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DateOriginal Topic
25th September 2003Weapons at the time of Rorke's Drift
By Ian Essex
Any thoughts/information as to why the army at the time of Rorke's Drift was using single shot rifles? I know that repeating guns were around at the time, such as the Winchester with a 'Winchester/Martini action'? Which I would figure to have been a better weapon to use in a defence like this?
Were they offered to the army?
Politics? Cost? Tradition? Or did someone then believe a single shot was better?
DateReplies
25th September 2003Edward garcia
Ian,

To the best of my knowledge the British military authorities – like those in the United States at the same time – were fearful that repeating arms like the Winchester would encourage “wastage” when it came to the expenditure of ammunition. They believed that a steady and controlled rate of fire where each rifleman marked his target before firing was a superior to the rapid and blind firing that it was feared would occur if the soldier was armed with a rapid fire magazine rifle.

Both the U.S. and Britain experimented with repeating small arms during the period but neither army came to use them to any great extent with the possible exception of the Federal Army during the American Civil War when both the Henry Repeating Rifle (the forerunner of the Winchester) and the Spencer repeating carbine were widely used by the Union Cavalry. Though popular with the troops who used them these arms were abandoned after the war and replaced by the single shot Springfield “Trapdoor” carbine.

I have read in several places that even after British troops were armed with the ten shot Lee Metford rifle they were required to use it as a single shot weapon reserving the ten rounds in the magazine for emergencies.

I hope this helps.

28th September 2003Neil Aspinshaw
Ian
The Martini for its time was a state of the art rifle, and whilst its numerous drawbacks, (overheating, jamming etc) were known. For the frontline infantryman in the 1870's it was the nearest thing to perfection. Bearing in mind the Percussion Sniders that had been introduced in the late 1860's.
A trained rifleman could expet to get up to 13 rapid rounds or 8 aimed rounds per minute.
If you speak to anyone who still shoots MH's they will tell you that it does have some distinct advantages, even over a bolt action rifle. The main advantage it that it is not "handed" ie with a bolt action. But also you can fire, reload and fire again without loosing the "bead" on your target. practically impossible on a bolt or other action gun.
The Martini remained "the" weopon of choice for over 15 years. Indeed Enfield tried to bring some updates in the mid 1880's with the introcudtion of the .402 calible martini. This failed to take on as it meant introducing yet another calible of round. A quatermasters headache. .577",.450",.402" and the new .303"!, oh! and .450 gatling rounds!.
The changeover came with the Martini Metford, as strange hybrid animal, see on a good example at the RRW Brecon.
The Lee Metford and Lee enfield had a sliding cut off which rendered the rifle a single shot, even though a magazine was below. I have seen later SMLE with the same.
If you read accounts of the Guards action at Ondourman, in 1898, the still retained the single shot "one up the spout", until that was if the Mhadists got that close that a bit faster shooting was required.
My guess is that bullet technology moved slower than rifle, hence .450 ruling the roost for nearly 20 years. Imagine a magazined rifle carrying five or six MH rounds!, it would look something like the magazine on a bren gun!, impossible to carry and very difficult to shoot lying down.
The winchester round is a very small cartridge, I do not know its range or velocity but I can guess it is not that great. I know my choice... I would rather stop my assailant at 600 -800 yards and know I've done him rather than keep popping away at close range!.
A good read is Robin Neillands "the Dervish Wars". in it he quotes "at two thousand yards the Anglo-Egyptian infantry opened fire, the British firing platoon volleys...only a few Remington rounds had slapped across the zareba. Unable to face that the Ansar swerved away to be assailed by the Martini Henry fire from the Sudanese battalions.
There we have it 30 years after its introduction the MH was still going strong. maybe not such a bad gun after all.
28th September 2003John Sukey
While repeating rifles were around, they were chambered for cartridges which simply did not have the range or stopping power.(the Remington -Lee being the exception) In any case, a magazine rifle of the period, once its preloaded rounds had been expended, was no faster to load than a Martini. By the way, there is no such thing as a "percussion Snider" Until the advent of charger loading there was a good reason for the cut-off. The magazine being held in reserve in case of an attack by Cavalry or when the enemy got close. Why that anachronism was retained after the introduction of charger loading is simply a reflection of official inertia.
28th September 2003Adrian Whiting
Ian,

The trials advert in 1866, which eventually led to the MH's adoption, included a specific invitation for the submission of magazine and repeating arms.

It appears that the basic requirements for calibre, overall rifle dimension and facility for bayonet fixing meant that these types of rifle were not successful. It seems that the trials board also had a fundamental dislike of bolt action systems, viewing them as weak and liable to failure.

I think John is right in pointing to the calibres in use in lever action/magazine rifles of the time, they did not meet the specification in the advert.

Interestingly certain Turkish forces used both Peabody-Martinis and Winchester lever actions in the war of 1877 against the Russians, i.e. the same soldier had access to both types of weapon. The latter was for short range use, but accounts indicate that ammunition supply was an utter nightmare !

The magazine cutoff, introduced with the Lee Metford magazine rifle, was only deleted in 1916 I believe, and then mostly to save manufacturing costs. Contemporary Musketry Regulations refer to the need to maintain a well regulated, orderly, rate of fire, using the magazine as a reserve only. I believe this persisted beyond the introduction of charger loading because of concern that the soldier could then even more quickly exhaust his personal supply of ammunition. A policy soon to be revised on the Western Front...

Hope this helps,

Adrian
29th September 2003Neil Aspinshaw
John
I referred the the snider as percussion as a play in words, whilst the snider did fire a .577 brass cartridge , it was a simple adaptation of the old "percussion action" hammer driving a firing pin. I suppose there isn't a particular PC way of actually describing it.
P.S. refering to Custers Stand, did anyone note the possible similarites here, the 7th armed with single shot carbines, the Indians with modern repeaters, at close range there certainly is a case for the repeater.

volley fire present

Neil