In 1886 the Austro-Hungarian Army introduced a new five shot repeating rifle firing a large black powder 11.15mmx58mm rimmed round. This rifle, designed by Mannlicher, was cutting edge technology when it was purchased and used an innovative en-bloc loading system that allowed five rounds to be loaded at once, rather than individually. This dominance was to last just a year as the French introduced smokeless powder with their new Lebel rifle that made the old large bore Austrian design obsolete overnight. Today this large 11.15mm cartridge has been designated as an obsolete calibre in the UK which means that the rifles that fire it are legal to own as complete firearms with none of the butchery that deactivation normally requires.
I recently picked up one of these M1886 rifles in what was described as Grade 3 condition. I was expecting the worst but was pleasantly surprised to find that although a little rough around the edges, the rifle I received was actually in remarkably good condition for a 133 year old firearm:This rifle is a straight pull design which means the bolt does not need to be rotated in order to charge the rifle. The bolt is just pulled straight back and then pushed forward again to chamber a fresh cartdridge, the bolt running in a milled channel at the rear of the receiver:Note the safety catch that blocks the bolt and prevents the rifle from firing. As the bolt is not rotated, it does not have conventional locking lugs of more modern designs, instead there is a single locking wedge on the underside of the bolt:This was perfectly adequate on slow moving black power but would be a weak point when some of the rifles were converted to small bore smokeless powder cartridges. The bolt itself has a spring extractor and a central firing pin, still extant here due to its obsolete calibre status:Cartridges were supplied in sprung metal en-bloc clips that, unlike later chargers, were held inside the rifle during firing, the clips providing the feed lips for the cartridges. The clip was inserted into the top and a sprung arm inside the rifle pushed the cartridges up from below:Once the last cartridge had been chambered, the now empty clip was free to fall away out a slot in the base of the large magazine under the rifle:A large sight is fitted at the rear of the barrel with the sights graduated in schritt- an obsolete Austrian measure of distance equivalent to a pace. The normal ranges are marked on the left side of the sight:The right side is for use with the volley sight. This was the fashionable rifle feature of late Victorian era rifles and on this case a small V-Notch sight can be pulled out the right hand side of the rear sight:This is lined up with this forward pointer on the right hand side of the barrel band:Note also the front sling swivel, a rear swivel is fitted to the butt of the rifle:The front end of the rifle incorporates a front sight blade, a bayonet lug and a stacking rod to make a rifle tee-pee with:The 1886 pattern rifle was sold to a number of other countries, including Chile and I believe that this is an export pattern rifle rather than one produced for the Austro-Hungarians as it lacks the Austrian proof marks and hasn’t been upgraded to an 8x50R smokeless round which was pretty much universal for those in the service of the Habsburg empire.
Is there any link then between this rifle and the blogs usual British Empire content? Yes, although I confess it is a very tenuous link. Anecdotally, it seems that the British volunteers to the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War were issued Mannlicher 1886 rifles to practice with before being handed more modern arms to fight the fascists with.
Whether the story s true or not I don’t know, this is however a fascinating historic rifle with a mechanically very interesting action that happily is legal to own in live condition in the UK. World Wide Arms seem to have imported a large quantity of these recently and it is from them that I obtained this rifle for what I felt was a very reasonable sum.