Martini Henry rifles

Home Forums Antique cartridge rifles Martini Henry rifles

Viewing 0 reply threads
  • Author
    • #857

      Around the same time the US was using the Sharps and the Rolling block and the Trapdoor rifles, over in England the British developed what is called the Martini Henry rifle. It replaced their .577 Snider rifle and used a bottle necked cartridge called the .577-450. The rifle was a falling black action with a lever under the stock, similar to the US Sharps, but simpler and striker fired.

      The very first Martini Henry rifles (Mk I), made from 1871 until 1876 had a safety, however the British Government requested the safety be removed and production continued without the safety mechanism. Those already made with the safety had the safety removed prior to issue. Due to the lack of a safety it is my strongest suggestion that a Martini Henry not be loaded until absolutely ready to fire and promptly unloaded if the opportunity to fire has passed. Collectors have reported finding Mk I rifles with evidence (a slit in the metal near the trigger) of that gun once having the safety mechanism. With feedback from the field coming improvements were made and thus, in 1877, was born the Martini Henry Mk II. Improvements and a progression of models continued. Mk III and the Mk IV with manufacture ceasing in 1889. Martini Henry rifles and carbines were made in England by the firms of RSAF Enfield, BSA (Birmingham Small Arms), LSA (London Small Arms) and NAA (National Arms and Ammunition Co) and HRB (Henry Rifled Barrel Company).

      Two new versions of the Martini rifles began in 1889 with the Martini Metford and the Martini Enfield coming in 1995. They differed from earlier Martini rifles by being bored for the new .303 Enfield round (originally a black powder cartridge) and the two versions differed in the style of rifling. These were made by converting Mk III Martini Henry actions to take the new barrel caliber.

      The Martini Henry acquired a reputation as a potent firearm during the Zulu Wars and saw service all over the English empire including the conflicts in the Sudan and Afghanistan and the Boer War. The gun was widely distributed to English possessions such as Canada, Australia and India. Ally nations such as Nepal also received Martini Henry guns. The British East Indies Company also used Martini Henry weapons. Clone copies of teh Martini Henry were also made in Turkey, Afghanistan, India and Nepal among other places.

      The .303 Martini Enfield version remained in service with England until 1918 and with India and New Zealand as a reserve firearm well into WWII.

      The 577-450 cartridge fired by the Martini Henry was more powerful than any US military cartridge of the time in that it used 85 grains of black powder as the propellant while the US loads only used 70 grains. In Africa the US 50-70 cartridge was considered feeble for use on dangerous game, but the Martini Henry cartridge was considered as being acceptable. One early 20th century account writes of the use of a 500 grain full metal jacketed hunting bullet cordite load offered by Kynoch as being used on a hippopotamus. According to the account the bullet entered the animals rear, piercing several bones and vital organs before exiting out the animal’s front end. The wound track in the animal was measured and found to be 56 inches long. During the battles in the Sudan and Natal battle reports of the time reported several instances of enemy soldiers behind each other being wounded or killed by a single bullet passing through as many as 3 persons.

      No one as of this writing commercially manufactures .577-450 ammunition anymore, although Kynoch did offer it until the 1950s. Old stocks of Kynoch ammunition are still found on some dealers shelves. The cartridge was paper patched to reduce loading. The white paper Kynoch loads are black powder loadings. The red paper patched cartridges are Kynoch loads made with nitrocellulose cordite powder. Modern brass can also be made by re forming brass 24 gauge shotgun cartridges.

      In addition to the many rifle variations, the Martini Henry was also made in several variations of carbine. The British Cavalry used a carbine without a bayonet lug, but versions for Artillery and other specialized units were fitted with a bayonet lug. Depending on which unit, in which country, in which year there were at least 7 different patterns of bayonet appropriate for a Martini Henry or a Martini Enfield.

      In the video below a comparison firing is made between the US Cavalry 50-70 Sharps Carbine and a .577-450 Martini Henry carbine. The elimination of a need to manually cock the hammer gives a clear speed advantage to the Martini Henry.

      There were several versions of Martini Henry carbine produced.  Originally there was a combined usage variant which lacked a bayonet lug or sling swivel and was intended for use by both cavalry and artillery and some specialized details.  It was however soon realized that the cavalry and the artillery forces had different requirements and separate cavalry and artillery versions were then made.  The artillery model was intended to use a very long saw backed (for alternate use cutting down trees or brush near an artillery emplacement) sword bayonet, but production of the Artillery carbines was more numerous than the production of that version of bayonet, so some period photos show other Martini bayonet models were also used with artillery carbines.   The versions intended for cavalry use had no bayonet lug.  Some Mark III  and IV rifles were also made into carbines.  Although the rear stock remained basically unchanged, different versions had different stock forends.  By the end of the 19th century some of the Mk IV carbines were further modified to use the new .303 ammunition and became Martini Enfield carbines.

      Here we see a Mk II (S-X, which indicates a MK III shell extractor internally) Martini Henry Artillery carbine in caliber .577/450.  This particular specimen was manufactured as a Mk II Infantry rifle in 1877, then in 1891 it was modified into a carbine by the British military at the BSA arsenal and issued for use by British Artillery units in 1893.  This gun may have seen service in the Transvaal area during the Boer War.  It was declared and marked as okay for disposal as surplus in 1908.

Viewing 0 reply threads
  • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.