Murderous “dark skin”. The most productive flintlock rifle in the history of war

In the era of lush lace, brocade caftans

Someone needed to teach all modesty:
Simple harsh steel overshadowed luxury, shine
“Dark Lisa” is ours, our musket is “Brown Bess”.
Her pupil looked straight into the eyes of men,
The whips bowed their wigs before this lady,
And the word of her flint lips was weighty,
Kohl the swarthy oak camp will embrace the warrior-friend!
Rudyard Kipling. Swarthy Lisa. Translated by Max Iron

Weapon of 1812. Agree, not every weapon deserves a nickname, not every one. Moreover, the nickname is not by the name of its creator, but by some of its characteristic features. And even more so, not every weapon that has such a nickname has become famous as the “Brown Bess” (English Brown Bess – “Brown Bess”, “Dark Bess”, or “Swarthy Lisa”), the British flintlock of the 1722 model. Well, perhaps our “Kalashnikov”, but it is nevertheless named after its creator, although, of course, it will also be glorified forever. But even he does not compare with this flintlock in the number of those wars on our planet in which it participated. It also took part in the wars with Napoleon. Although its official name is not at all impressive: “Land Pattern Musket”, which in Russian at that time was a direct analogue of the word “gun” or “fuzei”. And since we are now talking about the weapon of 1812, it would be simply a sin not to tell about this wonderful gun!


And here in this photo is the Brown Bess castle with a flint case and a brass windshield!

Let’s start especially for connoisseurs who know better than me both the caliber of this weapon and … English names. That is, with the answer to the question: why Bess – Liza? Yes, simply because Bess is both a surname and a feminine name, an abbreviated form of Elizabeth’s name. And Elizabeth is our Lisa!


A lock with a flint clamped in the trigger. Army Museum in Honolulu, Hawaii, USA

The Brown Bess has been the standard weapon of British soldiers for a very long time. Adopted in 1722, the gun served until the Crimean War itself, when it was replaced by the Enfield rifled rifle.

Besides Great Britain, Brown Bess was used in all British colonies. During the American Revolutionary War, loyalists fired it at Continentalists, and the first American guns were made in her image. Even during the Civil War, “Brown Bess” was used by the southerners, as they lacked more modern weapons. In New Zealand, the Brown Bess shotgun is a historical shotgun that is named after the bloody “musket wars” with the Maori of the first half of the 19th century.


Well, this is she herself in the Missouri Museum of History in St. Louis, USA. “Short sample”

After the Russian-Swedish war of 1808-1809. The British supplied the “Brown Bess” to the Swedes as military aid. In a word, where they fired from 1722 to 1854, the Dark Liza probably also fired there. By the way, the “long rifle” that was armed with the famous Nathaniel Bumpo, Fenimore Cooper’s Leather Stocking, was also, most likely, this rifle, which at first had a barrel 120 cm long with a total length of 160 cm! Well, the Zulus fired at the British with these guns back in 1879!

Since the popularity of this weapon is undeniable, many researchers have tried to get to the bottom of the origin of this name. It is clear that this gun was not named after Queen Elizabeth. She died long before his appearance. It is precisely found that by 1780 it was already widely known. And in the British Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue in 1785 the following was written: “To embrace Swarthy Bess” – to carry a gun, to serve as a soldier ”.

There is a hypothesis that from George I, who was of German origin, this nickname came into English – from the German language, where the word Buss at that time meant firearms (arquebus, blunderboos), and then Buss was changed into Bess. According to another version, “Dark Bess” was a “friend” to “Brown Bill” – an officer’s esponton, a variant of the halberd. They were often named for the color of their shafts, “black” and “brown”, but there is no real data to support this.

In general, the simplest explanation is the color of the stock and buttstock of this shotgun, which were made from walnut wood with a durable brown lacquer finish.


“Long Sample” sample of 1727, exhibited at the National Army Museum in London

Well, this gun appeared like this: at the beginning of the 18th century, terms such as “model” and “sample” appeared, it finally reached people that the unification of weapons was a profitable business. So now samples of this or that weapon began to be made in a special workshop, after which these “control” samples were sent to the arsenals, where they were used to make their exact copies in mass quantities. And it was England that went first along this path, where just at that time the industrial revolution began! And it so happened that it was “Brown Bess” in 1722 that became the first standardized gun adopted by the British army to replace everything else.

However, there were several models of this gun. The “long” model was 62.5 inches (159 cm) long, 46 inches (117 cm) long, and weighed 10.4 pounds (4.7 kg). That is, this gun was not easy, not easy at all!


Cartridge bag, bullets, shotgun, flint, cartridge and bayonet

But the caliber of all his models was the same and very large for its time: 0.75 inches (19.050 mm), with a bullet caliber of 0.71 inches (18.034 mm). Such a gap, firstly, made it easier to load, and secondly, it helped to reduce the height of the barrel due to the use of black powder, which gave a lot of smoke and soot. Bullets of 0.735 caliber (18.7 mm) were used by hunters, as they often did not fire.

All the main parts of the gun, such as the barrel, flintlock and swivels, were made of iron; all other fittings were first made of iron, but after 1736 they were already made of tin. The ramrod was originally wooden, like everyone else’s, but then the British were among the first to replace it with an iron one. By the way, they did not introduce an iron ramrod, not because of economy, but for fear of sparks and a flash of gunpowder in the barrel when loading. But experiments have shown that iron ramrods are safe in this sense.

The bayonet was triangular and 17 inches (43 cm) long. It was fastened nowhere easier: the tube was put on the barrel, and the slot on it went behind a small protrusion-retainer.

It is interesting that until 1811 there was not even a fly on the Bess, and that one was not. Instead, you could aim while looking at the bayonet lock!

The test rifles were tested very rigorously: they beat them with butts on the floor, dropped them from a height of one yard (0.9 m) onto stones, and fired both conventional and reinforced charges. In a word, they checked their conscience, which ultimately gave the British army an excellent example of a flintlock rifle. At the same time, the service life for “Bess” was initially set at 10 years.


An Indian-style castle. Oldenburg State Museum of Art and History, Lower Saxony, Germany

As for such an indicator as the rate of fire, it is known that a newly recruited recruit could fire two shots per minute, but an experienced soldier shot almost twice as fast. This was also helped by an interesting technique used by British soldiers: the bitten cartridge was first simply lowered into the barrel, and then nailed to the charge, but not with a ramrod, but with a strong blow of the rifle butt on the ground. This technique made it possible to do without manipulating the ramrod, and, accordingly, significantly increased the practical rate of fire.


That’s how she shot …

The distance British soldiers had to learn to shoot was 300-400 yards.

They shot at a target measuring 100 by 6 feet, which mimicked an infantry line. At the same time, the percentage of hits was equal to: 47% at a distance of 100 steps, 58% at 200, 37% at 300 and 27% – 400. That is, soldiers at that time received only (we emphasize this) minimal shooting training. And it is clear that more thorough training increased the number of hits several times. However, in a combat situation, strong smoke and a stressful situation still prevented accurate shooting.


Lock device. Palo Alto National Historical Park, Texas

The advancement of the Brown Bess was that over time this gun got simpler and simpler finishes, and its barrel became shorter. So, by the end of the 1760s it became clear that the short barrel does not impair accuracy at all, and even vice versa: “short” guns shoot more accurately because of the better balance.


The uniform of the British 65th Infantry Regiment of the 18th century. Regimental Museum of York and Lancaster

The result of these observations was that in the 1790s, the British East India Company ordered for its own needs precisely shortened rifles, which were primarily cheaper than army ones. And they worked so well that they were later standardized for the entire British infantry.


Example. Replica of David Pedersoli

In 1839, “Brown Bess” appeared already under the capsule lock, but because of the fire that happened in the arsenal, they were belated and received the name “Model 1842”. It was they who served in the British army until the Crimean War itself, and only then to whom only the British did not supply them.


The castle. Replica of David Pedersoli

It is interesting that the exact copies of “Swarthy Lisa” are produced today by the Italian arms factory of David Pedersoli. Their copy is engraved with the signature of the gunsmith William Grace (and date: 1762), as well as the royal monogram with a crown and the letters GR (George the King). The smooth barrel is made of satin-finished steel and the stock is made of oil-polished walnut wood. You can order, buy and … shoot! It seems that now the law allows it …


Trunk and truncheon. Replica of David Pedersoli

Well, to finish the story about “Darkie Lisa” is best of all, again, with Kipling’s poems, you simply cannot say better than him about her role in history:

A soldier in a red uniform was everywhere with her,
Quebec, Cape Town, Acre showed a friend
In Madrid, Gibraltar, deserts and mountains
“Dark-skinned Lisa” was known in campaigns and battles,
Where a well-aimed shot breaks out – there the path is open to the fighter,
Half of the world still speaks English,
Everything that was British and as long as there is –
Merit of “Swarthy Lisa”, old woman “Brown Bess”!

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