Swiss rifles

Swiss rifles

By the middle of the 19th century, the first models of small arms using a self contained metallic cartridge appeared. Now there was no need to load weapons from the muzzle using gunpowder and bullets. The brass cartridge case already contained all the components of the shot: an igniter primer, gunpowder and a bullet.

Despite this, the cartridges of those years were not very similar to modern ones. The main difference was a use of black powder, in contrast to the modern smokeless powder and soft lead bullet without metal jacket.


The original packaging of the rifle cartridges of the 1880s. Notice the lead bullet wrapped in a paper belt. The paper was often soaked with pork or beef grease, which helped to clean the barrel a little with each shot. It was found that the optimal caliber for military rifles using black gunpowder was about 10-12 mm. (.40-45 cal.)

Black gunpowder, known to people since the Middle Ages, has long been the only available gunpowder for firing from all firearms. Due to the constant strong soot in the barrel of the weapon when using this type of gunpowder, it would hardly be possible to create a truly quick-fire and reliable weapon.


The author of the article shoots from the single-shot French carbine Grass of the 1874 model. Immediately noticeable amount of thick white smoke.

The laws of chemistry and physics were also impossible to defeat. Black gunpowder accelerated bullets from the best rifles of its era up to 450-530 meters per second. The effective firing range did not exceed 400 meters, and more often amounted to 250-300 meters. As early as the mid-19th century, many chemists worked on the creation of a new gun propellant.

In 1884, the French chemist Paul Vieille created the first gunpowder based on nitrocellulose. This gunpowder became known as “Powder B”. It was the birth of modern smokeless powder.

The new gunpowder was about three times more powerful than the old black gunpowder and accelerated the bullet to a fantastic 700-800 meters per second. For a new gunpowder, a new cartridge and a new smaller caliber weapon were needed. The French were the first nation to adopt a new rifle. 1886 model 8mm Lebel bolt action rifle.

The main rival of France on the continent, the German Empire, was also interested in creating new weapons. In 1888, a magazine fed rifle of a much more modern design was born. Named the 1888 Commission Rifle or Gewehr 1888.


The rifle of the 1888 model had a revolutionary design for its time. The bolt of the rifle was locked with two locking lugs in the front part of the receiver and with great simplicity and lightness could withstand enormous pressure. The rifle was loaded in seconds using 5-rounds metalic clip.

Switzerland comes into play.

Switzerland has maintained military neutrality for more than 3 centuries. But do not think that if you decide to attack this small mountain country, you will not get fierce resistance. Switzerland is famous not only for cheese, chocolate and the best watches in the world, but also for the quality of its guns and knives. The small and rich state over the centuries has constantly modernized its weapons and trained their soldiers.

Back in the 1860s, a strange design Vetterli rifle with an 11-round magazine had been adopted. It was the first magazine fed rifle in Europe. However, it had a very underpowered cartridge and was very complicated and expensive to produce.


A few examples of the Vetterli system rifle of 1870s. The author of this article used to have some of those in his collection. When trying to field strip the gun, he used a lot of indecent words. This is not a military weapon, but a real Swiss watch!

The Schmidt–Rubin family of rifles

Upon learning of the advent of revolutionary new gunpowder, the Swiss did not stand aside.
In a very short time, they managed to develop unusual and innovative rifle, which, with minor modifications, remained in service for over 70 years. The Schmidt–Rubin rifles were a series of Swiss Army service rifles in use between 1889 and 1958. They are distinguished by the unique straight-pull bolt action invented by Rudolf Schmidt and use Eduard Rubin’s 7.5×55mm rimeless Schmidt–Rubin rifle cartridge.GUNS


First 1889 model has 12 rounds “cut off” magazine.  Later, in the model of 1911, this system was abandoned and more traditional 6 round only “always working” magazine was used. The new rifle had a unique straight-pull bolt design. It was enough to sharply pull the bolt back, and then push it forward without any rotational movement. Only a few model of rifles using straight-pull design were ever adopted in significant quantities. It is worth noting the Austrian 1895 Mannlicher Rifle and the 1903 Canadian Ross rifle.The main idea of ​​such a system was to increase the rate of fire from the rifle.

In each newer of the 3 major  Schmidt–Rubin models (1889, 1911 and 1931), the bolt design became shorter, lighter and stronger.

In 1911, a new cartridge was adopted with more powerful gunpowder and a pointed bullet to replace the outdated round-nosed one. The speed of the 11.7 gram bullet (780 m/s), as well as excellent aerodynamics and high accuracy in the manufacture of the rifle made 1911 and 1931 models perhaps the most accurate army rifles ever created.

The rifle used a disposable 6-charge cartridge clip made out of pressed paper. The rifle cartridge was made to the highest standards. A bullet coated with tompac (brass alloy with high copper content and 5–20% zinc content) was used. This alloy was rarely used for small arms bullets due to its high cost, however, perhaps it was an ideal material for a bullet jacket. Pay attention to the greenish ring around the bullet. This lubricant became liquid during the shot and helped made it easier to pull out an empty case.

In 1931, the design of the carbine was slightly improved and the most advanced rifle of the whole family was born. Short Schmidt-Rubin Model 1931 rifle (carbine).


This rifle was also equipped with an dofferent models of optical sight and was in service with the Swiss army until 1960s.


A sample of a real sniper (or more accurate designated marksman) rifle is especially appreciated among collectors. 4x optic sights was relatively weak even for 1940-50s standards, however in skilled hands, these weapons were capable of hitting human size targets at the distances up to 800 meters.

Despite the fact that the “youngest” rifles of this family are now over 70, and some over 100 years old, many of 1,366,228 guns build have survived to this day in excellent condition.

At now in the civilian market you can easily find all the models of the good old Schmidt-Rubins. Despite the fact that these weapons are made to the highest standards due to the large number of these rifles, their prices rarely exceed $ 600. (not counting rare models and rifles with a telescopic or dioptrical sights)

They are ready to shoot as accurately as they did many years ago. The only one problem that gun enthusiast may have is outdated 7.5×55 cartridge. And while piles of original Swiss cartridges are still available for sale, these are cartridges mostly made in the 1970s or early 1980s. And stocks are gradually drying up.

The good news is that many ammunition manufacturers (such as Czech Sellier & Bellot and Italian Fiocchi) still produce cartridges of this caliber. For those who, like me, ia able to reload their own cartridges using spent cases, there are no problems either. The bullet of the original 7.78 mm caliber (.306) is almost impossible to buy, instead of it is possilble to use more common 7.85 mm (.308) bullets. In my experience, it is absolutely safe and the accuracy of the rifle does not decrease at all. Rifles of early 1889 modifications used a slightly different cartridge and were designed for lower barrel pressure. However, it is possible to reload cartridges even for them by shortening the cartridge case from 55 to 53 mm and using a weaker powder charge with same .308 bullets.

About my little K11


I bought my 1911 model carbine back to 2019 for about 8 thousand Czech crowns (350 euro + 200 euro for bayonet). This 1927 made military gun is in almost perfect condition with all matching numbers and original leather sling attached.

Many different bayonet models were used for these rifles. But my favorite model is the so-called “pioneer bayonet” of the 1914 model. This long bayonet looks more like a small sword with a razor-sharp saw. The teeth of the saw are directed away from the shoter, so with the bayonet attached to the gun, you can use the weight of your body to cutting down smaller trees or sawing some wood.


I took apart my rifle. Let’s see what interesting can be seen.


On all metal surfaces you will not find any cutting tool marks.

All parts are made with great love and precision. The bolt requires some force to be open and it is better to do it with a sharp and confident pull. The fired cartridge case is thrown up and sometimes hits you directly in your forehead.


An interesting feature of the rifle is the free-floating barrel.

(the barrel touches the gun’s wooden stock only in one place through a thin aluminum ring) This feature is more characteristic of sports and precision military sniper rifles. But do not forget that the Swiss paid special attention to the ability of their soldiers to shoot accurately at long distances. The quality of the weapon itself had to meet this requirement.

In modern Switzerland, the good old Schmidt-Rubins are still very popular on the civilian market. Many long-range target shooter still making competitions both with iron and optical sights.


I am not the best sniper in the world. But even I using simple iron sights of my 93 years old carbine manage to hit a target at a distance of up to 250 meters.

These rifles did not participate in major battles of the First and Second World Wars and was never adopted by any other nations. Despite this, I believe that rifles of this design will find their rightful place in every weapon collection.

Greg Part. 2020



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