Italian Carcano 1844/67 Carbine

  • Country: Italy
  • Ignition System: Needlefire
  • Calibre: 18mm Carcano

In the series of needlefire systems I present a Carcano 1844/67 carbine.

In 1866 Italy launched a project of modernisation to replace its 500,000 muzzle loading firearms in its depots, the stipulated budget was of just 10 Lira per firearm. Tasked with finding the solution was the now renowned Salvatore Carcano. His initial proposal was for a new breech loading rifle loosely based on the Dreyse system firing reloadable metallic cartridges. Despite the obvious advantages of this rifle, it was rejected due to costs. After this initial rejection, Carcano then concentrated on ways to adapt the old 17,5mm (0.69”) muzzleloaders into breechloaders while remaining within the ridiculous budget. The Dreyse and Chassepot systems could not easily or cheaply be retrofitted so he instead chose the Doersch-Baumgarten system as a basis for his work. He modified the bolt and also introduced a decocker into the bolt which allows the mainspring to be released within the bolt in cocked position without releasing the striker, a feature that was reintroduced in the Carcano 1891 rifle almost 30 years later.

This particular carbine started life as a percussion model 1844 artillery carbine. It was converted to needlefire between 1867 and 1868. During the conversion these carbines also gained a new stock. These converted carbines were primarily issued to border guards. Infantry rifles and cavalry carbines were also converted.

The first thing to consider is that contrary to the Chassepot and Dreyse, this is a conversion and not a purpose built system, as such there is no receiver as such, the breech end of the percussion barrel has simply been machined with a bolt slot and a chamber. Even the original percussion bolster was not removed.

The bolt is extremely complicated. The main bolt body is a cylindrical in which a striker assembly is housed. The striker head has a needle carrier very similar to the chassepot except that it is coated with brass, no doubt to prevent corrosion from gas blowback.

The striker assembly has two very interesting features:
– The sleeve mounted between the mainspring and the cocking knob, which is a decocker. It can be rotated to disengage from the bolt body such that the mainspring releases backwards, thus rendering the carbine safe even in a cocked position.
– The button on the end of a leaf spring extending back from the striker head. This button sits in a hole in the bolt body when in a cocked position which means that unlike in a conventional rifle, the sear is not resting against the striker when the rifle is ready to fire. When firing, the sear rises and pushes this button out of engagement with the bolt body releasing the striker.

We can also see that there appears to be two sears. Actually the rearmost one is a safety hook which is connected to the actual sear by a tilting lever, in other words, when the trigger is pulled to raise the sear, the safety hook lowers and vice versa when the trigger is released. To put the bolt in a safety position one has to pull the cocking piece back to clear the safety hook and release it again, the hook will then engage the front rim of the coking piece. Once hooked on, the safety hook can no longer move hence the trigger is blocked. It is a complicated trigger safety but it works!

The little latch in front of the trigger is connected to a bolt safety rod which rides in the long slot on the underside of the bolt body and thus prevents the bolt from opening when it is turned down. The latch has to be pulled down to be able to rotate the bolt open. It also prevents the bolt from being pulled out when it is pulled back. To remove the bolt completely from the rifle, the latch has to be pulled down once again.

The bolt head it machined to loose tolerances and has no real means of gas sealing. The seal was achieved by the cartridge base which consisted of thick card or rubber. The cartridge was of the Dreyse type except the bullet and sabot where replaced by a Minié bullet having the priming cap housed in the base cavity. There was also a shot and blank version of the cartridge.

These rifles are quite rare as the vast majority were further converted to 12 gauge centerfire and sold as cheap shotguns.

In conclusion, we have a what appears to be a hasty conversion of average quality but which actually incorporates a few innovative features, all that for 10 Lira per conversion. Instead of looking down on this rifle, we should praise Mr Carcano for his efforts!