The Swedish Rolling Block M-67/89 rifle: An Urban Rifle Legend Debunked
By Mike Hudson
Much has been made of the relative safety of the Swedish Rolling Block M-67/89 rifle, for the most part in numerous internet shooting forums and on his own website by a seemingly knowledgable gentleman who calls himself "Dutchman." (Always be VERY suspicious of anything written by someone who conceals his or her identity. -Editor) According to him, the maximum operating pressure of these rifles is a humble 28,000 psi, perhaps not coincidentally the same chamber pressure advised for use in the notoriously weak black powder .45-70 Trapdoor Springfield rifles.
To back up his claim, he cites the death a few years back of a Swedish shooter killed when his M-67/89 blew-up in his face like a hand grenade. To further his argument, he refers to some testing done on a small lot of 1960s vintage Norma sporting ammunition, which yielded pressures in the 27,000-33,000 psi range.
I am certain he is sincere in his beliefs, although I have written him several times in regard to some apparent inconsistencies in his research and he has politely declined to address them. My own research has revealed that the unfortunate Swede who lost his life had mistakenly loaded his rifle with a .500 Nitro Express cartridge. A number of the Swedish Rolling Blocks sold for sporting use were rebored and rechambered to handle the .500 Black Powder Express round.
Both the .500 BPE and the .500 NE handle three inch shells and chamber dimensions are identical. Slipping one of the Nitro Express rounds up the spout of a rifle designed for the blackpowder cartridge would be an easy mistake to carelessly make, and a potentially fatal one, as our late Swedish comrade found out.
The question of safe chamber pressure, regardless of round, is another matter altogether. I asked Dutchman where he came up with his 28,000 psi max figure, but he declined to say.
Therefore, I hit the books. In Die Leichten Schwedischen, Carsten Schinke's authoritative volume about Swedish military rifles, the author states that the original Swedish M-67/89 smokeless load fired a 237 grain bullet at a muzzle velocity of 1965 fps for a muzzle energy of 2032 ft. lbs. This load generates a maximum pressure of 2,300 atmospheres, or, 33,810 psi. D.L. van den Brink, an authority on Swedish military firearms, concurred and argued that the M-67/89 rifles made by the Carl Gustaf and Husqvarna factories were among the finest Rolling Blocks ever turned out.
In order to pass proof for smokeless powder, he wrote, a new nickel steel barrel was fitted, along with a new breechblock and hammer assembly made of Swedish tool steel alloyed with nickel, copper and vanadium. The receiver itself was case hardened and the old straight extractor was replaced with a far more positive rotary design.
Danish arms expert Bjorn Nielsen has written that operating pressures for the 8x58R Danish Krag cartridge used in the M-67/89 increased with the rapid development of smokeless powder in the late 19th Century until, by the time the Rolling Blocks were taken out of official service in 1908, the maximum had risen to 45,000 psi.
A 45,000 psi maximum would allow the chambering of calibers such as the .303 British, 7x57mm Mauser, 7.62x53mm Russian and .30-40 Krag in their original loadings. These are the calibers introduced by Remington in 1895 for its Number 5 Rolling Block rifle, which was nothing more than the blackpowder Number 1 action modernized for use with the higher intensity rounds by the addition of a nickel steel barrel, tool steel breechblock and hammer and a case hardened frame, exactly as the Swedes had done with their rifles. In fact, one wonders if Remington got the idea for a smokeless Rolling Block action from the 1889 Swedish conversion.
The smokeless Number 5 Rolling Block was widely issued to troops in Spain, England, Russia, France and a number of South and Central American countries during the pre-World War I era. Examples remained in service around the world as late as World War II.
The single shot Number 5 was in competition with the more modern Krag, Mannlicher and Mauser bolt action repeaters then available and its continued success in the marketplace serves as testament to the rugged reliability built into the weapon. The last centerfire Rolling Blocks were shipped by Remington in 1918 and the design hung on in .22, .25 and .32 rimfire until 1933.
To take this argument even further, during the 1960s and 70s, the Numrich Arms Corp. offered a "Buffalo Hunter" conversion kit for the Number 1 (blackpowder) Rolling Block action, giving would-be Buffalo Bills the option of chambering their rifles in either .45-70 or .444 Marlin. While no high pressure .45-70 loads were then on the market, the .444 Marlin was a different story.
The .444 Marlin is a modern cartridge meant to outdo the .45-70 and operating at a much higher pressure than the old warhorse. In its most popular iteration, the .444 fires a 240 grain bullet at 2,350 fps for a muzzle energy of 2,942 ft. lbs., generating a chamber pressure of 42,000 psi.
The kits, which consisted of a new barrel, breechblock, hammer and stock, were marketed through advertisements in the back of the American Rifleman magazine and other gun rags for more than a decade. They were specifically directed at the owners of "tired old" blackpowder Rolling Blocks in .43 Spanish or Egyptian caliber. If any of these conversions resulted in the death or maiming of an American shooter, there is no lawsuit on record to commemorate it and no mention on any of the many internet forums dedicated to single shot rifles in general, or the Rolling Block in particular.
All of which begs the question: If a black powder Number 1 Rolling Block receiver is capable of handling the 42,000 psi generated by the .444 Marlin, why would an identical action, proofed for smokeless powder, be incapable of safely firing a cartridge generating no more than 28,000 psi?
It is further interesting to note that, in addition to the .500 BPE, a number of the M-67/89 Rolling Blocks were sporterized and sold following conversion to the 9.3x57mm Mauser and 6.5x55mm SE rounds, two other modern numbers popular throughout Scandinavia for hunting big game.
It must be said that there is absolutely no evidence that two different 8x58R cartridges were available to Scandinavian sportsmen and troops in the field, one for the Rolling Block rifles and another for the admittedly stronger Krag actions, as Dutchman would seem to imply. Other than his tale of the dead Swede and his .500 Nitro mistake, Dutchman provides no evidence of any catastrophic failure with any M-67/89. Tens of thousands of these rifles have been in use for more than 125 years since their conversion and he seems to have done considerable reading in order to back up his theory.
If there was a single shred of documentation regarding such an incident, he should have included it in one of his many articles and posts. However, if you Google "M-67/89" and the words "catastrophic failure," "blew up" or "dangerous," the only links that come up are those written by Dutchman himself. There are quite a number of them.
It is my belief that Dutchman's 28,000 psi chamber pressure limit was simply pulled out of a hat. Despite repeated requests, he has done nothing to dispel the notion. That his figure happens to coincide with the lowest chamber pressure listed by SAAMI for any centerfire rifle cartridge, the .45-70 in the vintage Trapdoor Springfield rifle, is suspicious.
The smokeless powder Remington Number 5 Rolling Block began production in 1895. It is doubtful the steel used in them was any better than the Swedish steel used in the M-67/89 conversions performed during the same period.
On the basis of the evidence, including the Scandinavian authorities Schinke, van den Brink and Nielsen, the Numrich conversions and the record of the Remington Number 5 Rolling Block, it seems reasonable to conclude that a Swedish M-67/89 rifle in excellent shooting condition should be capable of safely handling chamber pressures in excess of 28,000 psi.
Any firearm can be made to fail. Careless or foolhardy handloaders do it all the time. However, I have researched this extensively and found nothing to suggest that there is any particular problem with the M-67/89 Swedish Rolling Block rifle, despite the dire warnings of Dutchman.
Do your own research. Don't believe everything you read, especially on Internet forums.
Copyright 2017 by Mike Hudson and/or chuckhawks.com. All rights reserved.