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RIFLE

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V23, Page 329 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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RIFLE, a firearm which may be shortly defined as a musket in which, by grooves (cf. Ger. riffeln, to groove) in the bore or otherwise, the projectile is forced to rotate before leaving the barrel. This rotatory motion, maintained during flight, equalizes any irregularities in the form or weight of the bullet, and so lessens the tendency to depart from a straight line, and also in a measure overcomes atmospheric resistance. Rifling was invented about 1520, by Gaspard Koller or Kollner,, a gunmaker of Vienna, according to some authorities; by August Kotter of Nuremberg, according to others. It has been said that at first the grooves were made straight, with the object of admitting a tight-fitting bullet and relieving the effects of fouling, and that the virtue of spiral grooving was subsequently discovered by accident. But this theory is unsupported. The earliest known rifle barrels have spiral grooving. The amount of turn varied in old rifles from a half or three-quarters turn to one turn in two to three feet. The form and depth of the grooving and the number of grooves also greatly varied. Historical Development of Military Rifles.—For the chief infantry firearms that preceded the modern military rifle, see GUN, ARMS AND ARMOUR (firearms), ARQUEBUS, &c. Rifles were at first used for amusement. There are, however, in-stances of their occasional employment in war in the 17th and 18th centuries. In 1631 the landgrave of Hesse had a troop of riflemen. Ten years later Maximilian of Bavaria had several troops armed with rifled arquebuses. Louis XIII. armed his bodyguard with rifles. Napoleon withdrew the rifle from those of his troops to whom it had been issued during the wars of the Republic, nor did the French make any considerable use of it again until 1830, when the Chasseurs d'Orleans were armed with it for the invasion of Algeria. The British learnt the value of rifles during the American War of Independence, when the government subsidized continental Jagers armed with rifles to oppose the American riflemen. After the war these corps disappeared, and though they are now represented by the 6oth (King's Royal) Rifles, the senior rifle corps in the British Army is the Rifle Brigade, raised in 1800 as the 95th Regiment and armed with a flint-lock weapon known as " Baker's Rifle, " which weighed 91 lb. The barrel was 21 ft. long, its calibre 20-bore, with seven grooves making a quarter-turn in its length. A small wooden mallet was at first supplied with this rifle to make the ball enter the barrel, and it was loaded with great difficulty. In .1826 Delvigne, a French infantry officer, invented a breech with abrupt shoulders on which the spherical bullet was rammed down until it expanded and filled the grooves. The objection was that the deformed bullet had an erratic flight. Delvigne's system was subsequently improved upon by Thouvenin, who introduced into the breech an iron stem, upon which the bullet, now of conical form, rested, and was expanded by a sharp blow with the iron ramrod when loading. In William IV.'s reign the Brunswick percussion rifle'. was introduced into the British rifle regiments. Its weight with bayonet was 11 lb 51 oz.; length of barrel, 2 ft. 6 in., with two grooves making one turn in the length of the barrel; weight of spherical belted bullet, 557 grs.; diameter, •704 in.; charge of powder, 21 drs. This rifle was not easily loaded, soon fouled, and shot wild beyond 400 yds. In 1835 W. Greener produced a new expansive bullet, an oval ball, a diameter and a half in length, with a flat end, perforated, in which a cast metallic taper plug was inserted. The explosion of the charge drove the plug home, expanded the bullet, filled the grooves and prevented windage. A trial of the Greener bullet in August 1835 proved successful. The range and accuracy of the rifle were retained, while the loading was made as easy as with a smooth-bore musket. The invention was, however, rejected by the military authorities on the ground that the bullet was a compound one. In 1852 the Government awarded Minie, a Frenchman, £20,000 for a bullet of the same principle adopted into the British service. In 1857 Greener received a belated reward of f moo for " the first public suggestion of the principle of expansion. " The Minie bullet contained an iron cup in a cavity at the base of the bullet. In 1851 a rifled musket of the Minie pattern was introduced into the British army, and, though not generally issued, was used in the Kaffir War of 1851, and in the Crimea. Its weight with bayonet was to lb 81 oz., length of barrel 3 ft. 3 in., with four grooves making one turn in 72 in.; diameter of bore •702 inch; The percussion principle, invented by the Rev. Alexander John Forsyth (1768–1843) in 1805, was not accepted for military arms until the introduction of this rifle. A small and belated money grant was made to Forsyth in 1843. See Major-General A. J. F. Reid's memoir of Forsyth (1910).charge of powder 22 drs., and sighted from too to moo yds. The form of its bullet was at first conoidal, afterwards changed to cylindro-conoidal, with a hemispherical iron cup. In 1855 the Enfield rifle, having in a series of trials competed favourably with the Minie and Lancaster rifles, was introduced into the British army; it was used during the latter part of the Crimean war, having there replaced the Minie rifle and the percussion musket, and remained the general weapon of the entire infantry until the introduction of the breech-loader in the year 1867. This rifle weighed, with bayonet, 9 lb 3 oz., barrel 39 in.; diameter of bore •577 in.; three-grooved, with one turn in 78 in. It fired a bullet of cylindro-conoidal form with hollow base, weighing 530 grains, made up into cartridges and lubricated as for the Minie rifle, adapted to this rifle by Pritchett, who was awarded £r000 by the Government. This bullet was wrapped in greased paper round the cylindrical part half-way up its length. Short rifles of the same pattern, with five-grooved barrels 2 ft. 9 in. long and a sword bayonet, were supplied to the 6oth Rifles and to the Rifle Brigade. Two small carbines of the same principle were at this time introduced for the cavalry and artillery, also a rifled pistol. In 1854, on the suggestion of General Lord Hardinge, Sir Joseph Whitworth, the first mechanician of the day, began to consider the subject of rifling, and after a long series of experiments the Whitworth rifle was produced with hexagonal bore, 45 in. calibre, and with one turn in 20 in. It was tried at Hythe in 1857, and completely defeated the Enfield rifle up to 1800 yds. upon a fixed rest. This trial and Whitworth's experiments proved the advantages of a sharp twist, a smaller bore, and elongated projectile; but Whitworth's rifle was never adopted into the Government service, probably because the hexagonal rifling wore badly, and owing to the difficulty of equal mechanical perfection in all similar rifles and ammunition. Several improvements were subsequently made in the sighting, grooving and some other details of the Enfield rifle. In 1855 a boxwood plug to the bullet was used. Between 1857 and 1861 four breech-loading carbines were experimentally introduced in the cavalry-viz. Sharp's, Terry's, Green's, and Westley-Richards'. Sharp's and other breech-loading carbines and also Spencer repeating carbines were used by the Federal cavalry in the American Civil War. The general adoption of the breech-loading principle may be said to date from 1867. The Prussians were the first to see its great advantages, and about 184r had adopted the celebrated needle-gun (q.v.), a bolt-action weapon. In 1864 and 1866 committees were appointed by the British War Office to report on breech-loading arms, and after protracted experiments, Jacob Snider's method of conversion of the muzzle - loading En-field to a breech-loader (fig. 1) was adopted, with the metallic cartridge - case improved in 1867 by Colonel Boxer, R.A. All available En-field rifles were thus atumumlOPRiMP% converted, and new arms made with steel barrels instead of iron. Great Britain was the first to adopt for her army a breech-loading rifle with metallic cartridge-case, which secured the perfect obturation of the breech. The Snider breech was a hinged block, a type much in favour at the time. The French similarly converted their muzzle-loaders, the converted weapon being known as the Tabatiere or snuff-box. Other breech actions on the same principle were the Austrian Werndl and the Bavarian Podewils and Werder rifles. But these were only transitional arms. In 1866 France adopted the bolt-action Chassep6t (q.v.); in 1867 Sweden the Hagstrom, and Russia the Carte; in 1868 Italy the Carcano. All these were breech-loaders firing paper cartridges containing their own means of ignition. After further experiments by a fresh committee the Martini-Henry rifle (fig. 2) was definitely adopted by the British Government in 1871, with the short chamber Boxer-Henry ammunition. This rifle was a combination of Martini's block-action breech mechanism with Henry's barrel of •45-in. calibre, firing a papered bullet of 48o grains from Boxer cases with a wad of wax lubrication at base of bullet, as proposed by Henry. The Henry rifling had seven grooves with one turn in 22 in.; the lands and the centres of the grooves were contained in the same circle. About the same time or a little later the various powers re-armed their infantry with breech-loaders of different patterns and names, all of which were of about 11 mm. (.433 in.) calibre, and nearly all of the bolt-action type. The next stage in the history of military firearms was the introduction of the repeating or magazine system. The Winchester rifle, an American invention which appeared in 1865, was one of the earliest magazine rifles. This weapon was used by Turkey to some extent in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78, but Germany was the first great power to provide its army with a magazine rifle. In 1884 it converted the 1871 pattern Mauser of •4434n. bore into a magazine rifle, holding eight cartridges in a tube magazine in the fore end. In 1885 France followed with the Lebel, which had an enormous advantage in its smokeless powder. In 1886 the question of the best calibre for small arms was reopened in England. In this year, 1886, Austria had adopted a Mannlicher rifle, •433 bore, with a straight-pull bolt. This rifle was the first adopted by any European nation embodying Lee's box magazine, an invention patented in 1879 and 1882, and consisting of a box, in rear of and below the entrance to the chamber, containing the cartridges. Another327 important improvement, the steel clip loader containing five cartridges, was also introduced with this rifle. In 1888 .these rifles were converted to .315 bore, firing black powder cartridges; and in 1890, on the introduction of smokeless powder, the sights were re-graduated. In 1887 the British Small Arms Committee, after experiments with the small-calibre rifle invented in 1883 by the Swiss Major Rubin, director of the Federal laboratory at Thun, recommended the small calibre for adoption into the British service. The essential features of Rubin's system were the employment of a compound bullet with a leaden core in a copper envelope, and the use of a compressed charge of black powder. In r888 a pattern of •303411. calibre rifle, rifled on the Metford system and with the improved Lee bolt and magazine, was approved for trial by British troops. The Metford rifling is as follows:—diameter of bore, •303 in.; depth of rifling, •004 in.; width of lands, •023 in.; twist of rifling, one turn in lo in. (left-hand); radial grooves, seven in number. About 1862, and later, W. E. Metford had carried out an exhaustive series of experiments on bullets and rifling. He invented the important system of light rifling, with increasing spiral with a hardened bullet. The Metford match rifle was prominent in all N.R.A. competitions from 1871 to 1894. In 1887 he laid down for the Small Arms Committee the proper proportions for the grooving, spiral and cartridge chamber of the •3.03 military rifle. This weapon proved satisfactory and was adopted by the War Office as the Lee-Metford rifle, Mark I., in December 1888. It had a magazine of eight cartridges. In 1891 the Mark II. pattern was approved, with a ten-cartridge magazine, a simplified bolt, and many minor improvements. A magazine carbine with barrel 21 in. long and a six-cartridge magazine, otherwise identical with the Lee-Metford Mark II., was also approved. The Lee-Metford Mark II. rifle was subsequently further improved in its rifling to resist the wear of smokeless powder, and also in its bolt action, and became known as the Lee-Enfield rifle, and under that name was officially adopted as the rifle of the British army. The number of grooves were reduced from seven to five. Neither the Lee-Metford nor the Lee-Enfield has increasing spiral grooves, which are found inconvenient for military arms from a manufacturing point of view.l The L.M. and L.E. carbines are similar to the shorter models of the rifles, but are covered for the whole length of the barrel by a wooden handguard and take only six cartridges; the fore-sights are protected by wings on the nose-cap, and the long-range sights are omitted. These, as also the Martini-Metford and Martini-Enfield carbines (falling-block action small-bores), have practically been replaced by the "short" rifle described below. The efficiency of the modern small-bore magazine rifle is largely due to the production of smokeless nitro-compound powder. France was the first country to adopt, about 1885, a smokeless powder with the Lebel magazine rifle. It was known as " Vieille " powder, or " Poudre B " (after General Boulanger). Since then smokeless explosives have been universally adopted in all small-bore magazine military rifles. The smokeless explosive known as " Cordite " or " Cordite M.D." (see CORDITE) is used for the cartridges of the Lee-Metford and Lee-Enfield rifles and rifle-calibre machine guns. (H. S.-K.) Military Rifles of To-day.—About 1900, the various armies were 'equipped with weapons of nearly equal efficiency. The weights varied between 84 and 94 lb, the lengths between 49 and 52 in.; the calibres were •315, •311, •303, with one or two •256. None of the rifles were sighted to less than 2000 yds., and nearly all had a " fixed " or " battle " sight. All were bolt-action rifles, and had a muzzle velocity of about 2000 f.s. (the •256 Mannlichers, about 2300 f.s.). Except France, with the tube-magazine Lebel, Denmark and the U.S.A. with the horizontal-box Krag-Jorgensen, and Great Britain, all nations used multiple-loading by clip or charger. With Lebel and Krag-Jorgensen weapons, multiple-loading is a practical impossibility, but in Great Britain the charger was deliberately rejected. It was desired to use the rifle normally as a ' Of all modern military rifles, the Italian 1891 weapon alone has an increasing twist. is •.~\~ W~ ~. j Isl. ~I7 End of Article: RIFLE
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