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Old 18th September 2012, 11:35 AM   #1
Ibrahiim al Balooshi
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Default THE MARTINI HENRY.

Salaams all ~ For a technical comprehensive analysis of this weapon please see www.martinihenry.com

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.

Regards,
Ibrahiim al Balooshi.
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Old 18th September 2012, 06:51 PM   #2
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Excellent information, thanks!
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Old 19th September 2012, 06:16 AM   #3
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Here is another silver and gold decorated Martini Henry in 577/450 cal with belt and foil cartridges. Later cartridges were drawn brass as shown in Ibrahiim's post.
If the rifles you show do not have British proof marks then it is likely that they were made in Pakistan by "backyard" makers. They are however of exceptionally good quality.
The one shown here falls into that category.
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Old 19th September 2012, 12:17 PM   #4
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Hi Ibrahiim

Great post, thank you...

I had a couple of these silver-mounted Martinis as wall decoration when I lived in the Gulf (early 1970s). One bought in Mutrah souk and the other from a shop in Al Ain (UAE). Both were ex-British Army examples, cut down. I did see some locals still carrying them especially in the interior, including on camel back, but by then the Lee Enfield .303 was more popular and used by night watchmen etc.

Best regards.
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Old 19th September 2012, 12:57 PM   #5
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Hi Ibrahiim,
Some years ago a company in Oman - Historic Arms, Exhibitions & Forts LLC - restored many hundreds of longarms owned by the Govt there (Sultanate) that were in a decrepid state. As part of the process each was stripped, all markings & features recorded & a massive data base populated, many (the majority) were martini, "Sommahs". It is anticipated that the data base will be researched & published etc.

A small arms heritage museum was also contracted & completed in 2006 - 2007 at Birkat Al-Mauz. Not open yet as the ministry still has minor works to complete. One room there is devoted to the Martini in British service & how it was tribalised & adopted as the "Sommah", some very nice examples there. The museum is absolutely amazing - designed & set up by Dr. Christopher Roads (he was responsible for HMS Belfast on the River Thames in London & also for the well known Duxford Air Museum whilst he was deputy director general at The Imperial war Museum).

Also of interest, by the same company, is an equally stunning artillery museum at the impressive Al Hazm Castle, plus a smaller complimentary display at Barca Castle. The former completed in 2004 but still closed as the Omani's have some minor works to do there also & things move very very slowly indeed with their Govt departments when it comes to doing work.
If you are a student of such arms you could contact HAEF LLC & see if you can arrange to have a look at what they have been doing. I think you will be quite amazed at what has been done there.
Regards, Adrian
A few near the end of construction photos....
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Old 20th September 2012, 10:54 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by adrian
Hi Ibrahiim,
Some years ago a company in Oman - Historic Arms, Exhibitions & Forts LLC - restored many hundreds of longarms owned by the Govt there (Sultanate) that were in a decrepid state. As part of the process each was stripped, all markings & features recorded & a massive data base populated, many (the majority) were martini, "Sommahs". It is anticipated that the data base will be researched & published etc.

A small arms heritage museum was also contracted & completed in 2006 - 2007 at Birkat Al-Mauz. Not open yet as the ministry still has minor works to complete. One room there is devoted to the Martini in British service & how it was tribalised & adopted as the "Sommah", some very nice examples there. The museum is absolutely amazing - designed & set up by Dr. Christopher Roads (he was responsible for HMS Belfast on the River Thames in London & also for the well known Duxford Air Museum whilst he was deputy director general at The Imperial war Museum).

Also of interest, by the same company, is an equally stunning artillery museum at the impressive Al Hazm Castle, plus a smaller complimentary display at Barca Castle. The former completed in 2004 but still closed as the Omani's have some minor works to do there also & things move very very slowly indeed with their Govt departments when it comes to doing work.
If you are a student of such arms you could contact HAEF LLC & see if you can arrange to have a look at what they have been doing. I think you will be quite amazed at what has been done there.
Regards, Adrian
A few near the end of construction photos....


Salaams Adrian ~ That is very interesting and I wonder if the up coming arms and armour conference at Nizwa University in October is related to the adjacent museum you mention at Birkat al Muz(pool of the bananas) ? I will certainly look up the Muscat people to see what they have regarding antiquity
I have a few days in Muscat possibly next week and I want to hit the museums for fine detail on swords and spears. I will look at their guns at the same time. Shukran..
Regards,
Ibrahiim al Balooshi.
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Old 20th September 2012, 11:28 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by colin henshaw
Hi Ibrahiim

Great post, thank you...

I had a couple of these silver-mounted Martinis as wall decoration when I lived in the Gulf (early 1970s). One bought in Mutrah souk and the other from a shop in Al Ain (UAE). Both were ex-British Army examples, cut down. I did see some locals still carrying them especially in the interior, including on camel back, but by then the Lee Enfield .303 was more popular and used by night watchmen etc.

Best regards.


Salaams Colin Henshaw, Indeed they still carry the 303 SMLE (Canad). Occasionally there are 303 black powder Enfields that superceded Martini Henrys and of course nowadays M16s are carried by official government guards. I always thought the big heavy SMLE were just too cumbersome for Omani men but they more or less adopted it from its inception and even a few pre WW1 jobs turn up.
The Bedu have a peculiar way of carrying the Martini Henry(and other rifles) which they sling upside down under one arm from the shoulder. In fact, this is really comfortable especially on a camel where the too and fro of the camel movement would otherwise have the weapon thumping up and down on the beast.. Another odd adaption is the gun bag made from goat leather which keeps all the dust off the weapon. It is also notable that they continue even today to carry the old silver powder flasks (talahiq) as a mark of tradition even though they are redundant as weapon accessories from a long gun retired many years ago "The Abu Futtilla". (The One with the Match)

All pictures from the "Thesiger" collection (highly recommended to Forum) except the gun (an Enfield) and bag on the floor of my office !

Regards,
Ibrahiim al Balooshi.
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Old 20th September 2012, 01:00 PM   #8
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Salaams Adrian ~ That is very interesting and I wonder if the up coming arms and armour conference at Nizwa University in October is related to the adjacent museum you mention at Birkat al Muz(pool of the bananas) ? I will certainly look up the Muscat people to see what they have regarding antiquity
I have a few days in Muscat possibly next week and I want to hit the museums for fine detail on swords and spears. I will look at their guns at the same time. Shukran..
Regards,
Ibrahiim al Balooshi.


Hi Ibrahiim, Yes Nizwa is very close to Birkat al Mauz & the conference attendees will be viewing the museum there, that conference is being organised by Dr. Roads. HAEF have premises not far from Muscat, at/near Bowsher.
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Old 20th September 2012, 03:46 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by adrian
Salaams Adrian ~ That is very interesting and I wonder if the up coming arms and armour conference at Nizwa University in October is related to the adjacent museum you mention at Birkat al Muz(pool of the bananas) ? I will certainly look up the Muscat people to see what they have regarding antiquity
I have a few days in Muscat possibly next week and I want to hit the museums for fine detail on swords and spears. I will look at their guns at the same time. Shukran..
Regards,
Ibrahiim al Balooshi.


Hi Ibrahiim, Yes Nizwa is very close to Birkat al Mauz & the conference attendees will be viewing the museum there, that conference is being organised by Dr. Roads. HAEF have premises not far from Muscat, at/near Bowsher.
Adrian


Salaams Adrian ~ I'm determined to get into the conference ! Do you have any phone numbers to hand? Perhaps you may be able to PM me? It is interesting and I have just been given the inside info.
Regards,
Ibrahiim al Balooshi.
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Old 20th September 2012, 09:32 PM   #10
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Salaams Adrian ~ I'm determined to get into the conference ! Do you have any phone numbers to hand? Perhaps you may be able to PM me? It is interesting and I have just been given the inside info.
Regards,
Ibrahiim al Balooshi.


Hi Ibrahiim, yes I can give you contact numbers etc, please email me direct on adrian(at)stonehenge.com.au
Regards
Adrian
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Old 21st September 2012, 06:54 PM   #11
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This is truly a fascinating and informative thread Ibrahiim, thank you!
While my focus has always been on swords, it is interesting and often surprising how much helpful data which pertains to them, even obtusely, can be gained from firearms production data.
I found a reference online "The Khyber Pass Martini" by Jason Atkin, apparantly a website with interesting data on these produced in Khyber Regions even into recent times by the Adam Khel and associated tribes in Khyber regions. I wonder how many of these would have been transported into Arabia, or would these have been strictly for local tribal use in Khyber areas?
Another interesting reference which might be helpful for research on this topic would be "The Lee-Enfield Story", Ian Skennerton, 1993.

Looking forward to learning more on these! and please keep us posted on outcome with museums and conference.

Shukran!
Jim
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Old 21st September 2012, 09:12 PM   #12
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Ibrahiim: Thank you for Posting. I really like these Arab decorated Martinis and Enfields. One day I will run across one for sale here in the States.

Kahnjar1: Every time I see your Martini and cartridge belt I keep asking myself: Why is that not at my house? What a fantastic set!! Rick.
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Old 21st September 2012, 09:22 PM   #13
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Ibrahiim: Forgot to mention......Thanks for the photos showing the rifle carry method. I've never seen this before. Most interesting.

I do own one Martini. It's a civilian sporter made by the Field Rifle Co. in Birmingham around 1895. It's in .303 British smokeless. Barrel marked: "Nitro Proofed". It shoots very well. I have my cartridges loaded to pre-WW1 specs. The sling is original to the gun.

Thanks again for posting. Rick.
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Old 22nd September 2012, 04:10 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rickystl
Ibrahiim: Forgot to mention......Thanks for the photos showing the rifle carry method. I've never seen this before. Most interesting.

I do own one Martini. It's a civilian sporter made by the Field Rifle Co. in Birmingham around 1895. It's in .303 British smokeless. Barrel marked: "Nitro Proofed". It shoots very well. I have my cartridges loaded to pre-WW1 specs. The sling is original to the gun.

Thanks again for posting. Rick.



Salaams rickystl Your Enfield looks immaculate whereas mine has been dragged overland behind various camels Im afraid!!

I don't think yours is a civilian jopb since it has a bayonet lug...?

I looked down the inside of the barrel of mine (at #7 above) the other day and .. oh dear ...it needs a serious clean. You will find various stamps on the body including the usual Enfield Marks and a capital E over the end of the barrel over the breach. There is also a date. BSA Factory Mark.The Crown Mark; V.R. Various proof marks including on the falling block cocking lever etc. This has to be one of the shortest military rifles (and most powerful) ever made. I have put a photo of the ammo; Black powder 303. The weapon was so short that no modifications were needed for use by the smaller statured Arab end users where they even retained all the woodwork and the bayonet lug, though, the blades themselves were discarded.
Photos show the E mark and original Ammo in belt compared to Lee Enfield 303 ammo(above)which arrived shortly after with the famous, new, magazine fed, Lee Enfield SMLE ..thus making this a redundant weapon available therefor to the various guard units and civilian use throughout the East.

Regards,
Ibrahiim al Balooshi.
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Old 22nd September 2012, 05:13 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
This is truly a fascinating and informative thread Ibrahiim, thank you!
While my focus has always been on swords, it is interesting and often surprising how much helpful data which pertains to them, even obtusely, can be gained from firearms production data.
I found a reference online "The Khyber Pass Martini" by Jason Atkin, apparantly a website with interesting data on these produced in Khyber Regions even into recent times by the Adam Khel and associated tribes in Khyber regions. I wonder how many of these would have been transported into Arabia, or would these have been strictly for local tribal use in Khyber areas?
Another interesting reference which might be helpful for research on this topic would be "The Lee-Enfield Story", Ian Skennerton, 1993.

Looking forward to learning more on these! and please keep us posted on outcome with museums and conference.

Shukran!
Jim


Salaams Jim ~ Thank you for your post. I have noted the important references and will look them up. As it happens there are a couple of Khyber chaps only across the street from us. They work in a small weapons workshop refitting woodwork and repairing old rifles including abu futtila. Its true that we tend to link the manufacture of these weapons to Afghan sources but everyone forgets the other side of the mountains in and around the Khyber Pass and Peshawar regions where there were dozens of workshops making stuff. Some of the locally made long guns could out shoot and out range the British in the 19th C ; most notably in the battle with the 44TH Regiment of Foot. For sure Afghan/Khyber manufactured weapons leached out around the adjoining regions and as far as here and Yemen however they are easier to spot and often had mistakes on the spelling but there are several that pass muster and some which are as good as or even better looking than originals!

The normal dead give away of the trigger guard being flimsy looking as on other long guns doesn't apply to the Khyber made Martini Henry simply because those parts were obtainable from other bastardized weapons and from imported parts. If the main body could be knocked up it would be a simple matter to add the other bits and pieces. How they made the barrels, however, is beyond me !

What I find poignant regarding gunpowder weaponry is that it is inside this timezone that so much changed regarding blades. Indeed the fog caused by these guns hides the demise of many a hand held weapon including the spear, sword and bow. The spear (probably the most important Arab weapon) virtually fell off the map as it was essentially superceded and couldn't be iconized as it was too clumsy whilst the bow and arrow vanished... despite the fact that it was faster than the gun and remained so until the discovery of the magazine fed rifle after 1900. Gunpowder weaponry mainly through the advent of rifle and cannon points to the demise of the Omani Battle Sword and could be responsible for the green light being given for the long flexible Omani dancing sword in about 1744 / 1800. (A date I defensively place as initially the Busaidi dynasty start date; 1744)

The gun in the Rifle configuration therefor has a lot to answer for (Pistols never really took off here) The Rifle on the other hand filled the role of spear and bow and for hunting was excellent whilst it was also devastating at closer ranges and thus largely retired the sword (but not always)

Both the dagger and sword have retained a "traditional place" within Arab society as "badges of office" and "head of the family"status symbols.

Regards,
Ibrahiim al Balooshi.

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Old 5th November 2012, 05:33 PM   #16
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Note To Forum Mutrah Souk Guns; 1 Nov 2012.
Regards,
Ibrahiim al Balooshi.
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Old 17th May 2013, 04:51 PM   #17
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Salaams All ~ The idea originally was to have Martini Henrys right the way around my dining room... I need a few more !
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Old 29th May 2013, 11:31 PM   #18
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From Theiger Vol 5 I think it is a Martini
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Old 29th May 2013, 11:50 PM   #19
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This may be one also
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Old 31st May 2013, 03:55 PM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RhysMichael
This may be one also


Salaams RhysMichael ~Yes there are a lot of Martini Henry in Wilfred Thesigers books. This one could be either one of those or perhaps an Enfield black powder 303 which came just after the Martini Henry ~ Looking at his gunbelt they dont seem to be the big Martini Henry Cartridges but may be 303.
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Old 31st May 2013, 06:25 PM   #21
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Great information and I really enjoyed this thread thank you for sharing the information Ibrahiim
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Old 31st May 2013, 10:16 PM   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ibrahiim al Balooshi
Salaams RhysMichael ~Yes there are a lot of Martini Henry in Wilfred Thesigers books. This one could be either one of those or perhaps an Enfield black powder 303 which came just after the Martini Henry ~ Looking at his gunbelt they dont seem to be the big Martini Henry Cartridges but may be 303.
Regards,
Ibrahiim al Balooshi.

The Martini was also made in 303 cal
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Old 1st June 2013, 05:34 PM   #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kahnjar1
The Martini was also made in 303 cal


Salaams, Never saw one ... though I'm sure you are right...

They carried the Martini Henry and the 303 black powder Enfield as well as the First and Second WW SMLE . including the WW2 jungle carbine version and the K98k German Army WW2 issue etc etc .

Both Bin Gabaisha and Bin Kabina are pictured carrying either the SMLE and Martini Henry.. as is Thesiger variously and he also gifted Martini Henrys to them. The picture may even be misleading in that the belt of ammo and the weapon are unrelated... and just for the picture.

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Old 1st June 2013, 07:37 PM   #24
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the martini-henry was present for one of the worst disasters in british military history. the defeat at islandlwana in 1879. one of the accepted reasons for the defeat of the british armed with these rifles, aside from arrogance, was the cartridge. the foil had a nasty habit of crushing, especially after the rifle had been fired rapidly and heated up, resulting in a massive jam. 1300 brits dead. one contested opinion was the quartermasters did not distribute ammo fast enough, and the troops ran out of ammo. an effect of the rifle's massive rate of fire (compared to earlier rifles). wellington broke the old guard at waterloo with three volleys, and he had smoothbore muskets.

it took more for the zulus. zulu distraction tactics and sheer stupidity of lord chelmsford and his officers ensured the brits were too widely separated for the martini to be effective.

at rourke's drift at the end of the battle of islandlwana, 4000 zulu attacked 139 brits with martini's. chard made better use of his troops behind primitive defences. he repelled the zulu by more skilful use of the martini's firepower - with plenty of ammo. the movie zulu, while one of my favourites, and one that made michael caine a superstar, showed the zulu repeatedly engaging in hand to hand combat at the barriers. in truth, most of the zulu were killed at 400-600 yards. the martini in skilled hands handled correctly showed what it could do. (the zulu had about a thousand rifles and some ammo themselves, having borrowed them earlier in the day, thus actually being better equipped than the brits. but they were not proficient with them. most were not at that later battle anyway.) the zulu king had told his brother not to attack any fortified positions. his brother ignored that at the drift.

the thin cartridge walls were thickened in later production runs.

the rifles are still being made. not only in the west for enthusiasts, but in pakistan where they have been skillfully copied by hand for a hundred years or so. (tho the ak-47 has become even more popular)

it even comes in pistol:
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Old 2nd June 2013, 05:01 PM   #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kronckew
the martini-henry was present for one of the worst disasters in british military history. the defeat at islandlwana in 1879. one of the accepted reasons for the defeat of the british armed with these rifles, aside from arrogance, was the cartridge. the foil had a nasty habit of crushing, especially after the rifle had been fired rapidly and heated up, resulting in a massive jam. 1300 brits dead. one contested opinion was the quartermasters did not distribute ammo fast enough, and the troops ran out of ammo. an effect of the rifle's massive rate of fire (compared to earlier rifles). wellington broke the old guard at waterloo with three volleys, and he had smoothbore muskets.

it took more for the zulus. zulu distraction tactics and sheer stupidity of lord chelmsford and his officers ensured the brits were too widely separated for the martini to be effective.

at rourke's drift at the end of the battle of islandlwana, 4000 zulu attacked 139 brits with martini's. chard made better use of his troops behind primitive defences. he repelled the zulu by more skilful use of the martini's firepower - with plenty of ammo. the movie zulu, while one of my favourites, and one that made michael caine a superstar, showed the zulu repeatedly engaging in hand to hand combat at the barriers. in truth, most of the zulu were killed at 400-600 yards. the martini in skilled hands handled correctly showed what it could do. (the zulu had about a thousand rifles and some ammo themselves, having borrowed them earlier in the day, thus actually being better equipped than the brits. but they were not proficient with them. most were not at that later battle anyway.) the zulu king had told his brother not to attack any fortified positions. his brother ignored that at the drift.

the thin cartridge walls were thickened in later production runs.

the rifles are still being made. not only in the west for enthusiasts, but in pakistan where they have been skillfully copied by hand for a hundred years or so. (tho the ak-47 has become even more popular)

it even comes in pistol:


Salaams ~ Although its full of inacuracies Rourkes Drift "The Film" is still worth watching...I find myself saying no they didnt do that or yes thats accurate of no they didn't sing that... etc etc

The power of the Martini Henry was incredible being able to penetrate thick trees and walls and with the full rate of fire at 21 rounds a minute it must have been devastating ~ as you point out at far greater range than on telly ! It could, in fact, knock a man off his horse at 1,000 yards. Thats the first time I've seen a pistol like that Enfield...

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Ibrahiim al Balooshi.
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Old 3rd June 2013, 06:26 AM   #26
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wa'alaikum salaam, ibrahiim

zulu indeed has many inaccuracies. first off they were not a welsh
regiment yet. i still love the song 'men of harlech' with it's gleaming spearpoints.

...and hook was not a drunken scoundrel. and many more of course.

the impressive displays of the impi shield wall on the top of the surrounding hills always gives me a laugh. they did not have enough zulus, so they nailed about 10 shield cut-outs to poles with a real zulu either end and they now had 5 times the 'man' power they re-used previously 'dead' zulus in the closeup crowd shots. i heard the zulus had a grand old time making the movie.

the final battle scene at the redoubt with the spitting bugler & volley fire scene is my favourite, as is the narrative at the very end with men of harlech again in the background. i watch it every time it comes on TV (and have the dvd). i've seen it dozens if not a hundred times. in spite of, and maybe because of, the inaccuracies, it is still one of the most stirring movies.

i was highly amused when i saw 'gladiator' (the russel crowe one in 2000) and heard the chanting germans in the initial battle scene. the use of the zulu singing sound track was a tribute.

Ngithanda isiZulu. Hamba kahle!
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Old 11th April 2014, 07:50 AM   #27
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Here is an old picture of Omanis with Martinis..by A. R. Fernandez displayed on http://butlerslife.blogspot.com/201...nsula-afro.html

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Ibrahiim al Balooshi.
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Last edited by Ibrahiim al Balooshi : 11th April 2014 at 08:03 AM.
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Old 12th April 2014, 07:35 PM   #28
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Interesting Martini Henry from Islamic-arts.org below...
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Old 23rd April 2014, 05:20 PM   #29
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Rourkes Drift !! I just couldn't resist...
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Old 23rd April 2014, 05:38 PM   #30
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I don't see many 303 Martini Henrys but they do exist... heres one.
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