The Baker Rifle
Used by the 95th Rifles
An antecedent regiment of
The Royal Green Jackets
“A Sword not a Bayonet”
The Baker rifle (officially known as the Pattern 1800 Infantry Rifle) was a flintlock rifle used by the Rifle regiments of the British Army during the Napoleonic Wars. It was the first standard-issue, British-made rifle accepted by the British armed forces.
The Baker Rifle was first produced in 1800 by Ezekiel Baker, a master gunsmith from Whitechapel. The British Army was still issuing the Infantry Rifle in the 1830s.
History and design
The British army had learned the value of rifles from their experience in the American Revolution. However, existing rifle designs were considered too cumbersome, slow-firing, fragile or expensive to be put to use on any scale beyond irregular companies. Rifles had been issued on a limited basis and consisted of parts made to no precise pattern, often brought in from Prussia. The war against Revolutionary France resulted in the employment of new tactics, and the British Army responded, albeit with some delay. Prior to the formation of an Experimental Rifle Corps in 1800, a trial was held at Woolwich by the British Board of Ordnance on the 22nd of February 1800 in order to select a standard rifle pattern; the rifle designed by Ezekiel Baker was chosen.
Colonel Coote Manningham, responsible for establishing the Rifle Corps, influenced the initial designs of the Baker. The first model resembled the British Infantry Musket, but was rejected as too heavy. Baker was provided with a German Jäger rifle as an example of what was needed. The second model he made had a .75 calibre bore, the same calibre as the Infantry Musket. It had a 32-inch barrel, with eight rectangular rifling grooves; this model was accepted as the Infantry Rifle, but more changes were made until it was finally placed into production.
The third and final model had the barrel shortened from 32 to 30 inches, and the calibre reduced to .653, which allowed the rifle to fire a .625 calibre carbine bullet, with a greased patch to grip the now-seven rectangular grooves in the barrel. The rifle had a simple folding backsight with the standard large lock mechanism (initially marked ‘Tower’ and ‘G.R.’ under a Crown; later ones after the battle of Waterloo had ‘Enfield’), with a swan-neck cock as fitted to the ‘Brown Bess.’ Like the German Jäger rifles, it had a scrolled brass trigger guard to help ensure a firm grip and a raised cheek-piece on the left-hand side of the butt.
Like many rifles, it had a ‘butt-trap’ or patchbox where greased linen patches and tools could be stored. The lid of the patchbox was brass, and hinged at the rear so it could be flipped up. The stocks were made of walnut and held the barrel with three flat captive wedges. The rifle also had a metal locking bar to accommodate a 24-inch sword bayonet, similar to that of the Jäger rifle. The Baker was 45 inches from muzzle to butt, 12 inches shorter than the Infantry Musket, and weighed almost nine pounds. As gunpowder fouling built up in the grooves the weapon became much slower to load and less accurate, so a cleaning kit was stored in the patch box of the Baker; the Infantry Muskets were not issued with cleaning kits.
After the Baker entered service, more modifications were made to the rifle and several different variations were produced. A lighter and shorter carbine version for the cavalry was introduced, and a number of volunteer associations procured their own models, including the Duke of Cumberland’s Corps of Sharpshooters, which ordered models with a 33-inch barrel, in August 1803. A second pattern of Baker Rifle was fitted with a ‘Newland’ lock that had a flat-faced ring neck cock. In 1806, a third pattern was produced that included a ‘pistol grip’ style trigger guard and a smaller patchbox with a plain rounded front.
The lock plate was smaller, flat, and had a steeped-down tail, a raised semi-waterproof pan, a flat ring neck cock, and a sliding safety bolt. With the introduction of a new pattern Short Land Pattern Flintlock Musket (‘Brown Bess’) in 1810, with its flat lock and ring-necked cock, the Baker’s lock followed suit for what became the fourth pattern. It also featured a ‘slit stock’—the stock had a slot cut in its underpart just over a quarter-inch wide. This was done after Ezekiel Baker had seen reports of the ramrod jamming in the stock after the build-up of residue in the ramrod channel, and when the wood warped after getting wet.
The rifle is referred to almost exclusively as the “Baker Rifle,” but it was produced by a variety of manufacturers and sub-contractors from the year 1800 to 1837. Most of the rifles produced between 1800 and 1815 were not made by Ezekiel Baker, but under the Tower of London system, and he sub-contracted the manufacture of parts of the rifle to over 20 British gunsmiths. It was reported that many rifles sent to the British Army inspectors were not complete, to the extent of even having no barrel, since the rifle was sent on to another contractor for finishing. Ezekiel Baker’s production during the period of 1805–1815 was 712 rifles, not even enough to be in the “top ten.”
The Board of Ordnance, both of its own volition and at the behest of Infantry Staff Officers, ordered production modifications during the rifle’s service life. Variations included a carbine with a safety catch and swivel-mounted ramrod, the 1801 pattern West India Rifle (a simplified version lacking a patchbox), the 1809 pattern, which was .75 (musket) calibre, and the 1800/15, which was modified from existing stocks to use a socket bayonet. The most common field modification was the bent stock: riflemen in the field found that the stock was not bent sufficiently at the wrist to allow accurate firing, so stocks were bent by steaming. As this technique produces temporary results (lasting approximately five years), no examples found today exhibit this bend.
During the Napoleonic Wars the Baker was reported to be effective at long range due to its accuracy and dependability under battlefield conditions. In spite of its advantages, the rifle did not replace the standard British musket of the day, the Brown Bess, but was issued officially only to rifle regiments. In practice, however, many regiments, such as the 23rd Regiment of Foot (Royal Welch Fusiliers), and others, acquired rifles for use by some in their light companies during the time of the Peninsular War. These units were employed as an addition to the common practice of fielding skirmishers in advance of the main column, who were used to weaken and disrupt the waiting enemy lines (the French also had a light company in each battalion that was trained and employed as skirmishers but these were only issued with muskets). With the advantage of the greater range and accuracy provided by the Baker rifle, the highly trained British skirmishers were able to defeat their French counterparts routinely and in turn disrupt the main French force by sniping at officers and NCOs.
The rifle was used by what were considered elite units, such as the 5th battalion and rifle companies of the 6th and 7th Battalions of the 60th Regiment of Foot, deployed around the world, and the three battalions of the 95th Regiment of Foot that served under the Duke of Wellington between 1808 and 1814 in the Peninsular War, the War of 1812 (3rd Batt./95th (Rifles), at Battle of New Orleans), and again in 1815 at the Battle of Waterloo. The two light infantry Battalions of the King’s German Legion as well as sharpshooter platoons within the Light Companies of the KGL Line Bns also used the Baker. The rifle was also supplied to or privately purchased by numerous volunteer and militia units; these examples often differ from the regular issue pattern. Some variants were used by cavalry, including the 10th Hussars. The Baker was also used in Canada in the War of 1812. It is recorded that the British Army still issued Baker rifles in 1841, three years after its production had ceased.
The rifle was used in several countries during the first half of the 19th century; indeed, Mexican forces at the Battle of the Alamo are known to have been carrying Baker rifles, as well as Brown Bess muskets. They were also supplied to the government of Nepal; some of these rifles were released from the stores of the Royal Nepalese Army in 2004, but many had deteriorated beyond recovery.
Performance / Rate of fire
For accurate firing, a Baker rifle could not usually be reloaded as fast as a musket, as the slightly undersized lead balls had to be wrapped in patches of greased leather or linen so that they would more closely fit the lands of the rifling. The tight-fitting patched ball took considerable force and hence more time to seat properly inside a rifle’s barrel, especially after repeated firing has fouled the barrel, compared to a loose fitting musket ball which could easily roll down. Early on each riflemen was even provided with a small mallet to help seat the ball inside the muzzle, later this was abandoned as unnecessary.
Thus a rifleman was expected to be able to fire two aimed shots a minute, compared to the four shots a minute for the Brown Bess musket in the hands of a trained infantryman. However, the average time to reload a rifle is dependent on the level of training and experience of the user; twenty seconds (or three shots a minute) is possible for a highly proficient rifleman. Using a hand-measured powder charge for accurate long range shots could increase the load time to as much as a minute.
Accuracy was of more importance than rate of fire when skirmishing. The rifleman’s main battlefield role was to utilize cover and skirmish (frequently against enemy skirmishers), whereas his musket-armed counterparts in the line infantry fired in volley or mass-fire. This could further reduce the firing rate of the rifle compared to musket during battle.
Troops issued with the Baker rifle were also occasionally required to “stand-in-the-line” and serve as regular infantry if the situation called for it. The higher rate of fire (and therefore, volume of fire) of the musket was required when deployed as line infantry, even if this came with a large loss in accuracy. For this reason, ammunition was issued in two forms, one: loose balls, in standard carbine calibre with greased patches for accurate shooting, with loose powder inside a flask equipped with a spring-loaded charger to automatically measure out the correct amount of powder, and two: paper cartridges similar to regular musket ammunition. The requirement for the Baker armed troops to be able to perform regular infantry tasks, such as form square against cavalry, or resist a bayonet attack, led to the rather cumbersome 23-1/2 inch long sword-bayonet, which, when fitted, made the rifle-bayonet length some 65 inches long, nearly the same as a bayonet fitted musket. There were even talks early in the rifle’s adoption of additionally equipping the riflemen with short pikes instead of bayonets, however this impractical idea was never put into actual use.
Accuracy and range
The rifle as originally manufactured was expected to be capable of firing at a range of up to 200 yards (183 meters) with a high hit rate. The musket was fairly accurate at medium distances, with a one in three chance of hitting a man-sized target at 100 yards (91 meters), but this accuracy diminished hugely at longer ranges. To increase the odds of a hit, massed ranks of 60–80 muskets were usually fired in a volley, which increased the chances of some musket balls hitting the intended targets. The Baker rifle was used by skirmishers facing their opponents in pairs, sniping at the enemy either from positions in front of the main lines, or from hidden positions in heights overlooking battlefields.
The accuracy of the rifle in capable hands is most famously demonstrated at the Battle of Cacabelos (during Moore’s retreat to Corunna in the year of 1809) by the action of Rifleman Thomas Plunkett (or Plunket) of the 1st Battalion, 95th Rifles, who shot French General Colbert at an unknown but long range (as much as 600 yards (550 m) according to some sources). He then shot Colbert’s aide-de-camp, Latour-Maubourg, who went to the aid of his general, suggesting that the success of the first shot was not due to luck.
That rifleman Plunkett and others were able to regularly hit targets at ranges considered to be beyond the rifle’s effective range speaks for both their marksmanship and the capabilities of the Rifle.
The sword bayonet was based on a German model. Henry Osborne in Birmingham was responsible for the first prototype and consignment. The sword bayonet was 23 inches long and was clipped on to a metal bar attached just behind the muzzle. With the bayonet attached it makes the rifle quite awkward to handle, but there were reasons for having such a long blade. The rifle was much shorter than the standard infantry muskets therefore if a rifleman was ever involved in a bayonet fight this additional length was vital. During battle once a rifleman had finished his skirmishing duties he would quite often fall into line with the rest of the redcoat infantry men, when repelling enemy cavalry from a square it was essential that all men had the same bayonet reach to form an effective square.
As the rifle bayonets were effectively short swords, it follows that bayonets in the 95th Rifles would be termed “swords”, and the regular infantry command of “fix bayonets” was changed for riflemen to “fix swords”.
1st or Pattern 1800 Sword Bayonet
Between 1800 and 1837, there were four differing patterns of bayonets issued for the Baker rifle. The first, known as “Pattern 1800” was a sword bayonet with a flat blade of 23 inches long, one and one quarter inches wide by one quarter inch thick at the hilt. It was double-edged for about six inches at the spear shaped point. The hilt measured four and one quarter inches and had a squared off corner where the knucklebow met the crossguard. A cord hole was drilled through the pommel. The knucklebow had weak points at the extremities, causing its obsolescence the following year.
2nd or Pattern 1801 Sword Bayonet
The second “Pattern 1801” sword bayonet had the same blade, but with the double-edged section of the point only five inches long. The hilt used the same locking method as the first pattern, but its overall construction was much stronger. Slightly longer in hilt at four and a half inches, the weak squared knucklebow was replaced with a rounded, more robust D shaped knucklebow. The early pattern long sword bayonets, when fixed to the short Baker rifle, gave an overall length close to that of the Brown Bess and bayonet. This presented a uniform wall of steel, when riflemen joined other regiments in square, to receive a cavalry charge.
Pattern 1815 Socket Bayonet
A totally revised pattern was introduced in 1815. This third model, or “Pattern 1815” was a conventional triangular bladed socket bayonet. Its blade was only 17 inches long, it was hollow ground on two edges, being flat on the third edge. This bayonet could only be fitted to altered rifles. Although approved earlier in 1815, they were not delivered to riflemen until after Waterloo.
Pattern 1825 Hand Bayonet
In 1823 a revised bayonet was approved. Known as the “First Pattern Hand Bayonet”, it consisted of the triangular blade combined to a second pattern sword hilt, but without the knucklebow. The final change for Baker rifle bayonets came two years later, when a “Second Pattern Hand Bayonet” appeared. It was similar to the 1823 Hand Bayonet, but with a smaller and lighter hilt.
Sword Bayonet, Colonial Variant
Sword Bayonet, Volunteer Variant
Other variant models of the sword bayonet was manufactured over the years for volunteer units and troops in colonial outposts
British Military Firearms, 1650 – 1850 by Howard L Blackmore
Sourced from Wikipedia and 2nd /95th Rifles Facebook Page
Picture by “Baker rifle” by Antique Military Rifles – Derivative work of Baker Rifle; originally posted to Flickr. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Baker_rifle.png#mediaviewer/File:Baker_rifle.png