21 Nov 19

Arms Race, in Europe and the USA:

Breech-loading carbines (short rifles) became popular with cavalry units during the American Civil War, because reloading a muzzle-loading rifle (or carbine) while seated on a horse was difficult, to say the least!

So, Infantry units stuck for the moment with muzzle-loading rifles, while cavalry units started looking at breech-loading carbines such as the Spencer, Henry, Sharps, Lamson&Ball (after American gunsmith, Albert Ball and his financier, EG Lamson), Dreyse (needle-fire, named for German gunsmith Johann Nikolaus von Dreyse), Burnside, et al, tubular magazines, and eventually self-contained, metallic cartridges!

Breech-loading rifles and carbines using paper cartridges (Dreyse, Chassepot) came with what looks like a ram-rod, or cleaning-rod, usually within a tube in the forend. Actually, it is a “clearing-rod.”

The actual “needle” was long and thin and had to pierce the back of the paper cartridge, go all the way through the gunpowder, and then strike the primer, which was a the base of the bullet. Needles thus broke frequently, and even when they didn’t, burned-out within one hundred rounds or so. Accordingly, needles were easily replaced without disassembling the rifle, and every soldier was issued several.

When a paper cartridge fails to fire, there is no rim, nor extraction-ring which could be used to pull it out from the rear. Before the rifle can be reloaded and put back to use, the unfired cartridge needs to be removed, and the only way is to push it rearward and out of the barrel from the muzzle end, using a clearing-rod with a probe nearly the diameter of the barrel. You wouldn’t want a pointed end, lest it pierce the lead bullet and then the recalcitrant primer and thus cause the weapon to fire, while the clearing-rod is in the barrel!

The forgoing procedure was also necessary when you merely wanted to safely unload the rifle, without firing it.

By contrast, the only way to “unload” a muzzle-loader was to fire it!

It was Dreyse-equipped Prussian soldiers who annihilated muzzle-loader-equipped Danish during the Second Schleswig War of 1864 (Schleswig was a disputed provence),

Likewise, Dreyse Rifles produced the upset victory of Prussians over Austrians at the decisive Battle of Sadova during the Austro-Prussian War in the summer of 1866. Austrians had traditional muzzle-loaders. Prussians were armed with Dreyses, and the result, once again, was that the Austrians were annihilated!

So it was becoming pretty obvious to European (and American) war planners by this time that muzzle-loaders were really obsolete!

Back in the USA however, the War Department displayed no interest in breech-loading rifles, for general issue, as long as the Civil War continued.

These two over-the-top technology-enhanced victories represented an eery harbinger of The Siege of Pleven (present-day Plevna, Bulgaria), in 1877, where hapless Russian Soldiers, with their obsolete, slow-firing Krnka and Berdan Rifles, would be repeatedly mowed-down by Ottoman troops armed with Model 1866 lever-action Winchesters, which they had imported from America!

With regard to European history, the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, with its upset victory (once more) of Prussia (along with the rest of the loosely-unified Germanic states) over France, essentially created the modern nation of Germany, permanently uniting most German regions, minus Austria.

Prussia was the leading German state at the time, but the term was mostly dropped (in favor of “Germany”) after unification. After WWII, Prussia’s traditional territory was cut-up, some of it ending-up in Poland and Russia. There is no “Nation of Prussia” today, and the term is no longer used, save by historians.

The Prussians/Germans retained their Dreyses (the first “bolt-action” military rifle), that had served them so well, until 1871, when they were replaced with the single-shot, bolt-action, metallic-cartridge Mauser, the “Gewehr 71,” the invention of Andreas Mauser and his two sons, Paul and Wilhelm.

“Gewehr” translates to “rifle” in English.

“Karabiner” translates to “carbine”

“k” is for “kurz,” or “short”

Next came the Gewehr 84, with the addition of a tube magazine (still black powder, 11mm). The G84 came with a magazine cut-off switch, like most magazine rifles of the era.

The G88/K91 were next (the G88 for infantry, the shorter K91 for cavalry). Now box-magazine-fed (en-block clip), smokless 8mm (7.92×57) ammunition, but with a blunt bullet.

With the G98, we convert to stripper-clips, spitzer bullets (still 8mm).

The G98, and the later K98k, were Germany’s flagship military rifles through WWI and WWII, and enjoyed an excellent reputation that continues to this day, although production quality deteriorated as WWII progressed, just as it did in Japan!

The frantic arms-race between France and Germany was to continue well into the Twentieth Century!