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DateOriginal Topic
14th July 2005Martini-Henry v Winchester Rifle
By Mark
The two most dominant rifles of this era, Im interested if anyone can share any technical knowledge of these two rifles such as loading times, accuracy, reliabilty and performance in battle.
Many thanks
14th July 2005Adrian Whiting

I have a couple of articles I will send you off forum.

You should find some related items under "pot pourri" on this site too, and if you type in "winchester" on the search option on this discussion forum, you should pull up a thread from 25-9-03 which covers the MHR and Winchester rifles.

I hope this helps

17th July 2005Edward Bear
It's hardly justified to claim that either the MH or Winchester were the "two most dominant rifles...." neither having been used for particularly long nor in particularly important campaigns. Fascination with both by enthusiasts has attached far too much significance to both of them. Arguably, at Little Big Horn and Isandlwana, they contributed to humilitating defeats.
17th July 2005Michael Boyle

Actually the Winchester contributed to a resounding victory at LBH, as it and it's original version the Henry, were used by Sitting Bull's people. (The single shot 'trapdoor' Springfield being used by the 7th Cavalry.) Of course Hollywood for some reason seemed to think that the Winchester was more photogenic resulting in the popular misconception that it was issued to U.S. troops. (It never was.) The Winchester is credited with taking down more game than any other rifle in history in spite of the fact that it is technically a carbine due to it's handgun loads.

The Martini-Henry could be thought of as contributing to the defeat at Isandlwana only in the sense that contemporary thinking held that it's use mooted the need for entrenchment and close order firing lines against a 'primitive' opponent. (Which up until then seemed to be the case.) Although the MH saw a rather limited first line service use when compared to the "Brown Bess" or the Lee-Enfield, it none the less remained in second line service well into the 20th century.


17th July 2005Edward Bear
Apart from its, well known, use by significant numbers of Indians at LBH, what other attributes of the Winchester (in military hands) contributed to its dominance.

The 1882 Egyptian Campaign was effectively the MH's swansong in mainstream British service - where, then, was it also 'dominant' except for the period of time when it was the principal rifle in British Army service (about 10 years) when, arguably, no other could be used instead.
17th July 2005Michael Boyle
That's my point with the Winchester, despite several ten's of thousands sold to military organizations overseas the only battle that springs to mind where it was dominant took place at Plevna. It was predominately a sporting piece (and continues to be such to this day). It's major fame may seem to stem from Hollywood but in fact it could be argued that it, rather than the Colt "Peacemaker" was the 'gun that won the West', where it was dominant, albeit in civilian hands. (It was also quite popular in Africa, Stanley having carried both a Winchester and a Henry when he 'discovered' Livingstone.)

The fact that there were no major British wars during the reign of the Martini-Henry should not detract from the fact that it was, again arguably, the best single shot breachloader manufactured in the relatively short time leading up to the magazine fed rifle, thus it did dominate British Arms for a time.

Of course it is widely held that it is the craftsman rather than the tool that dominates.
8th August 2005Kent Johnson
Good evening...I'm really enjoying this forum and will jump in with a few comments. First, concerning the Winchester rifle and its relative merits. First, a clarification concerning the 7th Cavalry and Little Big Horn. The 7th Cavalry carried Springfield single-shot rifles, utlizing a 45-55 cal. round. There were also a few Springfield 50-70s. Both variants were 100% accurate at 300 years and 32% accurate at ranges of 500 yards. However, as with the Martini-Henry, they were not rapid fire weapons but fired fairly slowly at med. ranges. Indian reports indicated that until the last few minutes of conflict, the battle was essentially fought at long range. Then, the Indians bravely swept in and overpowered the troopers in close in fighting.
Much has been made of the firearms carried by the Indians, but in reality only 25% were more modern repeating rifles--Winchesters, Henrys, Sharps, etc. The reason the Indians won the battle of the firearms is that they were better shots. 7th Cav. troopers were allocated only 20 practice rounds per year! And, little emphasis was actually placed on developing rifleman skills--it simply wasn't a priority. Most of their shots went high. It's that simple.
Now, concerning the "famous" Winchester. There were several models that were notable, and the Winchester 1866 was the first to receive some repute. It was a a lever action repeating rifle which was a direct copy of the Henry. Both fired the Henry 44 cal. rimfire cartridge. The Winchester held 17 rounds and was accurate to 300 yards or so.
However, this isn't the famous Winchester. The most notable model is the 1873, which fired a a variety of cartridge sizes, the most prevalent being the .44. Significantly Winchester utilized a centerfire cartridge which was more reliable and accurate. What made the Winchester so special? Other than its exemplary quality construction and reliability, it enabled the marksman to fire a continuous stream of rounds without removing the rifle from his shoulder, nor removing his eyes from the sighting plane. In other words: shoulder, sight once and fire up to 16 rounds as fast as you can work the lever, which was one round every 1.5 seconds. Try doing this with a single shot M-H! Reloading was easy and could be done in about 20 seconds.
However, the sad truth is that this rifle saw limited action as a military weapon. It was, in a classic sense, a civilian firearm, used for hunting and "self protection" The army did use them--by 1880, the '73 was in wide use--but the wars were pretty much over by then. 20 years later, the '02 Springfleld became the weapon of choice.

On other comment (sorry this is so long, but it IS fun), we estimate that there were about 100 Martini-Henry's in Zulu hands at Rourke's Drift, out of a total firearm count of 300-500. Surprised? The 4000 Zulus under Prince Dabulamanzi did not see action in the formal sense at Isandhlwana, but they were in service on the field of battle. The three regiments were used during and for three hours after the battle to hunt down British fugitives and generally police the plain. They operated in highly disciplined manner (they were the oldest Zulu regiments on the field) and of the estimated 800 Martini-Henry's which fell into Zulu hands that afternoon, the regiments--uThaulwana, uDloko and in-Dlu-yengwe--liberated approximately 100 of them. They would have been placed in the hands of the most experienced warriors.
8th August 2005Edward Bear
Is your last paragraph based upon (intelligent) surmise or have you contemporary source material that supports the assessed figure of 100 Martini Henri in Zulu hands at Rorkes Drift?