Austrian 1872 Früwirth Repeating Carbine

1872
  • Country: Austria
  • Ignition System: Centrefire
  • Calibre: 11,15x36R

Despite having adopted the new Werndl single shot rifle, the Austrian empire hardly paused in its search for improved armament. The next logical technological step was repeating rifles, a step which their Swiss neighbours had already taken with the Vetterli system.  A few nations were lucky enough to be able to graft a box magazine or tubular magazine to their existing single shot rifles. Sadly the Werndl, like the British Martini-Henry was not easily convertible to any sort of feeding system hence the new Austrian repeater would need to be an entirely new weapon. Viennese gunsmith Ferdinand Früwirth presented his repeating system which was deemed good enough to be adopted in carbine form by various gendarmerie units and border guards in the empire.  The carbine was also trailed in the army and navy but was never officially adopted.

The carbine is chambered for the 11.15 x 36R cartridge, the same cartridge used in the Werndl carbine.  The cartridges are housed in a brass 8 round magazine attached under the barrel.  In order to lift cartridges from the magazine to the chamber the system uses a spring biased tilting elevator which appears to function in very similar way to the later Mauser 71/84 and Kropatschek systems.  However; the Früwirth is mechanically completely different as you will see below.

The generally tubular receiver has a rectangular support block about which the elevator the hinges.  A leaf spring on the underside of the elevator biases the elevator towards the raised position.  Two small ears on the front of the elevator limit its upward travel with respect to the chamber opening. On the rear right side of the elevator is a large tab.

The receiver includes a protruding wall section on the right side on which the bolt locks down. A push rod mounted free within a channel in this wall section has a wide bottom portion which rests on the elevator tab to push the elevator down against the force of the elevator spring when the bolt is turned down.

The locking of the elevator in the down position and subsequent releasing of the elevator is controlled by a sliding locking bar mounted on the underside of the receiver wall section.  The locking bar has a slot shaped like an inverted L and is biased forward (toward the muzzle) by a leaf spring fixed to the support block.  When the elevator is in a raised position, the elevator tab is located in the horizontal portion of the slot.  When the elevator is pushed down by the pushrod, the tab is forced down and out of the vertical part of the slot, at which point the locking bar snaps forward.  The tab is then located under the locking bar and the elevator is blocked in the lowered position.  When the bolt is pulled fully back, it pulls the locking bar back such that the vertical portion of the slot aligns with the tab to release the elevator which then tilts up under its own spring pressure.  Subsequently pushing the bolt forward pushes the new cartridge up off the elevator and into the chamber.

The bolt is quite similar to the chassepot bolt, with a rear cocking piece secured to a firing pin, and a front bolt body including the cocking handle.  The front bolt body rotates about the firing pin to lock the bolt in the receiver.  Like the chassepot bolt, the Fruwirth firing pin is cocked when the bolt is pushed into battery when the sear catches in a groove on the underside of the cocking piece.  The front bolt body has a groove in the side, in which a pin connected to the locking bar of the repeating mechanism travels.  When the bolt is near the end of its rearward travel, the pin hits the end of the groove and is pulled rearwards together with the bolt, thus actuating the locking bar to release the elevator as explained above.

The repeating mechanism can be disabled by pushing a slider on the front of the bolt.  This slider covers or blocks a blind hole in the bolt which is aligned with the head of the push rod.  When the blind hole is uncovered, the head of the push rod enters it when the bolt is pushed down and the elevator is not pushed down.  Conversely, when the blind hole is covered, turning the bolt down causes the push rod, and therefore the elevator, to be pressed down.

The extractor is not conventionally mounted on the bolt.  It comprises a curious C shaped spring with a claw at each end which slides in a slot in the left side of the receiver.  The first front claw is conventionally housed in a recess of the chamber rim to catch the cartridge rim. The purpose of the second claw is to snag the bolt when it is pulled back, the front bolt body having a notch to receive this second claw.  The notch is visible on the top of the bolt when it is closed.  The screw on the left side of the receiver has a hook on its other end, this hook is exclusively to capture the second end of the spring and hold the second claw away from the bolt body.  This capturing of the second claw, together with the removal of the locking bar pin, has to be done in order to remove the bolt from the receiver.

The carbine has no ejector therefore when it is operated in single shot mode, the extracted case has to be tipped out by hand.  In repeating mode, the upward tilt of the auger and new cartridge effectively ejects the extracted spent case.

The rear sight is adjustable between 1 and 6, which is 100 – 600 Schritt  (80 – 480 Metres).

It is not clear whether these carbines were issued with a bayonet and many current written source claim that it was not.  The shape of the base of the front sight together with the pattern of wear on the muzzle indicates however; that a socket bayonet with a helical slot was fitted and the rare period photographs of men equipped with this carbine also tend to support the theory.  It was most likely that is a bayonet was issued, it was probably the same socket bayonet as used on certain patterns of the Werndl carbine at the time.

Ultimately the carbine proved too complicated and fragile for use as a standard military gun.  The calibre was also not powerful enough.  The carbine is handy, light, and comfortable to hold on the shoulder but working the bolt with the repeating mechanism is quite laborious since the bolt must be pulled hard back on opening to work the locking bar and pushed hard forward again to cock the bolt on closing.  Since the carbine is very light it must be gripped tightly to work the bolt.

Cartridge cases for 11.15 x 36R can be made easily by cutting down readily available 7,62x54R cases.

The exact number of carbines produced is disputed. The most common figure stated is 12000, however it appears that a more realistic figure would be around 5000. Production was shared between the workshops of Ferdinand Früwirth, which produced 80% of the carbines, and Steyr (OEWG), which produced the remaining 20%. The OEWG produced carbines are reputed not to be marked with serial numbers. The carbine shown here has the highest known Früwirth serial number.