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DateOriginal Topic
7th July 2004Overheating Rifles
By Tony Jones
My dad (ex-para's) said that the rifles used at rorke's drift,after a period,would become very hot and need to be wrapped in a cloth to be functional for long periods,why was this so.This inconvenience makes the defender's heroics even more admirable.
9th July 2004Adrian Whiting

The Martini barrel is rather too hot to touch, by the breech, after perhaps only ten rounds fired in rapid succession.

Obviously all rifle barrels heat up with prolonged firing but there are perhaps a couple of aspects affecting the Martini.

Firstly the propellant was gunpowder. Whilst effective, it burns more slowly than modern nitro propellants. The round, and therefore the hot gases, are retained in the barrel for proportionately longer, adding to the heat effect - obviously the time involved per round is very samll though.

Secondly the barrel is of fairly massive proportions in relation to most modern barrels. Once hot it retains heat, having a smaller surface area to volume ratio.

Finally, the Martini had no barrel top cover. Soldiers fitted hide sleeves, and later these were issued, to alleviate the problem.

Of course the rifles were used over a long time during the defence, adding to the heating.

10th July 2004Michael Boyle

Having fired a Martini-Henry rapidly for ten rounds I can tell you they do heat up, I had never experienced "wood burn" in any other rifle I've fired,for all the reasons Adrian points out. But it's important to remember the Martini was developed as a 'controlled volley" weapon where the heating would normally not be an issue.

The Pte. in "Zulu" who remarks "That's awfully nice of him" in response to Lt.Bromhead's order to ' Fire At Will ' was not really sarcastic as the command was seldom given or for that matter needed.I'd venture to say that the events of Jan.22nd/23rd 1879 were the first time the Martini was really used as a rapid fire weapon to such an extent and subsequent modifications(i.e.-stronger extractors,longer levers and drawn brass casings) addressed it's other short falls.

As the rifle remained in service (Colonial and Home,albeit in modern calibers) through WWII speaks volumns.

Of course over-heating of weapons would continue to be a problem for many years to come and the "ground pounders" would always find a way to correct it,as the US Marines did with their novel use of alternate heat dissipation for their water-cooled machine guns on Quadalcanal.


10th July 2004Barry Iacoppi N.Z.
I must agree with Michael. In fact as few as 5 rounds fired rapid makes touching the exposed barrel unpleasant. I have had the pleasure of being on the firing line with a group of nine other Martini shooters. We were shooting at targets against the clock and when we were dismissed from the firing line all rifles were gingerly carried from the line by slings or carefully placed fingers on the wood work.
19th July 2004AMB

I once read that the regualr infantry of the time would overcome the problem by adding some cow hind over the area where their hands were likely to touch the barrel. Maybe this was a field modification later on in the War?
I can vouch that modern service weapons still get very hot after many rounds, so it is not a problem that has gone away.