The Martini-Henry Rifle was taken on by the British Army in 1871 as a successor to the Snider-Enfield series. The Snider-Enfield was, itself, adopted in 1867 and fired the .577 Snider cartridge through a side-hinged breechblock action. About 10 rounds-per-minute could be expected by an experienced shooter and the type stayed in circulation until 1901 (with the British Indian Army). Fast-firing and powerful for its time, the Snider-Enfield - converted from a muzzle-loading design - was done in by advancing firearms technologies.
Enter the Martini-Henry rifle whose name stemmed from Swiss designer Friedrich von Martini and Scotsman Alexander Henry. Martini reworked an original Henry Peabody "falling block" action to house it completely within the receiver while Henry added a polygonal barrel to the mix. All told, the new rifle offered increased engagement ranges and a fast-firing action - though only through a single-shot functionality (the Martini-Henry was not a "repeat-fire" rifle).
Overall weight was over 8lb and the length was 1,245mm. The Martini falling block served in the lever-action arrangement and a rate-of-fire of 12 rounds per minute was attainable. Muzzle velocity of the exiting bullet reached 1,300 feet per second with an effective range out to 400 yards. Maximum range was listed at 1,900 yards. Ranging was through a sliding rear ramp and fixed-front post sight arrangement. A bayonet could be fitted to the weapon for close-in combat - which added length and made for a more cumbersome weapon to wield and fire.
The initial form was the Mark I which debuted in mid-1871 and these were followed by the Mark II, Mark III and Mark IV in time. Manufacture of the line was from the celebrated Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield Lock and it is estimated that some 1,000,000 units may have been made (low estimates are closer to 500,000 units). Various carbine (short) forms also emerged to provide second-line elements such as artillerymen with a suitable personal weapon. Carbines were of shortened length, making them more portable as a result while sacrificing some range and accuracy in the process. Rifles specifically for training were also devised as was a shotgun model (the "Greener Police" / "Greener Prison" Shotgun).
The Martini-Henry went on to have a solid career spanning decades despite production having ended in 1889. First-actions were through the various British colonial conflicts and ranged into the Russo-Turkish War (1877-1878), the First Boer War (1880-1881) and even throughout World War 1 (1914-1918). Some rifles stood the test of time and were seen in the hands of Afghan guerillas during the Soviet-Afghan War (1979-1989) and as recently as in the fighting of 2011 (Afghanistan). Because of its showcasing worldwide, the rifle eventually chambered a variety of cartridge types depending on model - .577/450 Boxer-Henry, .577/450 Martini-Henry, .303 British, 11.43x55R Ottoman, 11.43x59R Romanian, 7.65x53mm Ottoman being some of note.
The British Army formally gave up service of the Martini-Henry Rifle at the close of World War 1 - which ended with the Armistice of November 1918. This did not deter others from continuing to use the reliable weapon in the coming decades.
Manufacturing Royal Small Arms Factory (RSAF) Enfield Lock - United Kingdom (among others)
Afghanistan; Bermuda; Nepal; Turkey (Ottoman Empire); Romania; South Africa; United Kingdom
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