Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Springfield M-1882 Chaffee-Reece Magazine Rifle

In 1882 a Board of Ordnance committee was formed to evaluate potential candidates for a magazine fed rifle that should be acquired in sufficient numbers to see field trials.
Over 50 different make of arms were submitted and saw initial testing, and the board found that the submitted designs from Lee, Chaffee-Reece and Hotchkiss were the most promising.
The result was the acquisition and field-testing of about 750 of each rifle. The US M-1882 Lee, the US M-1882 Chaffee-Reece and the 3rd Model Hotchkiss Rifle.

This post is about the Chaffee-Reece, manufactured by Springfield Arsenal. The action was invented by General Reuben S. Chaffee and Jasper N. Reece in 1879. It was a bolt-action, magazine fed rifle, chambered for the 45-70 Government cartridge. The rifle held 6 cartridges in the magazine tube in the buttstock and one in the chamber. The magazine was loaded through a trap in the butt, and the bolt had to be open to release the pressure on the feed device to allow it to open. Rather than a spring feed magazine, the Chaffee-Reece design used a ratcheting cartridge feeder that pushed a new cartridge forward each time the bolt was worked.
A small lever, mounted on the forward right side of the receiver activated a magazine cut-off, which allowed the rifle to be fired as a single shot rifle. This held the contents of the magazine in reserve for rapid fire when necessary.

The 9 pound, 9 ounce rifle (empty weight) had a 27 7/8” long blued barrel, secured by two spring retained, solid barrel bands. The upper band held a sling swivel and a stacking swivel, with the lower swivel being mounted on the trigger guard bow.

The rifle entered field service for testing in late 1884 and was met with generally negative reviews. 95 reports on the rifles were received from the field during the trials, with only 14 of the reports reflecting that the Chaffee-Reece was superior to the current Trapdoor system or the other 2 magazine rifles then being tested. Although some of the reports lauded the magazine system of the rifle and some commended its accuracy, most reports were not positive. 

The primary complaint was that the butt magazine system weakened the stock significantly and made it susceptible to breakage. Other complaints revolved around the difficulty to keep the gun clean (making the bolt difficult to open and close), the heavy trigger pull (making accurate shooting difficult), the difficulty in performing the manual of arms with the rifle, and the poor performance with reloaded ammunition in the guns. By the end of the first quarter of 1886, the Chaffee-Reece rifles were returned to the Ordnance Department stores. Over the next couple of decades the rifles were sold off as surplus.

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