Belgian 1886 Rifle Trials Report (Translated to English)

Our friend Thibaud has spent some time translating a report from the Belgian 1886 rifle trials into English – thank you, Thibaud!

He notes that the text has a lot of specifically Belgian terminology and phraseology from that period which is not in common use anymore, and has included explanatory details in [square brackets] when necessary.

I would like to draw attention to the severity of this testing regime – which was not uncommon at the time but is far more extreme than most people seem to expect today. In the course of firing more than a thousand rounds of black powder ammunition, the rifles would be soaked in salt water and left to rust overnight, buried in sand with actions open, and fired with deliberately ruptured casings.

Report

Dispatch of the Chief of Weapon [“Arme” in the old French language also means “subdivision of the military” (Navy, Army, Air Force, etc.), so the name “Chef de l’arme” can be translated as “Chief of Weapons” or “Chief of the Army”, but it is unclear which one shall be used in the present document], July 14, 1886, n°544/188.

Dispatch ### [unknown abbreviation], August 10, 1886, 3rd ### [unknown abbrevation] n°6013.

Dispatch of the Chief of Weapons, 11 ### [bizarre abbreviation] n°544/220

Contest between simple weapons [the word “simple” seems to mean “light” or “portable”]

Executing orders from Mr Colonel Inspector of Weapons of War, a Committee…

Composed of Major Sub-Inspector of Weapons Mr Guillaume, Captains ### [unknown word] Davreux, Duvivier, Rigaumont, 1st Class Employee Dejaer, Vandenbogaerde, Baesens, Ducoffre, Fraikin, Second Captain Depouhon, Sublieutnant Corain, Principal 1st Class Controler Hanson, Principal Controler Duchesne, Albrecht, Chaumont, 2nd Class Controler Peck [or “Jeck”, maybe], Neuprez, Charlier, 2nd Class Employee (mechanic) Delderenne,

…proceeded to a contest between the “simple weapons” listed below on August, 16, 1886:

2 Comblain rifles model 1882, n°8445 and 8804
1 Jarmann rifle of 11mm [.44] caliber, n°188
2 Martini-Francotte rifles, n°777 and 778
2 Nagant rifles, n°289 and 1204. [Ed. Note: I cannot find a good online reference on this pattern of the Nagant (which is not a Mosin-Nagant). The closest I have is the followup version, which was trialled by the Belgian military in 1888]

All of these weapons were chambered for the model 1880 cartridge [11x50R].

Experiments occurred following this planning:

Planning

of the contest between all models [literally it is written “kinds”] of simple weapons.

All weapons will be tested in the same conditions and shall differ only by their breech mechanism, stock, fore-end, bayonet, sabre-bayonet or poignard [which, in French, is a word that means nothing. It is alternatively used to talk about knives in general, daggers, single-edged escrima knives, and tucks. It doesn’t really means anything and is rarely used by blade connoisseurs].

I. Ease and security of of handling.

Make sub-officers, corporals and infantry soldiers shoot the rifles and note differences noticed during reloading, functioning of the mechanisms and brass extraction.

Investigate carefully risks of accidents, premature discharge of the cartridge, mechanism stoppage, gas leakage, etc.

Each weapon will shoot 360 cartridges. They will be disassembled and cleaned after the first 20 shots. They will be disassembled and cleaned each time a failure will be noticed, which will at the same time train the soldiers to handle, clean and assemble these weapons.

II. Resistance of the mechanism to the more unfavorable circumstances of service [it’s so beautifully said!].

Investigate carefully the mechanism after each trial. If it shows some alteration, search for its cause and solve it if possible.

  • a. Shoot 50 cartridges with each weapon and leave them resting during 24 hours without cleaning. Repeat the same trial the next day. The following day, shoot 50 cartridges again then water them and dismantle them whitout cleaning. Expose them one complete day. Then, the fourth day, shoot 50 rounds and finish with a complete cleaning.
  • b. Plunge each rifle into salt water from stock to rear sight with and without cartridges for 15 minutes. Expose to fresh air for 24 hours then shoot 25 rounds per rifle.
  • c. Put the guns on the ground and cover their mechanisms with dust and fine sand. The mechanism being closed, take the guns, shake them and shoot 25 rounds with each. Repeat with opened mechanism. If the mechanism is obstructed, clean it and note the time needed to make the weapon ready to shoot again.
  • d. Shoot 300 rounds with each gun. At this point of the contest, each gun should have fired at least 1000 rounds.
  • e. Drop the weapons five times from 1 meter [1.1 yard] high on a (non rocky) ground on the mechanicaly more fragile side. Weapons rested on their buttplates, let them fall 5 times on wooden floor then 5 times on cobblestone floor. This trial will occur after the rapid fire test.

III. Speed of shooting.

Make corporals, subofficers and solders shoot all guns 2 times, with 25 shots on a target of 0.80 meters wide [0.9 yard] and 1.80 meters height [2 yards] at 25 meters [27.5 yards] distance. Record time needed by each shooter and make an average. Three quarters of the shots must hit the target. If not, repeat the test.

IV. Proof load trial.

a. Shoot with cut cartridges to simulate sensible gas leakage. Ten such rounds will be shot by each gun with standard loads.

b. Shoot with heavy loads. Shoot 10 rounds per weapon with chamber full of hunting powder and a spitzer bullet of 10,5 mm [0.413] caliber and weighing 44 grams [680 grains]. [This appears to be approximately double the standard projectile weight, but significantly smaller than the bore diameter]

V. Cleaning and maintenance.

Make armorers then subofficers, corporals and soldiers field strip the guns.

Clean the rifles and carefully investigate bendable, breakable and losable parts during cleaning and disassembly. Note time needed to proceed.

VI. Ease of production and cost.

The committee will consult the principal employees and will be given all necessary information by producers and developers.

Report of tests results

All firing had been done by sub-officers, corporals and four infantry soldiers except the cut cartridges and heavy load shooting. These men also executed assembly, disassembly, cleaning etc. of the rifles.

I. Ease and security of of handling

360 shots per gun has lead to these observations:

Comblain rifle, n°8804 and 8445.
(1) mechanism stoppage.
(1) premature discharge when the back of the thumb hit the trigger [what?].
Inspection after shooting: nothing to report.

Jarmann rifle, n°188.
(5) failure to strike on first round.
(1) difficulty to open the mechanism.
Inspection after shooting: nothing to report.

Martini-Francotte rifle, n°777 and 778.
(2) brass thrown at the face of the shooter by the extractor.
(2) impossible extraction.
Inspection after shooting: nothing to report.

Nagant rifle n°1204 and 289.
(3) fall of the hammer at rest position when brutally closing the mechanism during the first 20 rounds shooting. The hammer shape had been fixed but the hammer still sometimes falls down to rest position during other shooting strings. [not sure what this
(7) difficult extraction.
Since the second serie of one of the two rifles, frequent closing difficulties.
Painful right hand of the shooter.
Inspection after shooting : light hammering of the upside of the breech.

When infantry soldiers where sufficiently used to the rifles, the committee took the time to shoot some salvo, the cartridges being placedon a table at direct proximity of the shooter’s right hand.

Rifles shot 20 rounds in :

Martini-Francotte, 1 minute 19 seconds
Comblain, 1 minute 24 seconds
Nagant, 1 minute 29 seconds
Jarmann, 1 minute 38 seconds

II. Resistance of the mechanism to the more unfavorable circumstances of service.

On August 21, weapons shot 50 rounds before being exposed to air during 24 hours without being cleaned.

Comblain rifle.
Nothing to report.

Jarmann rifle.
(1) difficult extraction.

Martini-Francotte rifle.
(2) difficult extractions
(1) impossible extraction.

Nagant rifle.
(5) Hammer fell down at rest position during mechanism closure.

On August 24, rifles shot 50 rounds, same operation.

Comblain rifle.
Nothing to report.

Jarmann rifle.
2 failure to strike on first shot.

Martini-Francotte rifle.
2 impossible extractions.
1 trigger blockage (stopping screw of the indicator switch [what?] was unscrewed).

Nagant rifle.
2 difficult extractions.
Hammer felt down 3 times at rest position during mechanism closure.

On August 28, rifles shot 50 rounds, same operation.

Comblain rifle.
Nothing to report.

Jarmann rifle.
Difficult lever handling since the thirty-first shot.
5 failure to strike on first shot.

Martini-Francotte rifle.
Impossible extraction on one of the rifle since 35th shot.
Difficult extraction since 45th shot on the other rifle.

Nagant rifle.
Hammer falls down when closing the mechanism.
Extraction becomes difficult from the 35th shot on one of the rifles.
Shooter’s right hand feels painful.
Extraction becomes difficult from the 45th shot on the other rifle.

On August 29, rifles were soaked in water then exposed to air during 24 hours. On August 30, 50 rounds were shot per gun.

Comblain rifle.
(13) difficult mechanism openings.
(7) very difficult openings. One is compeled to use a screwdriver to disengage the triggerguard tail

Jarmann rifle.
(3) absolute failures [the language definitely is elegant!].
(1) difficult extraction.
(5) failure to strike.

Martini-Francotte rifle.
(15) difficult extractions.
(5) very difficult extractions.
(19) impossible ones.
Shooters feel pain on the right hand and on the right side of the body.

Nagant rifle.
(1) failure to strike.
(8) difficult extractions.
(5) very difficult extractions.
Shooters feel pain on the right hand.
(1) fall of the hammer to rest position when closing the mechanism.

Shooting became very unpleasant after 40 rounds, committee pours water inside the rifle mechanisms then the 10 last rounds are shot. Here are the results:

Comblain rifle.
(4) impossible openings (usage of screwdriver to open)

Jarmann rifle.
(2) failure to strike

Martini-Francotte rifle.
(1) impossible opening.

Nagant rifle.
Nothing to report.

Weapons Inspection:

Comblain rifle.
Nothing to report.

Jarmann rifle.
Little scratch on the grip.

Martini-Francotte rifle.
Scratch on the trigger of one of the rifles.
On both rifles, the stopping screw of the indicator switch was partially unscrewed.

Nagant rifle.
Light scratch on rest notch, scratches on the breech head.
N°1204 has light hammering on the breechface.

Shooting of 25 rounds after the mechanism had been soaked in salt water.

They have been soaked from stock to rear sight during 15 minutes. Comblain n°8804, Jarmann, Martini-Francotte n°778 and Nagant 1204 were loaded. They then had been exposed to air during 24 hours. Here are the results:

Comblain rifle.
None [in fact it is “néant”, which translates in something like “void” or “oblivion”].

Jarmann n°188 loaded.
(6) failure to strike including one on first shot.
(1) difficult extraction.
At fourth string, shooting stopped. Still considerable difficulties to actuate the lever. To continue shooting, the shooter had to lubricate the mechanism with saliva.
Inspection after shooting: nothing to report.

Martini-Francotte rifle.
(5) difficult extractions.
Impossible extraction after the first shot. Disassembly of the weapons: the trigger spring is broken and rusted. It is replaced.
Following shots show nothing abnormal.
Inspection after shooting: nothing to report.

Nagant rifle.
(1) difficult extraction.
(1) fall of the hammer during closing.
(1) fall of the hammer when just touching the trigger.
At the 5th round of the last shooting string, extraction is difficult and shooter’s hand is hurt.

Fine sand is dust on the rifles and 25 rounds per weapon are shot.

Comblain rifle.
(8) operating stoppage.
(1) difficult extraction.

Jarmann rifle.
(2) failure to strike.
(4) absolute failures.

Martini-Francotte rifle.
(3) difficult extractions.

Nagant rifle.
(1) fall of the hammer on rest position when closing.
(1) fall of the hammer on rest position when pulling the trigger.
(3) difficult extractions.

Remarks: shooters say that the Nagant has the more powerful recoil and the Jarmann the less powerful recoil.

Sand is dust on the opened mechanism of the rifles.

Comblain rifle.
(5) difficult extractions.
(10) operating stoppage.

Jarmann rifle.
(10) failure to strike on first shot.
(1) failure to strike.
(1) absolute failure. Rifle is dismounted and fixed in 3 minutes.

Martini-Francotte rifle.
(1) operating stoppage.

Nagant rifle.
(2) difficult extractions.
(1) failure to strike.

Shooting of 300 rounds per weapons in 15 strings of 20 rounds.

Comblain rifle.
N°8445 :
(1) failure to strike.
Trigger-guard screw partially unscrewed on 12th shot of the 10th string.
N°8804 :
(5) failure to strike.
(1) difficulty to opppen mechanism.
(2) times the trigger-guard screw unscrewed partially.
Inspection after shooting: Nothing to report.

Jarmann rifle.
N°188 :
(21) failure to strike.
(1) absolute failure.
Inspection after shooting: Nothing to report.

Martini-Francotte rifle.
N°777 :
None
N°778 :
None
Inspection after shooting: Pedal [? Lever I think] of the n°777 had been bent a bit to ease extraction.

Nagant rifle.
N°289 :
Hammer falls down on rest position 56 times when closing mechanism.
(1) fall of the hammer on rest position when pulling the trigger.
(1) failure to strike.
(1) difficulty to extract.
N°1204:
(2) failure to strike.
Inspection after shooting: Nothing to report.

Dropping tests.

Drop five time the weapons from 1 meter [1.1 yard] high on a (non rocky) ground on the mecanicaly more fragile side.

The cap [?] that goes through the stock of the Martini-Francotte rifle was slightly bent, preventing closure of the mechanism. Rotating the cap was enough to fix the problem.

Weapons rested on their buttplates, let them fall 5 times on wooden floor then 5 times on cobblestone floor. This trial will occur after the rapid fire test.

Nothing to report.

III. Speed of shooting.

Here is noted only the average of the four shooting strings (2 strings for each gun, 2 guns per model).

Comblain rifle:
Second with 2 minutes 4 seconds. Nothing to report.

Jarmann rifle:
Fourth with 2 minutes 52 seconds. Several difficult extractions.

Martini-Francotte rifle:
Third with 2 minutes 26 seconds.
N°777 : Too many failures to take account of the time noted.
N°778 : Several failures to extract.
1 brass on each rifle hit the eye of the shooter.

Nagant rifle:
First with 1 minute 57 seconds. Shooter’s right hand is painful.

Worst time : 3 minutes 7 seconds with the Jarmann.
Best time : 1 minute 34 seconds with the Nagant.

V. Cleaning and maintenance:

Average of all rifle for disassembly and reassembly:

1st – Comblain rifle, 2 mn 33
2nd – Jarmann rifle, 2 mn 53
3rd – Nagant rifle, 3 mn 36
4th – Martini-Francotte, 4 mn 29

IV. Heavy Loads Trial:

Shooting of 10 cut cartridges with each gun.

Comblain rifles.
(13) upward leaks.
(11) downward leaks.
(16) partial opening of the mechanism.
(2) complete opening.
(2) throwing of residue to the rear.
Forced 1 time to lubricate the mechanism to open it.

Jarmann rifles.
(10) upward leaks.
(4) difficulty to extract.
At 5th cartridge, forced to disassemble the rifle to oil the mechanism to continue shooting.

Martini-Francotte rifles.
(14) partial opening of the mechanism.
(15) upward and downward leaks.
(2) difficult extractions.

Nagant rifles.
(13) upward leaks.
(11) light downward leaks.
Forced to lubricate 3 times with water to operate.

Shooting with heavy loads:

After this test, all rifles were diassembled and inspected. No damage to report. [The use of significantly undersized bullets in this test would explain the remarkable lack of damage incurred]

On September 17, the committee had a vote to sort the rifles. Were present this day [all the names given at the beginning of the document].

Here is the “worth” ranking:

1 – Comblain rifle
2 – Nagant rifle
3 – Martini-Francotte rifle
4 – Jarmann rifle

A second vote occurs to sort the easier to produce, disassemble and clean. Here is the result:

1 – Comblain rifle
2 – Nagant rifle
3 – Jarmann rifle
4 – Martini-Francotte rifle

### [unreadable word] on September 18, 1886.

The committee [all the names given at the beginning of the document]

To copy.

Mr. Inspector of Weapons.