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Martini-Henry versus Trapdoor Springfield?

Discussion in 'Rifle Country' started by John C, May 5, 2014.

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  1. John C

    John C Member

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    I'm familiar with the history of the Trapdoor Springfield, how it was originally designed in 1866 to use up surplus Civil War rifle parts. However, by the time the 1873 model came out, the whole gun was made from scratch. It seems to me that the 1873 and later Trapdoor Springfield rifles were hopelessly outclassed by the self cocking, striker-fired Martini-Henry.

    Incidentally, the British followed nearly the same path when transitioning from muzzleloaders to cartridge arms. From the P53 Enfield, to the Enfield-Snider, to the Martini-Peabody, to the Martini-Henry in 1870.

    I've never fired either rifle. Is the Martini-Henry really that much better than the Trapdoor Springfield? Did the US Army make a bad decision in 1873 when adopting the arm?

    Another question I have is concerning the .45-70 versus the .577-450. Both are .45 caliber cartridges, but the .45-70 used a 405 gr bullet in front of 70 grains of powder, versus the .577-450, which slung a 500 grain bullet in front of 85 grains of powder. Is the .577-450 too much cartridge? Is the .45-70, no slouch in it's own right, a better cartridge for frontier fighting?

    Thanks,

    -John
     
  2. hartcreek

    hartcreek member

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    Well obviously some people thought the .45-70 is lacking or the .45-90, .45-110 and .45-120 would not have been produced to use in rolling blocks.
     
    Last edited: May 5, 2014
  3. 72guns92

    72guns92 Member

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    the 45-70 rilfe used a 500gr bullet with 70gr the carbine use a 405gr bullet with 55gr
     
  4. Slamfire

    Slamfire Member

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    The Martini Henry action is a superior design compared to the Trapdoor. There appears to be two primary design goals for the trapdoor: 1) to share as many parts as possible with the 1861 musket, and 2) be as similar as possible to the 1861 but fire a cartridge. Both of these criteria show the parsimony and the ultra conservative nature of the American military mind. The military hates change, it sticks to the familiar, and you see it again and again when it comes to the selection of sidearms. The history of the American service rifle is one of gradual evolution rather than revolution, removing the massive side hammer of the musket was a road too far for the American military mind. The desire to save money by using similiar parts is always a fools errand, it ends up costing the military more in the long run as the old parts won't work, the machinery is worn out, etc. Incidentally, the same combination of reasons, such as part usage and similar manual of arms, were used as reasons for the selection of the M14 over the FAL. I suspect it really had to do with not invented here and the big departure in shape from the Garand. The FAL had a pistol grip by gum!

    When it comes to simplicity and strength, the Martini Henry action is clearly superior. Less parts, an amazingly easy breech block removal, and superior strength. Knocking out the split pin in the rear of the breech block results in fast access to the receiver interior, taking out the trigger mechanism is very easy, and the action parts are easily cleaned. The trapdoor is far more complicated, you have a side plate for example, and the stupid breech block has a tendency to flop over and block access to the chamber. I am certain the trap door is slower to load and slower to fire as that massive musket hammer has to be cocked each time, the Martini is cocked when the action is opened.

    The US Army would have been better served adopting a commercial design, if not the Martini, then the wonderful Remington rolling block would have been a better choice than the trapdoor. And it still had the external hammer the Army loved. Hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of military rolling blocks were sold, because Turkey and other Armies recognized a good action when they saw it. But not the US Ordnance Corp, they wanted to use the same screws, sideplates, barrels that they had in abundance from the Civil War cap lock musket!

    I wish someone made a new Martini of modern materials. It is a strong action with a fast lock time. Someone could figure out a safety mechanism, the military action was either loaded and ready to shoot, or empty. There was no safety. The Martini action is still one of the best single shot actions designed, its military service in all parts of the world showed what a fundamentally sound action it was: it was used in Colonial service all the way to WW1, perhaps even afterward.
     
    Last edited: May 5, 2014
  5. John C

    John C Member

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    Slamfire;

    I read that the Trapdoor had one advantage over the Rolling Block, the increased leverage the trapdoor provided to jam a case into a fouled chamber, and to then extract that case after firing. The Rolling Block, though purchased in large numbers for state militias, apparently doesn't have this feature. Whether this requirement really existed, other than on paper, I don't know.

    You are right about the Martini action. It was produced into at least the 1950s at a premium small bore target rifle, seeing use in the Olympics.

    It seems the US Army skipped an evolutionary step, going from the Trapdoor straight to the Krag.

    What are your thoughts about the relative merits between the .45-70 and .577-450 for frontier use?

    Thanks,

    -John
     
  6. stubbicatt

    stubbicatt Member

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    I dunno John C. When I went to Custer Battlefield Monument in Montana, I remember the guide telling us that the Trapdoors those poor boys had that day were jamming, and tearing the rims off the case heads, and rifles out of commission. IIRC, they thought that perhaps the verdigris from leather cartridge boxes led to the jams that effectively disarmed those troopers.
     
  7. HOOfan_1

    HOOfan_1 Member

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    I believe they were using Copper cartridges and that was the problem
     
  8. Vern Humphrey

    Vern Humphrey Member

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    There was a famous incident that refutes that.

    Napoleon IV, son of the exiled and deceased Napoleon III, who was kicked out of France after losing the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, attended British military schools. After graduating, he pressured the British Army to let him come to South Africa as an "observer" in the Zulu War. He was allowed to accompany a British column, and had a British subaltern assigned to be his chaperone.

    On June 1st, 1879, he and his chaperone set out with a mounted escort to scout a new headquarters location. They found an empty Zulu village, with the cook fires still burning. Now in the US Army, this would have raised alarms, but the British stopped and brewed tea at those convenient fires.

    As they were finishing, Zulus suddenly leaped up all around them. They ran for their horses. Their escort could do nothing -- the Martini-Henry, with its self-cocking striker DOES NOT HAVE A SAFETY, and therefore must be carried unloaded. Especially by mounted troops.

    In the scramble to load weapons and get to the horses, the Napoleon's horse bolted. He got one foot in a stirrup and grabbed his saddle holster (in true British fashion, the officers didn't carry on body.) The strap broke, Napoleon fell, and the Zulus were on him.

    And that ended the hopes of the Bonapartist Party in France.

    As you know, the Trapdoor Springfield has an exposed hammer, and can be carried loaded, on half-cock.
     
  9. HOOfan_1

    HOOfan_1 Member

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    Some people claim Victoria wanted him killed
     
  10. Vern Humphrey

    Vern Humphrey Member

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    No doubt she send a Zulu hit team after him.:p
     
  11. BSA1

    BSA1 Member

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    I have a H R Trapdoor and can easily fire 6 aimed shots in a minute.
     
  12. Nom de Forum

    Nom de Forum Member

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    Hardly a ringing endorsement for the Springfield. This was an incident where stupidity so outweighed any minor advantage of getting one shot off with the Springfield that it is meaningless. Pull out your copy of "The Washing of the Spears" and I think you will agree the situation would have been fatal to the Prince Imperial even it they had M16s in their scabbards. I suspect many a U.S. Cavalry Trooper was ordered to keep his Springfield unloaded unless action was imminent so the same type of stupidity on the plains of America would usually result in a similar fate for fools.

    The rate of fire and other attributes of the Martini-Henry clearly make it the superior rifle for a soldier. Even the Remington Rolling Block was better than the Springfield. If using a firing technique postulated by Timothy J. Mullins in his book Testing the War Weapons the Remington becomes as fast and possibly faster firing rifle than the Springfield. Mullins writes he "could fire five shots and keep them all on the metal 10-inch target at 100 yards in 16 seconds.
     
    Last edited: May 5, 2014
  13. Nom de Forum

    Nom de Forum Member

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    Who are these people?
     
  14. Maj Dad

    Maj Dad Member

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    The M1873 rifle used the 45-70-405 load; the M1884 used the 45-70-500. The M1873 carbine used a carbine-specific 45-55-405 load. I have a M1873 (and had an 1884 some years back) and the 1884 would fire the 405 load about 20 inches high at 100 yds. I got a 500 gr mold, and it was true to point of aim. The M1873 is very accurate with the 405 gr bullet, and will fire a 300 gr JH/SP to about point of aim, too, but I don't like to shoot jacketed bullets in it. The Trapdoor was an exercise of post-war draw-down, do it on the cheap philosophy that pops up after every war where technology has caught up but isn't adopted due to the desire to eschew war and all that unpleasantness (and expense). Sometimes it works to advantage, like the Brits' abandonment of their .276 cartridge and keeping the .303, and our doing similarly and keeping the '06 round. WW2 would have been very different otherwise... :scrutiny:
     
  15. Rio Laxas

    Rio Laxas Member

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    It was a widely circulated rumor at the time, even inspiring a play entitled Napoleon IV on the supposed conspiracy. I don't think any modern historians are of this opinion.
     
  16. Nom de Forum

    Nom de Forum Member

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    This was similar to the Kennedy Conspiracy guys we have today; in reality Queen Victoria and her government considered it a tragedy and diplomatic nightmare.
     
  17. BSA1

    BSA1 Member

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    I disagree that the Rolling Block is quicker to reload than the Trapdoor. I have both types.

    With the Roller you must;
    1. Cock the hammer to full cock
    2. Open the breechblock all the way back
    3. Manually remove the empty case
    4. Insert loaded round
    5. Close the breechblock

    With the Trapdoor;
    1. Cock the hammer to full cock
    2. Open the folding "trapdoor"
    3. Skip removing the empty cartridge. It was ejected when the breech was opened
    4. Inserted loaded round
    5. Close the trapdoor

    Actually step 1 would be to place the hammer at half cock and step 6 would be bring hammer to full cock. However when in the middle of a battle bringing the hammer to full cock would be faster. While the Rolling Block action was stronger the Trapdoor was plenty strong enough for the enemy the Army was fighting; Plains Indian Tribes. Despite Wester movies it was actually the winter campaign and disease that defeated the Indians.
     
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  18. Nom de Forum

    Nom de Forum Member

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    In his book Testing the War Weapons, Mullin describes two techniques. Your loading technique is what Mullin's describes as the technique used when the weapon is used as a Sporter and as very slow. This is how Mullin’s describes fast firing of the Remington Rolling Block:

    “The way to operate the action when used as a military rifle is to hook the little finger of your hand that is cupped on the hammer spur, pulling rapidly to the rear. As it reaches the sear notch, it will be cocked, and your hand will slip off. Reach forward again and hook the metal projection on the block with the little finger on your cupped hand and pull it to the rear. As it goes into position, your hand will slip off again. Any empty will be ejected fully and firmly to the rear. Reach down and withdraw a round from your belt, push it into the chamber, and then, using the heel of the hand, hit the metal projection on the block, which will firmly chamber a round and close the action. Grab your grip and fire a round.”

    “In actual tests, I found that from the kneeling position I could fire five shots and keep them all on the metal 10-inch target at 100 yards in 16 seconds. I believe I could trim a few seconds off with practice.”

    Mullin writes this about the 1873 Springfield:

    “Both rifle and carbine lack a top handguard, which is not so critical on a single-shot rifle, but if the shooter is trained and has the ammunition laid out, it is not trick to fire the rifle so fast that it becomes hot enough to burn one’s hand. Firing 12 rounds a minute is not any real test if the ammunition is to hand and the shooter is in a foxhole-supported position.

    Please try Mullin's fast firing technique on your Remington and post the results. I think you will find the Remington faster because of the quicker action for closing the breech and skipping going from half to full cock.
     
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  19. Onmilo

    Onmilo Member

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    Martini is a much stronger action.
    Springfield has an external hammer.
    Walking around with a loaded Martini with the lever fully closed is a recipe for disaster.
     
  20. Nom de Forum

    Nom de Forum Member

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    Yes, the Martini has a much stronger action. It also has stronger and more positive extraction and ejection in a era when even solid brass cases could still be a problem in hot and fouled BP rifles.

    Yes, the Springfield has an external hammer. It also has a much slower lock time and suffers the jarring blow a hammer contributes to inaccuracy.

    Yes, walking around with a loaded Martini with the lever fully closed is a recipe for disaster, but only when all the ingredients were carefully mixed together in the right sequence under the right conditions. I think you will find that soldiers carrying 1873 Springfields and Martini-Henrys rarely "walked around" with loaded rifles. The British could have chosen to have a rifle that provided the additional safety benefit of an external hammer like the very similar Peabody Rifle and did not for good reason. The advantages of accuracy and rate of fire of the Martini-Henry was much more important when considering how soldiers carried and fought with their rifles. If it is necessary to "walk around" with a loaded Martini-Henry in your hands, only partially closing the action reduces the possibility of discharge. The point is the British Army chose accuracy and faster rate of fire as being more important than any benefit from an external hammer requiring cocking.
     
  21. earplug

    earplug Member

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    Loaded Martini question

    I have read that some hunters prefer to leave the lever on a rifle such as my Savage 99 slightly unlatched, with the safety off.
    Is it possible to carry a Martini Henry loaded with the lever slightly open as to render it safe yet quickly available to fire?
    If this is possible, it might be how many were carried in combat.
     
  22. Onmilo

    Onmilo Member

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    earplug
    To answer your questions,
    Yes and yes.

    Nom De Forum
    OP asked for variables, I answered that.
    Neither gun was better than the other simply because the ammunition available for both guns at the time of issue was simply appalling in quality.

    The BEST single shot rifles of the era were Peabody and Sharps metallic cartridge rifles using reloadable external primed drawn brass cased .44/77 ammunition
     
  23. Nom de Forum

    Nom de Forum Member

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    I agree you provided some variables, but you did so with incomplete explanation. For that matter my explanation is also incomplete but does provide far more understanding of the variables. Much more explanation of the rifles, ammunition, and especially the training and tactics of their users could be discussed. These rifles need to be considered in the context of common military practice when they where used. If both rifles were using ammunition "appalling in quality" due to materials, design, and manufacture, then the rifle that fires that ammunition the fastest and with fewer extraction/ejection problems is the better rifle. This means the Martini-Henry was not just the better rifle, it was the much better rifle. Probably better enough that if 1873 Springfields were used in a situation such as at Rourke’s Drift when highest possible rate of fire was critical they may not have been sufficient. Eventually drawn brass cases where available for both the 1873 Springfield and the Martini-Henry. Neither may have been as accurate as the two rifles and ammunition you cite but the ammunition was not appalling for the standards of the day. Knowing all the variables involved (equipment, training, tactics) I do not understand how anyone could think the 1873 Springfield was the equal of the Martini-Henry for military usage.
     
  24. Onmilo

    Onmilo Member

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    I don't agree the Martini was a better rifle, just,,, different.
    And one has to look at the condition of the Armies that used them at the time the rifles were common issue.
    Both weapons featured heavy recoil, both weapons were used by troops that suffered in practical combat accuracy and from Officers completely unprepared for the type of warfare the men were going to face.

    Neither weapon proved better than the other in actual combat and as history has shown, both were replaced by advances in technology as soon as practical and as soon as the powers that be could get the Officers on board.

    It has also been demonstrated and proven that both Armies enjoyed an increase in weapon proficiency as well as tactical equality, if not superiority, to the enemies they faced in future combat
     
  25. Nom de Forum

    Nom de Forum Member

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