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DateOriginal Topic
8th January 2004Martini Henry over heating?
By vernon vidamour
In view of more recent looks at the battle of Isandhlwana and how the british should of been able to inflict more casualties upon the zulu's if their rifles had not over heated! I beleive tests were carried out on a rifle and the theory proved very fact after 6 or so shots were fired the rifle could not fire again for some time! If this were true then would this same thing not have happened at rorkes drift???? Surely this would of been more critical as to what happened. Does anyone have a view on this or has it been disscused elswhere in the forum thanx.
8th January 2004Neil Aspinshaw
One of the Martini Henry shortfall's was overheating, however the frontline infantryman countered red hot barrels by wrapping the forestock with a cowhide wrap to prevent fingers being burned.
If you look back to December we did discuss the shortcomings on the forum.
Of course overheating did occur after 25+ rounds in rapid fire, however controlled volleys with officer calling rate of fire would mean rounds would be fired over controlled periods.
The principal problems as a result of overheating on martinis are...
a) a thick greasy deposit black powder residue which pronounced the recoil.
b) the foil brass cartridge softening causing either the round to "cook off" (firing due to heat rather than percussion igniting the propellant.) or, as was more problematic, the base of the round becoming detached from the body by the extractor hooks.
However irrespective of its shortfall you must remember that to the infantryman your rifle was more important than money and women!, if it failed you were....khakhad!. Each man would have known the tiny little innuendo's characteristcis that his gun had.
for more info check out Jason Adkins superb website (links on this site) for all encompassing info.

8th January 2004Steven Sass
Would the infantry man have had a rifle issued as his personal charge or would it have been more like community property to be issued and reissued from a central armory? Obviously learning the rifle's innuendos would only be possible if one spent a considerable amount of time with a single rifle, yet I've never come across the regulations that dictated the policy.


8th January 2004Peter Ewart

There are numerous first hand accounts from participants in the defence of RD which mention the difficulties arising from overheating rifles. In fact, I haven't seen nearly so many references to this having occurred at Isandlwana compared with the number of "mentions" at R/Drift. (In saying this, I'm only counting accounts from those who were present, not from surmises by authors, however plausible).

However, it seems a reasonable surmise to make & I suppose the uneven comparison can be accounted for by a number of factors, not least the absence of enough survivors who used a Martini at Isandlwana.

I'm not aware of many authors quoting primary sources which specifically indicated overheating at Isandlwana (& haven't checked before posting this!) although I have seen a contemporary (but second hand) account, which described the barrels of the Martinis (carbines?) used by the colonials who rode out to assist Durnford in his attempt to stem the advance of the left horn as being so hot that they had to be dipped into the donga to cool them.

Or, at least, I have assumed these were the weapons used by the colonials (N/castle MR for instance) as it was reported in the press as an account received by a colonist from the father of a colonial participant in the battle, as well as the donga being conveniently available to that force, whereas I'm not aware that the front line of the 24th were aligned along any of the spruits to the camp's front. (I'll stand corrected on this).

I'm also no weapons expert!

8th January 2004Adrian Whiting
Rifles were issued to individuals. The rifle was identified by its rack number and a record of this was kept against the man's service number/name. Martin Everett has an example list in the museum collection I believe.

Although in an earlier post, soldiers were trained to fire volleys at four to five rounds a minute. This would obviously extend the time before critical overheating might occur, although the ambient temperature in January in South Africa would not help !

Both case failure and "cook off" was reported in the war, but I do not think it really offers the whole explanantion. I think it is similar to ammunition failure theories in that it provided yet another potential reason that would have been more palatable for the British Govt and the British public.

The Henry barrel is frequently too hot to touch after ten rounds in swift succession on a hot day and the hide cover works well - they were issued in due course.
9th January 2004Barry Iacoppi N.Z.
For what it is worth it has been my experience that after as few as three rounds rapid the Martini Henry barrel becomes too hot to touch. With drawn or turned cases I have never had a problem with extraction even after ten rounds rapid. I’d like to fire some of the foil cases in my collection but the collectors code forbids it. (And I agree).
I have yet to see what a foiled case looks like after it has been fired and form fitted to the chamber. I confess to being tempted.
9th January 2004Neil Aspinshaw
Adrian has already "stole my thunder", thanks Adrian. The British army even today has an individual gun for and individual infantryman, whos rifle is adjusted to the firers sight "zero'ed".
Barry, you mentioned in an earlier correspondence that your MH shoot's well bayonet fixed, can you give us any more on that?. You ex-pats don't know how lucky you are being able to shoot these old girls without all the good old british gun laws.

While I am at it I thought I would report my recent conversation with the firearms and gun licence officer at Derbyshire Constabulary.
If I wanted to proof and shoot my M-H then I would have to obtain a gun licence .I would have to subsequently put it under lock and key in a cabinet.
At the moment because my gun is "antique" , pre 1919 and fires an "obsolete projectile" I do not need to obtain a licence.
I asked if I bought say a mint condition MK11 that I did not intend to shoot would I have to put that under lock and key as well?, his response was yes, as the ammunition for the licenced gun would fit the other.
It is the licencee that is registered then...not the gun. what a bizzare world we live in.
9th January 2004l.j.knight
off at a tangent i know but the more i look at the fire ratios per man actually shot [never mind killed] it does i think explain why such vast quantities of ammunition were needed in the campaign.
11th January 2004Barry Iacoppi N.Z.
You ask about my experience’s shooting the Martini Henry with the bayonet fixed. I must start by saying that I am at best an average shot. When I first started firing M.H.s I always did so with the bayonet fixed. Sword bayonet on a MKIV and socket bayonet on the MKIIIs. I did this for the dramatic romantic appearance rather then any known practical reason. Most of my shooting was done at ranges from 50 to 100yards and I managed to get most of my shots on target. At that range one puts the sights as low as they will go. We were once having a serious competition and I thought why burden myself with the extra weight of a bayonet on an already heavy rifle. The results were disappointing. The range officer told me that all my shots were going over the top of the target. After some experimenting and talking with other M.H. shooters I came to the following conclusions.
!/ Most (if not all) M.H.s less bayonet shoot high at short ranges regardless of the sights being set on there lowest setting.
2/ Fixing a bayonet drops the point of impact dramatically. At 50 yards my MKIV is spot on with bayonet fixed but 9 to 12 inches high less bayonet.

The above is based on casual experimentation. Results may well differ depending on the rifle used. However it strikes me as a real plus that when the enemy is close and one would need a bayonet fixed, the M.H. becomes that bit more accurate.
12th January 2004Neil Aspinshaw
Thanks Barry.
You have touched an interesting point there, if your Mk 4 shoots 9 inches high at 50 yards, is that 36" high at 200 yards?, or is it the sliding back sight being innacurate at the graduated yardage?.
Is there any way of tailoring the back sight to custom it for the firer to eliminate that. (or is it your eye?, you know ex-pats who go down under have to look at the world upside down, ha ha!). Maybe the MH forum might give us an insight.
The reason for this is to asses was innacuracy a factor? with the officer calling out the ranges. At Isandlwana the groung falls away from the firer, so were alot of rounds sailing over the heads of the attackers? with no "spurt" of impact visible did the men actually know that rounds were not actually finding the target.
Must go, just packing the suitcase for RD on the 22nd!.
12th January 2004Adrian Whiting

If the sights were set to 200yds then the 9" height at 50yards is part of the curved trajectory of the bullet. It wouldn't then go on to be 36" high at 200yds.

The original increase in height over 200yds for service ammunition was measured at about 6". Often modern powder seems to have less propellant energy than the RFG2 in use then, which would account for an increased curvature, and why a bullet nowadays often flies higher. The only realistic way to measure this for certain is the chronograph the rounds being fired to measure their velocity.

The point about rounds missing high is well made. I recall an account of Nyezane (I think!) where comment was made that soldiers were not setting the backsight correctly. However whether these then went on to miss completely would depend on the depth of the target too.

14th January 2004Brian
I've read accounts of the battle at Ulundi where the avg number of rounds fired was about 35 per soldier. It didn't mention any severe problems and they seemed to work well enough there. 1500 or so dead Zulus. I own and shoot Martinis but I've never fired off enough ammo rapidly enough to test the heat issue. And Yes, the bayonet affects the aim. The weapon was great for its time when you consider that just a few years earlier the Boers were beating off Zulus with muzzle loaders! The Martini could shoot five times as rapidly and probably more reliably than the muskets. The failure at Isandlwana was failure to concentrate the troops so that firepower could be used indefinitely without overheating or running out of ammo. The Martini was more suited to careful aimed volleys than rapid fire. If the ammo wasn't so damned expensive, I'd do some tests with mine!
16th January 2004Barry Iacoppi N.Z.
I’m not technically proficient to comment on the ballistics of the 577-45 service round. The rounds I used were not loaded to military specs. However I think we can conclude that the M.H. did not have a close range battle sight but with bayonet fixed on the lowest range setting you were as close to spot on as you were going to get. Like many, I use the film “Zulu” to get some kind of grasp of what the battle might have been like. IF the film got it right most of the Zulus were shot at very close range. Unless one was going for head shots a nine inch high point of impact at close range would not be a problem. I suspect that soldiers were taught to aim at the centre of the torso.
A skilled shot on the Martini Henry forum is conducting tests re the affect of the bayonet on the P.O.I. I’ll endeavour to make his findings known on this forum.