Model 1879 Reichsrevolver at RIA

We are used to German small arms being highly efficient and modern for their times, but the Reichsrevolver is an exception to that trend. The first centerfire adopted by the newly formed German empire, the model 1879 Reichsrevolver had traits we would typically associate with Russian arms rather than German. It was simple (too simple in some ways) and very durable, at the expense of not being very conducive to fast or efficient shooting (note the size comparison to the Walker Colt in the video still below). The Germans realized some of its problems, and in its initial form it only remained a standard front-line weapon until 1883. The lot at RIA actually includes both this pistol and a second model 1879.


  1. Thank you Ian.
    Interesting gun.
    I assume it is safe to fire.
    If so, is ammunition available for it?
    Thanks again.

    • Should be just fine to fire, but you’ll have to make your own ammo. My understanding is that the .44 Russian case is a very good fit (haven’t tried it myself though).

      • Barnes refers to it as the 11mm German Service Revolver round, but notes that it’s also known as the 10.6mm or 10.8mm. (DWM #200 and #200A)

        Datig (DWM Cartridges) and White & Munhall (Pistol & Revolver Cartridges) give comparative specs as follows (all mm);

        10.6mm; case mouth 10.7, case head 11.55, rim dia. 13.1, case length 24.9, bullet weight 262 grains, powder charge 20 gr. BP, MV 670 FPS

        .44 S&W Russian; case mouth 11, case head 11.58, rim dia. 13, case length 24.5, bullet wt. 255 gr., charge 23 gr., MV 770 FPS

        10.6mm Mauser Revolver; case mouth 10.9, case head 11.62, rim dia. 13, case length 24.9, bullet wt./charge/MV unknown.

        From this I would say that given a set of dies, 10.6 (or whatever) Reichsrevolver rounds could be made from .44 Russian brass. And that load data for the .44 Russian could be used, at least if you stay down in the light target loads for black powder. The cases will be about .4mm short, but with a rimmed round, that doesn’t matter the way it would with one that headspaces on the case mouth like the average rimless autopistol cartridge.



        • CIP says 24.64mm for case length of .44 Russian, so that would be even closer:

          Since nobody makes 11mm German Service Revolver ammo, CIP does not have data for that. From what I have heard, shooting unmodified .44 Russian from the German 11m revolvers is safe and works well at least with light target loads, but of course that is hearsay and must be taken with a grain of salt. Fiocchi factory ammo should match the CIP specs for .44 Russian.

          • There is a French company, H C, who sell cartridges, bullets and caps – although the caps maybe EU only. They state in their catalogue that there is no difference between the 10.6 german and the russian .44.
            Page 2 of the ’18 catalogue.
            I have used their products for Colt baby dragoon and .32 derringers without problem.

  2. Speaking of odd features, I have a very pretty Belgian Bulldog in 7.5mm Swiss which has a safety too, and a couple of interesting “hidden” features.

    @Ian, I can write that one up for you if you’d like (and if I can find the time…)

  3. Germans were not only ones with oversized handgun, A-H Gassers were also huge as were Dutch Hembrug 1873.

    IIRC all those were intended primarily as cavalry armament, where long barrel and heavy weight kinda made sense.

      • I know, I actually shot those, 312 grains @ 250m/s going downrange and hitting steel target makes quite an impression on watchers. Especially when fired from 9″ barrel 1870/74.
        When fired from 5″ barrel on breakdown model 1877 fireball was huge, since cartridge was intended for way longer barrels.

      • Gasser looks more efficient lengthwise; that long handle on Reichsrevolver really strikes me as awkward. Having said that, the Gasser is also an animal in its own right, as “bojan” confirms.

        • Having handled and fired both Gasser handles way better.
          Not great, and compared to modern revolvers it is painfully nose heavy (9″ barrel man!) but it it’ ballance and handling are much better then you would expect from such huge gun.
          Recoil for both is also quite mild, due the gun being heavy, even if there is quite a bit of muzzle jump, especially with Gasser.
          All of above when fired one-handed, as was period correct.

  4. “Russian arms rather than German”
    At the same time as Reichsrevolver enter service, Russian service handgun was
    4,2-линейный револьвер системы Смита-Вессона means 4.2-line* revolver system Smith-Wesson, known in USA as a S&W Model 3 Russian. It also evolved, three major variants exist, most notable difference is barrel length:
    Model 1871 – 8″ barrel
    Model 1872 – 7″ barrel, added middle finger rest to trigger guard
    Model 1880 – 6.6″ barrel

    Notice that Reichsrevolver muzzle is modeled in fashion of Napoleonic War Era cannons, which give it “old” look, even when compared with others revolvers of that time.

    *line – old Russian length unit 1 line = 0.1 inch i.e. 2.54mm; note: Russian Army caliber destination always concern bore diameter (in lands), hence it is called 4.2-line (.42″) despite in American style (bullet diameter) it should be name .43 caliber

    • “Notice that Reichsrevolver muzzle is modeled in fashion of Napoleonic War Era cannons, which give it “old” look, even when compared with others revolvers of that time.”

      The “swell” or “Mundungswelst” (literally “fat mouth”) was intended to protect the muzzle and crown from nicks or dents. Some other European pistols and revolvers of the time had it, as well. It was left off the later 1883 model as a useless extra bit of machining.

      The three other major changes on the ’83 model are;

      1. The barrel was shortened from 7.0625″ (18cm) to 4.5625″ (11.59cm);

      2. The grip straps no longer have the round “butt cap”. The ’83 had a pair of full-length rounded-end grip panels rather like those on “bulldog”- type pocket revolvers of the time;

      2. The cylinder center pin retainer was changed from a rotating pin to a spring-loaded cross-pin similar to an Adams or the post-1893 Colt Peacemaker. It was powered by a leaf spring screwed to the frame on the left front, below the pin hole. This was apparently done because on the ’79 model, the rotating pin was rotated through a quarter-turn to line its cutout up with the cylinder-pin hole to allow removal of the base pin and cylinder. It “bottomed” at that point, and if someone tied to turn it further the lever generally broke off. The spring-loaded cross-pin was more “soldier-proof”.



  5. Primitive, yes, but the Reichsrevolver would still be quite a nasty thing to have kill you if you actually tried to bayonet or head-shoot a German officer (assuming his men haven’t filled you with holes and stab wounds by then). And in some very obvious ways, this revolver was more suited to the trenches than the Luger.

    • The Reichsrevolver was very much in keeping with the military doctrines of the time, which held that an officer’s job was to supervise his section, not engage in combat himself unless personally attacked. For that, the Reichsrevolver’s five or six rounds were more than adequate, and its slow reload (Colt-type loading gate plus a separate ejector rod carried in a sheath on the holster, which when present is often mistaken for being just a cleaning rod) wasn’t considered a handicap.

      Like the Colt, the Reichsrevolvers (’79 and ’83 both) do not have rebounding hammers. This is the reason for the safety catch. Unless you carry it like a Colt Peacemaker with the hammer down on an empty chamber, the only really practical safe carry for six rounds is to put the hammer at half-cock and apply the safety. Since it was carried in a full-flap holster, it was unlikely that the hammer would get moved by brushing against something or other. Note however that firing it would require both releasing the safety and thumbing the hammer back to full-cock, as it is a single-action revolver.

      So I suspect most German officers who carried this monster in the various colonial campaigns in Africa probably left it with five rounds and hammer down on the sixth empty chamber. Thus giving them one less thing to fiddle with when they needed the revolver in a hurry. Although really, if they were “supervising” a fight with the locals, the revolver should have been in Herr Hauptmann’s hand to begin with.

      BTW, a lot of commercial M’83 variants made by Schilling & Haenel and von Dreyse, both in Suhl, had double-action lockwork. The Schilling version was a basic single-trigger DA like the average “bulldog” revolver, while the von Dreyse version had a double-trigger setup uses the rear trigger for single-action, the front for DA, and also the front can be pulled partway through to “set” the rear trigger, which then can be used to sear off the hammer like the “set” trigger on a rifle. Similar trigger setups were used on Adams and Tranter revolvers going back to the 1860s.

      If walking through a typical European city at night in the 1880s, a DA “M’83 commercial” in my overcoat pocket would be a comfort. I wouldn’t feel at all ill-armed with it. After all, if six rounds of roughly .44 S&W Russian wouldn’t stop an assailant, I could always just hit him over the head with the two-and-a-half pound revolver.



  6. Nearly all the European 1870s period revolvers were in 11-12 mm calibre, Black Powder, and (except for the Montenegrin) of similar Power to the .44 Russian; they were all massively built as well (to use as a club when ammo ran out…).

    I have just finished making some 11,3x36R Montenegrin cases for a customer (from 7,62x54R Russian, trim case and turn rim and expand) They are like a reduced .45/70 case, with the similar Carbine Power…No wonder the King of Montenegro decreed that every Montenegrin soldier (not just officers) be armed with one (as “Back-up” when his rifle failed)…Good business for Both Gasser and the Belgian Makers.

    As to the “4,2 linye” Smita v Vessona — in the US, it was called the “.44 Russian” even though the actual Bullet diameter was .429-430″ ( Hang-over from BP ML days. with deep grooves and base-expanding bullets; and a lot of early bullets in revolvers (both RF and CF) where “heeled”, so the outer diameter was close to .44, whilst the base (Heel) was .42 or .43. All to give good gas seal in the Jump from cylinder to Barrel forcing cone.

    Hence the confusion between a Lot of US “calibres” and the actual Bullet to Groove diameter relationships.

    Doc AV

    • Actually, only Gasser revolver that was officially tolerated and sold to every men over 16 was Austrian made one. It was model 1870/74 with 9″ barrel.
      Only in 1890s it was allowed for officers to get another official weapon of 1873 or 1877 model with 130mm barrel, but only if they already had standard model.
      Belgian models were explicitly forbidden due the “low quality”.
      Other then that, since 1904. S&W Russian models were issued to reserves.
      Montenegro is actually quite non-interesting as far as Balkans go when talking about sidearms… 🙂

      Serbia officially purchased both Austrian 1870/74 and Belgian Francotte made copy – later however was in 11mm Mle.73 French caliber. Those two were however not “official” weapons, just available to purchase by officers vie state arsenal – Serbia did not have official sidearm until adoption of Nagant (almost same as Swedish one) in 1891.
      Other then that officers got what they wanted, I had a catalogue of arms dealer in Belgrade from 1880, there were Adams, Colt and S&W and whole lot of Gassers available.
      Gassers were however cheap(er), 15 A-H gulden for original Gasser or 9-12 for Belgian copy vs 18 for S&W Russian (22 for double action one) and 20 for Colt SAA (27 for .38 1877). As a consequence a lot of officers carried Belgian copies.
      Belgians sold a lot of Gassers to Turkey however, where it was popular among officers, much more then (formally) official S&W revolvers.
      Gassers were also popular in Bulgaria and Greece.
      Real “Peacemaker of Balkans” and actually quite advanced for it’s time, despite archaic looks.

  7. Is that retaining screw for the axis pin original? Mine has a pivoting lever to release it, and the one in the video has the same notch on the frame to hold it in the closed position.

  8. It would fun to try shooting a pair of Reichsrevolvers at a Cowboy Action Shooting meet. I also would not expect to win any matches, but I’m a sucker for guns that are a little out of the ordinary.

    • With a couple of Schilling-made DA versions you might surprise everyone, including yourself.

      Even with the von Dreyse double-trigger model you’d probably still be better off than John Cleese in “Silverado” with his Enfield .476.




  9. My great granfather had 2 Reichsrevolvers from his army sevice when he left Germany before ww1. Initially he went to the states then up to Canada about 1912.
    Apparently or so my grand father told me when pistol laws came in in Canada in the 1920’s he either gave them away or got rid of them. One can only hope that they are sitting in somebodies drawer today rather than a Manitoba swamp

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