M1870 Russian Berdan II Infantry, Dragoon & Cossack Rifles
GENERALLY: The Russian Berdans (M1868 Russian Berdan I and this rifle) were designed by General Hiram Berdan, a prolific designer who also designed the Spanish Berdan system (see Russian Berdan I) This rifle is a bolt action pattern with a comparatively small bolt which acts as the rifle's sole locking lug, locking against the split bridge receiver as so many bolt action arms of this period did (e.g., Gras and Beaumont). It fired a 10.66mm Berdan primed cartridge (see note @ Berdan I). Sights are graduated in Russin arshin. The rifle was initially built in England, and later by the Russians at several Imperial arsenals when they received appropriate machinery and were up and running.
The Russian Berdan II Dragoon rifle was issued to mounted infantry, that is, infantry which was "horse-mobile" but who's tactics were not to fight from horseback. This rifle is is very similar to the Infantry rifle, being only slightly shorter and identifiable by the sling slots through the wood of the forearm and butt, rather than the more conventional swivels of the infantry rifle. See photos linked below.
The Berdan II Cossack Rifle is another variant pictured below. The Cossack model is readily distinguished by it's button-like trigger and was employed by cavalry units, whose tactics were primarily fighting from its horses.
A carbine variant was also built and issued for gendarmerie and light cavalry units but I don't have information on the carbine.
In Finnish Civil War of 1918, troops stationed in Finland still had Berdan rifles warehoused and some 2nd line troops continued to employ the Berdan II. During this conflict, newer rifles were not always available in needed numbers, so Berdans saw limited use on both sides. As the Finnish military was not interested in the obsolete Berdan, in 1919 some 2.500 were issued to Suojeluskunta General HQ. When Suojeluskunta obtained modern rifles the Berdans were returned to Finnish Army stores. It appears that the Finns retained the Berdan rifles in store until scrapping them started at 1945. In 1955 the remaining 1,029 were sold abroad, mostly in the US throught surplus arms dealers. The Russian military never sold off any of their Berdan rifles and they were presumably scrapped. This accounts for the small influx of Berdans into the US in the late 1950's from Finland, their universally mis-matched bolts, and the relative scarcity of Berdan II rifles, considering that well in excess of 3,000,000 were manufactured between 1870 and 1891. The Carbines and Cossack rifles were declared obsolete by the 1920's and virtually none made it into the US. Dragoon rifles were included with infantry rifles and received the same fate as them, which accounts for the small number of Dragoon pattern arms occationally seen in the US.
PHOTO: The rifle shown is a M1870 Russian Berdan II Infantry rifle manufactured by the Imperial Arsenal in Tula. Rifles were also manufactured in Birmingham England (small initial order) and at the Imperial Arsenals in Izhevsk and Sestroryetsk.
DISTINGUISHING CHARECTERISTICS: The rifle is very conventional looking for single shot military bolt-actions of this period except for it's slender bolt and very short, small pear shaped bolt handle that, when fully cocked, turned only at about 45 degrees and not the 90 degrees seen on virtually all other bolt-actions. It is a long rifle (965mm overall) and most examples carry cryllic markings on the top of the barrel adjacent to the serial number ahead of the knoxform as depicted in the photos below. The top of the knoxform is stamped with the Russian Imperial Czarist eagle with cypher. The inspector's cypher is punched on the barrle, receiver and other parts. Dragoon & Cossack Rifles are distinguished above and via pics below.
The M1870 Russian Berdan II Dragoon Model
Photo and text Credit: http://www.jaegerplatoon.net/RIFLES5.htm
The M1870 Russian Berdan II Cossak Model
Photo and text Credit: http://www.jaegerplatoon.net/RIFLES5.htm
The Russian Berdan II bolt at full cock, ready to fire.
The Russian Berdan II bolt fully retracted, ready to load. Sight is up.
Business end. Note unique rod, the adjustability of the front sight (unusual in a military rifle of this age, 1870) and the long range sight pin affixed to the right side of the front barrel band. The volley sight is a later addition.
Top view, bolt partway open ...
Alert Reader S. Henderson advises that the words on the barrel translate to:
"Imperial Tula Armaments(or Firearms) Factory"
Below; the volley front sight, fixed to the middle barrel band.
Rear sight, showing the long range volly notch on the slide that corresponds with the volly sighting pin on the right side of the forward barrel band. This was a later modification .
M1870 Russian Berdan II markings
I received the following letter from Mr. Ilija Stanislevik who was kind enough to translate certain Russian inscriptions for me. The references to the Berdan II markings are first. Below there are references to Russian M1865/67 Krnka markings, which are linked via the "Picture Number"
Subj: Re: Translation, Krnka etc.
Date: 8/24/2003 12:54:59 PM Mountain Standard Time
Hello Mr. Doyon,
I think that all five pictures came to me in good condition. The texts written in Russian pre-revolution orthography are readable and here are the results of my translation:
Picture 1 (see below)
First I give you the text following the digits "41", transliterated in Latin letters: "IMPERATORSKIY TULSKIY ORUZHEYNIY ZAV. 1884".
The text reads: "Imperial Arms Factory of Tula" or "Imperial Tula Arms Factory", followed by four digits, probably denoting year. Another meaning is "Emperor's Arms Factory of Tula". I am not sure which English nuance reflects best the Russian original. The word "Imperial" is in somewhat different font. Was it punched at later date than the rest?
The final word, meaning "factory", is abbreviated to 3 letters followed by dot. The full-length version should be "ZAVOD", of course in Cyrillic.
Picture 2 (see below)
The transliterated text is: "IZHEVSKIY ORUZHEYNIY ZAVOD N". The final N is in calligraphy imitating handwriting. In Russian this means "number". I expect that some digits follow there, denoting the number of the factory.
It reads "IZHEVSKIY ORUZHEYNIY ZAVOD N30.."
"Izhevsk Arms Factory No.30.." (Keith Doyon Note: The digits "3 0" are the first of several digits denoting the serial number)
Four digits (year 1859) beneath the dash-dot-dash line. Initials "T.O.Z." above.
Given the context, this would be an acronym for "TULSKIY ORUZHEYNIY ZAVOD" which reads "Tula Arms Factory".
The initials above the dash-dot-dash line are "S.O.Z.". Is it "SESTRORETSKIY ORUZHEYNIY ZAVOD" which means "Sestroretsk Arms Factory"?
The marking to the left is made of Cyrillic capital letter P followed by double Latin I (Roman numeral 2?).
M1870 Russian Berdan II Dragoon Rifle
All photos this page are through the kind courtesy of Jos vanHelden
Subj: Berdan Dragoon
Date: 02-02-17 12:23:58 EST
From: email@example.com (J v Helden)
Here are some details about the Berdan II Dragoon rifle.
These Dragoon rifles became part of the Imperial Russian Army by order of the Tsar dated 26 September 1870.
At the beginning of the Russian-Turkish War in 1876 the Russian Army had 2352 Dragoon rifles.
The total quantity ever made is unknown to me, but except this piece in my own collection I have never seen them, so the survival rate must be very low.
Inf. rifle Dragoon
Total lenght 1350mm 1230mm
barrel lenght 831mm 716mm
barrel size 17,9mm 17,0mm
hold by screws springs
rear sight rifle rear sight carbine rear sight
sling provision sling swivels square holes in stock
Other types produced are carbines and kozak rifles.
There must be 30.000 pieces made by Colt (info from some books), I have never seen one but a Canadian dealer told me he had several Colt produced Berdan II rifles during the years. Prior to 1874 most Berdan II rifles (and others) are made by NA & A Co Ltd Birmingham.
After 1874 the Russians had enough machinery to produce them in their own factories.
Jos van Helden
Page built February 7, 1999
Revised September 26, 1999
Revised February 19, 2002
Revised August 24, 2003
Updated: Nov 7, 2021