First of the First: The Rifle of a Man Called Baker

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First of the First: The Rifle of a Man Called Baker
A still from the series “The Adventures of the Royal Gunner Sharpe” (1993-2008). Sharpe has a Baker rifle in his hands...


-Then what do you believe in? - Vicente persistently sought his goal.
“To Whitsuntide, sir,” replied Harper majestically.
“It’s the Baker rifle, the bayonet and me,” Sharpe explained.

The Adventures of Gunner Sharpe, Bernard Cornwell

History weapons. As you know, the British have many surnames and names associated with working professions. The same Harry Potter is none other than a “potter”, the name Smith translates as “blacksmith”, but the surname Baker means “baker”. And it was just a man with this last name who managed to go down in the history of arms as the creator of the first rifle, moreover, with a flintlock, adopted by the British army.



And it so happened that at the end of the 12th - beginning of the XNUMXth century, Napoleon began to widely use column tactics and at the same time scattered formation, which led to the widespread creation of chasseur battalions and regiments, and later even corps. True, not all rangers in these units were then armed with rifled weapons. The task was not so much to shoot accurately, but... “to adapt to the terrain.” Therefore, rifled guns were usually issued only to the XNUMX best shooters per company, and in the forward chain, and all the rest, as before, had smooth-bore guns, but with barrels shortened for convenience. The British, having the Brown Bess smoothbore musket, excellent in its qualities, could not help but notice the losses that, even before the start of the Napoleonic wars, the colonists in the USA, armed with rifled rifles, inflicted on them.


Baker rifle used in Brazil. Photo by A. Dobress

In 1774, the British in the United States tested the Fergusson rifle, which was loaded from the breech. In 1796, the Ordnance Survey purchased several of these rifles from the famous gunsmith Durce Egg. The weapon was tested, but seemed unnecessarily complex. At the same time, it became obvious that the army needed a rifle; it was only important to get the best of the best. It was intended to equip soldiers with rifles from elite and specially trained rifle corps, as well as pre-existing rifle units, such as the 5th Battalion of the 60th Infantry Regiment. In January 1800, it was decided that it was necessary to adopt a rifled gun and begin training the best infantry units in its use.

This is where Ezekiel Baker offered his model to the military!

It is known about Baker that he was initially trained by the gunsmith Henry Nock, and subsequently worked for this master. But in 1794 Baker somehow became an arms contractor for the British Ordnance Survey. Based in a small workshop in London Minorius, he was engaged in the production of locks and barrels. For some time, Baker collaborated with lock manufacturer James Negus. Baker also held government contracts for smoothbore muskets and pistols and produced them for the East India Company.

The British rushed with new weapons. The decision was made in January, and already in February, tests of new rifled guns took place at the Woolwich training ground near London. True, no documents exist for this time, except for the registered travel expenses of repairman Baker in Woolwich.


French Baker rifle battery lock. Brazilian model. Photo by A. Dobress

According to Baker himself, it was like this:

“In 1800, the Ordnance Board ordered the major gun manufacturers in England to purchase the finest rifles for use by the Rifle Corps (95th Regiment) raised by the government. Among those chosen for the occasion, I was invited to attend: and a committee of field officers was appointed for the purpose of examining and reporting as they pleased. Many rifles arrived from America and various parts of the continent. They were all tested at Woolwich; and then my barrel, which has only a quarter turn in the rifle, was approved by the committee.”

Interestingly, the design of the rifle was by no means innovative, but contained the best characteristics of continental models. Moreover, Baker's first two applications were rejected on the grounds that they were of the size and caliber of a military musket and were therefore considered too heavy, but the third model was approved and ultimately became the first rifle model adopted by the British Army. As Baker himself said:

“When the 95th Regiment was first raised, I made a number of rifles the same size as the muskets, so that they could be supplied with ammunition should it be required from any infantry regiment that might be stationed near them. However, the commander, Colonel Manningham, as well as all the officers of the regiment, categorically objected to them, since they required too much effort and bothered the soldiers with their excessive weight. As a result, they were immediately abandoned and armed with a lighter model of a smaller caliber.”

It appears that Colonel Manningham was a clear-headed man and played a vital role in the Council's decision-making process. It was Manningham who provided Baker with a German Jaeger rifle with the recommendation to copy it. This is how the Baker rifle came with a barrel only 30 inches long and a caliber of 15,9 mm. The rifle did resemble the German Jaeger rifle model, and was also similar to other Continental rifles, but the real innovation was the Baker quarter-turn rifling, which was said to provide high accuracy. The selection of the third model of the Ezekiel Baker rifle as the weapon for the new rifle corps took two years. In addition, it was also necessary to approve his equipment and, in particular, his green uniform, which was different from the traditional British red one. The new uniform was approved for eight companies, all of which were equipped with Baker rifles. The first order was for 800 examples, specifically for the 95th Regiment of Foot, and placed with gunsmiths in London and Birmingham, including such gunsmiths as Egg, Knock, Baker, Pritchett, Brander, Wilkes, Bennett, Harrison and Thompson. The first rifles cost 36 shillings with a pencil case in the butt and 32 shillings for rifles without a pencil case.


Bayonet mounting plate. Photo by A. Dobress

In addition to the document on the adoption of the rifle for service "it was also noted that the barrel is less prone to contamination from frequent shooting than other barrels", did not require as frequent cleaning as other rifles, and at the same time had all the advantages in terms of accuracy at a distance of three hundred yards.

Baker's main improvements were to reduce barrel length, overall dimensions and weight, and to reduce the caliber of the barrel. In 1805, Ezekiel Baker founded his own production and attracted the attention of the Prince of Wales, who became his patron. Soon Baker was appointed court armorer. Further encouragement from the Prince of Wales led to Baker establishing his own testing workshop, in which he subjected his weapons to a special "Fire, Water and Target" test and marked them with special stamps. Ezekiel Baker's private store and factory grew into a prominent competitor to other gun manufacturers. The Society for the Encouragement of Arts and Manufactures awarded him three silver medals for his developments in the field of fuses and bullet molds. It was noted that the Baker rifle not only showed its accuracy, but also

"managed to overcome prejudice against such weapons, being durable enough for field service."

Experience with the Napoleonic War led to changes in the Baker rifle. The second model was equipped with a Newland lock, and the third model appeared in 1806 with a trigger guard shaped like a pistol grip. In addition, it had a pencil case on the butt of a characteristic shape.

By 1809, English marksmen were equipped with the third model guns, which became standard by 1823. All rifle fittings (e.g. stock tang, side plate, trigger guard) of the rifle were made of brass. The rifle came with a sling and was sighted at 200 yards.

The need for the rifle was such that Baker subcontracted production to approximately 20 or more gunsmiths, although he himself produced one during the period 1805-1815. produced only 712 rifles. Between 1805 and 1808, the Ordnance Survey took into its depots some 10 English-made Baker rifles. By the end of the Napoleonic War, this number had increased to 078. It was from 14 that the Baker Cavalry Carbine entered service with the 000th Light Dragoons. As a result, an average of 1813 Baker rifles of various models were produced in England. Birmingham alone supplied 10 complete rifles, as well as 2000 barrels and 14 rifle locks.

Overall, as noted, the weapon was a standard rifle of the day, caliber .0,625 in (15,9 mm) and weighing about nine pounds (4,08 kg). The overall length was 43 and three quarters inches (1162 mm), the camouflage brown barrel was only about 30 inches (762 mm) long. The lead bullet gauge was 0,615 inches, requiring greased spacers. The Baker rifle stock was made of English walnut and was of high quality. The flintlock was usually marked TOWER and had a crown above the letters GR in front of the lock. An experienced shooter with this rifle could achieve a rate of fire of three shots per minute, while a less experienced shooter could count on two shots per minute.


An English-made lock marked TOWER. Photo of the Pitt Rivers Museum. Oxford University Museum

Rifle Corps officers allowed their soldiers to load their rifles at their discretion, provided they could demonstrate the required marksmanship. As a result, it was possible to ensure that shooters could shoot at a distance of 150 to 200 yards twice a minute, while hitting a tall target. This was a previously unknown level of accuracy compared to the unreliability of the standard musket at ranges greater than 75 yards. However, from a shooter who could shoot birds and rabbits for food at a certain distance, it was naturally expected that he would shoot just as accurately at moving French or other soldiers. For this purpose, by the way, there were two sights on the barrel of the Baker rifle - front and rear, in order to shoot at close range and at a distance. By the way, the barrel had a brown coating so that its shine would not give away the shooter!


The handle of a sword bayonet. Photo of the Pitt Rivers Museum. Oxford University Museum

The first bayonet for the Baker rifle was a single-edged flat blade 23 inches (60 cm) long. In Russia, such bayonets were called daggers. The handle was made of brass and had a bow like a saber. The bayonet weighed 800g and, as later reports confirmed, was difficult to shoot when attached to the muzzle of a rifle. After 1815 it was replaced by a lighter bayonet. However, contemporary diaries and letters from riflemen indicate that they liked their sword bayonet, although it was rarely used in hand-to-hand combat for various reasons. But it was very useful for chopping wood, digging holes, cutting and frying meat, and in general it turned out to be very convenient for a soldier to use.

It is interesting that the recruits for the rifle regiments were selected to be of higher quality, so to speak, than for the infantry regiments. Most of the shooters already knew how to read and write, as evidenced by surviving diaries and letters. Rifle officers, unlike line regiment officers, often dined with their soldiers and thus got to know them well. Specially made moving targets were used to train shooters, which increased their skills in hitting moving enemy soldiers at a distance. It was noted that the Baker rifle, on average, could achieve an average accuracy of hitting the target equal to one shot in 20. While for the army musket this figure was one shot in 200! The best example of its high fighting qualities was the shot of the shooter Plunkett, who, during the retreat to Corunna, killed the French general Colbert with a shot in the head, hitting the latter at a distance of 600 yards, and after that he also shot the adjutant running to help Colbert. Overall, for its time, the relatively short Baker rifle turned out to be an innovative and convenient weapon that played a significant role in the wars of the British Empire.
26 comments
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  1. +6
    April 28 2024 04: 39
    And also “The British don’t clean their guns with bricks”!
    1. +9
      April 28 2024 06: 37
      And also “The British don’t clean their guns with bricks”!

      I came across an interesting cross-section of the weapons of the soldiers' teams (mountain team) of the garrison of Yekaterinburg in 1818. Mostly the fuses of the last years of Peter I’s life and the muskets of Catherine II were dumped
      There were only 9 “serviceable fittings”. But the guns were the latest from the Kamensko plant.
      Have a nice day everyone, thanks to Vyacheslav for the article. The photographs are amazing. However, shooter Sharpe, as far as my memory serves me, in the series (and not in the book) generally had some kind of multi-barreled wunderwaffle.
      1. +7
        April 28 2024 06: 58
        Quote: Kote pane Kohanka
        multi-barrel prodigy

        Seven-barreled? He didn't have it in the film!
      2. +3
        April 28 2024 21: 43
        Naval boarding assault gun - Nock Volley Gun
    2. +13
      April 28 2024 07: 10
      I found a beast - Nok's seven-barrelled naval musket.
      1. +10
        April 28 2024 14: 06
        I found a beast - Nok's seven-barrelled naval musket.

        This “beast” also had a fourteen-barreled version, manufactured in a single copy by Dupe & Co, commissioned by the famous hunter Thomas Thornton. Since the shooting was carried out in a salvo from seven barrels at the same time, very few could withstand the recoil. Approximately 655 seven-barrel versions were produced; they were abandoned in 1804.
        1. +3
          April 28 2024 20: 05
          Quote: Dekabrist
          Since the shooting was carried out in a salvo from seven barrels at the same time, very few could withstand the recoil.

          The term "sea" implies shooting from a machine gun. But the design is really crazy, it’s easier to shoot with buckshot.
          1. +4
            April 28 2024 22: 13
            It was supposed to shoot from the tops of the masts and when repelling a boarding party. Unfortunately, I did not find the regulations for the British fleet. Moreover, high-ranking British ships on the combat tops of the mainsail and foremasts were supposed to have one two-three-pound cannon (falconet) in our terminology. Similar guns were installed on longboats and boats.
      2. +4
        April 28 2024 18: 39
        In the disappeared museum of the Shot courses, I saw this example and another six-barreled revolver. Thank you for reminding me. hi
  2. +6
    April 28 2024 07: 27
    the barrel is less prone to contamination from frequent shooting than other barrels
    And when black powder was used at that time, this was an important quality. It must be admitted that the design of the rifle was beautiful for that time.
  3. +8
    April 28 2024 09: 29
    In 1774, the British in the United States tested the Fergusson rifle, which was loaded from the breech. In 1796, the Ordnance Survey purchased several of these rifles from the famous gunsmith Durce Egg.

    Vyacheslav Olegovich, you somewhat “violated the timeline”.
    The British tested the Ferguson rifle in 1776. In the same year he received a patent for it. The first photo shows one of the three rifles that took part in the tests. Located in the National Museum of American History.
    According to the test results, in 1776, 100 rifles were ordered from four Burgingham arms companies, among which was the gunsmith firm Durs Egg. For gunsmiths of that time, making such rifles was very difficult. The order took 6 months to complete, and each rifle cost four times more than a Brown Bess musket.
    The rifle, due to its complexity and high cost, was used very limitedly in combat conditions. The most famous case of their use is the Battle of Brandywine.
    Now let's go back to 1774. This year, the British tested German Jäger muzzle-loading rifles. The tests were successful and Major General Townsend asked for permission to order 1000 rifles, and without waiting for a decision, he ordered 200 rifles in Germany at his own expense. Based on the model of these rifles, Birmingham arms firms Grice, Benjamin Willetts, Mathias Barker and Galton & Sons ordered another 1776 rifles in 200. Other gunsmiths also made such rifles. This rifle is known as pattern 1776 Infantry rifle. They, like Ferguson rifles, were used very limitedly, distributed in 10 pieces per regiment. It was not possible to find a photograph of the rifle from the first batch. The second photo shows a 1776 rifle made by Morris (Birmingham).
    Well, then Baker appeared “in the arena”.
    British Military Firearms, 1650 - 1850 by Howard L Blackmore
    1. +6
      April 28 2024 23: 16
      It’s funny, for the first time, back in childhood, I read about Fergusson’s carbine in Shtilmark’s pirate novel “The Heir from Calcutta.” This was the first edition of the book, then under two names.
  4. +6
    April 28 2024 09: 50
    but the real innovation was Baker's quarter-turn rifling, which was said to provide high accuracy.

    This is called a twist - the pitch of the rifling. There was no innovation here. Flat "quarter-turn" rifling (one full turn per ten feet, correspondingly a quarter turn in a 30-inch barrel) did not provide high accuracy, but acceptable loading force, since the original version of the rifling - a steeper "three-quarter" rifling - required very great effort and time.
  5. +6
    April 28 2024 10: 10
    The best example of its high fighting qualities was the shot of the shooter Plunkett, who, during the retreat to Corunna, killed the French general Colbert with a shot in the head, hitting the latter at a distance of 600 yards, and after that he also shot the adjutant running to help Colbert.

    In 1809, during the unsuccessful Walcheren Campaign for the British, during the siege of Vlissingen, Rifleman Harris killed 11 French artillerymen in one battle. By the way, the shooter left behind his memoirs - The Recollections of Rifleman Harris (Memoirs of Rifleman Harris), which he dictated to Captain Curling. The book was reprinted many times and was used by Bernard Cornwell in his series of novels about the Royal Fusilier Richard Sharpe.
  6. +6
    April 28 2024 13: 08
    Specially made moving targets were used to train shooters, which increased their skills in hitting moving enemy soldiers at a distance.

    Shooting manuals were also published for them. Below is an illustration from such a manual - J Jones, "The Rifle Manual and Firing", 1804, which shows the basic positions for firing a Baker rifle.
  7. +3
    April 28 2024 13: 47
    Thank you for the article! In the series, a seven-barreled musket hit him at the time. And part of the filming took place in Crimea, by the way.
  8. +3
    April 28 2024 20: 12
    This time Shpakovsky has practically one commentator, Dekabrist, and it is easy to notice that the commentator knows the question much better than the author. laughing
    But in general, I would like to remind the author (Shpakovsky, if anyone has forgotten) that they began to call weapons a rifle only after the advent of breech-loading versions. And what the author describes is usually called a fitting in Russian! wink
    1. +8
      April 28 2024 21: 42
      And what the author describes is usually called a fitting in Russian! wink

      The first “screw squeaks” are mentioned in the lists of the Faceted Chamber from the middle of the 1760th century. The word “Shtutser” appeared in Russian at the beginning of the XNUMXth century. Moreover, initially it did not mean a weapon with a rifled barrel, but meant “to trim”, “to cut off” - a banal sawn-off shotgun. At that time, the definition of “screw guns” was fully used in Russian everyday life. The fitting (meaning a weapon with a short rifled barrel) has come into use since XNUMX with the advent of huntsmen and carabinieri. Later, the hussars received similar weapons.
      So “rifle” is a return to the name of a century-old weapon that has already been used in everyday life for a century and a half.
      By the way, in the Russian language of military articles the following metamorphoses were consistently used in the definition of individual long-barreled firearms: arquebus, gun, fusee, musket, gun, musket, gun. By the way, the name of military units also changed from the views of royalty. The most Russian was probably the natural German Catherine II, whose infantryman was an infantryman, and a pikeman a pikeman. It was more difficult with the others.
      1. +2
        April 29 2024 22: 01
        Quote: Kote pane Kohanka
        The first “screw squeaks” are mentioned in the lists of the Faceted Chamber from the middle of the 17th century.

        I know. However, today we are in the 21st century and calling a muzzle-loading “screw-mounted squeaker” a rifle is clearly inappropriate. Nevertheless, this name was assigned to later, breech-loading weapons.
        1. +4
          April 30 2024 08: 59
          clearly inappropriate.

          Why? However, I agree with you, but partly. Shpakovsky, playing with English in the title of the article, brought a dose of irony to the edge. Why do you deny him the ability to joke about the type of weapon! I have repeatedly noticed that he puts in the title or epigraph a “controversial situation” that the average person is facing.
          Regarding the names. It’s worth remembering “Avtomat” and the controversy on this topic.
          1. +1
            April 30 2024 20: 10
            Quote: Kote pane Kohanka
            Shpakovsky, playing with English in the title of the article, brought a dose of irony to the edge. Why do you deny him the ability to joke about the type of weapon!

            You are a great optimist however. My attempts to communicate with Shpakovsky left the opposite, rather depressing impression. I'm afraid that there is no trace of irony in his articles; rather, it is a craving for using beautiful words without delving into their meaning at all.
            1. Fat
              +2
              1 May 2024 13: 55
              hi In general, your friction with V.O. The Shpakovskys are not very interested.
              Rifle
              hand-held firearms with a relatively long barrel and small caliber (inner diameter of the barrel); a name originally common in Siberia and the Caucasus. The same name has been officially adopted since 1856 for military handguns. Our army had the following types of rifles in service. 1) 6-line muzzle-loading model 1856; 2) needle 6-line. V. model 1867, which was a reworking of the previous one according to the Krle and Zons system, and loading was carried out from the breech and V. fired with a paper unitary cartridge.

              Encyclopedic Dictionary F.A. Brockhaus and I.A. Efron
              Rifle. It doesn't matter which end to charge from.
              With respect.
              1. 0
                1 May 2024 18: 22
                Quote: Thick
                Rifle. It doesn't matter which end to charge from.

                I’m not ready to argue with Brockhaus; at one time he was right. However, today, a person who combines a “screw-mounted squeaker” and, for example, a Mosinka and an M-14 into one class will look a little stupid. drinks
  9. +5
    April 29 2024 05: 51
    At the head target, at 600 yards.... From a muzzle-loading rifle, with an open sight, and even with black powder. Damn, this is a miracle! Now even with optics, not everyone can get within 600 meters. Yes, yes, yes, I know, 600 yards 548 meters.
  10. 0
    1 July 2024 22: 27
    Poles had similar weapon earlier. Between 1790-1794 Poles built around 500 pieces of Sztucer Kozinicki. That was a rifle similar to Baker rifle.
  11. 0
    7 July 2024 13: 55
    Bogatyrsky caliber 15,9 mm. And this is even smaller.