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Military Rifles in the Age of Transition
(Non-U.S.) Black Powder, Metallic Cartidge, Military Rifles
1865 to 1890
(A Research, Photo-Identification and Information Website since 1997)
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M1777/67, M1841/53/67, M1853/67 and M1873 Belgian Albini-Braendlin
Fusil d'Infanterie Mle 1853/67
Albini-Braendlin (also Braendlin-Albini) System
GENERALLY: The Albini-Braendlin action system was designed by Italian army officer Augusto Albini in about 1866 and improved with the assistance of the Birmingham engineer-gunsmith Francis Augustus Braendlin, who altered the hammer to add the breech-locking striker. Together, their British patent of October 1866 (No. 2652) was sealed April 12, 1867.
In this period or arms development the metallic cartridge had just achieved the level of reliability and performance that finally made breech-loaders truly practical, in one stroke making obsolete the large stocks of percussion muzzle-loading rifles held by all of the world's major powers. The cost of out-and-out replacement of such stores of military arms was, for most nations, prohibitive. And at the time there was utterly no consensus of which pattern, type or design of breech-loading rifle was superior, making adoption highly tentative. These factors combined to make the idea of conversion of muzzle-loaders into practical breech-loaders a very attractive alternative if it could be done effectively and cost efficiently. The Albini, like the Snider, the Amsler-Milbank, the Wänzl and U.S Allin was designed to fill that demand.
In both form and function the Albini-Braendlin is similar to the contemporary (though earlier adopted) Allin, both of which borrowed from the Mont Storm principle action, in which a moveable breech block is lifted from the rear and pivoted on a front hinge upward and over to rest on top of the barrel while the arm is loaded.
An effective and relatively robust design, the Albini was submitted to government trials across Europe and was indeed a close contender during the series of British trials that eventually saw the system developed by the American, Jacob Snider, prevail for the British. Ultimately, the Albini was adopted in quantity only in Belgium for its regular army, and for use with the Italian and Russian Navies (the latter as the Albini-Baranov). It was also adopted in very limited numbers by the pre-federation Australian state of South Australia as the Braendlin-Albini, and Japan utilized the Albini design to effectuate some conversions of early European purchased cap-lock breechloaders (see The Japanese breech-loading conversions).
The Belgian Albinis
M1777/1867, M1841/53/67, M1853/67 and M1873 Albini-Braendlin: (Fusil d'Infanterie Mle 1777/1867, etc.) The Belgian government committed in 1867 to the adoption of the Albani-Braendlin design for conversion of a variety of their existing stock of muzzle-loaders in. However, delays associated with timely availability, or perhaps its functioning (possibly extractor issues, as later Albinis were fitted with Terssen style extractors) caused the Belgians to adopt the Terssen conversion design as an interim measure the following year. As Albinis and later Comblains became available, the Terssens were withdrawn.
Initially, the Belgian-adopted Albinis were conversions of M1841 muskets which had been earlier converted to rifles, re-styled “M1841/53" and newly built M1853 rifle-muskets. As these stocks were depleted, then even some surviving M1777s flint-lock muskets were converted to the Albini system. Conversions were contracted out to at least several Liège gunmakers, including Pirlot Frères (Pirlot Brothers) and Dresse-Laloux & Cie., among others.
The conversion involved fitting a new barrel which was essentially copied from and rifled like the French M1866 Chasspot, a combustible cartridge needle-fire predecessor of the French M1874 Gras. When existing stocks of convertible muzzle-loaders had been converted, the Belgians initiated manufacture of the M1873 Albini, a newly made version of the M1853/67 fitted with the Terssen-style extractor.
Belgium’s Albinis and Terssens were both updated for the final time in 1880 by the addition of the "Halkin modification." This consisted of altering the rear sights to add an extension to the right side of the slide with a corresponding "button" sight affixed to the right side of the center barrel band to allow indirect fire (that is, volley sights were added). These sights were intended to increase the effective range of the rifle to 2100 meters when massed.
The earliest use of the forward lifting breech block as a means of breech-loading a rifle appeared in the design of Mont Storm in about 1860. The Mont Storm rifle itself was a percussion fired chamber loader in which the chamber was a separate, breech-end mounted piece which lifted up and forward onto the barrel facing backward for loading. The chamber was loaded with a linen combustible cartridge (facing backwards) such that when the breech was rotated back into position, the ball was appropriately on top of the powder at the breech end of the barrel. (Such a mechanism was only ever officially adopted for service by the Norwegian Navy in their M1855 kammerladders (chamberloaders) which were also later converted to cartridge breech-loaders as the M1855/67 Landmark).
The back end of the Mont Storm chamber had a conventional nipple for a percussion cap, fired by a conventional forward-lock mounted hammer. This basic mechanism, but utilizing metallic cartridges, is the underlying principal of the Belgian Terssen and Albini-Braendlin designs as well as similar transitional rifles such as the Wänzl and the American Allin Springfield “trapdoor.” It is unclear whether or not the Mont Storm chamber block had any kind of locking mechanism but, as the back of the block was solid, corresponding to the breech plug of a muzzle loader, it may not have needed any more than the pressure of the hammer on the nipple to secure it. Unfortunately, like so many efforts at breech loading percussion rifles, Mont Storm’s chamber loader did not have an effective gas seal, and was not successful in its original form but the brass cartridge with self-contained ignition was to change all of that.
In the Albini-Braendlin, the front-hinged, forward lifting breech and action mechanism works together with the hammer-striker assembly to simultaneously lock and fire the rifle. The outside hammer of the Belgian Albini is driven by a back-action lock (examples of back-action locks can be seen in the M1867 Austrian Werndl, the French Tabatière series and the Russian Krnka). The Albini design is unusual however in that its hammer, rather than strike a firing pin directly, is attached via a toggle to a longitudinal striker which moves through a hole in the rear of the receiver into the breech block at firing. Both the striker and firing pin move in the same line as the rifle bore. No other adopted military rifle has such a feature and it is wholly dispositive in identifying an Albani rifle.
Drawing back the hammer of the Albini and setting it to full-cock withdraws the striker from the breech-block allowing the block to be lifted. Half-cock keeps the breech locked by the striker.
The breech block houses a captive, longitudinal, spring-loaded firing pin which is struck by the cylindrical striker, the back end of which is attached to the hammer via a screw through the hammer nose. When fired, the hammer moves forward moving the striker into the back of the breech block, spanning both the receiver and breech block, effectively locking the block in place while simultaneously striking the firing pin at ignition. Pulling the hammer back withdraws the striker from the breech block unlocking the action and allowing the block to be lifted by means of a small fixed knob on the right side of the block. Lifting the block rotates it about its pivot pin. Primary extraction is accomplished in the manner of the U.S. Allin, by having the top of the breech block press against the extractor arms in its last few degrees of forward rotation as it lies on top of the barrel. In the Albini design, as the block comes to rest atop the barrel, it bears against two independent extractor arms fitted on either side of the breech block supported by the pivot pin, which engage the cartridge case on each side of its rim and extract the spent case. There is no secondary extraction nor is there any provision for ejection, which must be completed manually.
When the chamber and receiver are clear, a new cartridge is thumb-pressed into the bore and the breech-block lowered. When lowered, the block is initially secured by a small, spring-loaded detent set into the top rear face of the block which engages a matching depression in the face of the receiver. Lowering the block and snapping it into position also fully seats the cartridge and the rifle is again ready to fire.
This pic depicts the breech block open and hammer forward (unnatural configuration) which shows the striker protruding through the back of the receiver. When the arm is loaded and the block is closed the block is locked at the moment of firing by the striker moving forward into the back of the block (where it also strikes the longitudinal firing pin).
The stocks of Albini-Braendlin rifles are usually well marked with full roundels on both sides of the stock as well as several smaller inspectors' cartouches on a variety of the parts. The right side buttstock roundel depicts the initials “F. DG.” (which I believe denotes “Fabrique Du Gouvernement” or “Manufactured by the Government” indicating arsenal manufacture) followed by the initials “J.D.” which may have been the main armory controller. These initials circle the top or the roundel with the year of the rifle’s manufacture at the bottom, all surrounding a large script capital “L” denoting King Leopold, the Belgian monarch who reigned from 1865-1909.
The left side buttstock cartouche will indicate year of conversion and the Liège gun maker who converted the rifle to the Albini system (e.g. "PIRLOT FRERES 1867"). The action is inspection marked but not manufacturer marked. The knoxforms of Albini rifles tend to be profusely marked with date, serial number and "GB" in an oval (Gouvernement Belge, Belgian Government) denoting Belgian military use. Other inspection stamps may also be present. The original muzzle-loaders are not believed to have been serially numbered, but the conversions carry serial numbers on their matching cleaning rod, center barrel band, knoxform top, striker and buttplate tang.
My deepest thanks to my Belgian Correspondent for the notes below relating to the Belgian Albini
- the "JH 58" on the lock: Lock made in 1858 wich means that the Albini rifle illustrated is a 53/67, the 41/53/67's having dates before 1853.
- K = 11th Line Regiment
Like the Terssen, and showing its French lineage, the Albini-Braendlin is most commonly seen fitted with a back-action lock, two simple barrel bands and a relatively large, elaborate nosecap. The Albini has a locking bolt that is connected to the body of the hammer, when the hammer moves to full cocked it allows the breechblock handle to be lifted. Then the cartridge can be added or removed from the action. The breech block is then closed and the rifle is ready to be fired.
M1777/67 Infantry Rifle (Fusil d'Infanterie Mle 1777/67): This version, mounted with a forward lock is scarce. It was issued to smaller units called "compagnies sedentaires" (stationary units, that is, disciplinary (guard) units and fortress artillery units). The Mle 1777/67 was converted from Belgian 1777 type rifles. This is the generic name given to the early flintlock rifles fitted with forward locks that were copies of the French models Mle 1777, Mle An XI and Mle 1822. Liège arms manufacturers were already making these rifles before Belgian independence in 1830; first for the French, and then later for the Dutch occupiers of Belgium. These series of Belgian 1777 type rifles had the official designations: Fusils n° 1 ordinaires/1777 corrigé (1777 No.1 Common Rifles, improved); Fusils n° 1 avec matières éprouvées/1777 corrigé (1777 Rifle No. 1 with substantial modifications and proofed); and Fusil modèle belge dit de 1er qualité (Belgian Model Rifle 1st Quality). These latter rifles are the rifles that were subsequently modified to the Albini-Braendlin system. For the most part, these rifles had already been converted to caplock rifles by the time they were again converted to metallic cartridge breech-loaders.
M1841/53/67 and M1853/67 Infantry Rifle (Fusil d'Infanterie Mle 1841/53/67 and Mle 1853/67): This is the most commonly encountered model. Issue was to line-infantry regiments, the grenadier regiments and "chasseur" (“hunter” literally but more properly “skirmisher”) regiments. It was converted from both earlier M1841 smooth bored infantry percussion muskets (which had undergone conversion to add rifling in 1853), and from later newly-made M1853 rifled muskets.
Fusil d'Infanterie Mle 1841/53/67 and Mle 1853/67
M1873 Infantry Rifle (Fusil d'Infanterie Mle 1873): These are newly made Albini rifles based on the M1853/67 Albini, but utilizing an extractor patterned after the more effective Terssen system.
SHORT RIFLES, CARBINES & SPECIAL VERSIONS
M1777/1873 Police Carbine: (Mousqueton de Gendarmerie Mle 1777/1873): The Mousqueton, or gendarmerie carbine, was another Dresse-Laloux conversion. Fitted with a forward lock, this carbine is very scarce. It is a modification of the early flintlock AN IX Gendarmerie Carbine converted to percussion in 1841 and rifled in 1853. It was carried by the Gendarmerie and utilized as a Cadet rifle in schools. It mounted a newly made Gendarmerie socket bayonet consisting of a new Albini socket with a short elbow fitted to a blade from an old M1841 socket bayonet. This arm shares the action of the M1867 rifle but is chambered for the 11.4x42 mm cartridge. A true carbine, it is 1150 mm long (45.25 in) with a 680 mm (26.75 in) barrel. The butt is plain and the mounts are brass.
Model 1873 Musketoon: (Mousqueton de Gendarmerie Mle 1873): Built with smaller back action locks, from 1873 on this was a completely new made Albini carbine, with a cheek-piece on the left side of the butt and mounts of iron instead of brass. Like the M1777/1873, this model was chambered for the bullet of the rifle, but in a shorter case (11.4x42). It was issued with newly made Gendarmerie socket bayonets and is always marked "W".
Model 1873/1901 (Fusil lisse de Gendarmerie (“Police smoothbore gun”): This was an awkward carbine intended to be used against smugglers. Made in 1901 from obsolete M1841/67 and M1853/67 Albinis, it was shortened to 1,130 mm (44.5 in), smooth bored with sights removed and used a brass case filled with .80 lead balls. It carried no bayonet and, like the Model 1873 Musketoon, is always marked "W."
The Albini-Braendlin rifle was fitted with both the converted M1841/67 socket bayonet (identified by the off-center bridge and brazing lines on the socket) as well as newly-made M1867 bayonets. Scabbards were leather body with a metal hilt or mouthpiece and metal ferrule. If marked they carry numbers denoting a regimental roll number (1st) and year of issue (second)
Ramp-and-leaf, graduated from 200 to 1,100 m (220 to 1,205 yds). Later sight was graduated from 300 to 1,400 m (330 to 1,530 yds), and for up to 2,100 m (2,295 yds) if fitted with the Halkin Modification (1880).
Above is depicted the standard infantry rifle sights for the Mle 1841/53/67 and Mle 1853/67. In 1880, the HALKIN-modification was fitted consisting of the sights being altered (extended to the right side) to allow indirect shooting.
The 1880 HALKIN-modification of the rear sight. Volley sights were added with corresponding "button" sight affixed to the right side of the center barrel band, Next two photos below)
SPECIFICATIONS, STATISTICS & DATA
Cartridge: 11 mm Belgian Albini, aka 11 x 50R, 11 mm Belgian Comblain, 11 mm Terssen, 11 mm Luxembourg Remington.
The case was originally a brass foil, thinly-rolled body, covered w/ beige paper, and w/solid brass drawn head. It was 50-53 mm in length and loaded with a charge of 25 grams of Black powder topped by a round-nosed, Chassepot-type, 25 gram of soft lead bullet, developing a muzzle velocity of 420 mps (about 1370 fps).
Bullet diameter: 11.25 mm
Neck diameter: 11.82 mm
Base diameter: 14.96 mm
Rim diameter: 17.36 mm
Case length: 50.4 mm
Total length: 65.7 mm
Total weight: 41 grams
Belgian conversions of infantry rifles to the Albini System were undertaken by Manufacture d'Armes de l'Etat (MAE) (?) in Liège, Belgium, which was established in 1838 as Belgium’s national armory, although components and sub-assemblies appear to have been contracted out. The M1873 Infantry Rifle was more than likely produced in Liege by Fabrique d'Armes de l'Etat or the Henri Pieper & Co.
Conversion work appears to have been undertaken by several Liège firms, including Pirlot Frères and Dresse-Laloux & Cie., in Liège.
The total number of Albini-Braendlin system arms produced is unknown,
- Overall Length: 1,360 mm (53.5 inches)
- Weight, empty: 4.5 Kg (10 lbs)
- Barrel Length: 876 mm (34.50 inches)
- Rifling: 4-groove; RH, concentric
Finish: The rifles, including conversion components, were finished entirely in the white.
UTILIZATION BY OTHER COUNTRIES
PREDECESSOR & FOLLOW-ON RIFLES
Predecessor Rifle(s): 1853 Belgium Pattern Percussion Rifle
Photo Credit: https://collegehillarsenal.com/belgian-m-1853-enfield-rifle-musket-about-mint
Follow-On Rifle(s): M1882 Belgian Comblian
The business end of the Albini. ilustrated here to compare with the Terssen which is occationally confused with the Albini.
Volley sight corresponding "button" forward sight affixed to the right side of the center barrel band
M1873 Belgian Albini-Braendlin: Photos courtesy of Rik Desmet, Belgium
I visited your site "Military Rifles in the Age of Transition 1865-88 (non-US)" with great intrest. Concerning the Belgian section of the "Main Rifles Index" I made up a list of all the Belgian weapons in use during that time; It might be of intrest to you (as genearal information) . I give you the official Belgian denomination with a few descriptive comments.
1) Fusil d'infanterie Mle 1841/53/67 and Mle 1853/67: most common. For line-infantry regiments, the grenadier regiments and "chasseur" regiments. Made from the earlier smooth bored infantry percussion rifles Model 1841 (new 41 back action lock) that got rifling in 1853 and from the later newly made Model 1853.
2) Fusil d'Infanterie Mle 1777/67: quite scarce with forward lock. For smaller units that we called "compagnies sedentaires", for disciplinary units and for fortress artillery units.
Belgian 1777 type rifles, general name given to the early flintlock rifles (forward locks), that were copies of the French Models 1777, An XI and 1822. In fact the Liège arms manufacturers, before Belgian independence in 1830, were already making these rifles, first for the French, later for the Dutch occupants fo Belgium.
These series of Belgian 1777 type rifles had the official designations:
- Fusils n° 1 ordinaires/1777 corrigé
- Fusils n° 1 avec matières éprouvées/1777 corrigé (= modified)
- Fusil modèle belge dit de 1er qualité
It was these rifles that got altered the Albini-way.
3) Fusil d'Infanterie Mle 1873: newly made Albini-rifles based on the 53-model, but with a different extractor, one like the Terssen-system. (KD note: See link to example M1873 below)
4) Mousqueton de Gendarmerie Mle 1777/1873 : forward lock, very scarce; modifications of the early flintlock Gendarmerie Carbine An IX, percussioned in 1841 and rifled in 1853. Carried by the Gendarmerie and in Cadet schools. Newly made Gendarmerie-socket bayonet: new Albini-socket, short elbow, blade from an old 41-socket.
5) Mousqueton de Gendarmerie Mle 1873 : Backward lock. From 1873 on, totally newly made Albini carbine, smaller type back action lock, same bullet, shorter case (see pictures). Newly made Gendarmerie socket bayonet. Always marked W.
6) Fusil lisse de Gendarmerie : awkward carbine, used against smugglers; made in 1901 from some of the old 41/67 and 53/67 Albini's : shortened to 1m13, bore made smooth (no rifling anymore), sights taken off, using brass case filled with 80 lead balls. no bayonet. Always marked W.
The Albini rifles and the Terssen carbines had their last modifications in 1880, the HALKIN-modification: the sights were altered (extended to the right side) to allow indirect shooting. (Webmaster's note: that is, volley sights were added with corresponding "button" sight affixed to the right side of the center barrel band)
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Updated: Oct 28, 2021
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