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October 22, 2006

Something soothing amidst all the politics...

The Castle Kropatschek Rifle

The Castle's Portuguese M1886 Kropatschek Rifle. The M1886 bears the distinction of being the first tubular magazine bolt-action rifle to use small bore smokeless powder ammunition, followed closely by the French, with the Lebel.

The French took the basic Kropatschek design and developed it into their M1886, which they went to war with in WWI. Despite the French use of the rifle through the war, tubular magazine rifles, especially after the advent of the pointed "spitzer" bullet - weren't really all that popular with the troops.

With blunt-nosed bullets (like the soft lead slugged black powder rifles) were okay - but start putting sharp-nosed copper/nickel jacketed bullets in there, and you had problems.

The magazine loads a single round at a time, one after the other, nose-to-tail, running up under the barrel. That makes for slow loading, especially when the other guy has clip-fed magazines. Plus, the center of balance of the rifle changes as you fire it, from nose-heavy when fully loaded, moving back towards the bolt as you fire. The long springs were prone to failure, and the tubes themselves would get clogged with dirt and gunk on a muddy battlefield - more so than box magazine rifles.

Now take that pointy bullet and put it in there. You have the pointed end of the bullet butting up against... the primer of the round in front. And that *did* result in accidental discharges when the rifle was dropped. So, the French put an annular groove in the base of their ammunition, which was intended to catch the nose of the bullet. Which complicated manufacture and increased cost, neither things you want to be doing in wartime if you don't have to.

Then there's the increased mechanical features of the liftgate, which catches the round from the magazine and lifts it for loading in the breech - and prevents the next round from exiting the magazine until the liftgate drops after the bolt is pushed forward to load the rifle.

All that bitching aside - the action of the Kropatschek is very smooth and fluid, and she shoots nicely, if a bit ungainly when fully loaded and shooting unsupported.