Shooting the 1883 Reichsrevolver (Video)

The 1883 Reichsrevolver is not the weapon most people would expect to see in German service – it was a decidely obsolete weapon from the moment of its adoption. The initial 1879 model was actually even worse, with an awkward grip and longer barrel, but the 1883 update retained all the same mechanical features of the first version. Specifically, it is a single-action-only revolver with a remarkably heavy hammer spring, a really pointless manual safety (you can only engage it when the hammer is down), a non-rebounding hammer, and no ejector. To remove the empty cases, you actually have to use a separate ejector rod stored in your holster – or a stick off the ground.

The cartridge is the 10.6mm German Ordnance round, used in basically nothing else, which is for all practical purposes equivalent to the .455 Webley. It fire a 250-260 grain lead bullet at about 650 feet per second (black powder only!). That doesn’t translate into an impressive number of foot-pounds, but it was definitely a round that packed some wallop.

I went out to the range expecting the Reichsrevolver to a pretty atrocious gun, like it is on paper. Much to my happy surprise, though, I found it a lot of fun to shoot. The sight weren’t regulated well to my ammunition (it shot substantially high), but the deep boom of the back powder, the cloud of smoke, and the nice kick (enough to convey some ballistic effectiveness, but not so much as to be uncomfortable) made for a great shooting experience. It may be an 1860s design 20 years past its time, but seeing as we are now 120+ years past when these were being actually manufactured (and we’re not actually depending on these to fight colonial campaigns anymore) the Reichsrevolvers are a fun piece of antiquity.

43 Comments

  1. My wife’s late great-grandfather did his obligatory military service in the Bavarian royal army (“In treue fest”) in 1907, trained in the artillery. When he was called up from the reserves to go to France in WWI, he was issued one of those revolvers. Not everyone got a snazzy artillery Luger with attached shoulder stock and “trommel magazine” I’d guess!

    • Artillerymen were usually safe from face-to-face shooting in those days. If any enemy infantry got within rifle range, the defending team loaded shrapnel rounds and turned the fight into a turkey shoot. The only time artillerymen used side-arms was when the other team was right on top of them. Did I mess up?

      • Nope. Artillerymen are always issued pistols in event of getting close-assaulted, either from the flank or rear or when the gun is out of ammunition.

        Ian Hogg (Master Gunner, Royal Army) had this to say on this subject;

        “In the artillery, we don’t ‘rally ’round the colors’. Our rally point is the nearest gun that will still fire.”

        Or in other words, the “redlegs'” rally point is the nearest piece of heavy ordnance they can still kill you with.

        cheers

        eon

  2. Austrians also had powerhouse of the cartridge. Gasser 1870 and 1870/74 fired 312 grains bullet @ 250m/s, using about 36 grains of black powder. Later (1889) they downloaded it a bit but it was still 312 grains @ 190 m/s.

    • The first ad second model Austrian Gasser revolvers were chambered for the 11.15 x 42Rmm M1867 Werndl rifle cartridge, so the Austrian cavalry could use the same rounds in carbine and revolver both.

      This was why the early Gasser revolver was so huge; it had to be to accommodate that (by pistol standards) Brobdingnagian “bullet”.

      When the later M1877 Werndl was issued with the 11.15 x 58Rmm round, the army sensibly issued a new revolver chambering the shorter 11.3 x 36Rmm round. Which was actually somewhat easier to hit something with, as it didn’t generate the massive recoil of the earlier revolver/cartridge combination.

      cheers

      eon

      • No, Gasser revolvers were never chambered for the Werndl *rifle* cartridge – and neither were the cavalry carbines, for that matter.
        Both were chambered for 11.2x36R; and revolvers were supposed to use a reduced charge.

        Later, carbines were updated to the other 11.2x36R (same caliber and case lenght, but bottlenecked).

        The new revolver cartridge was 11.2x29R.

        • 11x36R Carbine ammo had about 50 grains powder load, compared to revolver 36. It was reduced to IIRC 28 in 11x29R M.1889 ammo.
          Frutwirth carbine used revolver 36 grains load.

          Commercial ammo varied all around, from 22 (wimpy, probably for lower quality Belgian and Spanish copies) to 42 grains (Montenegrin made cartridge).
          Gassers (Belgian and Spanish copies) were also chambered in 44-40 for export to USA and Latin America – they were quite common in Mexico.

  3. According to articles in the Gun Collector’s Digest, vols. 1 & 2 (DBI, 1975-78), the Reichsrevolver’s facts are like this.

    1. The safety could be applied at the half-cock as well as uncocked. The manual called for it to be applied when loading to avoid a possible AD if the gun were dropped.

    2. Normally the revolver was loaded with five rounds. The chambers are numbered 1 through 6 to ensure that everybody knew the drill. Keep in mind that the Reichsrevolvers replaced a hodgepodge of different handguns in the prior service of the various German states; some were even still using single-shots in 1878-79.

    In fact, a lot of the troops it was issued to had never had a repeating handgun before. And it was an “all ranks” weapon, not just officers’ issue, in the cavalry, artillery, medical, and etc. branches. (Yes, some are marked “S” for “Sanitischwasche” in the unit makings on the buttstrap.)

    As such, it was designed to be as “idiot-proof” as possible.

    3. SOP in the field was six rounds loaded, hammer at half-cock, safety on. The revolver was carried in a “hard shell” holster similar to the later P.08 holster, with a full “flap” (actually a hard moulded leather “cap”). The lanyard on the loop went under the epaulet strap on the shoulder just like the British procedure.

    The idea was that the combination of half-cock, safety, and hard holster top was to prevent ADs, the lanyard kept it from hitting the ground if your hand slipped, and you had a full six rounds of roughly .44 Special level whomp available if needed.

    4. There were actually quite a lot of double-action Reichsrevolvers. Those made commercially by Sauer & Sohn usually had a Chamelot-Delvigne type DA lockwork; others from other makers had a double-trigger setup more like a Tranter. There was plenty of room for either one inside the big M1879/M1883 frame. Some also had an attached ejector rather like the French M1870N naval revolver.

    Any or all of these could be purchased by a Reichswehr officer, who as with most European armies at the time had to buy his own sidearm, as long as it chambered the standard 10.6mm round. To the best of my knowledge, no Reichsrevolvers, even of the DA commercial types, were ever made in any caliber but 10.6 x 25Rmm.

    Myself, given being stuck in Europe in that era, I’d be OK with a 10.6mm Reichsrevolver in my coat pocket in case of “close encounters”. I’d be happier with a couple of Remington New Model Police DAs in .38 centerfire, but the M1883’s six rounds would probably get the job done, especially if it were a “civilian” DA model.

    cheers

    eon

    • “I’d be OK with a 10.6mm Reichsrevolver”
      This cartridge was quite similar to other then used European military revolver cartridge (like for example .44 Russian)

      “in my coat pocket”
      Notice that this revolver was never designed to be pocket revolver.

    • There were smaller commercial copies of Reichsrevolver in .380.
      I have also seen and handled one in 10.35mm Italian cartridge.

      PS. Gassers could be safely carried with all 6 chambers loaded. So could 1878 model Fagnus revolver and Swiss 1878 model.

    • Notice the cuts between the cylinder chambers. These can be used to rest the firing pin tip between the chambered rounds of fully loaded cylinder. This prevents the rotation of cylinder at hammer at rest position and permits safe carrying the fully loaded revolver. In fact this is a common application in European revolvers at that era.

  4. The gun came with an ejector rod – the cylinder axle was removable for just that purpose. And whether the extra bullet with “hammer half cocked, safety on” was worth it over a “never more than 5” SAA 73 is at least debatable.

    • There was also a cleaning rod supplied with the revolver, carried in a sheath built into the holster. It was supposed to do double duty as the ejector rod, thereby not requiring the revolver to be field-stripped every time you wanted to reload it.

      cheers

      eon

  5. Ian, always liked your style. You don’t disrespect weapons just because at first glance they appear weird.

    One thing to look for at RIA. Some Webley RIC types in the 1880s 90s were fitted with the Silver & Fletcher self ejecting mechansim. This is a fascinating mechanism and long forgetten. Many, many years ago I had the pleasure of owning an RIC with this mechanism (Serial 395-they did not make many) and it was awesome in terms of wierd but you could eject your rounds as you fired them, or wait till you were done and then open the gate and quickly unload the weapon by pulling the trigger. It was featured with the patented hammer safety which was used on even more Webleys.

  6. Concerning the 1883 revolver in this video, I still think my Russian Nagant revolver “sucks” more, concerning the difficulty in loading and unloading the ammo. I will say, even with the horrendous trigger pull of my Nagant revolver, it actually shoots pretty good groups.

    I really appreciate your posting these educational videos. My wife even commented, while listening as she was sewing in the other room, that you have a very clearly enunciated voice that she found pleasant to listen to. Also, she appreciated the way you are willing to say if you don’t know what something is.

    • I very much agree with your last paragraph – so many Youtube presenters mumble, talk way too fast, use poor English and (worst of all) don’t seem to have thought through what they want to say. They also clearly have never had to sit through one of their own videos.

      Mr. McCollum, on the other hand, presents in a manner that is (as your wife commented) easy and fun to listen to, and the videos are clean and well edited. Remarkably, for these days, the text accompanying the articles is also quite well written. When my 13 year old son asked me how to be a good Youtube presenter, I showed him some of the videos from Forgotten Weapons.

      Very nice work.

  7. Does anyone know why Ruger copied the cylinder of the Reichsrewolwer M1883?! Hah! From the ugliest 19th C. revolver–arguably–to the ugliest revolver of the 21st!

  8. The Germans had no empire, so nothing to shoot at, the quick ejecting Webley was handy when 5000 angry Zulu’s are coming at you ?

    • I don’t consider it an atrocity for its time period, the early 1880s. I would have preferred it over a solid frame revolver of the same vintage. It was made obsolete very quickly by the top break Webleys, but so was just about everything else.

      • With smokeless powder and self-loading guns just around the corner, it was indeed a period of rapid advancement in centerfire gun design, so maybe it was a good thing that they didn’t invest too heavily in weapons that would soon be made obsolete, over and over.

      • It had very finicky DA lockwork and timing problems. More than one got damaged when users fired it DA and cylinder did not line up with a barrel. Also, it was not safe to carry with all 6 loaded, and there were no between chambers cuts to rest a hammer on. Due the low quality of the brass and inconsistent length it would sometimes be unable to extract fired brass. Cylinder gap would go to hell in less than 1000 rounds.
        Pure atrocity.

        • “Pure atrocity.”
          The fact another revolver was adopted as default as fast as 7 years later (1887 – Webley Mk. I) says everything.
          Enfield revolver query in Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enfield_revolver states that:
          it required reloading one round at a time via a gate in the side
          so it looks that despite being top-break it needs to be loaded one-by-one anyway.

          • It was “eject only empties” like Galand and Merwin Hulbert. It sort-of worked except ammo was made by lowest bidder and brass varied in length, making that feature unreliable.

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