In Search of The Goldilocks Round: Intermediates From 1860-1943

henryspencers

What was the first intermediate cartridge? Who designed it, and why? How did the concept evolve? These are all good questions deserving of thorough, thoughtful answers. Sadly, to give a comprehensive history of the intermediate cartridge concept would require a project nearly as long and laborious as my ongoing research project on the Lightweight Rifle program of the 1940s and ’50s, so I won’t do that. Instead, I’d like to take just a brief dip into the long history of the intermediate cartridge, enough to hopefully give my readers an idea of how the concept evolved.

The most famous early intermediate caliber is probably the 7.92×33 “Kurzpatrone” used in the German sturmgewehrs of World War II, but to get a better grasp of how military cartridge development got to that point, we will have to go further back… All the way back, to the dawn of the metallic cartridge era. Prior to the 1860s, the overwhelming majority of firearms were muzzleloading, and the word “cartridge” referred to a device more akin to a speedloader than a self-contained round of ammunition. Soldiers firing muzzleloading weapons like the 1853 Enfield pattern musket would retrieve a cartridge made of paper and loaded with powder and ball, tear it open, dump the powder down the bore of their musket, and then stuff the rest of the cartridge, bullet and all, down the barrel of their weapon with a ramrod. In this context, the concept of an “intermediate” cartridge is less meaningful, as when such an item were ever desired, a soldier could simply put less propellant into his firearm, or even use a pre-loaded round with less propellant in it. For the idea of the intermediate cartridge as we know it now to exist, the metallic cartridge case and the complete self-contained loaded cartridge must first be invented. This innovation occurred gradually until the development of the self-contained rimfire cartridge in the 1840s.

It’s likely impossible to know which cartridge was the first intermediate, for historical as much as definitive reasons, but two of the very earliest would serve with distinction in the American Civil War: The .44 Henry, and the .56-56 Spencer, both rimfire. These two rounds would today be considered closer to magnum handgun rounds than current intermediate cartridges, but in their day they were – in every sense of the word – “intermediate”. Muskets of the day, like the aforementioned 1853 Enfield, gave velocities in the low supersonic range (1,300-1,500 ft/s), with large projectiles wider than half an inch and with weights around an ounce and a quarter (530 grains). The .44 Henry and .56-56 Spencer, in contrast, both gave reduced muzzle velocities of between 1,100 ft/s and 1,200 ft/s, with the former being a lighter round shooting a 200 grain bullet, and the latter firing a heavier 350 grain projectile that nonetheless was still considerably lighter than the full-size Minié balls of the rifled muskets. At the same time, both the Henry and Spencer carbines produced muzzle velocities considerably higher than the pistols and revolvers of the era, which typically fired smaller-caliber bullets at moderate subsonic velocities (600-800 ft/s). Finally, both rounds were designed for weapons giving a massive increase in rapidity of fire over the standard weapons in use by military forces at the time, at the cost of range.

44henry56spencer

The .44 Henry, despite being less powerful, would end up being the more influential of the two rounds. In 1877, the Ottoman Turks and Imperial Russians were at war, fighting in one of the countless conflicts that dot the bloody timeline of European history during the 19th Century. The Russian Army, along with Romanian allies, had captured the city of Nikopol in Bulgarian, situated on the Danube River. Osman Nuri Pasha, commanding the Ottoman forces, failed to reach Nikopol before the Russians, and instead situated his forces in the nearby town of Pleven, fortifying it. Osman’s forces were equipped not only with Peabody-Martini single-shot rifles, but also with Winchester Model 1866 lever-action repeaters, chambering the .44 Henry cartridge. The Turks, who were widely judged to be in a hopeless position, being outnumbered nearly four-to-one, held the town from 19 July until the 20th of December, in no small part due to the firepower of their repeating Winchester rifles. In the month of September alone, during which the Russians and Romanians mounted a massive assault on Pleven, the attacking forces took approximately 20,000 casualties, while the Turks sustained less than 10,000 dead or wounded.

peabodyberdannew

The Russian forces in the Siege of Plevna were armed with Berdan I rifles chambered for 4.2 Line Berdan (.42 Berdan), and Krnka muzzleloading conversions in 6 Line Krnka (.60 Krnka), the former seen here compared to the .44 Henry and .450 Peabody-Martini.

 

The Siege of Plevna, as it became known, sent shockwaves through the world of infantry small arms. Repeating rifles had proven themselves as a decisive technology, and every military in Europe wanted a new repeating rifle to supplant their single-shot weapons. The intermediate cartridge of the Winchester repeaters, though, would not be adopted by the militiaries of Europe; the Peabody-Martinis at the Siege had likewise proven the value of effective long-range rifle fire. At the time, with no modern support weapons like infantry mortars or machine guns having yet been invented, it was the duty of the rifle to carry the day in long-distance infantry engagements, and the smaller calibers lacked for range. Militiaries sought a new kind of rifle that would combine the deliberate long-range fire capabilities of the Peabody-Martini single-shots with the rapid firepower of the Winchester lever action repeaters. Their solution would be smallbore dual-mode rifles incorporating brand new smokeless powder technology that were capable of operating as either single-shot or repeating arms, and which possessed extremely long range.

11gras8lebel

The 8mm Lebel was developed over the course of a few months, based on the 11mm Gras case. While its small-caliber configuration and smokeless powder revolutionized small arms ammunition, the 8mm Lebel quickly became obsolete, and the French Army struggled to replace it until after World War II.

 

In civilian, law enforcement, and niche military applications, however, the intermediate cartridge would continue its development. In 1894, Winchester introduced a new smokeless powder lever-action repeating rifle, named for that year, in two calibers: The .32-40 and .38-55, both intermediates. In 1895, Winchester announced a strengthened version of the Model 1894 in a new bottlenecked rimmed round that would take the deer hunting world in the United States by storm: The timeless .30 Winchester Center Fire, now more commonly known as the .30-30 Winchester. Winchester’s Model of 1894 and its most famous chambering would even serve in the first World War in limited numbers with Entente forces of multiple nations. In Europe, two firms would experiment with the intermediate cartridge concept: Mannlicher and Mauser, both of which developed semi-automatic carbines chambered for 7.63x32mm Long Mannlicher and 7.63x40mm Long Mauser calibers, respectively. Both of these calibers were relatively low power, however, and still fired round-nosed bullets.

wcfs

In 1902, Winchester parted ways with firearms design prodigy John Moses Browning over a disagreement regarding the licensing of his long-recoil shotgun patent. Browning took his business over to Remington and FN, the latter of which produced what became the Auto-5 shotgun. Remington eventually licensed a related patent for a semiautomatic rifle, and released the design in 1906 as the Remington Autoloading Rifle, which later was famously renamed the “Model 8”. The Model 8 was chambered for four brand-new cartridges designed from scratch for selfloading rifles: The .25 Remington, .30 Remington, .32 Remington, and .35 Remington. The Model 8 was one of the most significant early selfloading rifles, with examples in .25 caliber being used by the US Army to develop tactics to fully utilize semiautomatics. Almost a hundred years later, the .30 Remington caliber would also serve as the parent for the 6.8mm Remington SPC intermediate cartridge designed for the AR-15.

remingtons

The Remington autoloading cartridges all fall within the modern “intermediate” range for performance, and along with the Model 8 represent an important early stage in the development of the intermediate-cartridge infantry rifle.

 

Winchester, spurred on by the Model 8, developed a line of selfloading rifles beginning with the rimfire Model 1903. Of the centerfire Model 1905, 1907, and 1910, all chambering semi-rimmed intermediate calibers, it was the 1907 that would be the most successful, and most militarily significant: Like its lever-action stablemate, the Model 1907 would serve with Entente forces during WWI, primarily as a weapon for the nascent flying units of Russia, Great Britain, France (where it was used by both flyers and infantry), and the USA. The .351 Winchester caliber that defined the Model 1907 would become one of the most influential intermediate rounds of all time, being immediately developed into the rimless, spitzer-bullet (one of the first ever in an intermediate caliber) .345 Winchester Machine Rifle in the United States, and the 8mm Ribeyrolle in France, both designed for experimental early assault rifles. After World War I, the .351 served as the basis for a number of other cartridges of varying degrees of obscurity, and the related 8mm Ribeyrolle is even cited by AAC as “foreshadowing” the popular .300 Whisper-derived .300 AAC Blackout, to which it is very similar.

wsls

The .351 WSL was an improved version of the .35 WSL, introduced alongside the .32 WSL with the Winchester Model 1905. The .351 WSL was more powerful, and inspired several other early intermediate rounds. In 1910, Winchester introduced the Model 1910, chambered for the yet larger and more powerful .401 WSL.

 

After the First World War, the military intermediate caliber began to slowly make a comeback. The realities of trench warfare, and the introduction of new weapons like the infantry mortar and machine gun, and the towed howitzer, meant that the rifle was no longer the primary long-range casualty producing weapon on the battlefield. In 1919, a very forward-thinking German First Lieutenant named Piderit who was an assistant to the Gewehrprüfungskommission wrote a memo advocating for a caliber in-between the standard 7.9mm rifle and 9mm pistol cartridges, with an effective range of 400m, for use in an individual automatic weapon. This obscure memo serves as a milestone for the first slip of the grasp of the full-power cartridge’s stranglehold on military cartridge design. After the war, designers from all over Europe began working on new intermediate-caliber rounds that would provide similar killing ability out to the normal direct-fire ranges attained by the rifle or carbine, while being lighter and with lower recoil. Often, these calibers were developed alongside a semiautomatic or select-fire rifle. One very notable line of development occurred in Italy in the 1920s and ’30s. A semiautomatic weapon, the Modelo 1921 Moschetto Automatico per Fanteria (Automatic Musket for Infantry), was chambered for a 7.35x32mm intermediate cartridge based on the 6.5×52 Carcano, firing a 134.5 gr spitzer bullet at 1,970 ft/s. While development of this, and a slightly longer version with a 38mm case apparently ended in the early 1920s, the idea resurfaced in the 1930s under Mussolini’s fascist government, producing a 7.35x41mm round with a semi-round-nosed bullet. This round was lengthened to 51mm to become the 7.35x51mm cartridge, and was adopted by Italy and used during the Second World War. Despite its increased length, the Italian 7.35x51mm cartridge still produced intermediate-type ballistics, firing a 128gr projectile at approximately 2,480 ft/s, very similar to the later 7.62×39 Soviet cartridge, making it the first intermediate adopted as standard issue by a major power.

Many of the calibers developed during this period are mentioned in one of my first articles for this blog, Before The Sturmgewehr: Assault Rifle Developments Prior to 1942, but in addition to those there were a number of notable German developments. The first of these was the 8×42.5mm Rheinmetall-Borsig, designed for a selfloading rifle that was the brainchild of an engineer of that company, Karl Heinemann. This was just the full-size 8mm rifle cartridge cut down and loaded with the 154gr S-Patrone flat-based spitzer bullet, but it foreshadowed the development of the 8x33mm KurzPatrone cartridge of the German sturmgewehrs. Beginning in 1930, the Inspektion der Infanterie (abbreviated “In2”) determined that a unified select-fire infantry weapon would not only allow the German military to circumvent the Treaty of Versailles (which prohibited Germany from producing more submachine guns), but would also give the infantry better effectiveness than a mix of selfloading rifles and light machine guns. In2 tasked RWS with creating such an “ideal” intermediate caliber, and that company developed as a result an 8.15x46mm caliber, probably based on their earlier 7x46mm designed for aircraft guns, but no weapon was apparently designed to fire it. Rheinmetall-Borsig also developed their own intermediate, a very compact 7×36.5mm caliber firing a 139gr bullet at 2,300 ft/s from a 13.9″ barrel, which, like the RWS round, remained a ballistic test cartridge only. More successful was the DWM effort, a 7×39.1mm round which did see testing in a Mauser-designed select-fire carbine. The German efforts to produce an intermediate round and a select-fire rifle to fire it would continue until their final success with the MP.43 – later redesignated StG.44 – being fielded in large numbers during World War II.

792kurz30carbine

During World War II, the semiautomatic and select-fire intermediate caliber weapon finally had its day, with the United States first introducing the semiautomatic M1 Carbine in a .30 caliber round of the same name in 1941. In 1942, the Nazi Germans introduced an open-bolt select-fire rifle in a shortened 7.92x33mm caliber, the MKb.42(H), later improved to the closed-bolt MP.43 the next year. In 1944, the United States introduced a select-fire version of their Carbine, the M2. The Russians would also introduce an intermediate caliber, the 7.62x41mm M43, upon encountering the MKb.42(H) in combat, which later was improved to the 7.62x39mm caliber of the ubiquitous SKS and AK families of rifles.

 

It would be awkward not to mention one final development in intermediate cartridges, at the very beginning of World War II. In the late 1930s, the US Army Ordnance Department was given the task by the Infantry Board to develop a small, lightweight carbine that could replace the handgun in use with echelon troops. As a necessity, a new round had to be developed that would facilitate the smallest and lightest weapon possible, and Ordnance brought in the help of Winchester Repeating Arms to design such a caliber. They recommended a rimless .30 caliber version of the semi-rimmed .32 WSL introduced with the aforementioned Model 1905 selfloading rifle. By October, a preliminary sketch of the caliber that became the .30 cal M1 Carbine was drawn up. Incidentally, it was Winchester’s rifle entry into the competition that won, becoming the famous M1 Carbine.

0129162052

The original drawing for the “.30 SL” rimless variant of the .32 SL cartridge, designed by Winchester. This was the prototype for the cartridge that would be adopted as the .30 cal. M1 Carbine.

 

The development of intermediate calibers before 1943 is an extensive subject, and I have only written the most cursory overview of it here. Hopefully, though, I have made more visible some of the remarkable developments that occurred before the Second World War.

 

A big hearty thank you to DrakeGmbH for his assistance with this article. All the photos in this article are his, used with permission.



Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


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  • N.R. Jenzen-Jones

    Interesting article, Nathaniel. Would be good to be in touch – Steve has my email address.

  • Renegade

    When introduced, the .30 Remington was originally called the .30-30 Remington, in an effort to compete with Winchester. Ballistically, the cartridges are identical. The cases differ in that the Remington is rimless, has an extractor groove for use in semi-autos, and has a steeper shoulder.

    Early Model 8 rifles (then called Autoloading Rifles) chambered in .30 Remington were stamped “.30-30 REM.” on the barrel. I am unsure when that practice was discontinued. The picture below is on an example produced in 1909.

    • iksnilol

      I can bet money that someone, somewhere stuffed a .30-30 WCF in one when they stopped marking it with REM.

    • Anonymoose

      On the topic of .30 Rem, you didn’t mention the perfect “intermediate” round- 10mm Auto.

      • ostiariusalpha

        Hmm, consider that weak loads on .30 Carbine can manage over 1300 J of energy at the muzzle, whereas even the hotter loads of 10mm Auto can barely squeak up to just a smidgen over 1000 J. The dividing line is, of course, arbitrary where the pistol cartridge category ends and something else begins, but 300 J is nothing to shrug at.

        • Anonymoose

          That’s out of a vastly different barrel length, though. For everyday carry, I’d rather have a Glock 20 than an M1 Carbine (even if it is the lightest long gun on that weapon weight omnibus thing they posted).

          • FightFireJay

            This is an article about intermediate RIFLE cartridges, unless I am mistaken.

          • Anonymoose

            I know. I’m just saying that the 10mm is still the perfect intermediate pistol cartridge, and it’s based on the .30 Remington, which was mentioned in the article.

          • Jwedel1231

            your comment is basically like coming into a “history of the Corvette” article and saying “FORD MUSTANGS ARE THE BEST!” You may be right, but you are off topic.

          • Anonymoose

            As I just said- I only brought it up because of the .30 Remington.

  • Robert Rodriguez

    Nathaniel, I find it odd that there was no mention of Federov’s work on his 6.5mm cartridge before he was forced to change over to the more readily available 6.5x50SR cartridge. Do you think Maxim at WorldGuns might be able to shed some light on Federov’s cartridge?

    • My understanding of Federov’s 6.5mm experiments before WWI was that they were in more of the 6.5×55 Swedish class than intermediates. Having said that, there were quite a lot of intermediate developments I just didn’t have the space to mention, like Furrer’s short cartridges.

      • The_Champ

        Since 6.5mm rounds came up, do you have any idea what drove a few smaller nations like Sweden and Italy to adopt that caliber while the majority of major powers went for a .30 cal or 8mm?

        • Anonymoose

          Lower recoil, better ballistics, better penetration (higher sectional density)? Heck, we had the 6mm Navy Lee for a little while.

        • That’s a very interesting question, and deserves a longer answer than I can give here. It seems that there was a “race to the bottom” before 1905 for small arms calibers during the round-nosed bullet era. Cutting-edge smokeless rounds were developed in 6.5mm, 6mm, and even 5mm calibers. Even the United States experimented with a .22 cal round based on the .30-40 Krag in 1895.

          This makes sense, as smaller caliber rounds can attain higher velocities while still retaining good sectional density, thus leading to flatter-shooting, faster-firing rifles. This was a very attractive concept for designers envisioning combat between large groups of riflemen happening at ranges beyond 1,000m. He who hits more, faster, wins. The same principle is at work today in long-range practical shooting competitions, where 6.5 and 6mm caliber rounds based on the .308 or .284 cases rule the day.

          So, many ~.30 cal rounds come from before 1905. Examples of this being the .303 British, 8mm Lebel, 7.62x54R, 7.9mm German, and others. These rounds were “behind the curve” so to speak, as they were designed when ~.30 cal was the hot new thing, and subsequently designers moved on to even smaller calibers (although it should be noted this did not happen simultaneously everywhere, e.g. the 7.62x54R and 6.5 Carcano both date to 1891).

          This is a fine theory, until one considers rounds like the 7.35mm Italian, 7.7mm Japanese, 7.5mm French, and others, all designed in the 1920s and 1930s, well after the “small caliber revolution” had hit its stride. Well, in the early 1900s, requirements changed against small caliber rounds. New types of ammunition needed for new targets, such as tracers, armor-piercing, incendiary, and spotter rounds greatly favored larger bore .30 caliber ammunition, and the introduction of the Spitzer in 1905* meant that the large caliber rounds could be just as if not even flatter shooting than the previous round-nosed smallbore rounds, while being more versatile. Further, the new spitzer bullets were just as light in the bigger calibers as the old small-caliber round noses (e.g., the 154gr 7.9mm S Patrone, vs. the 162gr M91 6.5mm Carcano), and had comparable recoil.

          *The French invented the pointed supersonic bullet in 1898, but so far as I can tell kept it secret. It was the German Spitzgeschoss of 1905 that was extremely widely copied by almost every major power.

          So, by the end of World War I, requirements didn’t favor a specialized long-range smallbore round, but a larger-bore caliber more capable of penetrating armor, shooting down balloons and light aircraft, and accommodating a healthy amount of tracer material. Combat ranges during WWI were also much lower than expected, with the average engagement range being not so different from what it would be in World War II. Therefore, although an even longer-ranged, flatter shooting smallbore round could be made with spitzer bullets, the ~.30 caliber rounds were just as flat-shooting over the ranges actually found in combat. The French 7.5mm and Japanese 7.7mm rounds were designed around these kinds of requirements.

          There are several transitional rounds that more completely illustrate this, two of which are from France and Britain, respectively. The .276 Enfield of the early 1910s was roughly equivalent to today’s 7mm Remington Magnum, and shows us an attempt to introduce a powerful, flat-shooting round with a spitzer bullet that could outrange anything else on the battlefield. A very modern cartridge for the era, designed around requirements that were already by then obsolete. The French 7mm Meunier was another great example of this, being broadly similar. Both were cancelled with the outbreak of World War I, although a reduced-power 7mm Meunier variant was produced in limited numbers during that war. After the war, both the French and British abandoned this concept, now clearly obsolete.

          One final piece of the puzzle to add: The United States nearly adopted the .276 Pedersen (a cartridge a little less powerful than today’s 7mm-08) in the early 1930s, however objections were raised against it on the grounds of it having poorer armor penetration than then-current .30 cal armor piercing rounds. While the rejection of the .276 Pedersen had much more to do with logistical concerns than armor penetration (the reduction in armor penetration was widely seen as acceptable, for rifles), that there were concerns illustrates that a certain level of capability for the new round types was expected that the smaller bores could not match. Interestingly, the 7.62x51mm NATO, originally called “.30 Light Rifle”, seems to have been developed in some sense as an outgrowth of the .276 Pedersen, with its caliber increased to solve the armor penetration deficiency! There’s much more to the story than that, and I’ll get into it with my next Light Rifle installment, but it’s an interesting footnote.

          • The_Champ

            Thanks for the long thoughtful reply.

            Off hand I can name Sweden, Japan, Italy, Greece, Romania, and Holland as all using a 6.5mm cartridge as their main military round at some point. They all eventually went to a 7.62 round, but was this because they thought it was a superior round, or if they were just aligning with NATO, Warsaw Pact standards.

          • It’s because they were all exhausted from WWII and the logistical benefits were attractive. For most countries that adopted the 7.62mm NATO, performance was hardly even in the equation, they just wanted whatever the US/NATO had.

          • The_Champ

            Yeah makes sense. War is over, might as well use what the NATO standard is, and fall in line with the super power keeping the Ruskies at bay.

            A part of me likes to imagine an alternate future where Sweden went on to develop a select fire 6.5×55 rifle that would be modernized and soldier on to this day, with vast amounts of cheap surplus ammo spilling over to this continent 🙂

          • Frankly, I kind of think 7.62 NATO is an overall better military round, but the 6.5 Swede is certainly a stellar ballistic performer.

          • Tassiebush

            Hey Nate, in which ways is 7.62NATO the better round for military applications? I would have thought it would be the other way around.

          • Less of a barrel-burner for a start. It’s also shorter, and can fit larger penetrators in the projectile envelope.

          • ostiariusalpha

            There’s no getting around that the .308 Win has a more compact and efficient case, but you won’t burn out the throat of a 6.5×55 chambered rifle to any appreciable degree on a standard issue rifle even with the regular bimetal FMJ bullets; many milsurp rifles still shoot fantastically 100 years later. Even on a precision rifle, you’ll have either won or lost the war long before it loses sub-MOA capabilities. As for the AP rounds, the U.S. military changed from the M61 cartridge’s 150.5gr/9.8g projectile moving at 838mps to the M993 126.6gr/8.2g moving at 910mps. The speed was more important than weight for penetrating steel barriers. Now compare the Swedish Sk Ptr M/94 pprj M/41 that has a 113gr/7.3g projectile moving at 950mps. From anecdotal evidence of people that have shot the pprj M/41 against M61, the 6.5 bullet had the superior penetration on both steel and other other barriers like tree trunks.

          • You’re talking about throat erosion in bolt-action infantry rifles, I am talking about burning out the barrel on a machine gun.

            The 6.5×55 has a much higher heat flux than 7.62×51 does, which is directly related to how quickly a gun will overheat.

            Another factor to consider is how the specifications are set. The 838 m/s figure is not at the muzzle, but a measurement at the standard testing distance of 78 feet. This would result in a V0 of about 857 m/s, this being from a 24″ barrel. What length is the test barrel for the M/94 pprj M/41? It is probably about 29″ (the barrel length of an m/96); at that length the 7.62 NATO would be breaking nearly 3,000 ft/s itself.

            Sectional density of M61 and M/94 pprj M/41 are about the same, but M61 has a goofier shaped penetrator and I’m not sure how well it works in comparison. What the 7.62 also has going for it is that wider penetrators tend to be more stable when they contact a target at an angle, so penetration may be more reliable, although I cannot verify this for M61. Another question to consider is what targets could the M/94 pprj M/41 penetrate that M61 couldn’t, and at what distances. If we suppose that the M/94 pprj M/41 penetrates better, but that it doesn’t really penetrate anything that 7.62 NATO can’t, then that advantage is moot. On the other hand, if it can perforate a much wider variety of target then that may outweigh its disadvantages.

            Like I said, 6.5×55 is ballistically very impressive, but I think 7.62 NATO has an edge in versatility and being less hard on the weapons firing it. Regardless, comparing M61 and M/94 pprj M/41 directly isn’t something I can do, because I don’t have data on them. I was more speaking about the cartridge envelopes compared to one another.

          • ostiariusalpha

            I had a feeling you were talking MGs. To which I say, “Meh.” Like iksnilol mentioned, even the updated M/41 ammo was lower pressure than 7.62×51, and lower pressure is less heat. If you swap the barrels at the same round counts on guns with the same rate of fire, you’d probably have a hard time noticing any difference in wear despite the smaller bore on the 6.5.

            As for the “muzzle” velocities, the Swedes measured things pretty much the same way as the Americans did. The entire suite of M/41 cartridges were created and optimized for the new M/38 service carbine, which had a 610mm barrel. From the old 739mm barrels, it probably would get an impressive bump up in velocity just like any other bullet.

            Like I mentioned, it was an anecdote of an informal test, and we all know what those are worth. From what I gathered, the M61 failed to penetrate a directly facing steel plate that the pprj M/41 successfully punctured, and consistently failed to pass through tree trunks that the pprj had no problem with. A true, rigorous test with barrels of known (and comparable) length, on materials of consistent density, and firing at targets set at standard distances would be a much more preferable and satisfying way to draw reasonable conclusions about how the two AP rounds stack up against each other. I have access to neither of them and no 6.5×55 rifle in my own collection, so I’m completely useless for resolving the issue.

          • iksnilol

            I dunno, about 1/4 less pressure should make it burn barrels less.

          • ostiariusalpha

            I wouldn’t hesitate to nominate the 6.5×55 as the best military cartridge of the late 19th to mid-20th century.

          • iksnilol

            One of the best cartridges IMO. Low pressure, long range. Cases last forever if cared for. No problem hitting stuff at a km.

          • Erm, it has 10% higher pressure, actually. 55,000 PSI vs. 50,000 PSI, albeit by different testing methods. I’m not sure what the Swedish standards were, so I’m just going off CIP’s MAP.

          • ostiariusalpha

            Erm, that should be 60,000 PSI for 7.62×51 there, Nate. M/41 was loaded to 51,000 PSI and the older M/94 was much less. 55,000 PSI is the max rating for loads in modern hunting rifles.

            Edit: M/94 was rated at 47,000 PSI, apparently.

          • iksnilol

            Modern loads are that high, old loads were 40-45k PSI.

            So closer to 1/5 or 1/6 less pressure.

          • FN made a couple of prototype FAL in 6.5x55mm for Swedish trials. The Swedes had already adopted and fielded the MAG58 in 6.5x55mm before selecting the 7.62mm NATO cartridge.

          • The_Champ

            And now that you mention the FAL, it looks like they also made a few FN49s in 6.5 as well for Swedish testing. That would be one sweat, light recoiling semi auto rifle!

        • iksnilol

          Many countries did this crazy thing called “tests” and “scientific experiments”.

          It was this crazy thing where they tried different things to find what worked best, and they found out the 6.5mm cartridges worked best. (in regards to range and penetration).

          I know Norway and Sweden had a commision to determine the best caliber. They concluded that 6.5mm was the best.

          • I think it’s a disservice to act as though that wasn’t true throughout the 20th Century. It may be satisfying to assume that after 1905, everyone’s brains just dropped out of their heads, but a closer look gives a different picture.

    • Max Popenker

      As Nathaniel already said, original 6.5×57 Fedorow was quite a number, pushing 8 gram pointed bullet for 3000+ Joules of muzzle energy – hardly an “intermediate” thing.
      However, during mid-1930s another Russian small arms expert, V.Markevich, suggested to drop any further development of submachine guns in 7.62×25 caliber, and turn to smaller-caliber but faster rounds, based on the .25 Remington or any similar case.

      • But Max! Only the German Übermenschen could realize the purity of intermediate caliber assault rifles! 😉

  • schizuki

    “Muskets of the day, like the aforementioned 1853 Enfield, gave velocities in the low subsonic range (1,300-1,500 ft/s),”

    I think you meant “supersonic.”

  • Don Ward

    I’ve felt for awhile and this is more proof of the fact that the term “Intermediate” when used in describing cartridges is entirely subjective and variable. The fact that this subjective term is used as one of the primary characteristics in describing the equally nebulous term “assault rifle” is just more just adds more conceit to my batch of smug pudding.

    Also, Lever Action Master Race!!!

  • Don Ward

    According to this old magazine article, it seems the Ottoman Turks used the “golf bag” approach to firearms at the Siege of Plevna, engaging the Russian-Romanian troops at distance with their Peabody-Martinis and switching to the Winchester at closer ranges. They were also backed with Krupp breachloading cannons.

    http://www.militaryrifles DOT com/Turkey/Plevna/ThePlevnaDelay.html (replace the DOT with a period since links are absolutely haram to Disqus).

    • Tritro29

      That link is the worst historical account of Plevna i’ve have ever read (and there are enough Turkish books about it) and in straight line with Anglo-American historiography. But it literally mistakes the first battle with the third battle and the second with the forth. It also totally ignores the fact that while the “repeaters” are oft praised they also caused (among others) the fall of Lovcha. The Garrison there having once again fired most “close distance rounds” while the enemy was still advancing on the positions. In few words by September 11-14 (no comment) the Turkish fate was sealed. The initial forces were halved, Lovcha was taken, and Grivitsa redoubts were taken out (one occupied, the other sapped). The Turks were done. Only in typical Anglo-Saxon fashion (cue French idolization of Greek Independence War) they went out to disseminate the myth of Turkish “resistance” in Bulgarian soil. It would be funny if it wasn’t utter horse****. A trait of historiography US academics and journalists have inherited until today.

  • Tritro29

    Pleven Siege sent shivers to whom? I know it’s not exactly the subject but the Pleven siege went down as most sieges in the era (Sedan @Moncelles, Metz – Franco Prussian war) with losses from the attacking side and sieges being ended by the blockade effect. Small arms did not “help” the actual battle which was a positional deadlock with similar losses through and through for similar battles of the Era. I understand you want to illustrate the Intermediate “round” but Plevna isn’t exactly evidence of anything but 19th century class-based warfare. The Turks weren’t in a hopeless situation until Ze Russians got three more waves of Reinforcements (including 4 Romanian Divisions) .

    The whole deal of the “repeaters” is an overblown American Memorabilia reinforced by British pro-Turkic campaign through and through (which wasn’t anything new, the Brits would have let the Greeks rot under Ottoman Rule just to piss off the Russians), which oft ignores that albeit armed with “Uber” repeaters, the Turks got their arrears kicked when they tried to dislodge the Romanians from Grivitsa redoubt on July and September. And so you know, the Romanians were low on ammo and still firing some antiquated German needle rifles (Dreyses’). And for the very reason repeaters were NOT seriously considered while being available then. Relatively low power round for range engagements AND ammo expenditure. Turks @ Grivitsa redoubt spent most of their ammo because the “higher ROF” while not hitting at each shot. The great Dilemma of infantry combat had awaken. Rounds fired per dead enemy. Economy reared its ugly head in the middle of a vital fight and Economy was AGAINST the Ottomans this time.

    They would have better luck against ANZAC troops some 40 years later.

    • Phil Hsueh

      It’s interesting that you mention repeaters and rate of fire because fast firing repeaters is one of the contributing factors to Custer’s defeat at the Little Big Horn. Custer and the men of the 7th Cav were armed with single shot trapdoor carbines that had better range and stopping power than the repeaters the Indians were armed with but were single shot weapons and slower to reload. It’s argued that while shorter ranged, the repeaters the Indians were armed with allowed for a greater volume of fire that overwhelmed Custer’s troops. Although given how badly outnumbered the 7th was and considering that 7th was broken up into 3 or 4 separate and even smaller commands, I’m not entirely sure that having repeaters would have made a difference. I think that at best it would have still been a bloody defeat for the 7th but perhaps not a massacre.

      The irony in this is that I’ve read that the 7th was armed with repeaters during the Civil War but had turned them in sometime after. I’ve also read that the Army didn’t issue them widely during the Civil War because of their high RoF, they were afraid that the troops would just waste ammo. Supposedly, this was the reason why the Marine Corps was initially reluctant to adopt the Garand, they were afraid of ammo wasted in rapid fire. Later on down the line this was also part of the reason for the 3 round burst setting on the M16A2, apparently lessons learned during Vietnam told the Corps that full auto used up a lot of ammo for less than stellar results.

  • Archie Montgomery

    Nice historical discussion.