Ceirigotti Automatic Rifle

Captain Cei-Rigotti, an officer in the Italian Army, appears to have started experiments with gas-operated automatic rifles as early as 1895 when he demonstrated one to his Divisional Commander, the Prince of Naples. Some years were spent in further development thereafter and it was not until 1900 that his efforts were made public in a Roman newspaper, which published a long and laudatory account of his achievements. This included a reference to the use of Mounted Infantry in the war in South Africa, and it was probably this which first drew British attention to the new weapon. Specimens were obtained and a series of tests carried out both by the Small Arms Committee and their Royal Navy counterparts. The rifle worked by a short-stroke piston from the barrel to a rod

Carcano Cavalry
Italian artillerymen armed with Mannlicher-Carcano Ml891s: China Relief Expedition. 1900.

connected to the bolt, this rod and the cocking handle at its rear end being clearly visible in the photograph, and was designed to fire both single shots and bursts. Although some success was achieved the tests were generally unfavourable, both authorities commenting on the difficulties of ejection and the high rate of misfires, although these may possibly have been due to the fact that the ammunition used had been exposed to seawater on the voyage from Italy. It was also reported that the bolt came so far to the rear in operation that accurate fire was impossible, and some adverse comment was made on the general quality of the workmanship, which was perhaps unfair. It is clear, nearly eighty years later, that the rifle had great potential and many of its features have been copied.

Italy mabtnlicher-carcajto carbine m1891

The Model 91 weapons were the first of a series developed for the Italian Army towards the end of the 19th Century. In spite of the inclusion of the word Mannlicher in its official title, it was primarily of Mauser design, the only remaining feature of Mannlicher origin being the six-round clip with which the weapons were loaded and which remained in the magazine until the last round had been fired They were developed at Turin by S. Carcano, a designer at the Italian Government Arsenal there, and the name of General Parravicino. President of the Italian Small Arms Committee, is often associated with them. The first of the series was a full-

length infantry rifle, but this was closely followed by the weapon illustrated, the Model 91 cavalry carbine which actually went into service in 1893. In those days of course, the cavalry still rode horses and therefore needed a short, handy weapon which could be carried either slung across their backs or in a scabbard or bucket on the saddle. The cavalry of most nations at that time were still inclined to delude themselves as to the superiority of the sword and professed to regard firearms as of little importance but the pretence was wearing thin. One feature of the Model 91 carbine is its folding bayonet which indicates that even then the Italian cavalry understood that it might have to act as Mounted Infantry and fight on foot. One interesting feature of these early models, which were otherwise undistinguished, was that their rifling was of the type known as progressive twist, i.e. the degree of twist increased progressively towards the muzzle. This was a system originally experimented with by the English inventor, Metford. but soon abandoned as being not worth the increased difficulties of manufacture. The Model 91s were succeeded by a whole series of others, all of similar principle and differing only in detail. These included a model 1938 carbine almost identical with the one illustrated except that it had a fixed backsight It is illustrated immediately below this entry.

Italy mannliche r-cargano carbine model 1938

In the course of their Abyssinian campaign of

1936-38 the Italians were somewhat disconcerted to find that their 6 5mm cartridge lacked stopping power In 1938 therefore they provisionally introduced a 7 35mm round and developed a modified version of their earlier Model 91 to fire it. This new project was however short-lived because when the Italians entered the war in 1940 they were naturally reluctant to embark at the same time on a major change of calibre, so they reverted to their 6 5mm round. There are thus two versions of the Model 1938 carbine, which except for calibre are virtually indistinguishable, the one illustrated being an example of the later reversion to the small calibre. One of its unusual features was the abandonment of the tangent backsight in favour of a fixed one, set at 300 metres. This model 1938 carbine is of considerable interest as being of the type used to assassinate President Kennedy in November, 1963. The particular weapon was an item of Italian war surplus, fitted with a cheap Japanese telescope and purchased by mail order for a few dollars, and it seems to have been an odd choice. The Carcano has no great reputation for accuracy and although its bolt works smoothly enough, the rate of fire must have been slowed down by the telescope. It is notoriously difficult to shoot rapidly through this type of sight, particularly on a carbine with a good deal of recoil, and there.has been speculation as to whether the three shots known to have been fired could have come from a single weapon of this type.

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