Berdan rifle

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

Berdan rifles Nos. 1 and 2
TypeService rifle
Place of originUnited States
Service history
In service1870–1895, later as reserve issue
Used byRussian Empire
Kingdom of Bulgaria
Kingdom of Greece
Ottoman Empire
Kingdom of Romania
Finland (limited)
Kingdom of Montenegro
Kingdom of Serbia
Outer Mongolia
Ethiopian Empire
WarsRusso-Turkish War of 1877–78
First Italo-Ethiopian War
Greco-Turkish War
Russo-Japanese War (limited)
Balkan Wars
World War I (limited)
Russian Revolution
Finnish Civil War
Second Italo-Ethiopian War
Winter War (limited)
Production history
DesignerHiram Berdan
Designed1868 (Berdan I)
1870 (Berdan II)
No. built3,000,000
VariantsBerdan I: infantry rifle
Berdan II: infantry rifle, dragoon rifle, cossack rifle, cavalry carbine
Mass4.2 kg (9.3 lb) without bayonet
4.6 kg (10 lb) with bayonet
Length130 cm (51 in) (infantry rifle)
Barrel length83 cm (33 in) (infantry rifle)

Cartridge10.75×58 mmR; 24 gram paper-patched round nose lead bullet, 5 gram black powder; cartridge also known as .42 Berdan or 4.2 Line Berdan,
ActionBerdan I "trapdoor"; Berdan II "bolt"
Rate of fire6–8 rounds per minute
Muzzle velocity437 m/s
Effective firing range400 arshins (284 m, 310.6 yd)
Feed systemSingle-shot
Sightsrear 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 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 US, is known as model 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 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 the assistance of Russian colonel Alexander Gorlov. It was the subject of many patents in both the United States 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 10.75×58mmR (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 1892, a batch of 3,004 Berdan II rifles were converted to 7.62×54mmR 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. Had the conversion been deemed fit for service, an additional 40,000 were to be converted. However this did not go through.

Sporting rifles and shotguns were re-manufactured in Russia from surplus rifles after the Mosin–Nagant was adopted into service.[1][2]

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.

Comparison with contemporary rifles

Comparison of 1880s rifles[3]
Calibre System Country Velocity Height of trajectory Ammunition
Muzzle 500 yd (460 m) 1,000 yd (910 m) 1,500 yd (1,400 m) 2,000 yd (1,800 m) 500 yd (460 m) 1,000 yd (910 m) 1,500 yd (1,400 m) 2,000 yd (1,800 m) Propellant Bullet
.433 in (11.0 mm) Werndl–Holub rifle Austria-Hungary 1,439 ft/s (439 m/s) 854 ft/s (260 m/s) 620 ft/s (190 m/s) 449 ft/s (137 m/s) 328 ft/s (100 m/s) 8.252 ft (2.515 m) 49.41 ft (15.06 m) 162.6 ft (49.6 m) 426.0 ft (129.8 m) 77 gr (5.0 g) 370 gr (24 g)
.45 in (11.43 mm) Martini–Henry United Kingdom 1,315 ft/s (401 m/s) 869 ft/s (265 m/s) 664 ft/s (202 m/s) 508 ft/s (155 m/s) 389 ft/s (119 m/s) 9.594 ft (2.924 m) 47.90 ft (14.60 m) 147.1 ft (44.8 m) 357.85 ft (109.07 m) 85 gr (5.5 g) 480 gr (31 g)
.433 in (11.0 mm) Fusil Gras mle 1874 France 1,489 ft/s (454 m/s) 878 ft/s (268 m/s) 643 ft/s (196 m/s) 471 ft/s (144 m/s) 348 ft/s (106 m/s) 7.769 ft (2.368 m) 46.6 ft (14.2 m) 151.8 ft (46.3 m) 389.9 ft (118.8 m) 80 gr (5.2 g) 386 gr (25.0 g)
.433 in (11.0 mm) Mauser Model 1871 Germany 1,430 ft/s (440 m/s) 859 ft/s (262 m/s) 629 ft/s (192 m/s) 459 ft/s (140 m/s) 388 ft/s (118 m/s) 8.249 ft (2.514 m) 48.68 ft (14.84 m) 159.2 ft (48.5 m) 411.1 ft (125.3 m) 75 gr (4.9 g) 380 gr (25 g)
.408 in (10.4 mm) M1870 Italian Vetterli Italy 1,430 ft/s (440 m/s) 835 ft/s (255 m/s) 595 ft/s (181 m/s) 422 ft/s (129 m/s) 304 ft/s (93 m/s) 8.527 ft (2.599 m) 52.17 ft (15.90 m) 176.3 ft (53.7 m) 469.9 ft (143.2 m) 62 gr (4.0 g) 310 gr (20 g)
.397 in (10.08 mm) Jarmann M1884 Norway and Sweden 1,536 ft/s (468 m/s) 908 ft/s (277 m/s) 675 ft/s (206 m/s) 504 ft/s (154 m/s) 377 ft/s (115 m/s) 7.235 ft (2.205 m) 42.97 ft (13.10 m) 137.6 ft (41.9 m) 348.5 ft (106.2 m) 77 gr (5.0 g) 337 gr (21.8 g)
.42 in (10.67 mm) Berdan rifle Russia 1,444 ft/s (440 m/s) 873 ft/s (266 m/s) 645 ft/s (197 m/s) 476 ft/s (145 m/s) 353 ft/s (108 m/s) 7.995 ft (2.437 m) 47.01 ft (14.33 m) 151.7 ft (46.2 m) 388.7 ft (118.5 m) 77 gr (5.0 g) 370 gr (24 g)
.45 in (11.43 mm) Springfield model 1884 United States 1,301 ft/s (397 m/s) 875 ft/s (267 m/s) 676 ft/s (206 m/s) 523 ft/s (159 m/s) 404 ft/s (123 m/s) 8.574 ft (2.613 m) 46.88 ft (14.29 m) 142.3 ft (43.4 m) 343.0 ft (104.5 m) 70 gr (4.5 g) 500 gr (32 g)
.40 in (10.16 mm) Enfield-Martini United Kingdom 1,570 ft/s (480 m/s) 947 ft/s (289 m/s) 719 ft/s (219 m/s) 553 ft/s (169 m/s) 424 ft/s (129 m/s) 6.704 ft (2.043 m) 39.00 ft (11.89 m) 122.0 ft (37.2 m) 298.47 ft (90.97 m) 85 gr (5.5 g) 384 gr (24.9 g)


  • 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 during the Siege of Plevna. 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, primarily with reserve and rear echelon units when the Mosin-Nagant became plentiful. 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.[4] It is common to see Berdan rifles in photos of street fighting taken during the Russian Revolution of 1917.
  •  Ethiopian Empire: The Russian Empire sent 30,000 Berdan rifles to Ethiopia before the First Italo-Ethiopian War[5]
  • Kingdom of Bulgaria: Berdan II was adopted by Bulgarian army
  • Kingdom of Serbia in 1890 received 76,000 rifles as military aid. They saw service in the Balkan Wars and the First World War[6] 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 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. Карабинъ системы Бердана русской работы // «Каталогъ ружей и принадлежностей охоты на 1898/99 годъ. Торговый домъ Я. Зимина вдова и Ко». Москва, 1898. стр.66
  2. Юрий Максимов. Просто берданка // «Мастер-ружьё», № 12 (141), 2008, стр.36-41
  3. "The New Martini-Enfield Rifle" (PDF). The Engineer. 2 July 1886. p. 16. Retrieved 3 April 2017 via Grace's Guide to British Industrial History.
  4. "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
  5. Г. В. Цыпкин, В. С. Ягья. История Эфиопии в новое и новейшее время. М.: «Наука», 1989. стр. 111
  6. Бранко Бранкович. Стрелковое оружие Сербии и Черногории в годы Первой мировой войны // журнал «Оружие», № 4, 2014. стр.1-3, 56-62
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