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The model 1911 Schmidt Rubin: the other Switzer.


While we treasure the current crop of Swiss K31 Karabiners, don't ever pass up its progenitor, the equally watch-like, Model 1911 Schmidt-Ruben rifle. Slipping into the milsurp stream in the 1950s and early '60s, the Swiss M1911 was our first general introduction to Swiss military arms.

In a country where the male citizens are conscripted into the reserves at age 19 or 20 and are henceforth required to maintain their issued arm and a basic load of ammunition at home, Switzerland has historically fielded some interesting and advanced military firearms.

In 1869, Switzerland was the first country to fully adopt a magazine fed, bolt-action repeating rifle firing a self-contained metallic cartridge--the Model 1869 Vetterli chambered for the 10.4x38R. Pushing a 334-grain bullet along at 1,427 fps, the cartridge is more widely known to us as the .41 Swiss rimfire. We'll return to the fascinating Vetterli in a future article.

To fully appreciate the Model 1911, let's first look at the Model 1889 Schmidt-Ruben and the two Swiss officers who designed the rifle and its ammunition--Major Rudolph Schmidt, Director of the Swiss Federal Arsenal at Bern and Lt. Col. Eduard Rubin, Director of the Swiss Federal Ammunition Factory and Research Center at Thun.

Major Schmidt

Major Schmidt was an expert in contemporary firearm designs. The decades spanning 1870-1900 represent a period of intense competition among the nations to field advanced repeating cartridge rifles. After completing an exhaustive study of other models, Schmidt designed the Model 1889 rifle, featuring a straight-pull bolt-action and a 12-round magazine. Straight-pull actions were in vogue as witnessed by models like 1885-1890 Mannlichers, the familiar Steyr M95 Mannlicher, 1895 Winchester-Lee and the Ross.

Typical of the era, the Model 1889 infantry rifle was long with a 30.7" barrel, an overall length of 51.3" and a weight of approximately 10.69 pounds. The 12-round, protruding magazine box accentuated the awkwardness of the rifle, but, ah, Schmidt's straight-pull bolt was a work of art and required meticulous machining.

The Schmidt bolt is composed of four, interrelated parts: an outer, rotating locking sleeve that carries the locking lugs, an inner bolt incorporating the bolt face and extractor that actually feeds and extracts the cartridge, a striker assembly with a large finger ring visible at its end and a bolt handle assembly.

The outer bolt-locking sleeve is milled with a helical groove. A stud on the bolt handle assembly tides in the helical groove and further into a slot in the inner bolt. When the bolt handle is pulled straight back, the stud of the bolt handle assembly riding in the helical groove causes the rotation and unlocking of the outer sleeve and the cocking of the striker, ending with the extraction and ejection of the case.

The weakness of the 1889 Schmidt bolt assembly was the placement of the locking lugs at the very rear of the locking sleeve. The locking lugs were located a full 7" back from the face of the bolt, limiting the strength of the action to approximately 37,500 psi.

Lt. Col. Rubin

Lt. Col. Rubin's contribution was the design of a small-bore (7.5mm) cartridge, featuring a jacketed, lead-core bullet. The cartridge was a radical design for the era. Many credit Rubin's pioneering design work to be the origin of the rimless case, the boattail bullet and the metallic jacketed bullet.

Rubin's initial 7.5x53.5 cartridge was known as the Gewehr Patrone (GP) 1890. The 213-grain, roundnose, jacketed bullet had a velocity of 1,968 fps and a breech pressure of 37,000 psi.


Rapid advances in ammunition made the Swiss take a second look at their Schmidt rifles. You might call it the great ammunition race of the early 1900s, lead off by Germany, which in 1905 abandoned its J Patrone 7.9x57 cartridge loaded with a roundnose, 226-grain bullet at 2,093 fps for the new S Patrone, featuring a 154-grain spitzer at 2,880 fps. The trend was clear. Major military powers were opting for lighter bullets driven at higher velocities and at higher pressures.

Modern Cartridge

The Swiss answer came in 1911 with the adoption the 7.5x55 cartridge with a 174-grain, boattail, spitzer at 2,500 fps and at a pressure of 45,000 psi. The higher pressure of the GP11 cartridge required a stronger action. Not wishing to abandon their existing Schmidt straight pulls, the frugal Swiss decided to morph their earlier 1896 model into the Model 1896/1911 as well as to manufacture a completely new line of 1911 model rifles and carbines.

When you come across a Model 1911, you will immediately see some distinctive features. The most obvious giveaway is its red, bakelite bolt handle. The 1889 bolt handle is wood and the K31 is aluminum. Gone, too, is the awkward, extended, 12-round magazine box of the Model 1889. Reduced to 6-rounds, the 1911 magazine box design appears again in the later K31.

High Pressure

Most significant, to handle the higher pressures generated by the GP 11 ammunition, the locking lugs of the Model 1911 have been moved from the rear to the front of the rotating locking sleeve, reducing the distance from locking lugs to the bolt face to 4-1/2". Yet, the long, protruding bolt of the 1911 still required the magazine box be located almost 3" ahead of the triggerguard. This was corrected in the K31 by making the inner bolt flush with the locking sleeve and moving the magazine box back to a more useful position just the front of the triggerguard.


Compared to the compact K31 Karabiner, the typical Model 1911, imported in great quantity, is the long, heavy, infantry rifle, although many 1911's were chopped up, sporterized and even converted to .308 Winchester (not a good idea).

Super Accurate

Like all in its Swiss lineage, the Model 1911 is an accurate rifle. Fed the current crop of beautiful, surplus Swiss GP 11 ammunition, the Model 1896/1911 I have will average 2-1/2" to 3" for 5-shot groups at 100 yards. Average velocity of the GP 11 from the 30.7" barrel is 2,693 fps. Plus, thanks to the long barrel of the Model 1911's extended sighting radius of 25", the iron sights of the 1911 are crystal clear to maturing eyes. The only downside is with the elevation slide set to its lowest (300m) position, the point of impact is 14" high at 100 yards.

So if you see one of these fine, old, Swiss warhorses, pick it up, examine the Swiss precision that went into its manufacture, the intricacy of Schmidt's action and the care a conscientious Swiss reservist lavished on it at home. If the price is right, grab it!



MAKER: Switzerland
MECHANISM: Straight pull
CALIBER: 7.5x55
SIGHTS: Open tangent,
adjustable to
2,000 meters
WEIGHT: 10.7 pounds
USED VALUE: $150 to $275
COPYRIGHT 2008 Publishers' Development Corporation
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Copyright 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:SURPLUS LOCKER[TM]
Author:Bobinson, Holt
Publication:Guns Magazine
Date:Nov 1, 2008
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