The 19th Century proved a critical one for the advancement of firearms. Up to this point, the flintlock muzzle-loading system was the adopted standard but all this changed with the advent of the percussion cap system and breech-loading configuration. Add to this the arrival of the self-contained cartridge and the gun of the late 1800s was a far cry from that of early part of the decade.
In Switzerland, Johann-Freidrich Vetteri had developed a new cartridge-based, breech-loading, bolt-action rifle that entered service with the Swiss Army in 1869 - the "Vetterli Rifle". This long gun was based around the 10.4x38mm Swiss cartridge, a rimfire cartridge with black powder content. The rifle went on to provide service from the period of 1869 to 1890 with some of the 36,700 units seeing combat service into World War 1 (1914-1918) on the side of the Russians.
The Italian Army, in search of a modern cartridge-based long gun themselves, adopted the Swiss gun a short time later and these came to be known as the Model 1870 "Italian Vetterli". The Italian model differed somewhat from its original Swiss design in that attention was paid to streamlining the product for Italian Army requirements. The rifle - once an 11-round tube-fed weapon - was reduced to just single-shot firing and rechambered for the 10.35x47mmR, a centerfire cartridge with black powder content. On the whole, the rifles maintained the same design form as the Swiss version with its long wooden stock, ornate trigger guard, and turn-down bolt handle. A large rear sighting assembly was an identifying feature of the Italian mark and a two-banded arrangement was seen on the long wooden body leading up to the muzzle.
In 1887, the rifle was upgraded with a four-round projecting magazine case for repeat-firing, this afforded much efficient use out of the bolt-action arrangement. The magazine was of a local design by Italian artillery Captain G. Vitali - his surname making it into the revised designation of Model 1870/87 "Italian Vetterli-Vitali". This magazine was fed by way of Mannlicher-style preloaded clips while still chambered for the 10.4x47R cartridge. The modified guns were appropriately marked along their butt stocks.
By the time of World War 1 (1914-1918), the Italian government - as with other world powers - found itself desperately short of many viable war-making products including service rifles. It committed to the war effort on the side of the Allies in 1915 and quickly scoured its stores for useful weapons of all types. This meant that the aged Model 1870s were still in play, numbering in the hundreds of thousands by this point. However, local conversions were forced upon the design in an attempt to produce a more modern end-product - chief of these changes being the conversion to the 6.5x52mm Carcano standard Italian rifle cartridge with smokeless powder content. The move also required new barrel lining and new magazine (Mannlicher type).
The 6.5mm Italian Vetterli guns were issued to second-line Italian Army regiments in the hope that these groups would not be pressed into serious combat action - but if they were they could carry with them a somewhat useful infantry rifle. This did not prove the norm on the whole however for the rifles did see direct combat action against the enemy during several of the Italian offensives of the war.
The Italian Vetterli was still in circulation throughout the inter-war period following and some even played a role in the Italian invasion of Ethiopia during the Second Italo-Ethiopian War (1935-1936), the Italians claiming a decisive victory.