Belgian 1871 Comblain “Guarde Civique”

  • Country: Belgium
  • Ignition System: Centrefire
  • Calibre: 11 x 50R Albini

The Comblain rifle was the creation of the Belgian gunsmith Hubert Joseph Comblain. It combines a strong receiver with an extremely compact dropping breech block mechanism. In Belgium it was not adopted by the infantry although a cavalry carbine was used. It enjoyed success in the hands of paramilitary organisations such as city watches (garde civique), border guards, forest wardens and train guards. It was however employed quite extensively in South America. To my knowledge all Comblain variants were produced in Belgium by a variety of reputable manufacturers.

The rifle shown here is an early guarde civique rifle, made by Auguste Francotte, which is most notable because the receiver, barrel bands, breech block, trigger block and lever are made from cast bronze. Only the hammer, trigger, lock springs, extractor and barrel are made of steel. The theory is that the bronze was initially easier to machine, although entirely steel Comblains of the same type are in fact more common.

To open the action, the trigger guard has to be swung forward. It is held closed by a strong spring catch so a sharp push down on the lever is necessary. This causes a sudden release which makes the opening and ejection happen very fast. As the lever swings down and forward, the breech block, which contains all the lock work, slides vertically down in a slot machined in the receiver. The hammer is automatically re-cocked during its downward travel and finally, at the end of the trigger guard’s forward swing, an internal protrusion on the trigger guard hits the extractor. If the action is worked properly, the cartridge is flicked backwards and clear of the receiver. Swinging the trigger guard back raises the breech block with the hammer cocked and ready to fire. As seen in the photos, the lock is extremely simple and requires only one spring and the trigger and sear are combined into a single part. One other feature to note is that the firing pin is screwed into the hammer.

The position and angle of the trigger feels unnatural at first but it quickly grows on you. The trigger pull is extremely crisp due to the direct link between the trigger and hammer.

The barrel is marked with date 1871 and a GB cartouche (Gouvernement Belge), all the constituent parts are stamped with Francotte stamps and the Comblain patent is acknowledged on the right side of the receiver.

The rifle is chambered for the 11x50R cartridge which was already in use for the Albini-Braendlin. The case was originally coiled brass before being a drawn case. The bullet was patched with greased paper. One strange feature of this rifle is that the chamber is purposefully longer than the case. This was to ensure that black powder fouling would not become a problem during an extended fire fight. The Albini-Braendlin also features this unusual chamber. The result is that when the 11x50R cartridge is fired, the case comes out with almost no neck. This is not a problem if you do not reload, but for those of us who do, the need to reform the neck every time drastically reduces case life. A solution is to have thick walled cases turned which conform to the shape of the chamber.

The bayonet for this rifle is nearly identical to the French Chassepot bayonet in exception to the markings. The blade may feature the GB cartouche and be dated 1870 or 1871. This bayonet is made by A.Francotte just like the rifle but the only other marking is the serial number.