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Military Rifles in the Age of Transition
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1865 to 1890
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M1856/69 & M1858/69 Russian Krnka
(Пехотная Винтовка Крнка́)
M1856/69 Russian Krnka Marksman rifle (стрелковая винтовка Крнка́) Photo Credit: https://naukatehnika.com/russkaya-vintovka-sistemyi-krnka.html
M1858/69 Russian Krnka Infantry rifle (Пехотная Винтовка Крнка́)- Photo Courtesy of adamsguns.com
Note to Visitors: This rifle, along with the M1869 Russian Albini-Baranov and the M1868 Russian Berdan I were all developed more-or-less concurrently over the same several years, hence this HISTORICAL CONTEXT section as well as the bulk of the DEVELOPMENT section will be substantially identical for all three rifles.
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 (1853-1856) where Russia fought an alliance consisting of France, Great Britain Sardinia and Turkey. The Russians sued for peace in 1856 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 / M1866 Winchester and Turkey / M1872 Peabody-Martini ), 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. Russian military setbacks during the early-mid 19th century forced the Russians to adopt somewhat reduced bore muskets with rifled barrels, leading the adoption the M1856 and related M1858 "6-Line" (.60 caliber) rifles.
The “disappointing” results of the Crimean War signaled to the Russian command that it needed to hastily began equipping the troops with rifled small arms. By late 1856, a 6-line muzzle-loading rifle was developed, its design based on the predecessor Russian 7-Line percussion smooth-bore gun. The new rifle replaced the 7-line smooth-bore barrel with a rifled 6-line one. The barrel was shortened by 15 cm and fired a lighter bullet but still managed to remain the same accuracy while dramatically increasing effective range from 213 meters out to 853 meters.
In order to fully understand the Russian Krnka adoption and conversions, it helps to understand the models of the Krnka predecessor/parent rifles. Four distinct examples of Russian 6-Line muzzle-loading rifles entered Russian army service after the Crimean War. All of them had a caliber of 6 lines (a line is 1/10th of an inch, a “6-line” rifle is thus 15.24 mm), reduced from 7 Lines (.70 calibre), Russia's previous infantry rifle:
1) The M1856 Marksman’s Rifle (стрелковая винтовка 1856 г., sometimes translated to English as strelkovaya vintovka, "sharpshooter's rifle.") at a length of 1340 mm, barrel of 939 mm and weight of 4.4 kg. Initial muzzle velocity was 349 m/s. This rifle was fitted with a long-leaf rear sight calibrated to 1200 steps (853 m);
M1856/69 Russian Krnka Marksman rifle (стрелковая винтовка Крнка́) Photo Courtesy: https://naukatehnika.com/russkaya-vintovka-sistemyi-krnka.html
2) The nearly identical M1858 Infantry Rifle (пехотная винтовка 1858 г.) of the same overall length, same barrel length, same weight and ballistic performance as the M1856, except that it was fitted with a short-leaf rear sight calibrated only for 600 steps (427 m) and intended for "regular" line infantry;
3) The M1859 Dragoon Rifle (драгунская винтовка 1859 г.) which had a shorter barrel of 863 mm and a rear sight with range calibrated to 800 steps (568 m).We have been wholly unable to find any photo or drawing of the The M1859 Dragoon Rifle (драгунская винтовка 1859 г.). Any help locating such a photo or drawing would be sincerely appreciated.
4) The M1860 Cossack Rifle (казачья винтовка 1860 г.) (sometimes referred to as the M1859-60, also the "Chernolikhov rifle" (Чернолиховская винтовка) after the Cossack armorer Chernolikhov), had an even shorter overall length of 1240mm with shorter barrel of 845 mm, a weight of 3.48 kg and sights ranged to 1000 steps (711m). Note that the M1860 Cossack 6-Line rifle (much like the M1870 Berdan Cossack rifle) did not have a trigger guard nor a conventional curved trigger, but rather its trigger consisted of a stubby “button”, and instead of a hammer with a tall, pointed lever, the hammer had an integral ring. Also, the stock was narrower than other 6-line rifles.
M1860 Cossack 6-Lline rifle Photo Credit: http://www.islin-ovko.ru/e/269-o-kazachey-vintovke-zamolvite-slovo
This rifle, the M1860 Cossack 6-Line rifle, was never converted to the Krnka system. Only the above three rifles were converted by the Russians into the Krnka system, and we are not certain regarding the M1859 6-Line rifles The Cossacks went from this muzzle-loader directly to the M1870 Berdan II Cossack rifle.
Only the above three rifles were converted by the Russians into the Krnka system.
The Russian 6-line rifles (except for the M1860 Cossack) received a new, steeper stock with a wider buttstock, which helped to reduced felt recoil.
Regarding the first two rifles mentioned above, it should be noted that the Russian Ministry of Defense, being advised by senior army officers, set the sight of the Infantry Rifle not at 1200 steps, but at 600 steps, the so-called "short sight" despite the rifles having identical ballistic performances. This was specifically a result of the disbelief of the authorities in the infantryman's ability to hit targets at a long distance. This decision, and these sights, would carry over to the conversions of the rifles into M1869 Krnkas, although after the disappointing performance (to be kind) of the Krnkas against the Turks in the 10th Russo-Turkish War (1877-1878. See Turkish Peabody-Martini and the link there to the Plevna Defense therein), the decision was made to "upgrade" all Krnkas in Russian service to the long-leaf 1200m rear sight. Regardless, many, if not most, of the short-sight Krnkas were transferred after the war to the Bulgarians anyway.
During the Turkish hostilities the infantry regiments of the Russian army were armed with an assortment of rifles, even including muzzle-loading M1854 to M1860 6-Line rifles, but were primarily armed with Krnka rifles. It was Krnka, and not the M1868 Russian Berdan nor the M1870 Russian Berdan, which was the main armament of the Russian troops during this (1877-78) Russo-Turkish War.
In 1866 the Russians began the process on converting these muzzle-loading rifles to breech-loading systems. Despite the evidence of the potential superiority of metallic cartridges, this was not assured, and the Russians followed the lead of the Germans (Dreyse) and French (Chassepot) and adopted the Terri-Norman and the Carlé paper cartridge ignition systems. These were difficult to manufacture (only 90,000 had been produced by 1869) and of course proved to be obsolete even as they were being adopted. What was needed was a much simpler to convert system. By now metallic cartridges had been much improved and their advantages were clearly evident.
Even as early as 1867, Russians Colonel AP Gorlov and Captain KI Ginnis, together with American Colonel Hiram Berdan, were already well into the development of a smaller caliber (10.75mm "4.2 line") rifle with its associated modern brass cartridge, although it was still at least a year before it would be acquired and fielded, and then in small numbers. If the vast stores of M1856 and M1858 rifles were to be converted, they were going to fire metallic cartridges.
In February of 1869 it was proposed that the conversions to the Carlé system be halted and that conversions to a metallic cartridge be substituted. Four systems were considered, those of Terssen, Albini, Baranov (substantially a license-produced Albini) and Krnka. The competition boiled down to that between the simpler Krnka and the more sophisticated Baranov. Technical and financial considerations prevailed and the Commission gave preference to the Krnka system. The choice of the Krnka system hinged on it's relative simplicity, low precision needed for manufacture of the conversion parts, potential for die-forging the receiver to near-finished dimensions (making production far cheaper and faster), and the ease of adapting the hammer to the system's striker. Astonishingly, the Krnka was officially adopted in March of 1869. In August, 1869, the Krnka Dragoon rifle was approved and these were effectuated by re-converting the Terri-Norman converted rifles to Krnka systems, thus unlike the Carlé system rifles, none of the former ever went into service or distribution.
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.
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 (20th century Czechoslovakia, now the Czech Republic).
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 breech-block.
Most of the conversion to Krnka work was carried out the Ludwig Nobel St. Petersburg Machine-Building Plant from 1869 into the early 1870s, while some work was done producing newly constructed M1869 Krnka rifles at the Izhevsk Arms Plant while the Russians struggled to get production going of the just-adopted Berdan II rifle.
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 M1868 Berdan I, and shortly thereafter, M1870 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.
Like most all of the large caliber, stop-gap rifle conversions of the late 1860s, the Krnkas became obsolete quite quickly. Their performance in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878 (the no less than tenth war between these two powers up to that time!) despite being widely fielded, was marginal at best and they were withdrawn for good from Russian service following that conflict. Still, following that war, substantial numbers of Russian Krnkas of all varieties were transferred to the newly restored Bulgarian army, which is how they wound up participating in the Serbian-Bulgarian War of 1885 and even the Balkans War of 1912-1913!
In general, the Krynka system was well developed for its time. In particular, it was distinguished by a very strong bolt group - a similar design was used in the Krynka-Gan fortress gun of 20.4 mm. Evidence of the strength and survivability of the Krnka system can be seen in that, similarly to the fate of the French Tabatière series of rifles, many Krnkas which were removed from service subsequently saw new lives by being converted to civilian smooth-bore shotguns firing black powder shotgun ammunition, and continued in use among commercial hunters even into the middle of the 20th century.
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.
The Krnka is identified by its large (15mm+) caliber barrel with barlycorn front sight, simple brass nosecap, its tall, flat, perpendicular-head hammer, bronze receiver with iron breech opening to the left, a back-action lock mechanism, a brass trigger guard with iron trigger guard tang and finger spur, and brass buttplate.
Three distinct models of Krnkas were converted from existing stores of Russian 6‑Line Models (the M1856, M1858, and possibly (unconfirmed) a M1859 Dragoon). These first two were a long, generally issued infantry and marksman’s or sharpshooter’s rifle mounting three screw-retained barrel bands, and possibly a shorter, also three-band, Dragoon rifle. All have back-action locks. All shorter Krnka rifles are either Bulgarian conversions for special-troop use, or locally altered post-service for civilian use.
The Infantry and Marksman’s rifles are virtually identical, at approximately 53.5 inches (1,360 mm) long with identical features and hardware except only for different rear sight. The Dragoon and Rifles are some 48.5 inches (1,230 mm) long with a 31.1 inch (790mm) long barrel.
None of these rifles and variants are fitted with dedicated bayonet lugs, all securing their socket bayonets on the conventional front sight block.
The cleaning rods of the underlying rifles were retained by being locked in place at the shoulder in a manner, for example, identical to that of the British Martini-Henry.
Photos Courtesy of https://collegehillarsenal.com/
The ramrod of the Russian M1856 series 6-Line rifles has a concave head to avoid flattening the point of the Minnie’ bullet used in the muzzle-loader. In contrast, the Krnka cleaning rod head is specifically flat and not concave. This is deliberate, so that in the event of a jammed firing pin, given the weak firing pin retraction spring, this allows the cleaning rod to be used to push the firing pin back into battery. If stuck in forward position, the tip of the firing pin prevents the breech block from opening. Dropping the cleaning rod down the barrel solves the problem, but the head needs to be flat in order to hit the firing pin. Extraction was also a weak spot in the design, so the cleaning rod was sometimes used to aid extracting a stuck fired case.
The two primary rifles of the infantry were the M1856/69 "Marksman" rifle converted from the earlier M1856 6-Line rifles and identified by its long-leaf rear sight, and the M1858/69 "Infantry" rifle converted from the stocks of M1858 6-Line rifles, having shorter rear sight leaves. There were no ballistic differences between these rifles, only the military authorities' beliefs in the ability of various soldiers to hit their targets at longer ranges!
NOTE to Collectors: The rear sights of these two rifles are easily and readily interchangeable, and we do not know how to identify these rifles other than by their rear sight leaves!
The upper sling swivel of the infantry rifle is affixed on the bottom of the center screw-retained barrel band, the lower swivel mounting just ahead of the trigger guard in the manner of French rifles of the day.
Side view of the shoulder-locking 6-Line/Krnka cleaning rod. Photos Courtesy of https://collegehillarsenal.com/
A Note on Krnka Rear Sights
The rear sight leaves on Krnka rifles are held in place with very easily removed (and thus very easily lost) simple thumbscrews (see pics below). So, Krnkas are, not surprisingly, found with missing rear sight leaves and missing sight leaf thumbscrews. Also, when Krnkas do have a rear sight, it is just as likely to be the rear sight from a different version of Krnka as it is to be such rifle's correct rear sight. Never take a Krnka's word for it regarding any rear sight that it carries!
The two rear sight leaves found on Krnkas are are the short (35 mm; 1.4-inch) elevating leaf correctly found on the full-length Krnka M1858/69 Infantry rifle, and the longer 70 mm (2.7 in) leaf found on the Krnka M1856/69 Marksman’s rifle. Currently, we do not know with certainty the length of the rear sight leaf properly fitted on the M1859/69 Dragoon rifle, as most surviving Dragoon rifles pictured have had their sights removed. However, based on Russian sources we believe it to have been the short-leaf (600m range) sight.
The 35mm long rear sight of the 1867 Krnka Infantry Rifle
The 70mm long rear sight of the Krnka
Contemporary drawing of the M1867 Russian Baranov rifle. In this drawing the rifle is shown with a long rear sight leaf.
M1859/69 Dragoon Rifle Photo: Credit: Russian Museum of National Military History
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 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.
Krnka conversion serial numbers are found on the right side of the receiver and either on top of or under the breech block lever as well as on the striker. The parent rifles' serial numbers are usually found on the side of the barrels near the breech, but may be located on either side of the barrel. Since the rifles were converted from old muzzle-loaders, the markings of the original rifles’ factories (e.g., Tula, Izhevsk) and serial numbers that do not match each other.
Markings on a Krnka Converted "6-Line" rifle
M1856/69 & M1856/69 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".
Lockplate of a Russian M1856/69 & M1858/69 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?).
Lockplate of a Russian M1856/69 & M1858/69 Krnka Dragoon Rifle
Lockplate of a foreign-purchased Russian M1856 or M1858 6-Line rifle subsequently converted to M1869 Krnka that has been re-altered to a short rifle the same dimensions as a Russian M1869 Dragoon rifle. It is unknown where the modification from 6-Line rifle to Krnka may have taken place but many, if not most such modifications were undertaken at the Ludwig Nobel St. Petersburg Machine-Building Plant.
This rifle is a newly built M1869 Krnka rifle produced at the Izhevsk Arms Plant in 1870 and is not a conversion of an earlier 6-Line muzzle-loading rifle.
This M1858 6-Line rifle originally built in 1864 by the large, Belgium, Liege gunmaker Auguste Francotte & Cie (company), has been converted to a M1858 Krnka.. Photo Credit: https://cornet.cc/ru/artikul/123916/russkaia-skorostrelnaia-6-lineinaia-vintovka-obr-1869-g-sist-krnka/
Another Liege-built M1856 6-Line rifle converted to Krnka, this example manufactured and marked by Beuret Frères (Beuret Brothers), Liege 186(?). Beuret Frères was another relatively large and prominent Belgian gunmaker in the late 19th century. Photo Credit: https://guns.allzip.
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!!
SPECIFICATIONS, STATISTICS & DATA
Krnka rifle, both the Infantry (Пехотная Винтовка Крнка́) and the Marksman’s (стрелковая винтовка Крнка́) versions M1869:
Caliber - 15.24 mm.
Overall Length: 1300 mm (51.2 in)
Barrel length: 910 mm (35.8 in)
Weight: 4.5 kg
Rifling: 4-groove; RH, concentric
Infantry - 200 paces (142 m; 156 yds) to 600 paces (428 m; 467 yards).
Marksman - 200 paces (142 m; 156 yds) to 1,200 paces (855 m; 935 yards).
SHORT RIFLES, CARBINES & SPECIAL VERSIONS
M185(9)/69 Krnka Dragoon Rifle (драгунская винтовка 1859?/69 г.)
The Krnka Dragoon rifle is easily and at once the most distinctive of the Russian Krnka conversions. It has a conventional 6-Line rifle brass nose cap but the stock is fixed only with two very thin barrel bands, the upper being only friction held and the lower being spring retained. It has no sling swivels but rather ferrule reinforced slots half-way up the forestock and through the buttstock. The donor rifle’s original trigger guard mounted sling swivel has been replaced with a simple steel plug.
Upper rifle: M185(9)?/69 Krnka Dragoon
Lower rifle: M1856/69 Marksman’s rifle
Photo Credit: User Nick Stanav via www.gunboards.com/forums
M1869 Krnka Dragoon lower barrel band. Photo Credit: User Nick Stanav via www.gunboards.com/forums
The steel lower tang does not have the prominent finger spur of the rifles but rather only a very small bump. The brass buttstock is shaped differently from that of the long rifles and has a only a very minimal buttstock tang. The most obvious identifiable factors of the Krnka Dragoon rifle are its sling slots, and its shorter, rounded, knobby hammer, which is immediately noticeably different from that of the two long rifles.
An interesting feature of the Dragoon rifle which, for obvious reasons is not present on the Infantry and Marksman Krnkas, is that because the barrel was shortened from the donor/parent rifle at the breach, not from the muzzle, the newly threaded shortened barrel would not fit into standard Krnka receivers. Therefore an octagonal steel coupling is fitted between the receiver and barrel in order to make this connection, forming a sort of knoxform, but this piece is separate, and not a part of the barrel. No other Krnka exhibits this feature.
Note the octagonal coupling fitted between the barrel and receiver of these correct Russian Dragoon Krnkas. Photo Credit: Guns.ru/forums.html
The Dragoon Krnka pictured here has a measured length of 1,225 mm (48.2 inches) with a 792 mm (31.2-inch) barrel. Most sadly, as the pictured rifle spent too much of its life in Afghanistan, the rear sight is now missing so no information is available on this rifle’s rear sight as issued.
Buttstock of a Krnka Dragoon rifle compared with that of a M1869 Infantry/marksman rifle. Photo Credit: User Nick Stanav via www.gunboards.com/forums
M1876 Krnka-Gan Fortress Rifle
The first man-portable, large-caliber, rifled guns first appeared in much earlier than tanks and armored vehicles. They were first used in defense of, and later in the assault on fortresses. The so-called "fortress guns" over time were quite widely used to defeat manpower behind shelters and protective structures.
In 1873 Colonel Baron T.F. Gan (alternate spelling: Hahn) designed an “8-Line” fortress gun chambered for 20.3x95 mm of his own design utilizing the receiver and block of the Krnka system with a hammer mechanism of his own design. The gun had a rifled barrel and weighed 20.5 kg.
The rifle’s cartridge consisted of a compound sleeve made of brass tape with an inner cup. The cartridge weighed 204 g with a propellant weight of 23.4 g seating a bullet weighing 128 g, developing a muzzle velocity of 427 m/s. (Pretty serious energy!)
Two types of bullets were used: lead, to engage infantry in the open, and steel to defeat shelters. The steel bullet was encased in a lead sheath to protect the barrel and add energy for penetration.
While not especially accurate, the fortress rifles were effective at moderately close ranges. A steel bullet at 1000 steps was able to pierce 2.5 bags of earth and one bag at 1500 steps. When firing at a 3-Lines armor plate (a "line is 1/10 of an inch, 7.62-mm, or .30 calibre) from a distance of 1200 steps (853 meters), all bullets pierced it through.
At the beginning of 1915, Gan's 8-line guns were withdrawn from Russian fortresses and re-issued to front line units for use against armored vehicles. It was found that the gun effectively pierced the armor of German and Austrian armored cars, predating the 1918 Mauser 13.2mm T-Gewehr anti-tank gun used against the first British tanks.
Fortress gun Ghana arr. 1876 Photo Credit: http://zonwar.ru/news5/news_986_Rifle_Gana-1876.html
Other M1869 Krnka Short rifles and Carbines
The Russians only ever converted their 6-Line rifles to the three models of Krnkas referenced above, the M1856/69 Krnka Marksman (or sharpshooter) rifle, the M1858 Infantry rifle and the M185(?)/69 Krnka Dragoon rifle. There was never a Russian Cossack Krnka nor a Russian Krnka carbine. However, there are a relatively significant number of very well executed shortened three-band Krnka short rifles and two-band Krnka “carbines” out in the world. The best current theory as to their origins is that these well-made rifles are later Bulgarian adaptations from Russian Krnkas supplied to them. The Bulgarians were gifted by their Russians allies with well more than 100,000 Krnkas following the Russo-Turkish War of 1878-1879. They may well have had need to shorten Krnkas for use by their own special troops, gendarmerie and even possibly cavalry, but we have not been able to verify this possibility.
The examples that we have been made aware of or have personally handled and examined are clearly originally M1869 Russian army rifles, including hardware and markings. But these are not official Russian conversions nor Russian army issued.
The same is true of all 2-band Krnka “carbines.”
The Krnkas retained their earlier M1856 and M1858 pre-conversion M1856 “6-line” musket socket bayonets.
The blades have a triangular cross section, with a base much larger than the other two faces. The wide base faces the barrel to reduce the potential for injuring the loading hand when loading muzzle-loading rifles. The neck of the bayonet has an oval cross-section. The socket has an “L”-shaped slot with conventional locking ring.
The main overall dimensions of the Russian socket bayonet for all M1869 Krnka rifles are:
total length - 570 mm;
blade length - 500 mm;
blade width - 22 mm;
tube length - 67.4 mm;
inner diameter of the tube - 21.3 mm.
Top rifle is a M1858/69 Krnka Marksman rifle, Bottom rifle is a M1856/69 Krnka Infantry rifle, below which is the bayonet for both rifles and cartridges.
Photos Credit: www.jjmilitaryantiques.com
Like all Europeans, the Russians were keenly aware of the drubbings which the Dreyse-equipped Prussians handed to the Danes in 1864 and to the Austrians in 1866, which spurred them to quickly adopt, as interim stop-gaps, the Terri-Norman and Carle' paper cartridge needle-fire rifles. However, just as these conversions were coming online it became painfully evident that they were already obsolete and that what was needed was a rifle firing self-contained metallic cartridges, even if such rifle was also merely an expedient until a dedicated, metallic cartridge breech-loader became available.
Coincidentally, during the joint development with Hiram Berdan of what would become the Russian Berdan I, the Russians were both exposed, to as well as working on, modern metallic cartridges. Two considerations came into play: firstly, by the time of the adoption of the Krnka conversion of Russia's large stores of percussion muzzle loaders, the 4.2 line (10.75mm) Berdan I cartridge had already been proven and adopted, and secondly, Col. Berdan's early metallic cartridge conversion rifles (notably the Spanish Berdan series) had seen success utilizing his .577 Berdan cartridge. While the Russians considered the British Boxer cartridge adopted for the Snider, its coiled brass case was much more delicate than the drawn brass of the Berdan cartridge.
15.24 mm Krnka
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.
Bullet mass: (35.52 grain)
Muzzle velocity when fired from the Marksman & Infantry rifles: 305 m/s
570-grain bullet, 1,075 fps (From ROTW pg 281)
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
Russian Krnka Berdan cartridge
Contemporary drawing of the Krnka rifle which also illustrates the Krnka Cartridge's Berdan roots, esp it's Berdan design primer.
The heads of various 15.2 Russian Krnka cartridges illustrating their obvious Berdan primer holes and primers
Russian 6-Line muzzle-loading rifles were manufactured at all three Imperial weapons factories, Izhevsk, Tula and Sestroretsk as well as having been produced in Belgium and by the Birmingham Small Arms Company in England, as will be evidenced by each rifle's various markings. Even as to Russian produced rifles, the armories also bought locks and other parts from other sources which may account for different markings. Note that the Model 1860 6-Line Cossack rifle is another matter as Russian sources state that it was primarily purchased for the Cossacks from German and Belgian factories, although Russian Imperial examples were manufactured, as was the example noted above.
Our research regarding the conversion and manufacturing of the Krnka system conversion rifles is, well, admittedly confusing. Some sources claim that the conversions were carried out “at Ludwig Nobel St. Petersburg Machine-Building Plant from 1869 into the early 1870s” while other sources state that the conversions to the M1867 series Krnkas were all carried out at the Tula armory from 1870 to about 1875. Yet other sources have suggested that the conversions were carried out both at all three of the three Imperial factories as well as at private enterprises, particularly in Kiev and Libau. Because upwards of 600,000 conversions would have needed to have been undertaken, it is entirely possible that every source mentioned might have participated in conversion work.
It is estimated that some 620,000 or more Krnka conversions of various Russian 6-Line rifles were produced during this period concurrently with the adoption of both the short-lived, limited production M1868 Berdan I and the vastly more widely produced M1870 Berdan II.
UTILIZATION BY OTHER COUNTRIES
Montenegro: The Russian Krnka conversion was preceded by Montenegro adopting the Krnka system in 1866 (the Montenegrin M1865(?)/66 Krnka) for conversion of a breechloader.
Bulgaria: The Russian Krnka rifles were also supplied by Russia to, and adopted by, Bulgaria and Serbia, at the time vassel states of Russia. We are unaware whether or not Krnkas obtained by Bulgarian from Russia were subsequently further marked by Bulgaria in any way to differentiate them from the Russian rifles. We believe that to be unlikely. Indeed, it is rather quite likely that the small numbers of Krnka long arms occasionally seen in Western collections have all come from Bulgaria and the Balkans, as Russia itself rarely sold off its surplus arms, which also accounts for the scarcity of the Berdan I & Berdan II rifles found in the West.
The Treaty of San Stefano (1878) ending the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78, provided for the formation of a Bulgarian self-governing principality with a zemstvo (locally governed Czarist Russian province) army.
Russia thereafter provided the Bulgarians with additional significant numbers of rifles and ammunition, including 57,000 more Krnka rifles, of which 27,000 were distributed to Bulgarian units and 30,000 placed in reserve storage.
After the re-equipment of the Russian army with modern M1870 Berdan II rifles, Bulgaria was supplied with an additional number of Krnka rifles and cartridges.
In 1880, it was decided to re-equip the Bulgarian army with Berdan No. 2 rifles. The Krnka rifles were placed in Bulgarian store for the moment, but not for long. All of them participated in the Serbo-Bulgarian war of 1885 and some of them even fought in the Balkan Wars of 1912-13. As of September 1, 1912, Bulgarian records indicate that there were 12,925 Krnkas still in inventory. Three years later, when Bulgaria entered the First World War, 12,800 stand of Krnkas remained in Bulgarian service and many were issued even then to rear echelon troops. Three years later, when Bulgaria entered the First World War, 12,800 stand of Krnkas remained in Bulgarian service.
As a side note, Russia also provided Bulgaria with 15,000 captured Snider rifles presumably Turkish Sniders), 8,000 Chassepot rifles, 7,000 captured Peabody rifles (presumably M1868 Romanian Peabodys) and 9,000 guns and rifles of other systems (mainly percussion and flintlock guns), some 96,000 guns and rifles in all.
Romania: It is believed by Balkan researchers that Romania also acquired surplus Russian Krnka rifles, but we have not been able to verify this.
PREDECESSOR & FOLLOW-ON RIFLES
Predecessor Rifle(s): M1856 and M1858 Six Line Infantry Musket
This pictured rifle is a M1858 6-Line Infantry rifle, the M1856 6-Line Marksman rifle is identical except for a longer rear sight leaf. Photo Credit: https://www.catawiki.com/en/l/23768575-russia-sylvestr-krnka-model-1857-single-shot-percussion-musket-15-2mm
Follow-On Rifle(s): M1868 Russian Berdan I
The M1868 Berdan I is not specifically or technically a “follow-on” rifle as it was developed and adopted concurrently with the M1869 Krnka series conversion rifles. But technologically the rifle and its 4-Line 10.75mm cartridge is a substantial leap forward from the 6-Line 15mm Krnka.
Krnka photos below courtesy D. Goss