Firearms Technical Trivia, August 2000:

Austro-Hungarian War Ensign Austro-Hungarian War Ensign
There are a handful of engineers and designers who lived and worked in the latter half of the 19th century and the first quarter of the 20th whose influence is still keenly felt in the firearms community today.  Indeed, it is not inaccurate to say that the design of every successful firearm since that time is nothing more than an adaptation of principles developed by these men.  Tremendous debts are owed to men with names like Browning, Nickl, Mauser, Walther, Wesson, Mannlicher, and Lee.  In this intermittent series, CRUFFLER.COM hopes to provide a historical overview of the highlights of each man's work. It is not intended to provide an encyclopedic reference, but rather an introduction that will whet the appetite of burgeoning firearms historians.

Ferdinand, Ritter von Mannlicher was an Austrian patriot.  He was also a first rate mechanical genius to whom we owe many of the features and design elements found in both modern firearms and those which are prized by the Cruffler.  He devoted his prodigious talents totally to the production of military weaponry.  It was with this superior weaponry that he hoped to fortify the Dual Monarchy (the Austro-Hungarian empire) against what he believed to be an inevitable Russian assault.  When he died in 1903, he left behind an enormous body of work in the firearms field, the breadth of which has never been equaled.  This month's technical trivia will focus on a brief technical chronology of Mannlicher's career which will highlight this gifted and prolific designer's work and place it in the proper historical context.

Mannlicher did all of his work in latter quarter of the 19th Century.  Because of this, he was necessarily breaking new ground.  His work was perforce original; Mannlicher had no choice but to act in the role of pathfinder in the field of automatic weapons, repeating rifles, and magazine systems.  In the course of his career, he developed more than 150 models of repeating and automatic firearms.  Indeed, every phase of every system that has, since that time, been successful (with the exception of the idiosyncratically American pump and lever actions)  may be found within Mannlicher's body of work.

Most commonly, the name Mannlicher brings to mind the clip loading system for which he is justifiably famed.  Indeed, it was the first successful multiple loading system which permitted a rifleman to load a magazine with a single movement.  In the Mannlicher clip system, cartridges are held in a spring steel clip.  The cartridges and clip are inserted into the magazine as a unit.  When the last cartridge is loaded into the chamber, the clip is ejected from the firearm.
Mannlicher Style Clip
Mannlicher Style Clip as Used in the Mannlicher M1895 Straight Pull Rifle
Image Credit:  Smith, Walter H.B., Mannlicher Rifles and Pistols, The Military Service Publishing Company, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1947, Page 121
While initially popular, by the end of the First World War, the system was supplanted in the bolt action rifle world by the Mauser type clip in which the cartridges are swept out of the clip and into the magazine.

The Mannlicher clip system proved much more long-lived in the self-loading rifle field, being used in the first line rifle of a major power until 1957.  Specifically, the clip used in the M1 (Garand) rifle is but a small modification of the original Mannlicher design.  Unlike most of the familiar Mannlicher actions, the Garand's clip is ejected from the top of the action when empty.  This technique is not, as may first be assumed, a departure from Mannlicher designs.  The clip in the Austrian M1885 rifle (a Mannlicher design) was ejected upwards, much like the Garand.

Returning to the chronology of Mannlicher's career, in 1880, Mannlicher brought out a turning bolt system, which he later improved upon.  As an aside, the Mannlicher turnbolt actions are almost as simple as the Mauser and are significantly easier and less expensive to manufacture.  The year 1884 found Mannlicher producing the first of his straight pull, revolving bolt-head magazine rifles for which he later received well deserved acclaim.  From his original designs stemmed all later straight pull actions with revolving bolt-heads - the Canadian Ross, the Swiss Schmidt-Rubin, and the modern Mauser M96 (not to mention the later Mannlicher Model 1895).  By 1887, Mannlicher had perfected and unveiled his revolving magazine.
Mannlicher Rotary Magazine, Standalone Views
Rotary Magazine Mounted in Rifle
Mannlicher Rotary Magazine.  Right hand view shows magazines as mounted in rifle, left hand view shows magazine from rear (2), top looking down (3), and right side view (unnumbered).
Image Credit:  Smith, Walter H.B., Mannlicher Rifles and Pistols, The Military Service Publishing Company, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1947, Page 51
This magazine, which is still in use today by a number of sporting rifle makers, holds the cartridges in a spring-loaded revolving spool.  Each cartridge is separated from the others by the construction of the spool, and is thus protected.

Back tracking to 1885, we see Mannlicher introducing his first automatic weapon, a light machinegun.  The design of this arm is seminal - while it has been given very little attention by gun writers, it contained many of the basic principles that would be widely exploited by later designers.  In any event, the light machinegun unveiled by Mannlicher in 1885 was not successful; it was simply too far ahead
of its time.  The military was not psychologically ready for it, and the state of metallurgy was not advanced enough to provide the necessary steels for the weapon itself, nor the correct form of brass for the cartridge cases needed to ensure the gun's reliability. A comparison of the Mannlicher's operating principles with those of the Browning designs used in the Second World War provides ample evidence of Mannlicher's foresight and brilliance:
Mannlicher M1885 Light Machinegun
Mannlicher M1885 Light Machinegun
Image Credit:  Smith, Walter H.B., Mannlicher Rifles and Pistols, The Military Service Publishing Company, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1947, Page 156

While the gun bears many operating similarities to the Browning, there are other designs that benefited from Mannlicher's 1885 ideas.  The top mounted magazine, found in British, Czech, and Japanese designs dates back to Mannlicher's 1885 gun.

In 1891 Mannlicher unveiled a clip loading semiautomatic rifle based on the principles established in his 1885 machinegun.  This rifle used a barrel sleeve like the one later used by John Browning in the design of his Remington autoloading rifle (although the resemblance ends there - the Mannlicher was a short recoil action design, the Browning/Remington a long recoil action design).  Mannlicher's next self loading rifle was brought out in 1893.  This was based on a  turning bolt action with locking lugs and locking surfaces machined on a slight curve designed to delay the opening of the breech during a period of high pressure.  This principle, later found in the Thompson Rifle which was one of the Garand's competitors, was the forerunner of the Blish principle, a subject of engineering controversy for some time.
Mannlicher M1891 Self Loading Rifle
Mannlicher M1893 Self Loading Rifle
Mannlicher M1891 Self Loading Rifle (Left) and M1893 Self Loading Rifle (Right)
Image Credit:  Smith, Walter H.B., Mannlicher Rifles and Pistols, The Military Service Publishing Company, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1947, Page 165 and 171
In 1895, military mindset and metallurgy yet again prevented the adoption of a Mannlicher design which was substantially ahead of its time.  This was a self loading rifle with so many similarities to the M1 Garand rifle that it is worthy of special consideration.  When comparing basic operating principles, we see:

Mannlicher M1895 Self Loading Rifle
Mannlicher M1895 Self Loading Rifle
Image Credit:  Smith, Walter H.B., Mannlicher Rifles and Pistols, The Military Service Publishing Company, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1947, Page 198
Even as he neared the time of his death, the gifted Austrian designer continued to work and develop, and to manufacture, a great number of firearms whose principles would not be fully exploited for another forty years.  Another example of his prescient genius was to be found in the short-stroke gas operated automatic rifle of 1900, the operating principles of which resemble nothing so much as the US M1 and M2 carbines:
Mannlicher Model 1900 Self Loading Rifle
Mannlicher M1900 Self Loading Rifle
Image Credit:  Smith, Walter H.B., Mannlicher Rifles and Pistols, The Military Service Publishing Company, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1947, Page 234
As can be seen, the scope and variety of Mannlicher's genius is staggering.  While most Americans think of Ferdinand, Ritter von Mannlicher as little more than a name, his influence extends deep into firearms technology and culture in the United States.  Moreover, we know that he was a sincere and honest man whose labors in his chosen field, the field of firearms development, were gargantuan, and devoted almost entirely to the safety and security of his native land.  There is, perhaps, little more that we can ask of anyone.

Note:  Data for this month's trivia page was gathered from:

Mannlicher Rifles and Pistols, by Walter H.B. Smith, The Military Service Publishing Company, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1947

Note - this is an old and out of print volume.  Check with your internet or local rare/used bookseller to inquire about obtaining a copy.

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