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British Industrial History

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Martini-Henry Rifle

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The Martini-Henry (also known as the Peabody-Martini-Henry) was a breech-loading lever-actuated rifle adopted by the British Army. It combined an action developed by Friedrich Martini (which had been combined with the barrel of the Peabody rifle developed by Henry Peabody as the Martini-Peabody rifle in 1866[1]), with the rifled barrel designed by Alexander Henry.

1869 After trials, Special Committee on Breech-loading Rifles decided to recommend the Martini gun as a substitute for the Snider then in use.[2]

1871 First entered service, replacing the Snider-Enfield Rifle; variants were used throughout the British Empire for 30 years. It was the first British service rifle that was a true breech-loading rifle using metallic cartridges.

There were four classes of the Martini-Henry rifle: Mark I (released in June 1871), Mark II, Mark III, and Mark IV.

1875 National Arms and Ammunition Co owned rights to the patents and expected to receive royalties from other companies who had been making the Martini-Henry Rifle; initially won court case[3] but the judgement was overturned the following year; finally settled in National's favour by the House of Lords.

1877 There was also an 1877 carbine version with carbine variations that included a Garrison Artillery Carbine, an Artillery Carbine (Mark I, Mark II, and Mark III), and smaller versions designed as training rifles for military cadets.

1889 The Mark IV Martini-Henry rifle ended production in the year 1889, but remained in service throughout the British Empire until the end of the First World War.

During the service of the Martini-Henry, the British army were involved in a large number of colonial wars, most notably the Anglo-Zulu War in 1879. The rifle was used by the company of the 2nd Battalion, 24th Regiment of Foot present at Rorke's Drift. During the battle, approximately 150 British soldiers successfully defended themselves against several thousand Zulus. The weapon was not completely phased out until 1904.

The Martini-Henry saw service in WWI in a variety of roles - primarily as a Reserve Arm, but it was also issued (in the early stages of the war) to aircrew for attempting to shoot down observation balloons and other aircraft. Martini-Henry's were also used in the African and Middle Eastern theatres during WWI, in the hands of Native Auxiliary troops.

Large numbers of these rifles were manufactured by BSA

See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. The Engineer 1869/06/25
  2. The Engineer 1869/03/12
  3. Birmingham Daily Post 10 March 1875