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Old 18th September 2012, 10:35 AM   #1
Ibrahiim al Balooshi
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Location: Buraimi Oman, on the border with the UAE
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Salaams all ~ For a technical comprehensive analysis of this weapon please see

This thread wishes to examine the route into the Arabian Peninsula and what changes were made to this rifle.

The Martini Henry when it appeared in about 1872 revolutionized infantry warfare. This British Rifle when used by trained soldiers was capable of over 20 rounds a minute. It must have been like issuing all the men with machine guns by comparison to its predecessor. Indeed one of the main problems was that because the 557 / 450 cal bullets were black powder a line of 50 men all firing at once could soon mask target acquisition with smoke.

However what the infantry had was an extremely powerful, easy to operate, very accurate, devastating at all ranges, fast fire, killing machine. So how did the Arabs get theirs and moreover what changes did they make to the weapon?

In Oman local gendarmeries and palace guards (Al Askiris) got issued weapons as the Martini itself began to be overtaken by better designs such as the Enfield and pre WW1; The SMLE Lee Enfield. (It is interesting to note that in 1914 Home Guard units were issued with Martini Henrys with which to shoot down enemy airships over London.)

By the late 1890s, therefor, a lot of weapons were tipping onto the local Arab market through import points like Muscat and Ajman. The locals loved this new weapon and named it "The Sommah". They had no need of a bayonette and found the woodwork, bayonette fitting, and extra long barrel quite cumbersome. By chopping the barrel by about 12 inches they lightened the entire system and found to everyone's amazement very little loss of accuracy or power. The weapon could still knock a man dead at 1000 yards and penetrate 18 inches or more of hardwood at short range except now it was much easier to carry and a whole lot lighter. They also modified the rounds for hunting since a full sized round after hitting a bird or hare left nothing much to cook! So they chopped the bullets in half as bird/small game shot. To engage with tradition often the butt was covered in wolfskin and for good luck silver was worked onto the barrel stock and butt. Often you find ramrods added to these Arabized weapons. Traditional bullet shaped kohl and steel spike containers copied the 577 cartridge shape and rounds were carried on a leather and silver decorated waist belt. So as not to waste anything cartridges were reloaded with gunpowder, re capped with new striker caps and re bulletted ~ a small industry developed refilling and recharging ammo.

By the turn of the 20th Century most Martini Henry marks were available and each type though generally called "Sommah" in Arabia were given extra other names. The weapon continued to be carried through the 40s and 50s and even until today though it has been slowly replaced by the Lee Enfield (called Canad) with both the First and Second World War weapons including the short muzzle Jungle Carbine (called Parachute) and these days by modern 22 rifles imported from Germany, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. (generically named Sectoon)

The first picture shows a quite nicely silver decorated "Sommah" and the middle weapon which is quite rusty is in good working order. The third is an excellent mark and is called a "Sultaniyah" recognizable by its flat topped heavy barrel and florally decorated main body. It has a peculiar safety catch (which doesn't work!) as well as the usual "loaded pointer" on the side. This is likely to be a civilian style hunter.
You can compare the ammo size with one or two modern rounds in the ammo picture.

In conclusion it can be said, therefor, that this famous British Army Rifle went into a time locked weapons freezer where it is still admired and respected as an excellent hunter in Oman and many parts of Arabia.

Ibrahiim al Balooshi.
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Last edited by Ibrahiim al Balooshi : 19th September 2012 at 04:59 AM.
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