A Gasser of a Revolver: The Austro-Hungarian Model 1870 Gasser
February 27, 2012
There's no question about it. The Austro-Hungarian Model 1870 Gasser revolver is one serious hunk of metal. Tipping the scales at 3 ¼ pounds and measuring 12 ¾ inches from stem to stern, in the 19th century dimensionally its stats were only exceeded by the Colt Walker and some Colt Dragoons, and weight-wise by a handful of other oddball percussion repeaters. As far as I can discern, the Gasser was the biggest cartridge revolver ever issued militarily.
The Victorians certainly weren't daunted by size, whether it came to architecture, industrial machinery, locomotives, ships, chorus girls or armament. In the days when power generally meant stuffing as much black powder as possible into a barrel, cylinder or cartridge, it's not hard to understand why some muskets, rifles and handguns achieved Brobdingnagian proportions. Even so — one must admit the M. 70 was might be an extreme example of this ethos.
Austrian gunmaker Leopold Gasser began making firearms in the mid 1800s, and though he died in 1871 his company was successfully continued on by his son Johann. The Austro-Hungarian service revolver that bears his name was introduced into Emperor Franz-Josef's forces in 1870. The revolver chambered a tapered 11mm (also called 11.3mm, 11.5mm and 11.75mm) round similar to one used by the Austro-Hungarian single-shot Werndl Carbine. The bullet weight ran in the 300-grain range and the cartridge measured 1.729 to 1.834 inches overall, though the powder charge was lighter than that of the carbine's and the rim dimensions were somewhat different. Muzzle velocity was 689 fps and muzzle energy some 330 ft. lbs. As a service revolver round, at the time, it was bested only by the American .45 Colt.
The double-action mechanism was unique in that it sported an external bar which locked the hammer into a safety position when it was thumb-cocked manually about ¼ inch or the trigger was pulled slightly to the rear. This allowed the cylinder to be rotated for loading through a rear, bottom-hinged gate. Empty cases were ejected by means of a sliding push-rod which was held in place, parallel to the barrel, by a threaded thumb screw.
The double action itself, while a bit on the stiff side, was smooth and reliable. Single-action, the M. 70 was little different than most other military DAs of the period — perhaps even a little better than some. The cylinder locked up tightly by means of a rear hand which jammed individual chamber bolsters against a trigger-mounted slide stop.
But we digress. The Austro-Hungarian M. 70 (M.70/74 — the MNodel 74 had a steel rather than an iron frame) remained in principal service until 1898 when it was replace by an ungainly-looking eight-shot 8mm, also by Gasser. Still, as late as World War I, the M. 70 (M. 70/74) was seen in the hands of the Austro-Hungarian military alongside the Model 1898 and Roth Steyr and Steyr Hahn autos.
Today, original M.70 (M. 70/74) Gassers can be difficult to come by and do bring pretty good prices. On the other hand, period Belgian knock-offs surface quite regularly. In this case imitation, if not the sincerest form of flattery, is at least a pernicious one and has kept the name of Gasser from all but sinking into obscurity.