Original Prussian Model 1857 Zundnadel Cavalry Carbine - 15.4mm Dreyse Needle Fire

Item Description

Original Item: Only One Available. These are really hard to find! In 1836 JOHANN NIKOLAUS VON DREYSE designed this breech loading cartridge system while the rest of the world were still using muzzleloaders.

Adopted by the Prussian Military in 1841 its first notable service was in the May uprisings in Dresden in 1849. Taking a 15.4mm paper cartridge ignited by a needle projecting from the front of the bolt, the barrel is heavily rifled, with an excellent bore on this example.

The system was so revolutionary that it was observed that in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 a Prussian Infantryman could fire five rounds from a prone position in the time it took an Austrian Infantryman to discharge one round from a standing position.

The Zundnadel saw service up through the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871 that the Prussians were quickly victorious despite the French Chassepot Needle fire Rifle introduced in 1866 which was considered a far superior weapon.

The Dreyse Needle Fire was obsoleted in 1871 with the introduction of Paul Mauser's M1871 bolt action rifle which took what we would think of as conventional brass cased ammunition (10.4mm).

This lovely little Cavalry carbine, the Model of 1857 is actually dated 1870, and is smothered in proofs acceptance marks as well as regimental markings to the butt plate almost ensuring that this very carbine saw active service in the Franco-Prussian War.

Just 31.5 inches in overall length complete with saddle rings located behind the trigger guard. Offered in lovely condition with complete needle intact.

History of the Dreyse Carbine:

The mid 1850s saw a new development in warfare: cavalry armed with rifled breech-loaders. This was a significant step as it allowed for mobility of rapid firepower both on the offensive and defensive. Paradoxically, the potential was now fully appreciated by the insightful Prussians who had developed it and relegated the carbine to a subordinate role. Although the Zundnadelkarabiner M/57 was not as ballistically efficient as many rifled muzzle-loading contemporary carbines; its advantages lay in other areas. It could be loaded in any position and fired easily and quickly, especially on horseback; it cartridge, being complete in itself needed no separate ignition system; it could now be carried loaded without the possibility of its bullet and charge falling out.

Although no major use was made of the Prussian cavalry in both the Danish (1864), and the Austro-Prussian war (1866), but during the latter, the needle-ignition carbine proved itself a fairly effective weapon. The carbine was considered a defensive weapon, but with its ease of loading, the M/57 stimulated mew tactics at regimental level. Cavalry troopers formed a line and fired rapidly at their Austrian counterparts who were only armed with rifled muzzle-loading carbines. This practice brought superiority both in morale and tactics; a noteworthy achievement given that the Austrian cavalry was considered among the finest in Europe. Nevertheless, attacking in groups was not encouraged and only a limited amount of ammunition was issued to each trooper.

Even by 1870, the Prussians had still not grasped the valuable lessons of the American Civil War of using the cavalry as mobile light infantry, and retained the old method of attack using traditional cavalry methods and tactics. It was the lance, rather than the carbine that seemed to impress the Prussian army and after the Franco-German war, all branches of the cavalry were soon to be equipped with them. It was not until prior to World War I that all the main cavalry formations were finally armed with carbines.

Due to the effectiveness of the breech-loading rifle, very few traditional cavalry encounters achieved any real value in proportion to their cost. However, when used locally with initiative in small formations, during the early part of the war the bold use of the cavalry tended to intimidate the French and in many ways assisted the easy victories achieved by the German army. As the war progressed and Paris was besieged, the vulnerable supply routes of the German armies were constantly at risk. Alongside the stappen troops, one of the tasks of the cavalry was to protect these vital routes. Irregular 'French-tireurs' were very much in evidence. In many cases they were better armed, for they had the formidable Mle 1866 (Chassepot), needle-rifle which in many ways outclassed any needle-rifle the Germans possessed. This largely neutralized the protection offered by the cavalry. The Chassepot so impressed the Germans that many cavalry units were subsequently issued with shortened version when captured. Later, many were converted into metallic centre-fire carbines after the war pending supplies of the new M/71 carbine.

Following the introduction of the M/41 infantry rifle, other more specialized troops began to receive their own needle-ignition models. Firstly, the riflemen, followed by the light cavalry, who used the smoothbore cavalry carbine M/1811, converted from flintlock to percussion ignition in 1851. By 1855, 24 men per squadron had been issued with Dreyse needle carbines, the remainder retaining M/18Development had begun in the early 1850s based on the Dreyse system, commencing with a small quantity of the Prototyp-Zundnadelkarabiner 1851, issued for tests and limited troop-trials to the Guard Dragoon regiment. The prototype featured an articulating safety lever on the right side of the action to prevent loosening of the lock when on horseback and a sling anchor ring near the muzzle. It was rejected due to the large rear sight bed with three leaves that damaged the uniform and equipment, and the vulnerability of the needle that projected too far out from the shortened air-chamber. The potential for the exposed needle to pierce the cartridge base leading to powder loss and unreliability was another major concern.

A second experimental carbine followed in 1853. This had a modified bolt cocking-spring incorporating a safety device; the needle tip was flush with air-chamber, the trigger guard was modified, a small rear sight bed with a single folding leaf fitted and the muzzle sling ring dispensed with. Twenty-four were tested by a few Hussar regiments and rejected.

Utilizing all the best features of the 1853, a third and penultimate model followed in 1855, designated Zundnadelkarabiner 1855, and a limited number were issued to light cavalry. By the beginning of 1857, needle firearms were produced with cast-steel barrels as was to become common practice with all Dreyse models, cast steel allowing more exact manufacturing tolerances.

The final steel-barreled version was adopted on 9 April 1857 with the official appellation Zundnadelkarabiner M/57. These were first issued in 1859, to 16 troopers per squadron and later complete arming was achieved. The M/57 was virtually identical to the 1855 version.

Both the dragoons and hussars were armed with swords for the attack, and for defense, needle-carbines. The Uhlans and Cuirassiers had the lance and sword respectively as their main weapons; for defense were armed with the primitive smoothbore M/50, and u/M 1823, muzzle loading pistols.

By 1870, the M/57 was showing its age; it was by then the oldest of the Dreyse models being used still in production; the M/41, although used throughout the needle-rifle era by the front line troops, was not being produced after 1865. Before the war, out of necessity principally due to the superiority of the Chassepot, a special modification was being investigated to the needle-rifles in which to enhance them ballistically and was about to be formally adopted. But on the commencement of hostilities, this was postponed until the end of the war. The modification could be applied to existing models, including later manufactured M/41s, but due to the breech cone arrangement this modification could not be practically applied to the M/57 carriage. On active service the carbine was carried loaded with the bolt closed and the action un-cocked. To prevent the gun becoming accidentally cocked and therefore dangerous, a simple safety device was incorporated into the action in which the cocking spring was stepped; it now needed to be pushed down, and then forward. A detachable short leather strap went over the action and behind the bolt knob, and served to keep the bolt in situ in order to prevent it accidentally opening and the cartridge falling out. This strap was fastened to a slotted oval stud in front of the trigger guard, and easily released. The carbine was carried 'at the ready' on the right hip attached to the cavalryman, not his horse, almost like a long-stocked pistol on a lanyard. A special swivel-ring situated beneath the stock was attached to a clip on a sliding loop, which hung to the right side of the shoulder-strap. When the carbine was used it did not have to be removed from its attachment hook as the loop could move freely.

During patrols the carbine, being essentially a defensive weapon, was carried attached to the right side of saddle, well out of the way of the all-important sword arm. The attachment was fairly complicated: the carbine was carried inverted, action down with the muzzle forward while stowed.

GENERAL ISSUE - Issue of the M/57 was not confined to Prussian units. After the defeat of Austria and her allies in 1866, the South German states then directed their allegiance to Prussia. Needle weapons were, generally issued to all the states at the beginning of the Franco-German War.

In 1868, Saxony abandoned their M/65 carbine (which had been converted to capping breech-loaders), in favor of the M/57. In preparation for the formation of a reserve army in 1871, the 3rd Saxon Reiter Regiment were issued with needle carbines, a surviving example of which is described in this article.

The Bavarians, who had previously experimented with needle-ignition weapon now recognized their limitations and, unrestricted by the old 13.9mm South German Union calibre, experimented with the modern 11mm. A scaled-down carbine version of their excellent centrefire Werder 1869 rifle was adopted which had been tested before the war but none were then available for troop issue, so a small quantity of M/57s were issued to the Bavarian cavalry at the beginning of the war. A consignment of 500 M/57 carbines were dispatched on loan to Bavaria, destined for the Chevaulegers regiments at 80 per regiment. However, 80 fell into the hands of the French before the consignment reached the 4th Chevaulegers and were later returned to Prussia in 1872.

Because of their practical length, some carbines were fitted with more conventional sling swivels and issued in 1871 to stretcher bearers. An infantry weapon would have been far too long and cumbersome for men tending the wounded and carrying them on stretchers. Army unit markings were stamped on top of the butt-plate and contemporary illustrations portray this version being carried during the Franco-German war.

M/57 - an overview - The M/57 is a typical Prussian weapon, well designed, rugged and functional. It is full-stocked in walnut and has the distinctive Dreyse stock flats around the breech area which run the entire length of the action. The left side of that butt has a large cheekpiece although a few manufactured postwar were made without. The typical brass trigger guard finger rest common to most rifle models was omitted on the carbine due to the position of the swivel ring. The guard has a larger finger aperture than those on rifles enabling the trooper to use gloves in cold weather. Compared to the M/41, the buttplate is slightly contoured for a better fit into the shoulder. Brass was used for the butt-plate as the gun did not have to be subjected to harsh parade-ground use. A contemporary colour illustration depicts a carbine with a browned barrel, but no examples with this finish have been examined during research.

The M/51, M53, M/55 and M/57 needle-ignition carbines featured the re-adoption of the shortened bolt, first used on the M/49 but with slight alterations. The female breech cone allied with the semi-compression chamber was an expedient to shorten the action; this differed from the standard 'long' action with the 'male breech cone' in a number of ways: besides reversing the obturation cones the large air-chamber was not used. This reversed cone layout has had its critics, but unduly so; during protracted modern tests, the slight escape of gas is not noticeable to the shooter, providing of course the carbine is in sound shooting condition. To question the veracity of such misunderstandings, if one studies the female breech cone arrangement carefully it is apparent that the gas cannot, and in fact does not, as generally believed travel backwards into the firer's eyes. Moreover, this cone layout remained unmodified throughout the carbine's long service life. It has an inherent advantage too, Loading and firing - Starting with the bolt closed, the cocking spring is pressed down and retracted (this also 'obstructs' the rear sight). The bolt is opened by turning the knob to the left, and pulling it rearwards to its stop. A cartridge is inserted into the chamber and seated with the right thumb; the bolt then closed by a forceful blow form the right palm to fully seat the cone unto that of the bolt, a prerequisite for locking the Dreyse bolt prior to cocking. The cocking-lever thumb piece is pushed down and then forwards - the carbine is now ready to shoot. The needle-stem protrudes prominently from the rear of the receiver providing a good visual indication that the carbine is cocked.

SIGHTS - The rear sight-block is dovetailed and fixed into the top of the barrel; far smaller than that of the rifle pattern to reduce weight and minimize injury to the trooper. The standing sight is calibrated for 200 schritt and the folding leaf 350; the two sighting notches are of the 'V' type. The barleycorn foresight is adequately protected by two squared projections, or ears, to prevent snagging.

DREYSE NEEDLE-IGNITION PRINCIPLE - The whole system is based on the method of ignition, which is achieved by the aid of a long thin needle. On firing, the needle penetrates the powder column and ignites the primer situated at the base of the sabot, this ignites the main charge. The explosion forces the sabot/bullet assembly forwards; the rifling acts on the sabot, imparting a spin on the bullet. The bullet is distinctly smaller than the actual calibre because it does not contact the bore at all. On leaving the muzzle the sabot parts for the bullet, its function completed. Contrary to received wisdom, the needle (in the case of the review carbine, the original needle), does not used as regular replacement as is generally thought. DMANUFACTURE - The bulk of carbines produced seemed to have been manufactured at the Dreyse factory in Sommerda (by both Nicholas and Franz von Dreyse). However, after 1866, a number were also made by the Adolf Crause Factory in Hertzberg. The Karabiner M/57 carbine continued to be manufactured until around 1873 and used until replaced by either converted Chassepot or M/71 carbines.

AMMUNITION - To reduce recoil, the carbines chambered a shorter and therefore a consequently less powerful version of the Patrone M/55. Its construction and components, besides the reduction in the powder charge and length, are identical to that used in the standard cartridge. The bullet was seated in a rolled paper sabot with the primer at the rear in a small pocket. This rested on the powder charge encased in a paper envelope. The ogive of the cartridge was tied with thread into a 'bonnet' and dipped into heated beeswax up to the origin of the sabot, to strengthen it and assist lubrication." - Leonard & Guy West, "THE PRUSSIAN M57 NEEDLE-FIRE CARBINE," Classic Arms & Militaria. Volume XI Issue I.


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