Chassepot rifle with bayonet
Type Needle gun
Place of origin France
Service history
In service 1867–1874
Used by France
Qajar Dynasty
Tokugawa shogunate
Wars French colonial conflicts,
Franco-Prussian War,
other conflicts
Production history
Designer Antoine Alphonse Chassepot
Designed 1866
Number built 1,000,000+
Weight 4.635 kilograms (10 lb 3.5 oz)
Length 1.31 m (without bayonet)
1.88 m (6 ft 2 in) (with bayonet)
Barrel length 795 mm

Cartridge Lead bullet 25 g (386 grains) in paper cartridge
charge 5.6g (86.4 grains) black powder
Caliber 11 mm (.433 inches)
Action Bolt action
Rate of fire 8-15 rounds per minute
Muzzle velocity 410 m/s (1345 ft/s)[1]
Effective firing range 1,200 m (1,300 yd)
Feed system Single-shot
Sights Ladder

The Chassepot, officially known as Fusil modèle 1866, was a bolt action military breechloading rifle, famous as the arm of the French forces in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/1871. It replaced an assortment of Minié muzzleloading rifles many of which were converted in 1867 to breech loading (the Tabatière rifles). A great improvement to existing military rifles in 1866, the Chassepot marked the commencement of the era of modern bolt action, breech-loading, military rifles. Beginning in 1874, the rifle was easily converted to fire metallic cartridges (under the name of Gras rifle), a step which would have been impossible to achieve with the Dreyse needle rifle.[2]

It was manufactured by MAS (Manufacture d'armes de Saint-Étienne), Manufacture d'Armes de Châtellerault (MAC), Manufacture d'Armes de Tulle (MAT) and, until 1870, in the Manufacture d'Armes de Mutzig in the former Château des Rohan. Many were also manufactured under contract in England ( the "Potts et Hunts" Chassepots delivered to the French Navy ), in Belgium (Liege), and in Italy at Brescia (by "Glisenti"). The approximate number of Chassepot rifles available to the French Army in 1870 was close to 1,000,000 units. Manufacturing of the Chassepot rifle ended in February 1875, four years after the end of the Franco-Prussian War.


The Chassepot was named after its inventor, Antoine Alphonse Chassepot (1833–1905), who, from 1857 onwards, had constructed various experimental forms of breechloaders, and the rifle which became the French service weapon in 1866. In the following year it made its first appearance on the battlefield at Mentana on 3 November 1867, where it inflicted severe losses upon Giuseppe Garibaldi's troops. It was reported at the French Parliament that "Les Chassepots ont fait merveille!", or loosely translated: "The Chassepots have done wonderfully!" The heavy cylindrical lead bullets fired at high velocity by the Chassepot rifle inflicted wounds that were even worse than those of the earlier Minié rifle.

In the Franco-Prussian War (1870/1871) it proved greatly superior to the German Dreyse needle gun, outranging it by 2 to 1. Although it was a smaller caliber (11 mm vs. 15.4 for the Dreyse), the chassepot ammunition had more gunpowder and thus higher muzzle velocity (by 33% over the Dreyse), resulting in a flatter trajectory and a longer range, which was 1,200 yards (1,100 m). The Chassepots were responsible for most of the Prussian and other German casualties during the conflict. After the war, 20,000 captured Chassepot rifles were sold to the Shah of the Qajar Dynasty.


Bolt mechanism

Chassepot bolt mechanism

The breech was closed by a bolt similar to those of more modern rifles to follow. Amongst the technical features of interest introduced in 1866 on the Chassepot rifle was the method of obturation of the bolt by a segmented rubber ring which expanded under gas pressure and thus sealed the breech when the shot was fired. This simple yet effective technology was successfully adapted to artillery in 1877 by Colonel de Bange, who invented grease-impregnated asbestos pads to seal the breech of his new cannons (the De Bange system).


The Chassepot used a paper cartridge, that many refer to as being 'combustible', whereas in reality it was quite the opposite. It held an 11mm (.43 inch) round-headed cylindro-conoidal lead bullet that was wax paper patched. An inverted standard percussion cap was at the rear of the paper cartridge and hidden inside. It was fired by the Chassepot's needle (a sharply pointed firing pin) upon pressing the trigger.

While the Chassepot's ballistic performance and firing rates were excellent for the time, burnt paper residues as well as black powder fouling accumulated in the chamber and bolt mechanism after continuous firing. Also, the bolt's rubber obturator eroded in action, although it was easily replaced in the field by infantrymen. The older Dreyse needle gun and its cartridge had been deliberately constructed in a way to minimize those problems but to the detriment of its ballistic properties.

In order to correct this problem the Chassepot was replaced in 1874 by the Gras rifle which used a centerfire drawn brass metallic cartridge. Otherwise, the Gras rifle was basically identical in outward appearance to the Chassepot rifle. Nearly all rifles of the older Chassepot model (Mle 1866) remaining in store were eventually converted to take the 11mm Gras metallic cartridge ammunition (fusil Modèle 1866/74). About 150,000 Chassepot rifles had been captured by the German coalition that defeated France in 1871. Large numbers of these captured Chassepot rifles were converted to 11 mm Mauser metallic cartridge and shortened to carbine size in order to serve with German cavalry and artillery until the early 1880s. Others were disposed of "as is" with British surplus dealers. In most but not all cases, the French receiver markings on these German-captured Chassepot rifles had been erased.

See also


  1. Ford, p. 23
  2. New International Encyclopedia


Wikimedia Commons has media related to Chassepot Mle 1866.
Preceded by
Tabatière rifle
French Army rifle
Succeeded by
Fusil Gras Modèle 1874
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