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M1854/67 & M1862/67 Austrian Wänzl

Infanterie-Gewehr M1854/67 & M1862/67

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Infanterie-Gewehr M1854/67

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

   Austria is today a landlocked country in the heart of central Europe which, over the centuries, has also been at the heart of political and military turmoil.  To give you an idea of how tumultuous the 19th to the 20th century was for Austria, consider that of the seven different countries bordering Austria today (Switzerland to the east, Bavarian Germany and the Czech Republic to the north, Slovakia and Hungary on the East, Slovenia and Venetian Italy to the south) only Switzerland existed in 1864 when Austria followed its German Confederation ally, Prussia, against the Danes during The Second Schleswig War.  For 600 years, from 1282 to its final humbling after the First World War in 1918, Austria had been a possession of the Hapsburg family, and for those six centuries Austria’s history was completely entwined with Hapsburg history. Over the centuries, a succession of wars gradually but continuously whittled away at the Austrian Empire.

   A turning point accelerating the decline was the “Seven Weeks War” of 1866, in which Austria was soundly defeated by Prussia, forced out of political affairs with Germany, and gave up its control over Venetian, Italy.  In 1867, Hungarian nationalists took advantage of Austria’s current weakness and forced Emperor Franz Josef I to sign an agreement giving Hungary equal rights with Austria. Called the “Dual Monarchy", the Austrian empire and the kingdom of Hungary were united under one ruler, combining foreign affairs, war and the treasury, but each had separate governments. This left both the Slavs in the Empire and Magyars of Hungary under the rule of the German speaking Austrians, resulting in years of struggle for independence culminating in assassination of Arch Duke Ferdinand, then heir to the Austrian throne. This assassination set off WWI, at the conclusion of which, Austria-Hungary was carved into the new states of Austria, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, with other parts of the Empire going to Italy, Poland, Romania, and Yugoslavia. 

GENERALLY

   The Wänzl is a conversion rifle, all of which started life as some model of the Lorenz rifle.  The Lorenz (named after its designer, weapons engineer Josef Lorenz [1814-1879]), was one of the most utilized rifle muskets in history. It was employed in every major war in Europe between 1859 and 1866, as well as being one of the major weapons of the US Civil War (1861-1865). More than 325,000 Lorenz rifle muskets were used by both the North and the South during that conflict and Austria employed them as late as the 1864 Second Schlesswig War with Denmark.  It had a well-earned reputation as the best muzzleloader of its time.

   But despite the Lorenz’s qualities, the Austrians had nevertheless been badly outgunned and thoroughly defeated by the Prussians using their Dreyse needle guns during the Seven Weeks War of 1866.  The peace that they were forced to accept was a national humiliation and the Austrians understood completely that they would have to upgrade quickly. The Lorenz had proven both longer ranged and more accurate than the Dreyse, but was considerably slower firing than the Prussian self contained cartridge breech loader.  Something that was both acceptably accurate and much faster firing would need to be put into service at the soonest possible moment. 

   In response to Austria’s immediate needs for an effective breechloader to replace Austria’s large store of both M1854 and M1862 Lorenz rifles on hand, a conversion action suitable to upgrade the Lorenz was developed and submitted by Viennese gunsmith Franz Wänzl.  Wänzl’s idea was generally in the manner of the Mont Storm principle, consisting of a forward-thrown lifting block which opens the breech to allow insertion of a cartridge and which is thereafter locked into place by either a cam or, as in the case of the Wänzl, by the expedient of the hammer overlapping the breech block at the moment of firing.  This idea was not new, and was then being similarly followed by the Americans converting their post-Civil War M1861 and M1863 Springfields and the Spanish conversions of their M1867 series Berdan conversion muskets and short rifles.

 

   After extensive but hurried trials, the forward lifting block Wänzl conversion for muzzleloaders was adopted as Austria’s interim measure until a modern breech loader could be developed and fielded. Slightly more modern than Berdan and early Allin conversions, Wänzl conversions involved cutting and threading Lorenz barrels to accept the receiver as in the later (1868+) Allin and M1867 British Snider conversions, rather than a simple cut-out taken from the top of the barrel.  This resulted in a much stronger action at only minimal additional conversion cost.  Most all of the original parts from the Lorenz rifles of both models were retained in the conversion.

 

OPERATING MECHANISM

   The Wänzl is a lifting block design, similar in appearance and operation to the M1868 and later American Trapdoor Springfields. The rifle is single shot, and is loaded by drawing the hammer back to full cock and lifting the breechblock up and forward by the prominent lifting handle at the right rear of the block. The cartridge is hand inserted most of the way into the chamber and the spring loaded block is dropped back into the receiver, chambering the cartridge. The breechblock is locked at the moment of firing by a pin attached internally to the hammer which moves forward in the same line as the bore through the rear of the receiver and into the back of breechblock. This manner is very similar to the Albani‑Braendlin, except that the firing pin is not a longitudinal extension of the locking bolt, but rather, runs diagonally through the block, as does the Snider and Allin. Like most conversions of the day, the Wänzl does not have an ejector, the spent cases being tipped out of the rifle prior to reloading with a fresh cartridge.

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MARKINGS

  Numerous markings exist, depending upon the manufacturing of the original Lorenz rifle muskets; however, all of the lock plates appear to be marked ahead of the hammer with a three digit number denoting original year of manufacture(e.g. 858). The original Lorenz rifles were all hand finished, each one varying slightly.  The tails of the lockplates are marked with the Austrian eagle which is sometimes, but not always found on the top of the knoxform as well.  Barrel numbers such as 67 or 69 would denote year of barrel manufacture.  3-digit lock numbers denote year of manufacture (“858" for 1858, “862" for 1862, etc.)

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CARTOUCHE

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DISTINGUISHING CHARACTERISTICS

   The Wänzl action consists of an "Allin" type forward pivoting breechblock, actuated by a fat, beavertail-like lifting lever made as a solid piece with the block and jutting from the right rear. The Wänzl has a distinctive, heavy nosecap, and is equipped with a short, stubby leaf sight. Like the Lorenz from which it was converted, the lower sling swivel is mounted at the bottom of an extended lower tang and the upper sling swivel mounts on a transverse bolt through the forestock just below the upper band. The nosecap is a very elaborate affair, incorporating a barrel band. The distance between the nosecap and the upper band is very close, about 100mm (4 in).

   There are at least two models of Wänzl, the Inf. Gew M1854/67, and the Inf. Gew M1862/67. While the Wänzl conversions are very closely similar, the major difference between the M1854/67 and M1862/67 is the design of the lock plate, that of the earlier rifle being significantly thicker and extending 2-3mm out from the stock; the lockplate of the later rifle being, like the British Snider for example, flush with the wood. An identical evolution of design can be seen by comparing early American trapdoors, such as the M1865 and M1866 with later variants such as the M1873 and M1884. The lock plate of the earlier Wänzl also extends up and ahead of the right side of the receiver. Both models’ lock plates are secured by serpentine plates on the opposite side of the stock, but the M1862/67 lock plate is also secured at its back corner by an additional screw which seats into an escutcheon. The left side of the buttstock of the M1854/67 features a quite prominent cheek rest which is absent on the M1862/67 Wänzl (see photos below). 

   There also exists a variant of the Wänzl fitted with a breech block mounting a center-fire firing pin, that clearly fires a center-fire 13.9mm Wänzl cartridge. I have not been able to find written references to this rifle, but the sample examined was fitted with a Liège manufactured barrel, an M1858 lock plate, and an upper tang that appeared to be marked “Sweitzer ___AZ”. Unit markings on the buttstock were worn, but appeared consistent with Austrian service. The top flat of the barrel knoxform was marked “69,” which would be consistent with year of conversion.  

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SHORT RIFLES, CARBINES & SPECIAL VERSIONS

Model 1866 Gendarmerie Carbine (Extra-Corps-Gewehre M1853/66 and M1863/66): These gendarmerie (national police) carbines were converted from the earlier capping muzzle loading Lorenz gendarmerie versions, the M1853 having an iron barrel and large lock plate and the M1863 being fitted with a steel barrel and small lock plate similarly to the rifle versions the Lorenz-to-Wänzl.   The 26 ½ in tapered, octagon to round barrel is mounted with a single barrel band and an elaborate nose cap.  Sling swivels are fixed under the barrel band and separately on the lower butt.  Like the Lorenz from which they were converted, they accept the M1854 socket bayonet.  Extra-Corps-Gewehre M1853/66 and M1863/66 Wänzls were issued to sappers, pioneers and ancillary troops in addition to the gendarmerie.

 

Specifications:

length – approx 1,052mm (41 ½ in)

barrel - approx 610mm (24 in)

weight - approx 9.1 pounds

Ramp and leaf rear sights are graduated to 500 paces

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Model 1866 Gendarmerie Carbine

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M1854/66 & M1862/66 Jäger-Stutzen (Short Hunting Rifle): The conversions of old Jäger-Stutzen are considerably different from the other Wänzl varieties. These were a shorter version of the 1849 Kammerbusche and kept the large, heavy 28" tapered and flared octagon barrel, the crown and front 4 ½ inches of which is turned down to allow it to accept a 26 ½" long sword bayonet which is secured to a small bayonet lug on the right side.   The bore was reduced to 13.9mm (.54 caliber), presumably via sleeving.

   This Wanzl version has a nosecap but is assembled without barrel bands.  Rather, the forestock is pinned to the barrel through the left side of the stock.  The upper sling swivel is mounted transversely through the forestock above the cleaning rod funnel and the lower sling swivel is independently mounted half way along the base edge of the buttstock.

  The Jäger-Stutzen Wanzl is also fitted with an unusual sliding "banana" rear sight adjustable to 1,000 paces similar to that of the M1853/66 Danish Snider Naval Rifle

   The trigger guard incorporates a prominent spurred trigger guard, which will later be adapted to the post 1867 versions of the M1867 Austrian Werndl, although fascinatingly not the the first (1867) production run of the Werndls!)

  Interestingly, the original rifle was initially made without a ramrod, as the loading rod was carried in the bayonet scabbard, but upon conversion there were two variations made to the forestock for subsequently carrying the ramrod.

 

Specifications:

Length: approx 43.3” (the M1862/67 is 10mm shorter)

Barrel: length approx 28"

Also chambered for the 14x33R Rimfire cartridge

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M1854/66 & M1862/66 Jäger-Stutzen

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M1854/66 & M1862/66 Jäger-Stutzen

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Wallgewehr M1872:   

  This 1420mm (56.9") long fortress model was intended for use on the ramparts of forts. It is fitted with a Wänzl action and, like the Wänzl Jäger-Stutzen, it is also mounted with nosecap but no barrel bands, two barrel seating pins through the left side of the stock serving to secure the barrel to stock.  Unlike the Jäger-Stutzen it si without barrel bands, not being intended to be carried.

(Photos Needed and Would Be Appreciated)

 

BAYONET

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SIGHTS

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SPECIFICATIONS, STATISTCIS & DATA

Cartridge:  13.9mm Wänzl, aka: 14x33R rimfire. This cartridge was a cylindrical, copper rimmed case with a load of  4.38 grams Black powder. The Bullet was  round-nosed, 29.7grams of  lead w/ lubricating grooves. Muzzle velocity: 390 m.p.s. (about 1,270 fps). There exists a centerfire version of this cartridge, but I do not have definitive information.

Dimensions: 

Bullet diameter:  14.50mm

Neck diameter:  14.77mm

Base diameter:  15.39mm

Rim diameter:  17.57mm

Case length:  32.7mm

Total length:  51mm

Manufacturing Data:  Austrian gunsmiths making the M1854/1862 Lorenz operated mainly in Vienna, with attending proofs usually stamped on the barrel, usually on the top knoxform flat. However, these weapons were also built by smaller manufacturing concerns throughout the Austrian Empire and in Liège, Belgium.

Conversions of the Lorenz to Wänzl were undertaken by Österreichische Waffenfabriks-Gesellschaft, Steyr, beginning in 1867. About 120,000 total are said to have been converted.

Overall Length:  1,334mm (52.5 in)

Weight, empty:  4.28Kg (9.42 lbs)

Barrel Length:  885mm ( 34.8 in)

Rifling:  4-groove; RH, concentric

Sight:  Ramp-and-leaf graduated from 400 to 800 paces (436 to 613 meters; 475 to 673 yds), with apparently a 300 pace (232 m; 252 yd) battle sight notch.

UTILIZATION BY OTHER COUNTRIES

   Wänzls were captured by Australian forces from the Chinese at the conclusion of the Boxer Rebellion, and were briefly used by the “Victorian Naval Contingent”, and are marked “V.N.C.”. Although not officially adopted, Wänzls have also been marked, “O.V.S.” (Oranje Vrij Staat, Orange Free State), and were likely employed by the Boers at least during the first of the two Boer Wars (see South Africa).

PREDECESSOR & FOLLOW-ON RIFLES

Predecessor Rifle(s):  Lorenz Infanteriegewehr M1854 

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Lorenz Notes

   Austrian gunsmiths often used older lock plates (flintlock and tubelock) for the M1854s and altered them by filling in the screw or pin holes. When these stores were exhausted, they (which they?) were cast in one piece, with no flint or tubelock holes inletted.

   The M1854 was produced in two major variations, "Variant I" and "Variant II". The Variant I rifle used a simple block sight graduated for 300 Schritt (225m; Schritt is an Austrian term for pace) on top of the barrel, and was to be used in the companies assigned to the center of an Austrian regiment. The Variant II rifle used a flip‑up leaf sight graduated to 900 Schritt (675m), and was to be used by the flank companies in a regiment, or sharpshooter battalions in an army corps. Some of these rifles also had cheek pieces carved into the buttstocks.

   In 1861, the weapon underwent minor cosmetic changes. The lock plate was now of a simpler design and unique to the rifle. It had the same shape as the English P1853 rifled‑musket.  Sling swivels were moved into the stock (in the buttstock and between the middle and lower barrel bands) instead of being on the middle barrel band and trigger guard. The variations were eliminated, with all weapons produced now being of the Variant II configuration, although some of them also had double‑set triggers.

   Lorenzes were marked on their lock plates with the last three digits of the year of production (860 designating a rifle made in 1860). The Austrians adopted a new version of the Lorenz in 1862, with a steel, rather than iron barrel.

   Exterior finish on the Lorenz rifle‑muskets varied, with some guns blued, others browned and still others, perhaps the majority, polished bright. Most Lorenzes were stocked in beech, stained dark brown. The Lorenz quadrangular socket bayonet featured a diagonal mounting slot.

ADDITIONAL PICTURES

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CORRESPONDENCE

MORE INFORMATION:

Subj:     Wanzl models
Date:    99-12-12
From:    titiger@ix.netcom.com (John Sheehan)
To:        KeithDoyon@MilitaryRifles(.)com

Inf. Gew M1854/67 length - 1335mm, two barrel bands and nosecap.
Inf. Gew M1862/67 length - 1335mm, two barrel bands and nosecap.
Both have sling swivels on the underside of the butt below the cheek piece with the second barrel band between the barrel bands, mounted through the forearm.

Extra-Corps-Gew M 1854/67 length - 1052mm, one barrel band and nosecap.
Extra-Corps-Gew M 1862/67 length - 1052mm, one barrel band and nosecap.
Swivels on both are under the butt and single barrel band.

Jagerstutzen M1854/67 length - 1100mm, NO barrel bands with a nosecap, spurred trigger guard with a barrel seating pin through the left side of the stock.

Jagerstutzen M1862/67 length - 1091mm, "same as above"

Wallgewehr 1872 length - 1420mm, NO barrel bands or sling swivels. Two barrel seating pins through the left side of the stock. This was a fortress model which was intended for use on the ramparts of forts. It does have a Wanzl (Albini/Braendlin type) action.

That pretty much encompasses the standard models.

Warmest regards,

John

References

Page Revised: June 13, 1997
Revised April 16, 1999
Revised January 11, 2001

Updated: Oct 28, 2021

Updated Jan 2, 2022

Updated Aug 16, 2022