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Ferdinand Mannlicher : biography

January 30, 1848 - January 20, 1904

Ferdinand Ritter von Mannlicher (January 30, 1848 – January 20, 1904) was an Austrian engineer and small arms designer. Along with James Paris Lee, Mannlicher was particularly noted for inventing the en-bloc clip charger-loading magazine system. Later, while making improvements to other inventors prototype designs for rotary-feed magazines, Mannlicher, together with his protégé Otto Schönauer, patented a perfected rotary magazine design, the Mannlicher-Schönauer, which was a commercial and military success.


A scion of a long-established bourgeois family descending from Most () in Bohemia, Mannlicher was born in the German city of Mainz, where his father served as a k.k. official in the Austrian garrison at the Confederation Fortress. He returned to the Josefstadt district of Vienna with his parents in 1857, and after receiving his Matura high-school exam attended the Vienna University of Technology. He started his professional career in 1869 as an employee of the Austrian Southern Railway company and worked as an engineer at the Emperor Ferdinand Northern Railway company until 1887.

Mannlicher had early turned his interest to wepaons technology, particularly breech-loading repeating rifles. His ambitions were fueled by the Austrian defeat in the 1866 Battle of Königgrätz, which he traced back to the inadequate equipment of the Imperial and Royal Army. In 1876 he travelled to the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia to study numerous construction designs and afterwards drafted several types of repeating rifles with tubular magazines. In 1885/86 he patented the "Mannlicher System" of a breechblock on a bolt action basis, which was adopted as a service rifle by the Austro-Hungarian Army and several other armed forces.

Mannlicher joined the Austrian Arms Factory company at Steyr in Upper Austria, which under the name of Steyr Mannlicher soon became one of the largest weapon manufacturer in Europe. The model Steyr-Mannlicher M1895 was widely used by the Austro-Hungarian Army up to World War I. In 1887 Mannlicher was awarded the 3rd class of the Order of the Iron Crown, he also received the Prussian Order of the Crown and the officier medal of the French Legion of Honour. On 14 December 1892 Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria vested him with the title of Ritter von (loosely translated to: 'knight of') due to his earlier ennoblement. In 1899 he was given a lifelong appointment to the Austrian Upper House (Österreichisches Herrenhaus) of the Imperial Council parliament.

Mannlicher's successful designs during his lifetime were his bolt-action rifles, both military and sporting, in both turn bolt and straight-pull actions. Mannlicher also developed several innovative semi-automatic handgun designs in the last decade of the 19th century. A measure of how far ahead of his time he was can be seen by looking at his experimental designs of semiautomatic rifles, developed at a time when ammunition was not suitable to function properly in such a weapon. Mannlicher began development in 1883 of an automatic rifle firing the 11mm Austrian Werndl, a black powder cartridge.Walter H. B. Smith, Mannlicher Rifles and Pistols, Military Service Publishing Co., 1947, pp. 155-162 According to WHB Smith in "Mauser, Walther and Mannlicher Firearms" the Mannlicher 1885 became the inspiration for the M1 Garand and the Mannlicher 1900 with the 'short-stroke piston' became the inspiration for the M1 Carbine.

Mannlicher's automatic rifle designs

Mannlicher introduced several automatic rifle designs that were unsuccessful, but ahead of their time. He introduced fundamental principles that were used by later designers, often successfully.

Mannlicher's Model 85 semi automatic rifle used his recoil operated action originally developed in 1883; it anticipated the recoiling barrel system used later in designs like the German MG 34 and MG 42 machineguns, and the M1941 Johnson machine gun. The Model 85 would have fit the same tactical role as the American BAR or British Bren of World War II fame.

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