The Development Of Bolt Actions

The United States

While the first successful metallic cartridge bolt action rifle was invented by Paul Mauser of Germany, it was not, as is generally staled, the 1871 Model adopted by the German Government.

Actually the first, practical Mauser rifle design was the Mauser-N orris of 1867, the first patent for which was actually taken out in the United States on June a, 1868. The patent number is 78,603 and the rifle was patented in the names of Samuel Norris of Springfield, Massachusetts and Wilhelm and Paul Mauser of Oberndorf, Wiirtemburg.

The two Mauser brothers were the legitimate inventors—Paul providing the designs and Wilhelm helping with the work. Norris was a European representative of Remington who had been so impressed with the new Mauser bolt action that he undertook to finance their venture. Norris, however, found himself unable to finance the new Mauser, and the brothers improved their design and sold it themselves to the German Army. On that slim thread hung the destiny of the Mauser—the most widely used and imitated design ever produced. If Remington, which then controlled most of the desirable foreign rifle business, had had the foresight to support Norris and underwrite the two Mauser brothers they might have changed the course of history. Espousal of Paul Mauser by the German Government led eventually to the most far-flung organization of arms interests in history. Even before the Mauser rifle was established, Remington hired Franz, another of the large family of Mauser brothers, who had emigrated to America. Paul and Wilhelm worked as a team but thev had no business contact—and in later life little social contact—with

their other brothers. The many legends linking Remington with the Mauser rifle stem from the employment of Franz by that company.

Every original good feature of the metallic cartridge turning bolt action design was developed by Peter Paul Mauser. He was the first to introduce the feature of cam-withdrawal of the firing pin (the British army had consistently refused to consider bolt actions to that time because of the danger of accidental firing with the pin forward). He introduced the first one-piece bolt and the locking lugs at the front end of the bolt (although in percussion days this feature had been used in the American Green rifle). He introduced escape vents to lead gas off safely in case of a blown primer or split case and the first successful built-in box magazine utilizing the strip-in charger was his. The rest of the Mauser story belongs to the European rifle history section.

In 1878 an Ordnance Board tested 29 arms with magazines, among which were 8 bolt actions. Out of these tests the Hotchkiss was adopted as the first official American bolt magazine rifle. The original Hotchkiss "was manufactured in France (where the American inventor B. B. Hotchkiss was then living). When he showed the rifle at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876, Winchester approached Hotchkiss to manufacture the design. The first U. S.

patent dates as far hark as i860, though modifications continued through 1878. By 1874 Hotchkiss had incorporated the idea of cocking on the lifting motion of the bolt handle. The magazine was in the buttstock. It had the additional excellent features of a magazine cutoff and a manual safety. Twenty-five hundred were supplied the U. S. Navy and 1500 to the Army. The actions were made by Winchester, the barrels and furniture by Springfield Armory. This arrangement permitted the use of Springfield-type bands, sights, and bayonets.

James Paris Lee was an American by adoption only. Born in Scotland in 1831, he was raised and educated in Canada before coming to the United States. All his designing and manufacturing, however, was done in this country after he became a citizen.

In 1879 Lee patented the "Lee U. S. Navy Rifle, cal. .45-70 Govt." This arm introduced the box-type magazine in the receiver, the type now standard in military rifles. That device seems simple at this late date, but its design completely revolutionized magazine rifles. It eliminated the slow-loading tube magazine; did away with the danger of accidental discharges in the magazine caused by the bullet of one cartridge striking the primer of the cartridge ahead of it in the tube; reduced the overall weight of the piece; simplified the clearing of feeding jams, and improved the balance of the arm when the magazine was fully charged. Lee also patented the box magazine in England, Belgium and Russia. Lee's magazines were also interchangeable as originally introduced.

His Navy Magazine Rifle was submitted to the Equipment Board in July 1879. Lee had arranged for manufacture at Bridgeport by a new concern consisting of the same officers as the Sharps Rifle Co. The backers, losing faith in the arms business, turned the manufacture over to Remington at Ilion. Lee went to wrork at that plant.

The Lee Model 1879 did riot have a magazine cutoff. While originally made in .45-70 caliber and tested by U. S. troops, it was also made in .43 Spanish and was used by Spanish Civil Guards and in Cuba.

Lee later sued both Mauser and Mannlicher for alleged infringements when they introduced box magazines. Howrever, a study of original foreign records discloses that Paul Mauser was working on the idea of several kinds of box magazines at the same time as Lee, and in all fairness it must be admitted that both Mauser and Mannlicher were apparently experimenting with the box design before they heard of Lee's magazine. It is possible, however, that the foreign inventors perfected their designs after a study of the Lee, which was tested openly in the U. S. and England before either the Mauser or Mannlicher box magazine was marketed.

In 1888 after three years of experimenting the British combined the Lee action with the Metford barrel and adopted the Lee-Metlord Magazine Rifle Mark I.

Remington also made the Lee as a sporting rifle in several calibers.

In 1895 a Naval Board at Newport, R. I. adopted the Lee Straight Pull in caliber 6mm (23G). Pulling the bolt straight back unlocked the arm, ejected the empty case and cocked the action. Pushing the bolt straight forward, loaded the piece and secured the locking lugs in the receiver. This arm was assigned to Winchester for manufacture and 10,000 were delivered to the Navy. It was the first official U. S. clip loader.

The Chaffee-Reece rifle, offered by General J. N. Recce, was in 1882 recommended for test by an Ordnance Board. This was a tube magazine in butt stock design, loaded through a trap in the butt plate which could be opened only when the bolt was in open position. The arm had a cut-oiT for the magazine, and setting the rhumbpiece at half-cock both set the safe and locked the bolt. One thousand were ordered manufactured at Springfield Armory in 1884, the Chaffee-Reece being the first U. S. Government made magazine rifle. Again fittings, sights and bayonets were the old Springfield Single Shot type. It proved to be too complicated mechanically to stand up in field service and was discarded.

The Krag-Jorgensen. In 1890, by which time every important nation in the world exccpt ourselves had adopted magazine arms, another Ordnance Board was convened to consider magazine systems. Domestic and foreign designers submitted a total of 53 systems for consideration, and in 1892 the Board finally selected the Norwegian-designed Krag-Jorgensen as the basis for a new rifle, although even that went through five modifications before acceptance.

The Springfield. After using captured Spanish Mausers for tests, in 1900 and again in 1901 we developed experimental Mauser-types for rimless cartridges. When the first standard Springfield bolt action was manufactured at Springfield Armory in 1902, it was chambered for a rimless cartridge with a 220 grain round-nosed bullet similar to that used in the Krag. This rifle was first issued to troops in late 1904 and in 1905, as the Model 1903.

When the Germans introduced their famous pointed spitzcr bullet in 1905, our Ordnance Department quickly seized on the design to improve the 1903 cartridge. Out of this development came the famous combination of the Model 1903 rifle rechambcrcd for the 1906 ammunition having a 150 grain pointed bullet. The rifle itself, world famous as the "Springfield" is a close copy of Paul Mauser's best design, except that it combines a magazine cut-oil with the bolt release, substitutes a two-piece firing pin for the one-piece Mauser, and can be manually cocked. Our Government paid the Germans $200,000 for manufacturing rights on the design, representing probably the best investment ever made in rifles.

The Enfield. Great Britain was experimenting with a Mauser type rifle of .276 caliber when World War I broke out in 1914. American manufacturers were approached to mass-produce these arms chambering them for the standard .303 British caliber rather than risk an ammunition change-over to the .276. And so it was that when we entered the War in 1917 and found ourselves woefully short of Springfields and of manufacturing facilities for them, we arranged for the manufacture by Winchester at New Haven and by Remington at Eddy-stone, Pa. and Ilion, N. Y. of rifles of the British design adapted to our rimless .30 caliber ammunition. This became the "U. S. Rifle, Model 1917" (commonly known as the "American Enfield," Enfield being the English point of design).

All modern American bolt actions fall into two classes, (a) small bore (.22 Rim Fire) types in which the bolt handle serves as the locking lug when turned down into the receiver (notable exception the U. S. rifle, caliber .22) ; and (b) large caliber and high power types which are all based on the Mauser system. These will be found described in Part III.

Great Britain

The Lee-Metford. In 1887 the British Arms Committee decided upon a Lee action and magazine with a Metford rifled barrel, the caliber to be .303 inch. This rifle was committed for manufacture in December 1888 as the Lee-Metford Magazine Rifle, Mark I. The magazine capacity of this first arm was 8 cartridges.

On January 19, 1892 the design of the original Mark I was altered for new sights, and was listed as the Mark 1*.

In 1892 the Mark II was introduced. It had a double column magazine holding 10 cartridges, a simplified bolt, and several minor design improvements.

In 1895 the Mark II* was introduced. This was the same as the Mark II except that it had a safety catch at the rear of the bolt. Turning the catch up locked the striker and bolt from being opened.

The first Lee-Enfield Rifle ivas the L. E. Mark I of November, 1895. This arm was the identical with the Lee-Metford Mark II* except for the Enfield type of rifling and the sights.

The L. E. Mark I* differed from the Mark I only in doing away with the cleaning rod.

A Lee-Metford Carbine was introduced in 1894. It was the same as the L. M. Mark II* except for a barrel 9.5 inches shorter which was covered with a wooden handguard, front sight protected by wings on the nose-cap, 110 long range sights and a 6-round magazine.

The Lee-Enfield Carbine of 1896 had the same modifications as the Lee-Metford car bine and was otherwise the L. E. rifle.

The Short Magazine Lec-Enfields (S. M. L. E.) resulted from experience in the Boer War. The British decided to develop a short rifle which would serve the requirements of both infantry and cavalry. In the United States, Springfield Armory was working along the same lines as a result of our Spanish War experiences; while both Mannlicher and Mauser were also working along similar lines.

As the result of a Committee recommendation of 1900 and field tests in the following year, a new British arm was developed which was adopted in 1902. This short rifle was fitted with charger (clip) guides to permit use of the Mauser system of loading by stripping the cartridges down off the spring clip into the magazine. A double line magazine with capacity of 10 cartridges was employed to receive the contents of two 5-shot clips. A barleycorn front sight protected by horns on the nose-caps; new rear sights; a long handguard extending from the receiver to the muzzle (or nose) cap— those were the major additions. The bolt cover was omitted.

This "new" rifle had several of the basic defects of the old one. By this time ever) other nation had appreciated the Mauser lock principle: that the closer the locking lugs are to the point of immediate pressure (the face of the bolt), the greater the strength of the system. The Lee-Enfield lugs are on the bolt to the rear of the magazine. To some degree the Committee may have been influenced by the fact that the forward lugs on the bolt might require complete re-designing because of feeding trouble from the rimmed cases. This purely financial consideration resulted in the British Army being armed with comparatively low-powered rifles, using rimmed cartridges, which at best could never function as well as rimless, in a vertical box magazine where the rims may always be subjected to interlocking and consequent jamming. In December 23, 1902, this riile was officially adopted, marking the hrst of the line of later battle-scarred S. M. L. E.'s, officially designated "Rifle, Short, Magazine, Lee-Enfield, Mark I."

The basic British rifle in World War 1 was the S. M. I.. K. Mark III in caliber .303 with rim. The action is the modified American Lee with locking lugs far back on the bolt to the rear of the magazine well. The magazine may be loaded from strip-in clips through the action, or may be removed from the bottom of the receiver. The various "Marks" of this arm are given in Part III.

Pattern 1914 (Rifle No. 3 Mark I and I*). This is the .303 Mauser variant designed in England and made in the U. S. just before we entered World War I. The British used tremendous numbers of these rifles in both wars. As made by us in caliber .30-06 U. S. Government, it was known as the Model 1917 Enfield.

Rifle No. 4. This is the pattern developed in England after World War I. It uses the standard .303 rim cartridge. It is a modified Lee-Enfield designed for mass production and has the bolt system and the magazine system of the Lee-Enfield. A further modification for jungle use, very much lightened, is the Rifle No. 5.

Canada in 1905 adopted the Ross Straight Pull in caliber .303 British, a unique straight pull variant of the Mauser. Boh lugs revolved to lock and unlock behind head of cartridge by cam action. Modified in 1910. Canada changed to the British S. M. L. E. during World War I.

European Developments

The first appearance of the successful metallic cartridge bolt action was not in Germany as is popularly supposed. Actually it appeared first in Switzerland. Frederic Vetterli's bolt action to handle a copper rim fire cartridge was produced several years before the great Paul Mauser began his successful experiments based on the Dreyse action.

The Swiss and a handful of Austrians saw the real opportunity presented by the bolt repeater. The virtues of the Lee vertical magazine principle was not then apparent. The late Henrys and the Winchester 1866 had a perfected below-barrel tube, rising cage carrier and side-of-receiver loading system, so the Swiss appropriated those features. The copper rim fire cartridge of .44 caliber had proven successful in America, so the Swiss developed a copper rased .41 Rim Fire of more efficient design.

The first Veiierli 10.4mm Rim Fire repeater was issued in 1867 but did not get into general production until 1869. New models were manufactured at Waffenfabrik Bern in 1871 and 1878, and the rifle was in official use until 1889. This first bolt repeater had a 12-shot magazine, fired a 313 grain lead bullet at a muzzle velocity of 1338 feet per second, and had a miximum range of about 3000 yards.

Switzerland adopted in 1889 the Schmidt-Rubin original Swiss straight pull rifle, an arm based on Major Rubin's rifle of 1883. The special revolving cam operated bolt has lugs midway on the bolt. The vertical detachable box magazine is of special design. Modified in 1911 and 1931.

The Fruwirth bolt action with tube magazine below the barrel, the invention of Ferdinand Fruwirth, an Austrian, was actually employed in quantity before the Vetterli. In 1869 it was adopted as the official Austro-Hungarian Gendarmerie rifle, and was issued in 1870. This 11mm arm had a bolt which turned down close to the stock and a hammer-like cocking-piece projecting from the rear of the bolt. Its use was limited to the Gendarmerie because by the time Fruwirth presented it, the Austrian* had committed themselves to the manufacture of the Werndl single shot block rifle and were unable financially to assume another complete changeover.

The Mauser was the most important of the numerous single shot bolt designs introduced in 1870-1871. When Germany officially adopted it as the Gewehr 1871, the race was on. Holland adopted the Beaumont invented by a Dutch engineer, an 11mm caliber C.F. firing a 386 grain lead bullet at a muzzle velocity of 1476 feet per second. The one unusual feature of the Beaumont design was the use of a V-spring in the bolt handle to drive the striker instead of the conventional spiral spring.

Italy in 1871 adopted the Swiss Vetterli single shot in a 10.4mm caliber C.F. and manufactured it in her own arsenals.

Russia and Bulgaria in the same year adopted the bolt action Berdan II in caliber .42. This rifle fired a 370 grain lead bullet at a muzzle velocity of about 1440 feet per second. The Krnka quick loader, a device to hold 10 cartridges with heads up ready for instant grasping, was attached to the side of the Berdan II in battle use.

By 1873 France had the Chassepot modified for a metallic cartridge of 11mm caliber. Many of these conversions were made under the British Kynoch patent at Anston, England. In 1874 France adopted the Gras conversion, Chatellerault and St. Etienne being the large centers of manufacture.

A Vet teil i-G ras combination was tested as early as 1874, but it was not until 1878 that the French made even a limited adoption of the repeating principle. In that year they issued the 11111m tube loader, bolt action Kropatschek to their Marine Infantry. The Kropatschek design was further improved by Gasser in Vienna, but by then the period of large caliber military rifles was ncaring a close and the arm was not of any particular significance.

1878 saw Russia testing the impractical American Evans lever action stock tube repeater. The Archimedian screw feed principle permitted carrying the cartridges without points resting against heads, but the arm was otherwise of little practical value. Russia in 1891 adopted the "3-Hne" Nagant designed in Belgium with some contributions by Russian artillery Colonel Mosin. Turning bolt, box magazine, loaded with Mauser type clip. Slightly modified in 1910 and again in 1930 since which time it is known as the M. 1891/30. Caliber 7.62mm Russian.

1879 was a red letter year in rifle development for it saw not only the first American Lee vertical box magazine, the principle which was soon to revolutionize military rifle design, but also the introduction of the first revolving box magazine. The Austrian bolt action developed at Steyr Armoury in Austria by Spitalsky was the original European approach to the problem of maintaining balance in a magazine rifle while the cartridges were being expended; and of isolating the cartridges so there would be no danger of accidental firing. The Spitalsky, in which the cartridges in the receiver magazine circled around a revolving spool, was the forerunner of the Mannlicher, Schulhof, Savage and

Johnson types. It was, however, first perfected by Schoenauer and used by von Mannlicher.

In 1881 Serbia adopted the Mauser-Milanovic single shot bolt action in 10.15mm caliber, a backward step followed in 1885 by Portugal which adopted the Guedes-Castro single shot dropping block. Portugal adopted the Mauser-Verguiero in 1904 in 6.5mm Portuguese, and the 7.9mm German Kar. 98k in

In 1883 the Mata bolt repeater appeared, the first of a line of strange types designed to give a combination of large magazine capacity and yet retain a good balance. This type was fired by a thumb trigger. A vertical magazine pocket was provided inside the end of the butt, from which cartridges dropped to a transport rail below which ran to the receiver. This rail was moved on the endless chain system the length of one cartridge for each bolt stroke, thereby feeding a cartridge to the carrier which was also actuated by the bolt motion.

In 1888 Germany issued the Gew. 1888, with the "Mauser and Commission, Mannlicher Magazine System/' This arm employed a modified early Mauser type bolt and the Mannlicher clip magazine system. The caliber was 7.92mm.

The next official model, the Gewehr 98, was the perfected Mauser with the built-in box magazine for clip loading, the forerunner of the American Springfield 1903. It introduced an improved 7.9mm cartridge which, as modified, was in use in World War 11. Modified as the Kar. 98 and the Kar. 98k, it was the official German arm until the close of World War 11. This weapon as modified in 1904 is the basis for every Mauser produced since that time, wherever made. It is the most important bolt design ever produced.

In 1882 the Austrian Schulhof magazine repeater appeared. This was a bolt action, thumb trigger arm. The side of the stock had a cover which was hinged up to expose 3 separate magazine compartments. The compartment at the small of the stock received 4 cartridges, the next compartment 5 and the last one 6. The transport rail below the compartments took 3 more cartridges, the carrier

I more, and the chamber the final one. As the bolt was operated, cartridges fed down onto the transport rail starting with the end compartment. The rail kept the cartridges separated as a safety measure, and moved them ahead one cartridge length for each bolt stroke. This weird design was not successful. It was followed by another Schulhof bolt design having a revolving box magazine patterned after the Spitalsky.

In 1886 the first truly accepted Mannlicher design appeared, the wedge-locked straight pull rifle with the Mannlicher magazine system using the Austrian

II mm black powder cartridge. Austria adopted this as an official pattern.

The Austrian Mannlicher rifle of 1888 was only the 1886 pattern straight pull, wedge-locked, design altered from 11mm black powder to Austrian 8mm smokeless. These rifles were the first ever adopted to employ the Mannlicher magazine system in which the clip is loaded into the magazine well with the cartridges within it. When the last cartridge is chambered, the empty clip falls through the bottom of the receiver well.

The 1888 rifle was succeeded by the improved straight pull rifle with revolving bolt lock in 1895, following the introduction of the same design as a carbine in 1890.

Austria from 1888 on sometimes cross-manufactured with Germany on military designs, hence Mauser designs may be found with Austrian proofmarks. In 1914 Austria used a 7mm caliber Mauser to a limited extent.

In this same year of 1886 France introduced the 1886 JLcbel, the first of the smokeless powder bolt actions. This arm was a clumsy bolt action with tube below barrel, as undistinguished a rifle as even France has ever seen. But what the arms designers did not do, the French chemists more than made up for. The new smokeless powder wrought an immediate revolution in military arms design throughout the world. The French 1886 cartridge of 8mm caliber was the first small bore military cartridge officially adopted.

The Berthier Carbine adopted by France in 1890 was a bolt action using the Mannlicher clip magazine system, cal. 8mm. From 1907 the Berthier was issued in several styles. Essentially it is merely the carbine 1890 with a longer barrel. The design was made with both 3 and 5 shot magazines. The foregoing were the basic French rifles in both World Wars. Most models used the rimmed 8mm Lebel cartridge.

In 1934 a modified design was introduced with Mannlicher type turn-bolt action, but employing a staggered box magazine. The caliber was 7.5mm. In 1936 another model was introduced for this cartridge.

In 1887 Norway and Sweden officially adopted the undistinguished Jarman bolt action with tube below barrel, though it was several years before issue was complete. The tube held 8 cartridges of 10.5mm caliber, ballistics being about the same as other military arms of the period. This was merely the Jarman of 1880 with a tube below the barrel. The Krag-Jorgensen was adopted in 1894 by Norway, and the Swedes adopted the 1906 Mauser.

The Italians in 1887 adopted the Vetterli-Vitali. This arm was the Iialian-made Vetterli bolt action mechanism built to take the Italian 10.4mm cartridge which was center fire (not rim fire as in the Swiss), and altered to take a fixed vertical box magazine. These rifles were made at Turin and at Terni. A magazine cut-off and a manual safety were provided. The queerlv shaped box magazine design was a result of the spring type used. The magazine follower had a coil spring mounted below its center and this spring was seated in a projection at the bottom of the magazine. The Vitali magazine represented a modification of the Lee system. In 1891 the Carcano M. 1891 was adopted in caliber 6.5mm Italian. This arm uses the Mannlicher magazine system, a turning bolt design of modified Mauser type, and a receiver designed by the Italian officer Carcano. While several carbine types were issued, no design changes were made from the time of introduction. As the M-38 the rifle was modified in 1938 to take an improved 7.35mm cartridge, but was issued only in limited quantity.

The Vitali box magazine modification was next applied to the Beaumont rifle in Holland, where it was called the 71/88. In 1895 the Austrian Mannlicher (also contract-made in Belgium) was adopted by Holland. This is not the Austrian Service straight pull type. It is a turning bolt design by Mannlicher using the Mannlicher magazine system. While this bolt system resembles the Mauser generally, it differs in having a detachable bolt head, with the two front locking lugs farther back than in the Mauser. The caliber is 6.5mm Dutch.

Was this article helpful?

0 0
Hunting Mastery Selected Tips

Hunting Mastery Selected Tips

Deer hunting is an interesting thing that reminds you of those golden old ages of 19th centuries, where a handsome hunk well equipped with all hunting material rides on horse searching for his target animal either for the purpose of displaying his masculine powers or for enticing and wooing his lady love.

Get My Free Ebook


Post a comment