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8th May 2005A few martini myths now dispelled.
By Neil Aspinshaw
Over the last few months I have "bitten the bullet" so to speak and joined a club to shoot my Martini henry , and, I must say a few of the "myths", around the rifle that has affected alot of the inputs on this site are now being tried out and put to the test.
The first issue is actual chambering of rounds, Pete Webb has been producing MH rounds for some time, today at the range we found around a 5-8% failure rate of rounds simply not chambering in our Mk2's, even with modern drawn cases. To remove jammed cases is a pain (one has to remove the cleaning rod or use a knife to remove them). So how much fun would we have with a rolled brass case that was hardly "precision?". One can surmise the Jamming problem not caused so much by rounds not ejecting, but simply not chambering.
Secondly, the recoil is very moderate, more like a push into the shoulder, rather than a vicious "kick" that I expected, Even after 30 rounds.
The third interesting point is that my Martini shoots lovely with a P1876 bayonet fixed!, the counteraction of the weight certainly steadies my aim.
Do any of the other contributors who shoot the old girls have any comments that do offer a little more "insight" into the myths.
8th May 2005Barry Iacoppi N.Z.
Glad you made the move Neil. I have attended a number of shoots where up to a dozen Martinis have been on the line at one time. I do not recollect any of the shooters having problems chambering rounds. I will say that most of the rifles used were MKIII and MKIVS. It has long been accepted amongst Martini shooters here that chamber sizes can differ in one rifle to the next. This may be through ware or manufacture.
I suspect that factory made ammunition of the period would have been sized to fit any of them. However those foiled cases must have been vulnerable to distortion. It is my advice Neil that if you are not loading your own cases you buy and keep a specific lot of cases for a specific rifle. Fire only those cases in that rifle. If they loaded and fired once they will load and fire again in the same rifle. Swapping ammo rifle to rifle is not a good idea. It is even a good idea to index your cases so that they go into the chamber in the same position each time. This will increase the life of your cases. In my never ending hunt for cheap brass I have purchased a number of second hand fired cases. I note that some of them will not fit in some of my M.H.s prior to being loaded.
These should not be thrown away but full length swaged back to there original size (ONCE). They will then work fine if allocated to a specific rifle. If somebody else is doing your reloading for you then that is fine but make sure you get your own cases back every time.
Your point about the bayonet bringing down the point of impact is true. I feel it had to be a design feature in the Martini Henry.
Enjoy your shooting Neil and let us see some pictures on your site.
9th May 2005Julian Whybra
And how old is your Martini-Henry?
9th May 2005Neil Aspinshaw
My Mk 2 is an 1875 Enfield, it is a MK1 upgraded. to say it is mint condition is an understatement, superb bore and 100 of its original blue. My other is a 1887 Mk4, which is was an original .402 "A" pattern Martini Enfield. (this was the first MH purpose designed to accept the draw (heavier) case.
There are two areas which affect the load, if wear was an issue the loading would actually be easier.
The rim of the case is the first problem, any distorton of this prevents the breechblock being closed, forcing the issue results in flattening out of the rim, this in turn prevents the extractor ejecting. The only way to remove the case then is via the cleaning rod, and a small knife.
I have two original deac Martini foil cases, a rifle and a carbine, both from packets dating from 1881 and 1883 respectevely, both are quite tight fitting in the breech, ok, over a century has caused some distortion of the foil brass but nothing that heavy bouncing around in an expense pouch would not cause.

The other points of note are that the paper patched rifle round simply will not fit the Mark 4. the carbine will, as it has a nominally shorter bullet.

So heres my poser, The 24th were armed with martini Henrys, fact. I discussed this matter with Adrian Whiting, we both agreed that the 24th were armed with Mark 1 martinis, some would have been subsequently upgraded to mark 2's by 1879, (the Mk 2 Adopted in 1877) this was done both by the manufacturers and regimantal armourers at the baracks.
The Mk1 had its faults that were being ironed out by 1877, but the 24th at Isandlwana were carrying thier original issue1873-74 MK1's from malta.
my poser to fire into the great ammo debate is, was the ammunition being a problem BEFORE firing, rather than after?. A fact which has not been explored.
There were little reports of ammo issues at RD, so were the men of the 2nd battalion issued with later MK2's which were more suited to the newly made ammunition?
I play advocate to Mr De-vil on this but firing these old girls has really opened my eyes..
9th May 2005Adrian Whiting

Interesting issue regarding the chambering. Using new manufacture NDFS cases I have only ever had this problem in chambering when the cases have been neck resized only, and then tended to be used between different rifles. I have used eight different rifles of my own, and quite a few of other shooters.

If the case is full length resized properly, down to the minimum chamber dimensions (bearing in mind that bigger makes loading more easy - the chamber being bigger if you follow what I am trying to say!) then I have not had chambering problems, from Mk I (not upgraded) to MkIV.

Bearing in mind the work hardening of full length resizing, then following Barry's advice and batching cases to rifles, with neck resizing and annealing is the best way to prolong case life.

Your experience with the case rim is interesting, since I too have found that any deformation of the rim, especially during careless resizing with too little case lubricant (not that I am suggesting you have been doing that - it is just a mistake I have made in the past !) means a jam when the block is raised.

This seems to be a feature of drawn cases with an integral rim. I doubt the service ammunition would have had such problems because the rims were separate, and of harder metal of course. The resizing was clearly not an issue either.

The chamber dimensions did not alter in the adoption of the MkII, so I would not readily subscribe to a difference in the ability of the MkII to chamber a round that the MkI could not. I agree a number of rounds would have been damaged so as to make chambering impossible, but even so, the main reported fault in relation to chambering matters was that of extraction.

I guess everyone will be familiar with the issue of the iron rim being torn from the rolled cartridge case. This happened when the chamber was hot and the brass case over-expanded when obturating. It did not then contract sufficiently to be readily extracted. On its face this would tend to suggest that the cases were a relatively easy fit I would suggest.

Overall I would agree that a number of rounds would be a problem and not chamber, due to deformation, but I would not have thought this was more an issue for MkIs, upgraded than MkIIs.


10th May 2005Julian whybra
I asked because I'm interested in whether you feel that the firing of a 130-year old gun in 2005 can inform us realistically about its performance in 1879. I'm not being funny here; I'm seriously interested as to whether one can draw any valid conclusions. Since you are interested in armamants and I'm not I'd be interested to know whether age and usage affect a gun physically and thereby its performance. Do you have any opinions or knowledge in this area?
10th May 2005Neil Aspinshaw
I would consider degradation of rifleing would be the most serious issue. The key attribute to how good a gun is, is its perfomance as a firearm, namely muzzle velocity and accuracy. I watched Peter fire 6 rounds in a 4" grouping at 120 yards, with a 130 year old Martini on Sunday, over open sights, that was exceptional shooting. Also, as I am a new kid on the block, I managed 8 hits in a 8" target out of 20 rounds.. not bad, an I have not really got to know my Martini yet. I know it shoots down and left, a fact that any victorian soldier would know about his most important pice of kit.
What interests me is reports of men on the firing line "kicking" the levers of thier martinis, presumably to relase jammed or ill fitting rounds, and belive me, when they jam, they certianly jam.
Another vcouple of interesting points, Recoil. I really expected a real thump in my shoulder, but in reality it is more like someone giving you a shove, Adrian whats your view on that?, eveb after 20 rounds (and the bore is filthy after 20!) it is not the violent thump one has read about.
Another issue, barrel heat, 30 rounds over an hour, (a typical rate of fire) that I shot the barrel was not "untouchable", hot yes, but it does cool between rounds of reasonable spacing.
Adrian, do you find paper patched rounds gain any benefit?, I hope to start making rounds shortly, I only intend to fire my Mk4, at the club, members suggest I will not need to re-size the case and re-anneal if I paper patch.

11th May 2005Derek C
To see if the recoil is realistic, the muzzle velocity of the bullet should be checked using a chronometer (assuming bullet weight is the same). The cartridges may be loaded on the light side to prevent damaging the old rifles?

Modern propellants are very different to the old (Black Powder?) ones, burn rates, deposites etc.
I'm guessing that firing a 100 rounds plus, through a fouled barrel is not as pleasant as through a clean one?
11th May 2005ulian Whybra
Well, exactly, that's my point, how realistic is it to draw conclusions about the firing of a 130-year old gun in 2005 with firing it in 1879 - would the same set of conditions apply re recoil, chambering, accuracy, velocity, etc. I know someone for example with a MH from the 1870s and usage has expanded the barrel to the point where the bayonet will no longer fit. Can one opine anything useful about the weapon in 1879 from firing the gun now?
It is known that the guns jammed after repeated heated firing and it is known that at least one Zulu saw some soldiers kicking the lever to open the breach. There are no known instances recounted of excess smoke, poor chambering, excessively violent kicking, or complaints against the weapon.
15th May 2005Mike McCabe
The performance of the rifle - a piece of equipment (with its ammunition) design to produce a statistically repeatable event within finite tolerances - is ultimately dependent on how it is held, aimed and fired by its user. The rifle and ammunition have no knowledge of the direction in which it is pointed, nor the setting of its sights.
So, comparability depends on the training, skill and strength of the firer and, for 'proper' comparison the firer should have been trained to the skill at arms standards of contemporary British Army 'musketry' training.
That the rifle might overheat or jam is self evident, if it is being fired in what are effectively sub-optimal conditions for the designed delivery of its performance envelope. We cannot ignore the possibility that MH's were not being cleaned and inspected as they routinely should have been in the demanding conditions of January 1879 (rain, heat, dust etc). Also, if not routinely treated with linseed oil, the butt and foreparts would have have readily absorbed water. As a succession of rounds were fired, the heating effect in the chamber and barrell would have forced some of this out as steam, increasing the difficulty of holding and aiming.
Similarly, and neglect of the rifle barrels before action would have accelerated any fouling due to powder residues, and stripping of lead from the unjacketed bullets. Out of interest, has anybody ever estimated how newly issued the rifles of the two bns of the 24th were?
Firing with the bayonet attached is less routinely practised than firing without it - and it changes the balance of the weapon requiring different holding skills. Some firers might find the weapon better balanced (for their personal geometry and physical set up) than others, and a smaller less strong firers would probably notice the increasaed weight first and either over or under compensate for it. If the 24th were properly trained in personal and company/section musketry, they would have fired aimed shots at targets that they could engage even in volley fire (though the routine of volley firing would have meant that these were still 'snap' shots). Firing 'at will' sensible soldiers would have fired only aimed shots, understanding the need to conserve ammunition - and shooting to kill to stop or delay the (now closer) enemy's advance. As ranges reduced to very close contact, they would have experienced the usual difficulty of hitting targets at very close range where the geometric difference between point of aim and point of strike requires much more knowledge and skill, and the individual target mving even a small distance laterally requires a very quick adjustment of aim.
Cannot ignore the possibility that many soldiers were simply not keeping their rifles clean and serviceable. And, that some of the companies of the 24th might not have been recently trained in the skills and drills required to deliver concentrated and controlled effective fire at optimum ranges.

25th June 2005Brian Thornton
I recently bought an 1889 BSA & M Co Mk II rifle that was originally supplied for 'Native Service' in Nepal and will have it shooting again as soon as my brass and bullet mould arrive from the US.

At the recent Historical Breechloading Smallarms Association 1910 Competition at Bisley I watched a competitor shooting 'rapids' (10 rounds prone in 60 seconds starting loaded) with his .577/450 Martini Henry. He got off 8 rounds in total, all of which grouped smack in the centre of a man-sized target at 200 yards. It was very impressive shooting. He later told me that he had 'deliberately shot slowly' in order to maximise his score! Prior to this I had been under the impression that the Martini-Henry was an inherently inaccurate rifle. Now I know better.

On the subject of recoil, I regularly shoot a repro 1858 Enfield .577 muzzle loader (600 grain bullet, 70 grains of FO Triangle BP) and the recoil is perfectly bearable when compared, say, with a more modern .303 or 30/06. I have fired a friend's Martini-Henry (480 grain bullet, 85 grains FO Triangle) and the recoil from this was noticeably heavier than the muzzleloader but still not as vicious as I had been led to expect. Shooting offhand (standing) is of course much milder.

Having said that, there was a post on one of the Martini-Henry forums a couple of weeks ago from a chap in Australia who had bought a packet of 10 original rifle rounds at an arms fair and hadn't been able to resist firing a couple 'to see what happened.' He reported that the recoil was very much heavier than with his own hand-loaded rounds suggesting that the Curtis and Harvey No 6 trade powder in use in the Victorian era was significantly stronger than that available to us today, even the top quality powder of Swiss manufacture.

I would question the above comment about the 'stripping of lead from unjacketed bullets'. All the rounds in service at the time (rifle and carbine) were paper-jacketed, the purpose of which was expressly to prevent leading of the bore by eliminating bullet to rifling contact. The paper jacket was cut by the rifling and dropped from the bullet as it left the muzzle. This was clearly evident at Bisley where I picked up and examined parts of paper jackets blown behind the firing line by the wind.

Furthermore, below the bullet and between two glazed cardboard wads was a shaped, beeswax disc or 'cookie' that vaporised on ignition to both seal the bore and soften any black powder fouling.

According to Paul Matthews, author of "The Paper Jacket" , at black powder velocities (approx 1350 fps for the Martini Henry rifle) the paper jacket (or patch) is equally as effective as the later metal jacket and was only superseded because of the labour-intensve process of hand rolling the dampened paper patch onto the straight-sided bullet.

Lubricated, cannelured bullets cause far more leading of the bore than their paper patched equivalents.

30th June 2005Mike McCabe
Could you please explain further the theory of the 'paper jacket'; especially since the MH rounds used in the Zulu War had no individual paper wrappings, and the cartridge case was 'crimped' (though lightly and unevenly) to the bullet.
The notion that a paper layer covering a lead bullet designed to be fired through a breech loading rifle might deliver the result that you outline seems very unlikely. Supposing it had existed in MH ammunition, it would be more likely to skew the round as it was chambered. Also, how might that paper have been attached to each round.
30th June 2005Mike McCabe
Ah, you mean the 'papering' inside the cartridge case, and continued some 2/3rds of the cylindrical length until the ogive curve of the bullet.
More likely to enable a more accurate and tighter double crimp betwen the bullet and cartridge case in Mks I-III - surely?
30th June 2005Mike McCabe
And, cut corners on quality assurance in the shaping of the bullet itself - the papering smoothing that over. How was the round supposed to leave he barrel without the rifling cutting through the papering?
And, could 'soggy' papering lead to chambring problems, and also contribute to ejection difficulties, by resting the round very slightly proud of the chamber. Not a problem until fired, then possibly slightly misaligned with the ejector.
30th June 2005Michael Boyle

I'm sure someone else can answer more thoroughly but I believe that one of the tests performed before buying off involved submerging rounds in a bucket of water for an extended period before firing, and that none of the rounds failed (another test involved beating them up in gravel and it was found even misshapen cases fired well). Which would seem to point to the cardboard being greased and somewhat water proof. The original rolled foil casing together with the collar and wads could have been responsible for the greater 'kick' and heat generated before the advent of modern drawn brass.

I can't find the site that included pre-production testing now but here is a good all around one if you haven't seen it: