Okay Martini Enfield. Tell me about the Martini-Enfield!

For a long time I’ve been vaguely aware of the Martini-Henry - a ~.45 calibre, black powder rifle that you shoot Afgans and Zulus with while wearing a pith helmet. It has some kind of lever-action, single shot, breech loading mechanism.

I’m also somewhat familiar with the Lee Enfield, a .303 calibre, smokeless powder rifle that you shoot Huns with while standing in a hole full of water. It has a magazine and a bolt action.

When Martini-Enfield joined, I assumed his username was a humerous juxtaposition, like say, “Electric Crossbow”. But in the odd thread he has indicated that he does in fact OWN a Martini Enfield, no joke after all.

Google has enlightened me slightly. I found out there was a short-lived “Enfield-Martini” that was .403 calibre and was superior to the Martini-Henry. But that’s not the same thing, because Martini Enfield’s Martini Enfield is a .303.

I discovered the Lee-Metford, a .303 black powder bolt action that morphed into the Lee-Enfield when the British developed their own smokeless powder. I formed a vague impression that “Martini” and “Lee” refer to the action of a rifle, whereas “Henry” and “Enfield” and “Metford” refer to the cartridge, or the rifling, or something like that.

But I still don’t know about Martini Enfield’s Martini Enfield! So I humbly request that he expound on the family tree of rifles between the Martini-Henry and the Lee Enfield, as I vaguely remember he offered to do in one of his earlier posts.

Here’s wiki article on it (probably done by him)

Sorry for the late reply (It does help to send me an E-mail or something! :smiley: ), but as Astro says, the wikipedia article on the Martini-Enfield was indeed written by myself, so most of your answers should be there :wink: .

As for my Martini-Enfield rifle?

Well, it’s an 1889 dated LSA Co. Martini-Henry Mk III, converted to Martini-Enfield Mk I configuration by RSAF Enfield in 1895. It has Queensland Government markings on it, meaning it was in use with the Colonial Military in Queensland up until Federation in 1901, and from there presumably either stayed with the local military units or was re-issued to the Queensland Police. It would have been surplused off sometime around WWI, and whoever bought it took good care of it- except for firing corrosive ammunition through it without cleaning it afterwards… the bore is terrible!

LSA Co. stands for London Small Arms Company Limited (again, see the Wikipedia Article, written by myself).

As a general rule, Martini-Enfield Mk I rifles were converted to .303 from existing stocks of Martini-Henry Mk III rifles, whilst Martini-Enfield Mk II rifles were newly made as such.

As you correctly deduced, “Martini” and “Lee” refer to the action, whilst “Henry”, “Metford”, and “Enfield” refer to the rifling.

If there’s anything else you’d like to know about the Martini-Enfield or British Military Firearms, I’m only an E-mail away! :slight_smile:

Since you’re inviting hijacks, I have one that doesn’t warrant its own thread.

The SMLE (Short Magazine Lee Enfield). What exactly was short? The magazine? Was it named after somebody called Short? The entire rifle seems at least as long as any contemporary weapons so it’s hard to imagine their was ever a long barrelled variant.

The Short Magazine Lee Enfield (SMLE) is a shorter version of the Magazine Lee-Enfield rifle.

In the Golden Age Of The British Empire, rifles were issued in two lengths: a standard “Infantry Length” rifle, and a Carbine rifle for issue to cavalry, artillery, and so on.

Over time, it was realised that it was expensive and inconvenient to be making two lengths of rifle, and so in 1904 or thereabouts, they decided to simply have a rifle in one length- longer than the carbine version, but shorter than the standard infantry rifle.

The end result was the Rifle, Short, Magazine, Lee-Enfield- which, if you can follow British Military-Speak, indicates a Rifle, Shorter than usual, equipped with a Magazine, of the type Lee-Enfield.

The SMLE Mk III (The best known-type, Mks I and II were conversions of the Magazine Lee-Enfield and Charger-Loading Lee-Enfield) was introduced in 1907, and is still in use to this day.

Wikipedia article on the Lee-Enfield Rifle (full disclosure: I’ve re-written rather a lot of the article, as it needed some work…)

OK, so the standard Lee Enfield had a barrel some 5 inches longer than the SMLE. :eek: That seems to me to be an extreme length for a breech loader. How did that compare to the other militray rifles? I would suspect that would have made it one of the longest standard issue cartridge weapons of all time.

It was about the same length as the full-length Snider-Enfield and Martini-Henry/Martini-Enfield rifles- which were themselves about the same length as the German Mauser M98, the Swedish Mauser M96, the French Lebel M1886, and the Russian Mosin-Nagant M91.

Rifles were longer in the 19th century, as a holdover from the days of muskets, which needed a longer barrel to be able to reliably hit anything more than 30m away.

OK. I never realised that looooong rifles were the norm way back when. I knew the muzzle loaders were big weapons but I thought they trimmed them down when they moved over to cartridges, and especially to smokeless powder. And I awlays thought the SMLE was ridiculously oversized.

Thanks for clearing that up.

One more question: when I was young I’m sure I recall seeing a military display with what looked like a Lee-Enfield or perhaps a Lee-Metford with the bolt located behind the trigger and (I think) the magazine located in the stock. Wierd looking thing, looked totally impractical. But I’ve never seen any mention made of such a weapon, and I notice your article doesn’t mention it either.

Did such a thing ever exist? Was it ever issued as a military weapon or would it have been some bizarre custom job? Or (and this is possible) did I just imagine it?

I’m not sure what you’re getting at, since the only Enfield I’m aware of with the magazine in the butt is the modern SA-80.

I’d have to check my copy of the Lee-Enfield Story, but I’m guessing you’ve either got the gun you saw confused with something else, or it was a strange artistic custom-job, not intented to be shot.

The only other thing I can think of is a Charlton Automatic Rifle, which was an NZ conversion of the Magazine Lee-Enfield to Semi/Full-Auto. It had a rather strange external gas rod and the cocking lever was, IIRC, located behind the trigger- but the magazine was definitely in front of the trigger, not in the stock…

Definitely not the SA80, this was a bolt action, wooden furniture etc. Very much a pre-WWII weapon.
Goes down as just one of those dimly recalled memories I guess. Life’s full of those.

Corrosive ammunition? What’s that?

Prior to the late 1950s, the primers (the percussion cap in the base of the cartridge which ignites the propellant when hit by the firing pin) used in military cartridges were made using various mercuric substances and salts (I’m not sure of the exact composition).

When fired, the primer substances were distributed down the barrel as the gas expanded behind the projectile, and if not cleaned out fairly smartly (ie, within a few hours of the battle ending), they could corrode the barrel, damaging the rifling and reducing the gun’s inaccuracy.

It wasn’t until the late '50s that non-mercuric primers were adopted, and it stopped being necessary to clean the gun every singly time you fired it.

The best way to clean an SMLE (or any other rifle) that you’ve been shooting corrosive ammo in is to pour a generous measure of windex and water down the barrel, then swab it out with cloth patches.

Modern ammunition is non-corrosive, so you don’t have to clean the barrel after you’ve finished shooting- I hardly bother anymore, unless the barrels are really dirty. It’s still important to give your gun a good oiling and cleaning every couple of shooting trips, though, just to keep it in good working order.


I actually started an email to you about this thread Martini Enfield, but I got sidetracked by some personal stuff and forgot all about it. Glad you spotted it.

I guess what really mystifies me about it is why the conversions were carried out at all, what with the Lee action .303s in production. Were they training weapons, or the sort of thing you’d equip other parts of the Empire with while keeping the magazine rifles for home?

Incidentally, the Digger history site has a nice article on the Lee Enfield (and the .303 cartridge), which puts the corrosive nature of the old primers down to their potassium chlorate content, resulting in chloride salt deposits in the barrel.

The Martini-Enfields were created for a number of reasons.

One of them, as you so correctly guessed, was to arm the Colonials… after all, it really would be a tad embarrassing if they gave the Natives the latest and greatest in cartridge-loading firearms, only to have them Natal Native Battalion mutiny and shoot a lot of upstanding British soldiers in the process. The theory was that if the Natives were kept one level behind the British, it would be easier for the British to keep things under control- and thus, when the British converted from the Enfield 1853 Rifled Musket to the Snider-Enfield, the Natives got the old Enfield 1853 muskets. When the British went from the Snider-Enfield to the Martini-Henry, the Natives got the Sniders… and when the British went from the Martini-Henry and Martini-Enfield to the Lee-Metford, the Natives got the Martinis.

Of course, it wasn’t a hard and fast rule- the Native battallions were often given the same rifles- but less ammunition than the British, for example, and anywhere that was largely European was treated as the British- so, for example, Australian troops were issued Lee-Metfords and Lee-Enfields during the Boer War and World War I.

There were single-shot only versions of the Lee-Enfield, for issue to Indian troops of dubious loyalty in the very early years of the 20th century, but they gave up on the idea shortly before WWI and just gave everyone- British or Native- an SMLE and 75 cartridges.

A lot of it was economic- there were hundreds of thousands of Martini-Henrys lying around the various arsenals of the Empire, and since the new Lee-Metford and Lee-Enfield rifles cost money (useless historic trivia: the cost to produce an SMLE Mk III* rifle during WWI was something like £1 10s 5d, which works out to about AUD$400 or USD$300 in modern currency, adjusted for inflation), it made better economic sense to convert the old rifles- which were perfectly serviceable and well-made- to the “New” calibre, for issue to Native Battalions, Reserve Troops, Cadets, and for Training Purposes, and issue the “New” Lee-Enfields to the British troops first.

By the end of WWI it was a moot point since there were now so many guns floating around as a result of the war, of course…

The Godsal was made on this principle. Only a few prototypes were made.
By the early years of the century most new designs settled down to around 48" inches long and stayed that way for many years.

What is a Godsal?

A Google search suggests that it was a .50cal anti-tank gun, presumably something like a Boys.

You know, Mk VII, I’ve been wanting to ask if your name is in reference to the Mk VII .303 SAA Ball Cartridge, the Flying Goggles, or something else possibly unrelated to WWII?

I found this fellow while looking for Blake’s rifle. Don’t think it’s the same thing, though. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EM2

I believe I’ve found a candidate, the Thorneycroft Carbine. It’s difficult to find information on, and I can’t find a picture (been through first 10 pages of Google images with Thorneycroft and Thornycroft as search terms). There’s a little discussion about it on the Lee Enfield Collectors Forum where a couple of members claim to have seen, handled and even owned one, though nobody seems to have posted a pic.
Anyway, from here:

In August, 1902 British engineer J.B. Thorneycroft presented a prototype bolt-action rifle to the British War Office for consideration by the Small Arms Committee. In trials it was not impressive, and all official interest in the Thorneycroft design ceased by 1903.” (Peter Kokalis, Technical Editor for Soldier Of Fortune magazine ).

And from a Google cache of an airsoft message board, a poster volunteers this:

And from a Russian message board apparently discussing the history of the bullpup configuration:

That last one looked like it once had a pic, but now has a folorn little “not found” graphic, grrr! But it does at least seem likely that your recollection is correct.

The Thorneycroft was similar to the Godsal, and it seems possible that the two designers may have had some contact. Both had a magazine behind the trigger and the breech was further back than conventional rifles