Norwegian 1774/41/51 Rifle

  • Country: Norway
  • Ignition System: Percussion
  • Calibre: 18mm (.69") ball

This massive Norwegian musket has a very colourful history. It started its life as a flintlock musket in about 1774 before being converted to percussion in 1841. Its life should have ended there, but at the time there was seemingly never ending territorial disputes with neighbouring Scandinavian countries there was a fear of weapon shortages so the faithful old musket was further updated in 1851 by having its barrel rifled and sighted and having a pillar breech installed. Whether the rifle was ever used in anger in its new guise I cannot say, probably not, since Norway was by then using the breechloading percussion Kammerlader, it even uses the same sights. Even so it must have provided 70 to 80 years of service.

I consider this a stunning musket for various reasons

– First, its sheer size, in this case 144cm (56″) with a 104cm (41″) barrel. With the bayonet you would have had a very effective pike in battle! Even the screws on this musket are monumental.
– Second, is the black paint used to cover the stock (restored), I assume that this was done to protect the wood from the harsh environment, and indeed it seems to work. When I stripped the damaged original paint off, the wood underneath was as good as new.
– Third, is the inclusion of an external dog safety as well as a half-cock notch on the tumbler. The dog catch is effectively a step back in terms of technology but it is pretty soldier proof.
– Fourth, is the use of a pillar breech. This, like the dog catch, is also unusual since it was also outdated. At the time, the Minié system was proving to be the future of rifle technology

As the name implies, the pillar breech system comprises of a pillar extending from the breech plug of the barrel. The system was developed by Louis-Étienne de Thouvenin as another way to force a bullet into the barrel rifling. To load, one pushed the cylindrico-conical bullet down the bore with a heavy iron/steel ramrod until it came to rest on top of the pillar, then the bullet would be given a heavy blow to cause it to expand into the rifling. The system is an improvement of the Delvigne system as the bullet largely remains in shape even when struck to make it expand. In this case the pillar has a pointed tip, other adaptations used a flat topped pillar.

The bullet used was a large conical bullet with three grooves cut around its circumference developed by François Tamisier. The bullet is not to be confused with the later Minié bullet since it has a solid base and the grooves were not for holding lubricant but rather to help its aerodynamic stability.

The barrel is rifled with 5 wide grooves, giving the bore a rectangular appearance. The bayonet would be conventional socket bayonet fixed to the barrel with a spring catch very similar to the British Lovell system.

In the end the pillar breech system did have its disadvantages. The breech was very difficult to clean properly, the pillar could bend from being repeatedly struck, and the bullet had to be perfectly centred over the pillar if it was to expand evenly. For the short time it was adopted though, it seemed to work well.