From Academic Kids

The Martini-Henry was a breech-loading lever action British rifle, combining the action designed by Friedrich von Martini (based on work by the American Henry Peabody) with the rifled barrel designed by Scotsman Alexander Henry. It first entered service in 1871 replacing the Snider-Enfield, and variants were used throughout the British Empire for 30 years.

The rifles fired a .451-inch calibre (11.455 mm) rimmed cartridge known as the .577/450, which was a bottle-neck design with the same base as the .577 cartridge of the Snider-Enfield, and, with 85 grains (5.51 g) of powder, was notorious for its heavy recoil. The cartridge case was ejected to the rear when the lever was operated.

The rifle was 4 feet 1 inch long (1.245 m), the steel barrel was 2 feet 9.22 inches (0.844 m). The Henry patent rifling produced a heptagonal barrel with seven grooves completing one turn in 22 inches. The weapon weighed 8 pounds 7 ounces (3.827 kg). A sword bayonet was standard issue, fitted the weapon extended to 5 feet 8 inches (1.727 m) and weight increased to 10 pounds 4 ounces (4.649 kg). The bayonet was designed by Lord Elcho and designed for chopping, it also featured a double row of teeth so it could be used as a saw.

The rifle was sighted to 1,400 yards (1.28 km). Firing to 1,200 yards (1.1 km) 20 shots exhibited a mean deflection from the centre of the group of 2.28 feet (0.695 m), the highest point on the trajectory was 8 feet (2.44 m) at 500 yards (457.2 m).

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

However, before this was complete the decision was made to replace the Martini rifles with the .303 calibre bolt-action magazine Lee-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 Consequently to avoid having three different rifle calibres in service, the Enfield-Martinis were withdrawn and converted to 0.45 calibre and renamed Martini-Henry A" and "B" pattern rifles.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 versions were also produced, known as the Martini-Metford, and even 0.303 calibre cordite carbines, called Martini-Enfields (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 in 1873. The weapon was not completely phased out until 1904.

Operation of the Martini action

Missing image
Section of Martini-Henry lock

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.

Missing image
Martini-Henry rifle.
A - ready for loading.
B - loaded and ready to fire.

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 spiral 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 groves in the sides of the barrel. A bent arm (O) forms an 80° angle with the arms and when pushed forward by the lever the block drops it strikes the arm (O), so causing the upright arms to extract the cartridge case slightly and allow easier manual full extraction.

Other Articles

Zulu the film shows the rifles in use.

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