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 M1857/67 Russian Krnka

(Винтовка Крнка́)

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M1857/67 Russian Krnka (Винтовка Крнка́)

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

  Peter the Great’s rule, from 1696 until his death in 1725, was a great turning point in Russia when, by virtue of Peter’s reforms, a strong trend of European influence developed, gradually replacing the earlier influence of Byzantium and the Tartars.  Catherine, wife of Peter III (Peter the Great’s grandson), succeeded him in 1762.  She had been an obscure German princess but eventually proved to be one of Russia’s most successful leaders and, by the end of her reign in 1796 was called Catherine the Great.  Catherine continued westernizing Russia, introduced French culture into Russia and greatly improved education of the Russian nobility.  She extended Russian territorial gains through additional conquest,, making Imperial Russia one of the great European powers.  In early wars with the Turks, Russia gained a firm foothold on the Black Sea for the first time.  During the Napoleonic wars Russia used the power of its winters to bleed Napoleon white and Russia became the leading player in the coalition between Austria, Prussia, Great Britain and Russia which led to Napoleon’s final defeat at Waterloo in 1815.

  The death of Alexander I in 1825 brought Tsar Nikolas I, one of Russia’s most reactionary Tsars, to the throne.  Nikolas persecuted large segments of his population, suppressed publications, forbade foreign travel and generally tried to eliminate progressive thinking and reverse the westernization of Russia.  However, Alexander II (1855-1881), Nikolas’ son, reigned principally as a reformer freeing the serfs, providing allotments of land establishing local legislatures and reforming the legal system.  Unfortunately, revolutionary pressure continued to build and in 1881 Alexander II was killed by a terrorist bomb in the center of St. Petersburg.  This generated a new era of repression lasting through the reigns of Russia’s last two Romanovs, Alexander III (1881-1894) and Nikolas II (1894-1917).

  As the Ottoman empire was breaking up, France, Great Britain and Russia all had interests in its territories.  The rivalries among these countries reached its climax in the Crimean War (1854?-5?) where Russia fought an alliance consisting of France, Great Britain Sardinia and Turkey.  The Russians surrendered in 1855 giving up Bessarabia (part of present day Romania ).  Twenty years later Russia again went to war with the Turks attempting to regain Bessarabia and, although they defeated the Turks (see Turkey regarding the Peabody and Winchester on pages ___ and ___ ), British and Austrian forces interceded forcing Russia to give up most of its gains.

  Failing to make any gains in Europe, during the late 1800s Russia turned toward the east, expanding Russian territory during this period and eventually bringing Russia and Japan into intense competition, and eventual war in 1905.

  Despite having a less well developed industrial base than the rest of Europe, Russian small arms development during the 1800s followed the European example of a combination of purchasing arms abroad and manufacturing arms at home.  The cycle also included conversions of percussion cap-lock muzzle loaders to lifting block breech loaders and the subsequent adoption of “small caliber” (10-11 mm) newly-made metallic cartridge breech loaders.  Unlike much of Europe (but similarly to the United States) Russia never adopted a repeating black powder cartridge rifle, transitioning directly from the M1870 Berdan II to the well designed and long-lived M1891 smokeless powder Mosin-Nagant.

GENERALLY

  The M1856/69 Russian Krnka is another unique variety of lifting breech block conversion of muzzleloader to breech loader.  It is Russia's conversion of their Model 1856 "Six Line" rifle musket (15.24 mm; the Russian "liniya" being equal to 1/10 inch, hence 6‑line = .60 Cal) by use of the system developed by Sylvester Krnka of Wolin, Bohemia (modern day Czechoslovakia).

  The Russian conversion to the Krnka breech was a refinement of the M1865/66 Krnka rifle which had just previously been adopted by Montenegro.  Like so many other early conversion rifles, the transformation was carried out by cutting off and threading the back of the barrel and screwing on a receiver, (in the case of the Russian model; the receiver being bronze) fitted with a steel breech block containing the firing pin.  The Krnka system consists of a breech block pivoting from right to left, but otherwise somewhat similar to the Snider and French Tabatière systems.   The conversion maintains its original back action lock but the original hammer is replaced with a very simple flat hammer-like striker (resembling a hammer with its head horizontal rather than vertical) to strike the firing pin fitted longitudinally through the breechblock.   Some authorities have indicated that after 1871 most of the Krnka rifles were converted from 15 mm to the Russian Berdan M1868 caliber, 10.6 x 58 but Hoyem disputes this and it is likely that the references to "converted to 10.6 Berdan" refers to the withdrawal of the Krnkas in favor of the more modern and much more effective Berdan I, and shortly thereafter, Berdan II rifles.

  Sylvester Krnka was a prolific inventor and continued to refine the Krnka design later providing the Krnka with an automatic lever device for opening the breech and ejecting the spent cartridge.  Unfortunately by this time the Berdan series of rifles was well established and further development of the Krnka was abandoned.

 

OPERATING MECHANISM

  Operation of the Krnka is similar to the French Tabatière and British Snider.  The hammer is drawn back to full cock in order to clear the firing pin, and, with the right index finger, the breech block is sharply rotated to the left 180 degrees about its hinge pin.  Unlike the Snider and Tabatière, the breech block is not withdrawn to extract the spent case.  Rather, at the end of its opening rotation, the breech block engages a separate extractor which pivots on a pin just ahead of the breech block levering out the spent case.  Extraction leverage is not great enough for ejection thus it is likely that the rifle would need to be tipped either up or over to clear the spent case.

  With the breech block out of the way, a fresh cartridge is thumb-pressed into the chamber, the breech block is flipped into its closed position (being latched closed via a spring-loaded detent mounted in the right side of the receiver engaging the right front of the breech block, thus latching but not locking it closed).  This detent system is almost identical to the Tabatière but for its positioning.

  The rifle is now in firing position.  Pulling the trigger releases an otherwise conventionally mounted back-action external hammer striking a nearly longitudinal firing pin, unlike that of its British and French contemporaries.  Housed within the breech block is a very small nipple-shaped firing pin actuated by a much larger inertial striker.  The striker is struck by the rifle’s new hammer which is mated to the existing M1856 back-action lock mechanism.

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DISTINGUISHING CHARACTERISTICS

 

The Krnka is identified by its large caliber, flat, perpendicular-head hammer, bronze receiver and breech opening to the left.  At least two models of Krnkas were converted from the 6‑Line Model 1856; an infantry rifle and a Dragoon or “Cavalry Rifle” (not a carbine!).  The rifles are very similar, differences being that the infantry rifle is approximately 53.5  inches (1,360 mm) long and the Cavalry Rifle is some 48.5 inches (1,230 mm) long.   Also, some Cavalry Rifles sport a shorter stubbier hammer and some varieties have mounted sling slots in the forestock and buttstock in lieu of sling swivels.

Both the infantry rifle and Dragoon rifle are fitted with three screw-retained barrel bands with sling swivels beneath the middle band and just ahead of the trigger guard, the rear tang of which retains a modest finger spur.

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MARKINGS

  Generally speaking, the buttstock bears roundel cartouches on each side, one being dedicated to the original manufacturer of the “6-line” cap lock muzzle loader, the other denoting its conversion to a Krnka.  The bronze receiver is serial numbered on the right side flat matched to the breech block and to a serial number on the left side of the barrel ahead of the receiver.  Russian markings and inspectors marks appear multiple places on the receiver as well as on the top flat of the breech block.  The lock plate is marked with manufacturer’s marking which may be Russian arsenal or foreign manufactured.  (For example, Russian 6-line rifles were made by _____ as well as by the Birmingham Small Arms Company evidenced by lockplate markings as well as the BSA trademark bow and arrow markings on various other parts of the rifle.

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Markings on a Krnka Converted "6-Line" rifle

M1857/67 Russian Krnka lockplate 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 Krnka meanings are below his letter. 

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".

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Lockplate of a Russian M1857/67 Krnka Infantry Rifle.  The Krnkas were converstions from the
earlier Russian "6 line" (.60 Calibre) percussion breechloaders.

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?).

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Lockplate of a Russian M1857/67 Krnka Dragoon Rifle

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Lockplate of a Russian M1857/67 Krnka Cavalry Rifle (Not a Cavalry carbine, but a rifle for Cavalry)
Russia built what she could, and like most other emerging powers, bought what she was not able to make.

CARTOUCHE

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Is anyone able to help me decipher this cartouche?  Unfortunately, this is the best that I was able to do given the age and wear of the rifle's buttstock.  Please let me know!!

 

SHORT RIFLES, CARBINES & SPECIAL VERSIONS

M1857/69 Dragoon rifle (sometimes referred to as a “cavalry rifle”)

  This variant shared the action of the Krnka rifle but differs dimensionally, being 1,225 mm (48.2 inches) long with a 792 mm (31.2-inch) barrel.  The rear sight of the Dragoon rifle is similar in construction to that of the infantry rifle but with a much shorter (35 mm; 1.4-inch) elevating leaf.  The leaf of the Dragoon rifle’s rear sight is 69 mm (2.7 in). 

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M1876 Krnka‑Gan  (Gan was a Russian colonel) fortress rifle

  It was a very heavy, cal. 8 lines (.80; 20,4 mm), metal cartridge rifle. Gan reinforced the Krnka lock, and changed the position of a hammer (not on the right side, but in the middle, as in revolvers or in Remington, 1864). The butt had a buffer mechanism (since the recoil was very strong) and under the barrel was attached a large hook for fixing rifle (for example between sacks with sand). This rifle was not designed for shoulder use but rather for defense of forts, bastions, barricades etc., so it was not fitted for a bayonet. Range was 710 m (775 yds).

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Fortress gun Ghana arr. 1876 Photo Credit: http://zonwar.ru/news5/news_986_Rifle_Gana-1876.html

 

BAYONET

The Krnkas mounted the earlier M18 __ socket bayonet of the pre-conversion M1857 “6-line” musket.

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CARTRIDGE

15.24 mm Krnka

GENERAL:

  • Case:   Straight-rimmed center-fire brass case loaded with 5.07 grams of black powder.

  • Bullet:  A round-nosed, 36.9 gram hollow-based lead bullet developing about 300 m/s (~ 985f/s) when fired from the rifle.

  • 570-grain bullet, 1,075 fps (From ROTW pg 281)

DIMENSIONS: 

  • Bullet diameter:  15.45 mm

  • Neck diameter:  16.54 mm

  • Base diameter:  16.54 mm

  • Rim diameter:  19.98 mm

  • Case length:  40.6 mm

  • Total length:  54.8 mm

  • Total weight:  55. grams

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SPECIFICATIONS, STATISTICS & DATA

  • Overall Length:  1,350 mm (53.2 inches)

  • Barrel Length:  915 mm(36 inches)

  • Rifling:  4-groove; RH, concentric

  • Sight:  Tangent rear sight, graduated from 200 paces (142 m; 156 yds) to 1,200 paces (855 m; 935 yards).

MANUFACTURING DATA

  Some 350,000 or more conversions were produced by the Russian Imperial arms factories in Izhevsk, Sestrotesk and Tula from 1870 to about 1875.

UTILIZATION BY OTHER COUNTRIES

  Montenegro adopted the Krnka conversion in 1866.

PREDECESSOR & FOLLOW-ON RIFLES

Predecessor Rifle(s): Model 1857 Six Line Infantry Musket

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Follow-On Rifle(s): M1868 Russian Berdan I

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ADDITIONAL PHOTOS

Krnka photos below courtesy D. Goss

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Figure 85 Barreled receiver.

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Figure 87 View of the assembled lock of the Krnka rifle.

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Figure 88 Hammer.

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Krnka action, sling & rear sight

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Figure 86 Breech block.

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(Krnka photos  courtesy D. Goss)

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REFERENCES

A special thanks to S. J. Zielinski, Vlads Rybalko, Eduardo Fontenla, Rosario‑Argentina for their information!

Page started March 10, 1999
Revised March 17, 1999
Revised May 24, 1999
Revised September 26, 1999
Revised February 19, 2000
Revised August 24, 2003

Updated: Nov 6, 2021

Updated April 11, 2022

Updated August 8, 2022