Thursday, April 4, 2013

Weapons of War: Berdan Rifle II

When the nine Rifle Battalions of the newly created Army of the Grand Duchy of Finland were raised in 1881 the most obvious choice for arming them was the Berdan II (Model 1870) which had been adopted by the Russian army in 1870's. The rifle was designed by famous American firearms inventor Hiram Berdan in 1868. The rifles (both the Berdan I and II) became the standard Russian small arm from 1870 to 1891, where it saw itself replace by the Mosin-Nagant line of rifles. However, despite this, it still saw service in the Russian army up to the Revolution of 1917.

The Model 1870 was a single shot, bolt action rifle that was characterised by a distinctive short, pear shaped, bolt handle. This handle also represented the only locking lug (it holds the bolt in place when the weapon is fired) and when closed, stood up at a 30 degree angle, instead of the normal horizontal. All the rifles  as well as their accompaniments (cartridges, bayonets etc) came from Russia, mainly from the famous Izhevskii ordnance factory.

It weighed 4.3 kg without its bayonet (4.8 kg with bayonet) and was 1.35 m long without its bayonet (1.85 m with bayonet). It used a 10.75x58 mmR Cartridge which had a 5 gram charge of black powder, which were issued in blue paper packets of 6 rounds each. The round was also developed by Hiram Berden in conjunction with Russian Colonel Gorloff. There was also 'half-cartridges' which were used for training purposes and contained only 0.5 grams of powder. These cartridges were breechloaded and a well trained unit could fire 6-8 rounds a minute. It had a muzzle velocity of 437m/sec and was sighted to 1500 paces (1065 m) but its effective range was 450 paces (630 m). It became known for its ruggedness, reliability and simplicity. 

The Finnish army as a whole maintained a high standard of marksmanship with this rifle, better than the Russian army. The Rifle was still in many Battalions and Reserve companies armouries way after the introduction of the Mosin-Nagant in 1890s. When Civil War broke out in January 1918, there was still many Berdan II's in storage and it saw itself employed by 2nd Line troops during World War one. Both sides of the Civil War (Reds and Whites) obtained many Berdan IIs. Once the war was over, the newly created Finnish Defence force was not interested in the obsolete Berdan and stored most but gave around 2,500 to the Suojeluskunta (Civic Guard, a Militia unit that gained infamy as the White Guard during the Civil War). The Civic Guard soon upgraded to the more modern Mosin-Nagant rifle versions. When the Winter War broke out in 1939, the Finnish army was short on many small arms and so the Berdan II saw service again, over 3,000 were issued (mainly to rear echelon and reserve troops) but these were replaced as soon as possible by more modern firearms. When World War two ended in 1945, the Finnish military started to scrap its stores of Berdan IIs, in 1955 the remaining 1,029 were sold off, many to surplus dealers abroad.

1 comment:

  1. Stumbled across your blog and really enjoyed your posts. Learnt a few things (like about the Berdan Rifle....). Being as how you're in Finland, you might enjoy this online forum on the Winter and Continuation Wars if you haven't run across it previously ( - quite a few Finnish participants.

    Cheers........Nigel (