Thursday, April 14, 2016

A weapon of the Empire: The Martini Henry Rifle

It is hard to call the Martini Henry Rifle just a rifle with specifications. It was a breech-loading single-shot lever-actuated rifle which had served the British Empire extensively for 30 years, unlike the muzzle-loading Snider-Enfield which it replaced. A breech loader like this could be loaded and fired much faster than a muzzle loader, and a soldier with a Martini Henry could fire 20 shots a minute. It had an effective range of 400 yards (370m) and a maximum range of 1,900 yards (1,700 m). The rifle is named after Friedrich von Martini, a Swiss engineer and Alexander Henry, a Scottish gunsmith. The Martini Henry Rifle was the standard issue weapon for the British army since 1871 right up to 1889, covering significant historic events such as the Second Afghan War, The Zulu Wars and the Boer War. When so much history is packed into a weapon, it isn’t difficult to see why the Martini Henry Rifle is viewed as an icon or symbol of an era, and why it is frequently referred to as “a weapon of Empire.”

The Martini-Henry was deployed in World War I in a variety of roles, mainly as a reserve arm. In the early years of the war it was also issued to aircrew for attacking observation balloons and aircraft with newly developed incendiary ammunition. The rifle was also adopted very popularly by the Native Auxiliary troops in the African and Middle Eastern theatres during World War I. In the novel The Man Who Would be King, two British adventurers use 20 Martini-Henry rifles to establish their own kingdom in Kafiristan. The rifles also find a mention in Rudyard Kipling’s poem The Young British Soldier. So yes, when we are talking about the Martini Henry Rifle it is tough not to get blown away.

There were subsequent variants of the rifle down the years, like the Martini-Enfields or Martini-Metfords, which adopted other rifling patterns such as the Metford System or an Enfield system. The three main variations of the Martini-Henry Rifle were the Mark II, III and IV. Certain sub variations were commonly referred to as Patterns. A number of young military cadets were also trained on much smaller, lighter versions of the Martini-Henry called Martini Cadets, which resembled the Mark IV and were created only for this purpose. The Martini subsequently survived many years as a Home-Guard and second class weapon of the British and Colonial Armies.

Where can I buy a Martini Henry?

Although Martini Henry have become scarce in recent years and prices have almost doubled, there are manufacturers and collectors like Atlanta Cutlery that offer some of the most authentic, original and untouched Martini Henry rifles. If you end up buying an “Arabicized” Martini Henry in countries like Afghanistan, chances are you are buying a local variant of the original called the “Khyber Pass Copy” made by local artisans in Afghanistan. These clever duplicates try and copy even the stampings and markings from the original but give themselves away through backward letters and misspellings. One very common typo is to have the “N” in “Enfield” backwards.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Killing them softly, The Fairbairn Sykes Commando Knife

The Fairbairn Sykes Commando Knife is a fine toast amongst collectors as a weapon that embodies the finest fusion of form and function. Built on the classic dagger design lines, it is both functional and visually appealing. There is a perfect balance in the knife’s design that the collector’s eye loves, the way all the individual parts come together to create an aesthetically pleasing composition in gleaming metal . A tribute to aggression coexisting with beauty and grace wedded to deadly purpose.

This British Commando knife was first designed in 1940 by close combat legends William Fairbairn and Eric Sykes, who established and taught the combative training methods for wartime special forces such as the independent companies, SOE, Commandos, U.S Rangers and OSS. A favorite commando World War II weapon for both the U.S and British Commonwealth Forces, its high quality reproductions are much in demand and sought after with top quality selling for thousands. The 1st pattern knife was originally manufactured exclusively by Wilkinson Sword Company, and was in great demand from first production. Today, reputed companies such as Windlass Steelcrafts offer high quality heat tempered, hand forged high carbon steel blades with hand fitting ferruled blackened metal gripwhich look, handle and perform as the original. The Fairbairn-Sykes Commando knife is considered the Spitfire of the knife world and accorded an all-time combative classic status. It is an object of beauty which when held in trained hands becomes an utterly deadly weapon.

The Commando Regiment is known to have been formed in 1940 at the behest of Winston Churchill himself. Britain’s humiliating defeat at Dunkirk made it clear that it was not well placed to launch a large scale military attack against Germany. Churchill’s strategy was to counter this weakness by installing a new group of fighting men within British forces dedicated to causing maximum disruption to the German army through well prepared, surprise attacks on enemy installations. Churchill famously said “There ought to be at least 20,000 Storm Troops or 'Leopards' drawn from existing units, ready to spring at the throats of any small landings or descents." After the end of the World War these Commando units were disbanded but the remaining Royal Marines 3 Commando Brigade continued to participate actively in military action. The F-S knife remains as popular as ever and a vital part of the commando kit taken everywhere by Commandos in significant military interventions – the Suez crisis, the Falklands War, the Gulf War and the War in Afghanistan.
Though known as the FS Fighting knife, it was not designed to be a knife fighting knife, but primarily designed to be used in silent killing actions such as sentry take-outs. The techniques of effective use were taught to various special forces at Highland training centres such as Lochailort Special Training Centre (STC) and Achnacarry, which was the Commando Basic Training Centre (CBTC) from 1942-1945.