M1869, M1869/71, M1878 & M1881 Vetterli

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GENERALLY:   The Swiss Vetterli rifle, designed by Swiss designer Friedrich Vetterli, the manager of the Neuhausen factory, and adopted in both Switzerland and Italy,  utilized a Henry (Winchester) M1866 type tubular magazine and a bolt system derived from the German Dreyse needle fire rifle.  The Swiss Vetterli was the first repeating rifle widely adopted for military service.  Interestingly enough, the Vetterli continued to utilize rimfire ammunition until phased out in the 1890's in the favor of the Schmidt-Rubin.  Thus it was the most advanced military rifle at the time of its adoption and one of the most obsolete at the time of its ultimate replacement, but it remained in service for over twenty years during a time of great technological change.  It was also the first repeater to have a self-cocking action and small calibre. Adopted by the Swiss Army in 1868, it underwent several improvements between 1871 and 1879. These culminated in the model 1881. Throughout its service life the Swiss Vetterli's magazine system remained unchanged.  Early rifles (M1869) were manufactured by Schweizerichse Industry-Gesellshaft in Neuhausen.  This is the famous SIG arms company that is still a significant manufacturer of arms today.   In addition to SIG, the M1869 was manufactured by no fewer than eight other manufacturers.

      The decision to use the 10.4 millimeter rim fire cartridge in the Veterrli rifle was apparently motivated by considerations of economy since the cartridge it was already in existence and proven in the Milbank-Amsler conversions of the Federal rifle.  Notwithstanding that it is a rimfire, this round was a relatively high velocity, flat trajectory load, far ahead of the short range, large caliber rounds used in the other converted breach loading cartridges.  The Vetterli striker has a forked firing pin which passes through two firing hole pins in the bolt face for double striking the rimfire cartridge.     The cleaning rod of the early rifles was set into the left side of the stock, similarly to the later M1878 French Kropatchek, but that was soon changed and the fully operational M1869 (and all subsequent Swiss Vetterlis) carried the cleaning rod directly below the tubular magazine. The first rifles were made with a loading gate cover but that too was soon found to be unnecessary and removed all together with the adoption of the M1871.

    The M1869/71 (aka M1871) had an improved elevator system and a simplified receiver.  The leaf spring which assisted the elevator system was deleted, and the back sight was re-graduated from Schritte (paces) to meters.

    In 1878 an improved variation was adopted.  Although substantially a M1871, this variant only has a single barrel band, the fore stock is not checkered and it mounts provisions for a sword bayonet.   This rifle also mounted a significantly different Schmidt quadrant site with a much shorter leaf than the M1869 or M1871.  In 1881 the Vetterli was updated with a new model, but one which had only the most minor of modifications, the principal one being the addition of an extention to the rear sight leaf.  Many M1878 rifles were subsequently modified by fitting with the M1881 rear sight leaf.  There is a photo of such a rifle in which is linked here and below, which I refer to as a M1878/81 for clarity, although there was never such and official designation.

    The same turning bolt action was utilized in the Italian M1870 Vetterli rifle adopted by Italy and later, with the addition of the Vitali box magazine system, in the M1870/87 Vetterli-Vitali rifle.

PHOTO:  The representative rifle shown above is a Swiss M1878 Vetterli Infantry Rifle.

DISTINGUISHING CHARECTERISTICS:  The M1869 has provisions for a loading gate and a screw and stop-screw on the right side of the receiver.  On the left side of the receiver will most often be found a slot and two detents for the elevator spring (usually removed) and on the bottom of the receiver the elevator will often be notched.  The forestock is checkered similarly to the M1871.  There is no date on the left side of the receiver.

    The M1871 looks very similar to the M1869.  It too has no date on the receiver, the fore-end is checkered with two barrel bands but, unlike the M1869, the right side of the receiver has no provisions for a loading gate, the left side of the receiver has no slot or detents and the bottom of the receiver (elevator mechanism) carries no slot.

    The M1878 and M1881 carry a date on the left side of the receiver, have only one barrel band, no checkering of the forestock and a significantly different rear site which was later modified by the addition of an extention leaf on the M1881.   The M1869 and M1871 are also distinguished from the M1878 and M1881 by their relatively flat butt plates while the later models had deeply curved butt plates.  The M1881 is principally distinguished from the M1878 by its improved and extended site leaf but is otherwise virtually identical to the M1878, (but be advised that many M1878 rifles were subsequently modified by fitting with the M1881 rear sight leaf).

    The M1869 is sighted to1,000 schritte, the M1871 site is graduated to 1,000 meters, the M1878 sight is graduated to1,200 meters and the M1881 site, formed by two telescopic sliding leaves, is graduated to1,600 meters.

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M1869/71 (aka M1871) Swiss Vetterli Rifle

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M1878 Swiss Vetterli Rifle.  Almost identical to the M1881

M1869 Swiss Vetterli Infantry Rifle
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 Loading gate of the M1869 closed.  The small pin below the large pivot screw is a travel stop for the gate itself.   stop The gate was removed from subsequent models.

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 Loading gate open.

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  Right side of the M1869 Vetterli.  The slot and detents are for the elevator assist
   spring which was removed early on as being unnecessary.

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Notch cut into the bottom of the elevator into which (I believe but am not sure) the elevator assist spring was fitted.

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Sight of the M1869 calibrated to 1,000 schritt.

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Left side of M1869 Sight and knoxform.

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The forestock and barrel were fitted not only with barrel bands but with a retaining pin as well.  Nothing if not sure those Swiss!!

M1870 Swiss Vetterli Cadet Rifle
 
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Photos with RED background courtesy of Kristopher Gassior (www.collectiblefirearms.com)

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GENERALLY:   I don't generally identify Cadet rifles on this site, the focus of the site being the standard issue rifles adopted and utilized by the various nations' armed forces and intended for front line service.  However, the M1870 Swiss Cadet is so similar to the M1870 Italian Vetterli that it would be worth pointing out its distinctiveness.

PHOTO:  The rifle shown above is a M1870 Swiss Vetterli Cadet Rifle.

DISTINGUISHING CHARECTERISTICS:  The M1870 Cadet is a Single Shot Vetterli, (all other Swiss Vetterlis, including hte carbines, are tubular magazine repeaters) and having a one piece stock (all other Swiss Vetterlis, including carbines, having two piece stocks) like the Italian Vetterli, but it differs from the single shot Italian Vetterli in that it is considerably smaller, being about ___ inches in length and weighing in at just over 7 pounds.  The rear sight ____________-  and it lacks any form of bayonet lug.
 

M1871 Swiss Vetterli Infantry Rifle
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Note that the loading gate and it's supporting hardware is absent on this M1869/71 variant.

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Comparison of the M1869 (bottom) and M1871 Swiss Vetterlis.  The M1869 shows the cut-out that tied in with the spring assist for the cartridge elevator.
 

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Here note that the slot and detents are likewise removed from
   the M1871.

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M1878 & M1881 Swiss Vetterli
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M1878 Swiss Vetterli Invantry Rifle.

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M1871 Swiss Vetterli - Top.  M1878 Vetterli - bottom. Note barrel band, stock checkering & sight differences.

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M1881 Swiss Vetterli - Top
M1878/81 Swiss Vetterli - Bottom

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Photo showing the sight leaf extention of the M1881 - bottom.  A M1878/81  is shown at top.  Not good to use for comparison as the original M1878 sight had a simpler flat sighting leaf, more akin to the M1871 sight leaf but set in the M1878 tangent sight housing.

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The M1878 Swiss Vetterli, Left Receiver

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 M1881 Swiss Vetterli Left receiver.  Vetterlis were made by a
   number of different manufacturers.  These two by Waffenfabrik.

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Speaking of butts ... The M1878 and the M1881 had a curious addition in the way of a butt trap underneath the steel butt plate.  The butt plate does not have a built in access door such as is found on the M1888 Trapdoor Springfield or the Meji 22 Murata, however, if the butt plate is removed, there is a compartment for holding a spare firing pin, a piece which was easily broken.  Not many people know that there is a spare firing pin there.  :)

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There is a firing pin wrapped up in that original paper tucked into the butt stock.
 

M1871,  M1878 & M1881 Swiss Vetterli Stutzers
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mmediately above and below:  M1871 Stutzer.
Note the double set trigger.  (from my friend Eduardo's collection)

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Generally:  The "Stutzer" short rifles are a series of double set-trigger rifles which Switzerland adopted to supplement its regular infantry rifle.  Stutzers were adopted as M1867 Milbank-Amsler Rifles as well as the later Vetterli Stutzer Rifles discussed right here.  The Stutzers were adopted to arm the "riflemen" as distinguished from the general infantry.  Troops in more of a "sharpshooter" role.  Only 16,000 were built.
 

Distinguishing Charecteristics:  The M1871 Stutzer was shorter than the corresponding M1869 and M1869/71 Swiss Vetterlis but retains the early quadrant sight and forestock checkering.  Note that it has only one barrel band and nosecap, a deeply curved heavy buttplate, which was adopted generally for the infantry rifles with the M1873 Swiss Vetterli, and the unusual Thury double set-trigger.  Look for the two trigger levers within the triggerguard.

The M1878 Stutzer is a much closer approximation of the standard M1878 Vetterli Infantry rifle and is only slightly modified, distinguished from the M1878 rifle by the Schmidt type double set-trigger.  Like the Model 1871 Stutzer, above, look for the two trigger levers within the triggerguard.  Fewer than 6,000 were built.

The M1881 Stutzer is, like the M1878 a much closer approximation of the standard M1881 Vetterli Infantry rifle.  The Schmidt type double set-trigger is slightly improved internally but without obvious external differences.  The backsight is the improved Schmidt Quadrantenvisier graduated fro from 225-1,200 meters on the external left side, but containing an additional sliding leaf to extend the range to 1,600 meters.  Like the Models 1871 and 1878 Stutzers, above, look for the two trigger levers within the triggerguard.
 

The M1867-8 Swiss Vetterli Prototype
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 Early prototype (I have a woodcut drawing of an early Vetterli Prototype with external  hammer cocked by the retracting bolt, 'a la Hotchkiss.  But it's a big file so I haven't  uploaded it to conserve space.  E-mail me if you'd like to see it and I'll upload it.      Thanks, Keith)

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Leather swabs & Trompion for use with the Vetterlis

Page first sketched out February 8, 1999
Revised May 24, September 15, 1999
Revised May 8, 2000
Revised January 12, 2001
Converting/Shooting page March 3, 2001

Updated: Nov 11, 2021