Breech-loading weapon

Breech-loading weapon

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A breech-loading weapon is a firearm
Firearm
A firearm is a weapon that launches one, or many, projectile at high velocity through confined burning of a propellant. This subsonic burning process is technically known as deflagration, as opposed to supersonic combustion known as a detonation. In older firearms, the propellant was typically...

 (a rifle
Rifle
A rifle is a firearm designed to be fired from the shoulder, with a barrel that has a helical groove or pattern of grooves cut into the barrel walls. The raised areas of the rifling are called "lands," which make contact with the projectile , imparting spin around an axis corresponding to the...

, a gun
Gun
A gun is a muzzle or breech-loaded projectile-firing weapon. There are various definitions depending on the nation and branch of service. A "gun" may be distinguished from other firearms in being a crew-served weapon such as a howitzer or mortar, as opposed to a small arm like a rifle or pistol,...

, etc.) in which the cartridge
Cartridge (firearms)
A cartridge, also called a round, packages the bullet, gunpowder and primer into a single metallic case precisely made to fit the firing chamber of a firearm. The primer is a small charge of impact-sensitive chemical that may be located at the center of the case head or at its rim . Electrically...

 or shell
Shell (projectile)
A shell is a payload-carrying projectile, which, as opposed to shot, contains an explosive or other filling, though modern usage sometimes includes large solid projectiles properly termed shot . Solid shot may contain a pyrotechnic compound if a tracer or spotting charge is used...

 is inserted or loaded into a chamber integral to the rear portion of a barrel
Gun barrel
A gun barrel is the tube, usually metal, through which a controlled explosion or rapid expansion of gases are released in order to propel a projectile out of the end at a high velocity....

.

Modern mass production
Mass production
Mass production is the production of large amounts of standardized products, including and especially on assembly lines...

 firearm
Firearm
A firearm is a weapon that launches one, or many, projectile at high velocity through confined burning of a propellant. This subsonic burning process is technically known as deflagration, as opposed to supersonic combustion known as a detonation. In older firearms, the propellant was typically...

s are breech-loading (though mortars
Mortar (weapon)
A mortar is an indirect fire weapon that fires explosive projectiles known as bombs at low velocities, short ranges, and high-arcing ballistic trajectories. It is typically muzzle-loading and has a barrel length less than 15 times its caliber....

 are generally muzzle-loaded). Early firearms were almost entirely muzzle-loading. The main advantage of breech-loading is a reduction in reloading time - it is much quicker to load the projectile and charge into the breech than to force them down a long tube, especially when the tube has spiral ridges from rifling
Rifling
Rifling is the process of making helical grooves in the barrel of a gun or firearm, which imparts a spin to a projectile around its long axis...

. In field artillery, breech loading allows the crew to reload the weapon without exposing themselves to enemy fire or repositioning the piece (as was required for muzzle-loaded weapons) and allows turrets and emplacements to be smaller (since breech loaded weapons do not need to be retracted for loading).

History



Although breech-loading weapons were developed as far back as the late 14th century in Burgundy
Duchy of Burgundy
The Duchy of Burgundy , was heir to an ancient and prestigious reputation and a large division of the lands of the Second Kingdom of Burgundy and in its own right was one of the geographically larger ducal territories in the emergence of Early Modern Europe from Medieval Europe.Even in that...

, breech-loading became more successful with improvements in precision engineering
Precision engineering
Precision engineering is a subdiscipline of electrical engineering, electronics engineering, mechanical engineering, and optical engineering concerned with designing machines, fixtures, and other structures that have exceptionally low tolerances, are repeatable, and are stable over time...

 and machining
Machining
Conventional machining is a form of subtractive manufacturing, in which a collection of material-working processes utilizing power-driven machine tools, such as saws, lathes, milling machines, and drill presses, are used with a sharp cutting tool to physical remove material to achieve a desired...

 in the 19th century.

The main challenge for developers of breech-loading weapons was sealing the breech. This was eventually solved for smaller weapons by the development of the self-contained metallic cartridge
Cartridge (firearms)
A cartridge, also called a round, packages the bullet, gunpowder and primer into a single metallic case precisely made to fit the firing chamber of a firearm. The primer is a small charge of impact-sensitive chemical that may be located at the center of the case head or at its rim . Electrically...

. For weapons too large to use cartridges, the problem was solved by the development of the interrupted screw
Interrupted screw
An interrupted screw or interrupted thread is a mechanical device typically used in the breech of artillery guns. It was invented circa 1845....

.

Swivel guns



Breech-loading swivel gun
Breech-loading swivel gun
A breech-loading swivel gun was a particular type of swivel gun and a small breech-loading cannon invented in the 14th century. It was equipped with a swivel for easy rotation and was loaded by inserting a mug-shaped device called a chamber, pre-filled with gunpowder and projectiles...

s were invented in the 14th century. They were a particular type of swivel gun
Swivel gun
The term swivel gun usually refers to a small cannon, mounted on a swiveling stand or fork which allows a very wide arc of movement. Another type of firearm referred to as a swivel gun was an early flintlock combination gun with two barrels that rotated along their axes to allow the shooter to...

, and consisted in a small breech-loading cannon equipped with a swivel
Swivel
A swivel is a connection that allows the connected object, such as a gun or chair, to rotate horizontally and/or vertically. A common design for a swivel is a cylindrical rod that can turn freely within a support structure. The rod is usually prevented from slipping out by a nut, washer or...

 for easy rotation, and which could be loaded by inserting a mug-shaped chamber already filled with powder and projectiles. The breech-loading swivel gun had a high rate of fire, and was especially effective in anti-personnel roles.

Firearms


Breech-loading firearms are known from the 16th century. Henry VIII
Henry VIII of England
Henry VIII was King of England from 21 April 1509 until his death. He was Lord, and later King, of Ireland, as well as continuing the nominal claim by the English monarchs to the Kingdom of France...

 possessed one, which he apparently used as a hunting gun to shoot birds.

More breech-loading firearms were made in the early 18th century. One such weapon is known to have belonged to Philip V of Spain
Philip V of Spain
Philip V was King of Spain from 15 November 1700 to 15 January 1724, when he abdicated in favor of his son Louis, and from 6 September 1724, when he assumed the throne again upon his son's death, to his death.Before his reign, Philip occupied an exalted place in the royal family of France as a...

, and was manufactured circa 1715, probably in Madrid
Madrid
Madrid is the capital and largest city of Spain. The population of the city is roughly 3.3 million and the entire population of the Madrid metropolitan area is calculated to be 6.271 million. It is the third largest city in the European Union, after London and Berlin, and its metropolitan...

. It came with a ready-to load reusable cartridge.

Patrick Ferguson
Patrick Ferguson
Major Patrick Ferguson was a Scottish officer in the British Army, early advocate of light infantry and designer of the Ferguson rifle. He is best known for his service in the 1780 military campaign of Charles Cornwallis, in which he aggressively recruited Loyalists and harshly treated Patriot...

, a British Army
British Army
The British Army is the land warfare branch of Her Majesty's Armed Forces in the United Kingdom. It came into being with the unification of the Kingdom of England and Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. The new British Army incorporated Regiments that had already existed in England...

 officer, developed in 1772 the Ferguson rifle
Ferguson rifle
The Ferguson rifle was one of the first breech loading rifles to be widely tested by the British military. Other breech loaders were experimented with in various commands, including earlier versions of the Ordnance rifle by Patrick Ferguson when he was in the "Fever Islands" . It was often...

, a breech-loading flintlock weapon. Roughly two hundred of the rifles were manufactured and used in the Battle of Brandywine
Battle of Brandywine
The Battle of Brandywine, also known as the Battle of the Brandywine or the Battle of Brandywine Creek, was fought between the American army of Major General George Washington and the British-Hessian army of General Sir William Howe on September 11, 1777. The British defeated the Americans and...

, during the American Revolutionary War
American Revolutionary War
The American Revolutionary War , the American War of Independence, or simply the Revolutionary War, began as a war between the Kingdom of Great Britain and thirteen British colonies in North America, and ended in a global war between several European great powers.The war was the result of the...

, but shortly after they were retired and replaced with the standard Brown Bess
Brown Bess
Brown Bess is a nickname of uncertain origin for the British Army's Land Pattern Musket and its derivatives. This musket was used in the era of the expansion of the British Empire and acquired symbolic importance at least as significant as its physical importance. It was in use for over a hundred...

 musket
Musket
A musket is a muzzle-loaded, smooth bore long gun, fired from the shoulder. Muskets were designed for use by infantry. A soldier armed with a musket had the designation musketman or musketeer....

.

Later on into the mid-19th century there were attempts in Europe at an effective breech-loader. There were concentrated attempts at improved cartridges and methods of ignition.

In Paris in 1808, in association with French gunsmith François Prélat
François Prélat
François Prélat was a French gunsmith and inventor. He is thought to have invented the first fully contained cartridge in 1808, as well as the percussion cap in 1818....

, Jean Samuel Pauly
Jean Samuel Pauly
Jean Samuel Pauly , also Samuel Johannes Pauly, was a famous gunsmith of the early 19th century. Pauly was born at Vechigen near Bern, Switzerland on 13 April 1766.-Career:...

 created the first fully self-contained cartridges
Cartridge (firearms)
A cartridge, also called a round, packages the bullet, gunpowder and primer into a single metallic case precisely made to fit the firing chamber of a firearm. The primer is a small charge of impact-sensitive chemical that may be located at the center of the case head or at its rim . Electrically...

: the cartridges incorporated a copper base with integrated mercury fulminate primer powder (the major innovation of Pauly), a paper casing and a round bullet The cartridge was loaded through the breech and fired with a needle. The needle-activated central-fire breech-loading gun would become a major feature of firearms thereafter. The corresponding firearm was also developed by Pauly. Pauly made an improved version which was protected by a patent on 29 September 1812. The cartridge was further improved by the French gunsmith Casimir Lefaucheux
Casimir Lefaucheux
Casimir Lefaucheux was a French gunsmith. He was born in Bonnétable and died in Paris.Casimir Lefaucheux obtained his first patent in 1827...

 in 1836.

The low-powered copper Flobert cartridge was invented in 1836, as was the pinfire cartridge (Lefaucheux), although this required fixative work by Houiller in 1846 to produce a workable cartridge. The rimfire cartridge was introduced in the 1850s, and centrefire cartridge
Centerfire ammunition
A centerfire cartridge is a cartridge with a primer located in the center of the cartridge case head. Unlike rimfire cartridges, the primer is a separate and replaceable component....

 in 1857 by Pottet, with both Berdan and Boxer priming
Internal ballistics
Internal ballistics, a subfield of ballistics, is the study of a projectile's behavior from the time its propellant's igniter is initiated until it exits the gun barrel...

.

In 1842, The Norwegian Armed Forces adopted the breechloading caplock, the Kammerlader
Kammerlader
The Kammerlader, or "chamber loader", was the first Norwegian breech loading rifle, and among the very first breech loaders adopted for use by an armed force anywhere in the world. A single shot black powder rifle, the kammerlader was operated with a crank mounted on the side of the receiver. This...

, one of the first instances in which a modern army widely adopted a breechloading rifle as its main infantry firearm.

The Dreyse Zündnadelgewehr or Dreyse needle gun
Needle gun
The Dreyse needle-gun was a military breechloading rifle, famous as the main infantry weapon of the Prussians, who adopted it for service in 1848 as the Dreyse Zündnadelgewehr, or Prussian Model 1848...

, was a single-shot breech-loader rifle
Rifle
A rifle is a firearm designed to be fired from the shoulder, with a barrel that has a helical groove or pattern of grooves cut into the barrel walls. The raised areas of the rifling are called "lands," which make contact with the projectile , imparting spin around an axis corresponding to the...

 using a rotating bolt
Rotating bolt
Rotating bolt is a method of locking originally developed by Ferdinand Ritter von Mannlicher and found in his Steyr-Mannlicher M1895 straight-pull bolt-action rifle designed for and issued to the Austro-Hungarian Army...

 to seal the breech. It was so called because of its .5-inch needle-like firing pin which passed through a paper cartridge
Paper cartridge
Paper cartridge refers to one of various types of small arms ammunition used before the advent of the metallic cartridge. These cartridges consisted of a paper cylinder or cone containing the bullet, gunpowder, and, in some cases, a primer or a lubricating and anti-fouling agent...

 case to impact a percussion cap
Percussion cap
The percussion cap, introduced around 1830, was the crucial invention that enabled muzzleloading firearms to fire reliably in any weather.Before this development, firearms used flintlock ignition systems which produced flint-on-steel sparks to ignite a pan of priming powder and thereby fire the...

 at the bullet base. It began development in the 1830s under Dreyse and eventually an improved version of it was adopted by Prussia
Prussia
Prussia was a German kingdom and historic state originating out of the Duchy of Prussia and the Margraviate of Brandenburg. For centuries, the House of Hohenzollern ruled Prussia, successfully expanding its size by way of an unusually well-organized and effective army. Prussia shaped the history...

 in the late 1840s. The paper cartridge and the gun had numerous deficiencies; specifically, serious problems with gas leaking. However, the rifle was used to great success in the Prussian army in the Austro-Prussian war
Austro-Prussian War
The Austro-Prussian War was a war fought in 1866 between the German Confederation under the leadership of the Austrian Empire and its German allies on one side and the Kingdom of Prussia with its German allies and Italy on the...

 of 1866. This, and the Franco-Prussian war
Franco-Prussian War
The Franco-Prussian War or Franco-German War, often referred to in France as the 1870 War was a conflict between the Second French Empire and the Kingdom of Prussia. Prussia was aided by the North German Confederation, of which it was a member, and the South German states of Baden, Württemberg and...

 of 1870-71, eventually caused much interest in Europe for breech loaders and the Prussian military system in general.

During the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

 many breech loaders would be fielded. The Sharps rifle
Sharps Rifle
Sharps rifles were those of a series begun with a design by Christian Sharps. Sharps rifles were renowned for long range and high accuracy in their day.-History:Sharps's initial rifle was patented September 17, 1848 and manufactured by A. S...

 used a successful dropping block design. The Greene Rifle used rotating bolt-action, and was fed from the breech. The Spencer
Spencer repeating rifle
The Spencer repeating rifle was a manually operated lever-action, repeating rifle fed from a tube magazine with cartridges. It was adopted by the Union Army, especially by the cavalry, during the American Civil War, but did not replace the standard issue muzzle-loading rifled muskets in use at the...

, which used lever-actuated bolt-action, was fed from a seven-round detachable tube magazine. The Henry rifle
Henry rifle
The Henry repeating rifle was a lever-action, breech-loading, tubular magazine rifle.-History:The original Henry rifle was a .44 caliber rimfire, lever-action, breech-loading rifle designed by Benjamin Tyler Henry in the late 1850s. The Henry rifle was an improved version of the earlier Volcanic...

s and Volcanic rifles used rimfire metallic cartridges fed from a tube magazine under the barrel. These held a significant advantage over muzzle-loaders. The improvements in breech-loaders had spelled the end of muzzle-loaders. To make use of the enormous number of war surplus muzzle-loaders, the Allin conversion Springfield was adopted in 1866. General Burnside invented a breech-loading rifle before the war.

The French adopted the new Chassepot
Chassepot
The Chassepot, officially known as Fusil modèle 1866, was a bolt action military breechloading rifle, famous as the arm of the French forces in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and 1871. It replaced an assortment of Minie muzzleloading rifles many of which were converted in 1867 to breech loading...

 rifle in 1866, which was much improved over the Needle gun as it had dramatically fewer gas leaks due to its de Bange sealing system. The British initially took the existing Enfield and fitted it with a Snider breech-action
Snider-Enfield
The British .577 Snider-Enfield was a type of breech loading rifle. The firearm action was invented by the American Jacob Snider, and the Snider-Enfield was one of the most widely used of the Snider varieties. It was adopted by British Army as a conversion system for its ubiquitous Pattern 1853...

 (solid block, hinged parallel to the barrel) firing the Boxer cartridge. Following a competitive examination of 104 guns in 1866, the British decided to adopt the Peabody
Peabody action
The Peabody action was an early form of breechloading firearm action, where the heavy breechblock tilted downwards across a bolt mounted in the rear of the breechblock, operated by a lever under the rifle. The Peabody action most often used an external hammer to fire the cartridge.The Peabody...

 derived Martini-Henry
Martini-Henry
The Martini-Henry was a breech-loading single-shot lever-actuated rifle adopted by the British, combining an action worked on by Friedrich von Martini , with the rifled barrel designed by Scotsman Alexander Henry...

 with trap-door loading, adopted in 1871.

Single-shot breech-loaders would be used throughout the latter half of 19th century, but they were slowly replaced by various designs for repeating rifle
Repeating rifle
A repeating rifle is a single barreled rifle containing multiple rounds of ammunition. These rounds are loaded from a magazine by means of a manual or automatic mechanism, and the action that reloads the rifle also typically recocks the firing action...

s, first used—and heavily—in the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

. Manual breech-loaders gave way to manual magazine feed and then to self-loading rifle
Self-loading rifle
Self-loading rifle may refer to:*Semi-automatic rifle, a type of firearm which fires a single shot with the pull of a trigger, and uses the energy of that shot to chamber the next round...

s.

Artillery





The first modern breech-loading rifled gun is a breech-loader invented by Martin von Wahrendorff
Martin von Wahrendorff
Martin von Wahrendorff was a Swedish diplomat and inventor.His father Anders von Wahrendorff was the owner of the gun foundry at Åker. In 1837 Wahrendorff applied for patent on a new breech mechanism, later known as the Wahrendorff breech. The first breech loaded Wahrendorff gun was manufactured...

 with a cylindrical breech plug secured by a horizontal wedge in 1837.
In the 1850s and 1860s, Whitworth and Armstrong invented improved breech loading artillery.

The M1867 naval guns produced in Imperial Russia
Russian Empire
The Russian Empire was a state that existed from 1721 until the Russian Revolution of 1917. It was the successor to the Tsardom of Russia and the predecessor of the Soviet Union...

 at the Obukhov State Plant
Obukhov State Plant
Obukhov State Plant is a major Russian metallurgy and heavy machine-building plant in St. Petersburg, Russia. It was founded in 1863 to produce naval artillery based on German designs by Krupp. It has since been a major producer of artillery and other military equipment. From 1922 to 1992 it...

 used Krupp
Krupp
The Krupp family , a prominent 400-year-old German dynasty from Essen, have become famous for their steel production and for their manufacture of ammunition and armaments. The family business, known as Friedrich Krupp AG Hoesch-Krupp, was the largest company in Europe at the beginning of the 20th...

technology.