Berdan rifle

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Berdan rifles #1 and #2
300pxRussian Berdan Type II Model 1870.jpg
Type Service rifle
Place of origin United States
Russian Empire
Service history
In service 1870–1895, later as reserve issue
Used by Russian Empire,
Kingdom of Bulgaria,
Finland (limited),
Kingdom of Montenegro,
Korean Empire,
Kingdom of Serbia,
Outer Mongolia
Wars Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78,
Russo-Japanese War (limited),
Balkan Wars,
World War I (limited),
Russian Revolution,
Finnish Civil War,
Winter War (limited)
Production history
Designer Hiram Berdan
Designed 1868 (Berdan I)
1870 (Berdan II)
Produced 1870–1891
Number built 3,000,000
Variants Berdan I: infantry rifle
Berdan II: infantry rifle, dragoon rifle, cossack rifle, cavalry carbine
Weight 4.2 kg (9.3 lb) without bayonet
4.6 kg (10 lb) with bayonet
Length 130 cm (51 in) (infantry rifle)
Barrel length 83 cm (33 in) (infantry rifle)

Cartridge 10.75×58 mmR; 24 gram paper-patched round nose lead bullet, 5 gram black powder; cartridge also known as .42 Berdan or 4.2 Line Berdan,
Action Berdan I "trapdoor"; Berdan II "bolt"
Rate of fire 6–8 rounds per minute
Muzzle velocity 437 m/s
Effective firing range 400 arshins (284 m, 310.6 yd)
Feed system Single-shot
Sights rear sight in "arshins" 200–1200; front sight is inverted v; some infantry rifles have a long range "volley sight" on the right side of front barrel band, along with a second "V" on the right side of the rear sight slide

The Berdan rifle (винтовка Бердана/vintovka Berdana in Russian) is a Russian rifle created by famous American firearms expert and inventor Hiram Berdan in 1868. Standard issue in the Russian army from 1870 to 1891, the Berdan was replaced by the Mosin–Nagant rifle. Widely used in Russia as a hunting weapon, sporting variants, including shotguns, were produced until the mid-1930s.

The Russian Berdan I (M1868) and Berdan II (M1870) rifles of .42 caliber are distinct from the Spanish Berdan 15mm (.58+ cal) conversion rifles adopted by Spain as the M1857/67 Berdan (and related engineer, artillery & short rifles).

Berdan I

Two different versions of the later single-shot Berdan rifle were adopted as service weapons by Imperial Russia. The first version, manufactured by Colt in the USA, is known as the model of 1868, or Berdan I. It is a hammerless "trapdoor" breechblock design, and was manufactured in limited numbers (the contract stipulated 30,000) as a full length infantry rifle. Colt also manufactured a few half-stock Berdan I cavalry carbine prototypes, but these were never adopted for Russian service. Colt even produced a few target rifles based on the Berdan I.

Berdan II

The model of 1870, or Berdan II, is a single-shot bolt-action with a distinctive short, pear-shaped bolt handle. The bolt handle serves as the only locking lug for the action, and when closed, points upwards at a 30-degree angle, rather than horizontally. The Berdan II was produced in four variants: an infantry rifle, the lighter and slightly shorter dragoon rifle, a Cossack rifle with a button trigger and no trigger guard, and a cavalry carbine. Infantry and dragoon rifles were issued with quadrangular socket bayonets. Initial production of the Berdan II was at Birmingham Small Arms in England. The rifles were later manufactured in large numbers by Russian factories at Tula, Izhevsk, and Sestroretsk. Estimated total production of all models is over 3 million. The rifle was known for its accuracy, simplicity and reliability.


The 10.7×58mmR cartridge used in the Berdan was also invented by Hiram Berdan, with assistance of Russian Colonel Gorloff. It was the subject of many patents in both the USA and United Kingdom. The bottleneck cartridge case used the Berdan primer, its first use in a small arms cartridge. Cartridges were issued in blue paper packets of six rounds each. In addition to the regular cartridge for rifles, a special cartridge was manufactured for use in the cavalry carbine. It consisted of the same cartridge case and bullet, but with a lighter powder charge of only 4.5 grams, and was issued in six round pink paper packets. At the time of its use, the 10.75x58r (4.2 line) cartridge was known for its power and accuracy.

Later usage

No magazine-fed versions of the Berdan ever progressed beyond the prototype phase. Russian troops, however, did have various cartridge holders, such as the Krnka quick-loader, attached to their rifles to aid in reloading. By the late 1880s Russia began the process of replacing the Berdan with a high velocity and magazine fed rifle, and this resulted in the adoption of the Mosin–Nagant. In about 1900, a limited number of Berdan II infantry rifles, perhaps as many as 200,000, were converted to 7.62×54mmR (the Mosin–Nagant caliber) for Russian service by arms makers in Belgium. These rifles have new barrels and sights, and new bolts with a front locking lug and longer bolt handle.

Sporting rifles and shotguns were re-manufactured in Russia from surplus rifles after the Mosin–Nagant was adopted into service. These firearms can be found as ornately engraved, well fit and finished custom sporting rifles, intended for the Russian ruling class, or can be just simple unadorned shotguns.

"Finally I thought of something: I offered to him to exchange his old gun for a new one. But he refused, saying that the berdanka was dear to him because of the memory of his father, that he was used to it and that it shoots very well. He reached over to the tree, took up his gun and began to stroke on the stock with his hand."


Markings on the Berdan rifle usually consist of the Imperial Russian double-headed eagle cypher on the top receiver flat. The manufacturer's name in Cyrillic, date of manufacture, and rifle serial number, are on the top of the barrel. Some rifles also show a date of manufacture on the receiver. The serial number was also applied to the bolt. Additional proof marks and property markings are found on the receiver and barrel. There is a factory cartouche on the right side of the buttstock.


  • Flag of Russia.svg Russian Empire: Both the Berdan I and Berdan II were used by Guard units in the Russian Army during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78. Russian forces, although ultimately victorious, were badly mauled by the very long range fire from Turk Peabody-Martini rifles at battles like Pleven. After the war a long-range auxiliary sight was adopted and retrofitted to the Berdan II infantry rifle. The Berdanka, as it was called, continued on in Russian service even after the adoption of the Mosin–Nagant. Many Russian troops had Berdan rifles in the Russo-Japanese war of 1905. During World War I, some Russian second line, training and service units were armed with the Berdan II.[1] It is common to see Berdan rifles in photos of street fighting taken during the Russian Revolution of 1917.
  •  Ethiopia: The Russian Empire sent 30,000 Berdan rifles to Ethiopia before the First Italo-Ethiopian War[2]
  • Flag of Bulgaria.svg Kingdom of Bulgaria: Berdan II was adopted by Bulgarian army
  • The State Flag of Serbia (1882-1918).svg Kingdom of Serbia received around 75,000 rifles as military aid at the turn of the 20th century. It saw service in the Balkan Wars and the First World War in the hands of Serbian soldiers of the 3rd class (men over 50 years old).

The Swiss military bought 8900 in 1869, but these were replaced in favour of the Vetterli soon after.

The Korean Empire used this rifle after the Korea royal refuge at the Russian legation incident – commonly called "Agwan Pacheon" in Korea. About 6,000 rifles were used by the Koreans as a main rifle, including Guard units.

The Berdan II saw service, though by then very limited, in Finland as late as World War II. In the Finnish Civil War of 1918, troops stationed in Finland still had Berdan rifles in storage and some 2nd line troops continued to employ the Berdan II. During this conflict, newer rifles were not always available in needed numbers, so Berdans saw limited use on both sides. As the Finnish military was not interested in the obsolete Berdan, in 1919 some 2,500 were issued to the Suojeluskunta (National Guard) General HQ. When the Suojeluskunta obtained modern rifles, the Berdans were returned to Finnish Army stores. About 3,000 Berdan rifles were issued to Finnish troops during the initial stages of the 1939 Winter War due to the great lack of modern infantry weapons. These rifles were replaced by more modern rifles as soon as it was possible. It appears that the Finns retained the Berdan rifles in store until scrapping them starting in 1945. In 1955 the remaining 1,029 were sold abroad, mostly in the U.S., through surplus arms dealers.

See also


  1. "Во время первой мировой войны царская Россия испытывала недостаток в стрелковом вооружении, поэтому в армии кроме винтовок русского образца были также и иностранные - японские Арисака обр.1897 и 1905 гг., австро-венгерские Манлихера 1889 и 1895 гг., германские "88" и "98". Кроме этих винтовок использовались также и устаревшие образцы, стрелявшие патронами, снаряженными дымным порохом - Бердана № 2 образца 1870 г., Гра 1874 г., Гра-Кропачека 1874/85 г., Веттерли 1870/87 г."
    А. Б. Жук. Энциклопедия стрелкового оружия: револьверы, пистолеты, винтовки, пистолеты-пулеметы, автоматы. М., АСТ — Воениздат, 2002. стр.587
  2. Г. В. Цыпкин, В. С. Ягья. История Эфиопии в новое и новейшее время. М.: «Наука», 1989. стр. 111

External links