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11mm FRENCH CHASSEPOT

   

The American Civil War was the major turning point in military small arms development in many ways. Most notably it showed that the muzzle loading infantry musket was a thing of the past and the self-contained breech loading cartridge was the way of the future. The invention of the bolt action with needle-fire cartridge by Ferdinand von Dreyse was a major leap in small arms design. The French started to pay very close attention when the Prussians demonstrated the overwhelming superiority of their Dreyse Needle-fire rifles during the 1866 Austro-Prussian War, as the Prussian infantry easily defeated the Austrians with their antiquated muzzleloading rifles. The French were all too aware that the Imperialistic Prussians were looking toward their territory and that it was just a matter of time before they started marching westward. Antoine Alphonse Chassepot (1833–1905) was a French gunsmith and inventor employed at that stage by the Manufacture d’Armes de St-Etienne and from the mid 1850’s onward experimented with various ideas around the breech loading design. On the 30th of August 1866 the Chassepot rifle was officially adopted as the Fusil Modèle 66. It was superior to the Dreyse design firstly because the primer was situated in the base of the linen-enclosed base, so that a shorter needle could be used and quickly replaced by troops in battle, as opposed to a deep-seated needle in the Dreyse cartridge. Secondly the Chassepot had a smaller diameter bullet that engaged the rifling directly, leading to vastly improved accuracy. Thirdly was the use of internal obturation in the form of a rubber gasket that sealed the chamber completely. This limited gas leaks while increasing chamber pressure leading to higher velocity of the bullet. The Chassepot was used by the French for the first time at the Battle of Mentana on the 3rd of November 1867 when Papal troops and the French Expeditionary Corps, well organised and armed with the new Chassepot rifles confronted and soundly defeated the forces of Giuseppe Garibaldi. The Chassepot remained the standard French military rifle from its adoption in 1866, through the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 until its replacement by the M1874 Gras Rifle.