Thursday, June 30, 2011

Conversion rifles

The successful Snider P/53 was a converted rifle produced in Enfield from 1866. It was replaced by the 1871 Martini-Henry single-shot rifle, which was used by the British Army for 30 years and could truly be called the gun that served the empire. However, another conversion rifle - the American "trapdoor" Springfield - was a cost-cutting conversion that would prove unsatisfactory when tested in war.

The 1867 Snider rifle
It was an American, Jacob Snider, who invented the .577 weapon adopted by the British Army. The rifle that bore his name was adopted by the British Army to replace the Pattern 1853 rifled musket that had served in the Indian Mutiny and Crimea. However, to keep costs down, the muzzle-loading P/53 was altered to use the Snider system. The modified weapon was more accurate than the P/53 and soldiers could also fire it much faster. The ordnance factory in Enfield, London converted large numbers, beginning with the initial pattern, the Mark I in 1866. The conversion involved fitting a new breech block/receiver assembly but retaining the original iron barrel, furniture, locks and hammer. This rifle was replaced by the Martini-Henry rifle, which was adopted by the British Army in 1871.
The 3rd Gurkhas in the 1880s skirmishing with the 1867 Snider-Enfield rifle. Elite troops from Nepal, the Gurkhas would serve with distinction in the British Army.

The 1871 Martini-Henry
The British had taken an American idea for the Snider and in 1871 would now turn to the Swiss in the shape of Friedrich von Martini. Unlike the Snider-Enfield it replaced, the Martini-Henry rifle was Britain's first service rifle to be designed from the outset as a breech-loading rifle for metallic cartridges. Martini designed the falling block, self-cocking, lever-operated, single-shot action. It was an American, Henry Peabody, who had originally designed this action; however, his had an external hammer that struck the firing pin. Martini's refinement consisted of conversion to an internal coiled spring-activated striker, which, was much more soldier-friendly. The barrel used the rifling system designed by Alexander Henry.

It was the Martini-Henry that would save the day atRorke's Drift on 22 January 1879, when 137 men, largely from the British 24th Regiment, held off about 4,000 Zulu warriors who had just scored a crushing victory over the British at Isandhlwana. The tiny garrison lost 25 men but won 11 Victoria Crosses.
A clear view of the slot through which a round was loaded into the breach in the Martini-Henry action. It allowed trained soldiers to keep up a high rate of fire, providing ammunition was readly available.

The Springfield Model 1873
At the close of the American Civil War, the US recognized the need to obtain a reliable breech-loading rifle. Funds were tight, however, and the army had huge numbers of muzzle-loading weapons left from the war that it did not want to waste. The "trapdoor" rifle, denoting the method of opening the rifle at the top of the breech to load a cartridge, was developed as a result, and about 30,000 of the left-over rifles were converted to trapdoor models or, as they were more formally known, Allin Conversions.

By 1868, instead of converting old weapons into trapdoor models, a new rifle was developed using the Allin action. This weapon was designated the Rifle Model 1868. It went through a series of minor modifications (1870,1873, 1879,1880,1884 and 1889, as well as a few more specialized cadet and officer varieties), and was used for 30 years. The modification that represented the major difference between the Ml873 and the Ml889 was the replacement of the triangular bayonet with a rod bayonet; there were also a few other very minor modifications.

At the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, the current model was the Model 1889, which was used by the volunteer troops, despite being outdated in comparison with the widely available smokeless powder weapons.
The single-shot Springfield carbine with which the US Cavalry was armed during the Indian Wars of the late 19th century was a compact and accurate carbine. However, unlike the Winchester it was a single-shot weapon.

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