Blake Bolt Action Rifle at RIA

The Blake was one of many rifle designs submitted to the US Army trials that would ultimately result in the adoption of the Krag-Jorgensen as the US Army’s standard rifle. The main innovation of Blake’s design was a unique ammunition “packet” system which held 7 cartridges. The rifle would be loaded from the bottom with pre-loaded packets, which would be carried like clips or magazines by troopers. However, the loading was not as quick or simple as with more typical clips, and the trials board felt the packets were both too fragile and too bulky. Blake went on to submit his rifle for Navy testing a few years later, where it lost out to the Lee Navy straight pull. His last effort was commercial production of the rifles, which got him a few sales, but not enough to sustain manufacture. This example is one of the commercial rifles.


  1. The magazine system looks suspiciously like something that Melvin M. Johnson based his rotary magazine and loading system on in the Johnson Automatic Rifle of WW2. Of course his used a spring-driven follower inside, and loaded more sensibly through the flap.

    The cartridge holder also strongly resembles the function of the CSRL (Common Strategic Rotary Launcher) used in the B-52H, B-1, and B-2 bombers.

    As for shooting this one, in .30 Blake, the simplest way to handload for it would be to use .30-40 Krag brass with the rim turned down, as the Krag’s .457″ head diameter is unlike any rimless round in common use. An extracting groove would need to be turned in as well, but the Krag case has sufficient web thickness at the head for this to be a problem. .30-40 dies could be used with a .30-06/.308 shell holder. (Just a guess.)



    • An extracting groove would need to be turned in as well, but the Krag case has sufficient web thickness at the head for this NOT to be a problem.

      Dratted finger malfunction.



  2. I could easily imagine putting the magazine hand onto a spring load so that it could be pushed out of the way by the reloading “packet” and then popping back into place once the packet is in. Just a bit more development and it could have been as simple to use as any other magazine system of the time.

    Still James Paris Lee’s magazine and Paul Mauser’s strippers were much more efficient in the long run but it could have been at least as successful as the Mannlicher-Schönauer or Savage rotary magazines.

  3. At first I thought: “It never had a chance; no magazine cutoff.” But nope, there the bloody thing is.

    Interesting concept, but fiddling around trying to insert a packet of cartridges under the stress of combat, or at night, with the rifle basically having to be upside-down….nah. I’d still have taken a Krag.

    • The Krag requires you to yank open a trapdoor and drop loose cartridges into the magazine one at a time. One little mess up or jump scare in the dark and you could lose all the loose ammunition just as easily as the Blake packet. Blake’s only redeeming quality is that there are fewer motions involved with inserting the ammunition packet as opposed to rummaging through one’s cartridge pouches for individual rounds to feed a Krag. I’d prefer an Argentine Mauser or even a Steyr-Mannlicher rifle for actual battle…

      • Nah, the Krag isn’t too bad; an nice loading area to plop cartridges into–the rifle being upright–and it can be topped up whenever you like. We have a sporterized Krag roaming about my family, so maybe I’m biased, but it does load simply.

        As far as combat, you bet a Mauser or S-M would be better, to be sure.

        • The Krag had one sovereign virtue from the POV of the U.S. Army of that day; you could top up the magazine with a round in the chamber and if someone rushed you while you were so engaged, you could shoot him. Their preference for this was borne of the Indian wars, and it’s still not an unreasonable consideration in CQB even today.

          BTW, the next issue rifle in U.S. service that could make the same claim was the M1 Carbine. Which was designed for CQB from the outset.



  4. A very clever idea, but it seems likely that a solider crawling around on the ground would have dented, or got mud into, the sheet metal tabs of the device and then that would have been the end of it. For an expendible clip it might be a little pricy to make compared to anything that has since come along as well, and they would have been a little bulky to transport compared to other clips or loose ammo.

    If the clip were permanently mounted to a removable magazine, it would be an interesting concept even today in a sporting rifle: no spring to take a set, and it would have to give smooth feeding and keep lead tip bullets from being deformed, while still being easily removed to unload and clean the rifle.

    As to the gas ports, was he a bit ahead of his time with those?

    • Perhaps Blake thought about reloading the packets rather than disposing of them… And thus his idea was thrown out the window. Even the Breda 30’s charger-fed fixed magazine makes more sense than the nit-picky rotating packets of the Blake.

      About your suggestion to keep the packet as part of a removable magazine, I like the idea to some degree. The upside is that there would be a load of calibers that could use the packet-mag. The downside is that it would not be considered easily replaceable, and there could be an issue of proper indexing when the magazine is inserted or reloaded… Or am I wrong?

      • No, you’re not. Having trained officers on the Thompson SMG, I can assure you that one of the hardest things to do is teach them to remember that the drum magazines go in from the side, not straight up underneath like the box magazines. Trying to stick the drum in from the bottom can mess up the drum, the weapon, and in a real fight probably you, as well.

        While you wouldn’t think a reload would be necessary with a 50-round L drum, let alone a 100-round C drum, the First Rule Of Gunfights is S**t Happens. The FBI Miami shootout and the LAPD North Hollywood gun battle being cases in point. In such situations, a fast reload can be very important, and a finicky reload procedure can be disastrous.

        BTW, this was one of the factors that killed the H&K G11 4.7mm caseless rifle. It originally had a 50-round capacity fixed magazine, that was to be loaded with two 25-round cartons of the caseless rounds much like stripper clips, after which the cartons were to be disposed of. The designers thought this was a great way to keep the feed system free of “environmental contamination”.

        The Bundesheer, many of whose senior officers were veterans of North Africa, Stalingrad and the Bulge, pointed out that what works great in broad daylight on a target range on a pleasant spring day may not work so great at midnight, in freezing cold or pouring rain, in the middle of a firefight.

        The magazine system was revised to two side-by-side detachable boxes, which were delivered as “certified rounds”; you took the plastic seal cap off the feed end and shoved them in on top of the barrel like the modern FN P90. After they were empty, you tossed them and shoved in two more. The version submitted to the U.S. Army Advanced Combat Rifle trials in 1987 had no less than three 50-rounders on top, for a total of 150 rounds on tap. Impressive “on-board” firepower for an infantry rifle, to say the least.

        In the end, what finally killed the G11 was the fact that even with sealed magazines, there was no guarantee that humidity wouldn’t affect the caseless ammunition in storage or transit.

        Interestingly enough, a decade earlier, H&K’s HK36 (not to be confused with the present-day G36) had been designed around a plastic-cased 4.7mm round that had most of the virtues of the G11 round and few of its problems. And it had a fixed magazine loaded with a 25- or 40-round “carton” of cartridges that went into it much like an en-bloc Garand clip. When it was empty, you yanked the “carton” out, dropped it, and shoved another one in. Simple, and less likely to get out of order. (A later version reverted to a conventional detachable box magazine system and brass-cased conventional ammunition.)

        They’d probably have done better to stick with one or the other version of the HK36.

        The moral is that what looks good on paper or from a standpoint of durability may not work too well when the lead is actually flying. Designers- and procurement officers- forget this at the infantryman’s peril.



        • “caseless”
          The caseless never become popular (in repeating fire-arms), I assume that is due to:
          1. it is more vulnerable to humidity and other environment factors that metallic cartridges; it apply to stock-pilling of ammunition (case-less can’t be stock-pilled as long as metallic cartridges)
          2. it needs the breech seal (in most-firearms brass case function as a gas-seal)
          3. what if primer fail to ignite “powder”? In metallic cartridge fire-arm you just cycle action, it is possible in caseless fire-arms (most caseless ammunition which I am aware of don’t have extractor groove)?
          Notice that (some sort of) caseless ammunition is used in field howitzers and naval guns (at least in main batteries of WW1 battleships – I don’t know later warship technology) but it is done so to make use of different powder charges possibles.

          • Bagged charges have been used in artillery pieces as long as breech loading artillery has existed. Gas seal is achieved by an obturation system in the breech block. Western 155mm field artillery pieces (typically gun-howitzers these days) use bagged charges for loading (but with a “charge system” to speed up loading). Super-Heavy artillery above 155mm has always used bagged charges, not just on warships but on land as well. Of course these days super-heavy arty is mostly gone; only the Russians and some other ex-Soviet countries and former Soviet clients still have 203mm guns in inventory.

            Modern 120mm and 125mm tank gun ammunition uses combustible cases, from which only the base of the case (or stub) remains after firing and can be easily ejected, unlike a complete metallic case.

        • From what I have heard, the ultimate demise of the G11 were not the technical difficulties or even the ammo storage problems, but simply the price of the rifle and the associated ammo logistic system, which were unacceptably high after the end of the Cold War.

          The “Bundesheer”, by the way, is the Austrian armed forces (includes all branches, not just Army). The German Army is called just “Heer” in German, while the armed forces is called “Bundeswehr”. (Compare to “Wehrmacht” in Nazi Germany and “Reichswehr” in Weimar Republic.)

    • IIRC, gas ports only appeared on the Mausers with the 1896 model, and the third safety lug premiered on the ’98 model. So Blake was ahead of DWM on both counts.

      The magazine system seems to me to be ideally suited to a rifle that doesn’t need more than a five-to-seven-shot capacity, but which requires absolute feed reliability no matter what. Off the top of my head, I can think of;

      1. Dangerous game rifles, such as a .375 H&H intended for use on the African Big Five;

      2. Police sharpshooters’ rifles, for which a success or a jam on a second shot might mean life or death for a hostage; and

      3. Olympic centerfire rifles, where an interruption in a five-shot string could make the difference between a gold medal and not even getting a bronze.

      On the latter note, fun trivia fact; At the 1964 Summer Olympics, the Soviet team swept the centerfire rifle events using Canadian-made Ross straight-pull rifles, WW1 vintage, that had been rebuilt into precision target rifles and rebarreled to 7.62 x 54R. The reason? The Ross’ combination of fast reloading and high feed reliability made it an ideal choice for the job.

      Of course, they had a trained armorer to look after the rifles and make certain the bolts were properly reassembled after each cleaning, too.

      Losing a competitor to a rifle bolt in the eye would have been embarrassing to say the least, to say nothing of the effect on said competitor.




  5. Interesting rifle, too bad it didn’t get a chance to develop further. It looked like a machined groove running down from the front semi-circular clip support would have been a big help reloading. With the rotating hand it seams like it could have evolved into a belt fed bolt action. Too bad Rock Islands pictures don’t include a shot of the internals. Fairly inexpensive price range.

    Another interesting addition to your clips/magazines lecture.

  6. Eon said, “While you wouldn’t think a reload would be necessary with a 50-round L drum, let alone a 100-round C drum, the First Rule Of Gunfights is S**t Happens.” I would add that about the worst thing that can happen in such a situation is to need just one more round to finish the fight and not have it … One can never have too much ammo!

    • Agreed. But if the opponent is within melee range and finds his own gun inoperable by some means or other, doesn’t a brick or shovel to his face solve the problem? Or maybe just deal the coup de grace with your sidearm. Even the weak Nambu pistols will kill from the length of a bathroom away.
      As for bad things happening…

      I made a scene for fiction-writing class where my “hero” (more accurately an under-aged conscript soldier with the world’s worst luck sent out on some secret mission just to keep the “bad luck” closer to the enemy) is out of rifle ammo (and his rifle just got knocked off a cliff for all we care) and resorts to firing blindly with his relatively old hand-me-down pistol while fleeing in panic. One bullet ricochets off a bunch of rocks and into a bandit’s [unmentionables], causing him to wind up shooting another bad guy in the knee with a Thompson while falling down, screaming in shock to his death, and you will probably write the rest of the scene.

      You may ignore the previous paragraph if you wish.

      • Ricochets are about as deadly as direct hits. And a hit in the groin (a major nerve juncture) will cause the victim’s hands to clamp spasmodically, including the trigger finger.

        Stranger things have happened in real life, I assure you.

        For real fun, put a full magazine in an original MP38, stand on the tailgate of a deuce and a half, and drop the gun butt-first onto the asphalt.

        (And oh yes, don’t forget to dive for cover before it hits.)



        • “original MP38”
          Other WW2 sub-machine gun like STEN or Orita 1941 can be fired by hitting the stock/butt in the hard surface. The other reason for uncontrolled fire may be fact that some part of fire-arm is very worn. For example automatic pistol with very worn disconnector may cause firing multiple shots with single trigger pull or the automatic pistol will fire until magazine is not emptied (firing even if trigger is released).

          • Yup, my grandfather had that happen to him with his Sten during the early part of the second world war. He ended up calling his resulting actions to get the heck out of the way the “Sten dance”!
            Heck, just about any automatic weapon with a busted disconnector can “run away” on you. I’ve seen an FN MAG (GPMG) do such a thing on the firing range. Unfortunately, the shooter panicked and let go of the weapon. I ended up having to dive over the top of him and yank the belt out to stop it. That was not fun!

        • I presume it would only fire once with the bolt held open on recoil by the released trigger mechanism? Would not even the first shot only occur if the impact from the fall was sufficient to bring the bolt far enough to pick a cartridge from the magazine but not far enough to engage the sear? Just checking my understanding 🙂

  7. Ian, the trapdoor looks like it has notches in it that correspond to the nubs on the packet. Wouldn’t it be easier to tilt the rifle to the left and open the trapdoor, drop the packet into the upright trapdoor, and then close the door?

    • The gear on the packet has to go above the hand. Dropping it onto the trapdoor will result in the gear being below the hand when it closes. Since it’s apparently not spring loaded, you’ll screw up either the hand, or the gear. In either case, the gun won’t fire more than once. It may not even fire once.

  8. I wonder how much Blake’s status as an “outsider” factored into the Ordnance Board’s decision (cough…cough…Lewis Gun…cough…cough). After all, the comparative practicality of the various loading systems wouldn’t be seen in the field until 1898. Until then it was all speculation. I still think Lee’s detachable magazine system was the best. It had been around for a couple of decades, and its long service life with the British and Commonwealth forces bears this out to some degree. (Written with a No. 1 Mk. III SMLE on my lap.)

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