Mad Mondays: 9. Percussion

History, Imperial Era, Mad Mondays, Weapons

Last week and the week prior, we looked at Colt’s revolvers and some early repeaters, which benefitted hugely from the introduction of the percussion cap. This week we shall look at the more conventional mainstream military uses. Although the Colt revolver did slowly catch on, it was still a freak in military terms, every other man on the battlefield was still using a single-shot, muzzle loaded musket or rifle. The rate of fire had not changed for the majority of soldiers since the mid 1700s.

manualofarms

We’ve already looked at the development of the percussion cap here so we shan’t go over it again. There were clear advantages to military adoption of the percussion cap over flintlocks in the form of reliability (in nearly all conditions), consistency, ease of loading and the lack of the initial puff of smoke and sparks from the pan that makes it easier to hold your aim.

600px-patriot_001

In spite of this, it still took around 20 years between the initial development of the percussion cap and its common military adoption.  Once the technology had proven itself, the changeover was actually relatively painless in comparison to later developments. Muskets and rifles could be fairly readily modified to take the new technology at relatively little expense.  As a result, this is what pretty much every world military did and it is quite difficult to pin down the first adopters of the percussion cap as there are no distinct new firearms having to be produced to accommodate this new technology.

brown-bess-percussion

Some early examples of the percussion cap in military use include the ‘Brown Bess’ musket, which was converted in fairly large numbers from 1842.  the US adopted a form of the breech-loading M1819 Hall rifle which used a percussion cap in 1833, though this was far from standard issue. The French converted a handful of their 1766 pattern muskets.

fifth1819-hall

It appears that once the concept had been proven, many countries started to build firearms exclusively for this system. Changes were afoot however, which meant that the smooth bore musket  had seen the last of its military usefulness.  Rifles were far superior for accuracy, all that was holding them back was a way to load them at least as fast as a musket so that they could be used for regular troops…

mini

 

If this content interests you, subscribe to the blog or join us on Facebook for more! 

You can find other articles on the development of firearms overall here and on historical interest pieces here.

You can buy many of our ready-made products on Etsy.

Advertisements

Mad Mondays: 8. The first modern repeaters.

History, Mad Mondays

Although there were a few early attempts at creating repeating firearms, there was a huge breakthrough in 1836 with the Colt Paterson.

f2c4a0947bb486c2af5334497b78cf6d

This revolver was the first use of the single-action, where the firearm was cocked and the cylinder rotated and indexed automatically. This was aided by the introduction of the percussion cap, which vastly simplifies delivering an ignition charge to a main charge of powder compared to a flintlock. 

So, what did this mean for firearms? Well, all of a sudden in order to take a second shot all you had to do was lift your thumb, grab the hammer and pull it back, then squeeze the trigger. In a world where nearly every gun available to people required you to ram a powder and ball down the muzzle with some force, prime a pan and then take aim and fire, this was a massive increase in firepower. Especially as the operator of this new revolver could follow up their first two shots with another three.

Admittedly, this came at a bit of a cost. The first revolvers were perfectly good, until they broke. Unit armourers did not have the expertise, nor the parts available to repair broken Patersons. As a result once a Paterson broke, it was unserviceable. To the soldiers of the time, this gave the impression that they were fragile. Whether or not this is fair, the result was that although these were adopted for military use, they did not see widespread adoption.14554256_3

Fortunately, the Republic of Texas liked the look of Colt’s revolving firearms well enough that they bought around 400 pistols, shotguns and rifles for their Navy. Although this service didn’t last long in itself, when the Texan Navy was disbanded these revolvers were surplussed off and ended up in the hands of the Texas Rangers. With them, the Paterson saw extensive use against the Comanche during the Texas-Indian wars, finding a great deal of favour among the rangers.

 

Such was their preference for this over every other firearm available, that Zachary Taylor, Commander US-Mexico Border at the time, sent Samuel Walker (formerly of the Texas Rangers, now serving with the US Mounted Rifles) to New York to have  Samuel Colt make a few changes to the Paterson to make it more suited to battle and cavalry use in particular.

Unfortunately, Colt was out of business. Sales had not been good enough to keep his company afloat and it had closed down. However this significant military contract was lucrative enough to allow him to undertake the design work and contract Eli Whitney to manufacture the new revolvers.

02109_r

This new model was named the Walker Colt, it featured: six shots, a simpler loading system (including a built-in ramrod) and at .44 and .454 cal were big enough to fell a man or horse with one shot, important not only for combat but also dispatching wounded animals safely.

This still wasn’t perfect, with the built-in ramrod prone to deploying under recoil, preventing the efficient cycling of the gun, though many fixed this in the field with a piece of rawhide to tie it up into place! However, the firepower this offered was outstanding and a real man-killer.

44monster-030377_4

We’ve now jumped ahead by following this line, so in the next article we shall take a step back and look at the first adoptions of percussion weapons by militaries, before looking once again at the development of repeating firearms.

 

If this content interests you, subscribe to the blog or join us on Facebook for more! 

You can find other articles on the development of firearms overall here and on historical interest pieces here.

You can buy many of our ready-made products on Etsy.

Mad Mondays: 7 The percussion cap and the not-quites

History, Mad Mondays

In the last post, we looked at some fantastic examples of early revolvers, such as the Collier.

large_di_2011_0587 

The percussion cap was not a direct development from flintlocks, fulminates were discovered by Edward Charles Howard in 1800 and were initially used as a replacement for priming powder in a similar fashion to a flintlock (mixed with some other components). As well as being more reliable to fire, there was no cloud of smoke rising from the frizzen, giving a clear view right up until the moment the bullet left the barrel.

The first patent awarded for the percussion cap was to François Prélat in 1818, though there is a great deal of controversy over who actually invented it, with Joshua Shaw claiming to have invented it in 1814 (US patented in 1822). Other claimants include: Joseph Manton, Colonel Peter Hawker and Joseph Egg.

With the invention of the percussion cap, the format of the revolver could start to take its modern form, with one action operating each cylinder independently one after another. Before we get there however, there were a few alternatives that floated about in the early days. It took about 30 years before the percussion cap came into common military use in spite of its obvious advantages, as a result there were a few interesting civilian developments first, deciding how best to use it.

Some very early percussion guns used a frizzen-type system, with a hopper of caps that dropped one cap into the firing tray as the cylinder was rotated. However it was much more common to attach a cap to each chamber. Much simpler, much less likely to go wrong.

turrett-rifle-blog

One format was the turret rifle/pistol, this had a disk with chambers drilled around the circumference, each loaded with a charge and ball. Now, the eagle eyed among you will notice something about this.

porter-turret-3

Each chamber is pointing in a different direction. 360 degrees of different directions, including back at the shooter. Now, with an unsealed cylinder there is a certain amount of uncontrolled flame around the chamber as you fire and there is a very small chance of a ‘chainfire’ occurring, where said fire jumps from one chamber to another, setting several other chambers off out of alignment.42cal-brass-pistol-right

So, if this unlikely event did happen, you could potentially shoot your target, followed in very quick succession by yourself. Although the design makes this occurrence incredibly unlikely, it seems that competitors to this design encouraged this urban myth to spread.

1135 1135-1

Another option that never really caught on was the Harmonica gun. Instead of a cylinder, you had a square bar, drilled at regular intervals for chambers, with a percussion cap nipple usually located on the top, which could then be stuck by the firearm’s hammer.

j-m-browning-harmonica-rifle-01

You’ll not find many of these about, those that were made as rifles aren’t too bad, but they make a pistol quite a bulky business, a bit too much so for a convenient carry piece. One famous maker (arguably the only famous maker) and the apparent designer of Harmoinca guns was Jonathan Browning. How on earth he had time to design and build guns among producing 24 children is a mystery to me, but he still managed to be the father of the John Moses Browning. 

harmonica-6 djy3085-z-f2-h

 

If you don’t know who he is, we’ll get to him much later on. He’s kind of important to modern firearms.

If this content interests you, subscribe to the blog or join us on Facebook for more! 

You can find other articles on the development of firearms overall here and on historical interest pieces here.

You can buy many of our ready-made products on Etsy.

Mad Mondays: 6. The Revolver is born

History, Mad Mondays

As discussed a few weeks ago, metal cartridges were not an option yet as precision mass-production didn’t exist. While you could make a handful of cartridges that would work in one given firearm, Making hundreds of thousands of cartridges that would work in every musket issued to your soldiers potentially all the way around the world was a manufacturing impossibility.

During the years of the Lorenzoni action, soldiers were almost universally issued paper cartridges to speed up reloading over manual powder pouring and ball loading. As a result, well-trained soldiers could fire three to five rounds per minute with a consistent load each time. As the advantage of breech loaders became clear, militaries looked at the various options for cartridges that could be loaded from the back of the gun and continue to speed up the rate of fire.

Although manufacturing had come a long way since Henry VIII’s carbine, a universal metal cartridge wasn’t a realistic possibility yet, however if designers could find a way to make a series of cartridges that were somehow locked to the gun…

This is how the revolver was born. Early revolvers were made as rifles and pistols and in wheellock and flintlock versions, clearly developments from earlier rotating-barrel designs, some were even made by the same manufacturers.large_di_2013_0644

They were quite different to the revolvers of today, cylinders were loaded from the front with loose powder, wadding and ball much like miniature musket barrels. After each shot the cylinder had to be rotated and indexed by hand. In the first models, the pan had to be re-primed as well, though self-priming pans did really start to make sense for these pieces.

large_di_2005_0949

This genre of firearms was short-lived, the percussion cap changed the way that firearms were able to be used and designed overnight. As a result they are not well-known today compared to their descendants of only 20 years later.

large_a12_612

One of the few to gain any attention is the Collier system, which by modern standards was a flop with only 150-450 produced. But for hand-made, cutting edge armaments this wasn’t doing too badly for the day. This had a hand-turned cylinder and a self-priming pan, which refilled as you cocked the hammer.

large_a7_840

Some have suggested that Samuel Colt may have been inspired to create his revolver by one of these designs, apparently coming across them during his travels in India.

However it is interesting to note that this late Collier revolving carbine in the Royal Armouries collection has either an unusually complex indexing system or something which looks awfully like a slot for a hand in the back plate and arms on the back of the cylinder…

This guy got SO close to completely revolutionising firearms. It was just within reach to create the single-action revolver 16 years ahead of Colt. As it was, the gas-seal for these would have made it impossible but it could have been remedied for the loss of a little velocity.

large_a7_842

You can see Ian’s AWESOME video on these at Forgotten Weapons.

 

If this content interests you, subscribe to the blog or join us on Facebook for more! Don’t forget you can buy several of our ready-made products on Etsy.

 

Links:

https://collections.royalarmouries.org/object/rac-object-15216.html

https://collections.royalarmouries.org/object/rac-object-40772.html

https://collections.royalarmouries.org/object/rac-object-35751.html

https://collections.royalarmouries.org/object/rac-object-10494.html

 

 

Mad Mondays: 5. The Ferguson Rifle

History, Imperial Era, Mad Mondays

The disadvantages of a muzzle-loading firearm at this point were quite clear. They were slow to load, inaccurate and could not be easily re-loaded on horseback. 

The solution would be to switch over to a breech-loading option. This allows for faster re-loading, the ball does not have to be squashed down the barrel or patched (for accuracy) or loose fitting for speed of loading.

The trick was finding a suitable system that could be batch produced. Interestingly, for a time when thread standardisation was a major difficulty in manufacturing, a tapered, 11-thread screw provided a possible solution.

fergusonriflebreech

The inventor was Major Patrick Ferguson, modified from an earlier design by Issac de la Chaumette. Ferguson acquired a patent in 1776 and was permitted to take an Experimental Corps of Riflemen to fight in the rebellion going on in the American Colonies.

The only actions these rifles saw that can be seriously verified are the Battle of Saratoga and the Battle of Brandywine, in which Ferguson was wounded and while recovering, his Corps was disbanded.

 

So, how did this work?

fergusonrifle2

At the back of the chamber, there is a brass plug. This has a tapered thread. The tapering was important, as once it had been fired fouling would build up on these threads, the tapering would allow free movement of the action once the initial break was made.

The 11 parallel threads meant that instead of a number of revolutions, the breech could be opened in one fluid movement.3388773_02_ferguson_breech_loading_rifle__640

You can then insert the ball into the breech (remember, you’re loading from the breech, not the  muzzle now!), followed by your powder charge. Screw the action closed, clear loose powder off the barrel and prime the pan.

fergusonriflelockplate

Although this sounds like an involved process to modern readers, it is significantly faster than reloading a musket correctly, as demonstrated by the rate of fire being 6-10 rounds per minute. Even a very well trained infantryman may only manage 3-4 shots per minute with a muzzle loader.

fergusonriflelargeviewsideplateside mbo51-1b

The Ferguson is widely recognised as being the first breech-loading rifle ever adopted by a military. Although it only saw limited service, it paved the way for other breechloaders to be tried and used. In the US, the M1819 Hall Rifle was adopted and used in the American Civil War, though the first military to adopt a breech-loading rifle as the standard arm for infantry was Norway (the Kammerlader).

Kammerlander

The Kammerlader

 

You can watch a great video on the Ferguson over at Forgotten Weapons here.

 

If this content interests you, subscribe to the blog or join us on Facebook for more! Don’t forget you can buy our ready-made products on Etsy.

Mad Mondays: 4. Lorenzonis

History, Mad Mondays, Weapons

Sadly with the missed opportunity of the early reusable cartridge, designers went down more complicated routes to achieve multi-shot solutions.

 

One option mechanised the reloading procedure from the back of the gun. One type, the so-called ‘Lorenzoni’ system from the 1680s used a rotating lever to rotate the breech past hoppers that would fill it with a ball, then a measured charge of powder. The example pictured also primes the pan, so after each shot all you need to do is drop the pistol, pointed down; half cock, close the frizzen and turn the handle 360 degrees.large_di_2013_0319_web_

This is by far the best system for auto-reloading loose powder, due to the angles of the cylinder a flashback into the powder reservoir is unlikely, if not impossible. The complexity and limitations of the use of this meant there was no military adoption, though at this time most militaries did not issue pistols as they were privately purchased by officers anyway.

large_di_2013_0320_web_And so, the search for repeating firearms keeps going…

The pistols featured here are part of the Royal Armouries Collection:
https://collections.royalarmouries.org/…/rac-object-15211.h…

You can see more over at Forgotten Weapons here:
http://www.forgottenweapons.com/lorenzoni/

If this content interests you, subscribe to the blog or join us on Facebook for more! Don’t forget you can buy several of our ready-made products on Etsy.

Mad Mondays: 3. Henry VIII Carbine

History, Mad Mondays, Weapons

Many of you will have looked at the last Mad Monday post and thought… How did it take someone so long to invent the cartridge? Surely it would have made faster to reload/repeating firearms advance massively.

Well, somebody did. Someone at least as early as 1537. Henry VIII of England possessed this ‘carbine’ in his collection, which is breech loading using a re-fillable steel shell. In fact the breech of this is very similar to Georgian and Victorian early cartridge guns and musket breech-loading conversions of that era.

large_a9_806

Sadly this seems not to have been caught on by industrial designers for about another two hundred years. A similar system was used in some canon, but no-one seemed to click that much the same technique could be used for individual firearms.

large_a9_804large_a9_810

One can only suppose that the fairly close tolerances required to make a gun like this work would make them cost-prohibitive to produce on the large scale required for military issue, not to mention the impossibility of interchangeable or standardised parts when made by hand.

large_a215_5

 

large_tr2000_222

 

large_tr_546

You can see this piece in the Royal Armouries Collection here.

 

If this content interests you, subscribe to the blog or join us on Facebook for more! Don’t forget you can buy several of our ready-made products on Etsy.

Mad Mondays 2: Multi-shot madness

History, Mad Mondays, Weapons

The standard struggle for firearms designers during the age of flintlocks was to improve the shot count of each firearm. In an age where the sheer number of shots that could be fired in a minute had as much effect on the outcome of a battle as any tactics this really mattered.

 

One solution was to strap a bundle of barrels together, fired by a single lock to create a ‘volley gun’. Although this was a devastating weapon the recoil was ferocious, it took a long time to reload and it still did not have the same effect as the same number of shots aimed and fired separately, not to mention the sheer weight. The most famous example of this is the Nock volley gun, used by the British Royal Navy.

1

The next step was to equip each barrel with their own lock to fire them individually. The trouble with this is you end up with a very unwieldy weapon with lots of moving parts that require maintenance and is expensive to produce. You also still have the massive weight of all those barrels, plus the extra lockwork. It’s OK up until about two shots, but gets worse after that.

2

One example in military service was the Austrian Jäger ‘double-rifle’ (though it was in fact a rifled barrel over a smoothbore).

2b

Harder than you thought this business!

Another option that caught on was to have a set of revolving barrels that you rotate to line up with a lock, which you prime for each shot. Still a bit of a faff but still faster than reloading a musket. Some were produced with self-priming pans (but more on that in a later post) to speed this up.

Mr Nock produced a variant of his gun on this principle, with six barrels rotating about a centre pin.

3

Finally someone had a really bright idea. Why not ram several loads down one barrel and set them off one after another? What could possibly go wrong?

Well if you fired the locks in the wrong order the gun would blow up in your face, but apart from that not much.

This terrifying concept was used experimentally, but as far as I know it was never adopted by any military force. There was too much to go wrong.

4

There’s quite a bit more to this story, this is just the beginning!

5

If this content interests you, subscribe to the blog or join us on Facebook for more! Don’t forget you can buy several of our ready-made products on Etsy.

Mad Mondays!

Mad Mondays, Weapons

Facebook followers will be familiar with the Mad Mondays, in which we are taking a look at some of the more crazy and cutting-edge firearms in a rather bumpy history through arms development. I’ll now be hosting it here as this is a better platform for such articles!

I thought we would start off with something you don’t see every day.

XIV.6 / 14-00006 Combined axe and wheellock pistol. Possibly Iberian or German, early 17th century Copyright: The Board of Trustees of the Armouries Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds LS10 1LT Digital Photograph Di 2005-310 Hasselblad 555ELD / Imacon digital back

If you thought being sliced by an axe would ruin your day, try this for size. Although the axe face is blunt, it conceals five barrels lit by several methods, which begs the question of how practical it would be to use.

XIV.6 / 14-00006 Combined axe and wheellock pistol. Possibly Iberian or German, early 17th century Copyright: The Board of Trustees of the Armouries Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds LS10 1LT Digital Photograph Di 2005-311 Hasselblad 555ELD / Imacon digital back

The top barrel is lit by a matchlock, the mechanism for which is under the brass lion. The second barrel via the wheel lock and the rest by a hand-held slow-match. There is another barrel in the handle lit by this match. The wheel lock has an attachment to light this match as it is fired.

 

large_di_2011_0596

large_di_2011_0597

large_di_2011_0598

 

You can see the entry for this item at the Royal Armouries Collection here.

 

 

If this content interests you, subscribe to the blog or join us on Facebook for more! Don’t forget you can buy several of our ready-made products on Etsy.