Swiss Milbank-Amsler 1864/67 Rifle

  • Country: Switzerland
  • Ignition System: Rimfire
  • Calibre: 10,4 x 42R

In 1865, the Swiss federal government decided that it was time to upgrade the national armament to breech loaders. The advances in weapons in the American civil war and the recent Danish defeat at the hands of the Prussian Dreyse rifles during the second Schleswig war made it clear that muzzle loading guns were soon a thing of the past. After a very brief trial period, the system submitted by Milbank was deemed the most suitable for converting both the large 18mm muskets and 10,4mm sharpshooters rifles. The system was further improved by the Swiss engineer Jakob Amsler and is hence known as the Milbank-Amsler.

The system is in many ways very similar to the Austrian Wanzl conversion in which the breech portion of the barrel is cut away and replaced by a receiver shoe. The receiver shoe includes a hinged door which swings forward and up to open the breech. The door houses an angled firing pin which strikes the rim of a copper cased 10,4x38Rmm rimfire cartridge. On the door for the sharpshooter rifles, a spring biased extractor is mounted on the right side of the door hinge, for the 18mm muskets, the extractor is on the left and is unbiased.

So far the system differs little from the many other « trapdoor » system of the day, however, the difference resides in the locking system, which is the improvement provided by Jakob Amsler. At the rear of the door is a hinged wedge with a paddle or knob protruding sideways, when the door is closed, the wedge is rotated against an oblique surface of raised portion at the rear of the receiver. In this position the door is wedged shut against any pressure coming from the breech, but the door can still be opened in one fluid motion simply by lifting the paddle or knob, which rotates the hinged wedge away from the oblique and opens the door. The extractor is only actuated when the door is opened and pushed forward beyond a neutral point against the bias of the extractor spring.

The lock and other fitting on the rifles where otherwise unchanged and vary depending on the nature of the converted rifle. In this instance the original rifle is an 1864 Federal carbine, which is a slightly improved version of the 1851 Federal carbine. The lock is now a standard lock common to rifles and infantry rifles, and the barrel is rifled with 4 grooves. The peculiar tubular bayonet fitting has also been replaced by a bayonet bar of a long yatagan sword bayonet.

The Milbank-Amsler conversion was an interim solution to the problem of finding a suitable modern breechloader. Shortly after the bloody slaughter of the Austrians at the battle of Königgrätz once again at the hands of the Prussian Dreyse the Swiss accelerated the pace of modernization and the search began immediately for a repeating breechloader which would ultimately result in the creation of the Vetterli repeating rifle which was fully adopted and issued for general service in 1869.

No other country adopted the Milbank-Amsler although it is interesting to note that the Kingdom of Württemburg was very close to selecting the Milbank-Amsler conversion, but was bullied at the last minute into selecting the Dreyse by the Prussians.

To shoot with a 10,4mm Milbank-Amsler it is necessary to convert 10,4x38R or 10,4x42R brass cases to rimfire by filling the central primer hole and drilling an off-center hole for a 6mm Flobert blanc.