Historical Trivia: Tube Magazines and the British Army Don’t Mix

In 1879-81 the British Army was seeking a replacement for its single shot Martini-Henry rifle, introduced in 1871. However, magazine fed weapons had fast become popular during the 1870s and the British sought a new rifle which had increased magazine capacity. Numerous weapons were tested including, a Lee-Pattern Magazine fed Mauser 1871, the Winchester Model 1873, the Lee M1879 and the Hotchkiss Model 1880.

This mix of tube and box magazine rifles was extensively tested by the British Small Arms Committee. However, in 1880 a Private of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers was badly injured during testing when a round exploded in the tube magazine of a Winchester Model 1873. The Small Arms Board immediately abandoned all further testing with the tube fed Winchester and Hotchkiss instead favouring the box magazine fed rifles.

imageThe above diagram of a Winchester 1873 shows how bullets typically sat in a tube magazine. (source)

The Board had long distrusted the tube magazine, reasoning that in the heat of battle cartridges could be loaded incorrectly (ie. upside down), that the proximity of the magazine to the barrel could lead to heat induced cartridge explosions and that as in the case of the unlucky private’s rifle a bullet tip could ignite the next round by striking its primer. Tube fed rifles were never again considered for service by the British Army and after a long period of extensive testing of over a dozen different rifle designs the Magazine Lee-Metford was chosen in 1889.

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