Heptinstall, Thomas (2021) AN INVESTIGATIVE ANALYSIS OF BRITISH MILITARY BREECH-LOADING CAVALRY CARBINES 1841-1864. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

The latter half of the nineteenth century in Britain was a period of huge technological and mechanical development, best recognised through the wider term of ‘the industrial revolution’. The British military was at the forefront of this technological development, enabling Britain to vastly expand its empire. Improvements in small arms formed a core part of this development. In 1841, a British soldier would carry a muzzle-loading black powder musket, that was accurate to only 100 yards and capable of only around two shots per minute. From 1866, the same soldier would be equipped with a breech-loading rifle that was capable of firing fifteen shots in a minute, that could also achieve volley fire to over 1,000 yards.

No field of research has explored this development before 1866, or the multitude of early trials which eventually led to the decision to generally adopt the breech-loading rifle. Originally, breech-loading was considered exclusively for the cavalry. This was because loading at the breech was much simpler when mounted on a horse. The cavalry in this era carried ‘carbines’, which were short muskets or rifles which could be loaded and fired on horseback. As a result, most of the early breech-loading designs were in the form of the cavalry carbine.

The purpose of this thesis is to track the development of breech-loading, especially with regards to cavalry carbines, and to uncover which features and developments were the most important from historical, mechanical and statistical perspectives. The content of the thesis has been gathered from original patents, armourers’ drawings and official reports which have never before been accessed for academic purposes.

The thesis is arranged chronologically, first outlining the early breech-loading trials from as early as 1841, before finishing with the 1864 competition which led to the general adoption of a breech-loader in 1866. In doing so, the submission and impact of each breech-loading design can be assessed from a historical perspective. For each design, a mechanical description of how the submission worked is also provided. Finally, the thesis concludes with a series of ballistic experiments and statistical analysis, both of which establish what the most important developments were.

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