Vatican rifles

Discussions on the small arms used by the Axis forces.
casimiro
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Vatican rifles

Post by casimiro » 18 Nov 2023 17:25

When the Germans occupied Rome in September 1943, the Vatican, as a neutral state, took measures to improve its defenses. Efforts to increase the size of one of its armed units, the Palatine Guard, were constrained by the lack of sufficient modern firearms. To address this deficiency, the Palatine Guard brought out of storage Remington, breech-loading, single shot rifles dating back to the late 1860s when these rifles were the standard issue of the pontifical army of the now defunct Papal States. Some guardsmen carried these antique rifles when patrolling the walls of Vatican City. Were these Remingtons the oldest weapon in use by organized, national military units during WWII?

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JTV
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Re: Vatican rifles

Post by JTV » 23 Nov 2023 18:30

Oldest firearms in use by organized, national military units during WWII - perhaps. Oldest weapons - not by a longshot. Several armies had soldiers carrying edged weapons much older than that into battle. Example - French light cavalry sabre mle 1822, which was still used by cavalry forces of several countries at the time. Not to mention Japanese officers, many of which took with them into war old samurai swords, which had been in their family for hundreds of years.

Remington rolling blocks used by Papal State were apparently m1868. There are some countries, which during World War 2 still ended up using firearms about as old, so it might be a tight competition. Here in Finland the oldest rifles to be issued by military at the time were Berdan m1870 issued in limited scale. According Wikipedia rifles issued by Swiss Army during WW2 included Swiss-made copies of Winchester m1866.

gebhk
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Re: Vatican rifles

Post by gebhk » 24 Nov 2023 10:52

In many if not most armies, regular army officers were expected to own their own weapons and equipment. Many reserve officers also had their own. I expect it is among these weapons that you will find the oldest, as the specifications for them were often not particulalry restrictive.

Knouterer
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Re: Vatican rifles

Post by Knouterer » 25 Nov 2023 09:49

When the French army mobilized in 1939, no fewer than 340,000 11 mm Gras Model 1874 rifles were issued to rear units. You'd think there would have been enough Lebels and Berthiers left over from WWI, but apparently not.
"The true spirit of conversation consists in building on another man's observation, not overturning it." Edward George Bulwer-Lytton

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Poot
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Re: Vatican rifles

Post by Poot » 25 Nov 2023 20:11

Knouterer wrote:
25 Nov 2023 09:49
When the French army mobilized in 1939, no fewer than 340,000 11 mm Gras Model 1874 rifles were issued to rear units. You'd think there would have been enough Lebels and Berthiers left over from WWI, but apparently not.
Hello Knauterer,
Thank you for sharing the information about the Gras rifles put into service in 1939. Would you be able to share the source for that? I research small arms and would love to see sources like that. I can read French.

*EDIT*
Many Gras rifles were updated, resulting in the Mle.1874 M.80 M.14, chambered in 8mm Lebel. Would it be possible that the 340,000 consisted of updated versions?

Thanks very much,
Pat
He who lives by the sword, should train with it frequently.

Sid Guttridge
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Re: Vatican rifles

Post by Sid Guttridge » 26 Nov 2023 15:51

Hi casimiro,

As I understand it, there were never sufficient rifles for the Palatine Guard and they were not issued individually to the auxiliaries. Instead, the rifles were issued to the guard posts at the extraterritorial properties and the men handed them on to members of the next guard rotation. As the Palatine Guard received their conscript training in the Italian Army, it is likely that most never even got to practice fire the older rifles they were issued by the Vatican City State in 1943-44. If they had, one has to wonder how reliable their 80 year-old ammunition would have been.

Cheers,

Sid.

casimiro
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Re: Vatican rifles

Post by casimiro » 26 Nov 2023 19:34

Hi Sid,

Yes, rifles were kept at Palatine posts at extraterritorial properties and not issued to individual guardsmen.

It is impossible to know for certain how many Palatines had previously received firearms training as conscripts in the Italian army. When, in the fall of 1943, the Palatine Guard opened recruitment to increase its personnel from roughly 300-400 men to 2000, it was swamped by thousands of applications as young Romans sought Vatican service to avoid the military and labor conscription then in effect. To receive permission for this force expansion from what was left of the Italian military administration in Rome, the Vatican stipulated that it would not recruit 18-20 year old men, but Palatine command staff (and Italian police intelligence) suspected that many applicants were submitting false or forged supporting documentation, including birthdates. It is likely that many of the so-called "auxiliaries" had no previous firearms training.

An acquaintance who collects firearms of the Papacy tells me that, depending on how the ammunition had been stored, the Remington cartridges would have been useable.

The Remingtons may not have been the only antique firearms in service at the Vatican in 1943. In 1922, the pope's Noble Guard still had in service revolvers first issued in 1869. At some point, perhaps in the 1930s, the Noble Guard acquired a small number of Beretta semi-automatic pistols, but the old revolvers must have still been in the armory. In the autumn of 1943, within a couple of weeks of the German entry into Rome, the Swiss Guard transferred to the Noble Guard 100 revolver cartridges. The documentation specifically states that these cartridges were for revolvers.

Has anyone seen a photo of a Noble Guard carrying a pistol?

Knouterer
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Re: Vatican rifles

Post by Knouterer » 27 Nov 2023 10:06

Poot wrote:
25 Nov 2023 20:11
Knouterer wrote:
25 Nov 2023 09:49
When the French army mobilized in 1939, no fewer than 340,000 11 mm Gras Model 1874 rifles were issued to rear units. You'd think there would have been enough Lebels and Berthiers left over from WWI, but apparently not.
Hello Knauterer,
Thank you for sharing the information about the Gras rifles put into service in 1939. Would you be able to share the source for that? I research small arms and would love to see sources like that. I can read French.

*EDIT*
Many Gras rifles were updated, resulting in the Mle.1874 M.80 M.14, chambered in 8mm Lebel. Would it be possible that the 340,000 consisted of updated versions?

Thanks very much,
Pat
Hi Poot,
That info is from Stéphane Ferrard: France 1940 - L'Armement Terrestre, E.T.A.I, 1998, page 44: "Totalement désuet en 1940, le fusil Gras sera pourtant distribué à 340.000 exemplaires dans les unités de défense du territoire et celles chargées de la protection des terrains d'aviation." No mention of of how many were rechambered in 8 mm.
"The true spirit of conversation consists in building on another man's observation, not overturning it." Edward George Bulwer-Lytton

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Poot
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Re: Vatican rifles

Post by Poot » 27 Nov 2023 18:14

Excellent, thank you very much!
He who lives by the sword, should train with it frequently.

Sid Guttridge
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Re: Vatican rifles

Post by Sid Guttridge » 08 Dec 2023 23:31

Hi Casimiro,

The Palatine Guard only took respectable men who had completed their Italian conscription. The Lateran Treaty seriously restricted their expansion, so the Vatican raised the Auxiliary Palatine Guard after Italy's armistice with the Allies.

As the Auxiliaries were outside the terms of the Lateran Treaty, the Vatican had to get permission from the RSI. On 11 November, 1943, its Minister of Defence, Marshal Graziani, agreed, provided that no political personalities or senior government officials were enlisted, or young men from the classes of 1924 and 1925, who were all liable for current military conscription by the RSI. However, the Vatican quietly instructed its recruiters to give priority outside these parameters to those next in danger of arrest or conscription. Reportedly this resulted in the enlistment of many 18-year olds from the 1926 Class, who were then only subject to labour service, and a number of Jewish converts at risk of deportation.

Cheers,

Sid.

Sid Guttridge
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Re: Vatican rifles

Post by Sid Guttridge » 17 Dec 2023 19:25

Hi Casimiro,

I have only that in WWII the Noble Guards were issued with Beretta M.34 pistols in addition to their ceremonial sabres. There were only 30-40 of them in WWII and they mounted a 24-hour, close, armed, protective guard of the person of Pius XII. It is entirely possible that there are no photos of them armed with pistols, because it is likely that informal photography was not the allowed inside the Vatican or of the Pope's person.

I have replied to your PM, but it is hung up in my Out Box at present. Let me know if it doesn't get through in a week or so.

Sid.

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