Colt-Berdan I: Russia’s First Military Cartridge Rifle

In 1867, a Russian delegation came to the United States to source new small arms for the Czar. In addition to purchasing Gatling guns, they met with Hiram Berdan and agreed to purchase a trapdoor single shot rifle he had designed. Berdan had been very active in the years immediately after the Civil War trying to sell breechloading conversions to any interested party, from New York to Egypt. The design that the Russians agreed on was a purpose-built single shot rifle instead of a conversion, chambered for the slightly bottlenecked .42 Berdan cartridge and using an in-line striker instead of the side hammer more common to trapdoor conversions.

Colt would produce 30,000 of these Model 1868 Berdan rifles for export to Russia, with the first example ready in December 1868 and bulk deliveries running from March 1869 until May 1870. Berdan himself immediately set about improving his design, and sold the result to the same Russian delegation in 1870.This was a single shot turnabout action, commonly referred to as the Berdan II.


  1. Seems to me that 30,00 would have armed a small fraction of the Imperial Russian Army. Anybody know how they were issued?

    • that’s funny. you may forgive the man for not remembering all of his video’s. he made a few….

  2. It wasn’t “Russia’s First Military Cartridge Rifle”.
    Before her were the Albini and Krnka conversion rifles in 1869.

    Or I misunderstood something…

  3. Good video! That rifle is in fantastic condition, and will probably sell in the 5-digit range…btw, it is listed on the auction as being in “rare .45 caliber” instead of the cyrillic marked Russian issue weapons in 10.66x57r. So, what is the caliber?
    Fwiw, the Berdan II, 4.2 linya vintovka Berdana obr.1870g, was produced at Birmingham Small Arms, and later at all three Russian Arsenals, not just Izhevsk and Tula. About 3 million were produced, so many many more than the BI.

    • “(…)“rare .45 caliber”(…)”
      According to Эволюция стрелкового оружия by В. Г. Фёдоров
      available at
      During development of Berdan I in U.S., 4,5-line caliber cartridge was used, relatively late in this process it was judged smaller caliber is required to lessen weight of cartridge. This result in 4,2-line caliber and also improved accuracy and give flatter trajectory. Gorlov reported that no other European or American [military] rifle match it in accuracy. It was tested against various mistreatment including:
      – using acid to rust striker in order to block it, despite that cartridge were fired
      – barrel stuffing with stones, resulted in barrel destruction, but action survived
      Thus in year 1868 ordered were: 30000 examples of that rifle and 7500000 examples of cartridges.

  4. “(…)single shot turnabout action(…)”
    What is turnabout action? I always though Berdan II is bolt-action from U.S. classification point of view.

  5. Just to be picky, if a sprung firing pin is actually housed in the front of the breech-block, then isn’t that “striker” actually a linear hammer? Doesn’t a striker have to contact the primer to count as a striker?

  6. “(…)slightly bottlenecked .42 Berdan cartridge(…)”
    As already mentioned Gorlov was also responsible for getting Gatling guns, these made for Russian Empire were also .42 caliber, however this cartridge was different from cartridge from Berdan rifles:
    I am unable to say which of those cartridges is earlier.


      S. Fedoseev “Machine guns of the Russian army in battle”
      The Gatling cartridge was developed in 1868 (?) And allegedly had a significantly (threefold?!) Increased charge and a lead bullet without a wrapper.
      I don’t really understand how this could have been done with brass of almost the same volume as Berdan brass, but let’s leave it on Fedoseev’s conscience.
      Gatlings chambered for this cartridge were prone to barrel explosions from lead deposits and overheating, so the cartridge was replaced with a Berdan rifle cartridge.

  7. Unfortunately this example is incomplete. In the Rodina, we do not issue bayonet scabbards. “Why”, you ask.Because, be it Csar or Commissar, the muzhiks keep their bayonets fixed at all times. You will notice, tovarish, that the AK-47 had a folding bayonet. Some things, like the secret police, never change in Mother Russia.

    “За ваше здоровье”

    • Only Chinese AKs had folding bayonet. Soviet ones never did. In fact initial one did not have bayonet at all.

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