If there was one gun sold at the latest Joh. Springer’s Erben auction that I would really want to toy around with, it is this – the SuperBritte.
The Britte brothers were important figures in Liege gun trade between the World Wars. Their Establissments Britte – a big high-tech (for the period) factory – supplied assembly kits and guns “in the white” to various gunmakers and retailers, who would then finish the guns to the customer’s taste and sell it under their own brand. For more information about the Britte brothers and the Belgian gunmakers who owe their reputation to their produce, read this story from Igor Karklinsh’s blog.
The Brittes’ piece de resistance was a H&H Royal type self-opener, but they also supplied inexpensive Anson&Deeley boxlocks – and tried to break through new markets. Their attempt to navigate the then nearly uncharted world of over/under shotguns they proudly called SuperBritte
The SuperBritte was patented in 1931, but, like many Belgian developments, it descends from an earlier British system. The side-opening principle has been tried way back in the 1860s (W. W. Greener mentions Jeffries and “the Fox gun in America” in The Gun and its Development) and the great Scottish house of John Dickson & Son tried to make a side-opeining over/under as early as in 1888.
All for a good reason. As far as pure mechanics goes, this scheme makes much more sense than the traditional arrangement of the break-open gun. The locking elements are located so that the torques that act on them when the gun is fired are minimal – and the greatest torques produced by discreptancy between the points of maximum pressure and the gun’s geometrical and mass centers are spread across large unmoving surfaces. As a result, the action is potentially undestructable.
But wait, there’s more. There’s no need to place any lugs or bolts under or over the barrels, and so the action can be made very shallow – you see that it’s as shallow as an over/under can possibly be.
That makes the gun very compact, highly pointable and potentially very light. And, true to the prediction, the SuperBritte is very light (2.9 kg – you don’t want a 12 gauge to get any lighter!) and sure looks like a tight little package. Unfortunately, I can’t give any opinion about the gun’s balance, pointability and swing – and that’s one reason why I want to handle one for a while (a couple of rounds of Skeet would be perfect)!
But if building a shotgun was only a mechanical problem, a gunmaker’s lot would be too easy. A gun must first be operator-friendly – and that’s the reason for the failure of most designs that fail. If the gun feels right and natural, no difficulties in production and no considerations of cost stop the makers from building and perfecting the system – I mean, just look at the Boss O/U – and, anyway, with the Britte’s business model there wouldn’t be any problems with quality and the costs would have to be entirely realistic. Still, the system failed to catch up. Even though the Brittes, in addition to their own effort, were backed by the reputation and marketing skills of such houses as Francotte, in the 8 years until the start of the WWII, they couldn’t even sell out the original lot of 250 SuperBrittes. The only explanation is that there is something fundamentally wrong with its ergonomics. And the second reason I’d love to check a SuperBritte out is to see exactly what the problem is.