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William Soper’s Direct Action Breech Loader

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William Soper of Reading, England designed this “Direct Action Breech Loader” and attempted to have it tested for British military adoption – but he was one day too late to have his rifle included in the tests and the Martini-Henry was ultimately adopted. The intent of Soper’s system was to have the fastest possible rate of fire for a single-shot rifle, and what he came up with is quite interesting.

A single lever just above and behind the trigger (intended to be operated by the shooter’s right thumb) operated all aspects of the action, pressing the lever down recocks the hammer, opens the breech, extracts, and ejects the empty case. All that need be done is to drop a new cartridge into the breech, and press the lever up to close the action. Soper had an assistant who was reportedly able to fire the rifle at a rate of 60 rounds/minute – very impressive for a gun designed in 1868!

Many thanks to the anonymous Dutch collector who provided me access to this rifle to bring to you!

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