Martini-Henry
Overview
 
The Martini-Henry was a breech-loading single-shot
Single-shot
Single-shot firearms are firearms that hold only a single round of ammunition, and must be reloaded after each shot. The history of firearms began with single-shot designs, and many centuries passed before multi-shot designs became commonplace...

 lever-actuated rifle
Rifle
A rifle is a firearm designed to be fired from the shoulder, with a barrel that has a helical groove or pattern of grooves cut into the barrel walls. The raised areas of the rifling are called "lands," which make contact with the projectile , imparting spin around an axis corresponding to the...

 adopted by the British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

, combining an action worked on by Friedrich von Martini (in certain respects resembling, and sometimes claimed to be based on, the Peabody rifle
Peabody action
The Peabody action was an early form of breechloading firearm action, where the heavy breechblock tilted downwards across a bolt mounted in the rear of the breechblock, operated by a lever under the rifle. The Peabody action most often used an external hammer to fire the cartridge.The Peabody...

 developed by Henry Peabody), with the rifled barrel designed by Scotsman Alexander Henry
Alexander Henry (gunsmith)
Alexander Henry was a Scottish gunsmith, based in Edinburgh, and designer of the Henry rifling used in the Martini-Henry rifle.He submitted a rifle to the competition organised by the British government for a replacement to their existing Snider-Enfield service weapon. The government did not...

. It first entered service in 1871 replacing the Snider-Enfield
Snider-Enfield
The British .577 Snider-Enfield was a type of breech loading rifle. The firearm action was invented by the American Jacob Snider, and the Snider-Enfield was one of the most widely used of the Snider varieties. It was adopted by British Army as a conversion system for its ubiquitous Pattern 1853...

, and variants were used throughout the British Empire
British Empire
The British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom. It originated with the overseas colonies and trading posts established by England in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. At its height, it was the...

 for 30 years.
Encyclopedia
The Martini-Henry was a breech-loading single-shot
Single-shot
Single-shot firearms are firearms that hold only a single round of ammunition, and must be reloaded after each shot. The history of firearms began with single-shot designs, and many centuries passed before multi-shot designs became commonplace...

 lever-actuated rifle
Rifle
A rifle is a firearm designed to be fired from the shoulder, with a barrel that has a helical groove or pattern of grooves cut into the barrel walls. The raised areas of the rifling are called "lands," which make contact with the projectile , imparting spin around an axis corresponding to the...

 adopted by the British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

, combining an action worked on by Friedrich von Martini (in certain respects resembling, and sometimes claimed to be based on, the Peabody rifle
Peabody action
The Peabody action was an early form of breechloading firearm action, where the heavy breechblock tilted downwards across a bolt mounted in the rear of the breechblock, operated by a lever under the rifle. The Peabody action most often used an external hammer to fire the cartridge.The Peabody...

 developed by Henry Peabody), with the rifled barrel designed by Scotsman Alexander Henry
Alexander Henry (gunsmith)
Alexander Henry was a Scottish gunsmith, based in Edinburgh, and designer of the Henry rifling used in the Martini-Henry rifle.He submitted a rifle to the competition organised by the British government for a replacement to their existing Snider-Enfield service weapon. The government did not...

. It first entered service in 1871 replacing the Snider-Enfield
Snider-Enfield
The British .577 Snider-Enfield was a type of breech loading rifle. The firearm action was invented by the American Jacob Snider, and the Snider-Enfield was one of the most widely used of the Snider varieties. It was adopted by British Army as a conversion system for its ubiquitous Pattern 1853...

, and variants were used throughout the British Empire
British Empire
The British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom. It originated with the overseas colonies and trading posts established by England in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. At its height, it was the...

 for 30 years. Though the Snider was the first breechloader firing a metallic cartridge in the British service, the Martini was designed from the outset as a breechloader and was both faster firing and had a longer range.

There are four classes of the Martini-Henry rifle: Mark I (released in June 1871), Mark II, Mark III, and Mark IV. There was also an 1877 carbine version with variations that included a Garrison Artillery Carbine, an Artillery Carbine (Mark I, Mark II, and Mark III), and smaller versions designed as training rifles for military cadets. The Mark IV Martini-Henry rifle ended production in the year 1889, but remained in service throughout the British Empire
British Empire
The British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom. It originated with the overseas colonies and trading posts established by England in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. At its height, it was the...

 until the end of the First World War. It was seen in use by some Afghan
Afghanistan
Afghanistan , officially the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, is a landlocked country located in the centre of Asia, forming South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East. With a population of about 29 million, it has an area of , making it the 42nd most populous and 41st largest nation in the world...

 tribesmen as late as the Soviet invasion. Early in 2010 and 2011, United States Marines recovered at least three from various Taliban weapons caches in Marjah. In April 2011, another Martini-Henry rifle was found near Orgun in Paktika Province by United States Army's 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).

The Martini-Henry was copied on a large scale by North-West Frontier Province
North-West Frontier Province
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa , formerly known as the North-West Frontier Province and various other names, is one of the four provinces of Pakistan, located in the north-west of the country...

 gunsmiths. Their weapons were of a poorer quality than those made by Royal Small Arms Factory
Royal Small Arms Factory
The Royal Small Arms Factory was a UK government-owned rifle factory in the London Borough of Enfield in an area generally known as the Lea Valley. The factory produced British military rifles, muskets and swords from 1816...

, Enfield, but accurate down to the proof markings. The chief manufacturers were the Adam Khel Afridi, who lived around the Khyber Pass
Khyber Pass
The Khyber Pass, is a mountain pass linking Pakistan and Afghanistan.The Pass was an integral part of the ancient Silk Road. It is mentioned in the Bible as the "Pesh Habor," and it is one of the oldest known passes in the world....

. The British called such weapons, "Pass made rifles
Khyber Pass Copy
A Khyber Pass Copy is a firearm manufactured by cottage gunsmiths in the Khyber Pass region between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The reason they are called that is because the Adam Khel Afridi, who live around the Khyber pass, were historically the most active arms manufacturers on the Frontier.The...

".

Overview

In their original chambering, the rifles fired a round-nosed, tapered head .458-inch, soft hollow-based lead bullet, wrapped in a waxed 'paper patch' giving a wider diameter of .460".in; it weighed 485 grains. It was crimped in place with two cannulas (grooves on the outside neck of the case), ahead of concave felt and glazed card wadding. This sat on top of the main powder charge inside a rimmed brass foil cartridge
Cartridge (firearms)
A cartridge, also called a round, packages the bullet, gunpowder and primer into a single metallic case precisely made to fit the firing chamber of a firearm. The primer is a small charge of impact-sensitive chemical that may be located at the center of the case head or at its rim . Electrically...

, known today as the .577/450, a bottle-neck design with the same base as the .577 cartridge of the Snider-Enfield
Snider-Enfield
The British .577 Snider-Enfield was a type of breech loading rifle. The firearm action was invented by the American Jacob Snider, and the Snider-Enfield was one of the most widely used of the Snider varieties. It was adopted by British Army as a conversion system for its ubiquitous Pattern 1853...

. It was charged with 85 grains (5.51 g) of Curtis and Harvey's No.6 coarse black powder, notorious for its heavy recoil. The cartridge case was ejected to the rear when the lever was operated.

The rifle was 49 inches (124.5 cm) long, the steel barrel 33.22 inches (84 cm). The Henry patent rifling
Rifling
Rifling is the process of making helical grooves in the barrel of a gun or firearm, which imparts a spin to a projectile around its long axis...

 produced a heptagonal barrel with seven grooves with one turn in 22 inches (558.8 mm). The weapon weighed 8 pounds 7 ounces (3.83 kg). A sword bayonet
Bayonet
A bayonet is a knife, dagger, sword, or spike-shaped weapon designed to fit in, on, over or underneath the muzzle of a rifle, musket or similar weapon, effectively turning the gun into a spear...

 was standard issue for noncommissioned officers; when fitted, the weapon extended to 68 inches (172.7 cm) and weight increased to 10 pounds 4 ounces (4.65 kg). The standard bayonet was a socket-type spike, either converted from the older Pattern 1853 (overall length 20.4 inches) or newly produced as the Pattern 1876 (overall length 25 inches). A bayonet designed by Lord Elcho
Francis Charteris, 10th Earl of Wemyss
Francis Richard Charteris, 10th Earl of Wemyss GCVO , styled as Lord Elcho between 1853 and 1883, was a British Whig politician...

 was intended for chopping and other sundry non-combat duties, and featured a double row of teeth so it could be used as a saw; it was not produced in great numbers and was not standard issue.

The Mk2 Martini-Henry rifle, as used in the Zulu Wars, was sighted to 1,800 yards. At 1,200 yards (1100 m), 20 shots exhibited a mean deflection from the centre of the group of 27 inches (69.5 cm), the highest point on the trajectory was 8 feet (2.44 m) at 500 yards (450 m).

A 0.402 calibre model, the Enfield-Martini, incorporating several minor improvements such as a safety catch, was gradually phased in to replace the Martini-Henry from about 1884 onwards. The replacement was gradual so existing stocks of the old ammunition would be used up.

However, before this was complete, the decision was made to replace the Martini-Henry rifles with the .303
.303 British
.303 British, or 7.7x56mmR, is a .311 inch calibre rifle and machine gun cartridge first developed in Britain as a blackpowder round put into service in December 1888 for the Lee-Metford rifle, later adapted to use smokeless powders...

 calibre bolt-action magazine Lee-Metford
Lee-Metford
The Lee-Metford rifle was a bolt action British army service rifle, combining James Paris Lee's rear-locking bolt system and ten-round magazine with a seven groove rifled barrel designed by William Ellis Metford...

 which gave a considerably higher maximum rate of fire. Consequently, to avoid having three different rifle calibres in service, the Enfield-Martinis were withdrawn and converted to 0.45 calibre and renamed Martini-Henry "A" and "B" pattern rifles. Some 0.303 calibre blackpowder  carbine
Carbine
A carbine , from French carabine, is a longarm similar to but shorter than a rifle or musket. Many carbines are shortened versions of full rifles, firing the same ammunition at a lower velocity due to a shorter barrel length....

 versions were also produced, known as the Martini-Metford, and even 0.303 calibre cordite carbines, called Martini-Enfield
Martini-Enfield
Martini-Enfield rifles were, by and large, conversions of the Zulu War era .450/577 Martini-Henry, rechambering the rifle for use with the newly introduced .303 British cartridge...

s (as opposed to Enfield-Martinis).

During the Martini-Henry period in service, the British army were involved in a large number of colonial wars, most notably the Anglo-Zulu War
Anglo-Zulu War
The Anglo-Zulu War was fought in 1879 between the British Empire and the Zulu Kingdom.Following the imperialist scheme by which Lord Carnarvon had successfully brought about federation in Canada, it was thought that a similar plan might succeed with the various African kingdoms, tribal areas and...

 in 1879. The rifle was used by the company of the 2nd Battalion, 24th Regiment of Foot present at Rorke's Drift
Rorke's Drift
The Battle of Rorke's Drift, also known as the Defence of Rorke's Drift, was a battle in the Anglo-Zulu War. The defence of the mission station of Rorke's Drift, under the command of Lieutenant John Chard of the Royal Engineers, immediately followed the British Army's defeat at the Battle of...

. During the battle, 139 British soldiers successfully defended themselves against several thousand Zulus. The weapon was not completely phased out until 1904.

The weapon is partly blamed for the defeat of British troops at Isandlwana
Battle of Isandlwana
The Battle of Isandlwana on 22 January 1879 was the first major encounter in the Anglo-Zulu War between the British Empire and the Zulu Kingdom...

 prior to Rorke's Drift (in addition to poor tactics and numerical inferiority)—while the Martini-Henry was state of the art, in the African climate the action tended to overheat and foul after heavy use. It would eventually become difficult to move the breech block and reload the rifle. After investigating the matter, the British Army Ordnance Department determined the fragile construction of the rolled brass
Brass
Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc; the proportions of zinc and copper can be varied to create a range of brasses with varying properties.In comparison, bronze is principally an alloy of copper and tin...

 cartridge, and fouling due to the blackpowder propellant, were the main causes of this problem.
To correct this, the cartridge was switched from weak rolled brass to stronger drawn brass, and a longer loading lever was incorporated to apply greater torque to operate the mechanism when fouled. These later variants were more reliable in battle, although it wasn't until smokeless nitro powders and copper coated bullets were tried out in these rifles in the 1920s that accuracy and 100% reliability of cartridge case extraction/ ejection was finally achieved or discovered by Birmingham ammunition makers (KYNOCK). English hunters on various safaris, mainly in Africa, found the Martini using a cordite charge and a 500 grain full metal jacketed bullet effective against stopping creatures such as hippopotamus and other large dangerous game out to 80 yards away.

The nitro based/shotgun powders were used in Kynock's .577/450 drawn brass Martini-Henry cartridge cases well into the 1960s for the commercial market, and again were found to be very reliable, and being smokeless, eliminated fouling issues. Also, due to the powder burning with less pressure inside the cartridge case, it preventing the brass cases from sticking inside the rifle's chamber (because they were not expanding to the extent that the original black powder loads did).

The rifle suffered from cartridge-extraction problems during the Zulu War (mostly due to the thin weak, pliable foil brass cartridges used, as they expanded too much into the rifle's chamber on detonation, to the point that they stuck or tore open inside the rifle's chamber, rendering the arm useless in the heat of battle); however, it remained a popular competition rifle at National Rifle Association Meetings, at Bisley in Surrey, and (NRA) Civilian and Service Rifle matches from 1872–1904, it was used up to 1,000 yards using the standard military service ammunition of the day, by the 1880s the .577/.450 Boxer Henry round was recognised by the NRA as a 900yard cartridge, as shooting the Martini out to 1,000 yards or (3/4 of a mile) was difficult to say the least, and took great skill to assess the correct amount of windage to drop the 485 grain bullet on the target. But by 1904 more target shooters were using the new .303 cal cartridge, it was found to be much more accurate, and thus the interest in the .577/450 fell away, to the point that by 1909 virtually nobody was using them at Bisley matches, favouring to shoot the more up to date Lee Enfield bolt action magazine rifles.

[NB] During World War I, Mk4 Martini-Henrys were used with spitzer-tipped incendiary bullets to attempt to shoot down German Zeppelins with that were dropping bombs on London. Back in 1879, however, it was generally found that in average hands, the .577/450 Martini-Henry Mk2 (although the most accurate of the Martinis in that calibre ever produced for service life), that it was really only capable of hitting a man sized target out to 400yrds, this is because after 300yards the bullet fired from a .45" Martini goes sub-sonic and gradually loses speed thereafter, which in turn affects consistency and accuracy of the bullet in flight. The 415 grain Martini Carbine load introduced in 1878 shot better out to longer ranges, had less recoil when it was fired in the rifles instead with its reduced charge of only 75 grains of Curtis & Havey's, but was found that whilst the rifle with its 485 grain bullet shot point of aim to 100 yards that the carbine load when fired in the rifles shot 12 inches high at the same range, but then made up for this by shooting spot on out to 500yrds. . Because of these early lessons that were learnt tactics had to be evolved around the apparent limitations of this large slow & heavy calibre during the Zulu War. And during most of the key battles such as Rorke's Drift, and the battle of Ulundi
Battle of Ulundi
The Battle of Ulundi took place at the Zulu capital of Ulundi on 4 July 1879 and was the last major battle of the Anglo-Zulu War. The British army finally broke the military power of the Zulu nation by defeating the main Zulu army and immediately afterwards capturing and razing the capital of...

, the order to volley fire was not given until the Zulus were at or within 400 yards, the ballistic performances of a .577/450 are somewhat similar to that of a .45/70 American Government round, as used prolifically throughout the American Frontier West, and by buffalo hunters. Though the .577/450 has the edge on the power stakes as it holds an extra 15 grains more black powder inside the cartridge case. Its quite clear from early medical field surgeons reports that at 200yards the rifle really came into its own, and inflicted devastating and horrific wounds on the Zulus that fought at battles like Rorke's Drift. Interestingly The MK2 Martini's sights are marked to 1,800 yards, but this setting was only ever used for long range mass volley firing on an enemy's artillery position or a known massed cavalry position, prior to a main fight. This was designed as a weapon/tactic of fear to harass enemy gun positions and to prevent enemy infantry from attacking or having thoughts of attacking too early. A similar 'drop volley sight' whereby the rifle's bullets were dropped long range onto the target were employed on the later .303 Lee Enfield rifles of WW1, which had a graduation lever sight calibrated up to 2,800 yards.

A rare shotgun variant known as the Greener Prison Shotgun was chambered in a special round that would make this weapon useless to anyone who stole it. An example can be seen at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds. Greener also used the Martini action for the GP single-barreled shotgun firing standard 12-bore ammunition, which was a staple for gamekeepers and rough shooters in Britain up to the 1960s.

A variant known as the Gahendra rifle was produced locally in Nepal
Nepal
Nepal , officially the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, is a landlocked sovereign state located in South Asia. It is located in the Himalayas and bordered to the north by the People's Republic of China, and to the south, east, and west by the Republic of India...

. Acquired in the 1870s, the design was somewhat more advanced than the baseline Martini-Henry, but the rifles were produced by hand, making the quality extremely variable. Though efforts were being made to phase out these rifles, presumably by the 1890s, some 9000 were still in service by 1906.

The Martini-Henry saw service in World War I in a variety of roles—primarily as a Reserve Arm, but it was also issued (in the early stages of the war) to aircrew for attempting to shoot down observation balloons and other aircraft. In this role, newly manufactured incendiary ammunition
Incendiary ammunition
-World War I:One of the first uses of incendiary ammunition occurred in World War I. At the time, phosphorus—the primary ingredient in the incendiary charge—ignited upon firing, leaving a trail of blue smoke. They were also known as 'smoke tracer' for this reason. The effective range of...

 was employed. Martini-Henrys were also used in the African and Middle Eastern theatres during World War I, in the hands of Native Auxiliary troops.

Turkish Peabody-Martini rifles

Unable to purchase Martini-Henry rifles from the British, Turkey purchased identical weapons from the Providence Tool Company in Providence, Rhode Island, USA and used them in the Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878).

Operation of the Martini action

The lock and breech are held to the stock by a metal bolt (A). The breech is closed by the block (B) which turns on the pin (C) that passes through the rear of the block. The end of the block is rounded to form a knuckle joint with the back of the case (D) which receives the force of the recoil rather than the pin (C).

Below the trigger-guard the lever (E) works a pin (F) which projects the tumbler (G) into the case. The tumbler moves within a notch (H) and acts upon the block, raising it into the firing position or allowing it to fall according to the position of the lever.

The block (B) is hollowed along its upper surface (I) to assist in inserting a cartridge into the firing chamber (J). To explode the cartridge the block is raised to position the firing mechanism (K) against the cartridge. The firing mechanism consists of a helical spring around a pointed metal striker, the tip of which passes through a hole in the face of the block to impact the percussion-cap of the inserted cartridge. As the lever (E) is moved forward the tumbler (G) revolves and one of its arms engages and draws back the spring until the tumbler is firmly locked in the notch (H) and the spring is held by the rest-piece (L) which is pushed into a bend in the lower part of the tumbler.

After firing, the cartridge is partially extracted by the lock. The extractor rotates on a pin (M) and has two vertical arms (N), which are pressed by the rim of the cartridge pushed home into two grooves in the sides of the barrel. A bent arm (O), forming an 80° angle with the extractor arms, is forced down by the dropping block when the lever is pushed forward, so causing the upright arms to extract the cartridge case slightly and allow easier manual full extraction.

As well as British service rifles, the Martini breech action was applied to shotguns by the Greener company of Britain, whose single-shot 'EP' riot guns were still in service in the 1970s in former British colonies. The Greener 'GP' shotgun, also using the Martini action, was a favourite rough-shooting gun in the mid-20th century. The martini action was used by BSA and latterly BSA/Parker Hale for their series of "Small Action Martini" small bore target rifles that were in production until 1955.

See also

  • Bira gun
    Bira gun
    The Bira gun was a .577/450 Martini-Henry calibre machine gun designed and manufactured in Nepal during the latter part of the 19th Century. It was a development of, and based upon, the American Gardner gun. It was double barreled, but fed through an overhead drum magazine similar to the later...

    : a manually operated machine gun chambered in the same .577/450 cartridge as the Martini-Henry rifle
  • Martini-Enfield
    Martini-Enfield
    Martini-Enfield rifles were, by and large, conversions of the Zulu War era .450/577 Martini-Henry, rechambering the rifle for use with the newly introduced .303 British cartridge...

    : the .303 calibre
    .303 British
    .303 British, or 7.7x56mmR, is a .311 inch calibre rifle and machine gun cartridge first developed in Britain as a blackpowder round put into service in December 1888 for the Lee-Metford rifle, later adapted to use smokeless powders...

     version of the Martini-Henry
  • Martini Cadet
    Martini Cadet
    The Martini Cadet is a centrefire single shot rifle produced in the United Kingdom by BSA and W.W. Greener for the use of Australian military Cadets. Based on a miniature version of the Martini-Henry it was internally different...

    : Cadet target shooting rifle
  • Zulu
    Zulu (film)
    Zulu is a 1964 historical war film depicting the Battle of Rorke's Drift between the British Army and the Zulus in January 1879, during the Anglo-Zulu War....

    : the film shows the rifles in use at the Battle of Rorke's Drift
  • Zulu Dawn
    Zulu Dawn
    Zulu Dawn is a 1979 war film about the historical Battle of Isandlwana between British and Zulu forces in 1879 in South Africa. The screenplay was by Cy Endfield, from his book, and Anthony Story. The film was directed by Douglas Hickox...

    : the film shows the rifle in use at the Battle of Isandlwana
    Battle of Isandlwana
    The Battle of Isandlwana on 22 January 1879 was the first major encounter in the Anglo-Zulu War between the British Empire and the Zulu Kingdom...

  • The Man Who Would Be King (film)
    The Man Who Would Be King (film)
    The Man Who Would Be King is a 1975 film adapted from the Rudyard Kipling short story of the same title. It was adapted and directed by John Huston and starred Sean Connery, Michael Caine, Saeed Jaffrey, and Christopher Plummer as Kipling .The film follows two rogue ex-non-commissioned officers of...

    : the film shows the rifle as being a standard issue British military rifle of the day
  • British military rifles
    British military rifles
    The origins of the modern British military rifle are within its predecessor the Brown Bess musket. While a musket was largely inaccurate over 80 yards due to a lack of rifling and a generous tolerance to allow for muzzle-loading, it was cheaper to produce and could be loaded quickly. The use in...

  • "Fuzzy-Wuzzy
    Fuzzy-Wuzzy
    Fuzzy-Wuzzy is a poem by the English author and poet Rudyard Kipling, published in 1892 as part of Barrack Room Ballads. It describes the respect of the ordinary British soldier for the bravery of the Hadendoa warriors who fought the British army in the Sudan.-Background:"Fuzzy-Wuzzy" was the term...

    ", a Rudyard Kipling
    Rudyard Kipling
    Joseph Rudyard Kipling was an English poet, short-story writer, and novelist chiefly remembered for his celebration of British imperialism, tales and poems of British soldiers in India, and his tales for children. Kipling received the 1907 Nobel Prize for Literature...

     poem in which the narrator expresses pity and sympathy for the valiant but technologically inferior Hadendoa
    Hadendoa
    Hadendoa is the name of a nomadic subdivision of the Beja people. Other Beja tribes include the Bisharin and Ababda. The area inhabited by the Hadendoa is today parts of Sudan, Egypt and Eritrea.-Overview:...

    regiments that were "sloshed ... with Martinis"

External links

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