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Long Range Martinis
Sawubona


Joined: 09 Nov 2005
Posts: 1179
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A couple other threads got me to wondering about the range capabilities of the service Martini. There were apparently a number of Martini-action based variant rifles used in competition shooting-- the .44/100 Peabody-Martini "Creedmore" (AKA "The What Cheer" and I have no idea why) and something called the "Deer Kill". Here in The States we often had long range (800+ yard) competitions limited to unaltered service rifles like the .45/70 Springfield, usually under the auspices of local National Guard units. Were such things common in Britain in the late 19th Century as well ? I'm aware the first National Rifle Association was started in England after the humbling experience of the Second Boer War, but was there much interest in and competition with big bore rifles prior to that ? In 1874 the Irish team outshot the English team and the American team outshot the Irish team, so some few at least were lobbing big chunks of lead long distances for fun and profit on the other side of the Big Pond back then.

It seems like the service Martini has what it takes to make it an exceptional Creedmoor/sniper type of rifle--i.e.. a big slug driven by a heap of black powder and a robust action. Anyone ever hear of a telescopic sight used on a service MH for recreational or military use? Were there ever any "sharpshooters" armed with Martini-Henry's? Snipers were common in our Civil War a decade and some change before the acceptance of the MH and the OEM teenie is certainly a quantum improvement over most anything available in the early 1860's.
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Denton Van Zan
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Sawubona

I seem to recall asking a similar question in the old forum(?) about MH marksmen/snipers.

I was informed there were no telescopic sight attachments for the MH at that time, although info might now be updated on such.

Also, apparently in cases of difficult shots, the best marksmen were called on to take them.

Adrian and/or Neil will give a more detailed answer.

C.J.
Sawubona


Joined: 09 Nov 2005
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Thanks for the response, CJ. Sorry, but I wasn't around when "the old forum" was active. Any good gunsmith or machinist could have tooled a proper attachment for a scope on a Maritini-Henry so iffen it was never done, then it's only because no one saw a need for one. Was that the case? Why? The scopes themselves were certainly available and even the most hindbound powers-that-be could recognize the psychological edge provided by a few competent sharpshooters. We Yanks saw their usefulness more than a decade and a half before the AZW!

I've got an old MK II Martini-Henry that's was "sporterized" by BSA to a .22 caliber rimfire match rifle by way of a .303 Artillery carbine conversion (eventually completed with Anchutz type stock and fore-end, hand stop and target sights) sometime around the turn of the century, so such things were done after the Second Anglo/Boer War. What about before?

My guess is that a "difficult shot" at a man-sized target with a service MH and OEM iron sights would be something in the order of four or five hundred yards. How about a target 1000 yards away? How about more? " A Zulu impi dished us up in style ....And the Boers knocked us silly at a mile". I'll admit that he was referring to a war fought thirty years later, but where did Kipling get that optimistic range of two thousand yards for his poem "Fuzzy Wuzzy"? Was it just acceptance that the average British infantryman in 1900 (and presumably before) was an abysmal shot ? Perhaps an apology for the Boers arming themselves with Mausers and smokeless cartridges while poor Tommy A. was given only black powder charged Long Lees? Maybe it was just a good rhyme?
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Neil Aspinshaw


Joined: 05 Sep 2005
Posts: 289
Location: Loughborough
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Sawumbona

Various long range sights were trialled with the Martini, with limited sucess, the main factor is the relative slow bullet 1320 fps is much affected by atmospherics, unlike a modern rifle, so in effect aiming at a fixed target at say 1500 yards, would be fine as the firer could compensate for windage.
The problem though against a moving target is the time the bullet woulf take to do say 1500 yards would be around three and a half seconds, in that time a running man could cover twenty yards.

But they did experiment with sights at Dungeness in 1880 with telescopic sights, mounted on the left of the action by Col Davison, and a rather complex bracketed piece by D & J Fisher of Edinburgh, both were tested,and tested agian in 1888 on the Enfield Martini rifle, again the results were inconclusive.

ON 11-1-1881 the inspector of the RSAF stated, " I have no remarks to offer with regard to the telescopic sights: it is ot a practical idea, as I know of no means by which a blow in the eye can be avoided".

A new idea of a long hanging sight was popesed by Maj Holmes of he Bengal Staff and release on specification 4107 16.10.1878, and a similar perfected pattern by Major Frazer in 1880 with a fold out aparture sight at the reciever, it worked, however as previous, it was only useful in better range setting rather than accurate shooting.

I have inspected both patterns at the Royal Armouries pattern room, and I can vouch for the fact that you, rather than I can have the first black eye!

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Sawubona


Joined: 09 Nov 2005
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Neil,
Once again you come through with a response that's both definitive and interesting. I hadn't thought about the effect the Martini's notorious recoil might have on the eye of the beholder using a telescopic sight and I can certainly see how that effect might be less than desirable, even painful!

I knew somebody must have tried using a scope on a Martini, but had never heard of it having been done. Now I can quote chapter and verse. Thanks.

I guess I've just watched "Quigley Down Under" too many times!
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Peter Ewart


Joined: 31 Aug 2005
Posts: 1797
Location: Near Canterbury, Kent, England.
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Saw

Desperately trying to find time to enter some fascinating discussions currently running on the forum, but it will probably be a few days yet. However, just time for a very brief note here following your Saturday posting in connection with Fuzzy Wuzzy.

RK was referring to the Boer "knocking us silly at a mile" in 1880, not in the 2nd ABW, as he wrote Fuzzy Wuzzy in 1892. Where this leaves poor Tommy A I'm not so sure! Probably in a worse comparison vis-a-vis Piet than he would eventually be in 1900, as the marksmanship of the Boer in 1880 was apparently superior (speaking generally) to that of twenty years later, by which time the commandos were full of many "townies." Given that the British had at least learnt some lessons by, say, 1900 or 1901, I suspect there had by then been a small closing of the gap in marksmanship between the Boer and some British - or at least colonial - units (but probably not most Tommies!).

1760 yards in 1880? No idea - but it doesn't really seem feasible, does it? (RK wasn't at Laing's Nek or Bronkhorstspruit, etc., so he may have had a bit of a guess, added to a little literary licence? And, as you suggest, it was a good rhyme!)

This offering comes in a topic for which I'm about the least qualified and where I usually fear to tread - but thought I'd just steer the comparison towards 1880 instead of the turn of the century. Wink

Peter
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Neil Aspinshaw


Joined: 05 Sep 2005
Posts: 289
Location: Loughborough
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Sawumbona

Its all to do with trajectory, at extreme ranges <1000 yards, the muzzle elevation is nearly 45 degrees, even at 500 yards, a marksman lying prone will see the bullet go up 8 feet to come back to ground.

Typically, look how a sight works on a 25 pdr artillery piece, the sight is "Line of sight", the barrel elevates...the theory with the Martini scope is the same.

Peter, I beleive Kipling was referring to Majuba, as the British defensive position made heads and torsos stand out against the skyine. A Boer with a '71 Mauser, or a Westley Richards would not take long, to judge range. Then its just a case of plugging away.

In effect, at a mile, it is near impossible to shoot accurate with a black powder weapon, as wind, air temp all has an effect, it not so bad with modern shooters, my Cousins son has returned from a tour with the Grenadiers in Afghanistan, where he is a sniper. A mile shot is not considered a long way, with modern spotters using laser rang and windage it makes the job quite easy, especially with a bullet exceeding 900 meters per second +. ...I digress.

Doctrine for most armies for the mid-late 1800's was to creat a zone of fire, in which the deterent to attack ramps up as range closes, it was in the 800-400 yards zone in which the Martini was a superb tool of failed foreign policy. The final swansong of the Martini, to show what it actually could do, in the perfect conditions, across flat ground, little wind and reasonably trianed troops was not in British Hands, it was late morning 2 Sept 1898 at Ondourman in the hands of Hector McDolnalds Sudanese.

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paul mercer


Joined: 04 Jul 2006
Posts: 37
Location: Tavistock, Devon
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Thanks for that info Neil, I'm sure that I read somewhere that although the troops with the 303 opened up at a longer range than the Sudanese, it was they with their MH that actually stopped the Dervish charge in a shorter distance. something like 303's fired at around 700 yds and stopped their part of the charge at abou 400, while the MH opened up at 500 and stopped them at about the same, presumabley because of the huge 'smashing power' of a 480 grain bullet.
It is also interesting to read that some of the US special forces have gone back to the .45 pistol round over the 9mm, presumably because of its stopping power.
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Adrian Whiting


Joined: 31 Aug 2005
Posts: 76
Location: Dorset, England
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Sawubona, Paul,

The Col Davidson telescopic sight mounted on the MHR at the National Firearms Collection (Pattern Room Collection) which Neil mentions has the interesting feature of the eyepiece being spring loaded telescopic, so that it can be pushed into the main body of the scope on recoil. I recall that it has a leather bound eyepiece to rest against the shooter's brow, but I entirely agree with Neil that I would not rush to rely on it! The scope is fitted to the left hand side of the action and whilst it cannot be adjusted (as a present day scope might for elevation and windage) it is on an elevating mechanism, and hinges on a lug. The fixed scale has range markings on it and the moving portion on the scope can be locked with a clamp when at the required elevation angle.

The scope is similar to the one Davidson showed in Patent 3399 of December 1862. Some details of it can be found in "British Rifles", the catalogue of the old Enfield Pattern Room.

In terms of the Volunteer movement and competitive military target shooting, the Volunteer movement was rekindled by popular public demand in 1859. The "Long Acre Indignation Meeting" held in London in April 1859 in response to growing public concern about the UK's defences against a perceived threat of French invasion led the Poet Laureate, Lord Tennyson, to pen "Form, Riflemen, form". The ensuing public enthusiasm led to the establishment of the Volunteer Force and directly to the formation of the National Rifle Association on the 16th November 1859.

The shooting meetings were held on Wimbledon Common in SW London until 1889. From 1890 they moved to Bisley, in order to avoid the tennis players becoming overshoot casualties... During its time on the Common the annual Queen's prize competition became so popular that when a fence was erected around it in order to facilitate the charging of an admission fee there was rioting and the scheme had to be abandoned! The demise of the Common was the pressure on housing space for a growing London. Of interest if you visit today are the butts that now form part of the present day golf course, and the fact that in the London Scottish Golf Clubhouse, the lockers for the palyer's golf clubs are the original rifle storage cupboards for the shooters.

At the inaugural meeting in 1860 Her Majesty fired the first shot. It had been clamped in a rest and aligned by Joseph Whitworth. Her Majesty pulled a silk trigger cord and scored a bulls eye at 400 yards. The crowd cheered and Mr Whitworth became "Sir Joseph"!

The competitions used the military sights and although there was to be much development of match sights, the American teams contemporary to the period were already ahead in terms of ability and accuracy.

Just in passing I thougt it might help to note that at Omdurman/Karari the opening British rounds (rilfe) were fired by the Grenadier Guards using the Lee Metford in section volleys at 2700yds. In the first phase of the action it was noted that the Dervish riflemen crept individually to about 800 yds from the Lee Metford armed troops and to about 400yds in front of the MHR armed ones. Whilst the MHR bullet was significantly heavier, once the .303" bullet had been blunted in design it was capable of imparting significant energy levels to its target given its higher velocity.

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Adrian
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paul mercer


Joined: 04 Jul 2006
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Thanks for the info' I must say that 2700 yds with a Lee Metford 303 sounds a bit optomistic, if not a total waste of ammo at that range!
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Adrian Whiting


Joined: 31 Aug 2005
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Paul,

According to their accounts it seems not - I agree that it originally sounds unlikely though! I anticipate that once they had the correct range, the fact that their target was a large crowd meant that although the rounds were falling quite steeply at that distance, nonetheless they were entirely lethal when they struck. It seems that the 20 to 25 men firing at a time did have noticeable effect.

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Adrian
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Neil Aspinshaw


Joined: 05 Sep 2005
Posts: 289
Location: Loughborough
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Whilst this topic has gone its course, a foot note to this worth considering, as Adrian rightly illustrated, 2700 yards with a Lee Metford is not unreasonable, interestingly it's worth considering how the L-M could be shot at 2700 yards, when the leaf increment is only 1700 yards?

Well, the idea of a side mounted "line of sight" device, originally toyed with the Martini was not lost and actually was employed on the Lee Metford Mk1 & Mk1*, the Lee Enfield Mk1* and the early SMLE. It was known as the dial sight.
It was an Idea of Superintendent Speed of the RSAF, this involved a rotating dial on the left hand side of the forend, just behind the barrel band. at the action a small flip of peep sight was mounted on the left. The firer viewed directly at the target, with the range set on the dial, through the peep, and used the knob on the dial sight to point of aim, the barrel was elevated, say 25 degrees, but the aim was point of aim, trajectory doing the rest.

So, some of the oddball inventions and trials, whilst not for blackpowder, ultimately worked with sufficient success to adopt as standard on the next generation of military rifle. Work done in the 1880's provided 30 years of service.

The durability of the .303 to adopt led to the ultimate in mid 20th century Sniper technology the No4T, which even today is regarded as a truly excellent rifle.

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Long Range Martinis
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