Georg Heinrich von Priem

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Georg von Priem
Georg Heinrich von Priem (1794 bis 1870) ist Sömmerdas erster Ehrenbürger. Er erhielt 1848 seine kommunale Auszeichnung.png
Birth name Georg Heinrich Priem
Birth date 13 November 1794(1794-11-13)
Place of birth Vietz near Küstrin, Kreis Landsberg an der Warthe, Kingdom of Prussia, Holy Roman Empire
Death date 13 July 1870 (aged 75)
Place of death Berlin, Province of Brandenburg, Kingdom of Prussia, North German Confederation
Resting place Alter Garnisonfriedhof
Allegiance Germany Prussian Eagle.jpg Kingdom of Prussia
Wappen des Deutschen Bundes.jpg German Confederation
Service/branch War and service flag of Prussia (1895–1918).png Prussian Army
Years of service 1808–1852
Rank Charakter als Generalmajor
Battles/wars German campaign of 1813
Awards Iron Cross (1813)
Red Eagle Order
Relations ∞ 1821 Henriette Priem
∞ 1845 Adelheid von Treskow
∞ 1854 Ernestine von Treskow

Georg Heinrich Priem, since 1857 von Priem (13 November 1794 – 13 July 1870), was a German officer of the Prussian Army, finally Charakter als Generalmajor (Honorary Major General) as well as lord of the manor (Gut Pawlowo near Schokken, Regierungsbezirk Bromberg).


Prussian Model 1862 (Dreyse Needle Rifle)
Figure 1 and 2: Dreyse needle-gun; Figure 3 and 4: French imitation (Chassepot; Fusil modèle 1866)

On 28 December 1808, 14-year-old Priem joined the 4th Company of the Garde-Jäger-Bataillon of the Prussian Army in Berlin. On 1 June 1813, he was transferred as a second lieutenant to the 1. Neumärkisches Landwehr-Infanterie-Regiment, with which Priem took part in the sieges of Stettin, Wittenberg, Grokum and Soissons during the Wars of Liberation. For the storming of Arnhem, Priem received the Iron Cross, 2nd class. He also fought at Großbeeren, Laon, Hoogstraaten and Compiegne. He was wounded near Dennewitz and Antwerp. After the war, Priem was promoted to first lieutenant in mid-June 1815 and was assigned to the Rhenish Rifle Battalion on 27 February 1816. On 12 January 1817, he joined the 20th Infantry Regiment, where he became captain and company commander on 28 November 1820.

On 30 March 1834, he was promoted to major and came as commander of the III. Battalion in the 8th Landwehr Regiment. From mid-November 1839, Priem was assigned to the rifle factory in Spandau for a year. On 7 April 1842, he was placed at disposal of the Minister of War General der Infanterie Hermann von Boyen and was aggregated into the 8th Landwehr Regiment.

In 1842, a new type of rifle appeared, the Thouvenin rifle was introduced by Major Pallon. Therefore, Major Priem was assigned to the Minister of War to oversee the comparisons. General von Peucker, who supervised the experiments, then decided to introduce the needle-gun. Priem was now given the task of introducing the weapon into the troops; by the time he retired in 1852, all units had been converted.[1]

On 6 April 1852, he received his farewell with the honorary rank of major general. For his promotion of the needle-gun, which led to the mass introduction in the Prussian Army, he was raised to the hereditary Prussian nobility. After the German War of Brothers, on 17 September 1866, von Priem received the Red Eagle Order, Second Class with Oak Leaves in recognition of his services to the superior armament of the Prussian Army leading to the decisive Prussian victory.[2] The inventor of the needle-gun, Johann Nicolaus von Dreyse (1787–1867), who was appointed Privy Commission Councilor, was also honored with this award.

Dreyse needle-gun

Priem was a well-known weapons expert. In 1830, his fusilier battalion was quartered in Sömmerda, where he found a special hunting rifle. It was a needle-gun (still as a muzzle loader) that Dreyse from Sömmerda had built. Dreyse had been working on the construction of a new type of rifle in Sömmerda since the 1820s.

Priem immediately recognized the military value and asked Dreyse why he had not offered the rifle to the military. He replied that he had been rejected twice. Therefore, his partner Carl Friedrich Theodor Collenbusch (1794–1849) traveled to Württemberg to negotiate a sale with Captain Schwab. Priem received one of the prototypes, which he further improved in Erfurt and then presented to his division commander, General von Thile. He sent him on to General Karl Ernst Job Wilhelm von Witzleben in Berlin. He was also a weapons expert and persuaded the Minister of War General Karl Georg Albrecht Ernst von Hake to order ten rifles for examination. Firing tests were carried out in the autumn. The army had actually just finished testing the percussion rifle and only Colonel von Neumann and Captain Herwarth von Bittenfeld were convinced of the new invention.

In 1832, Witzleben requested additional rifles, and further tests were carried out with these until 1834. At the end of 1834 an order for 1,100 rifles was placed. The supporters had now contacted the commander of the III. Army Corps – Prince Wilhelm of Prussia – brought to their side. Major Priem in 1838 at an audience with the Crown Prince, later King Friedrich Wilhelm IV:

"Your Royal Highness, 60,000 men armed with this rifle under the leadership of a talented general and His Majesty the King will be able to determine where Prussia's border should be."

The rifle was initially introduced slowly; by September 1840, 60,000 rifles had been ordered. In order to be able to produce the weapon in large quantities, Dreyse built a factory in Sömmerda with the help of government loans. Production got off to a slow start; the rifles were stored in the Berlin armory. The name "leichtes Perkussionsgewehr Modell 1841" or "M/41" (“Light Percussion Rifle Model 1841”) was chosen for camouflage. During the March Revolution of 1848, insurgent Berliners captured the armory, which resulted in a number of needle-guns falling into their hands. In the period that followed, some rifles made their way abroad. In 1848, the needle rifle was first issued to a Prussian fusilier battalion.

It is surprising then, that as early as 1841, one German state—Prussia—was fielding a sophisticated rifle that was not only a practical breechloader, but which also fired an effective self-contained cartridge—a convention that would not become common in arms used by larger, more powerful nations until some 20 years later. [...] The gun’s action involved a heavy bolt that secured on the shoulder of the action. To open it, one pressed on a spring catch on the rear cocking piece and rotated the bolt upward about a quarter of a turn. After a round was chambered, the cocking piece was pushed in, compressing the mainspring and locking the firing pin shaft against the sear. The firing pin consisted of a long, thin needle (hence the rifle’s designation) which discharged a manually chambered round when the trigger was pulled. The recessed forward portion of the bolt enclosed a reverse cone sited at the chamber entrance. Upon firing, this provided a seal of sorts and also made sure any escaping gasses would be directed away from the shooter. The cartridge itself was at least as ingenious than the action. Unlike other military ammunition of the period, which relied on a separate cartridge comprised of wrapper, bullet and powder that was detonated by an external percussion cap, the Dreyse round incorporated everything needed to fire the rifle in one compact, combustible package. This unique round underwent some tweaking before the perfected Modell 1855 version was finally adopted. In its ultimate form, it consisted of a snug paper envelope which, at its midpoint, enclosed a firm coiled paper sabot, the forward portion cupped to hold a 500-grain 15.43 mm ( .63 caliber) egg-shaped bullet and its rear provided with a small circular recess for priming compound. The 75-grain blackpowder charge was sited behind the sabot, requiring the needle/firing pin to pass through it prior to striking the primer. The system worked and worked well—with reservations. Maximum firing rate of a Zundnadelgewehr was reckoned in a report in the British Chambers Journal of Aug. 18, 1866, to be 10 to 12 times a minute, but the writer qualified this speed stating, “but the soldiers are directed even in the hottest part of the action, not to fire more than five times a minute.” This was still about twice the rate of a common muzzleloading military musket or rifle musket. Muzzle velocity was some 800 to 1,000 f.p.s. and accuracy was deemed acceptable (for the era) out to 500-700 yards.[3]

The first use took place in 1849 to suppress the uprisings during the German Revolution, first in Dresden, then in the Palatinate and Baden and in the Schleswig-Holstein War. The weapon thus proved its practical capability, and Friedrich Wilhelm IV ordered its introduction throughout the army. Since the factory in Sömmerda could not meet the high demand (only 45,000 rifles had been manufactured by 1848), Dreyse agreed that state-owned factories also manufactured the needle-guns. This happened for the first time in 1853 in the Royal Prussian Rifle Factory in Spandau, and then also in Danzig, Saarn and Erfurt. The introduction of cast steel barrels made industrial mass production of the weapon possible in the early 1860s.

Production became more industrial and efficient over the years, using modern means such as lathes and milling machines, which allowed production to increase. For example, 12,000 weapons were produced annually in Spandau, which increased to 48,000 in 1867. In 1855, the rifle was officially named "Zündnadelgewehr" ("Ignition Needle Rifle"). The name was based on its firing pin, since it passed like a needle through the paper cartridge to strike a percussion cap at the base of the bullet. Over time, variants of the needle gun were developed for various applications such as Jäger or cavalry. The weapon was also purchased by small German states that were within Prussia's sphere of influence.

The success of German private industry in delivering the necessary amount of armaments for the army marked the definite end of government-owned army workshops. The Prussian Army infantry had 270,000 Dreyse needle guns by the outbreak of the Austro-Prussian War in 1866. It was only the Prussian successes during this war – especially in the decisive Battle of Königgrätz (de) – against the Austrian troops from the German Confederation in 1866 that convinced other states of the advantages of breech-loading rifles. It was during this war that the needle-gun gained its special reputation. However, the technology was only part of the success, because the Prussian Generalfeldmarschall Helmuth Karl Bernhard Freiherr von Moltke implemented the characteristics of the needle rifle into a new tactical concept. Instead of an assault with fixed bayonets, the attack should be carried out with rapid rifle fire. The fixed, tightly packed formations were abandoned in favor of a looser formation of smaller units. This reduced the risk of shooting one's own comrades in the back.

In addition to the usual volley, in which the soldiers in a unit fired simultaneously, there was also “rapid fire,” in which each individual soldier fired as quickly as he could load. The new tactic was criticized by conservative military leaders such as Friedrich von Wrangel as dishonorable because it avoided close, face-to-face combat. Prussia also invested significantly more in the shooting training of every soldier. The shooters learned how to use the sights in order to compensate for the slow trajectory of the bullets (a negative characteristic of the needle rifle). The Austrians were unable to adapt to the needle-gun and the tactics of the Prussians. Ultimately, not only the armament, but also the Austrians' training, organizational and tactical inferiority were decisive for the outcome of the war.

The British Army evaluated the Dreyse needle gun in 1849–1851. In the British trials, the Dreyse was shown to be capable of six rounds per minute, and to maintain accuracy at 800–1,200 yards (730–1,100 m). The trials wrongly suggested that the Dreyse was "too complicated and delicate" for service use. In 1867, Romania purchased 20,000 rifles and 11,000 carbines from the Prussian government. These were used to great effect in the Romanian War of Independence. Sometime in the late 1860s, Japan acquired an unknown number of Model 1862 rifles and bayonets. These were marked with the imperial chrysanthemum stamp. China also acquired Dreyse rifles for the modernisation of their armed forces. In France, Italy, Russia and other countries, the ignition needle principle was tested, copied and improved with independent solutions.

The employment of the needle-gun changed military tactics in the 19th century, as a Prussian soldier could fire five (later six, then eight) shots, even while lying on the ground, in the time that it took his Austrian muzzle-loading counterpart to reload while standing. Production was ramped up after the war against Austria and when the Franco-Prussian War broke out in 1870, the Prussian Army had 1,150,000 needle-guns in its inventory. An improved model, giving greater muzzle velocity and increased speed in loading, was introduced later, but it was replaced shortly thereafter by the superior "Mauser Model 1871 rifle", a breech loader with a metal cartridge. Mass replacement began 1873 was completed in 1875/76. Approximately 1.82 million rifles and Jägerbüchse and 80,000–100,000 carbines produced. After troop trials in 1882 and 1883, the design was updated in 1884 with an 8-round tubular magazine designed by Alfred von Kropatschek. The "Mauser 1871" was replaced by the magazine-fed, smokeless powder using "Gewehr 1888" from 1888 through 1890


Son Georg Albert (1850–1920) also became an officer, he served as a Rittmeister of the husars in the Brandenburg Husaren-Regiment (Zietensche Husaren) Nr. 3, retired as a Major z. D., was highly decorated in 1908 (see picture), became Princely Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt Chief Court Marshal until his death, was reactivated in WWI, served as Charakter als Oberstleutnant z. D. (Honorary Lieutenant Colonel at disposal; announced on 27 January 1915[4]) and commandant of the headquarters of the Armee-Abteilung Falkenhausen which was used to protect the Imperial Territory of Alsace-Lorraine.

Georg was the son of the forester Friedrich Ewald Priem and his wife Anna Luise, née Großkreuz.


On 1 September 1821 in Berlin, Captain Priem married his fiancée, his distant cousin Marie Henriette Auguste Priem (b. 11 April 1795 in Berlin; d. 22 May 1843 in Berlin), a daughter of the war councilor (Kriegsrat) August Wilhelm Priem. They had no known children. On 2 June 1845 in Königsberg, Priem married Adelheid Friederike Caroline Ernstine von Treskow (b. 25 September 1808 in Graudenz). They would have four children, but Adelheid died on 10 February 1850, only nine days after giving birth to the twins:[5]

  • Marie Wilhelmine Henriette Charlotte (b. 13 May 1846; d. 14 July 1860 in Misdroy)
  • Anna Julie Marianne Caroline (b. 28 September 1847 in Berlin; d. 2 September 1887 in Charlottenburg); ∞ Berlin 16 January 1867 Konrad von der Groeben (1829–1900), jurist and Royal Prussian President of the Consistory in Posen
  • Adelheid Henriette (b. 1 February 1850; d. 27 November 1875 in Westend near Charlottenburg); ∞ Berlin 24 October 1867 Karl Friedrich Adolf Hermann Freiherr Hofer von Lobenstein (1835–1896), officer (Landwehr), district court council and lord of the manor (Wildenstein, Neustädtlin and Rötheln)
  • Georg Albert (b. 1 February 1850 in Berlin; d. 23 December 1920 in Rudolstadt), officer, since 20 September 1896 Princely Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt Chamberlain, since 27 November 1899 Court Marshal and since 10 April 1909 Chief Court Marshal (Fürstlich Schwarzburg-Rudolstadtischer Kammerherr und Oberhofmarschall), since 21 August 1918 Real Privy Councilor (Wirklicher Geheimrat); ∞ Köln am Rhein 27 September 1879 Therese Marie Friederike Caroline, née Freiin von Plettenberg
    • Georg Ernst Karl Ludwig (1883–1944), officer, Major General of the Wehrmacht in WWII; ∞ Brandenburg 12 December 1927 Antonie Martha Frieda Schoeps (b. 7 March 1898 in Berlin)
    • Leopold Eduard Konrad (b. 19 April 1885 in Deutz), officer (Landwehr-Train I) and merchant in Berlin; ∞ Berlin 2 March 1914 Julie Albertine Busch (b. 4 January 1877 in Duisburg), one daughter (Eugenie Maria; b. 6 January 1915 in Berlin-Lankwitz; d. 30 August 2000)[6]

On 25 July 1854 in Königsberg, Generalmajor Priem married Ernestine Sophie Ulrike von Treskow (b 15 April 1812 in Pillau; d. 23 September 1893), Adelheid's younger sister.[7]

Memberships (excerpt)

  • 1815 St. Johannis-Loge – Tempel der Tugend zu Schwedt
    • Masonic lodge founded on 4 June 1778; Since 1811, Field Lodge No. 1, a military lodge, has also belonged to the Schwedt lodge.
  • 1851 Gesetzlose Gesellschaft zu Berlin, a social society founded in Berlin in 1809 in the aftermath of the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt to press for the reform of Prussian government and society. Members were exclusively prominent figures from the intellectual, artistic and military elite.
  • 1858 Zoologische Gesellschaft Frankfurt


  • 1 June 1813 Secondlieutenant (2nd Lieutenant)
  • 10 June 1815 Premierlieutenant (1st Lieutenant)
  • 28 November 1820 Capitän (Captain)
  • 30 March 1834 Major
  • 30 March 1844 Oberstleutnant (Lieutenant Colonel)
  • 27 March 1847 Oberst (Colonel)
  • 6 April 1852 Charakter als Generalmajor (Honorary Major General)

Awards, decorations and honours


  • Honorary Citizen of the city of Sömmerda (Province of Saxony) on 5 November 1848[10]
  • Raised to the hereditary Prussian nobility on 23 June 1857

Writings (excerpt)

  • Über die Handhabung des Zündnadelgewehrs (English: About Handling the Needle-Gun)


  1. Neue militärische Blätter: Monatsschrift für Armee und Marine, Volume 5, p. 344
  2. The full value of the needle rifle had by no means been demonstrated in the German-Danish War of 1864. The effect of the breech-loader in the German War of 1866 therefore seemed surprising. In conjunction with rifled cannons, the needle-gun brought about a formal revolution in the field of warfare, and it was of considerable importance for this campaign (research generally supports the claimed decisive role in the war, although today somewhat more critical, stating the main reason for the victory was the fighting power and leadership of the Prussians).
  3. Dreyse Needle Rifle: The World’s First Military Bolt-Action
  4. Personal-Veränderungen in der Armee, p. 10
  5. Gothaisches Genealogisches Taschenbuch der Briefadeligen Häuser, 1909, pp. 598 f.
  6. Gothaisches Genealogisches Taschenbuch der Briefadeligen Häuser, Teil B, 1931, p. 526
  7. Priem, Familie von
  8. Rang- und Quartier-Liste der Königlich Preußischen Armee für das Jahr 1851, p. 237
  9. Familie Georg Heinrich von Priem
  10. Militär, Förderer und Stifter