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M1870 Russian Berdan II   

(Pekhotniya vintovka Berdana obr. 1870g)

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M1870 Russian Berdan II

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M1870 Russian Berdan II

GENERALLY

  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 to the Russian military.  Despite Gorlov’s objections and strong efforts to keep the Berdan I as Russia’s primary rifle design, [is this true?] 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 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 order of Tsar Alexander II (r.1855-1881), dated 26 September, 1870.

 

  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 Berdan I, a relatively advanced, bottle-necked 10.66mm 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 rifle is mounted in a single piece walnut or birch stock utilizing two barrel bands and a very simple, Remington-like nosecap.  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.  [kd check sight leaves of the two models for ranges] 

OPERATING MECHANISM

 

  The Russian Berdan II is the classic 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 M1874 French Gras, which was derived from the M1866 French Chassepot, and borrows from the earlier patents of ________.

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  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).

 

  After extracting and ejecting the fired case, a fresh cartridge is then dropped into the receiver and the bolt is pushed forward, simultaneously 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.

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DISTINGUISHING CHARACTERISTICS

 

  The Berdan II is a quite conventional, single shot, military bolt‑action rifle of this period and might be confused for other rifles 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.

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  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 __m (__yds.).

 

  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.

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  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.  [kdnote:  check short rifles & carbines]

 

A cylindrical head cleaning rod of the Berdan I design, but with serrated head sides, is carried in the forestock below the barrel exactly like that of the Berdan I, except that .

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MARKINGS

 

  All [kd check!]  Berdan II rifles carry Cyrillic markings on the top of the barrel between the lower band and the receiver, to be read with the rifle pointing to the right.  Arsenal markings indicate the armory producing the rifle, whether the initial BSA contract which would be marked “Бирмингамскiй  заводЪ.   No. [serial number] [Imperial eagle]” (Birmingham Factory or Plant), 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]”

  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. 

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Tula  “No. [serial number]  Императорскиiй Тульскiй Оружейный  зав. [year]

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Izhevskiy  “Ижевскiй  заводЪ.  No.” [serial number]   (year on the right knoxform flat)

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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.   

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CARTOUCHE

  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, above which is ___________ and the marks ___ and ___ to each side.

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BAYONET

 

  The Berdan II bayonet was newly designed for this rifle, differing slightly but distinguishably from the similar bayonet of the 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, including the __ and the __.  [check if this is complete bullshit!  Lol]

  It is identified by its tip, by its Cyrillic markings on the socket barrel and elbow and by an elbow length of __in. (__mm). 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 [kd check:  which is which!  Lol].

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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 paces; (142-1,065 m, 156-1,165 yards)

It is a long rifle (965mm overall). ?????

MANUFACTURING DATA

  Berdan II rifles were initially made by the Birmingham Small Arms Co. Ltd. Small Heath, Great Britain from 1870 to 1873 consisting of an order of 30,000 infantry rifles only.  Subsequently, the rifles were manufactured by the Russian Imperial arsenals in Tula, Izhevsk, and Sestroryetsk between 1874 and into 1892, totaling in excess of 1,000,000 (?) rifles and an unknown quantity of short rifles and carbines. 

 

  While Russian production was agonizing slow to ramp up, the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878 added a powerful impetus to Russian arms production.  Russian sources indicate that 345,000 Berdan II rifles (and variants) were issued in 1877, 475,000 were issued in 1878 and a further 348,800 Berdans were produced and distributed for issue in 1879.

 

  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 the long-term American presence there beginning in 2001.  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 below.

CARTRIDGE

10.6mm Russian Berdan 

aka: 

  • 10.67 x 58 R

  • 10.6 x 57.5 R

  • .42 Russian

 

Muzzle velocity:  427 m/s (~1,390 ft./s)

 

The .42 Russian Berdan cartridge consists of a rimmed, bottlenecked, straight-walled brass case loaded with 4.95 grams of black powder beneath a 23.7 gram, round-nosed, paper-patched lead bullet.  It is the first Berdan primed cartridge.

DIMENSIONS: 

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

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SHORT RIFLES, CARBINES & SPECIAL VERSIONS

 

  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.

 Berdan II M1870 Dragoon rifle (Dragunskaya vintovka Berdana obr. 1870g)

  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 __ inches (__mm) shorter overall than the infantry rifle with a __ in (__mm) 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 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 90o 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..

 

  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 __ in. below the upper band, and the lower slot is centered in the buttstock __ in. 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 paper patch color code.  [color???]

 

  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 ____ .  Like the infantry model, the Dragoon rear sight leaf elevates by pivoting at the front, but it is ranged only from ___ to ___ arshin (paces, about __ to __m; __ to __ 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.

Overall Length:  1,230 mm

Barrel Length:  716 mm

Rifling: 

Rear Sight:  carbine rear sight  [?]

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Berdan II M1873 Cossack rifle (________________ Berdana obr. 1870g)

  While lighter and shorter than the infantry rifle, the Dragoon variant, did not satisfy everyone.  Thus, in 1873 a version of the Berdan II, slightly shorter and even lighter than the Dragoon was designed and adopted.

 

  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 Tsarist army.  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 __ mm long by __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.  It is built with the same receiver and screw-retained bolt, and nearly identical sights [confirm].  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 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’s.

 

  Although the Cossack and the Dragoon are fundamentally similar, Cossack rifles were not issued with or for use with a bayonet, as each Cossack already carried both a substantial sword and dagger, and the addition of a bayonet was considered unnecessarily burdensome.

Overall Length:  ___ inches

Barrel Length:  ___ inches

Rifling:  6-groove: RH, concentric

Sight:  Ramp-and-leaf, graduated to 1,400 paces (1,090 yards)

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Berdan II M1870 Carbine (Karabina Berdana obr. 1870g)

  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 and the light cavalry  [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 __ in. (__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 extraordinarily light and thin, unique to the carbine, as is the uniquely small trigger guard bow and the tiny buttplate.  None of 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.

 

  The carbine does not appear to have been manufactured in large numbers and apparently few have survived.  It is seldom encountered, although some examples, along with occasional Dragoon and Cossack rifles and numerous Berdan infantry rifles, have been purchased from the local population by US troops serving in Afghanistan and from there made their way to international collectors.

 

  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 arsenal identification markings (a heavily fletched arrow, for example, denoting _______) 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:  __ mm (__ in.)

Barrel Length:  __mm (__in.)           475mm?     28.35 inches?

Weight:  2.8 kg (__lbs.) empty.

Rifling:  6-groove: RH, concentric

Sight:  Ramp-and-leaf, graduated to _____ paces (__m; __ yds.)

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UTILIZATION BY OTHER COUNTRIES

Bulgaria:

  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 is 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[1] (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.

 

Spain:

  Spanish Civil War utilization?  Evidence?

 

Finland:

  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.   Although already obsolete, they 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.  It is these rifles, eventually sold to Interarmco, which made their way to American collectors during the late 1960s and form the great bulk of the Berdan rifles seen in American collections today.

ADDITIONAL PHOTOS

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From top to bottom: M1870 Russian Berdan II , Berdan II M1870 Dragoon rifle, Berdan II M1873 Cossack rifle & Berdan II M1870 Carbine

PREDECESSOR & FOLLOW-ON RIFLES

Predecessor Rifle(s): M1868 Russian Berdan I

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Follow-On Rifle(s): Mosin Nagant

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REFERENCES

Page built February 7, 1999
Revised September 26, 1999
Revised February 19, 2002
Revised August 24, 2003

Updated: Nov 7, 2021

Updated Aug 3, 2022