How were firearms developed

Common weapons in the 15th to 18th centuries 

The crossbow

The very own weapon of the founders of our Confederation from 1291 was still up-to-date when the shooting club was founded. However, it had been further developed over time and improved again and again.

The poem about the sense of the weapon written by Hans Zulliger should therefore be inserted at this point:


When the heart is certainly no longer in the body,

the hearth, the fatherland and child and woman,

When peace bursts and the force laughs mockingly,

no god, no devil you just command,

When arbitrariness rages and the law is dead

then gun, come! be a savior in need!

Then, gun, hit: to restore the peace,

it is about freedom, or not being more!

- And then - gun practice is game again

the disc black and the pasture goal!

-I am not a monster, not a rebel!

I am only a man and a citizen, Tell!


In the military field, in the history of war up to the 17th century there are repeated references to master shots by crossbowmen, which had a decisive influence on the war. However, these achievements could only be achieved because these shooters took their constant training very seriously and with target shooting they were able to maintain confidence in weapons and ammunition (arrows). In the hour of probation, which made the difference between life and death, our ancestors displayed superior strength. The crossbow can safely be called the first sporting weapon.


The gunpowder

Who actually invented gunpowder? Scientists don't know for sure either. (This is probably the reason why the expression "This or that, intellectually somewhat less well-off, did not invent the powder")

An incident from much earlier times gives a clue. «The Persians invaded Greece under King Xerxes in 48J BC and wanted to“ free ”the treasure from the temple of Delphi. As the project in Delphi became known, the monks prepared for the attack. The high priest Aceratus appeased his servants and compatriots with the prophecy: Zeus would crush the enemy with his thunder!

When the Persians marched a little later through a ravine in the immediate vicinity of the temple complex, there was suddenly a huge bang. It flashed, thundered, smoked and stank. Stones and chunks of earth flew through the area, and probably a few Persians too. The Greeks standing by took over the rest of the completely disturbed troop. Only a few Persians escaped and trembling told their king how the gods of the Greeks had protected their temple ». (Tradition by Herodotus, the first systematic historian)

The priests did not reveal their secret and stuck with Zeus' version. The attack of the Gauls in 279 BC. the same temple was repulsed in the same way. Did the priests already know the effectiveness of the mixture of charcoal, sulfur and saltpetre? It remained and remains a secret!


The powder tubes around 1400

It has been proven that as early as 1350 the first powder tubes, so-called "fire devils", were used as attack weapons.

The great victories of the Confederates against Burgundy and in the Swabian War (1499) were not fought with firearms, but with long spits and half arrows. At that time, rifle shooters, lined up between the long spears, were used in the order of the battle, from which they then quickly broke out in order to disrupt the enemy attack with their volleys. The number of riflemen, however, hardly made up a tenth part of the infantry. A Zurich team toboggan from the time of the "old Zurich War" (1436 - 1450) named only 61 riflemen in addition to 2251 spears and semi-species and 458 armed with crossbows. But the number of the latter increased from decade to decade.

The development of firearms was strongly encouraged out of the need to be able to face and defeat an opponent effectively. This funding was of course for different reasons. On the one hand, aggressors, mostly aristocrats, tried to enforce their lust for power with brutal force. On the other hand, it was in the interests of those attacked to defend themselves with the best possible means. The hand tube, the earliest stage of development, consisted of an iron or bronze tube closed at the rear, only the ignition hole was open and the whole thing was attached to a wooden stake. A target device was unknown, the preparation for shooting was rather contemplative. The shooter had to load the powder first and then insert the bullet (~ 17 mm) into the barrel. Now the target had to be set in sight, the pipe had to be straightened with one hand, while the other hand had to insert the burning fuse into the ignition hole.

The hurling effect and the smoke of a bullet fired with it frightened the enemy, but the effect of a precisely fired arrow from the crossbow could not be achieved for a long time.


The cans

The barrel of the Tanneberger rifle was only 28 cm long and the caliber was 17 mm.

The technique of loading powder was quickly improved, you soon noticed that the bullet, if it was already loaded, was jolted downwards through the fine powder when the weapon was being transported and then the entire jet of fire came out of the barrel when it was fired, but the bullet at best still rolled out of the barrel to the rear. It was therefore necessary to work with plugs, one after the powder had been filled and the second after the ball had been inserted, so that a corresponding internal pressure could even be built up. The bullet itself could not seal the barrel, as our modern projectiles do. In the course of the 14th century such hand tubes appeared occasionally as breech loaders, with the load being pushed in from behind and locked with a wedge. However, since this loading chamber was also often thrown away, people were happy to return to the muzzle loader, although every now and then a runaway had to be accepted because of the unsafe amount of powder.

The hook box was designed to absorb the effect of the recoil.

In the front part of the barrel a strong hook was attached, which could be hung on a wall or a wooden frame and thus prevented the recoil. Around the middle of the 15th century, the hook boxes were improved. The rifles were also equipped in a manner similar to the long common stock of the crossbow, which allowed the weapon to be drawn into the shoulder. The ignition hole that had been on top of the barrel was moved to the side and in front of it, like a small balcony, was a pan for the «ignition herb», the particularly fine powder that had to ignite the charge in the barrel. A lid was attached over the pan, which prevented it from being blown away by the wind and protected it from rain. Very cautious people attached a "fire screen", which was supposed to protect the eyes from the jet flame puffing up on the pan.

The powder mixture of charcoal, sulfur and saltpeter, which was carried in barrels on the campaigns, separated into its components by shaking on the rumbling cart. The fine charcoal enveloped the crew in black mist and then sometimes a small spark from a horse's hoof was enough to blow up the whole load with a clap of thunder. Around 1450, therefore, the idea of ​​moistening the powder with wine or vinegar, drying the "dough" again and then painting it in the "powder mill" came up. The resulting granules were much more homogeneous.


The matchlock rifle around 1500

Tinkerers and hobbyists worked on the weapons: One of the first problems that had to be solved was to simplify the laborious feeding of the fuse to the fuse, which simply could not be carried out with a blind hand. The first matchlocks therefore had a lever in which the match was wedged. The lever itself was locked in the swiveled-out position with a spring to prevent accidental ignition. To trigger the shot, the lever had to be pressed against the spring until the fuse on the pan touched the herb. This could already be done with a blind hand. Towards the end of the 15th century, the spring was reversed so that the fuse could be triggered suddenly: the trigger was born! The weapon was already loaded and outwardly took on the shape of a rifle. After the shaft was narrowed into a neck, this allowed the gun to grip more firmly. The fact that such a rifle could also be turned around in an emergency in order to use the stock as a striking weapon is adequately described by the additional name “shooting stick”.

The handling of these weapons was nevertheless not without danger: the fuse was on no account to be attached to the lever before loading. There was a great risk that the igniter spilled out of the pan or was not too close to the ignition hole. Before assembly, the fuse had to be blown freshly so that it glowed properly. The weapons were heavy and a support fork was needed to aim, so a long time passed before the shot could be released, if the enemy was then still visible within reach. The burning fuse also betrayed the attacker in the night - the glow could be seen from afar - therefore it was carried in the "Luntenverberger" in a small metal box with air holes, because the fuse could not be let out. The smoldering fuse could also be smelled by the enemy, hence the expression "smell the fuse"! Of course, none of this played a role in sporty shooting while standing, only the risk that a shot could unintentionally break loose was also present. Sometimes a shot did not go off at all because the ignition hole was blocked by deposits of the burnt powder, so that this first had to be pierced with a "broach". (Similar problems occur again today with the Assault Rifle 90) However, the accuracy left a lot to be desired, as the bullets were inevitably slightly smaller than the barrel diameter and were beaten wildly back and forth during the expulsion.

The musket around 1600

An important development was the musket, which was built a little lighter but technically remained on the same level. The "musketeer", that is, the warrior, had to pour his ammunition himself. He had iron bullet tongs, the "model". His equipment included a ball sack, powder bottle or powder horn (some with dosing devices) and a separate bottle for the fine ignition powder or «ignition herb». Later the individual loads were carried in pre-filled boxes on a bandolier. Lunte and Luntenverberger, cleaning tools and a bottle of oil for cleaning and oiling the weapon and of course a sword or rapier belonged to the man. In many drill instructions, the phrase “bullet out of the mouth” and “stopper from the hat” appear. From this it can be concluded that the shooter dug the ball out of the ball bag and put it in his mouth, and also put the stopper, which was finally plugged in front of the ball, onto his hat. So he had both at hand, otherwise he literally had both hands full with the musket, support fork, fuse, powder horn and powder powder for the primer.

At the beginning of the 16th century, individual rifle barrels were equipped with rifles, first straight and later twisted. The ability to hit could thus be increased, above all to the advantage of voluntary civilian shooting at targets. Actual "target rifles" were produced, which were equipped with ingenious aiming devices. In addition, the actual weapons of war, the "rice kets", remained extremely primitive in their equipment for a long time. A certain envy of the less well-to-do citizens could not be avoided when the "fine gentlemen" appeared on the firing ranges with ostentatious weapons.

Arms of our founders around 1595

Around the time the shooting club was founded, the conscripts from Pfäffikon had to serve in the Zurich army as part of the contingents of the Kyburg and Greifensee bailiffs.

After the draft of 1584-86, 37 men moved from Pfäffikon, 9 of them with rifles, 17 with long spears, 10 with half-species and one with a battle ax. Of these, 21 men were fully armored, the rest only protected themselves with a storm or Beggelhube.

The number of spear and half-species carriers initially only decreased slowly in favor of the shooters, because the rifles had to be purchased with their own resources. In 1679, only a little more than half of the 2589 infantrymen in the Turbenthaler Quartier, to which the Pfäffiker belonged at that time, were armed with firearms. Around the end of the 17th century, however, the old cutting and stabbing weapons disappeared.

The shooting club was undoubtedly founded by those few rifle or rifle shooters who have already been mentioned elsewhere. Their military equipment included the musket or "rice can". This is confirmed by a regulation of the authorities, which ordered as early as 1550, "that all riflemen in the countryside for their gifts only shoot with rice cans, since the pipes without the shaft are longer than 4 work shoes and the shortest are less than 3 1 / 2 may be factory shoes. »


The wheel lock

A tinkerer from Nuremberg invented the first wheel lock. A corrugated steel wheel could be pretensioned on its axis with a spring.

With the trigger the lock was released and the wheel turned about three quarters of a turn. It touched a flint, pyrite or pebble with each tooth, the sparks of which were hurled directly onto the ignition pan. Now the shooter was more independent of the weather, the dangerously burning fuse could be omitted. A special key was used to “wind up” the cog, which had to be taken care of again. The disadvantage of this device was the rapid consumption of the flint and the wheel was soon covered with burnt powder residue so that it no longer threw any sparks. The whole lock was very sensitive and always had to be well lubricated. The price of the weapon was high, which is why only small army units such as the cavalry could be equipped with it. With the advent of the wheel lock rifles, a real weapon cult went hand in hand, and many weapons were beautifully decorated. This type of rifle could also be used for hunting, and even then it was not just about the target of the prey, the weapon also had to present and honor the owner. Regardless of the beauty of the guns, they still had to be loaded with plugs from the front. The barrels of the hunting and standing guns were already provided with rifles, so accuracy was improved. However, the combat weapons still had smooth barrels and the effect left a lot to be desired. This shows an episode from the Thirty Years War (1618 - 1648): H.J. In his novel “Der adventurliche Simplizissimus”, based on personal experience, Christoph v.Grimmelshausen tells: The hero of the story is marching along the country road with a “good fire pipe” on his shoulder when he is attacked by a highwayman. "As soon as I sensed his seriousness, I pulled the tap over, hit him and hit him on the forehead in such a way that he pounded around and finally fell to the ground." When he reconciled himself after a long wrestling match with the street robber, a former comrade in arms, he realized: “He had a big bump on his forehead from my shot”. So this is the description of a headshot!


1600 - 1700

The further development could not be stopped. The next stage was heralded with the invention of the flintlock.

Again political reasons gave the impetus for the new invention. The Dutch defended themselves against the now powerful Spain and had to bring better equipment for this purpose. (The invention was made in Holland around 1580) The principle of the flintlock: A flint was attached to the faucet and when it was triggered it hit against a roughened metal surface above the powder pan. The mechanics were so sophisticated that the lid of the pan with the igniter was only opened immediately before the flint struck or sparked. The whole thing was called a "battery", so that the weapon could be carried around safely when charged, a "Ruhr branch" was possible for the tap, in which the pan was still closed, but the spring of the tap was almost relaxed. The hammer only had to be “pulled over” immediately before the shot so that it was hooked into the “tensioning catch”. The flintlock rifles were very heavy, 4 - 6 kg, and 1.4 - 1.6 meters long, the caliber varied between 16.5 and 20 mm.

The accessories used, the ramrod and the sighting device, were not well developed at that time. The iron ramrod was only introduced in Prussia around 1718, until now it was made of wood and its storage location was under the barrel in a hole in the stock.A sighting device was actually of no use because of the wide range of combat weapons, which is why it was only slowly developed for standing rifles. The use of a "paper cartridge" allowed the loading speed in combat to be significantly improved. The ball bound in the front part was bitten off with the teeth and the powder from the now open bag was poured into the tube. With the scraps of paper, the peg could be formed before and after the ball.



The development of the flintlock rifle with trains, the "standing rifles", enabled the Zurich captain Salomon Landolt to create a special volunteer force. "The Sniper" troop was founded in 1768 and in 1770 divided into five voluntary hunter or rifle companies of 100 men each. The recruitment was carried out carefully according to the ability of the shooters, and there were more than a dozen shooters from Pfäffikon. With these weapons, the accuracy at 300 m was no longer a coincidence. With the new military organization of 1818, the snipers were officially enlisted in the army and were now equipped with the Schweizerischer Feldstutzer 1818. The 17 mm ball was guided in the course of 16 winding round trains. The stock had a pistol grip and cheek rest.


Transition to P e r k u s s i o n s - S c h l o s s

The problem of the powder pan caused many inventors to look for a better system. At the end of the 18th century it was discovered that certain chemical substances can explode. Chloric acid salts could be ignited by a hard impact. So they wanted to replace the powder with it, but this failed. The possibility of igniting the powder charge with it has been tried out by various researchers without great success. The experiments of the Scotsman Alexander Forsyth, (1768 - 1843), who received a patent for his lock construction in 1809, were groundbreaking. Forsyth used a continuous fuse tape like those used at fairground pistols.



Josef Egg invented the primer in England and thus laid the foundation for today's ammunition. Egg used fake mercury for this purpose, filled it into a small copper hat, which was then sealed with a little shellac. He put the cap over a "piston" that was pierced lengthways and screwed into the barrel at the side (in place of the ignition hole). The rapidly changing cock now hit the primer, causing it to explode, which triggered a flame through the piston and ignited the powder charge. The percussion ignition was invented. The previous flintlock weapons could be converted to the new system. In Switzerland, the new weapons were introduced and the flintlock rifles were converted in 1842.