applied to the spindle of the wheel. Once the chain is tight the cock is moved to its cocked position as it is linked directly to the wheel. Then the pan is primed. To fire the weapon the trigger is pressed. The chain is pulled from the wheel spindle by the mainspring, which in turn rotates the wheel. This causes the serrated wheel to spark the flint, and the weapon discharges. This remarkable improvement in technology was invented at the end of the fifteenth century, probably by Leonardo da Vinci. Drawings in his manuscripts17 show a helical mainspring and a gun lock. A reconstruction of the Leonardo device worked (with some modifications), tending to prove that the drawing was a design, not an illustration of something he had seen. What also seems very certain is that although Leonardo may have invented the principle, putting it into practical working order was done by the Nuremberg clock maker Johann Kiefuss (or Khfuss). In any event, in 1507 an Italian cardinal was sent to Germany to obtain a gun of the type that ignites with stone.18 A more primitive example of the same principle is to be seen in the Monks gun, which has a pull slide to activate the metal-against-flint operating system. Perhaps the most important social repercussion of the invention of the wheel lock was due to its high cost. This meant that clients with money were needed to patronize and buy it from the gunsmiths who made it. This meant the growing middle class and the aristocracy were the only people with the money to buy such a device; in turn, they were more interested in hunting and shooting and would certainly not stand in a firing line in time of war. So it was that soldiers in the field were, for the most part, left with matchlocks, while their betters were engaged in the chase with far better equipment. Another social effect was that with the invention of the wheel lock, weapons could be carried about the person, concealed from the general view. In 1517 Emperor Maximilian I banned selfstriking handguns that ignite themselves and then banned all manufacture and use of such firearms within the empire.19 Weapons were not only improving, but the criminal classes were arming themselves, which the emperor was not prepared to allow. The same problem emerged in Italy, and the Duke of Ferrara issued an ordnance in 1522 banning the carrying of arms in the streets of his city, especially stone or dead fire guns.20



Details of the Wheel Lock. Courtesy of David Westwood.

The wheel lock survived throughout the period from 1540 to 1600, and during this time German gunmakers acquired a reputation that spread throughout Europe. Their fine quality and craftsmanship recommended them to all the courts and the gentry, whose wheel-lock sporting guns are still to be seen today in many European museums and collections. Interestingly, one improvement that did not catch on, despite its obvious value, was the self-spanning wheel lock. In this mechanism, the action of pulling back the cock also caused the chain to be pulled round the wheel, thus removing the need for the separate action of winding the wheel with a key. It seems that the complexity of the device was beyond most gunsmiths, and few examples were made, or indeed survive. There is an example of this action, made by M. Kubk, which was in the Vo j e nsk Historick Muzeum (the Military Museum) in Prague in 1956.21 Military use of weapons fitted with wheel-lock mechanisms was strictly limited. Cost was one factor, and the complexity of the mechanism was the other. Swedish infantry were issued wheel-lock muskets in 1620,22 and troops in the reign of Louis XIV of France



were also given such weapons. Infantry at that time were notoriously uneducated and badly trained, and this lock was far too complicated. In addition, there were dangers of accidental ignition if the weapon was dropped, and the weapon was actually prohibited for the Austrian Army. There was a great need for a simpler, more robust firing mechanism. The problem with simplification as far as the suppliers of military equipment is concerned is that they earn less, but the problem was overcome about the middle of the sixteenth century with the snaphance mechanism.

THE SNAPHANCEThis development appeared in 154723 and was certainly a firing mechanism using flint and steel, but one in which the flint strikes the steel and is not worked on by a rotating wheel. The origins of the system are not clear, but the principle of operation clearly opens the way for the flintlock to come. Various weapons survive fitted with snaphance (or snaphaunce) locks, which were so simple that mili-

The snaphance. This simplified mechanism was a great step forward in firearms design, yet gets little mention. Essentially, when the cock is pulled back, it compresses the mainspring, and when far enough back, the sear is locked into the lock plate to keep the cock in its cocked position. Pressure on the trigger releases the sear and the cock is thrown forward by the power of the compressed main spring, which causes the flint to strike the steel and make the sparks to fire the weapon. Also visible is the separately made sliding pan cover, which prevents wind and rain from disturbing the priming powder in the pan. Courtesy of David Westwood.



tary weapons could be fitted with the new system at a cost that was far lower than the equivalent wheel lock. The mechanism was so simple that it needed few, if any, repairs, which recommended it to both soldiers and their generals. This mechanism was to lead directly to the flintlock system of the seventeenth century, which remained in use until well into the nineteenth century.

THE FLINTLOCKThe principle of the flintlock is remarkably similar to that of the snaphance, and because it was such a successful design, a number of derivatives were evolved. However, it is important to look at the basic design to see how it worked. The essentials of the mechanism are the same as those for the snaphance, but there are a few refinements. The most important change is that the steel and the pan cover are made in one piece. When the cock flies forward under spring pressure the flint scrapes down the face of the steel to make the sparks, and at the same time the pressure of the flint against the steel forces the steel back enough to uncover the pan. This enables the spark to get to the priming powder and fire the weapon. The use of the term flintlock as synonymous for snaphance is not a real error, for both mechanisms use the same principle to fire a

The Flintlock. Courtesy of David Westwood.



weapon. Flint is scraped on steel to produce a spark. However, the standard term flintlock became current quickly and was in vogue by 1683,24 although strict adherence to the definition that a snaphance had separate steel and pan cover cannot be objected to. Nevertheless, the flintlock had arrived, and it was here to stay until well into the nineteenth century. Various forms of the flintlock existed,25 but they need not concern the narrative now, for it is time to look at other developments that had arrived during the history of the firearm up to the arrival of the flintlock. Gunmakers are inventive people, and even in the days of the wheel lock they had noticed that archers had a trick or two up their sleeves worth thinking about. One of these tricks was to fletch an arrow so that in the air it would rotate about its longitudinal axis and thereby gain stability in flight. It seems possible that rifling was first introduced to firearms at the end of the fifteenth century, and there is a questionable earlier example in colonial America: Emperor Maximilians rifle of between 1498 and 1508.26 Rifling consists of cutting away the interior of the barrel of a firearm so as to form spiral grooves upon its surface. The aim of this exercise is, as the bullet goes down the barrel under the impulse of the propellant, to put spin onto the bullet when it emerges into the air beyond the muzzle. The spin preserves the longitudinal axis of the bullet and thereby achieves more accurate fire. With a round musket ball, however, especially when deformed by ramming from the muzzle, the practicality of this is debatable. Later, when bullets were loaded at the breech and forced by gas pressure to expand at the rear and so engage with the rifling, rifling began to have a real effect, especially after the conoidal bullet was invented. In sporting and target weapons of the time the effect was felt, but minimally without doubt, for a round ball has little in the way of an axis in any direction when it is spinning about after emergence from the muzzle. Sights had developed, too, and now both a front sight and rear sight were fitted, but they were fixed sights that did no more than concentrate the attention of the musketeer toward his target. The fact that musketry targets in battle were probably no more than 50 yards away at this time really negates the value of these sights, but they may have had some morale-raising effect. The furniture of weapons, the woodwork surrounding the barrel and fitted to the rear of the lock and the end of the barrel, was now recognized as very important to the firer. Barrel furniture saved hands from getting burned, and the butt and small of the butt en-



abled recoil to be absorbed and the right hand to have a firm grip so that the forefinger could operate the trigger. By the time of arrival of the flintlock musket, firearms had assumed the general shape of twentieth-century rifles, although the very latest rifles are far removed from any conventional appearance. From the point of view of the man in the field, the arrival on the military scene of the flintlock meant that he was at last free of the matchlock forever and had a reasonably reliable lock with which to fire his weapon in battle. The cost of the flintlock in comparison with the wheel lock meant that armies could reequip en masse, and weapons could even be retrofitted with the flintlock, although this seems not to have been necessary. Quartermasters now had to provide flints in large quantities, after they had established where to buy them. The flints used27 were received from the quarries covered with a thick layer of lime clay, which had to be washed off. Once dry, the knapping process produced a flint for use, with its top edge a sharp point and the bottom edge shaped like a chisel. Flints were usable for about fifty shots, after which they were thrown away. The French got their flints from the Dpartement Cher in central France, and they were prized in both Europe and the United States. In England quarries near Brandon in Suffolk supplied flints, while in Austria flints were bought from Transylvania, the Tyrol, and Italy. The method of loading the weapon also developed in the lifetime of the firearm. The first method had been simple: pour powder into the muzzle, load a ball with a patch and ram it down, put a little powder into the pan, and the weapon was ready. Wheel-lock users in the English civil war of the 1650s had improved methods: wooden cartridges were preloaded with the right amount of powder, the plug was taken off the cartridge, the powder poured as before, the ball loaded, and all was ready. Then came the paper composite in the last thirty years of the seventeenth century. The ball and powder were contained in a paper twist, and the musketeer bit off the bottom of the cartridge (hence the well-known phrase bite the bullet). This exposed the powder, a small amount of which was poured into the pan, the rest into the barrel. The ball, wrapped roughly in the paper, was then rammed into the barrel. The paper thus served two purposes: it contained one round of ammunition ready for use (but with a very short shelf life), and it then acted as the wadding for the bullet. It had the further advantage of being self-consuming, in that it was burned along with the powder when the weapon was fired.28



One task for the infantryman with a smoothbore musket was that he had to make his own cartridges. King Louis XV in 1738 ordered that the cartridge paper had to be unsized paper and contain a charge of 9 grains (5 drams) of powder and a ball of 28 grains (just under 1 ounce). This procedure had been used for many decades to make up each cartridge and had been basically unaltered since the days of the matchlock. Interestingly, each man was limited in the number of rounds he was allowed to carry, despite the fact that he made his own. Fusiliers in the French Army during the Thirty Years War carried 18 rounds, the Prussian Imperial Infantry had 40 rounds in 1684, while the French infantry had 10. Prussian Imperial Dragoons had 24 rounds in 1740. This shortage of ammunition led to battle shortages, and at Mollwitz in 1741 the Prussian infantry had to get spare ammunition from the pouches of the dead and wounded. At the Battle of Torgau both sides ran out of ammunition, and even during the Napoleonic Wars there were still ammunition shortages. It has already been noted that as fouling built up in the barrels of the muskets, it became more difficult to reload. One way in which it was thought this could be alleviated was by cutting two grooves down the barrel in a straight line, so that fouling would be concentrated away from the main barrel, allowing better reloading; this was the principle of the Brunswick rifle. Unfortunately it was only partially successful.

ENDNOTES1. Frances Gies and Joseph Gies, Cathedral, Forge, and Water Wheel Technology and Invention in the Middle Ages. New York: HarperCollins, 1994, pp. 204ff. 2. J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Askaban. London: Bloomsbury, 1999, p. 34. 3. It is possible that knowledge of Chinese firearms and gunpowder arrived in Europe via Russia. There is archaeological evidence to prove that the Chinese had cannons by the thirteenth century. See Arnold Pacey, Technology in World Civilization: A Thousand Year History. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1990. 4. Roger Bacon, Epistolae de Secretis Operibus Artis et Naturae et de Nullitate Magiae, circa 1257. 5. Gies and Gies, Cathedral, p. 247. 6. The term firearm will be used in the text to signify handheld



weapons of all types up to the appearance of the rifled weapon, when rifle will be used. 7. See T. F. Tout, in Firearms in England in the Fourteenth Century. English Historical Review 26 (1911): 666702. 8. Ibid. 9. Petrarch notes: These instruments [firearms or cannon] were a few years ago very rare . . . but now they are become as common and familiar as any other kind of arms. So quick and ingenious are the minds of men in learning the most pernicious arts. De Remediis, Book I, dialogue 99. 10. Iij canones paruos vocatos handgunnes. 11. Now at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, England, as MS. Christ Church College, Oxford, 92, f.70v. 12. Roger Bacon, Opus Tertium, circa 1257. 13. Roger Blair, Early Firearms, in Pollards History of Firearms, ed. Claude Blair. New York: MacMillan, 1983. 14. The first standing armies appeared in the fifteenth century in France (1445), Burgundy (1471), and Venice (1479). See J. R. Hale, War and Society in Renaissance Europe 14501620. Leicester, England: Leicester University Press, 1985, p. 65. The situation 100 years later was the opposite due to tactics becoming far more complex. 15. MS 3069, Austrian National Museum, Vienna. 16. Diebold Schilling, Berne Chronicle (vars edns), 14741483. 17. Codex Atlanticus, Ambrosiana Library, Milan, fo.56 v.b. There is also some evidence of a similar device of French origin. See Zeitschrift fr Historische Waffenkunde 13 (19321934): 226227, which gives details of a wheel lock from about 1540 in the Real Armeria, Madrid. 18. C. Blair and J. F. Hayward, Die Rechnungs-bcher des Kardinals Ippolito dEste im Staatsarchiv Modena. Waffen-und Kostumkunde 19 (19621964): 187188. 19. Letter to the Emperor from the Ausschuss Landtag Innsbruck, recommending against such weapons as being helpful to criminals by virtue of their easy concealment about the person (mentioned in Arne Hoff, Feuerwaffen. Ein Waffenhistorisches Handbuch. Braunschweig: Brunswick, 1969, p. i.) 20. Dead, of course, means guns that need no live fuse or match to fire them. 21. References like this that carry the epithet was in . . . are caused by the many changes that have happened in Europe since the beginning of the twentieth century. Their significance is that the author has traced the existence of the examples to the specified place and time but has been unable to ascertain their present whereabouts. 22. Jaroslav Lugs, Firearms Past and Present. London: Grenville, 1973 (English reprint), p. 24. 23. From evidence in A. Angelucci, Catalogo della Armeria Reale, Turin 1890, p. 421, where the author quotes a Florentine ordinance of 1547



mentioning weapons fucile. There is also a Swedish reference in ke Meyerson, Stockholms Bssmakerei, Stockholm 1936, p. 10, n. 21, to snappls. 24. Sir James Turner. Pallas Armata. London: Pauls Church Yard, 1639. 25. Such as the Baltic lock, the Netherlands lock, the Spanish lock (or Miquelet lock), and the Italian lock. 26. This weapon is in the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., and has a single-headed eagle painted on the stock, coat of arms of Maximilian I between the dates noted. However, the 12 faint grooves at the muzzle cannot be proved to go the length of the barrel, leaving this piece as dubiously the first rifle. 27. The flint was silex pyromachus and was bought from quarries in round or oval pieces. They had to be left to dry out slowly, otherwise they became brittle, and they were then knapped to form them for fitting to flintlocks. The operation was so simple that an artisan could produce between 2,000 and 4,000 per day. 28. Combustion of charge and wadding was, however, never perfect, and barrel residues built up until weapons could not be loaded with ball because of these deposits. This problem has never been completely solved, although today barrel residue is of very little importance. In the day of the musket, however, it was significant, especially as there was no way of cleaning the barrel entirely, as it was closed at the breech and so inaccessible to a cleaning rod. The detailed procedure was: Fold a sheet of paper into a trapezium 6mm x 12mm x 15cm. Then take a round stick 19cm long and 16mm in diameter, one end of which has a cavity large enough to take one-third of the ball. Lay the stick with the ball on the end on the paper so that the ball rests 13cm from the main base. Then wrap the paper round the stick, holding the ball in place, and with the right hand finish wrapping the cartridge. Remove the stick and place the cartridge in a bronze cylinder in one of a row of hemispherical cavities. Pour the powder into the cases using a funnel, and shake to settle the powder. Close with a double twist. See Jean Boudriot, Armes Feu Franaises, Modles dOrdonnance, in the series Modles Reglementaires, 17171836, Paris, 19611963.


Ball, Bullet, Powder, and Cartridge:The Development of the Propellant and the Projectile

THE MUSKET BALLThe first reference to musket balls is to pellets in an English document.1 One can assume musket balls were meant. The original musket ball was a spherical lead ball in approximately the caliber of the weapon that fired it. Both metallurgy and mensuration were somewhat crude arts in the fourteenth century, but it seems that ball was usually made slightly smaller than weapon caliber to allow easy loading. The lead balls were made by melting lead (and its impurities) and then pouring the molten lead into molds. This process could be done almost anywhere there was a fire, because lead has a low melting point.2 Bullet molds are first mentioned in the English Wardrobe Accounts (records of state) in circa 1375, and the molds mentioned were made of brass. In 1497 a list of military stores sent to Scotland included six moldes of stone for castying of pellettes. These were for the casting of shot for the hakebusses of iron, which were another part of the inventory. By the reign of King Henry VIII every weapon was accompanied by a bullet mold (and powder flask), and in 1512 a merchant sup19



plied 420 handguns with 420 botelles [powder flasks] and moldes for the same. Recovered items from the wreck of the Mary Rose included a few bullet molds made of soapstone, a soft, easily carved stone that was resistant to heat. Each mold consisted of a block of soapstone that had been cut in half, with a spherical cavity cut inside. The top half of the mold had a channel cut to the top hemisphere of the mold, through which the lead was poured. When cool, the two halves of the mold were pulled apart and flashing removed from the shot produced. Later molds were made with two hinged arms, which closed to form the mold. In the seventeenth century molds were still normally made to cast one shot, but one example3 from France molded four shots at once. Sprue or flashing cutters also became standard on bullet molds to cut away extruded lead that formed at the joints of the two halves of the mold. In the nineteenth century, as engineering perfected its techniques, more accurate fitting of the two halves was provided in manufacture and the caliber of the ball more accurately represented. But by the middle of the nineteenth century a radical change in bullet form had taken place, and bullet molds were made to allow the production of cylindro-conoidal and Mini bullets. Further, as engineering standards rose, the calibers of weapons became standardized, and one mold would serve any number of weapons. The history of the lead ball is bedeviled by the fact that a round ball has no axis; when fired, it either spun or it did not, but whatever, the trajectory of the ball was affected by chance as well as wind, range, and propellant power: they were really nothing more than high-speed stones. The balls were loaded with a patch wrapped around them. This was to fill the gap between the barrel wall and the slightly undersized ball. The ball was undersized for one good reason: if made to barrel size, only the first round would load easily; thereafter, fouling would make the process more difficult, and after two or three shots the weapon would be unusable. Some attempts were made to reduce fouling by waxing bullets, or soaking patches in wax, but unless the whole patch was completely consumed on firing (and most of the time even paper wadding was not burned out either), fouling was certain to occur. Patches were designed to be squeezed between ball and barrel on loading, allowing the ball to pass down the barrel easily, and patches were often greased or lubricated to make this even easier. They also had the advantage that once the weapon was loaded, the ball would not roll out of the barrel if the weapon was pointed downward.



On firing the powder flash set fire to the patch as well as expelling the ball, and the burning patch was flung out of the muzzle. This augmented the already large amount of smoke generated when muzzle-loading black-powder (another generally accepted term for gunpowder) weapons were fired. Problems could arise, of course, if the patch was too large or of the wrong material, which could make it impossible to load the weapon. Loading in general often became a great problem, and one report noted that the force required to ram down the ball being so great as to render a mans hand too unsteady for accurate shooting.4 The flaming patch could in itself be a danger if weapons were fired at times of drought, as the patch would set fire to vegetation when it came out of the muzzle. One of the problems that faced the makers of muzzle-loading weapons was accuracy. The round bullet had to be made and loaded perfectly to ensure a true trajectory, but if the ball was in contact with the barrel on one side as it passed up to the muzzle, the shot would be affected in the same way as a golfer hooks or pulls his shot. It was understood that the fit of ball to barrel had to be exact if accuracy was to follow, but this was negated by the requirement that a military weapon had to be extremely easy to load and reload, even when there was fouling present in the barrel. The military muzzle-loading rifle initially suffered from the basic problem that even a rifled weapon could not fundamentally increase the accuracy of a round ball, although it could improve its range. Some weapons under testing actually exhibited less accuracy when rifled than the contemporary smoothbores they were intended to replace. Reloading was a much more difficult task with rifling adding to the resistance in the barrel. Hammers were issued to help the rifleman to reload his weapon, with the obvious result of damage to the barrel from the rammer when repeatedly hit by this tool, and to the rammer itself. One way to solve the problem was to issue ball that was subcaliber but to have the ball rammed hard so that it deformed to fit the rifling when fired. This cut down on windage5 initially but led to problems of accuracy with what was a deformed ball, which would behave erratically once it emerged from the muzzle. The answer was a cylindrical bullet, which would gain accuracy from the spin imparted by the rifling, and many designs of such bullets appeared. Before this various gunsmiths worked toward making the bullet expand to fit the rifling when the weapon was fired. Ezekiel Bakers rifle was the first issued to the British Army after tests in 1800 when his rifle beat all European and U.S. makes of-



Delvignes System. Although this allows expansion of the ball, it also distorts it a great deal at the expense of accuracy and range. Courtesy of David Westwood.

fered for testing. However, his rifle fired a round ball and was superseded in 1835 by the Brunswick rifle. The Brunswick attempted to overcome fouling problems by having only two grooves and a belted bullet.6 Even this design could not overcome the problem of fouling, and breech loading was seen to be the only answer. Another attempt to overcome windage, similar to hard ramming, was that of Gustave Delvigne,7 whose carabine tige appeared in 1842. The original design appeared in 1826.8 The barrel rear had a subcaliber chamber in which the propellant charge lay. The spherical ball was then rammed down onto the shoulders of the powder chamber. This deformed the bullet that cut windage but still left the problem of the external ballistics of a deformed projectile. The answer lay in a bullet that was easy to load but that expanded on firing so that it was gripped by the rifling not merely on a random part of its surface but on a cylinder of lead that would allow the rifling to impart spin; the form of the bullet would bring its own stability in the air. Gunmaker William W. Greener of Birmingham, England, solved at least part of this problem. The Greener bullet was an oval ball that was 1.5 times longer than the weapon caliber, with a flat end and a perforation nearly all the way through it. In the perforation was fitted a cast-metal plug with a head like a round-topped button. It could be loaded with the plug above or below the ball, because the pressure or acceleration were both sufficient to push the plug into the ball, expand it, and make it a sure fit in the rifling. Greeners trick had been to make an



oval bullet and to make sure it would expand, no matter which way it was loaded into the weapon. Accuracy was tested in August 1835 at Tynemouth in England. The report on the test confirmed the value of this invention and added that the bullet allowed rifles to be loaded as easily as muskets, yet range and accuracy were as for a rifle. When bullets were recovered after the test, they were seen to have rifling groove marks firmly engraved into their surfaces, proof that they had been successfully Greeners Expanding Bullet forced to fill the whole barrel, and Courtesy of David Westwood. not just to skate lightly over the rifling lands or expand completely into the grooves. However, this idea was rejected by the War Office on the grounds that the bullet was compound.9 However, the British government awarded Captain C. E. Mini of the French Army 20,000 for virtually the same invention, which was adopted.10 A number of other attempts to solve the windage problem appeared between the appearance of Greeners bullet and the Mini. In 1833 Lieutenant Colonel Poncharra of the French artillery proposed seating a standard bullet in a sabot, a wooden cylindrical plug, together with a greased patch. It was found that the wooden sabot was smashed by the rammer and the idea was rejected.11 In 1844 a Colonel Louis E. de Thouvenin published his invention, in which there was no subcaliber chamber like that of Delvigne, but instead a round steel plug was inserted at the breech end of the barrel, around which the powder charge could lie. This breech plug had its axis parallel to the bore and could be adjusted in length so that it created a chamber just big enough for the powder charge. The bullet was then rammed down onto this tige, or anvil, where it expanded. Once again, the problem was that although there was some engagement in the rifling, it was not enough, and the bullets flight in the air was erratic. Nevertheless, this system was proved to expand the bullet more effectively than Delvignes method, and the French Army adopted it in 1846.



By 1845 Lieutenant Colonel John Jacob of the Indian Army12 had built for himself a rifle range with targets at up to 2,000 yards. He was experimenting with rifles made by his London gunmakers to his own specifications, firing cylindro-conoidal bullets with four studs on the sides to fit a four-groove rifling system. His bullets were effective out to 2,000 yards, and he even designed an explosive bullet for the weapon. However, the East India government rejected his proposal,13 but he nevertheless went ahead and formed his own regiment equipped with his rifle. In 1853 Jacob began what were near official trials of his own rifle. He paid for everything himself and sent reports when he felt like it to the British government offices in Bombay. Jacob had spent many years getting to this stage, and his main aim was to do away with the belted ball and two-grooved barrel of the Brunswick rifle. He wanted easier loading in a four-grooved barThouvenins Tige. rel firing a double-belted ball. He Courtesy of David Westwood. found that the results of the first firings exceeded his expectations, and in 1846 he put his idea to the government of India. The predictable result was rejection, on the grounds that the British Army at home used the Brunswick, and what was good enough for the royal army14 was good enough for the Hon. East India Company.15 Jacob was not to be deterred, however, and went on to design a bullet with projections on the outside that were to fit the rifling. Jacob was working toward the cylindro-conoidal bullet by stages, and the eventual form of the bullet for his rifle is shown in the illustration.



A page from Daws Gun Patents showing the design of Jacobs cylindrical bullets. George H Daw, Gun Patents, G H Daw, London, 1864.

In April 1856 Jacobs was allowed to show his rifle to the commander in chief in Bombay, and then to the Indian government, and a contemporary report said that at ranges from 300 to 1,200 yards, the flight of the shell16 was always point foremost, and the elevation at extreme range inconsiderable.17 Jacobs continued with his experiments (no doubt his area of India was free of native uprising at the time), and he went on testing until he found that his bullets were effective up to 2,000 yards range, with a penetration of four inches in hard Indian brick, nearly like stone; and almost twelve inches at 1,000 yards. He now saw, beyond all question, that he had obtained both the scientific and the practical data for a first class military arm.18 What Jacobs had done was to produce a very special rifle, which fired a bullet that allowed no windage whatever. This was perhaps the finest weapon of its time but was little suited to military use in general because the era of the muzzle loader was almost over. Further, the rifle was so strongly built that it was extremely costly to manufacture, but the results in 1858 showed that it was accurate in the extreme, and, fired at 500 yards, of 36 rounds fired 32 were hits, 4 were bulls eyes, 2 on the edge of the bulls eye, and about a dozen clustered within six inches of it.19 In 1845 and thereafter, the British Army was still issuing the English Pattern 1842 musket. Testing at Chatham showed that this smoothbore musket failed to hit a target at all at 250 yards, and even at 150 yards only 50 percent hits were achieved. Even after this



test,20 however, such was the conservative nature of the British establishment (including the War Office) that the Select Committee of the House of Commons was assured that the maximum range of the musket was between 1,600 and 1,800 yards, although no mention was made of accuracy. Some of the military was aware of the need for change, and continental Europe and the United States were all testing rifles with a view to changing over completely from the smoothbore musket.

THE MINI BALLCaptain Claude-tienne Mini had reexamined Delvignes ideas for a self-expanding bullet. He took the original idea of a hollow-based bullet and inserted an iron cup. When the bullet was fired the force of the propellant would ram this cup into the rear of the bullet, forcing it outward symmetrically into the rifling grooves, or even into the barrel walls of a smoothbore weapon. The cup itself sometimes actually blew through the head of the bullet, however, but nevertheless the invention was hailed as The Mini Ball. a most important firearms breakthrough, Courtesy of David Westwood. which indeed it was. Despite the obvious advantages of the Mini bullet, the French reversed their 1849 decision to adopt the Mini in favor of another, rather ineffective, design. The Belgians opted for the Peeter ball, another odd concoction. Indeed, there were so many different ideas and designs floating around in Europe at the time that Hans Busk wrote in 1860:There is, amongst other things, much discrepancy of opinion on the question of calibre, librating, as it does, between the Swiss as the smallest (0.41in), and the Swedish or largest, which is .74-inch. In the number of grooves there is still great diversity; in Brunswick, Oldenburg, and Russia, the two-grooved rifle is yet in use; in Wurtemburg, on the other hand, we find one with 12 grooves. These numbers, 2 and 12, represent the extreme limits in military weapons; but the majority of those most in favour do not exceed three



or four grooves. The number most generally adopted is four; rifles with eight are the next most numerous. With respect to the shape of the grooves there is great want of uniformity. In some countries as in England, America and Switzerland, the rifles have neither tige nor chamber, and in others they are fitted, as has been seen, with both. This is the case in Prussia and Sardinia. Some rifles, as the Austrian, Belgian and the French have a plug breech fitted with a tige.21

One other style of rifling, even if not thought of as such by the inventor, was the oval type patented by John Beaver in England in 1825. Charles Lancaster also took some interest in this idea, and he was ordered to supply carbines with this style of rifling to the Royal Engineers in 1855. Hexagonal or pentagonal rifling, in which the barrel was of the selected cross section and twisted along its length, achieved a short period of interest in the 1850s. A rifle designed in this way by Sir Joseph Whitworth outshot the service weapon of the day and was still hitting targets at 2,000 yards, a range at which the Enfield could offer no competition; range was still the important factor in selecting weapons for almost all countries. The bullet was a hexagonal hard lead bullet designed to screw into the barrel when loaded. In the mid-1860s all these efforts were superseded by the appearance of the first military breech loaders. The next bullet problems arose for a different reason, and the way to the composite cartridge was open.

THE COMPOSITE CARTRIDGEThe idea of the all-in-one cartridge was not a new one, even in the 1850s, for Gustavus Adolphus, king of Sweden, had already issued orders in the early 1600s that his army was to carry shot and powder wrapped together in a cartridge. Two hundred years later men were still biting off the paper to pour the powder, then ramming paper and ball into the barrel. One development, which originated in the United States and was later emulated by Heckler and Koch in the late twentieth century, was the self-consuming cartridge. A number of inventors, including Samuel Colt and Christian Sharps, laid claim to the idea, but no matter who had the idea first, it was a good one. If the whole of the powder envelope was consumed at firing, no residue would be left to add to the fouling of the barrel. The paper wrapper for the cartridge



Early Cartridge Cases. Courtesy of David Westwood.

was therefore soaked in nitrates, making it very combustible. The whole cartridge was dropped into the muzzle (or the chamber of breech loaders) and then rammed with rod (or finger). Only ignition was now needed for the whole item to be consumed. The one problem was the perennial one: paper cartridges were easily damaged. To solve this Sharps came up with the linen cartridge, fired from the Sharps breech-loading rifles and carbines. The cartridge was loaded whole into the breech, and on closing the breech block, it then cut into the rear of the cartridge, exposing the propellant powder. To avoid powder spillage the muzzle needed to be lowered, but this was not difficult. When so loaded, the Maynard tape primer provided instant ignition, and so the process of reloading was much simpler and



straightforward than it had been. Naturally, this Sharps system proved very popular among civilians and the military. The composite cartridge could not have appeared without two things: there was a need for a compact primer, and metallurgy and engineering needed to be able to produce an effective cartridge case. The first problem had been answered with the invention of the percussion cap, which was easily redesigned to form the primer in cartridges. The drawing of brass, perfected by the mid-nineteenth century, solved the other problem, although there were many stopgap products that performed adequately if not magnificently. This allowed manufacturers to make a cartridge of metal that combined igniter, propellant, and bullet in one unit; this in turn led to improved mechanical reloading systems.22 Combustible paper cartridges had been in use for some time and were first made as a complete item by Johannes Samuel Pauly, who invented the brass-headed cartridge. Unfortunately the primer in Paulys original design was too easily knocked out by handling, and the cartridge itself was too vulnerable to the elements, but the first step had been taken toward the composite metal cartridge. By 1829 Clement Pottet had invented his metallic cartridge, which had a base depression for a fulminate primer, but this was not perfected until 1855, when Pottet introduced threading into the primer pocket to allow the primer to be screwed into the cartridge. In the meantime, however, to eliminate problems in handling and from the effects of the weather, cartridge designers tried to put the primer within the body of the cartridge itself, and Casimir Lefauchaux23 patented his pin-fire cartridge in 1832. This cartridge was fired by means of the hammer striking a pin set into the cartridge at the base and was arranged on being struck to come into contact with the cap that was embedded within the body of the cartridge itself. The cap was set on the opposite side of the cartridge case to the pin, so that there was firm resistance from cartridge and breech when the pin was struck. Although this type of cartridge survived in use until quite late, it was superseded by that of Johann Nikolaus (von) Dreyse, who not only invented the needle gun but also the cartridge to go in it. This was the Dreyse cartridge, in which the primer was fixed at the base of the bullet, ahead of the propellant charge. The needle of the rifle was in fact the firing pin, which had to penetrate the propellant charge completely before it could fire the cartridge. At almost the opposite end of this concept was that of John Hanson and William Golden, who applied for a patent for a cartridge in 1841 with no



propellant charge. Their cartridge relied upon the fulminate primer to fire the cartridge and act as the propellant in itself. Due to the former cartridge having to be fully penetrated before ignition (soon attended by problems as needles bent, weakened, or broke) and the latter being too weak, they fell by the wayside. However, once more in France, a new idea surfaced, in which the primer covered the whole base. This was the Flobert cartridge of 1849 (from Nicholas Flobert of Paris) and was in fact the first rimfire. In no time the Americans appeared on the scene in this field, and Horace Smith and Daniel B. Wesson refined the cartridge so that there was a distinct rim around the base of the cartridge, within which was contained the primer. This was the first improvement, to which they then added a propellant charge, lacking in the Flobert design, which was, however, entirely suitable for civilian fair ground and so-called lounge rifles. This was an exceptional advance, but had the fault that the strength of the hammer hitting the rim had to be great enough to compress the cartridge case metal to explode the primer. For this reason military high-power cartridges could not be made this way,24 but the principle remains in many small bore .22inch rifles in use up to today. The way forward had been shown; the arrival of a paper cartridge with a brass head into which was fixed a central percussion cap, similar to Pottets patent of 1855, was the start of the final development phase. The cartridge was first introduced in England by George Henry Daw of London and became the type of cartridge used in the first British general service breech loader, the aptly named Snider rifle, invented by the American Jacob Snider and adopted by the British Army for a short period from 1867. The threads of cartridge design and rifle loading systems were drawing closer at this period, with all modern military thought being devoted to the breech-loading weapon and a suitable cartridge to fire in it. Cartridges of a sort were available, but the primer problem was twofold: it was not always securely fixed and it was a one-shotonly concept, in that primers could not be reloaded. Further, brass cases were expensive, which meant that government treasuries were happier with weapons that did not leave large amounts of wasted brass on ranges or battlefields. The final step was taken by Charles William Lancaster of England, who produced a drawn metal cartridge,25 followed by George W. Morse of the United States (who offered a breech loading carbine to the U.S. Army in 1857, which was underpowered by firing a primer-only cartridge), and then almost simultaneously by Colonel





Dreyse and Chassept Cartridges. Courtesy of David Westwood.

Hiram Berdan of the United States (who resigned his commission in 1846 to concentrate on firearms design) and Edward Mounier Boxer (commissioned into the Royal Artillery in 1849, and forced to resign from the British Army in 1869 after legal wrangles over his patents). The latter pair of officers designed primers for center-fire cartridges with internal anvils and soft outer faces, between which was the fulminate igniter. The firing pin struck and dented the outer face of the primer, thus compressing the fulminate against the anvil, causing it to ignite the propellant charge via flash holes into the cartridge case.

THE MODERN MILITARY CARTRIDGEBy the time the British Snider conversion went into manufacture, everything that was needed, if not the method of achieving increased accuracy, was known to cartridge designers. The appearance of drawn metal cases and center-fire primers with reliability made the dream of the rifle designers a certainty: at last they could be sure that gases would not escape to the rear on firing, because the cartridge case would act as its own obturator. Further, soldiers could now be given complete cartridges to load into their rifles, removing forever the need for separate powder and ball, wadding, and ramming. Each individual cartridge just needed to be put into the weapon, and it was ready to use. Designs for composite metallic cartridges in the hundreds came to the patent offices of both Britain and the United States. All were based on this one principle, which was the containment within one unit of primer, propellant, and bullet, and it is at this stage that present-day cartridge design stands, with one exception: although aban-



doned on the ground of costs, Heckler and Koch designed a selfconsuming cartridge that had the bullet wrapped almost entirely by the powder, which was entirely consumed at firing, removing the need for extraction of the empty cartridge case and thereby also reducing all waste cases. The design of the bullet has received a great deal of attention in the last 200 years and has passed from round lead ball to much more complex designs that incorporate a metal jacket around a heavier core. The way to the modern bullet was as fraught as that to the cartridge and bears examination here. As noted, the original round ball was elongated in the first instance by Captain Gustave Delvigne, originally a captain in the French Army. In 1841 he announced his development of the cylindro-conoidal bullet with a hollow base, which was to be fired in his own design of rifle, the pillar-breech, publicized in 1842. After these inventions had been proved to work to an extent, Captain Claudetienne Mini took the bullet further, producing it in the ogival form for which he became famous. The Mini ball needed no tige; it was designed to expand under the pressure of the propellant gases on firing and to enlarge itself to fit into the grooves of the rifling very quickly. To aid expansion, Mini balls were often fitted with base plugs, which were forced into the base of the bullet on firing, thus aiding bullet expansion. Experiments in various countries proved that the separate plug often damaged the bullet in the process, and it was often done away with in favor of the simple hollow base, filled with grease to lubricate the bore. Yet another French officer, Captain Tamisier of the artillery, found out by experiment that the center of gravity of a projectile was better arranged at the front, making the bullet far more effective. To concentrate the weight forward he gave his design an ogival nose, and to stabilize the bullet better in flight, because the center of gravity was forward, he added three transverse grooves around the bullet waist. This increased drag on the bullet behind the center of gravity, removing its tendency to roll about its axis in flight. Various other experiments established the value of the cylindroconoidal bullet, but it was still made of lead, simply because lead is heavy and easily molded. The development that bullet and cartridge men were waiting for was the composite cartridge and the breechloading rifle. Essentially both dreams were fulfilled by the 1850s, even though many of the breech loaders were either weak in their actions or so complicated that they would never stand the test of ac-



tion in the field. Some designs, however, emerged that were sturdy and simple enough to be considered for military use. One of these was the Snider rifle-musket and its cartridge, one of the first composite cartridges ever successful in the field. The Snider cartridge was basically designed by George Henry Daw of London; it was a modification of the Schneider cartridge he had imported from France. (Daw bought the rights to the Schneider design.) However, it was Colonel Edward Mounier Boxer who created the actual cartridge, using his own primer design.26 Ten years earlier in the United States a fundamental advance in the manufacture of cartridges had occurred when Morses and Burnsides cartridges were produced for rifles of their own design. Burnsides cartridge was, as can be seen from the drawing on page 30, conical in shape and designed to be loaded from the front of a hinged breech; it was not a composite cartridge, however, in that it was fired by the flame from a percussion cap directed through the hole at its base into the propellant charge. The drawing of Morses cartridge shows it to have been a true composite cartridge, with a c e n t e r-fire primer and anvil. The cartridge was not a military design,27 it is assumed, but it was probably the first of the new generation.

MAJOR TREADWELLS REPORTFrankford Arsenal in Philadelphia tested a large number of cartridges between 1860 and 1873, and the commanding officer wrote a valuable report on the subject (as noted above). In the preamble to the report the author gives the reason why breech-loading weapons were not issued to the U.S. Army in the 1850s:Considerable attention was given to the subject and production of breech-loading small-arms in this country some twenty years ago,28 and their invention was stimulated by legislative enactment and appropriation. It was at that time designed [i.e., intended], however, and for some years later, to produce a suitable arm for mounted troops; one that was safe and more readily manipulated in the saddle than the muzzle loading rifle or musket with swivelled or separate ramrods, and provided with a cartridge not requiring so great a number of motions in loading and firing.29



Composite Cartridges from Treadwells Report. From Maj. T D Treadwell, Metallic Cartridges, Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, 1973.

Treadwell continues by saying that the real problem of all breechloading weapons was the closure of the breech after loading, but paper and linen ammunition had been used and not until the adoption of expanding cartridges could the problem be properly solved. The Sharps rifle and carbine were most excellently wellmade weapons, and believed by many military authorities to be the



very best breech loader produced for the use of paper or linen cartridges. The original version of the Sharps 1848 had a knife edge that slid across the rear of the breech to cut into the cartridge, exposing the propellant to the fire from the percussion cap. Needless to say, the perfection of the cutoff afforded by the rear of the breech did not always prevent leakages of flame, especially when the weapon was carelessly handled, fouled, or just getting old. The report goes on:For a long time the idea of the general adoption of breech-loading arms for troops of all services met with almost no encouragement among military men, and it was not until as late as after the battle of Gettysburgh that it became popular and prevailed in the service. This prejudice once overcome, by what may be fairly termed an entire revolution of the character of the arms and ammunition, the new breech loaders became rapidly popular, and gained many advocates throughout the Army, where their great superiority to the old muzzle-loaders is now universally recognised and assured. The use of some effective breech loaders and magazine arms30 had, for some time, popularised them for the cavalry, but many of the best infantry and artillery officers were averse to their employment by foot soldiers. A marked contrast to the two systems was furnished by the Department [of Ordnance] by the recovery of upwards of 25,000 stands of muzzle-loading arms from the battlefield at Gettysburg . . . [which] were found to be nearly all loaded; some with one, two, three, four, six, and even as many as twenty rounds of cartridges in the barrel. (emphasis added)

This was good enough reason, it was felt, to provide the soldier with a weapon that could not be loaded twice or more without first firing the round in the breech. The solution was already available, and it seems that innate suspicion of the new, both within the U.S. Army and at Springfield Armory, kept the new rifles at bay. The Spencer had proved itself, with its rim-fire cartridge, and the Henry had a good reputation, too, and despite the report, little was done for nearly three decades. Ammunition, however, benefited from the need for breech-loading weapons, and the report contains details of many of the new cartridges developed up to 1873. The great step forward was the combination of the primer and the cartridge. This had been done in rim-fire cartridges (as with the Spencer), in pin-fire cartridges (the Lefauchaux), and then the center-fire cartridge, of which more designs were appearing seemingly



Boxer and Berdan Primer Systems. Courtesy of David Westwood.


by the week at that time. In England the Snider cartridge had given way to the smaller-caliber .45-inch (or .443-inch) Martini-Henry rifle cartridge, which in makeup was like the Snider cartridge. It was a wrapped-metal cartridge (see Significant Rifles and Rifle Systems section) with a solid brass base into which the primer was firmly fixed. The advantages of a cartridge in which the primer was firmly set in the center of the base, and which did not protrude below the flat surface of the base, would be of tremendous value to the military. Other advantages were sure explosion when struck by the point of the firing-pin; less fulminate and less strain on the head of the cartridge; greater security in handling and using under all exigencies of service.31 Naturally all cartridges considered for service were put through innumerable tests, which Treadwell described in some detail:These cartridges have been subjected to the severest tests to demonstrate their capability to resist all accidents, such as smashing up the boxes of ammunition, and even firing into them with bullets. Only the cartridges actually impinged upon exploded under such tests, their neighbours being only blackened and not otherwise damaged. The safety of handling and transporting this ammunition in comparison with that of the old-fashioned kind is vastly in its favour, and the risk attending its carriage is almost nothing. Its greatly superior qual-



ity to resist exposure of climate, moisture &c., has also been proven by such severe tests that it may be asserted to be practically waterproof. A central and direct blow on the point primed is an essential and highly important feature of the center-primed cartridge; its general adoption, and the adaptation of all breech-loading service small arms to its use, is the best proof of its acknowledged superiority. Simple modifications of the form of the head adapt it to safe use in magazine arms, even though the front of one bullet rests on the head of the preceding cartridge.32

The actual construction of U.S. service cartridges and of experimental cartridges offered for testing varied greatly, but the Americans, interestingly, settled on the British Boxer primer system, whereas the British chose the U.S. Berdan system. The differences between the two types of primer are not dissimilar at first glance, but the fundamental differences are that the Boxer anvil is inserted between cap and cartridge, whereas the Berdan primer is formed from the cartridge case metal itself. When struck, the flame from the primer flashes through the vents, igniting the main propellant charge. From this point on, very little has been done to improve the basic form of the cartridge. The rim has various forms, and up to the end of World War II, both rimmed (particularly the British .303-inch rifle and light machine gun ammunition) and rimless (the German 7.92mm and the U.S. .30-inch round especially) were in use. Since then, the advent of the assault rifle and self-loading weapons, rimless cartridges have shot into the lead, because any form of rim makes loading magazines correctly a matter of difficulty except in the quietest of situations. Rimmed rounds have a tendency to jam in the magazine, and are therefore no longer in vogue. One development that has been of significance has been the adoption by many countries of smaller caliber weapons and ammunition. During World War II the Germans de