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"Prussian muskets had no priming pan? Who knew?" Topic

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Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP15 Jan 2019 6:30 a.m. PST

I'm reading Klaus-Jürgen Bremm (Die Schlacht: Waterloo 1815 (German Edition) and on page 41 he has this to say about the Prussian musket.

Preußen verfügte seit der Reformzeit über das verbesserte M1809. Die Waffe wurde auch als Neupreußisches Gewehr bezeichnet und verkürzte dank ihres konisch geformten Zündkanals den Ladevorgang um immerhin einen ganzen Schritt. So schüttete der Schütze jetzt das gesamte Pulver seiner Patrone direkt in den Lauf und presste es durch das Nachstoßen mit dem Ladestock gleich von innen in den Zündkanal. Ein gesondertes Auffüllen der Pfanne entfiel somit und die Feuergeschwindigkeit erhöhte sich unter günstigen Bedingungen auf bis zu fünf Schuss je Minute.

My translation:

"Prussia decreed, from the time of reform onward, the improved M1809. The weapon was designated the New Prussian Musket, and thanks to its conical-shaped firing channel it reduced the loading procedure by around one whole step. The firer shook all of the powder in his cartridge into the bore, and forced it into the firing channel from the inside via thrusts with his ramrod. Separate filling of the priming pan was thereby dispensed with, and the rate of fire under suitable conditions rose to as many as five rounds per minute."

He goes on to say that not many soldiers had these and most of the half-million Brown Bess muskets were sent to arm coalition troops including those of Prussia.

So how widespread were these weapons? Under battle conditions how did they perform versus weapons equipped with a priming pan?

Oh and for extra marks, what's the correct English word for the hole through which the primer flame passes??

22ndFoot15 Jan 2019 6:41 a.m. PST

I believe it is the "touch hole."

Oliver Schmidt15 Jan 2019 6:49 a.m. PST

The Prussian conical touchhole was already introduced in 1780.

See the article here, starting from p. 17

PDF link

The exterior opening of the conical touchhole tended to erode and increase in diameter in the course of time, so that an increasing part of the powder's explosive energy escaped through the touchhole instead of propelling the musket ball.

To reduce this effect, in 1790 a flashguard was introduced. Seems it worked, as the conical touchhole was maintained in the Prussian M 1809 muskets.

I don't think these muskets with conical touchholes gave a distinguishable advantage to those units equipped with it. At least, during the 1813-15 campaigns there seem to be no comments by units using foreign muskets and later changing to the Prussian ones, that any of the two types of touchholes was considered better.

21eRegt15 Jan 2019 6:51 a.m. PST

Modern reproductions of the 1809 musket are not built that way, perhaps because reenactors (typically) cannot use their ramrods.

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP15 Jan 2019 6:56 a.m. PST

*smacks heyad*

Touch hole. Of course. Thanks. In German it's "ignition channel".

Oliver Schmidt15 Jan 2019 7:09 a.m. PST

In the German texts of the period it was "Zündloch" = "ignition hole".

rustymusket15 Jan 2019 7:10 a.m. PST

I understood the conical touchhole and that the Prussians would hit the musket butt on the ground to force the powder into the touchhole, but I did not realize the musket did not have a priming pan. I just thought it was not used at least sometimes.

RittervonBek15 Jan 2019 7:27 a.m. PST

Priming pan was still there it was just not primed externally.

Oliver Schmidt15 Jan 2019 7:33 a.m. PST

I never came across that Prussian soldiers would hit their musket butt on the ground. They had a ramrod after all ;-)

And the construction and functioning of the Prussian pan was ecatly like that of the pans of other nations' guns.

The only difference was that the Prussian pan was primed automatically from within, whereas those of the other nations had to be primed by hand.

Some photos here:


von Winterfeldt15 Jan 2019 9:25 a.m. PST

During my 25 Years of Re-enactment I always used the ramrod, in some other units it was forbidden, not in mine.

Prussian muskets certainly had a priming pan.

Saxon muskets had a self priming pan was well, as Austrian muskets in the French Revolutionary wars

Major Snort15 Jan 2019 9:41 a.m. PST

In the book "The Theory of Infantry Movements", the British officer Antonio Suasso states that one of the disadvantages of the conical (or "cylindrick" as he calls it) touch hole on Prussian and Austrian muskets was that it encouraged soldiers to take shortcuts:

Those cylindrick touch-holes, besides, are not unexceptionable, as by accustoming the men to beat their [musket] butts against the ground, to promote the removal of powder, they gain the habit in the heat of action, to substitute by this motion both the priming and the ramming down of the cartridge, an irregular practice, which is exceedingly injurious, and most destructive to the effect of musketry.

Presumably the guard on the priming pan was necessary on Prussian muskets to protect others in close proximity from the blast, because, apart from having a special breechplug that directed powder to the touch hole, the touch hole must have been quite large as well in order to allow powder to flow out? This would have led to a very unpleasant blast of hot gas and powder grains towards the adjacent men in line to the right when the musket was fired, which could singe hair and set uniforms on fire. The guard, rather than preventing this jet of flame, presumably just re-directed it upwards.

All touch holes erode with use and become larger, even on standard muskets. After much use, it would be possible to prime even a Brown Bess with powder running out of the touch hole as long as the powder was not too coarse. The army of the East India Company retired muskets from service when the touch hole on their Brown Besses eroded to around 3mm in diameter (they would have been 1.6mm – 2mm when new). This was purely to protect soldiers from the sideways blast of muskets when firing in close formation.

It's worth noting that the blast from an un-eroded touch hole on a new Brown Bess would have still been unpleasant for anyone stood next to it.

Oliver Schmidt15 Jan 2019 10:03 a.m. PST

Funny, in contemporary texts of the period "cylindrical" touch hole (cylindrical in diameter) usually refers to the one generally used with muskets, whereas the "conical" one was the one enabling the self priming, which Suasso clearly means.

This would have led to a very unpleasant blast of hot gas and powder grains towards the adjacent men in line to the right when the musket was fired, which could singe hair and set uniforms on fire.
If during the fire all men are aligned correctly with proper distance between the ranks, the flash from the pan will pass between the heads of the men firing and and the heads of the men in front of them.


Oliver Schmidt15 Jan 2019 10:10 a.m. PST

Suassa asserts the beating of the butts against the ground in the Austrian infantry:


This inconvenience was observed to me, by serjeant-major Richewater of the 60th regiment, who had served as a Feldwebel in the Austrian army in the years 1804 and 1805; and has been since confirmed to me by the Austrian officers, who explained it as the reason why the cylindrick touch-hole had been done away with, in 1806, in the Austrian infantry.

stecal Supporting Member of TMP15 Jan 2019 10:28 a.m. PST

from my reenactor experience those large touch holes would also discourage aiming. You would have to close your eyes to avoid the flash

Major Snort15 Jan 2019 10:34 a.m. PST

That's an impressive photo Oliver!

Regarding your comment:

If during the fire all me are aligned correctly, the flash from the pan will pass between the heads of the men firing and the heads of the men in front of them.

That may have been good in theory, but it is interesting to see some of the complaints about enlarged touch holes in the East India Company's muskets, which must have been the same for Napoleonic British soldiers who used the same equipment and drill. Quoting from period letters and articles, David Harding describes the problems in Volume 3 of Small Arms of the East India Company. Here are some examples:

The 61st Bengal Native infantry reported:

[our muskets] mostly hang fire, which together with the large touch-holes and ill fitting locks , constantly causes accidents by burning necks and heads of the right file men, injuring the caps and clothing and making the men unsteady in the ranks

A general reviewing the 12th Bombay Infantry stated a sepoy's woollen wings on the shoulders of his uniform were set on fire while firing a platoon volley due to the enlarged touch holes of the men's muskets.

Another officer noted that:

the effect of the fire of a line is destroyed by the dodging of the men to escape the fire from the pan and touch hole of their left hand file

A Captain Reilly of the Bengal Sappers and Miners wrote:

Many of the men on parade receive injuries in the face from the enlarged touch holes of their colleagues' old Fusils of Carbine Bore.

These were properly-drilled soldiers, using British Regulations, showing that this must have been a real issue.

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP15 Jan 2019 10:53 a.m. PST

@ Major Snort

Interesting – goes a long way to explaining why battlefield musketry was so much less effective than in tests against static targets. Not only wasn't the enemy shooting at you, neither was your neighbour.

von Winterfeldt15 Jan 2019 11:14 a.m. PST

it is not only the conical touch hole – but one needs also the correct tang screw as well, this construction also needed high quality gun powder, it is interesting to note that the Austrians needed 5 years to provide their first line units with the new Model 1798 / 99 – the old model was still in use in 1809 for Landwehr units.

And yes indeed – the flash in the pan, regardless of having a musket with cylindrical or comical tough hole very much is discouraging aiming.

A good way to escape this – is to hunch the shoulders and look away from the musket and close your eyes.

Good information and yes, the more the muskets were fired the bigger the touch hole became.

Major Snort15 Jan 2019 11:20 a.m. PST

von Winterfeldt, Oliver

Can either of you confirm a couple of things about the Prussian and Austrian muskets with conical touch holes?

1. Was the touch hole any larger than a those on French and British muskets. I have assumed that they were to allow the powder to flow out, although I appreciate the different tang screw was also designed to help.

2. Was the flash guard only fitted to muskets with the conical touch hole?

Oliver Schmidt15 Jan 2019 11:21 a.m. PST

These were properly-drilled soldiers, using British Regulations, showing that this must have been a real issue.
Thanks, seems some re-enactors should volunteer to bore out their touch holes, so that this effect can be simulated ;-)

Here a photo of the effect of wrongly positioned men (rear man inclining forward, front man leaning backward, or a combination of both). The man whose uniform was burnt had a linen shirt under his uniform and wasn't hurt. However, unfortunately, the uniform afterwards needed a patch, just below the epaulet:


von Winterfeldt15 Jan 2019 11:29 a.m. PST

another photo

ERROR - no url for link

@Major Snort

I would have to research this topic about the diameter of the concial touch hole compared to cylindrical ones – I also read like you that touch holes of well used muskets burned out and became bigger.

As for the flash Guard, it certainly appeared in the Prussian Army not long after the introduction of the concial touch hole – and also the Austrian M 1784 which had a conical touch hole – had a flash guard.

The Saxon muskets – however didn't.

Also interesting to know – that Austrians – Prussians and Saxons used cylindrical ramrods as well, which did not have to be turned.

Both modifications made loading easier and also easier to maintain close order

Lion in the Stars15 Jan 2019 11:30 a.m. PST

Great photo, Otto!

During my 25 Years of Re-enactment I always used the ramrod, in some other units it was forbidden, not in mine.

Yeah, some idiot always manages to launch his ramrod across the field.

von Winterfeldt15 Jan 2019 11:32 a.m. PST

you are right, this idiot wasn't well drilled and shouldn't have been allowed to take part in battle field re enactment.

Oliver Schmidt15 Jan 2019 11:33 a.m. PST

1) On 29 May 1810, the diameter of the touch holes of the New Prussian musket was fixed to "10 hundertparts in diameter" (10 hunderttheile im Durchmesser). This refers to the regular Prussian (Rhineland) Zoll of 2,6154 cm, so the diameter was 26 mm in a newly delivered musket.

2) As far as I know, in the Prussian army only the muskets with conical touch holes received flashguards.

von Winterfeldt15 Jan 2019 11:41 a.m. PST

The Old Prussian muskets had about a 3.5 mm diameter touch hole, the flash guard was introduced in the Prussian army at around 1790, the Austrians had it already in 1784

Oliver Schmidt15 Jan 2019 11:43 a.m. PST

In 1824, the reason given for the existence of the Prussian flashguards was to "secure the man at the side from single burning grains of the blackpowder".


A German article from 1828 advises to introduce the flashguard for all muskets, "because usually the fire from the touch holes of the rear ranks much damages the backpacks of the front ranks and the greatcoats fixed to them":


Major Snort15 Jan 2019 1:08 p.m. PST

Thanks Oliver and von W,

So at either 2.6mm or 3.5mm, the touch holes of these Prussian muskets were considerably larger than those on standard muskets.

Another interesting sideline to this: It might be assumed that a larger touch hole would lead to a corresponding reduction in muzzle velocity, due to more pressure escaping through the touch hole, but experiments proved this was not the case. With the service charges used the touch hole could be enlarged considerably before it had any really detrimental effects:


von Winterfeldt15 Jan 2019 2:13 p.m. PST

very interesting, 2.6 mm was for the New Prussian Musket of 1809 – while 3.5 mm was for the Old Prussian Modell of 1780 /87 caliber of 19 mm

14Bore15 Jan 2019 2:29 p.m. PST


Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP15 Jan 2019 5:00 p.m. PST

I can believe touch holes burned out wider. In naval artillery what you then did was make a conical plug and draw it along the inside of the barrel, then hammer it in (not easy from the muzzle end). The successive discharges then forced the plug more securely into the old hole. A gun could nonetheless eventually "unbush" itself by blowing the plug out of the touch hole.

You could then repeat the repair, but a musket I guess would at some point become scrap.

FatherOfAllLogic16 Jan 2019 6:53 a.m. PST

This issue might explain why men would extend their muskets up in the air, close their eyes and pull the trigger, thereby lowering effectiveness of fire.

von Winterfeldt16 Jan 2019 7:39 a.m. PST

yes indeed

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP16 Jan 2019 8:55 a.m. PST

What reading Bremm tells me is that there is a sizeable gap in the market for books in English about Waterloo written from a level-headed German perspective. This is not addressed at all right now.

One of the better primer-type titles out there on Waterloo is the one written by an Italian. Maybe translating the German-language canon is the way forward.

I am tempted to translate him myself, and see if any publisher is interested. It's much easier than translating something unseen about which you know nothing, because you know what is probably being said, and can therefore guess the technical vocabulary when it crops up pretty accurately (except where it eludes you, as in touch hole). Hence Lauf is 'bore' or 'barrel', Durchmesser is 'calibre', Steinschloss is 'flintlock', usw.

Oliver Schmidt16 Jan 2019 9:18 a.m. PST

What reading Bremm tells me is that there is a sizeable gap in the market for books in English about Waterloo written from a level-headed German perspective.
Try Peter Hofschröer's two volumes on the campaign, and just ignore his interpretation of Welligton's attitude and his counting of German souls present on the battlefield. There are a lot of facts and primary source material in this work ;-)

If you look at the list of sources used by Bremm, he seems just to compile from other books (most of them English or French), without own genuine research. Besides the fact that the author is a German, I don't see a specific "German perspective" – whatever this (Prussian, Hanoverian, Brunswick ?) perspective may be.

I haven't read the text of Bremm's book, though, so I of course can't give a review.

von Winterfeldt16 Jan 2019 9:45 a.m. PST

Why to waste time on Belle Alliance, in case Gareth Glover's Waterloo (better would have been Belle Alliance) archives there is at least one volume full of translated German eye witnesses.

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP16 Jan 2019 10:24 a.m. PST

@ Oliver Schmidt
Not even Hofschroer's "facts" are reliable, I fear. If he says x happened, it may indeed have happened, but you don't know – for example – when it happened. This is often important. Hussey cites instances of Hofschroer reversing the sequence of events to make the Prussians look better. He also pulls tricks like quoting the I Corps KTB and Ziethen's memoirs as though they're of equal reliability, when in fact the latter is away with the fairies.

Interestingly, Bremm's account does indeed rely on many of the same sources as English-language accounts. So he obviously doesn't think that German-language sources trump them, otherwise he'd cite those instead.

It's also interesting that he makes the familiar observation that the British regarded Waterloo as a British victory, but he then qualifies this fairly by noting that he's talking historically, and only about those British who don't know anything about the battle at all. Their information comes from there being a train station and a movie called Waterloo, and they thereby form their conclusions.

People who do know something about the campaign – those who've read any English-language book on it – have a quite different perspective. As soon as you learn that the French outnumbered either Allied army and both were thinly spread and of doubtful reliability, it's clear that each Ally needed the other.

von Winterfeldt17 Jan 2019 10:43 a.m. PST

one has to take into account that at Belle Alliance only a fraction of the Prussian Army had those new Prussian muskets – units were also armed with captured French, or Austrian or British muskets for example

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