Dreyse Model 1841 (Needle Gun)
Bolt-Action Service Rifle
The Dreyse Needle Gun was a revolutionary firearm for its time - using a self-contained paper cartridge with a breech-loading action.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited:
In 1841, the Prussian Army (Prussia, 1525 - 1947) adopted a new long gun known as the Dreyse "Needle Gun". The weapon was a breech-loading rifle utilizing a manually-actuated bolt lever and firing an acorn-shaped bullet (of lead) contained in a paper cartridge. The "needle gun" name stemmed from the firing pin in the action which was used to pierce the cartridges and activate the propellant. As a single-shot weapon, the Needle Gun was reloaded after every firing action by manipulation of the bolt lever.
Design of the rifle is attributed to Johann Nikolaus von Dreyse and work on it began in 1836.
During the period, many long guns around the world still relied on the tried-and-true flintlock action as well as smoothbore barrels and loading from the muzzle (with gunpowder and bullet). The Needle Gun was a vast departure from this approach as it reworked all of these qualities to produce a very modern firearm. A wooden stock still made up the body of the weapon and banding was present along the length of the forend and barrel for rigidity. The bolt lever was offset to the right side of the action and the trigger was underslung in the usual way. The lever provided the needed access to the breech section of the gun. Iron sights were fitted over the weapon, one ahead of the action and the other near the muzzle.
A trained infantryman could expect to fire 10- to 12-rounds-per-minute with the Needle Gun, giving him a considerable advantage over contemporaries. Muzzle velocity of the outgoing bullet was rated at 1,000 feet-per-second and range (effective) was out to 600 meters though accuracy ultimately relied on both good gun craftsmanship and shooter skill alike. The gun weighed some 10 pounds and sported a length of 56 inches (the barrel measuring 36" long).
While debuting in 1841, the Prussian Army did not field the rifle in quantity until about 1848 and first combat actions centered on the 1849 "May Uprising" in Dresden against revolutionaries. From there it was showcased in the Second Schleswig War of 1864 where the Austro-Prussians gained the victory over Denmark. In 1866 arrived the Austro-Prussian War which led to the coalition victory that included Prussia.
Throughout all of its actions, the Needle Gun proved itself a revolutionary long gun. Because infantrymen were not required to stand upright when reloading the weapon from the muzzle, and thus expose themselves to unnecessary danger, more shots could be had in a shorter period of time and shooter reloading from a prone position. The self-contained paper cartridge also lent itself well for carrying a larger number of shots as opposed to having to manage a supply of gunpowder and bullets. The only thing that stopped the Needle Gun was age which, along with it, produced better technology which made for more efficient, longer-ranged guns. When Prussian became aligned with the German Empire in 1871, the Needle Gun was phased out and succeeded by the Mauser Model of 1871 - the first notable bolt-action rifle coming from the Mauser brothers work (and proving globally popular).
The Dreyse Needle Gun saw many variants developed during its service run and among these were a shortened carbine (karabiner) model in 1857, a revised infantry rifle in 1862 and special rifles appearing into the early 1870s. Operators included Prussia, Romania and Japan.