Sunday, August 24, 2014

Caveat emptor, baby.

So, here's a listing for an Italian M1870/87/15 Vetterli-Vitali rifle for sale.

Armies are funny things. They'll spend a mint giving everybody new dress uniforms or coming up with a new tank or something, but they get all parsimonious and skinflint-y when it comes to things like ammo or boots. Back in the late 19th-early 20th Centuries, rifle technology was changing by leaps and bounds, and it must've been hard to keep up, so there were lots of ways armies would wring one more decade out of obsolescent gear...

The army of newly-unified Italy adopted a version of the bolt-action Swiss Vetterli rifle, simplified by ditching the tubular magazine, as the single-shot M1870 Vetterli in the 10.4x47R black powder centerfire chambering. In the late 1880s, with France, Germany, and Austria-Hungary having adopted repeating rifles, Italy began issuing a version of the Vetterli fitted with a four-round box magazine designed by an Italian artillery officer named Vitali.
Vitali-pattern magazine, seen here on a Dutch M1871/88 Beaumont-Vitali.
The resulting rifles, M1870/87 Vitalis, were nothing more than a stopgap, as Italy soon began issuing a modern, small-bore smokeless powder rifle, the M1891 Carcano, which held six rounds of 6.5x52mm ammunition in its Mannlicher-style magazine. (The Carcano's magazine was an improvement over its German and Austrian contemporaries in that its en bloc clip held an additional round and had no "right-side-up" orientation; it could be inserted into the magazine either way.)

When the Great War finally arrived and Italy joined in on the side of the Allies, the meat grinder of the Isonzo front used up men and material at such a ferocious pace that Italy began breaking the old M1870/87 Vetterli-Vitalis out of armories. Fitted with 6.5mm barrel liners and Mannlicher-style magazines, they helped make up for losses and equipped some fraction of the huge number of hastily-conscripted replacements feeding the corpse fires of the front.

These M1870/87/15 rifles still used the old Vetterli-pattern bolt, with its smallish locking lugs at the rear of the bolt body. While adequate to the task of a limited amount of fire, their ability to absorb extended use of the >40k psi smokeless rounds is questionable at best.

Were it me selling such a gun, I'd place a note explaining the history of the piece and cautioning against firing anything but light handloads on the thing, just as a legal CYA. Perhaps even sell it with the firing pin in a separate ziploc baggie. But that's me.


Windy Wilson said...

How do you feel about shooting the Swiss versions of the Vetterli? The Swiss rifles forum has a subsection for the various versions of that rifle with discussions of how to convert it from rimfire to centerfire and various loads to use. There's nothing commercially available to my knowledge, so there isn't the danger of getting a hot load intended for the later version like with the (slightly) later Mausers.

Windy Wilson said...
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Windy Wilson said...
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Anonymous said...

$450 - damn, maybe I should sell mine....

I shoot it once in a while, but only with black powder loads. When I first got it, I shot one box of Norma factory loads before I found out "the rest of the story". Mine was made in 1881.

Quite a bit of history in those old warriors.


Overload in Colorado said...

I've heard the same thing rever to a Webley MK VI converted to .45ACP .