Earliest possible assault rifle, earliest plausible adoption

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: After 1900' started by M79, Dec 3, 2019.

  1. M79 Well-Known Member

    Jan 8, 2007
    The 1917 Burton rifle prototype from the US is the earliest known weapon that would qualify, but what is the earliest plausible date for an assault rifle and what is the earliest plausible date for mass adoption by any nation? Battle rifle cartridges and intermediate cartridges are both acceptable (Re: 6.5mm Arisaka round)
  2. marathag Well-Known Member with a target on his back

    Feb 2, 2013
    Put a 15 round magazine on a Remington Model 8.
    That's doable in 1901, when it was first patented.

    Now it was double the price of a bolt action, and .30 Remington was no more than Win .30-30 without the rim, so less powerful than the 30-06, which is what we want.

    Now as built, the Model 8 is terrible for military service, while being an take-down model, with Barrel and recoil unit is easily removed for cleaning, not so for anything in the Receiver, for removing the trigger group or bolt.

    So our M1901 would soon have be revised, to M1901A1 with a removable top cover, like an AK, that was 'inspired' by this Remington in its trigger group and safety setup.
    John Browning was a smart guy, if Army said, 'make it easier to service' BOOM, next model would be easier.
    Now this was a single stack magazine, not easily removed, as it was to be fed by using chargers, not removing the mag.
    So say your M1901A2 get that feature, detachable magazine, while still able to use chargers.

    So the US Cavalry has this before WWI, where they may be desire for an automatic weapon, that's the M1901A4 or so, select fire by 1918
  3. wiking Well-Known Member

    Jan 19, 2006
    Technically the Fedorov Avtomat was in production and service in 1916 and that was about as heavy of a weapon that technically, maybe, might qualify.

    But before there were was the Italians in 1895(!):
    Though more of an automatic rifle in the vein of the BAR, it showed that with a lower powered cartridge it very well could have been an early assault rifle.
    So probably by 1900 as a service entry year was viable.

    The French could have had a 6mm SAW in 1905:
    Basically a heavier 6mm magnum M16.
    IMHO the best option and would have been an ass-kicker if modified to be lighter and open bolt by WW1.
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  4. yulzari Well-Known Member

    Dec 15, 2011
    There is the Mannlicher M.1885 and the Mondragon M.1908. Mondragon saw the use of a lesser than full power cartridge with his 6.5x48 but the Mexican Army was standardised on Mauser 7x57 so the production was for that.

    I respect Mannlicher as a practical designer who would both chase the best and restrict himself to the good so i would back him for a valid service semi automatic rifle. The major European payers maintained conscript/reserve armies at wartime levels so cost was always a factor when buying by the millions so the extra cost of semi automatic was a bar to pre war treasuries. Furthermore period powders, steels etc. made automatic fire questionably viable for any more than occasional short bursts. For exmple the Chautchat was a semi automatic rifle with an auto option in action as long as is was used parsimoniously. Even the BAR, in Home Guard use in WW2, was eventually not just restricted to semi auto in training and exercise but officially banned from full auto even were it in action.

    As I wrote in another thread. One could approach the assault rifle from either the battle rifle downwards or the machine pistol upwards. The earliest, with hindsight, affordable and effective sort of selective fire assault rifle would be a simple heavy bolt blowback SMG. However, the mindset of the militaries of pre WW1 would be from a battle rifle starting point. Not unreasonably as they would have to substitute for the LMG and need the extra reach and penetration as LMGs were rare and MMGs in limited umbers.
  5. Magniac Is back, roleplaying as an Old Member

    Feb 17, 2008
    Still Ava Gardner's fave Australian town
    The Burton is cool, but it's a 10 pound/4.5 kilo straight blowback weapon firing a round that's almost as powerful as 7.62x39mm, with a significantly heavier projectile; IMO, there's a reason the Cody Firearms Museam that houses the one example apparently doesn't have any records detailing it ever being fired.
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  6. wiking Well-Known Member

    Jan 19, 2006
    So after thinking about this a bit it would seem the Cei Rigotti is the best bet for the earliest AR:
    Seems to have been pretty well developed. If in 6.5x52 Carcano with a lighter spitzer bullet like the Arisaka's 139 grain and slightly lighter powder load it would have been fully equivalent to say the AK47 in muzzle energy and probably would have approximated a hot 6.5mm Grendel cartridge.
    Seems like a serious missed opportunity, though it could have been improved with an inline stock and years of service honing the mechanism and production.
    I guess the trick is how do you convince the appropriate officers it was a good idea?
    Last edited: Dec 4, 2019
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  7. yulzari Well-Known Member

    Dec 15, 2011
    The pre WW1 military was barely more than 2 generations past the breech loading rifle musket conversions. The base being the rifle musket which allowed a rifle to be the general issue infantry weapon which was then converted to breech loading followed by purpose made smaller bore single shots and magazine rifle coming into general service in the 1880s. These rifles allowed infantry to volley fire at a general area more than a thousand metres away to deny ground as the fire support over advancing other infantry and force artillery and cavalry to stand off. The machine gun came in late in the period to do the same task but was a very heavy and expensive toy which only really proved itself a game changer in the Russo Japanese War but not ordered n the sort of quantities, or with the doctrine, to replace the infantry rifle at long ranges in open country. Hence the British concentration on skilled musketry to offset their shortage of machine guns.

    In this light the full power battle rifle had a vital role to play that a lower power 'assault rifle' could not. The need for a shorter range closer combat infantry selective fire weapon was not seen as one for a general issue. The Carcano and Arisaka were as low powered as could do the existing job. On the other hand the self loading pistol had come into fashion and in general side arm issue with active interest in combining them with removable shoulder stocks for those using them for more than personal defence at pointy stick range. It is no accident that the French and German terms for the SMG are machine pistols. In early WW1 existing arms industries are flat out making existing weapons that are known to work. Rather than one of the OTL experimental/small issue semi/full automatic battle rifles working themselves up to major production the alternative is beefing up the pistol carbine but that is expensive and relies on the same industrial resources as battle rifles. This is where something along the lines of the OTL WW2 Sten gun. Now successful use of cheap machine pistols will demonstrate their utility in close combat especially as LMGs are coming in too to support them in longer and/or more sustained fire. Eventually the idea will come of going past the blow back SMG but not as far as a heavy expensive LMG and Lo! The assault rifle is born. Exactly as happened IOTL but squashing it all in faster by bringing forward a POD of SMGs in service. There was nothing to stop a far earlier SMG once you had the semi automatic pistol. You have the blow back principle, the actuality of the replaceable magazine and light short rounds which are effective in actual battle ranges. Also you have the MMGs at least which can cover the longer ranges.

    The OP answer lies not in the clever engineering trickery of new kit, but in changing the mindset of the militaries. Whatever it turns out to be it will have to be a supplement to the existing vast bolt action rifle commitments which will have to be the main infantry weapon for at least 3 years even in wartime.

    An analogy in timing is the WW1 BEF. Once the change came from the professionals to new volunteers in 1915 it took until 1916 to learn to routinely run the army as a whole, in 1917 this took on the new conscripts and knew what to do with them and train them and then the BEF of 1918 was a complex well supplied and organised institution with clear doctrines and training and kit to match. If SMGs came in in 1915 it would be 1916 before the numbers demonstrated their strengths and weaknesses, 1917 to put those lessons into tactical doctrines and only in 1918 to move forward to the assault rifle which would only be in limited issue but the weapon post war.

    To push it even further back one has to postulate a set of circumstances, post 1900 (with the self loading pistol coming in) where the pistol carbine is chosen to arm some sort of units and proves itself in action creating a demand for more that cannot be satisfied due to their costs and a cheaper equivalent sought. Colonial police, cavalry, small boat boarding parties?
    Last edited: Dec 5, 2019
  8. marathag Well-Known Member with a target on his back

    Feb 2, 2013
    That's why I think the Rem Model 8 had a tiny chance, introduced as a Cavalry Carbine, as it frees up one hand rather than needing to work a bolt after every shot. The 22 inch barrel makes it very handy for its 8 pound weight, only 4 oz. heavier than the 1899 Krag Carbine it would replace.

    OTL, things delayed to 1902, when it was decided that the new Springfield Rifle, at 24", rather than the Krag Rifle of 30" could also fill in with the Cavalry.

    So this gets the Cavalry a semi-automatic carbine in 1901, a new cartridge isn't that big at the time, as the Army typically had a lighter powder charge for carbines that rifles, so were used tonthat logistics issue.
  9. Protagoras Well-Known Member

    Jun 22, 2019
    Were the military thinkers of the time that far wrong? As I understand it, while there would have been advantages to adopting a lower caliber round (less recoil, easier to carry more ammo), selective fire is somewhat overrated (as autofire small arms are very inaccurate and of course use up ammo extremely quickly). Since any early assault rifle is pretty much guaranteed to be more expensive, heavier, and less reliable than a weapon without selective fire, would the benefits of selective fire actually be worth it so early?
  10. wiking Well-Known Member

    Jan 19, 2006
    Yes. Select fire is highly useful at close ranges and for suppression if trained not to dump full magazines quickly. By WW1 massed human wave charges were on the way out, so while long range salvos of bolt action weapons worked in certain circumstances it was generally very suboptimal in most combat situation and for 95% of combat after 1914. In fact suppression is the most often use for infantry hand weapons in a firefight, so the ability to have a semi-auto weapon with a light recoil at a minimum or better yet a weapon capable of three round burst (the minimum in quick succession proven in testing to provoke suppression) is best.

    The problem is military thinking (along with any field really) being stuck in the 19th century and ignoring combat lessons of the Russo-Japanese war and various other small conflicts using modern weapons and tactics before WW1.

    A magazine fed, relatively low recoil, relatively shorter range weapon with select fire capabilities dominated even semi-auto rifles, hence the end of the SKS in favor of the AK47. If aimed semi-auto fire was superior the SKS would have remained as the standard rifle of the infantry and AK47s only used for mechanized forces that were quickly closing with the enemy.

    The first assault rifles will have to be accidents basically, combining the features I laid out above, but used as automatic rifles or 'light machine guns' to provide extra firepower to an infantry section like the BAR/Chauchat/Avtomat/Lewis Gun/Madsen/MG08-15. That is why I suggested the Cei Rigotti would be the best bet, because it falls into the heaviest possible assault rifle spec while still being capable of being an automatic rifle in the vein of the BAR and using the same ammo as the standard infantry rifle.

    Yes it would be more complex and less reliable than a bolt action, but it would generate vastly more firepower than an individual rifle and probably as much as an infantry squad with only bolt action rifles. Had it been open bolt only and automatic only it would have been a pretty cheap and easy to make weapon all things considered, but probably require it to be a bit heavier and more sturdy to sustain the sort of fire that would be expected of it. It could easily be beefed up to 5kg from it's quite light 4.3kg and still be the best automatic rifle in the world for quite a few years. If they kept it select fire though that does give it the advantage of firing more slowing to prevent thermal build up that will seize up the weapon, while generating greater firepower than the standard rifles of the day, probably making it at least twice as effective. Given the near intermediate power cartridge spec of the Italian standard cartridge, it should be quite controllable at 5kg even on automatic if fired in bursts. In prone with a simple bipod it would be pretty darn accurate too.
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  11. Atterdag Well-Known Member

    Jun 19, 2018
    Could this weapon possibly get to the Second Boer War somehow? That war had quite a bit of guerilla warfare where a portable "machine gun" may be desirable.
  12. Driftless Geezer

    Sep 16, 2011
    Out in the Driftless Area
    Which army?
  13. marathag Well-Known Member with a target on his back

    Feb 2, 2013
    Browning had it patented in June, 1900, but was not produced for some time after that
  14. Atterdag Well-Known Member

    Jun 19, 2018
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  15. wiking Well-Known Member

    Jan 19, 2006
    Theoretically the Cei Rigotta could have, because it was tested by the English and if not for the ammo used in the demo being damaged in transit and causing all sorts of malfunctions that spoiled it's chances it might have been adopted or at least field tested and had a chance to be used as a light, portable machine rifle. Since the C-R was in development since 1895 it theoretically could have made it in time for the war. As I recall it was tested by the Brits in 1900.
  16. Peg Leg Pom Well-Known Member

    Oct 18, 2009
    Something for the Colonial Light Horse units perhaps?
  17. Enobaria Well-Known Member

    Jul 11, 2014
    Maybe early 19th century if the Tokugawa shogunate doesn't go isolationist, bans widespread ownership of firearms along with the research and development of firearms that was going on in Japan in the early 17th century.

    At one point Japan was considered to of had the best guns in the world and there are schematics for breech loading rifles centuries before the west. It's entirely possible that had these studies had been permitted to continue you could have more rifles, and later assault rifles being invented over a century earlier.
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  18. wiking Well-Known Member

    Jan 19, 2006
    Didn't they already have pack horses to carry regular MGs?
  19. Peg Leg Pom Well-Known Member

    Oct 18, 2009
    They still take time to set up, and aren't much help if you're clambering up a rocky hill.
  20. wiking Well-Known Member

    Jan 19, 2006
    Time to set up yes, depending on the particulars of the weapon and any field expedients enterprising operators adopted, but they are a huge help in supporting attacks from afar. After all MGs were used out to 3-4km for indirect fire and in some cases out to 2km for direct observed fire. Being able to fire up a hill as a base of fire to suppress defenders is vital.