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Effective Range of the Martini Henry
Cub


Joined: 26 Dec 2011
Posts: 16
Location: Cardiff
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Now, this one isn't so much a flat question as a discussion point.

Wiki tells me that the 'effective range' of the MH was 400yds. However, I've also heard the 200yds described as the 'killing range' and 100yds as near enough 'point blank'.

It may just be me, but this all sounds like pretty long range, assuming eyesight and hand-to-eye coordination hasn't devolved greatly in 130 odd years.

So, what exactly do we mean by 'effective range'? Again, by using the inter-web we find the definition 'The farthest range to which a projectile can be expected to retain sufficient energy to perform its intended function'.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that a single trained rifleman would have to be an exceptional shot to hit a man-sized target at 400yds without the aid of modern scopes.

At 100yds, he may be confident of getting nearly all shots on target on a range (without the distractions or strains of a battlefield), but it's hardly what I'd call 'point blank', which I think of as 'pretty much cannot miss'. However, when I play the definition game again I find PB given as 'the distance between a firearm and a target .. such that the bullet in flight is expected to strike the target without adjusting the elevation of the firearm'. Inotherwords, you don't have to adjust for range, you fire over battle sights. Quite a bit different from how I have been using the term.

It's obviously a bit of a fudge and a matter of a ballistic expert's opinion as to where you put the line between one definition and another; the bullet won't suddenly change its behaviour between 99yds and 101yds after all. But as a framework it does perhaps explain what some might see as an unexpectedly low casualty rate for sustained Zulu attacks against firing lines.

What I have come to conclude is that we're talking about volley fire on a massed target; old school musketry as it were. An officer might then direct 80 MH rifles at a massed target of Zulus 400yds away and expect perhaps 10% effective hits, at 200yds 30% and at 100yds 70%. Figures plucked from the air of course with no basis on fact beyond my own vague idea of what 'sounds about right'.

If the target is skirmishing of course, we might find an early form of 'suppressive fire' with the rifleman keeping the target's head down and stopping him from advancing effectively without necessarily hitting him.

With limited ammunition we can expect officers to exercise tight fire control on their men, but in cases like at Rorke's Drift where they had plenty of ammo (at least for most of the battle) it seems a lot more reasonable that individuals would rain lead at Zulus taking cover to keep them down. Looking at things like this then again, the high expenditure vs casualty rate seems like less of a head-scratcher.

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Alan
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Joined: 30 Aug 2005
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Location: Wales
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Neil Aspinshaw's website has a lot of other info on the MH but I can't see anything on effective range.
http://www.martinihenry.org

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Cub


Joined: 26 Dec 2011
Posts: 16
Location: Cardiff
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Cheers Alan. Following a trail of links I found a Wiki page detailing British Army rifles through the ages and it reinforced what I had read about some of the MH ranges. It said 400yds was the maximum range at which the order to fire would normally be given (longer range fire for the purpose of harrassment was not unknown) and 200yds was when serious casualties would be inflicted.

Mike Snook's book really brought it home to me just how many of the Zulus were armed with firearms as well and how effective they were, not individually, but just because of sheer numbers and dwindling range. For some reason, despite the reports of so many British and Imperial casualties from musketry, it's something I often overlook or gloss over.

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Neil Aspinshaw


Joined: 05 Sep 2005
Posts: 289
Location: Loughborough
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The best evidence as to the effective range can be looked at in two context.
1) effective aimed fire
2) Effective lethal fire

In respect to effective aimed fire, 700 yards, however moving targets have an effect on accuracy as the soldier needed good deflective judgement to asses the point of tangent between the aimed shot and where the target would hypothetically be at impact, no difference to a deflector sight found on a Spitfire in 1940!. later sighting trials with the adjustable sight in 1882 tried to remedy this, however, the adoption of the .402" Martini (and then cancelled) gave a much better velocity. Interestingly results from Maiwand in 1880 show how effective aimed company volleys could be at 700.

In 1885, most main service rifles in the European and American theatre were assessed with a Boulenge Chronograph, using calculations from Professor Bashfords tables and the Martini was third from 18 comparable models at 1000 yards, only the Werndl, the Berdan and the Springfield outperformed it, the most effective by a country mile was was the .402" Enfield Martini...the rifle that never was, but thats the story yet to be told

Effective lethal fire. There is no doubt, even in 1886, apart from the Rubin rifle, the Martini in both .450" and .402" still was one of the most effective rifles on the world stage, due mainly to the hard 12:1 alloy bullet. The field trial held the best evidence I have found for my book research is the report, with some extremely surprising evidence. A German report by Dr Ernst Kuerster, entitled “The Action Of Modern Bullets on the Animal Body”. A Horse was slain with a volley, and the Martini, the Chassepot and the Mauser were fired at the carcass at 5, 20,100 and 800 paces, unlike the French and German rifles used in the tests, the Henry bullet passed clean through the carcass of the horse, with minimal splintering when it hit bone. . Sort of changes perceptions?

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AMB


Joined: 07 Oct 2005
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Neil,

Do you have more on this '.402" Enfield Martini'?

AMB
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Neil Aspinshaw


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AMB


Joined: 07 Oct 2005
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Neil,

Thank you for the pointer. Fascinating.

AMB
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paul mercer


Joined: 04 Jul 2006
Posts: 37
Location: Tavistock, Devon
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Hi everyone,
Have just rejoined after an absence of (too many) years although I have been following some of the posts.
I was particularly interested in the posts about the effective range of the 450 MH. In Mike Snook's book 'How can a man die better' he says that opposing forces might be brought under fire as far away as 800 yards but the serious damage would begin at 600 and the real killing at 400 using volley fire. I have read that the average British soldier of the 1870's did not receive much training in the use of his rifle and there are reports that many did not adjust their sights to the range of target, this was commented on by John Dunne when he noticed that the men were firing high in one of the final battles of the AZ war. Also it must have been difficult to achieve accuracy in the heat of battle, particularly when firing and reloading quickly and under extreme pressure from several thousand Zulus, so the 'effective' range might be diminished - there is a lot of difference from a shot taken from a rest and one taken in a hurry or from one taken when an order to volley fire is given whether or not you actually have
something to aim at or not. Finally I believe that at the battle of Ommduman (pardon the spelling) the troops armed with the new 303 opened up at an optimistic 2000 yards and the ones with Martini's at an even more optimistic 1000 yards, the 303 stopped the Dervishes at 1200 yards and the MH at 500 yards (300 yards shorter) which says a lot for the tremendous stopping power of the 480 grain MH bullet!
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Effective Range of the Martini Henry
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