03 Rifles an Illustrated History of Their Impact

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Military HistoryRifles an Illustrated History of Their Impact

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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 b