In this Forgotten Weapons video, we don’t see the familiar face of Ian behind the table; instead it’s Luke Haag, who put together this video and allowed Ian to share it via his YouTube channel.
The Girardoni had a magazine capacity of 22 bullets (!) and could fire every one of them within one minute. Compare that with the flintlock muskets that were standard for the time, and they were pretty dang revolutionary… although the slow velocity (400ish FPS) of the .46-caliber round balls certainly limited their effectiveness.
Amazingly, this gun can be operated and fireed considerably more quickly than a bolt-action rifle, although it would be decades before bolt actions came into being.
The buttstock is the air reservoir, more or less conical in shape but long enough to serve as a shoulder stock. The valve setup is impressively precise.
The rifling appears unconventional at first glance, but it works the same as any rifling; perhaps the greatest departure from modern rifles is the large number of lands & grooves (12).
Also interesting is the leather kit bag, issued to every soldier along with his air rifle and containing the air pump, lead ladle, bullet mold for making the round balls, four steel tubes containing spare round balls (which can be used as speed loaders), and two extra buttstocks/air reservoirs.
When it comes time to pump them up, we learn what the new recruits were probably stuck doing — because it takes about 1500 strokes to build up the 800ish PSI required! Yikes.
From Ian’s description:
The Girardoni (also spelled Girandoni) air rifle was a very advanced design adopted in 1780 by the Austrian Army. While the standard arm of the day was a single-shot flintlock, the Girardoni offered a massive firepower advantage to the men who carried it. The guns (designed by Bartholomäus Girardoni, of Vienna) had a magazine capacity of 22 round balls, which could all be fired within 60 seconds. The balls were .46 caliber, weighing approximately 153 grains, and were propelled at 400-450 feet per second. They were rumored to be silent, but actually had a loud report (although quieter than gunpowder firearms). One of these rifles was carried by the Lewis & Clark expedition into the American West.
The Austrian Army used them for a relatively short time – they were taken out of service by Imperial order in 1788, and issued back to Tyrolian sniper units only in 1792. The reasons for their replacement were more logistical than the result of any actual shortcoming with Girardoni’s design. The problem was that they required special training to use (compared to a normal firearm), required specially trained and equipped gunsmiths to repair and maintain, and difficulty maintaining them in combat conditions.