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Vetterli and Carcano rifles in the First World War


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Lecture by Robert Cengarle, IWM, 17 May 2010
This is a presentation delivered to a monthly meeting of the Historical Breechloading Smallarms Association (HBSA) in London, UK.

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Vetterli and Carcano rifles in the First World War

  1. 1. HBSA Lecture at IWM 17th May 2010 Carcano and Vetterli Rifles in WW1 Roberto Cengarle Before the First World War, Italian troops were armed with the Italian Vetterli Model 1870 10.4 X 47 mm rifle modified in 1887 from single shot into repeating rifle, from a project of Artillery Captain Giuseppe Vitali . The Vetterli Vitali solution was considered temporary. In 1886 the French army was equipped with the smokeless 8 mm Lebel and by 1888 the Germans and Austrians had their smokeless Gewer 88 commission rifle. In 1888, by order of the Ministry of War, the Italian Army started to study the development of a new rifle .The focus went on smaller calibres and the 6.5 mm calibre was considered to have enough stopping power. 1
  2. 2. The 6.5 mm calibre had several advantages compared to the 8 mm adopted by the French, German and Austrian armies. First, it had less recoil and made less discharge/noise when detonated. Second, the rifle could have a 6-round clip rather than the standard 5-round of the 8 mm calibres. This meant that Italian soldiers could carry a larger amount of ammunition per given amount of weight. The M’91 Carcano has a barrel with right hand gain twist. The advantage gained through the use of gain-twist rifling was a lower pressure and temperature in the throat area, and thus longer barrel life. Four groove, gain-twist rifling with a pitch of 1 turn in 19 inches at the breech and 1 in 8 at the muzzle was used in all Carcano rifles produced between 1892 and 1938. The bolt is of tubular design that cocks on opening. Dual locking lugs are located at the front of the bolt body. In case of ruptured case or pierced primer the gas deflects away from the shooter’s face via a hole situated in the front of the bolt which deviates gas to the right hand side of the rifle. 2
  3. 3. The safety device in the rifle mod.91 is the one developed by Salvatore Carcano. The structure resembles a metal cylinder, with the tooth tip on one end and at the opposite side a tab. The breech has five flat sides .We normally find the manufacturer’s city of production or the manufacturer’s name or initials, the year of production, the serial number and various marks. On the slide at the bottom right end side we can see that the barrel has an additional mark TUBATA to indicate that the barrel has been re-chambered . In 1916 Italy decided to rebarrel the Vetterli Vitali form the 10.4 mm calibre the common 6.5X52 of the Carcano model 1891. The main reason for this was to save raw material .The way to avoid spending money on precious raw material was to use less of it . Re-chambering the barrel was known as the “Salerno Method” (from the name of its inventor) and it was applied to the 91 model as well and the re- chambering of the Vetterli Vitali . In fact the life expectancy of a model 91 barrel was only around 4000 rounds. Therefore during WWI it often happened that a rifle needed a new barrel. The Salerno method consisted in drilling through the existing barrel, forcing a new piece of steel through and subsequently drilling the new barrel with the 4 grooves as if it were a new barrel. This process was lengthier than producing a new barrel from scratch but time and workforce were apparently less expensive than raw materials. 3
  4. 4. The barrel marks can tell a lot about the rifle. In the central facet (the one at 12 o’clock) we normally have the manufacturer’s name / or the town of the manufacturer. The side just below it has the serial number . The side opposite it has the year of production. If in any of these facets you can find a star mark, this means that the chamber has been repaired. The letters that we can find at 3 o’clock indicate where the barrel steel comes from. The other mark you’ll notice is the crossed rifles with two concentric circles on top. This means that the rifle went through the “prova di precisione” accuracy test. 10% of the total production went through this test which consisted in firing from a fixed position six rounds at a target at 200 m. To pass the test the target should have been regularly hit with a maximum distance of 25 cm from the centre. All the rifles had to go through the “ prova forzata” pressure test, which is represented by a small crown symbol stamped on the back of the bolt handle. The pressure test consisted in firing a proof round that had a higher powder load and therefore produced higher bore pressure than normal so that if there were any cracks or defects these would come out in the test. 4
  5. 5. The rifle has a Mannlicher style magazine, of one piece of steel that includes the triggerguard. The production of the Moschetto Truppe Speciali (literally, “ Carbine for Special Troops”) started in 1898 but the official adoption was on 6th January 1900 . It was produced for the Artillery, Engineers, machine gun crews, transport troops (service corps) and the Alpini (mountain troops). It was used by the Navy as well as by the Arditi (assault troops). 5
  6. 6. The Moschetto Modello 1891 da Cavalleria (Cavalry Carbine Model 1891) was adopted on the 15th of July 1893 by the Italian Army; it is a shortened M91 rifle with a permanently attached folding bayonet. It was given to Cavalry troops, Carabinieri (Military Police), Cyclist units and the troops of the Air Force. ooOOOoo 6