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M1870 Russian Berdan II
(Pekhotniya vintovka Berdana obr. 1870g)
M1870 Russian Berdan II
M1870 Russian Berdan II
For an overview of the Historical Context in which the M1870 Russian Berdan No.2 rifle evolved, reference is made to the discussion at M1868 Russian Berdan No.1 (Berdan I).
The late 1860s was a period of exceptionally rapid and significant development in the world of small arms. The self-contained metallic cartridge was just coming into its own and the rifles designed for such cartridges were evolving at breakneck speed. After the American Civil War ending in 1865 and the astonishingly quick end to the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, the era of the muzzle-loader was well and truly over. “Arms races” are not an invention of the 20th century, and the mid 19th century saw one of the great ones. The arms race to field the most effective breech-loaders was on and it saw progress the likes of which would not be seen again until the age of wartime military aviation in the mid 20th century. The just adopted M1868 Berdan I was superseded by this M1870 Russian Berdan II before the former had even made an impression.
The M1870 Russian Berdan II was the immediate follow-on to the new-built (not a conversion) Berdan I design, which was initially developed by Hirum Berdan but fine-tuned in conjunction with the Russian designer, inspector and envoy Colonel Alexander P. Gorlov. In December of 1867, the Russian Empire contracted with Colt’s for production of the Berdan I. But as early as the summer of 1868, Berdan had traveled to England and was already working on improving his “third type” action, which by this time had seen improvement via the work of Gorlov and his assistant, Gunius, substituting a “sliding breech” (which would become what today is referred to as a turning bolt, or simply “bolt action”) in place of the “locking bolt” that was his then current lifting block design.
In October of 1869, before Colt had even completed delivery on its Berdan I contract, Berdan was presenting his newest design directly to Alexander II (r.1855-1881) and to the Russian military. Despite Gorlov’s objections and strong efforts to keep the Berdan I as Russia’s primary rifle design, it appears that the robust simplicity of the Berdan II coupled with a strong Russian desire to use the more simply manufactured Berdan II as a springboard into modern domestic arms production won the day.
Russia signed a contract with Birmingham Small Arms Company (BSA) for the manufacture and delivery of 30,000 Berdan II rifles as well as the manufacture by, and delivery from, Greenwood & Bately of Leeds, England, of the tools and machinery needed to be able to manufacture the Berdan II rifle locally. The rifle became part of the Imperial Russian Army by direct order of the Tsar, dated 26 September 1870, and manufacturing got under way at the Tula arsenal in 1874 and at Ishevsk in 1878.
Russian manufacturing at the time had not yet entered the industrial age and so its arms making needed significant modernization, not the least of which was its then primarily serf-based labor force. Because of delays in getting the tooling for manufacturing the Berdans fully installed and operational, initially at Tula and subsequently at Izhevsk and Sestroryetsk where the Russian-built Berdans were to be made, most Berdan II rifles manufactured prior to 1874 were built by Birmingham Small Arms in Great Britain. Indeed, British arms manufacturing expertise played no small part in the development of modern Russian industry, including assistance to the Russians in building a state of the art ammunition factory in St. Petersburg, beginning in 1869.
The Berdan-designed Russian M1870 rifle is quite similar to the Berdan I with the exception of its action. The new rifle is a conventional bolt action pattern. It has a small, pear shaped bolt handle, the back of 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., the earlier Chassepot and later Mauser, Gras and Beaumont).
The Berdan II is chambered for the same cartridge as the M1868 Russian Berdan I, a relatively advanced, bottle-necked 10.67 mm Berdan-primed, drawn brass cartridge with paper-patched bullet, which, in nearly identical dimensions and performance, would see its greatest application in the Remington .43 Spanish chambering. The caliber of both Berdan systems (I & II) was 4.2 Russian lines (more precisely 4.23 lines), which corresponds to 10.67 (or, more exactly 10.75) mm, as this cartridge is widely known.
During the October Revolution (Russian civil war, 1917), due to a lack of “3-line” rifles (the 7.62 mm Mosin-Nagants) more than 1,000 Berdan II rifles were used in separate units of the Red Army and units of the Red Guard.
Berdan rifles remained in service with individual police units in rural areas at least until the beginning of 1920. Until December 1925, rural units were armed with Berdan rifles. In the 1930s, “Brodanks” remained in service with foresters. “Berdanki” were still in service with some Soviet military rear echelon divisions as late as the fall-winter of 1941 during battles for Moscow.
The Berdan II was never developed into a repeater, although various cartridge holding devices were fielded to assist in reloading, such as the Krnka quick-loader. In 1892 the excellent Mosin–Nagant, a 3-Line rifle (7.62mm) firing a high velocity smokeless round was adopted by Russia. A small number of Berdan rifles were converted with new barrels, sights, and long handle front lug bolt to fire the higher-pressure 7.62x54R cartridge, but these were not considered adequate and no significant numbers were further converted.
The rifle is mounted in a single piece stock utilizing two screw-retained barrel bands and a very simple, Remington-like nosecap. Originally the stocks were made of walnut, then production switched over to birch. The screw-retained sling swivels for the infantry rifle are mounted ahead of the trigger guard bow and below the upper band. Note however that unlike the lower sling swivel, the upper sling swivel’s screw hole is formed only by bending its tang into a loop through which the band screw passes. The loop forming the screw hole is not solid and sufficient pressure on the sling will allow the tang to straighten, releasing the swivel from the band. Consequently, the majority of Berdan II rifles are seen today missing their upper sling swivels. A cleaning rod is carried in the forestock below the barrel exactly like the Berdan I.
In 18__ Russian Berdan II rifles began receiving modifications to their sights by the addition of long range “volley sights” attributed to __________. Given the mauling at long range that Russian forces received from the Turks employing the Peabody-Martini during the 1877-1878 Russo-Turkish War, it is understandable that they would have pursued being able to use their otherwise excellent Berdan IIs at similar ranges. The modification consisted of the addition of a unique, replaceable sighting pin on the right side of the front band, which was used in conjunction with a new leaf slide with integral sight-notched side extension.
The volley front sight, fixed to the middle barrel band. Rear sight, showing the long range volley notch on the slide that corresponds with the volley sighting pin on the right side of the forward barrel band. This was a later modification .
The Berdan II is a quite conventional, single shot, military bolt‑action rifle of this period and might be confused for other rifles such as the M1870 Italian Vetterli, the M1866 French Chassepot or the M1874 French Gras except for its slender bolt and very short, small pear shaped bolt handle. When fully cocked, the bolt handle turns only about 45 degrees to fully lock and not the 90 degrees seen on virtually all other bolt‑actions. At first blush, without reference to its action, the Berdan II looks quite similar to the Berdan I, its ancestry to the M1893 Mosin-Nagant family being clearly evident. However the Berdan II did away with the complex trigger guard hand grip/trigger spur in favor of a simple bow design with somewhat extended lower tang.
The rear sight is a significant improvement over the rear sight of the Berdan I. It is mounted directly on the barrel, close to but ahead of the receiver, and consists of a separate base with stepped side walls marked on the left side 2, 3, 4 and 5. Like the Berdan I, its leaf pivots at the front of the sight base. The leaf is graduated 6 through 14 in Russin arshin (paces), equivalent to about 427 to 996 meters (467 to1089 yards).
Other features include the windage adjustability of its front sight (unusual in a military rifle of 1870) and, if so equipped, the presence of a long range sight pin affixed to the right side of the front barrel band coupled with a sighting notch on the right side of the rear sight slider.
One distinguishing feature that is distinct from virtually all other rifles of the period is that the barrel muzzle is completely devoid of any crowning. The muzzle end is cut flat, with sharp, perpendicular edges, and not appreciably rounded either around the outside of the barrel, nor at the rifling. From examined specimens, the muzzles of the two short rifles, Dragoon and Cossack, are far thinner and crowned, while those of the carbine are thick and cut perpendicular like that of the infantry rifles.
The Berdan II carries forward the cylindrical head cleaning rod of the Berdan I design and is stowed in the forestock below the barrel, exactly like that of the Berdan I. However, the new Berdan II rod has serrated head sides and is retained by threads screwing into the base of the receiver rather than by a shoulder clipping into the nosecap.
The Russian Berdan II is the classic early single-shot, bolt action military rifle. It is locked by the bolt-guide rib abutting the receiver bridge as the bolt handle is turned down. In that regard it is similar to the M1871 German Mauser and the Mle1874 French Gras which was derived from the M1866 French Chassepot, both of which the Berdan preceded, borrowing from yet earlier rifles such as the German Dryese from two decades previous.
The bolt can be cocked and de-cocked by grasping the disk-like rear end of the bolt body and pulling back to cock, or pulling the trigger and gently releasing.
To operate, the bolt is rotated to the vertical and drawn back extracting and ejecting the spent case. There is no primary extraction, merely the engagement of the case with the extractor mounted in a hollow at the front of the bolt guide rib, gripping the case as it is drawn out of the chamber and back into the receiver. The case is ejected via a spring tensioned ejector protruding from the bottom of the receiver which engages the bottom of the case rim at the bolt’s rear-most travel, flipping the case up and out of the receiver. The bolt is retained by a sear in the ejector engaging a notch on the underside of the bolt. (Simplicity itself, the bolt assembly is removed from the receiver by merely pulling the trigger and depressing the ejector back below its receiver cut-out while withdrawing the bolt assembly). This is not the case for the short rifles and the carbine (see below).
After extracting and ejecting the fired case, a fresh cartridge is then dropped into the receiver and the bolt is pushed forward, simultaneously chambering the cartridge and cocking the action. The bolt is then turned to the right to lock. Uniquely, locking is completed with only a 45 degree rotation of the bolt knob making this feature dispositive for identifying the Berdan II.
In another unusual design choice, guarding against case head splits is not done via vent holes or channels but by leaving about the top 45 degrees of the case rim totally exposed even after the bolt is closed and locked.
All Russian Berdan II rifles carry Cyrillic markings on the top of the barrel between the lower band and the receiver. Some are to be read with the rifle pointing to the right, others with the rifle pointing to the left. Arsenal markings indicate the armory producing the rifle, whether the initial BSA contract which would be marked: “Бирмингамскiй Оружейный заводЪ. No. [serial number] [Imperial eagle]” (“Birmingham Arms Factory. No. “[serial number] [Imperial eagle]), or one of the three Imperial Russian Arsenals, i.e., Tula “No. [serial number] Императорскиiй Тульскiй Оружейный зав. [year]. (Imperial eagle is located on the top flat of the knoxform), Izhevskiy “Ижевскiй заводЪ. No.” [serial number] (year on the right knoxform flat), or Sestroryetsk “[year]. сестроръцкiй Оружейный заводЪ No. [serial number]. Factory cartouches are stamped into the right side of the buttstock.
Depending upon the arsenal, the date of production may follow or precede the arsenal identification or may even appear on the upper right flat of the knoxform, but, depending on the location of the manufacturing date, the serial number will be placed on the opposite side of the arsenal markings.
ирмингамскiй Оружейный заводЪ. No. [serial number] [Imperial eagle]” (Birmingham Arms Factory No. [serial number] Imperial Eagle])
Photo Credit: Mike Plumback
Tula “No. [serial number] Императорскиiй Тульскiй Оружейный зав. [year]
Izhevskiy “Ижевскiй заводЪ. No.” [serial number] (year on the right knoxform flat)
Sestroryetsk “[year]. сестроръцкiй Оружейный заводЪ No. [serial number]
Some variants were produced elsewhere (see the Dragoon Rifle, below) and are so marked, but always in Cyrillic.
Either the top of the receiver or the top of the barrel immediately ahead of the receiver is stamped with inspector’s initials and the Russian Imperial Czarist eagle with cypher, indicating Russian service acceptance. In addition to the barrel, the inspector's cypher is punched on the receiver and other parts.
Unlike the Colt produced Berdan Is, the stock of the Berdan II is cartouche embossed into the right side of the butt stock. It consists of a roundel, in the center of which is the Imperial Czarist eagle in a circle, surrounded by the year of manufacture, and three Cyrillic letters, the exact meaning of which we are currently unaware.
SPECIFICATIONS, STATISTICS & DATA
Overall Length: 1,350 mm (53.2 inches)
Barrel Length: 831 mm(32. inches)
Rifling: 6-groove; RH, concentric, 1.5 turns along the entire length of the barrel.
Sight: Ramp-and-leaf, graduated from 200-1,500 arshin; (142-1,069 m, 156-1,165 yards)
Weight: 4.3 kg (~9.45 lbs)
The later addition of volley sights to the infantry rifles included a front sight post affixed to the right side of the center barrel band and an extended, notched slider on a new rear sight leaf that has additional "long range" markings on the back side of the ladder taking the rangeing up to an astonishing 2200 arshin (1565 meters or 1712 yards). Needless to say, this was not for actual aimed fire in combat but to be used massed, as a form of light artillery.
The arshin came into Russian use in the 16th century, and was standardized by Peter the Great in the 18th century to measure exactly twenty-eight English inches (or 2 1/3 feet, 71.12 cm). Until 1925, the arshin was the basic unit of distance measurement in Russia (then the Soviet Union). The Soviet Union switched to the metric system in 1925.
"Improved" rear sight leaf with volley sight markings on the leaf back
SHORT RIFLES, CARBINES & SPECIAL VERSIONS
All 4 primary models of Berdans & Bayonets: Infantry rifle, Dragoon Rifle, Cossack Rifle and Berdan Carbine. Note the angled socket of the Dragoon bayonet and both the sling slots and the the shorter rear sight bases of the three shorter rifles.
Photo Credit: https_forum.guns.ru
While the Berdan II infantry rifle received enthusiastic acceptance within the regular Imperial army, there was an immediately recognized desire for variations to arm specialty troops, especially horse-mounted units for which the infantry rifle was too long and artillery units who did not need a full-sized infantry rifle.
M1871 Berdan II Dragoon rifle (Драгунская винтовка Бердана обр. 1871г) (Dragunskaya vintovka Berdana obr. 1871g)
Shortly after adoption of the M1870 Berdan II infantry rifle, then Colonel (later Artillery General) V. L. Chebyshev began work developing a version of the Berdan II for Dragoons. In 1871 the Berdan II Dragoon rifle was adopted for horse-mounted infantry and skirmishing units. The Berdan II Dragoon is a shortened infantry rifle, 5 inches shorter overall than the infantry rifle, at 48.4 inches (1230mm) long with a 28.35 inch (700mm) barrel. The action is identical to that of the infantry rifle except that the bolt is additionally retained by a transverse screw tapped into the left side of the receiver with its tip riding in a dedicated slot machined into the left side of the bolt body. Infantry rifles lack both the retaining screw as well as the machined slot in the left side of the bolt.
The transverse bolt retaining screw, which is absent in the Infantry rifle. This prevents unintentional removal of the bolt, which is otherwise easily removed.
Photo Credit: Generous anonymous photo donor – please identify yourself!
The dedicated bayonet lug was removed and a special bayonet issued which mounts by directly utilizing the front sight base with its blade. This bayonet’s ring is offset 90 so that when mounted the blade lays to the right of the barrel. This allows the bayonet elbow to clear the rifle’s cleaning rod. In keeping with the Russians going their own way, the bayonet of the Dragoon was stored and carried not in a dedicated frog and scabbard, but rather in a special scabbard slot co-located with and on the outside of the Dragoon’s sword scabbard so that both sword and bayonet could be carried in the same singular piece of equipment. In addition to having a distinctive socket, the Dragoon bayonet was also slightly shorter than the infantry bayonet at 1733 mm (68.25 inches) long overall.
Note that there is no bayonet lug on the right side of the barrel as with the infantry rifle. The Dragoon bayonet affixes to the front sight, and so the bayonet socket is cut 90 different from the rifle bayonet so that both bayonets lay on the right side of the barrel when mounted to their respective rifles. Note also that the upper barrel band is fixed with a unique double-locking retainer spring. (The lower band is fixed with a conventional band spring.)
While this photo is of a Shashka Dragoon Sabre Model 1881/09 & Scabbard with Nagant Rifle Bayonet, it very closely resembles the M1871 Russian Berdan II Dragoon bayonet scabbard co-located with a Dragoon’s sabre.
One of the distinguishing features of the Dragoon model is its sling provisions, designed to improve the soldier’s ability to carry the rifle on his back. The system consists of rectangular slots cut transversely through the forestock and buttstock, reinforced by elliptical iron or steel escutcheons retained by a pair of small wood screws each. The upper sling slot is located about between the two barrel bands, and the lower slot is centered half way along the lower edge of the buttstock below the wrist.
The two barrel bands are thinner and lighter than those of the rifle and are not screw-retained, rather, they are held by band springs. The nosecap and cleaning rod are similar to those of the infantry model.
Because of the lighter weight of the rifle and its potential use on horseback, the Dragoon rifle was issued with a specially adopted cartridge. Its dimensions are identical to that of the infantry rifle, however it was loaded with a reduced powder charge in order to reduce recoil and improve controllability when employed from horseback. The cartridge is distinguished from the infantry cartridge via a different cartridge pack colored paper, the color wrapper of infantry cartridges being white or light blue, that of reduced charge cartridges being pink.
In consequence of the reduced charge cartridge, the rear sight adopted for the Dragoon became a shortened version of that of the infantry rifle, although located identically to that of the rifle. The sight base is marked 2 3 4 5 on the left side of its base. Like the infantry model, the Dragoon rear sight leaf elevates by pivoting at the front, but it is ranged only from 200 to 1400 arshin (about 142 to 996 m; 156 to 1089 yds.).
Russian issued Dragoon rifles were made only by the Imperial arsenals in Tula and Izhevsk from 1875 to 1892. The total quantity produced is unknown but could not have been extensive as the survival rate is very low with relatively few are known to exist. Even by 1876, on the eve of the Russo-Turkish War, the Russian Army had listed only 2,353 Dragoon rifles in inventory.
The rear sight of the M1871 Berdan II Dragoon short rifle is a scaled down version of the M1870 Berdan II infantry sight positioned as with the infantry rifle.
Manufactured at the Russian Imperial Arsenals at Tula (1875-1892) and at Ishevsk (1878-1892)
Overall Length: 1,232 mm (48.5 inches)
Barrel Length: 721 mm (28 3/8 inches)
Weight: 3.9 kg (8.75 lbs)
Rifling: 6-groove: RH, concentric
Rear sight: Ramp and leaf graduated 200 to 1400 arshin (~142 to 996 m; ~156 to 1089 yds)
Muzzle velocity: 385 m/sec with M1868 ball ammo
M1873 Berdan II Cossack rifle (Казачья винтовка Бердана II обр.1873 г.) (Kazach'ya vintovka Berdana II obr.1873 g.)
While lighter and shorter than the infantry rifle, the Dragoon variant did not satisfy everyone. Thus, Captain (later Lieutenant General) I. I. Safonov then commander of the Life Guards of the Terek Cossack squadron led the development of Cossack and Cavalry carbine versions of the Berdan II. Safonov was a combat experienced Cossack having participated in a number of military campaigns in the Caucasus and he lent his experience to the design of the Cossack rifle. In 1873 this version of the Berdan II, slightly shorter and even lighter than the Dragoon, was adopted and fielded. By 1875, most of the Cossack formations had been completely equipped with the “Safonov” rifle.
The Berdan II Cossack rifle was built specifically for issue to the famed Cossack regiments of the Imperial Russian Army. The Cossack people consisted of several relatively autonomous groups who contributed soldiers to the Tsar. The Cossack regions supplied men who often served as border guards along Russia’s various ethnic boundaries and were called up during Russia’s many conflicts such as the numerous Russo-Turkish wars, of which the war of 1877-78 would have been the baptism of the Berdan arms, both Berdan I and Berdan II. In Russian service the Cossacks served as light mounted soldiers and, while they earned a significant reputation, it appears that they were less well regarded within the army than the hussar, dragoon and lancer regiments of the Russian cavalry.
The Berdan II Cossack Rifle is at once one of the most recognizable rifles of the era, due entirely to its total lack of a trigger guard combined with its unique stubby barrel shaped trigger. We have not been able to determine exactly why the trigger of the Cossack rifle is made in its unique way, although Cossack units served extensively in Siberia and it could well be, as has been suggested, that the trigger facilitated winter use of the rifle.
The trigger area is entirely dispositive in identifying the Cossack model.. There is no trigger guard at all. The trigger itself operates the action entirely like that of the rifle and Dragoon, but what would usually be a trigger spur for the index finger is instead a serrated cylinder 14 mm long by 12 mm in diameter. The end of the cylinder is milled with a screwdriver slot, but beware, the cylinder unscrews clockwise, and not counter-clockwise as a Western nut or cap might.
Other than its trigger, the rifle is otherwise quite similar to the Dragoon lightweight stock, an especially narrow buttstock and slender buttplate. It is built with the same receiver and screw-retained bolt, a barrel almost identical to the Dragoon version, and identical sights. It is built with the same receiver and screw-retained bolt, and nearly identical sights. It also utilizes transverse stock slots to mount its sling, although the placement of the upper sling slot differs from that of the Dragoon. Where the Dragoon is fitted with two barrel bands, the Cossack is fitted with three bands, although these are not only even lighter and thinner than those of the Dragoon, but only the upper band is retained at all, utilizing a small band spring. The two lower bands are press-fit retained only. Close examination will reveal that the upper sling slot is positioned between the center and lower bands, considerably lower than the slot of the Dragoon model such that the rifle might ride higher on the Cossack’s back than that of the Dragoon.
The rifle was built as light as possible and still be a rifle and not a carbine. The barrel is mounted with three barrel bands (the only Berdan variant with three bands) but the bands are extraordinarily light and slender, thinner and lighter than that of the Dragoon, at only 9.5 mm (3/8” wide). The top band is spring retained and the lower two bands merely friction retained. Weight reduction was achieved by shortening the barrel of a dragoon rifle by ½ inch (12.5 mm ) and the absence of some metal parts (e.g., trigger guard and lower tang). *(Note: we have not been able to verify the barrel length as an examined Berdan II Cossack rifle had a barrel slightly longer than that of two examined Dragoon rifles.) Strangely, Examples exist mounting two distinct barrel lengths of 20mm difference.
Not especially surprisingly given how unique the Cossack Berdan II variant is, even the Cossack forestock nosecap differs from the other three versions of Russian Berdan II in that it completely surrounds the cleaning rod and is pinned to the forestock wood rather than screwed.
The pinned nosecap of a M1873 Russian Cossack Berdan II rifle.
Made by the Imperial arsenals at Tula, 1875-92 and Ishevsk, 1878-92
Overall Length: 1219 mm (48.0 inches)
Barrel Length: 709mm (or 730 mm) (29.75 inches)
Rifling: 6-groove: RH, concentric
Sight: Ramp-and-leaf, graduated to 1,400 paces (1,090 yards)
Weight: 3.71 kg (8.25 lbs)
Muzzle velocity: Substantially identical to that of the Dragoon version.
M1873 Berdan II Carbine (карабин Бердана II обр.1873 г.) (Karabin Berdana II obr.1873)
In the same year as the introduction of the Cossack version, and as production was beginning to ramp up at Russia’s Imperial arsenals, the Berdan II carbine was adopted for use in arming the gendarmerie, the light cavalry and presumably, Russian artillery units.
Weighing in at under 3 kilograms (barely 6 lbs.), the Berdan II carbine is, by any measure, a tiny longarm. At an overall length of only 38.5 inches (978 mm) and with a thin, lightweight stock, this diminutive arm is not much heavier than full-sized horse revolvers of the period. The carbine is a seriously shortened Dragoon rifle. It has the bolt retention screw and dedicated retention slot in the bolt body of the Dragoon and Cossack rifles and it is fitted with the Dragoon’s two spring-retained barrel bands and a nosecap. Along with other Dragoon features, the carbine is fitted with the Dragoon’s sling retention system of transverse, escutcheon-reinforced rectangular slots. The barrel bands are the thinner Dragoon bands rather than the extraordinarily light and thin Cossack bands, but the small trigger guard bow and the tiny buttplate are unique to the carbine. These parts would interchange with any of the larger variants.
The carbine could conceivably mount a bayonet, locking on the front sight, but it is not known to have been issued with bayonet, which in any case would have had to have been especially long to have been the least bit effective.
Production of the carbine was in the range of about 26,000 total. Some sources indicate that 20,000 were manufactured by Sestroryetsk, Russia between 1872-75, and also that, a few thousand were made by the state armories of Ishevsk & Tula in the 1874-75 period. Early examples may have been built with English and/or Belgian parts.
It is not known which versions of the Berdan might have served with Russian Artillery units, whether, given the distribution of short rifles to the Dragoon and Cossack units, the carbine would have been issued to the artillery, other cavalry units or combinations thereof.
Markings are as those of the infantry rifles, with details varying depending on the manufacturing arsenal but including (a heavily fletched arrow, for example, denoting Sestroryetsk) year of manufacture, e.g., 1877, and serial number laying cross-wise on the barrel just ahead of the front sight.
Later carbines are reported to have been fitted with different barrel band retention springs but we have not been able to confirm this.
Overall Length: 978 mm (38.5 in)
Barrel length: 479 mm (18 7/8 inches)
Weight: 2.8 kg (6.2 lbs)
Rifling: 6-groove; RH, concentric
Sight: Ramp-and-leaf, graduated 200 to 1,000 arshin (142 to 711 m; 156 to 778 yds.)
Muzzle velocity: 362 m/sec out of this short barrel and using its carbine-specific reduced-power loads.
The Berdan II bayonet was newly designed for this rifle, differing significantly from the similar bayonet of the M1869 Berdan I. It is an angular, cruciform bladed, socket bayonet, most readily distinguished by its chisel tip, resembling nothing so much as a screwdriver. Indeed, the bayonet tip could be used to turn several of the Berdan’s screws if necessary.
It is identified by its tip, by its Cyrillic markings on the socket barrel and elbow and by an elbow length of 1 3/16 in. (~30 mm), noticeably longer than that of the Berdan I bayonet. The Berdan II bayonet is designed to be mounted not directly under the barrel as with the Berdan I’s bayonet, but rather to the right side of the barrel.
Berdan II Bayonet Specifications & Data
Overall Length: 591 mm (23.25 in)
Blade length: 514 mm (20.25 in)
Shank Length: ~30 mm (1 3/16 in)
Socket Length: 75 mm ( 2 15/16 in)
Socket Diameter: 17.8 mm (.770 in)
The Berdan II bayonet lays to the right of the barrel when mounted.
A Berdan I Bayonet. Unlike the Berdan II, The Berdan I bayonet has an exceptionally short shank, and the bayonet lays below the barrel when mounted.
The blade of the infantry bayonet is straight, tetrahedral with fullers (the Berdan I is triangular). The tip of the blade is cut in the form of a screwdriver.
M1868 10.75x58R (Винтовочный патрон к 4,2-х линейной винтовке Бердана обр. 1868/1870 гг.)
aka: .42 Russian Berdan, 10.6x58R, 10.67 X 57R
The M1870 Berdan II rifle shares the same excellent cartridge as was developed by the American Colonel Hiram Berdan together with Russians Colonel Alexander Gorlov and Captain K.I. Gunius for the immediate predecessor M1868 Russian Russian Berdan I rifle and reference is made to that rifle’s webpage via this link for in-depth discussion regarding this cartridge.
Building on Berdan’s development of his new and highly practical system for priming a drawn brass cartridge case, the group evolved a “unitary” (self-contained) bottlenecked cartridge that was widely fielded for military use, all in a caliber that was the most efficient (in terms of range, power and accuracy for its energy) until Mauser fielded the 9.5mm Turkish Mauser of 1887.
The .42 Russian Berdan cartridge consists of a rimmed, bottlenecked, drawn brass straight-walled brass case loaded with 4.95 grams of black powder beneath a 23.7 gram, round-nosed, paper-patched lead bullet. The caliber of this cartridge is 4.2 Russian lines (more precisely 4.23 lines), which corresponds to 10.67 (or, more exactly 10.75) mm, or .423 caliber.
An interesting note: Ammunition for the infantry rifle was loaded to full power while cartridges for the carbine and short rifles were loaded with reduced loads. The cartridges were distinguished by different cartridge pack colored paper; the color wrapper of infantry cartridges being either white (tan or buff) or light blue, that of reduced charge cartridges being pink.
Bullet diameter: 10.95 mm
Neck diameter: 11.46 mm
Base diameter: 13.10 mm
Rim diameter: 15.18 mm
Case length: 57.6 mm
Total length: 74.6 mm
Total weight: 41 grams
Muzzle velocity: 427 m/s (~1,390 ft./s)
Berdan (both I & II) infantry rifle cartridges were factory wrapped in packs of 6 cartridges
Photo Credit: Gunbroker.com
Berdan II rifles were contracted for and were initially manufactured pursuant to Hiram Berdan’s contract with the Russians by the Birmingham Small Arms Co. Ltd., in Great Britain from 1870 to 1873. This initial order was for 30,000 infantry rifles only, to supply the Russians while the state arsenals received modern manufacturing equipment and set up production. Subsequently, the rifles were manufactured by the Russian Imperial arsenals in Tula, Izhevsk, and Sestroryetsk between 1874 and into 1892, totaling in excess of 3,000,000 (three million!) rifles and an unknown quantity of short rifles and carbines.
Russian production was agonizing slow to ramp up but the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878 was a strong stimulus for more rapidly increasing output. Pre-1877 rifle manufacture appears to have been in the tens of thousands, but Russian sources indicate that in 1877 production had increased to 345,000 Berdan II rifles (and variants), 475,000 were able to be produced and issued in 1878, and an additional 348,800 Berdans were produced and distributed for issue in 1879. The losses due to attrition during the Russo-Turkish war were still replaced even until 1892.
Despite the vast numbers of rifles manufactured, it appears either that few have survived, or large numbers remain deep in store in Russia, as comparatively few have ever made it to Western collectors hands, although a few somewhat well-used examples have made their way west from Afghanistan as a result of loses by Russia during their various involvements in Afghanistan during the Great Game and private purchases by US military personnel and shipments during the long-term American presence there beginning in 2001. Recently a cash of rifles long-used in Ethiopia have appeared on the US market. Given its vast production, the Berdan II remains a somewhat scarce rifle, although not nearly so scarce as the Berdan I or the Berdan II short variants discussed above.
Total production (all versions) approximately: 3,000,00 Russian Berdan II infantry rifles were manufactured by Birmingham, Tula, Izhevsk, and Sestroryetsk. Berdan II rifles were not produced by Colt.
As of January 1, 1877, only a few months before the outbreak of war with Turkey, the Russian military had in service:
M1868 Berdan rifle № 1 (Infantry) — 17,810 in service and 10,104 in reserve
M1870 Berdan rifle № 2 (infantry, dragoon, Cossack and carbines ) — 253,152 in service and 103,616 in reserve
M1869 Krnka rifles (all variants) — 413,297 in service and 192,866 in reserve
M1856/69 Albini-Baranov (Russian Navy) — 3,691 in service and 6,309 in reserve
M1856/67 Carle’(infantry ) — 150,868 in service and 51,096 in reserve
M1856/66 Terry Norman rifles (Infantry ) — 4,126 in service and 7,874 in reserve
Beginning in 1885, the state armories were allowed to take orders for rifled hunting weapons, on the condition that such rifles would not be suitable for use with military ammunition. Thus Berdan II type hunting rifles were manufactured in 8.13 mm; 9.65 mm; 10.16 mm; 11.18 mm (US calibers : .32, .38, .40 and .44) were produced. Berdan rifles, which hunters began to call "berdakoy", or more often "berdanka", gained great popularity in Russia. Production of hunting rifles ceased at the beginning of World War I, although limited production occurred in the 1920s-1930s.
UTILIZATION BY OTHER COUNTRIES
Not so surprisingly, given that it was produced in vast quantities, the M1870 Russian Berdan II became a widely used rifle within the Russian sphere of influence.
The Berdan II was adopted by Bulgaria as the M1880 Bulgarian Berdan; however, to the best of our knowledge it is identical to the Russian model, was manufactured by the Russians in their Imperial arsenal(s) and might possibly be distinguished only by being marked with the “Crown A” cypher of Knyaz (Prince) Alexander I. Not to be confused with Alexander I of Russia who reigned much earlier, this would have been Prince Alexander of Battenberg, nephew to the then Russian monarch, Tsar Alexander II.
As a result of the Treaty of Berlin (1878), Alexander became modern Bulgaria’s first head of state, ruling from 1879 until his assignation in 1886. The compromise worked out created an autonomous Principality of Bulgaria, under nominal Ottoman sovereignty but actually ruled by a prince elected by a Bulgarian congress. Bulgaria has long had ties to Russia, and this relationship continued under Alexander.
The Berdan II rifles began to enter Bulgarian military service at the initial organization of the regular Bulgarian army in the summer of 1878, although most arms transferred to Bulgaria at this time consisted of M1869 Russian Krnkas. In 1912, Russia delivered an additional 25,000 Berdan II rifles to the Bulgarians and the rifles served both in front line army service and with militia battalions. At the outbreak of First World War hostilities Bulgaria had 54,912 Berdan II rifles in service.
Kingdom of Serbia:
In 1890, the Russians transferred 76,000 Berdan II rifles as well as stocks of ammunition to the Serbian army. Virtually all of these rifles were still on hand in Serbia as of August, 1914, the beginning of World War I.
Kingdom of Montenegro:
30,000 Berdan II rifles were delivered to the Kingdom of Montenegro in 1895, together with 30 million rounds of ammunition for them.
Shortly before the beginning of the Italo-Ethiopian War of 1895-96. Russia sent Ethiopia 30,000 Berdan II rifles and 5 million rounds of ammunition. Berdan II rifles were still in Ethiopian service at the start of the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in October 1935. Some of these rifles have even appeared on the American market in the 2020s!
Ethiopian-Russian Berdan II, almost certainly from the 30,000 delivered in 1895.
Photo Credit: https://www.royaltigerimports.com/product-p/berdan001.htm (accessed 12/23/2022)
In 1915 the Austro-Hungarians captured a number of Russian Berdan II rifles. After being arsenal reconditioned such rifles were marked “AZK” (K. und k. Artilleriezeugsfabrik, which is K & K Artillery factory, Imperial Vienna Arsenal) or « OEWG » (Österreichische Waffenfabriksgesellschaft) and employed by the Austro-Hungarians with captured cartridges.
Like the better-known Russian Mosin-Nagant rifles that found themselves in Finnish service, the Berdan II also became subject to Finish adoption, and in much the same way. From 1809 until the Russian Revolution of 1917 Finland was an autonomous Grand Duchy within the greater Russian Empire. Finland declared its independence during the Russian upheaval but it too had to get through its own immediate civil war between internal Red and Bolshevik factions. As a result of its successful independence, it became heir to the Berdan arms within its borders. Thus these rifles saw use in the Finnish Civil War of 1918 as well as use with Finnish Civil Guards. Following independence, Finland found itself with more than 200,000 Berdan II infantry and dragoon rifles which remained in service with the rear echelon units of the Finnish army until transferred to storage in the mid-1920s.
Although already obsolete, Berdan II rifles remained in Finnish reserve and may have seen service during the its World War II conflicts with the then Soviet Union between 1939 and 1945. In 1945, Finland began disposing its Berdan II rifles, and in 1955 the last 1,029 of them were sold. It is these rifles, eventually sold to Interarmco, which made their way to American collectors during the late 1950s, that form most of the limited numbers of Berdan rifles in good condition seen in American collections today.
Both Mongolia and China had been administered by the Manchu during the Qing dynasty, and after the fall of the Qing the area forming the former Outer Mongolia came under the control of Bogdo Khan (1911-1924). In 1919, after the October Revolution in Russia, Chinese troops occupied Mongolia leading to warfare on the northern border. This resulted in Lt. General Baron Ungern (a “White” Russian) leading his troops into Mongolia in October 1920, and in February 1921, with Mongol support, defeating the Chinese forces in Niislel Khüree (now Ulaanbaatar).
To eliminate the threat posed by Ungern, the Bolsheviks (the “Red” Russians) supported the establishment of a communist Mongolian government and army. This Mongolian army took the port of Kyakhta from Chinese forces in March, 1921, and that same month Russian and Mongolian troops occupied in Khüree. Shortly thereafter the Mongols (again) declared their independence. As a result, Mongolia became closely aligned with the Soviet Union over the next seven decades.
[Noting here, but unlikely] Some sources indicate that “The Swiss military bought 8,900 [Berdan rifles] in 1869, but these were replaced in favour of the Vetterli soon after.” This is almost certainly incorrect as these rifles were unavailable this early. It is more likely that this is a reference to the US Peabody rifles purchased by Switzerland prior to the adoption of the M1869 Swiss Vetterli. However, it does remain possible that Switzerland purchased Berdan I rifles directly from Colt, if such rifles remained in Colt’s inventory after Russia dropped pursuing the Berdan I in favor of the more successful Berdan II. Still, what would have happened to these rifles? They may have been sold to France the next year while France was desperate for any and all arms with which to fight off the Prussians. There are French records of France having acquired perhaps 5,700 such rifles directly from Colt, but we can find no records of such transactions with the Swiss.
PREDECESSOR & FOLLOW-ON RIFLES
Predecessor Rifle: M1868 Russian Berdan I
Follow-On Rifle(s): M1891 Russian Mosin Nagant
Photo credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mosin-Nagant
From top to bottom: M1870 Russian Berdan II, M1871 Berdan II Dragoon rifle, M1873 Berdan II Cossack rifle & M1873 Berdan II Carbine
A special thanks to Ilija Stanislevik and Jos vanHelden for their information!
For an excellent exposition on the Berdan II in Russian, including no fewer than 40 reference sources of Russian materials on the Russian Berdans I & II, please see: https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/Винтовка Бердана
Page built February 7, 1999
Revised September 26, 1999
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Updated: Nov 7, 2021
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