The Swiss Vetterli Bolt Action Rifles
M1878 Vetterli Rifle
Type: Bolt Action Infantry Rifle
System of Operation: Manual
Caliber: 10.4x38Rmm Rimfire
Capacity: 12 round tube magazine
Sights, front: Blade
Sights, rear: Elevation Adjustable Notch
Length: 52.2" l
Weight (unloaded): 10.1 lbs
Barrel: 33.1", 4 grooves, RH twist
Friedrich Vetterli joined the Weapons Department of Schweize Industrie-Gesellschaft (SIG) in 1864, and set to work on developing a metallic cartridge repeating rifle that would best the Needle Gun. The tactical paradigm that the Swiss operated on was wholly defensive, and was reflected in the design of Vetterli's rifle. A survey of world firearms technology at the time included the American Volcanic, Henry and Spencer repeating rifles, as well as the Needle Gun. All of these were analyzed with reference to the Swiss paradigm. The Henry was designed with hunting or mounted warfare in mind, hence the lever action. The Europeans, in awe of the Needle Gun, thought in terms of better needle guns. Vetterli, however, saw the merits of marrying the two into what would be effectively a bolt action repeater. Vetterli then proceeded to adapt the Henry to Swiss needs.
The Vetterli was the most advanced rifle in service anywhere in the world when it was adopted. Indeed, when the Swiss adopted the Vetterli, the American army was still largely armed with muzzle loading rifle muskets, the British were in the process of thinking about the Martini-Henry, and the Prussians were still improving the twenty-five year old Needle Gun. More than anything else, the Vetterli is a marvel of integration. Proven technologies were analyzed and combined to create an advanced rifle that met the unique tactical requirements of the Swiss strategic situation.
Perhaps the greatest testament to Vetterli's design was its use well into the twentieth century. Finnish revolutionaries in the early twentieth century purchased some 15,000 surplus Vetterlis from arms dealers in Paris and Hamburg. While the rifles were being offloaded, the ship, an old merchantman named the SS John Grafton, ran aground. Rather than lose the shipment to the Russians, the ship and remaining rifles were scuttled. Despite this precaution, the Russians recovered most of the rifles from the sunken ship and stored them in Czarist armories in Finland. The Finns smuggled additional Vetterlis into the country during the year following these events. These Vetterlis played a role in the Finnish War of Independence, and surfaced again during the Second World War. They were found in Finnish arsenals as late as the 1950's.
Like all Swiss rifles, the Vetterlis demonstrate extremely high standards of manufacture and great accuracy. The Vetterli stands alone among them though; more than just a better implementation of ideas originated elsewhere, it was a truly innovative design that was years ahead of its time.
This rifle is a fairly straightforward conversion of the M1870 Italian Vetterli which has been adapted to the four round Vitali box magazine repeating system designed by Italian Artillery Captain G. Vitali and also utilized in the M1871/88 Dutch ********-Vitali. Many thousands were converted, the single shot versions being scarce today. The floor of the receiver was cut out to accept the magazine and a metal floor plate was added to the bottom of the stock surrounding the magazine to strengthen the stock. In addition to the magazine, the next most conspicuous modification is the addition of a bolt support rail to keep the bolt in line and to prevent from rocking and possibly jamming when fully opened. Other minor changes included deleting the dust cover and replacing it with a metal ring immediately to the rear of the loading port which served both to further lock in the bolt retaining key and and as a magazine cut-off when the rifle was used in single shot mode. The M1870/87 mounts only a single bayonet lug and the safety lever has been re-designed. The large Vecci pattern quadrant sight was an earlier modification to the M1870 Italian Vetterli rifles. These rifles were finished blued, with the receiver, safety lever and trigger guard being case hardened.