Martini Henry rifles

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paul.mercer
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Martini Henry rifles

Postby paul.mercer » Sat May 14, 2016 7:31 pm

Gentlemen,
I realise this is nothing to do with naval history but I wonder if one of the experts on this forum might be able to help
Prior to the introduction of the Lee Metford a number of Martini Henry's were either rebarrelled or sleeved from 450/577 to fire the new 303 cartridge. However in Greener's book The Gun and its Development he makes the following statement.
' For the 303 barrel, if the Martini breech-loading mechanism is used, it must be fitted with a breech-block of special construction, or the extra strain caused by using cordite and similar explosives, will soon so alter the shape of the block that it will not work'.
I have a 450/577 Martini and to my inexpert eyes the block appears to be a fairly solid chunk of metal so I am surprised at this statement. I realise that cordite is more powerful than black powder but I would have thought that the recoil of a Martini fouled by black powder was probably equal or worse than the same rifle firing a 303 cordite cartridge. It also would seem to my inexpert eyes that the 303 case being smaller in size to the 577 would be pushing against a larger area of the block and therefore would exert less strain.
I know Greener was a recognised expert in weapons in his day so I would hesitate to doubt his word on the matter, but I do wonder if there were many cases of damaged blocks and if the Government did actually fit strengthened ones when they converted them?

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tommy303
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Re: Martini Henry rifles

Postby tommy303 » Fri May 20, 2016 7:13 pm

I know Enfield barrel Martini's usually came with a new breech block having a smaller diameter firing pin so as to avoid the possibility of rupturing the primer. It was found that the older, larger firing pin tended to do so due to the higher sustained breech pressure. It is also possible that the replacement breech blocks were of a higher grade of steel and less likely to deform under repeated firings using cordite loaded rounds. Other than those guesses, I can't tell you a whole lot more and it is too bad Greener doesn't explain in detail what he meant in his book.

The usual 303 MkVII round develops an operating pressure of a round 49000psi, while the 577-450 Martini Henry round has an operating pressure of around half that, so it is possible that, with the smaller base diameter of the 303, the older breech blocks might take a greater hammering over a smaller surface area and deform more.

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tommy303
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Re: Martini Henry rifles

Postby tommy303 » Sat May 21, 2016 12:06 am

A little more info came my way concerning the breech blocks. On conversion, a sleeved block for the smaller firing pin was used as well as a new facing of the breech block to fully support the smaller rimmed 303. Apparently, while the older 577-450 base was adequately supported by original blocks, the 303 was not and tended to hammer block face around the firing pin, eventually causing a circular indent into the block face, and this caused headspacing problems and allowed even more hammering when firing. In extreme cases, a circular crack formed around the firing pin hole rendering the block unusable.

The purpose built 303 Martini blocks have a modified face to better support the 303 base and a smaller top groove for loading. The also have the proper firing pin for 303 smokeless rounds.

Their shoulders held the sky suspended;
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tommy303
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Re: Martini Henry rifles

Postby tommy303 » Tue May 24, 2016 8:09 pm

Hi Paul,

Another little bit of info came my way via John Sukey, a collector of my acquaintance. It would appear the modified original breech blocks, which had a new face dovetailed in and a sleeved firing pin chamber caused most of the problems, as the dovetailing milled away the casehardening, allowing deformation to occur with later Mks of 303 cordite loadings.

Their shoulders held the sky suspended;
They stood and Earth's foundations stay;
What God abandoned these defended;
And saved the sum of things for pay.

paul.mercer
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Re: Martini Henry rifles

Postby paul.mercer » Tue May 24, 2016 8:18 pm

Gentlemen,
Many thanks for the info and for taking the time to look it up and reply. I doubt if there are many forums such as this that can come up with an answer to almost any question!
Thanks again.

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RF
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Re: Martini Henry rifles

Postby RF » Thu Oct 20, 2016 8:08 am

Can I ask a question here.

As I understand it the Martini Henry is a single shot rifle with a slow rate of fire. They appeared to be rather inadequate to the British Army in the Zulu War of 1879, where the slow rate of fire was a key reason for the Isandhlwana disaster.

Why do they apparently have such high reputation, when at the same time the US cavalry was armed with Winchester and Springfield repeater rifles?
''Give me a Ping and one Ping only'' - Sean Connery.

Francis Marliere
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Re: Martini Henry rifles

Postby Francis Marliere » Fri Oct 21, 2016 7:32 am

As fars as I understand things, US Infantry still had single shot rifles at this time : only cavalry units had Spencer carbines. The reasons why infantry did not have carbines are IMHO :
- carbines are muche more expensives than rifles ;
- the ammunition consumption of carbines is too high ;
- the range and power of carbines is inadequate ;
- carbines are much less reliable than rifles, especially when firing from trenches or prone position.

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frontkampfer
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Re: Martini Henry rifles

Postby frontkampfer » Fri Oct 21, 2016 12:17 pm

The US military had thousands of Springfield muskets and to save money they had them converted to trap door shooters. The cavalry used the carbine trap door which is what Custer's command had at Little Big Horn. Many of the Indians there had repeaters. The Ordnance Bureau was very old school and did not like repeating rifles as they felt they wasted ammo. The army stayed with single shot rifles into the 20th century.
"I will not have my ship shot out from under my ass!"

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frontkampfer
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Re: Martini Henry rifles

Postby frontkampfer » Fri Oct 21, 2016 12:17 pm

The US military had thousands of Springfield muskets and to save money they had them converted to trap door shooters. The cavalry used the carbine trap door which is what Custer's command had at Little Big Horn. Many of the Indians there had repeaters. The Ordnance Bureau was very old school and did not like repeating rifles as they felt they wasted ammo. The army stayed with single shot rifles and the later bolt action type into the 20th century.
"I will not have my ship shot out from under my ass!"


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