Graybeard Outdoors banner

1 - 17 of 17 Posts

·
Registered
Joined
·
64 Posts
Discussion Starter #1
Looking for instances of lever guns as military rifles. Seems like a lost opportunity in US military history...(warning--shameless lever gun bias follows)

Reading some history over the weekend about rifle action and cartridge development, and seems like a lost opportunity that the US Army didn't adopt the lever action for a military rifle. Apparently lots of union militias, who weren't limited by the US Army Ordnance dept. choices, adopted lever rifles and used them effectively throughout the Civil War--and they were unanimously considered an excellent battle rifle. You'd think that battle testing like that would have satisfied the US Army over whatever doubts they had, so that they could have adopted lever rifles over the .30-40 Krag bolt rifle. I've seen Krag rifles and, sure, they are a part of collectible military history. But I know of no authority who speaks of any virtues the Krag had--like so many people speak of the virtues of many "obsolete" rifles. Apparently the Krag failed to take advantage of the excellent Mauser bolt action that was fully available to the US Army Ordnance decision makers, and the Krag cartridge was way behind the various Mauser chamberings. So the Krags started service inferior in every significant way to most major Army's rifles, as most nations moved to the mauser bolt design.

If the US Army Ordnance just had to be different, too bad they didn't choose the Winchester/Marlin lever action. The .30-30 was ballistically equal or superior to the .30-40 Krag in the charts I looked at, so even the popular chambering would have been better than what they chose. The Krag was an attempt to move away from slow big bore .45-70 Gov't to a higher velocity smaller bore cartridge, but there were better choices available.

Not until the Springfield bolt .30-06 did the US Army get a service rifle that was decent enough to match what other major armies were using. But even with the Springfield they were only just catching up to the Mauser--not advancing anything (like an improved military Lever 94/336 in more powerful chamberings would have been it seems to me). From the 1870s on, most every American who needed a versitile defense/hunting rifle (in other words: a civilian battle rifle) choose a lever gun. In civilian terms, lever guns retained their technological supremacy well into the 20th century until auto-loading rifles became common (despite the subtle advantages quality bolts guns have over levers in specific hunting situations).

Good thing the Ordnance dept. made two good choices though; the 1911 .45 ACP saved a lot of bacon in trenches in Belgium, and the M1 Garand outclassed every other battle rifle in WWII and was key to allied success. I personally think the Garand was the descendent more of the 94/336 than the Springfield (not technologically descendent, or course, just in practical terns). Even the technologically advanced German Army entered WWII fully satisfied with the Mauser bolt as the infantry battle rifle. How could Americans have been so satisfied with the Sprinfield when they all knew their 94/336s back home had firepower advantages the bolt gun didn't?
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
3,532 Posts
History notes: Lever actions as military ri

STW

I am sure that cost was the major factor in not adpoting and purchasing lever action rifles after the Civil War. They were proven, but they were costly. History shows they did a better job of adopting handguns then rifles. Great Grandfather on Dads' side discharge information shows he turn in a Colt pistol but no rifle information. He was part of the Michigan Calvery sent West to fight Indians at the end of the Civil War.

It sure would have been interesting to discuss the subject with him.

Siskiyou
 

·
Premium Member
Joined
·
676 Posts
History notes: Lever actions as military ri

I know the Russians used a number of Winchester 1895's in WWI.

I also know that our militia was equipped with Henrys in 1866 when they turned back the US invasion at Ridgeway.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,320 Posts
History notes: Lever actions as military ri

Rumor has it that the "military" was afraid repeating rifles would cause soldiers to be wastefull of ammunition.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,623 Posts
Lever Rifles in post-Civil War era

yeah,

the post-Civil War US Army establishment was very wary of spending any significant moneys on the soldier's basic weapon. There were something like over a million service rifles and carbines in the inventory after the 1860-65 war ended. Funding for new weapons was scarce.

Reading about the history of Springfield Armory gives some insight into how conservative the military establishment thinking was. Single-shot rifles were wanted not only in the interests of conserving ammunition, but in getting the power and range considered necessary for the infantry arm.

Civilian use (and very limited Army issue) of repeater rifles was based more on manufacturers sucessful marketing of their products.

Please remember, the invention of smokeless propellants was still more than 20 years in the future, and even when Europe started to rearm it's armies with repeating small caliber rifles, the US Army establishment was still stuck on the idea of magazine cut-offs to conserve a soldier's ammo ration. Both the Krag and the Springfield 1903 rifles have them.

Too, the chemistry of smokeless small arms propellants was "Top Secret" in the late 1880's, and the formulations were guarded jealously. Both Britain and the US adopted small caliber catridges (.303 in 1888 and .30 US Army in 1892, respectively) that started out using blackpowder propellants. The early technology of cartridge, primer, bullet and smokeless propellants were learned in stages and took many years.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,287 Posts
History notes: Lever actions as military ri

I can think of two examples of regular army units using lever action rifles. The Turks used lever actions against the Russian Imperial Army and were pleased by their success. Second, the Archangel Expeditionary Force used Model 95 Winchesters chambered in 7.62x54 Russian, right after WWI, against the Bolsheviks.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
64 Posts
Discussion Starter #7
Re: Lever Rifles in post-Civil War era

John Traveler said:
Too, the chemistry of smokeless small arms propellants was "Top Secret" in the late 1880's, and the formulations were guarded jealously. Both Britain and the US adopted small caliber catridges (.303 in 1888 and .30 US Army in 1892, respectively) that started out using blackpowder propellants. The early technology of cartridge, primer, bullet and smokeless propellants were learned in stages and took many years.
Good points, John. But are you saying that lever guns were just a marketing phenomenon? :shock: :wink:

As to the smokeless powder, I guess I was thinking that 1892 was the year to adopt the M94 instead of the Krag since the Krag wasn't up to Mauser standards while the m94 would at least have offered different advantages. But reading more today, I learned that the Krad rifle, designed by the Norwegians Krag and Jorgensen and adopted by the Danes, was desirable to the US Army Ordnance dept. for its one innovative feature: it was the only bolt gun considered whose magazine could be topped up with cartridges without having to empty completely. Apparently the US Army Ordnance dept. felt this was important enough they chose the oddball krag. So they were being innovative after all. I like to imagine they focused on this advantage in part due to familiarity with lever gun repeaters who also allowed topping up (once Winchester had put a loading gate in the receiver since the 1866). Interestingly, the Army wouldn't have a service rifle you could top up until the M14 after WWII. The Krag's weird magazine was horizontal and the cartridges traveled from right to left then turned up toward the bolt.

Every thing I've read backs up your comment about the technologically (and strategically?) conservative Army brass. One fine thing about the US is the desire to demob the services after a conflict and not have a standing army, but it also tends to lead us toward conservatism in equipment.

But, it does seem pretty short sighted to fixate on saving ammunition. They could save even more by issueing pikes rather than rifles.

Reports after Gettysburg showed that muzzle loaders recovered from the battlefield were usually loaded with more than one powder charge and ball. 2 to 6 separate charges and balls on top of each other, sometimes as many as 10 separate balls. (Speaks to the distraction and fear soldiers were feeling in combat.) So, they might have concluded that single shot rifles weren't saving ammo.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,095 Posts
History notes: Lever actions as military ri

Double D

My impression is STW is referring to lever action repeaters.

Regarding the adoption of the Krag vs the M94 we need to remember that the Krag and cartridge were ready to go in 1892 (actually before as there was some hagling with Congress for the money) while the M94 was still in development by Browning. The M94 with the 30WCF cartridge was not available until 1895 sometime after the Krag was already being produced in quanity and fielded. A matter of timing.

Also there is ample historical documentation of numerous lever action repeaters being used during the Civil War. Most noteably was the Spencer. The Spencer was also used by the Cavalry to a great degree through the late 1860s and early '70s during the Indian campaigns. It was also used, most noteably by the 7th Cavelry, in the South during post Civil War Reconstruction.

As far as selection as a military firearm, with the exception of the M95 in 7.62R, the biggest problem with lever actions was they were very slow to reload. If a soldier in an offensive posture didn't get the objective taken with the first magazine load he was at a real disadvantage. Even the Krag reloaded much quicker than all lever actions at the time, 1892. The M95 had yet to be produced and only the Russion model was adopted for stripper clip reloading. The required ability of "sustained fire" is not a forte of the lever action. Another big problem was from a training and maintainance perspective. Most lever actions can not be field stripped for cleaning which was very imortant with the corrosive ammuniton of the time. Also the two piece stocks did not hold up very well during combat usage especially when using the bayonet.

The primary complaint of the the Krag vs the M93s in the Spanish American War was the ability of the M93 to be stripper clip loaded. Many also thought the Mauser "action" was better for the time also. However, I'm sure many Krag shooters would dissagree. This simple ability to stripper clip reload quickly enabled a much smaller defensive force to put out a large volume of fire. It is referred to as a "force multiplier" today. This led to the developement of the M1903 Springfield. If one makes an objective comparison one will see many features of the Krag and the Mauser in the M1903.

But back to the original question. If one studies the firearms history of the post Civil War era world wide through the early 1900s (Mexico and Latin American countries) you will find numerous instances of the military application of the lever action repeating rifle, both successful and not so successful. While successful in some larger actions it was mostly successful in small engagements that were over very quickly. It was however, very quickly over shadowed by the bolt action, particularly the proliferation of the Mauser.

Larry Gibson
 

·
Super Moderator
Joined
·
16,690 Posts
History notes: Lever actions as military ri

Of course he meant lever action repeaters, but he didn't say it.

Not mentioned is the military use of Lever actions by both Canada and Mexico.

The RCMP who at the time were a pseudo-military organization at the time used a lever gun. I believe it was the 73 Winchester, but could be very wrong on the model number. The Canadian army also used a lever gun, but it doesn't meet your repeater criteria. The finest military single shot ever made The Martini-Henry.

Mexico used the 94 Winchester as a military arm.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,098 Posts
History notes: Lever actions as military ri

The Northwest Mounted Police used M1876 carbines in .45/75 cal.
Many years ago, a M1873 copy/milsurp called the "El Tigre" was marketed here, pretty cheaply. It was from Mexico or some other Latin American country.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
64 Posts
Discussion Starter #14
History notes: Lever actions as military ri

There's lots of good knowledge here. Thanks all.

LMG, you're right that reloading during action was the primary reason listed for adopting the Krag, particularly topping up during action (which wasn't possible with the clip method?).

One thing that interested me in my reasearch was how many different kinds of actions and technologies were being produced all at once, especially from 1850 to 1900 or so. So many developments in bullet shap and material, powder, actions, rifling...

I was surprised to see all the variation that existed much earlier too. For example, the fact that wheel-lock actions (that fired without priming with powder in the pan like flintlocks) existed in numbers as early as the 1590s, but were just too expensive to make to go into common usage in armies or among pioneers in America.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,594 Posts
History notes: Lever actions as military ri

For those of you fanciers of the lever action Savage 99, I offer some historical data. Arthur W. Savage created the first rotary magazine lever action repeating firearm. Patent-type drawings dated 1892, illustrate the "Savage No. 1" in clear, precise detail.
Two firearms following these drawings, closely, were submitted to the U.S. military board testing trials in 1892 at Governor's Island, New York in an attempt to win government acceptance of his unique design.

GENERAL FEATURES:

Barrel - Approx. 28" to 30"

Caliber - Unknown, but the cartridge in the drawings appears to be similar to .303 Savage, or 30-40 Krag.

Sights - Rear sight appears similar to a folding vernier-type, probably adjustable for windage. Front - standard musket-type postsight.

Stocks- Full length musket type with 2 barrel bands and front swivel. A cleaning rod was provided.

One of these muskets is presently in the Savage Arms Museum at Westfield MA.

Unfortunately, the Savage entry did not fair well, falling to the Normeigian designed Krag Jergensen bolt-action rifle and was adapted for military use.


"The Ninety-Nine" 3ed edition. A History of the Savage Model 99 Rifle,
by D. Murray
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,098 Posts
History notes: Lever actions as military ri

:roll:
86er,
You're right. about the El Tigre. I was going by (faulty) memory but I dug out an old catalog from Westchester Trading Co. ca. 1964. It lists the El Tigre as Spanish made with saddle ring in .44-40 for $44.50 in good-vg, and $49-50 in vg-exc. Actually, that's not all that cheep, either. They offered a '03 Spfld for $39.50 and a '03-A3 for $47.50. A Garand was $79.50, and a M17 was $34.50. You could get a Johnson for the outrageous sum of $69.50! :wink:
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
237 Posts
History notes: Lever actions as military ri

In the TNT movie, ole' TR and his officers stormed up San Juan Hill with 1895s. Anyone care to guess how accurate that was? I don't have a clue, but it seems plausable.
 
1 - 17 of 17 Posts
Top