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Military Rifles in the Age of Transition
(Non-U.S.) Black Powder, Metallic Cartidge, Military Rifles
1865 to 1890
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M1777/1868 Terssen Infantry Rifle
(Fusil d’Infanterie système Terssen Modèle 1777/1868)
M1848/68 and M1868 Terssen Short Rifle
(Carabine système Terssen Mle M1848/68 & Mle 1868 )
Fusil d’Infanterie système Terssen Modèle 1777/1868
The history of the Terssen is totally connected with its cousin, the Albini-Braendlin. The Albini-Braendlin rifle was adopted by Belgium in 1867 but it appears that problems with its design or delays with delivery caused the adoption, as a temporary measure, of the Terssen. It was designed by a certain Colonel Terssen commandant of the Manufacture d’Armes de l’Etat (Arms Factory of the State), the Belgian government arms factory at Liège. This rifle was built both as a conversion of the French M1777 flintlock pattern design and as a conversion of the Belgian M1848 Thouvenin Carbine (M1848s being an improvement of the already rifled Delvigne-Poncharra M1841 Carabine de Chasseurs ), which had earlier received Belgian back‑action locks. The M1848 Thouvenins were made with M1841-type stocks.
When stocks of the old Thouvenins were exhausted, the Belgians built new M1868 Terssens, which are only slightly different from the M1848/68 in minor details; a buttplate like the Albini-Braendlin, a straighter trigger, breech block pivot points that are slightly different and a complete new stock in one piece (the stock of the M1848/68, using the original stock of the Thouvenin carbine and adding a new piece to extend the forestock section is in 2 pieces with the seam hidden below the lower barrel band, making it appear as though the stock had been “duffle bag” cut; but this 2-piece configuration is original).
To add further interest, M1841s, from which the M1848/68 Terssen was built, had two types of stocks. The first type, at the beginning of the M1841 production, was made from unfinished stocks still available from the production of the M1777-like rifles which used a forward lock; the second type of stock is the “official” M1841 type stock for the M1841 back action lock. M1848s with both types of stocks were used to produce the M1848/68. The small manufacturers of Liège never threw anything away and, in pre-assembly-line days, interchangeability of parts was not critical.
The Terssen was withdrawn from front line service once adequate numbers of Albinis were delivered. However like the Albinis, the left rear sight of some Terssen rifles appear to have been fitted with the M1880 “Halkin modification”; that is, volley sights were added by addition of a leaf extension to the rear sight slide with a corresponding "button" sight affixed to the right side of the center barrel band, thus they may have remained in service longer than is generally believed.
In 1867-68 The Terssen was submitted for trials to the Italian committee responsible for developing conversions of Italian muzzle loaders to breech loaders, but it doesn't appear that they were actually adopted or that any actually entered Italian service. However, an Albini‑Braendlin conversion of Italian muzzleloaders, was adopted by the Italian navy.
The breech block mechanism is a classic lift-block design of the Mont Storm type, (see Albini-Braendlin Operating Mechanism) surprisingly similar to the Berdan lift-block system as incorporated in the Spanish Berdan and U.S. Allin Springfield Trapdoor. The Terssen's breech block is opened and elevated forward by the use of a unique counter‑rotating knob on the right side of the block which withdraws into the breech block a cam that, like the Allin Springfield Trapdoor, locks into the back of the receiver. Just as the Allin and Snider variant conversions of the same era, (but unlike the Albini-Braendlin), the firing pin channel passes downward at an angle through the block. Also like the Allin, the opening of the breech actuates an extractor which also pivots on the breech block pivot pin. There is no ejector, thus after extraction, the cartridge is cleared from the receiver by tipping over the entire rifle. A fresh cartridge is thumb pushed into the chamber and the block then flipped back and closed without use of the rotating knob, as the breech block locking lug is beveled and spring loaded to allow it to lock into place. An interesting feature is a small reinforcing ridge built into the upper back of the receiver to assist the locking lug in snapping back into position.
M1777/1868 bears its pre-transformation heritage with markings on the breech block (crown over “SB” over year of original manufacture). The barrel and receiver are marked with the serial number on the left side which is also carried over to the outer edge of the operating knob. The knoxform is marked with year of manufacture, the “GB” in a circle, (representing “Government Belge”, denoting Belgian Army service), as well as several inspection markings on the upper right knoxform flat. I am not aware whether the firms responsible for carrying out the conversions so marked the rifles. The right side of the buttstock carries a roundel indicating the rifle’s initial maker and date. The stock is also roundel cartouched on the right side which may indicate the converter and date of conversion, and the rifle may show a unit marking (for example a “V” within a circle) on the left side of the stock opposite the hammer.
The M1848/68 Terssen is very similarly marked, including the original manufacturer’s roundel on the right side of the stock and conversion roundel (manufacturer and date) on the left side of the stock. Serial numbers are as on the earlier rifle, but with added serial numbers to the bottom of the barrel beneath the stock and on the left side of the stock ahead of the wrist. There is a circular cartouche on the forestock behind the upper band.
The Terssen rifles are similar to the Belgian Albinis, having a one piece stock with barrel attached by two barrel bands and a nosecap and a forward lifting breech block operated by a knob on the right side. Further confusion could occur between the M1848/68 Terssen, as that rifle shares the Albini’s back action lock and similar furniture. However, the most immediate and readily identifiable distinction between the Terssen and Albini series is that while the Terssen hammer is wholly conventional and as would be expected for a hammer originally designed for use with a percussion rifle, the Albini hammer, while external, has no hammer nose in the conventional sense, but rather an arm connected to a combination striker/breech block locking pin running longitudinally through the back of the receiver into the back of the breech block contracting the rear of the firing pin and locking the breech closed at the moment of firing. The barrels of both Terssen models are mounted with two simple barrel bands and a full nosecap.
Concerning distinguishing among the Terssen rifles themselves, the M1777/1868, unlike the Albini, is fitted with a somewhat more conventional and very French style forward lock rather than the Albini's back‑action lock. The M1777/1868 and M1848/68 Terssens are very similar, but the back action lock of the M1848/68 is dispositive. The rear end of the M1777/1868 lock is shaped in the distinctively pointed French style and the lower tang is ridged just as are the lower tangs of the French Tabatiere, Dutch Snider and 18 mm Swiss Milbank-Amsler converted rifles, clearly indicating all of these rifles’ French heritage. On the right side of the stock of the M1777/1868 is an iron reinforcing serpentine plate which reinforce two lock anchoring screws. This feature is not seen on the M1848/68, which has a simple escutcheon and fully transverse bolt, the actual purpose of which is unknown to me. Confusingly, the Albini-Braendlin is also fitted with this same mysterious transverse bolt. While M1848/68s can be confused with Albini‑Braendlins the especially large counter-rotating breech block knob is unique to Terssens.
M1777/1867 Rifle (Fusil système Terssen Modèle 1777/1868): This rifle is fitted with a forward lock, and is quite scarce. It was issued to the "Genie"‑units (e.g., engineers). If there is a unit‑marking on it, it is the letter “V.” It mounts the M1868 sawback-bladed bayonet.
Fusil système Terssen Modèle 1777/1868
Another Fusil système Terssen Modèle 1777/1868
SHORT RIFLES, CARBINES or SPECIAL VERSIONS
M1848/68 Short Rifle: (Carabine système Terssen Mle 1848/68): The M1848/68 is officially called "Carabine Terssen" to distinguish it from the M1777/1868 Fusil Terssen. In reality it was the rifle of the "Carabiniers Regiment". It was fitted with a back-action lock and is also scarce. It is a conversion from the earlier muzzle‑loaded percussion Thouvenin M1848 carabine (“carabine” being the French word for “short rifle” and not “carbine” as one might expect). These had new French-style barrels retained by a single band and were issued to the Grenadier regiment. Its distinctive regiment marking is the letter “R.” It mounts a yatagan‑bladed bayonet.
Carabine système Terssen Mle 1848/68
M1868 Short Rifle (Carabine système Terssen Mle 1868): Also with a back action lock, this rifle is the newly made version of the M1848/68, with a different trigger, different butt plate, everything "more elegant" and simplified. Newly made Terssen rifles can be distinguished by the date on the lock. Terssen rifles are not common but these are the Terssens most often seen.
Model 1848/68/80: (Carabine système Terssen Mle 1848/68/80): Some M1848/68 rifles were altered to fire the M1880 ball cartridge, being distinguished by new Halkin-type ramp-and-leaf sights. A second sighting notch, cut into the left side of the extended slider-block, was used in conjunction with a sighting stud on the left side of a new barrel band (between the original band and nosecap) for ranges up to 2,100 (2,295 yds). The theory was that masses of troops could use their rifles for indirect fire as a sort of “light artillery” against opposing massed troops. Similar features are seen on the M1867/96 Danish Remington and the M1874/89 Spanish Remington.
Short Rifles, Carbines & Special Versions: Though the M1848/68 and M1868 Terssens are denominated as a carabine (short rifle), they are only about 2 inches shorter than the M1777/1868 fusil (rifle) thus I have included them in the main body of the text. I am unaware of true carbine or other special versions of the Terssen.
M1867 Socket bayonet
M1868 Sawback bayonet – Engineers
M1880 yatagan – bladed sabre bayonet
To my knowledge, all models of the Terssen rifle are equipped with a 3 5/8” (94 mm) long bayonet lug and tenon welded to the right side of the barrel, enabling the rifles to mount the M1868 sawback engineers bayonet or the later 1880 sabre bayonet. However, other sources indicate that line troops were issued the M1867 socket bayonet, so perhaps some Terssen rifles are without the lug and tenon that is often seen.
M1867 Socket bayonet
M1868 Sawback bayonet
SPECIFICATIONS, STATISTICS & DATA
CARTRIDGE: 11 mm Albini discussed under M1867 Belgian Albini-Braendlin in the following pages, developing a muzzle velocity in the Terssen of about 410mps (1,330 fps).
MANUFACTURING DATA: Total Teressen production is unknown, although they were converted in Liège. While the specific firms doing the converting is unclear, at least some of the work was done by “Le Petit syndicat des Fabricants d’Armes” (the Liège small syndicate).
Overall Length: 1350 mm (53.0 in)
Weight, empty: 4.8 kg (10.6 lbs)
Barrel Length: 882 mm (34.75 in)
Rifling: 4-groove; RH, concentric
Sight: Ramp-and-leaf rear, graduated from 300 to 1,400 m (328 to 1,530 yds)
M1848/68 and M1868:
Overall Length: 1295 mm (51 in)
Weight, empty: 4.7 kg (10.25 lbs)
Barrel Length: 790 mm (31.25 in)
Rifling: 4-groove; RH, concentric
Sight: Ramp-and-leaf rear, graduated from 200 to 1,100 m (220 to 1,205 yds). Sights were later extended to 1,400 m (1,530 yds) and, when fitted with the Halkin sight, (a volley sight), extended the range to 2,100 m (2,295 yds)).
UTILIZATION BY OTHER COUNTRIES
During the early Meiji period (1868 to 1880 or so) the Japanese continued to import a very wide variety of firearms from the Europeans and to experiment with different systems of converting their earlier muzzleloaders to beach loaders. One such system used to convert their earlier imported British-manufactured muzzleloaders was the Terssen, although it does not appear that these were widely adopted. More common conversions were the Japanese Snider and Japanese Albani-Braendlin but nevertheless Terssen examples do appear.
PREDECESSOR & FOLLOW-ON RIFLES
Predecessor Rifle(s): 1853 Belgium Pattern Percussion Rifle
Photo Credit: https://www.historicalfirearms.info/post/84555415515/thouvenins-carabine-%C3%A0-tige-designed-by-a-french
Follow-On Rifle(s): M1882 Belgian Comblian
All photos courtesy of my Belgian Correspondent!
Lock and furniture virtually identical to the Belgian Albini-Braendlin
Operation is likewise similar (knob has to be rotated anti-clockwise) to the Albini.
Conversion date by the firm of Mordant in Liege, one of the members of the "Petit Syndicate"
Two different examples of the M1848/68. See letter above.
Left side views of the above two rifles. Note the slight variation of the stocks.
Breech block pivot points are slightly different.
Also note that the left rifle rear sight has been fitted with the M1880 HALKIN-modification; that is,volley sights were added by addition of a leaf extention to the rear sight with a corresponding "button" sight affixed to the right side of the center barrel band).
Additional Information & Correspondence
Date: 00-02-14 05:35:38 EST
To: KeithDoyon@MilitaryRifles(.)com (Keith Doyon)
It is good to hear from you again.
About the Terssen 48/68: It means that this is a Terssen 68 derived (made) from the earlier M1848 Thouvenin Carbine. When they ran out of old Thouvenin Carbines they made normal M1868 Terssens which only are slightly different from the M48/68 in minor details: buttplate like the albini's, a straighter trigger and of course a complete new stock in one piece. The 48/68 using the stock of the Thouvenin in 2 pieces joined together under the barrelring.
Date: 00-02-20 05:35:38 EST
To: KeithDoyon@MilitaryRifles(.)com (Keith Doyon)
Congratulations with all the new discoveries. The site is getting bigger and bigger. I'm impressed. While looking at the pics with the two Terssens M48/68 together I realised I
should have given you a little more information regarding the slight variaton of the two stocks.
Both Terssens on display together were made from old M1848 Thouvenin carbines. (M48's being an improvement of the already rifled Delvigne-Poncharra "M1841 Carabine de Chasseurs" ). The M48 Thouvenins were made with M41 type stocks.
M41's had two types of stocks: the first type, at the beginning of the 41 production, was made from unfinished stocks still available from the stopped production of the M1777-like rifles which used a forward lock; the second type of stock is the "real" M41 type stock for the M41 backaction lock. M48's with both types of stocks were used to produce the M48/68. Complicated? In those old days the small manufacturers of Liège never threw anything away.
When they ran out of old M48's to alter to M68's, complete new M68's were manufactured. I know of one around here and I'll try to make some pics of it from the moment I can lay my hands on it. This could take a while.
Page built February 14, 2000
Revised February 20, 2000
Updated: Oct 28, 2021
Updated: Jan 14, 2022