RIA On Ferdinand Mannlicher


RIA has an excellent article up on Mannlicher and his innovations today.

Mannlicher is most known for his creation of the en bloc clip loading system used in his later bolt action rifle designs. However, Mannlicher only developed the clip in 1885 because his concept of pre-loaded, detachable magazines was not yet an economically nor industrially feasible solution. You read that right, Ferdinand Mannlicher pioneered the concept that is nearly ubiquitous today in military arms of detachable, reusable magazines. When the idea of magazines was kaboshed, in a stroke of brilliance he came up with en bloc clips, an idea much easier for the government to financially swallow. The en bloc clip was the basis for John Pedersen’s and of course the beloved M1 Garand, each which came decades later.

Mannlicher 1886 enbloc

The en bloc clip of an 1886 Mannlicher as seen in a video by Bloke On the Range.Click image to watch full video.

Another widely popularized firearm by Mannlicher was the Model 1895 rifle. The long gun saw use by Austria-Hungry in World War I and other European countries who took the original design and made their own conversions of the rifle. It was made as a rifle, stutzen, sniper rifle, and several carbine configurations in its almost 50 years of use. The M1895 used the same straight-pull bolt action as the M1888, but did revert back to the rotating lock that Mannlicher had initially used in M1884 (and the more recent M1890 carbine). Some were later converted to semi-automatic rifles by adding a gas port and piston under the barrel attached to the bolt carrier. The operations of the rifle are akin to that of an M1 Garand and the design is strikingly similar. It should come as no surprise that a Mannlicher en bloc clip was used for quick and easy reloading.

Mannlicher made more than just long guns, in the early 1890s he began working on pistol designs. Perhaps his most interesting handgun design was his Model 1901 semi-automatic pistol. Very unique for its time, the pistol operated using a blowback system and its own proprietary ammunition. The gun was originally patented in 1898 and saw production in 1900, before hitting the civilian market in 1901. Mannlicher’s pistol design was manufactured around Europe with Germany taking a particular liking to it, however it wouldn’t see any military adoption until the slightly modified and larger Model 1905 was sold to Argentina.

Mannlicher Model 1901 Semi-Automatic Pistol-Carbine

Desirable Mannlicher Model 1901 Semi-Automatic

Read the full article at the link below. It is well worth the time.



  1. If people read Hatcher’s “Book of the Garand,” you will find out that the bias against detachable box magazines existed here in the US as well, even when the manufacturing processes and metallurgy were entirely sufficient to make them. The Garand could have had a DBM, but the Army thought that it would a) encourage the waste of ammunition and b) result in increased costs because infantrymen would just drop used/empty magazines behind them.

    As for Mannlicher: Here’s a pointer to a German biography site, which can take off in several directions on Mannlicher:


    As stated in the RIA article and elsewhere in small arms history, Mannlicher’s genius was frustrated by the metallurgy of the time. Many people aren’t versed in the history of steel, and don’t realize that it wasn’t until the 1880’s that steel was mass-produced – and then only simple carbon steels. It would be a few more years before we started to see alloying elements (chrome, vanadium, moly, nickel, etc) to be added to steels and their resulting alloy properties explored.

    The revolution of metallurgy in gun design can be seen on some shotguns of 100+ years ago, when on the barrel the manufacture would have (as part of the rollmark) “Fluid Steel” or “Alloy Steel” or “Nitro-Proof Steel” or similar words/branding about their steel used in making guns for used with smokeless powder ammunition. Today, we think nothing about the steel in a rifle or shotgun barrel – we just assume “it’s steel. Big whoop.” Well, 100 years ago, no, cho-moly steel was a new thing. Many firearms had been made with malleable iron, or low-grade steels, or forge-welded “damascus” barrels (in shotguns), etc. These all work at black powder pressures – and usually fail at smokeless powder pressures.

    Today, 4140 steel (the alloy of steel most often used in non-stainless barrel steel) is one of the most common steel alloys used in all of industry, not just the gun/barrel industry. You can find 4140 steel literally everywhere – even in small towns across the US, you could go into most any machine shop and find 4140 steel on their material racks. That’s a free tip for those who might think about making their own guns from scratch in the potential future…

  2. It wasn’t just the metallurgy, either.

    A lot of us fail to appreciate the amount of difference in repeatable precision manufacture made in things. A working semi-auto rifle may not have been possible, especially with a detachable box magazine, until well into the 1930s.

    I’ve read accounts from “Old Army” types from the 1930s who would have to go through box after box of WWI-era BAR magazines, in order to match sufficient magazines with each weapon for running qualifications and doing competitions. The root problem was that there was no real capacity in the industrial base to churn out hundreds of thousands of identical magazines that would fit each and every one of the tens of thousands of BARs. That kind of repeatable precision manufacture was simply not possible, and played a large role in the prejudice against detachable box magazines which was so prevalent in the military.

    To be honest, that is one reason why I’m very dubious of the proposition that you could go back and dump the design for the StG-44 or AK-47 on some unsuspecting arms manufacturer of the late 19th Century, and expect any kind of positive results. If I had to guess, I’d say that the lack of the “repeatable precision” in actual manufacture would kill any such idea dead, except on a massively expensive and tiny scale relative to the needs of the time.

    Mass manufacture isn’t the simplistic child’s game many assume. There were a lot of good semi-auto designs out there in the 1930s, but it was Garand who managed to build the production machinery and tune it such that the design could be mass-produced. That was probably his greatest feat, and the one he ought to be remembered for–The rifle itself was not that big a deal, but the production machinery sure as hell was. It isn’t an accident that Springfield Armory couldn’t get the M-14 into mass production on old Garand machinery, either–Without the essential ingredient of Garand himself, that production gear was just not enough.

    • Kirk, you are so correct about manufacturing of sheet metal forms.

      To your first point about magazines: As a guy who is well familiar with machining (manual and CNC), I can attest that machining to tight tolerances was possible in the 1880’s – depending on how much you wanted to pay for the job. It was an issue that required skilled machinists to accomplish, but it could be done, and done on industrial scales.

      Ah, but sheet metal forming – that was more difficult. I myself didn’t realize many of the issues in bent/spot-welded sheet metal manufacturing until I got into SolidWorks and started playing with the sheet metal design options. Oh, there’s an education – try drawing up a design to be bent out of sheet metal, and the program will ‘help’ you learn the necessity of certain issues.

      As to dropping an AK or StG design on an arms manufacture of the late 19th century: Well, never mind the late 19th century – let’s just look at the actual history of the AK-47. The AK was supposed to be a gun built with sheet-metal forming as the basis of the receiver design to reduce costs. A few were actually produced out of sheet metal stamping in 1949 to whenever they quit, this was the Type 1 AK. This first variant of the AK was built with sheet metal, but the repeatability of the results was so poor, the Soviets went to machining the receivers out of a chunk of bar stock – this became the Type 2 AK-47, aka the “milled receiver” AK’s.

  3. Dyspeptic gunsmith and Kirk, as a longtime reader of both your comments (including back a Hognose’s), I think we need to work out a way to get you guest posting here, or on your own sites.

    Your comments are always fascinating and send me off on crazy Google tangents.

  4. I don’t remember the source but I remember reading as a kid that another reason for the insistence on an internal magazine for the Garand was the thought that it would allow too much debris in. On top of what DG and Kirk mentioned above.
    Mannlicher is definitely under appreciated today. Nothing against Browning but I feel like too many people act like he was the only game in town.

    • JMB wasn’t the only game in town, but in the history of gunsmiths/gunmakers, he eclipses everyone else because he was more prolific and created more lasting designs. Very, very few gun designers/smiths create gun designs for all types of guns (pistols, shotguns, rifles) and then automatic weapons (which are a whole ‘nuther area of gun design), for both military and civilian use. JMB did all of that. I think the only thing JMB didn’t do was a revolver.

      As good as Pedersen, Mannlicher, et al were – very few of their designs persist to the modern day. For Browning, we have the M-2, the 1911, his lever-action rifles, the A5… the list could go on. Most of Mannlicher’s work is now the stuff of collectors, not modern production. This doesn’t detract from the fact that these other men were talented and inventive – they were.

      The other thing that most people who aren’t gunsmiths (or people who look at a gun while they’re repairing/adjusting it and think really hard about what they’re seeing in there) is that Browning solved issues in gun design well.

      Browning didn’t re-invent “small wheels” in gun designs. He re-used ideas and refined them until he really understood the issue they were solving, and made those solutions as simple as possible. That, IMO, is the key to why Browning’s ideas persist.

      • speaking of JMB designs. I see a lot of people who dont know any better calling the Hipower Brownings improved version of the 1911 not having any idea the hipower we all know now is not what Browning intended before he died and his original idea was more revolutionary

        • Yea, I know.

          Here’s the thing about firearms design: All cartridge-based firearms have to do four things, in this order:

          1. Load a cartridge; here’s where magazine, loading/feeding issues are solved.
          2. Fire said cartridge; here’s where triggers, hammers vs. strikers, etc come in.
          3. Extract the spent cartridge casing; this is actually more complicated than it looks.
          4. Eject the spent cartridge casing.

          In that order. I don’t care if we’re talking of a falling block rifle, a bolt action rifle, a gas-operated shotgun, a toggle-lock striker-fired pistol like the Luger. They all have to do those four things, in that order.

          The reason I say #3 is more complicated is that if the gun is dirty, extraction can be much more complicated as a problem than you might first think. Look at the Russian cartridges for military use. Look at the US cartridges for military use. Look at the amount of taper on the cases. Notice how the Russian cartridges have much more taper on the case. Why is that? Well, because a more highly tapered cartridge is easier to extract from a dirty chamber. Look at the taper on a .375 H&H, and wonder “Why so much taper?” That’s because the .375 was to serve two rifle designs – SxS and bolt action. SxS rifles have pitiful extraction forces compared to a Mauser bolt action. Part of this extraction is obviously “how does the action open up?” When you look at Pedersen’s proposal for his semi-auto rifle to compete with Garand’s idea, you see some kinda far-out-there ideas, like using the notion of primer set-back to open the breech. No, I’m not kidding. Again, Hatcher’s “Book of the Garand” is a wonderful book to read about arms design.

          Where JMB was a genius was in solving little issues in these four areas, and then re-using those solutions on later guns. If you’re a gunsmithing student in a good program (like Trinidad’s, Murray State’s or others), the instructors in the repair classes might have you detail strip and re-assemble three of JMB’s designs in a row – and the instructor sees if the light bulb goes on for you. Once you notice that JMB would see that one of his ideas succeeded well, and he’d re-use the idea on a later firearm design, you start looking all over his designs for other places where he did this, and you start seeing the pattern(s).

          You can easily see this in the evolution of the lever-action Winchester designs he did, but then you start to see similar re-use. eg, the way the A5’s barrel recoils into the action and the way the breech block is left to finish recoiling to the rear … you see that idea re-used on the M-2. JMB wouldn’t just re-use an idea on a similar gun – he’d re-use it on other guns where it seemed “a completely different problem” – but it wasn’t a completely different problem.

          It is for this reason I personally consider JMB to be the greatest gun designer of all time. He thought about gun design issues systematically, and he solved the issues in lots of different guns with ideas he had fully understood and perfected in previous designs. Again, this doesn’t mean that other gun designers were stupid, or incompetent, or anything like that. They might have been just under pressure to create a gun to fill “X mission” in a hell of a hurry – as too many were during wartime. They might have been working in a country where they didn’t have the freedom of market that JMB enjoyed, and they were designing to fulfill a military contract, rather than create a clean-sheet design for a sporting gun and shop it around, as JMB did with the A5 design, or his FN pistol designs.

          There’s something to be learned from all gun designers and good gunsmiths, even the bad ones (eg, like the Winchester 1911 “Widow Maker” shotgun). I like to start students with JMB because his designs are so prolific, in the public domain and he’s an American who had no formal training, so his expertise fits in well with our anti-caste, pull yourself up by the bootstraps sort of culture.

          • The Hi Power is a hammer/pin fired pistol. Where the Hi Power changed the 1911 design radically was by getting rid of the swinging link on the bottom of the barrel, and going to a slide-lock block on the bottom of the barrel, much as the modern cheez-whiz pistols all do (eg, look at the bottom lugs of a Glock barrel, then look at the bottom lugs of the High Power, and notice the similarities.

            But the Hi Power is absolutely a hammer-fired (as opposed to striker fired) pistol. Here’s a bunch of pictures of the Hi Power:


            Where the Hi Power improved on the 1911, besides the swinging link issue, was moving the extractor to be external on the slide, which made detailed cleaning of the slide easier than completely removing the extractor on the 1911; then there’s the double-stack magazine; the magazine disconnect (I know this is a contentious ‘feature’ or ‘anti-feature’, depending on one’s perspective, and of course the increased ammo capacity.

            The way the Hi Power moves the barrel into battery has been copied on many (most?) semi-auto pistols made since 1935 – the CZ 75 line, the Glock (and other wunder-nines), etc. I do not know whether that feature is the work of Browning or Saive.


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