The Martini Henry Rifle That Rescued The Soldiers At Rorkes Drift


The Battle of Rorkes Drift is certainly one of the more famous battles in the records belonging to the British Army. On 22 January 1879, only hours soon after the Zulu success at Isandlwana, about 4,000 Zulu warriors assault the mission station at Rorkes Drift located along the Buffalo River in Natal.

With no more than 140 men defending Rorkes Drift, you would be pardoned for saying the British had little prospect of survival, especially taking into consideration what happened to their colleagues at Isandlwana. Yet, together with being very brave troops, the defenders of Rorkes Drift were in possession of a rifle that would provide them with an edge over the Zulus. That weapon was the Martini Henry rifle.

This .45 calibre rifle was proficient at inflicting nasty wounds and when fired at a range of below 200 yards, a round could possibly easily go through a body injuring the man behind too. The Martini Henry was a single shot, breech loading rifle and presented the British a huge advantage over the Zulus who were only carrying their short stabbing spears (iklaws).

Though the Martini Henry was at fault in part of the disaster at Isandlwana, when correctly looked after, it had been a superb weapon. To single the rifle out as the cause for the defeat at Isandlwana is harsh as there were many other factors which contributed to the defeat.

At Rorkes Drift, the Martini Henry was vital to the British. As a store, there was clearly a good amount of ammunition together with extra rifles plus the defensive area was much smaller and for that reason was less of a challenge to defend ın comparison to the position at Isandlwana. Introduced to the British Army in 1871, the Martini Henry could well fire up to ten rounds per minute in the possession of the skilled soldier. The rifle possessed a highly effective range of in excess of 500m which resulted in providing the British could identify the Zulu warriors, they could very well start eliminating them long before they got near enough for hand to hand fighting.

Regardless of the over-bearing odds at Rorkes Drift, the British only lost roughly 10% of their strength while at the same time, they laid to rest nearly four hundred Zulus and it was believed a similar number might have later died of their wounds. The British had fought off the Zulu attack and were thankful to the Martini Henry rifle.

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