.577-450 Martini-Henry ‘Khyber Pass Special’

Take a look at this,’ said a friend, handing me a .577-450 Martini-Henry. Fresh back from the Anglo-Zulu War battlefields of Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift, I was in ‘Martini-Henry mode’ and fascinated to see an original. ‘The only thing is,’ said its owner, ‘there’s something not right about it.’

Martini-Henry .577-450

Martini-Henry .577-450

Martini-Henry .577-450 carbine action

Martini-Henry .577-450 carbine action

Martini-Henry .577-450 carbine fore-end with bayonet lug

Martini-Henry .577-450 carbine fore-end with bayonet lug

.577-450 Martini-Henry stock markings: ENFIELD and RAWALPINDI

.577-450 Martini-Henry stock markings: ENFIELD and RAWALPINDI

The Martini-Henry rifle was adopted for British military service in 1871 and variations were in use across the Empire for more than 30 years.

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According to its markings, the item in question is allegedly an Enfield-manufactured Mk.II Martini-Henry carbine with an overall length of 37½ inches; a Martini-Henry rifle would have an overall length of 49 inches. (As as aside, the recoil of the standard-issue ammunition was so severe in the carbine that a special reduced power load was provided for use with the shorter, lighter weapon.)

Martini-Henry .577-450 action markings

Martini-Henry .577-450 action markings

I am sure that a Martini-Henry specialist will be able to pick out more inconsistencies, but there are three major problems with the markings (see above) on the righthand side of the action body:

  1. the overall quality of the stamping is not up to Enfield standard, but particularly note the inverted letter ‘R’ in the ‘V∙R’ of the royal cypher.
  2. Queen Victoria died in 1901; the monarch in 1915 was George V and had the carbine been made in 1915, the stamping should have read ‘GR’; however,
  3. production of the Martini-Henry carbine ended in 1896, hence the 1915 stamp is ‘out of time’.

My friend’s Martini-Henry is almost certainly a ‘Khyber Pass special’, made by hand (and they are still being produced today) in a cottage industry in the Khyber Pass region between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

These weapons are straight copies of service weapons spanning the last 100 years and more – Martini-Henrys, Lee Enfields, Webley revolvers and AKs – right down to fake proof marks. The example in these photos is profusely covered with random stamps including ‘WD’ and the broad arrow, but no ‘proof marks’.

The major problem with Khyber Pass specials is the quality (or otherwise) of the metal used in construction (ex-railway line, old car axles, etc.) and an almost total absence of heat treatment. I seem to remember reading that each Khyber Pass special is sold with two rounds of ammunition for testing purposes (presumably this is carried out outside the shop) and that the guarantee lasts until sunset of the day of purchase.

Before you ask: No, we’re not test firing it!

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About Nigel

Retired law firm project manager based in Jersey, British Channel Islands. When he isn't shooting clay pigeons, he's polishing his collection of kukris or digging his vegetable patch.
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