History and DesignEdit
The Infantry Rifle, hereafter known by its modern name "Baker Rifle", was the first standard-issue, British-made rifle accepted by the British armed forces. Previously, rifles had been issued on a limited basis and consisted of parts made to no precise pattern, often brought in from Germany. The war against Revolutionary France had 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 14th. February 1800 in order to select a standard rifle pattern; the rifle designed by Ezekiel Baker was chosen. This is remarkable because he is not known to have produced military rifles before, being involved only in the repair and production of muskets. Indeed, it is not known how much of the rifle now commonly named after him was actually the result of his own work. Numerous parts used in the pattern existed before the rifle was submitted for trial.
Colonel Coote Manningham rejected the first two proposed designs; the third gained his approval and became the first Baker Rifle adopted by the British Army. The specification of the first service Baker rifled musket was .625-caliber, 30-inch barrel, fitted for a sword bayonet designed by the Birmingham sword cutler Henry Osborn, a standard 6-inch long lock mechanism and ring-neck cock, a folding-leaf rear sight, a scrolled brass trigger-guard and a raised cheek-rest on the left of the butt for additional support when aiming. The completed Baker was 45-inches in length and weighed almost nine pounds. Ingeniously, and unlike the smooth-bore musket, the cleaning equipment essential for the weapon's maintenance (and therefore crucial to its success) was stored in the patchbox in the butt of the rifle, ready for use at all times.
The rifle is now referred to, almost exclusively, as the "Baker Rifle", but it was produced by a variety of manufacturers and sub-contractors from 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 twenty British gunsmiths. It was reported that many rifles that made it to the British Army inspectors were not completed,to the extent of even having no barrel, since the rifle was sent on to another contractor for finishing. Baker's production during the period 1805-1815 was a mere 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) caliber, 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 accommodate accurate shooting, 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 venerable Brown Bess, but was instead 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 British 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, British skirmishers were able to defeat their French counterparts routinely and in turn disrupt the main French force by sniping at non-commissioned and commissioned officers.
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, that were deployed around the world, and the three battalions of the 95th Regiment of Foot that served under the Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington|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 rifle was also supplied or privately purchased by numerous volunteer and militia units; these examples often differ from the regular issue pattern. Some variants were even used by cavalry, including the 10th Hussars. 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 a variety of countries during the first half of the nineteenth 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. Unfortunately many had deteriorated beyond recovery. (not confirmed)
The Baker was fairly accurate at medium distances, although the chance of hitting anything at longer range would be a matter of sheer luck as opposed to skill. To increase the odds of a hit, massed ranks of 60-80 muskets were fired in which increased the chances of some musket balls hitting the intended target, whereas the Baker rifle was used by skirmishers facing their opponents in pairs, sniping at the enemy from positions either in front of the main lines, or from behind hidden positions in heights overlooking battlefields.
The accuracy of the rifle in capable hands is most famously demonstrated by the action of Rifleman Thomas Plunkett (or Plunket) of the 1st Battalion, 95th Rifles, wherein he shot the French General Auguste-Marie-François Colbert|Colbert at an indeterminate, but substantial range (as much as 800 yds according to some sources) during the retreat to A Coruña|Corunna during the Peninsular War. He then shot one of the General's aides, thus proving that the success of the first round was not due to pure luck.
The rifle as originally manufactured was not actually expected to be accurate much beyond 400 yards; that Rifleman Plunkett and others were able to regularly hit targets at ranges considered outside the rifle's effective range speaks for both their markmanship and the capacities of the rifle.
The 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 more commonly greased linen, so that they would more closely fit the lands of the rifling. The average time to reload is dependent on the level of training and experience of the user; twenty to thirty seconds is often given as normal for a proficient rifleman. Using a hand-measured powder charge for long range shots could increase the load time to as much as a minute. In the course of the Napoleonic Wars, riflemen used paper patched and even bare rifle balls when shooting in a hurry in battle, with an increase in speed of loading, but with diminishing accuracy. (see Bailey, below)
- Military Heritage did a feature on the Baker Rifle (Kenneth Cline, Military Heritage, December 2005, Volume 7, No. 3, p. 10, p. 12, and p. 13); ISSN 1524-8666.
- Bailey, D. W. British Military Flintlock Rifles 1740-1840. Andrew Mowbray Publishers, 2002. ISBN 1-931464-03-0.
- Blackmore, Howard L. British Military Firearms, 1650-1850. Greenhill Books, 1994. ISBN 1-85367-172-X.
- How to Load and Fire a Baker Rifle
- The Baker Rifle
- Development & Description of the Baker Rifle
- Rifleman Thomas Plunkett: 'A Pattern for the Battalion.'
- British army during the Napoleonic Wars
- [ Richard Sharpe (fictional character)]