Object Title

Pattern 1809 Prussian Musket

Development

The defeat of the Prussian Army at Jena and Auerstadt in October 1806 resulted in the loss of Prussian territory east of the Elbe, the imposition of a massive indemnity, and the occupation of Prussian towns by the French until the indemnity was paid. After such a defeat, the Prussians realised that something needed to be done.

The Prussians identified the cause of their defeat to be obsolete tactics, old style equipment and old officers not suited to the new warfare. They instituted a root and branch investigation as to why it all went wrong, and under reformers such as the Hanoverian General Gerhard Scharnhorst (1755-1813) and the Saxon General August Gneisenau (1760-1831), the Prussian military machine was overhauled with new tactics and equipment, an example of which was the new Model 1809 musket. 

From 1807, the Military Reorganisation Commission, headed by Scharnhorst, started looking for a new musket for the infantry. The previous model - the Model 1801 'Nothardt-Gewehr', designed by Captain Northardt in Potsdam - was a good musket but it had a small bore: an unfortunate drawback for an army that was normally expected to use foreign ammunition as it could not meet its own needs from its own supply. After extensive trials and tests of different models and types, a musket based on the French model 1777 was authorised by the government in May 1809. It was a musket that was of large enough bore to use any ball then in use in Europe.

The new musket was named the 'Neupreußisches Infanteriegewehr' (New Prussian Gun) or the 'Infanteriegewehr Modell 1809' (Model 1809 Infantry Musket). Although similar in appearance to the French Model 1777 musket, the key difference was in the design of the lock plate where the priming pan was protected by a flashguard. The barrel is held on by three barrel bands retained by spring clips. As there is no royal cipher on the lock plate the date of manufacture has to be before 1811.

These muskets were made in a number of arsenals including Potsdam; Neisse in Prussian Silesia; and Saarn in the Rhineland.

By 1813, only about 55,000 muskets had been made (growing to 65,000 by 1815) and by the end of production in 1839, 3 million muskets had been made. At Waterloo not all the Prussian army were armed with the new musket, and many would have had the old Model 1801 or indeed the British India pattern muskets, which had been given as part of an aid package. Approximately 165,000 were purchased by the U.S. Ordnance Department, where they were converted to percussion.

Use and Effect

Unlike the British infantryman, who was a professional soldier, the infantrymen of the European powers, such as Prussia, were conscripts and their training was often minimal. Target practice was often an annual affair, where few rounds were fired so the soldier could learn not to be afraid of the tremendous kick of his musket. Any form of training, especially weapon handling, remained rudimentary. The new conscript might receive 2 or 3 weeks of basic instruction at the depot, but he would fire only on average of 2 musket shots a year in practice.

By comparison, Britain was the wealthiest country in Europe, with a relatively small army. As such its government could afford to finance the training of its troops, including shooting practice, to a level the larger and poorer continental armies were unable to reach.

The following table helps to place the training regimes in context.

Lead allowance (per man) for yearly exercises in life fire training.

  • British 'Rifles' - 60 rounds and 60 blanks
    British light infantry - 50 rounds and 60 blanks
  • British line infantry and Prussian fusiliers (light infantry) - 30 rounds
  • Prussian jägers and schützen (riflemen) - 60 rounds (in 1811-1812)
  • Austrian line infantry (1805) - 6 rounds
  • Austrian line infantry (1809)- 10 rounds
  • Russian infantry - 6 rounds or less

By today's standards, muskets were not very accurate due to the windage (gap) between the projectile and the barrel, which was intended to account for the inevitable barrel fowling when firing under combat operations without the chance to clean the piece.

Depending on the type and calibre, a musket could hit a man's torso at up to 200-300 paces - though it was only reliably accurate to about 50-100 paces, the range at which most combat took place.

In a test in 1755, two companies of Prussian grenadiers fired at a target 10 paces broad and 10 ft high. At 300 paces they scored approximately 12.5 % hits; 46 % at 150 paces.

In another test, 52 out of 720 French infantry hit a target of 3 m at 100 m. At 200 m there were only 18 hits.

In another test carried out by the Prussians under Scharnhorst in 1810, different muskets were shot at 160 and 320 yards. Out of 200 rounds, fired at a large target approximating the size of a formed infantry company, the following number of hits was recorded.

Musket hits at 160 yards and 320 yards

  • Old Prussian Model 1782 musket: 64 and 42
  • New Prussian Model 1809 musket: 113 and 42
  • British India Pattern musket: 116 and 55
  • French model 1777 musket: 99 and 55

Statistics

Barrel length 105 cm (41.35 in)
Calibre 19 mm (0.75 in)
Country of manufacture Prussia
Date entered service 1809
Loading Muzzle-loading
Overall length 143 cm (56.3 in)
Weight 4.56 kg (10 lb)

Author

Mark Murray-Flutter