GENERALLY: The Swiss Vetterli rifle, designed by Swiss designer Friedrich Vetterli, the manager of the Neuhausen factory, and adopted in both Switzerland and Italy, utilized a Henry (Winchester) M1866 type tubular magazine and a bolt system derived from the German Dreyse needle fire rifle. The Swiss Vetterli was the first repeating rifle widely adopted for military service. Interestingly enough, the Vetterli continued to utilize rimfire ammunition until phased out in the 1890's in the favor of the Schmidt-Rubin. Thus it was the most advanced military rifle at the time of its adoption and one of the most obsolete at the time of its ultimate replacement, but it remained in service for over twenty years during a time of great technological change. It was also the first repeater to have a self-cocking action and small calibre. Adopted by the Swiss Army in 1868, it underwent several improvements between 1871 and 1879. These culminated in the model 1881. Throughout its service life the Swiss Vetterli's magazine system remained unchanged. Early rifles (M1869) were manufactured by Schweizerichse Industry-Gesellshaft in Neuhausen. This is the famous SIG arms company that is still a significant manufacturer of arms today. In addition to SIG, the M1869 was manufactured by no fewer than eight other manufacturers.
The decision to use the 10.4 millimeter rim fire cartridge in the Veterrli rifle was apparently motivated by considerations of economy since the cartridge it was already in existence and proven in the Milbank-Amsler conversions of the Federal rifle. Notwithstanding that it is a rimfire, this round was a relatively high velocity, flat trajectory load, far ahead of the short range, large caliber rounds used in the other converted breach loading cartridges. The Vetterli striker has a forked firing pin which passes through two firing hole pins in the bolt face for double striking the rimfire cartridge. The cleaning rod of the early rifles was set into the left side of the stock, similarly to the later M1878 French Kropatchek, but that was soon changed and the fully operational M1869 (and all subsequent Swiss Vetterlis) carried the cleaning rod directly below the tubular magazine. The first rifles were made with a loading gate cover but that too was soon found to be unnecessary and removed all together with the adoption of the M1871.
The M1869/71 (aka M1871) had an improved elevator system and a simplified receiver. The leaf spring which assisted the elevator system was deleted, and the back sight was re-graduated from Schritte (paces) to meters.
In 1878 an improved variation was adopted. Although substantially a M1871, this variant only has a single barrel band, the fore stock is not checkered and it mounts provisions for a sword bayonet. This rifle also mounted a significantly different Schmidt quadrant site with a much shorter leaf than the M1869 or M1871. In 1881 the Vetterli was updated with a new model, but one which had only the most minor of modifications, the principal one being the addition of an extention to the rear sight leaf. Many M1878 rifles were subsequently modified by fitting with the M1881 rear sight leaf. There is a photo of such a rifle in the M1878 & M1881 Swiss Vetterli photos: which is linked here and below, which I refer to as a M1878/81 for clarity, although there was never such and official designation.
The same turning bolt action was utilized in the Italian M1870 Vetterli rifle adopted by Italy and later, with the addition of the Vitali box magazine system, in the M1870/87 Vetterli-Vitali rifle.
PHOTO: The representative rifle shown above is a Swiss M1878 Vetterli Infantry Rifle.
DISTINGUISHING CHARECTERISTICS: The M1869 has provisions for a loading gate and a screw and stop-screw on the right side of the receiver. On the left side of the receiver will most often be found a slot and two detents for the elevator spring (usually removed) and on the bottom of the receiver the elevator will often be notched. The forestock is checkered similarly to the M1871. There is no date on the left side of the receiver.
The M1871 looks very similar to the M1869. It too has no date on the receiver, the fore-end is checkered with two barrel bands but, unlike the M1869, the right side of the receiver has no provisions for a loading gate, the left side of the receiver has no slot or detents and the bottom of the receiver (elevator mechanism) carries no slot.
The M1878 and M1881 carry a date on the left side of the receiver, have only one barrel band, no checkering of the forestock and a significantly different rear site which was later modified by the addition of an extention leaf on the M1881. The M1869 and M1871 are also distinguished from the M1878 and M1881 by their relatively flat butt plates while the later models had deeply curved butt plates. The M1881 is principally distinguished from the M1878 by its improved and extended site leaf but is otherwise virtually identical to the M1878, (but be advised that many M1878 rifles were subsequently modified by fitting with the M1881 rear sight leaf).
The M1869 is sighted to1,000 schritte, the M1871 site is graduated to 1,000 meters, the M1878 sight is graduated to1,200 meters and the M1881 site, formed by two telescopic sliding leaves, is graduated to1,600 meters.
M1869/71 (aka M1871) Swiss Vetterli Rifle
M1878 Swiss Vetterli Rifle. Almost identical to the M1881.
M1870 Swiss Vetterli
M1881 Swiss Vetterli photos:
M1871, M1878 and M1881 Stutzer:
M1867 / 68
Swiss Vetterli Prototype:
to Centerfire; Making Centerfire Ammunition; Reloading for and Shooting
Swiss Vetterlis (with Bob Kull):
Page first sketched out February 8, 1999
Revised May 24, September 15, 1999
Revised May 8, 2000
Revised January 12, 2001
Converting/Shooting page March 3, 2001