Prince’s Sliding Barrel Breechloading Rifle

    Prince's breechloading rifle

    Frederic Prince's breechloading rifle (Matthew Moss)

    Towards the end of last year I had the chance to look at unique early breechloader, an example of Frederic Prince’s breechloading percussion rifle dating from the 1850s. Prince’s rifle (no, not the gunsmith formerly known as…) used a sliding barrel action, with the barrel sliding forward when the action was unlocked, to open the breech. It is a fascinating design, almost the reverse of later bolt action designs with the bolt handle attached to the barrel rather than to the bolt. Prince’s is one of the earliest, if not the earliest, examples of a sliding barrel system with other early designs including Sharps & Hankins Model 1862 Carbine and the French Darne sliding breech shotguns of the 1880s.

    A view of the rifle’s bolt in the forward position, note the rifle’s L-shaped bolt channel (Matthew Moss)

    In the photo above we can see the rifle’s action opened, with the bolt handle, which is attached to the base of the barrel, pushed forward to open the breech and allow a paper cartridge to be loaded. The bolt unlocks to the right and then travels down an L-shaped bolt channel. Once a cartridge was loaded the rifleman would then close the breech by pulling the bolt back and locking it to the left. He’d then put a percussion cap on the lock and the gun was ready to fire. Here’s a gif showing how the action worked.

    A bird’s eye view of the Prince rifle’s breech, note the opposed locking lugs either side of the breech plug (Matthew Moss)

    Prince’s rifle was reportedly able to fire six rounds in just 46 seconds, according to official reports. It was tested by the British Army in the summer of 1855 against the Enfield Pattern 1853 Rifle Musket and recommended for further testing but the trials never took place and it wouldn’t be until the 1860s that the British Army adopted a breechloader, which utilised Jacob Snider’s action.

    Frederic Prince’s breechloading rifle (Matthew Moss)

    In this last photo we can see the breech open, with the two locking lug recesses in the breech face, the barrel camed to the side to lock the action ready for firing. At the time most major European armies were using muzzle loading percussion rifles. Prince’s rifle was a leap ahead but the rifle wasn’t tested further, possibly because the action was too unusual or not robust enough for service in the field.

    If you can check out the video I made about Prince’s rifle below:

    I also wrote a more in-depth history of the rifle, you can check that our here.

    Matthew Moss

    Matthew Moss – Assistant Editor.

    Matt is a British historian specialising in small arms development and military history. He has written for a variety of publications in both the US and UK he also runs www.historicalfirearms.info, a blog that explores the history, development and use of firearms. Matt is also co-founder of www.armourersbench.com, a new video series on historically significant small arms.

    Reach Matt at: [email protected]


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