Needle rifles

Discussion in 'Shooting, Hunting and Fishing' started by Croque_Monsieur, May 29, 2009.

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  1. Thought this might interest the BP shooters here in Arrse!

    As some of you know, I have a thing for old European BP military guns. I like to shoot, at least once or twice with every single one no matter what the system. Depending on what it is it is easier said than done but thanks to t'internet you can find/get made almost anything to get shooting. The challenge is in the chase after all. I jumped on the chance to get a Prussian Dreyse needle rifle, truely the first cartridge boltie to see service and an often underestimated yet essential step to the modern military bolt action rifle. The system was first adopted as the model 1841 and underwent a few minor changes until 1871 when the Mauser M/71 was adopted. This means Johnny Squaddy was slugging it out with the old smoothbore Besses and Pattern 1839 muskets when the boxheads had breechloading rifles. When the Prussians resolutely kicked the arses of the Austrians and the Danes with this new rifle it kick started a scramble to adopted breechloaders by almost all the remaining European countries.

    The rifle I have is a M/62 rifle made at Erfurt in 1867 and issued in 1867 to the Graf Bose regiment Thüringen.


    Operation is much like every turn bolt boltie since, with the exception that the firing pin is primed by a separate movement once you have loaded and closed the bolt. The inner surface of the front of the outer tube of the bolt tapers outward and comes to fit on a conical flange around the breech, since this fit is metal to metal, there is a chance of a small gas leak but because of the taper configuration, the gas blast is angled towards the muzzle, not towards Fritz. You might think it odd that the bolt handle is still up at an angle when closed? There is method to this madness you see since due to gradual gas cutting, the tapered fit will erode over time, so to take up the resulting gap, the bolt handle/locking lug cut out in the receiver is angled forward so that when the bolt handle is turned down, over time it will travel a bit further into the cut out which wedges the bolt face forward onto the breech cone to take up any slack between the bolt face and breech cone (hope that just made sense). Basically if your bolt handle is fully down touching the bottom of the receiver cut out, it is time for a new rifle.


    Around 1870 they started retrofitting a rubber gasket system (Beck conversion) based on the French Chassepot system to provide a gas-tight breech, but mine escaped this mod.

    The cartridge is a combustible cartridge which houses the charge, sabot and bullet, which the primer seated in the rear of the sabot. The needle punches through the charge to strike the primer and ignite the charge. Some say this resulted in the needle becoming quickly corroded but considering the 30 odd years of service I doubt it was that much of an issue, in any event the needle can be changed on a loaded and primed rifle in about 5 seconds (I tried it). The bullet started out as ball, then a very odd pointed mushroom shaped thing and finally the acorn shaped bullet. Ballistics were obviously not great but it kept a man down at the typical battlefield ranges of the day, so good enough!

    So, now I had this fine rifle, how the fek do I get it barking again? Rolling the paper cartridge is no problem, powder no problem so that leaves the sabot and bullet. After a few exchanges on various forums I found a mould maker in the US who had a cherry for this acorn bullet...problem solved. Now that sabot... It is crucial to the system since it houses the primer (musket percussion cap) so it must sit tight in the chamber such that the needle strikes the cap sharply instead of shoving the sabot down bore without ignition, it must also hold the bullet tightly to transfer the spin of the rifling and finally separate from the bullet at the muzzle. Just to make things more interesting, since this is not a paper patch and more of a cup there was also the possibility that the bullet could jump forward out of the sabot at ignition and be subsequently rattled down the bore ahead of the sabot and exit in a creative fashion. The sabot has a 16mm diameter and the bullet a 13mm diameter. The cap has a 6mm diameter to I made a winding mandrel around a 6mm aluminium rod and started experimenting with winding up cereal box card strips into a sabot with a cup profile as close to the bullet base profile as possible. I would wind up the sabot, then slice it in two so compare the cup profile with the bullet profile. Through trial and error I determined a strip profile which I though best fit the bullet when wound up. This was all pretty much theoretical since only a trial run on the range would confirm if it did the job.

    Here is the bullet and sabot base with fired cap (see the needle even punctured the cap):


    Bullet in sabot. The card strip was glued on the inside, would up and one turn of masking tape added for good measure:


    Finished cartridge with 70grns Swiss#4 (1,5Fg) with corresponds to the 4.9gram service charge:


    Since I was not at all sure this would work I made up 4 cartridges and got to the range, set up at 50m with a 6°clock hold with the following result.


    I monged the 4th shot, but the other three indicate potential. Most importantly I had a burst of shredded card at the muzzle with each shot, so the sabot separates well, and the holes are round so the sabot is transferring the spin to the bullet. I did not notice any gas leak so if any it is very small
  2. great review and pics of a classic 'trendstarter' rifle and its ammo.

    Top post C_M, nice one :)
  3. Fabulous rifle and great research. Have you seen any of the work done by Guy & Leonard A-R-West?
  4. Alsacien

    Alsacien LE Moderator

    Very interesting.

    There are a few competitions in Germany for needle guns: gives a clue.

    I dont know if you speak German, but its called Zündnadelgewehr Schießen if you want to google it. My German club are big on BP, but I wont be in Germany for another week, if there is something you want me to find out let me know.
  5. Do you have to make sure that you wind the card for the sabot in the right direction such that it goes 'with' the rifling of the barrel? Otherwise, is there a danger that the sabot attempts to unwind itself on the way up? That might even be an advantage, perhaps ensuring a constant, tighter fit in the rifling.
  6. 5th column - the cups are glued (Prittstick Xtra strong) all along the length, then coiled and are rock solid when set. The tape is just to even out the outer surface which inevitably has a step in it from the end of the card strip. When they exit the muzzle they literally explode, not unwind.

    Alsacien: I did indeed research the DE sites (I can read and write pretty well), the rifle came fom a DE dealer. I noticed that they seem to favour RBs rather than conicals, probably easier since the mould was a biatch to find and also easier for making the sabot. I also know some turn sabots from soft wood.

    Beerhunter: I do know of the works of GAR West, I followed their tests on Gunboards, they inspired me that it could be done.

    If there is interest I can do a follow up article on the Chassepot rifle :D
  7. Yes PLEASE.

    Fascinating stuff, quite excellent.

    All the best,

  8. An excellent write up. Very informative.
  9. ugly

    ugly LE Moderator

    Well done! Consider yourself nominated for HBSA membership!
  10. Thanks Ugly, not sure what good it would do me across the North Sea :) Forgot to mention that I made a new needle for it before any firing to preserve the original. Thanks to it being metric specs, all the necessary materials were available at the local RC model shop.
  11. ugly

    ugly LE Moderator

    The association does have corresponding members, mainly overseas. It does allow you to receive the report and journal which record lectures and also are used to publish research both of the practical and academic varieties, they are often intrinsically linked with empirical testing being the only way to prove or disprove historical theories.
    Consider it, I will pm you the details of membership secretary and also act as your proposer should you be interested.
  12. 'Kinell...

    Talk about small worlds...

    I just recieved a Chassepot in the post yesterday and spent last night dismantling it... :D

    It's got a cracking barrel, but obviously the obturator etc will need replacing. I seem to recall the Wests used tap washers...

    I have been thinking about getting a needlegun going for some time, but decided to settle for a Chasse' rather than a Dreyse mainly because of the superior ballistics.. (and the slightly better breech obturation!). Much against my better judgement to branch out in a French direction, but I had fun with the Lebel I got in Kandahar and I suppose I should take some account of the "Auld Alliance".. :roll:

    I have just ordered a couple of needles from le Husard and a sling from Schippers so we will see! In full conformance with Murphy's law the ONLY copy of the HBSA journal that has gone missing is the one with the West's article in it so I have has to order a back copy. I have downloaded a french article on cartridge manufacture that uses Kraft paper. I seem to recall the Wests used nitrated cigarette paper which seems better for fouling...

    My long term plan is to make up a mould/dies to make the original bullet. The profile looks quite easy to cherry - anyone interested in a mould if it works?

    ... now what we need is a mid-european 1850s version of M'boto Gorge..
  13. ugly

    ugly LE Moderator

    That would be a Nigerian M Boto gorge, that or German SWA and the Hottentots!
  14. HE117, I have a navy issue Chassepot, although I don't shoot it much (too many guns too little time :oops: ) it does shoot very well at 50m. So far I have used plain old .457" round nosed 45-70 bullets which work fine but if you knock up an original profile mould I'm defo in for one!

    For the obturator I use a stack of 18mm plumbing washers (2 and a bit), the needle I made myself.

    I have used heavy nitrated paper meant for Sharps cartridges, which is ok but it leaves a very heavy soot deposit which gradually reduces the chamber length over 5-6 shots such that chambering becomes impossible. A quick brush sorts it out but I have read that it happens a bit slower with plain paper but have not yet tested it (got 20 cartridges lined up for testing).

    The Chassepot is very sleek, easier to operate, has better obturation and has better ballistics but there is still something sexy about the boxheed Dreyse.....
  15. Interesting post - thanks.

    I'm not a shooter (except for the odd bit of clay/rough with a Winchester 1200), but I am very interested in the continental wars of the latter 19th Century, in particular the wars of 1859, 1866 and 1870-71.

    I have a fairy extensive library on the military campaigns but there are a couple of questions regarding the battlefield use of the rifles which the shooters on this forum might be able to answer for me.

    How much smoke was generated when firing the Dreyse and Chassepot rifles? Was it similar to the smoke produced when firing ordinary BP muskets? I understand that effective smokeless powder didn't come into service until the 1880s so I assume that the battlefields of 1866 and 1870 would have been shrouded in gunsmoke. However, most contemporary paintings (even those painted by artists who were present at various actions during the campaigns) show very little smoke.

    Has anyone fired the Austrian Lorenz rifle? How does it compare for accuracy when compared to the Dreyse? It is my understanding that the poor performance of the Austrian infantry in 1866 was down to faulty doctrine rather than inferior weapons.

    Incidentally, I managed to acquire a Chassepot bayonet while on holiday in France a couple of years back. While visiting the 1870 battlefields around Metz I stopped off at a bank holiday flea market at the village of Vionville. There was a militaria stall with shedloads of WW1 and WW2 stuff, but tucked away at the back was a lovely Chassepot bayonet (manufacture date 1869). Needless to say I bought it on the spot. The bayonet has to be the most elegant and intimidating style I have ever seen, but the built quality is sh*te! The blade is very flexible and would probably snap quite easily. Still, nice to look at though - just hope the enemy run before you have to get close enough to use it!

    All the best