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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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M1777/67, M1841/53/67, M1853/67 and M1873 Belgian Albini-Braendlin
Albini-Braendlin (also Braendlin-Albini) System
General: 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 (q.v.), the Amsler-Milbank (q.v.), the Wänzl (q.v.) and U.S Allin (q.v.) 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 (q.v.)). 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 (q.v.)).
The Belgian Albinis
M1777/1867, M1841/53/67, M1853/67 and M1873 Albini-Braendlin: (Fusil d'Infanterie Mle 1777/1867, etc.)
After trials conducted in 18__, 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 (q.v.) style extractors) caused the Belgians to adopt the Terssen conversion design as an interim measure the following year. As Albinis and later Comblains (q.v.) 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 Gras (q.v.). 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 ____ (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 M18__ kammerladders (chamberloaders) which were also later converted to cartridge breech-loaders as the M18__ Landmark (q.v.)).
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.
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 (q.v.), the French Tabatière series (q.v.) and the Russian Krnka (q.v.)). 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. Only Belgium’s other contemporary rifle, the Terssen, shares this feature in a military 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 were not serially numbered [confirm?] but the conversions carry serial numbers on their matching cleaning rod, center barrel band, knoxform top, striker and buttplate tang.