Rifle: Vetterli M70/87/15

Rifle Italian Vetterli M70/87/15 Manufacturers Various
Cartridge 6.5x52mm Overall Length 53″
Action Rotation Bolt Barrel Length 33.2″
Magazine 6 rounds Weight 9 lbs


Material shortages plagued the Italian military through two world wars and a number of colonial campaigns.   In desperation, their first rifle as a country ended up serving with soldiers and conscripts until at least 1941.  The following article will be a little light, as it has been dashed together in order to counter an incorrect designation by Les Gold of Hardcore Pawn on Good Afternoon America.  Please forgive our brevity.  We’ll readdress this rifle with more information when we’ve learned more ourselves about the Vetterli M70/87/15.

The unification of Italy into a single, modern state took nearly 60 years and is commonly marked by the capture of Rome in 1870. This newly formed, and in many ways still forming, nation used a mix of arms and calibers. In the same year that Rome was taken, the government opted to adopt and produce a single rifle to unify their military forces.  Switzerland’s brand new Vetterli Repeating Infantry Rifle Model 1869 made an impression and the bolt and receiver were taken back to Italy. Unlike its revolutionary Swiss parent, the first iteration of the Italian Vetterli was a simple single shot rifle that replaced the Swiss rimfire system with a very modern centerfire in 10.35x47Rmm.  In 1887 the Italians realized their mistake and found a solution in Giuseppe Vitali’s design for a bolt-on magazine system.  New rifles were produced but nearly all of the original long guns were converted to the new, en-bloc fed magazines.  The Dutch later used this same design to update their Beaumont single shot rifles.

Vetterli action rifles display an unusual design in which the bolt proper does not rotate.  Instead the bolt handle has a collar with semi-spiral recesses that pushes back on the combination firing ping and cocking piece when rotated.  Locking is achieved by two lugs on the same collar that engage recesses milled in the back of the receiver.  The distance between the bolt face and rear locking lugs might remind readers of the much later developed French MAS 36.

In 1891 Italy switched over to a more modern, 6.5mm rifle we now know as the Carcano. The Vetterli rifles were shelved for a time until World War One began to strain Italian resources. In 1915 the old guns were dusted off and a conversion process began again.  In the new Salerno-Method the barrels were drilled out and a sleeve of steel was fitted down them and soldered in place. This was then bored for the 6.5x52mm Carcano cartridge. Manufacturing new barrels would have been faster but this saved material, which was the bigger priority.  Finland would later dabble in this same method when reconstructing Russian Mosin Nagant rifles. The short, wide Vitali magazines were replaced with long, narrow Mannlicher magazines from Carcano patterns that used the standard 6.5mm rounds and en-bloc clips.  Wood plugs to fill the gaps left behind by the Vitali magazines and the openings in the stock and receiver had to be elongated. The accompanying bayonets were shortened to a fighting knife length, which is why full length Italian Vetterli bayonets command such a premium.The Vetterli 70/87/15 rifles were an emergency development for second line units and should have been disposed of after the war. They were shelved instead and again dusted off for the Italian invasion Ethiopia. Native African soldiers, known as askari, were equipped with these and even unconverted 10.35mm Vetterli rifles, along with WWI Austrian reparation arms, when recruited by the Italian forces. With the invasion of Ethiopia complete, the region was folded in with Eritrea and Italian Somaliland to form the Africa Orientale Italiana (AOI). The AOI forces invaded British Somaliland in 1940 and represent the only Italian victory against Allied forces without German intervention in WWII. Unfortunately, for Italy, the entire AOI was overrun and surrendered only a year later. Many captured rifles were sent to India as trainers, but it appears quite a few of the 6.5 Vetterli guns remained in African hands post surrender.

The example pictured has some wear but is otherwise sound. It was originally produced in 1890 and survived military service long enough to receive the AOI brand on its stock, which could have been no sooner than 1936. It most likely served until the surrender in 1941 and perhaps beyond with regional forces.  While we do plan to work up a reduced load to shoot this rifle, collectors should be aware that the pressure generated by smokeless powder 6.5 is well beyond the original black powder cartridge.  These rifles were in no way altered for strength and were not intended to be fired excessively.  We cannot recommend using standard, commercially available 6.5 ammunition in these rifles.  Please be careful handling arms such as these that have been reworked so many times.  As a plus, however, the guns seem to be very inexpensive in the current market and can be had for less than half the cost of many other collectible arms, so there is little excuse not to have one on your wall.


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