The SRG is the standard muzzle-loading rifle of forces allied with USE. SRG stands for "Struve-Reardon Gevar," named after the manufacturer and designer of the weapon. "Gevar" is the German term for rifle.
It is based on the Pattern 1853 Enfield rifle, one of the most common guns of the American Civil War. It uses a hollow based, pointed bullet of the Minié design which can be quickly loaded as it is smaller than the bore of the rifle and it expands to grip the rifling on firing. The original percussion action has been modified to use a modern "French" flintlock such as was in common use at the time of the American Revolution. The rifle is stocked with a hardwood to within four inches of the muzzle and equipped with a steel ramrod for loading and cleaning. The rifle is slightly over 55 inches in length and weighs slightly more than ten pounds. The rifle is equipped with a tangent style rear sight that allows accurate point shooting to four hundred yards and the sight then flips up to be a ladder sight for shooting at area targets at ranges to eight hundred meters. The rifle is issued with a socket type bayonet with a triangular blade over sixteen inches long. There is a shortened version of the SRG in use with mounted troops and others.
Two things should have stood out in the previous article ("Flint's Lock," Grantville Gazette, Vol. 3) about the SRG, the rifle adopted by the USE army in 1633:
1) The SRG is a stopgap weapon, better than any other weapon in Europe at the time, but still not the best that can be made.
2) By its very design the SRG can be copied and maybe even improved by many down-timers, including enemies of the new USE.
So the question becomes: What should replace the SRG?
The first answer that springs to mind is to convert it to a cap or percussion lock. After all, the P-53 Enfield on which the SRG was based was a percussion weapon.
That idea brings up the percussion cap and the action that goes with it. Basically the percussion cap is a simple cup made from any thin metal. Copper is the most common. The inside of this cup is varnished to prevent the metal from reacting with the priming compound. Then a small amount of the priming compound—this could be fulminate of mercury or any other impact sensitive material—is painted in the cap. A second coat of varnish protects the priming compound from moisture.
[We deemed it outside the scope of this article to get into the identity and performance of those impact sensitive priming compounds—fulminates, styphnates, etc. We know they are being worked on. That's one for the chemistry folks.]
The SRG rifle replaces the flash pan of the flintlock with a simple nipple or cone and the complex hammer (holding a flint) with one that has only a hollow face. In action, the rifleman loads his weapon much like he would load the flintlock, but instead of priming the flash pan, he cocks the hammer to half cock and places a cap on the nipple. To fire, the hammer is simply moved to full cock position, aimed and fired. Because capping the rifle takes the extra movement of reaching into the cap pouch when priming, the rate of fire will go down slightly. However, the loaded rifle is more windproof and a lot better in rain or in snowy conditions. It is not completely weatherproof, but it is close. In addition, the percussion rifle has a shorter lock time—the period of time between the shooter squeezing the trigger and the weapon firing. A shorter lock time makes for a more accurate weapon. That means there are some real advantages to going to a percussion version of the SRG.
But are those advantages enough to justify the effort of rearming the whole army? Another point to consider is whether a percussion SRG is that much better than the copies of the flintlock SRG that will soon be in the hands of the enemies of the USE. Remember that the SRG can be made by down-time gun makers, and the French already know about the modern flintlock, which itself was a big improvement on the matchlocks featured in the opening of 1632.
It should be clear that we feel the gun designers of Grantville should skip a generation of firearms design and go directly to a cartridge breechloader.
But what cartridge breechloader? And, more importantly, what cartridge?
As you might imagine, there is a slight difference of opinion among the members of the panel on this subject. Some of us were holding out for the paper cartridge Sharps design that could later be converted to metallic cartridges. Some wanted to use the tipping chamber of the Hall and later Burnside. Both of these, the Sharps and the Hall, could use paper cartridges with percussion caps.
Other members of the group held out for going straight to a metallic cartridge weapon. Even among the metallic cartridge advocates there are a few differences of opinion. One wants a single-shot dropping block rifle like the Sharps, another wants a single-shot rolling block like the Remington, another wants a tip-down rifle based on the single-shot shotgun, and one wants to do an add-on hinged-breech to the SRG like the Trapdoor Springfield. All of these actions are strong enough for an effective black powder load and were fairly popular. Examples of each should be in Grantville, since the single-shots are all popular with cowboy action shooters and deer hunters who use single-shot rifles.
All of these single-shot designs confer a major military advantage: they allow effective reloading from the prone position. The troops no longer have to expose themselves to enemy fire by standing upright to reload the SRG from the muzzle. This preserves the lives of veterans and allows recruits a better chance of becoming veterans in the first place. But all of the designs except the Trapdoor have the disadvantage of requiring entirely new tooling to produce, thus delaying their introduction and keeping the troops exposed in the interim.
Still others of us want to skip single-shots and go straight to magazine rifles. But the question arises, which magazine rifle: lever action, bolt action or something else? The familiar Winchester lever action is well known and common in the area. Mauser and Lee style actions are the most common bolt-action hunting rifles. Add in the semi-auto SKS and you have the typical hunting rifles of the area. All of these magazine rifles give the prone reloading advantage, but they all require entirely new tooling (and even more of it than the single-shots), so they would increase the time the troops are exposed.
First we will look at the Sharps design. The Sharps designed by Christian Sharps in the 1840s is what is called a sliding block rifle. The breechblock, that part that closes the firing chamber, slides down to open the chamber when the operating lever is moved. Since the breechblock is almost totally enclosed by metal it is a very strong design.
The early Sharps design used a linen or paper cartridge and percussion cap. This cartridge was just a bullet and powder charge wrapped in paper or linen. The paper or linen would usually be impregnated with potassium nitrate for easy ignition and thorough burning. The ignition or priming was provided by a percussion cap on an external nipple, much like any other cap-lock rifle of the period. While some early Sharps used a disc primer, where the primer was thrown forward by the movement of the hammer, making the rifle self-priming, most of the reproduction rifles do not. The disc primer system was found to be too "fiddly" for hard field usage. Later Sharps used metallic cartridges and were still in production at the time of the Ring of Fire (RoF). In this latter design, the external nipple is replaced by a firing pin, which is driven by the hammer to strike the primer of the cartridge.
The advantages of the Sharps design for the residents of Grantville would be its strength, and the fact that it is a percussion design that could be easily converted to a cartridge rifle. The major disadvantage is it requires very tight tolerances in the machining of the breechblock. It also doesn't allow the user to stay as low while reloading as some of the other designs do.
Another design that has been discussed is the Hall. The Hall is what is called a tipping block action. In this case the breechblock forms the chamber of the rifle and it tips up for loading. In the case of the Hall, the block tips up in the front and is loaded with a paper cartridge, much like that of the Sharps, then the block is lowered to align with the barrel and the weapon is primed, either with a cap or as in earlier versions by priming the pan. The Hall was designed in the 1830s and manufactured at first as a flintlock and later as a caplock rifle.