The Reffye Mitrailleuse was designed to spray large numbers of bullets out beyond the ranges where grape-shot fired from smooth-bore cannon would be effective. The cartridge designed for the Mitrailleuse was significantly more powerful than the cartridges used in infantry rifles of the time, and had a much higher muzzle velocity [M1]. It also needed an efficient mechanism for clearing and then reloading the cartridge carriers in order to achieve the high rates of fire. Each Mitrailleuse gun was supplied with five cartridge carriers, which, in rapid fire, could be fired in one minute (but the gun is then defenceless until one of the carriers could be reloaded). This page describes the cartridge, and the specially designed cartridge boxes used for 'speed-loading' the carriers. It concludes with tables of the Mitrailleuse performance.
Model of 1867 Reffye Mitrailleuse
Dimensions of the Reffye Mitrailleuse Cartridge [M 4]
The Cartridge consists of the bullet, the cartridge case and the gunpowder charge.
The bullet is made from hard lead, and weighs 49.5 gram. It is 40 mm in length, and 12.8 mm in diameter. The lower two-thirds are wrapped in a greased paper patch. At the base of the bullet is a wide cannelure (groove in the cylindrical body of the bullet). The base also contains a hollow so the base piece forms a skirt. The case is pressed around the cannelure to hold the bullet in place. When the bullet is fired, the gas pressure compresses the bullet, especially in the area around the cannelure, so that its length reduces to 36mm but the diameter of the base skirt expands to 13mm to grip the rifling during discharge.
The body of the case is built up from a pasted strip of brown paper, 40 cm in length and wound 7 times, then compressed, and provided with a coating of green or blue paper. A shaped paper plug is fitted in the base of the tube, and both plug and tube are fastened together by a brass base cap.
The Ignition chamber is a turned brass cone, with an external thread. It has a hole at its bottom end, to allow the ignition flames to reach the gunpowder charge. A percussion disk of mercury fulminate is placed in the base of the chamber. Then a brass anvil with a rubber ring held together in a copper cap are fitted into the chamber. The narrow shaft of the anvil passes through the ring, but is held away from the percussion disk by the ring. The threads on the chamber's outside grip into the paper plug.
To discharge the cartridge, a firing pin will strike the copper cap, and force the anvil against the percussion disk, thereby exploding it. The flame passes through the base of the chamber and ignites the powder charge. Meanwhile the rubber ring expands to prevent gasses leaking backwards through the chamber.
Cartridge Construction and Loading Animation
Cartridge box, note this museum has loaded the cartridges the wrong way round. The bullet end should be visible
The Charge consists of 6 cylinders of pressed and compacted gunpowder, each cylinder weighing 2 grams, for a total of 12 grams. Between the charge and the bullet is a greased wad, which lubricates the rifle barrel (presumably in preparation for the next shot).
To achieve the high rates of fire it is necessary to be able to reload the cartridge carrier blocks as fast as possible. Each Mitrailleuse will carry five cartridge blocks, and at the normal rate of 3 salvos a minute, clearing the burnt cardboard cartridges and reloading must take no more than 100 seconds. Ammunition for the Reffye Mitrailleuse was supplied in cartridge boxes containing 25 rounds arranged so that they can be dropped directly into a cartridge carrier. An early example of a 'speed-loader'.
The main part of the box was made of cardboard with 25 tubular sleeves to hold the individual cartridges. A cardboard cut-out disk held the bullet in position at the top of the sleeve. The top of the box was reinforced with a metal sheet. Three sides of the sheet were folded over to form the sliding rails for the slide cover of the box. The lid had a handle for carrying the box, and a ring to remove the sliding lid.
Box and lid were reinforced with a coating of green-painted canvas, which also provided protection from moisture. [M 4]
The limber, from the dimensions of the box, would hold 24 reloading boxes, or a total of 600 cartridges. The gun would be accompanied by an ammunition wagon which carried three boxes, each holding a total of 2025 cartridges (probably three layers of 9 x 3 boxes), for a total of 6075 cartridges. [M 4].
An example of a Reffye Cartridge box is on display at the Curtius Museum, Liége. Unfortunately, they seem to have loaded the cartridges the wrong way round, since the bullet end should be visible, and not the base.
The Montigny mitrailleur fired a centre-fire cartridge with a variety of bullet weights (30, 35 and 40 grams) and powder charges (6, 7 and 8 grams) so that a variety of bullet to charge ratios were possible. However, the highest weight of bullet and large charge proved unsuitable for the tight rifling of the first model (1 turn in 820 mm) so the second model used a less steep pitch of 1 turn in 1500mm, with 7 grooves. [m5]
The cartridge case was made initially from thick cardboard but later rolled from thin brass sheet. In both designs, they were fitted with a brass base cap, which held the percussion cap. [m5] states that both designs were also covered for their entire length by a covering of cotton cloth.
There is also some uncertainty over the calibre of the guns. Willie states that both the early and late models had a bore of 14mm [I may, of course have mis-translated the German text], while Huon, Jean. Military rifle and machine gun cartridges (Arms & Armor Press, 1988) gives a primary calibre of 11.45mm (known as the 11mm Montigny cartridge), with variants from 11 up to 13mm. In ‘The Mitrailleuse’ by Dr. Patrick Marder [m1], the calibre is given as 11 mm.
As with the Reffye mitrailleuse, ammunition for the Christophe-Montigny mitrailleur was supplied in boxes that allowed a full salvo to be tipped directly into the holes in the cartridge carrier. The boxes were hexagonal in shape, as illustrated in the lower left of this drawing.