Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Rifles from 1800-2000

An inventive century
The mid-19th century saw two major developments in small arms technology: the Pauly cartridge and the Dreyse needle gun. Just as the percussion cap had advanced weapons technology in its day, so these two inventions would take it further and point to modern small arms of the 20th century While the British 1853 Enfield rifle did not mark any significant technological advances, it did demonstrate ruthless commercial enterprise, since the British sold it to both sides in the American Civil War.

Jean-Samuel Pauly
In 1812-16 a Swiss inventor, Jean-Samuel Pauly, experimented with the production of a breech-loading rifle. For some time, firearms designers had hoped to produce an efficient breech-loading mechanism because allowing the soldier to load from the breech end reduces exposure to enemy fire and greatly increases his own rate of fire.

Pauly's solution was to fit a brass base to the cartridge case. This meant the base could expand to seal the breech, then contract when the gas pressure in the barrel fell after firing. The Pauly system was adopted by almost every firearm from the 1850s onwards. It did suffer from some technical problems however; the quality of the seamless drawn-brass cartridge tubing was inconsistent, and the cost made too expensive except for specialist shooters. Another of his inventions was a centrefire primer, a percussion a set into the middle of the rear end of the cartridge.

The needle gun
In 1824 Johann Nikolaus von Dreyse, a Prussian inventor, began experiments with breech-loading firearms. Dreyse's solution to the problem was to design the first bolt-action rifle. To load it, the soldiei opened the breach to insert a cartridge made of stiff paper, containing a .61-calibre bullet and powder charge. He then closed the bolt home and turned it t( lock the breech. When he pulled the trigger, a firing pin about 12mm/0.5in long penetrated the paper cartridge and set off a percussion cap inside it, just below the bullet. It was this firing pin, or needle, that gave the rifle its name.
The bolt-action, breech-loading rifle developed by the Prussian Nikolaus von Dreyse became widely known as the needle gun. It allowed soldiers to load and fire from the prone position and consequently remain undercover.

Conservative Prussian soldiers disliked the new weapon despite its advantages. Unlike a muzzle loader, it did not require a complicated drill to reload. In the pressure of combat, a soldier with a muzzle loader might double load his weapon and then when he fired, it would explode in his face. The Dreyse design made this impossible since two rounds would not fit into the breach. Most significantly, the rate of fire increased from two rounds a minute for a muzzle loader to 10 to 12 rounds per minutes for the needle gun.
The percussion lock of the British 1853 pattern Enfield rifle musket was used and copied in large numbers by both the Confederal and Union Armies in the American Civil War. The musket fired a big .577 bullet.

In time, weaknesses in the design were revealed. Gas often leaked through the bolt when the needle passed through, and the power of the explosion caused the needle to wear out rapidly or even break.

Made in Britain
In 1842 a new model percussion musket with a block or back sight set for 13 7m/15 0yd was issued to the British Army. It weighed 5.17kg/l 1.4lb, was 1.4m/1.5yd long without bayonet and 1.8m/1.9yd with bayonet fixed. It had a larger calibre than weapons issued to the soldiers of France, Belgium, Russia and Austria, which meant that British troops could fire continental ammunition but European soldiers could not fire British ammunition. The 1842 Pattern percussion musket was the final development of the "Brown Bess," which was used in the British Army until it was completely superseded by the Enfield rifle in 1855.
The soldier armed: a New York State militiaman with his percussion lock musket, which has a fixed long-sword bayonet. The bayonet is still issued for modern combat rifles but is now used more as a multi-functional tool.

Although made in Britain, the .577-calibre 1853 Enfield rifle had the distinction of being the second most common infantry weapon of the American Civil War (1861-65). Weighing 4kg/9lb and measuring 140.5cm/55.3in, it was imported by Confederate and Union ordnance officers to meet the sudden increase in demand for small arms at the outbreak of war. It is estimated that 900,000 Enfields were eventually bought by both sides. The rifle was so named because it was originally produced at the Royal Small Arms Factory in Enfield, England, where it was the standard firearm of the British Army at the time. Several contractors later provided arms for export. Its .577 calibre made it compatible with .58-calibre ammunition, which was very common in the American armies.

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