THE MARTINI-HENRY RIFLE
With its official adoption on the 27 April 1877, the Martini Henry MkII was to become the most numerous of the Martini .450/577 marks, in both MkI/II upgrades’ and new MkII. models to be produced, it remained the consistent in design until the Martini was replaced in 1889, however trade Production under government viewing continued up to 1894 with late colonial contracts being supplied by the Henry Rifled Barrel Company.
The Service MkII. carried forward all the lessons that had been learned through the first five years of issue of the Mk1. and a new pattern striker was introduced, with a heavier nose. The extractor was re-designed pattern extractor which had parallel base sides to strengthen the base from “springing”, and the butt plate was now smooth in design. (The chequered butt plate on the Mk1 had readily transferred dirt). Production had begun as early as March 1876 with limited production.
The new pattern cleaning rod was installed, approved on 23.6.1876, with a cupped end and and oval slot, and to effect better sighting the “V” notch of the slider was deepened, clear windage lines were added and the corresponding ladder tip made deeper.
The cost of the Enfield manufactured Martini Henry Mk2 by 1878 was £2 12s 10d per rifle.
Birmingham Small Arms & Metals Company 1877-78, 1880-1889
London Small Arms Company 1877-1878 1880-1889
National Arms and Ammunition Company 1878-1882
Henry Rifled Barrel Company 1891-1894
In July 1877 of Store of firearms was 856,578, of which 377,558 were Martini Henry, A severe case of supply outstripping demand, at the trade manufacturers, LSA & BSA : orders had simply been cancelled, in the 1879 production year, neither BSA & M Co or LSA produced any Martinis, in the 1880 year only 2882 rifles were jointly made, BSA had to close down temporarily to prevent it going into receivership.
– The Martini Henry Society *
The transition from muzzle-loading to breech-loading rifles during the 1860s was the most significant innovation in military technology during the latter half of the 19th century. In 1864, governments of Europe and American were shocked by a minor was between Prussia and Denmark: the Prussians were armed with a new rifle, the breech-loading ‘Needle Gun’ and easily defeated their enemy. Designed by Dreyse, this new rifle saw action again two years later when the Prussians defeated the Austro-Hungarians. The Dreyse rifle could be fired and reloaded while soldiers were kneeling, and its ease of loading meant Prussian troops were able to fire seven times faster than the Austrians. All the major powers entered an arms race which saw a rapid evolution in rifle technology.
The French introduced a bolt-action gun known as the ‘Chassepot’ as well as converting their old muzzle-loaders to breech-loaders. Great Britain’s immediate response was also to convert Enfield Rifle-Muskets by adopting a device invented by Jacob Snider of New York. By 1866 the Enfield-Snider was in operation but, like the German Dreyse and the French Chassepot, it had problems caused by its paper cartridges. In 1866-67 Colonel Edward M. Boxer of the Woolwich Arsenal invented a brass cartridge, and this turned the Snider-Enfield into the leading rifle of its time. Nevertheless, the War Office recognised a need for a modern replacement.
The Martini Henry rifle came about as the result of a War Office invitation issued to all ‘Gunmakers and Others’ for proposals for ‘breech-loading rifles, either repeating or not repeating, which may replace the present service rifle in future manufacture.’
On 22 October 1865, the War Office invited rifle manufacturers to submit their designs in a ‘Prize Competition.’ The winner was the Henry rifle, and its inventor received £600 for producing the rifle with the finest breech mechanism. But it was not as good as the Snider-Enfield rifle currently in use, and it took a further seven years of trials until the final design was approved: a hybrid of the Martini-designed breech block and a .450in rifled barrel of seven shallow grooves designed by henry. The specifications to govern the manufacture of the new Martini-Henry rifle were issued to private contractors in February 1872.
Despite further extended trials and initial problems, soldiers who used it were delighted because the single shot rifle offered such simplicity of operation. To overcome problems including exploding cartridges and broken strikers and springs, the initial Martini-Henry Mark 1 rifle was upgraded with new parts to become the Mark II version.
Like most early Martini-Henry rifles, you can see from the figures 1 with a number 2 below it, in the photo above, that the rifle featured here, made by BSA in 1876, was thus converted.
The photo below illustrates the other side of its block, showing that in 1900 it was upgraded from its original specification with a new barrel so it could be used with the new .303 cartridges. Replacing the Henry barrel with an Enfield (.303) barrel turned it into a Martini-Enfield.
1876 Martini-Enfield Mk I Rifle
Mounted on an 1899 BSA Fittings Roadster
…Ready for the Boer War!
Martini Henry Rifle 3rd Pattern Mk I, converted to Mk II
Manufactured by B.S.A & M.Co in 1876 as .450/577 calibre
Rechambered at Enfield in 1900 for the recently introduced .303 British cartridge
turning it into a ‘Martini-Enfield’ rather than a Martini-Henry
1899 BSA Fittings Roadster
Fixed Wheel, with Inch Pitch Chain
28 x 1 3/4″ Dunlop Welch Rims
Original Tyres: Front Warwick Roadster; Rear Dunlop Magnum
MARTINI HENRY RIFLE: CONVERSION FROM MK I to MK 11 *
26th Jan 1876 a conference at the War office met to discuss the potential upgrades to the MkI Martini Henry, proposed by Supt Close of the Royal Small Factory. Close forwarded a memorandum to the war office on 5th October 1875.
“20 Rifles with the new pattern tumbler, trigger and altered guard gave to following results:
1st Tumbler rest dispensed with
2nd Tumbler rest axis screw dispensed with
3rd Guard encloses trigger so no sand or dust can interfere with the working of the trigger.”
The alterations were approved on the 18th February 1876 by the Secretary of State for war Lord Cranbrook. The sealed pattern new arm was presented on 25 April 1877 and on the 27 April 1877 the MkII arm was accepted for manufacture, List Of Change 3193: Arms, Interchangeable,-Rifle Breech loading, Martini Henry, with Clearing Rod MkII.
The Altertion had the following changes.
1) To remedy the miss-fire faults, the trigger assembly was completely redesigned and a far more robust single part tumbler introduced.
2) A shrouded axis to protect the trigger nose from dirt ingress was installed.
3) The new sized tumbler required a 3/8” x 9/16” slot cutting into the bottom of the breech block to clear the top of the new tumbler
4) The extractor was altered for the new parallel base pattern to give a more robust extraction. **not always carried out**
5) The sight ladder had a deeper notch cut into the cap, It had been complained that the earlier Mk1 pattern shallow “V” notch did not facilitate accurate sighting, in particular at ranges between 100-400 yards with the ladder laid flat on the sight bed.
6) New 1876 pattern cleaning rod
7) Breech Block browned (blued)
8) Muzzle countersunk head filed level.
A program of conversion began to be implemented of the 450,000 Mk1. Rifles made. Contrary to popular belief, the upgrade could not be carried out in the field by regimental artificers. The Small arms store at Weedon had begun an immediate alteration to rifles in the store, with 125,771 being converted by March 1878 with components made at Enfield, those in service took longer, by 20.1.1878 only 18,000 Mk1 rifles in the hands of the troops had been converted to home and Ireland. By 20.1.79 it was reported over 300,000 Mk1’s remained unconverted but work was expected to have been completed by March 1880.
Converting those 450,000 Mk1 rifles produced by the factory and the two trade manufacturers to the new classification cost 2s per rifle. In the process of upgrade the actions were removed and the following actions undertaken. The tumbler, tumbler rest and transverse screw were dispensed with. A reamer was employed to cut away the original trigger axis in the trigger assembly. The trigger assembly was de-greased the area and a hooded trigger axis was then brazed into place. The assembly was then re-blued. (Brass will not accept blue, today, a thin brass joint can often be seen where brazed joint has been effected). The breech block was stripped of pin, spring and lock nut, and a slot approx. 3/8” x 9/16” was milled into the base to clear the new tumbler. The block was then browned (blued) in solution. Externally the sight ladder and sliders were altered, and the muzzle crown was filed to remove the countersunk head. It is not unusual to find Mk1/2. Upgraded rifles, dated 1872-1874 showing the evidence of being a Mk1. second pattern rifle, with the crescent shape infill to the axis pin and safety slot adjacent to the trigger, then upgraded to Mk1. third pattern, ultimately upgraded to a MkII. During the process of upgrade the component parts became interchanged, as a result the serial numbers were no longer desired to be matching to the block and lever, as a consequence, from the MkII. rifle only the Barrel, Action and Sight ladder were to be subsequently marked with serial numbers.
The most obvious alteration, on completion of the conversion was a second roman “1” stamped onto the action to denote its upgrade, and the stock roundel was stamped with a second “1”.
Conversions carried out:
Royal Small Arms factory
Enfield Weedon Depot Northamptonshire
The Tower: Bagot St Birmingham.
THE MARTINI-ENFIELD RIFLE *
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. Whilst most Martini-Enfields were converted rifles, a number were newly manufactured as well.
The Martini-Enfield Mk I was effectively a Martini-Henry Mk III rebarrelled to .303 and with a new extractor installed, whilst the Martini-Enfield Mk II rifles were generally of new manufacture- although there are examples of converted Mk II rifles.
Originally (from 1889) Martini-Henry conversions used Metford rifled barrels (and were known as Martini-Metford rifles), which were more than suitable for the first .303 cartridges, which used black powder as a propellant, but they wore out very quickly when fired with cordite/nitrocellulose cartridges (introduced in 1895) and so in 1895 the Enfield rifled barrel was introduced, which was much more satisfactory and suitable for use with “modern” (smokeless) ammunition.
The Martini-Enfield was in service from 1895-1918 (Lawrence of Arabia’s Arab Irregulars were known to have used them during the Arab Revolt of 1916-1918, along with any other firearms they could acquire), and it remained a Reserve Arm in places like India and New Zealand until well into World War II.
Martini-Enfield rifles were manufactured/converted by:
RSAF (Royal Small Arms Factory), Enfield Lock
LSA Co (London Small Arms Co)
BSA & M Co (Birmingham Small Arms & Metals Co, later simply BSA)
HRB Co (Henry Rifle Barrel Co, later went out of business and taken over by Blenheim Engineering)
NA&A Co (National Arms & Ammunition Co)
* With thanks to THE MARTINI HENRY SOCIETY: http://www.martinihenry.org/index.php?route=information/information&information_id=4
My introduction is a synopsis of information provided by Stephen Manning’s excellent book ‘The Martini- Henry Rifle’ (available on ebay)