Ballistic Gel Test of A .577/.450 Martini-Henry

2015-03-26 17_53_36-Martini-Henry Mk.II rifle firing into a ballistic gel block - YouTube

The caliber wars have raged for as long as there have been calibers. At the end of last year, we looked at an article from 1891 deriding as useless small caliber rounds – that is, .30 caliber rounds – versus their larger .45 caliber counterparts. But how do these compare, really? One extra data point has been added by the Royal Armouries at Leeds, who tested a Martini-Henry rifle against ballistic gelatin:

Not many gel tests have been done against round-nosed FMJ rifle rounds, of any caliber. This test shows how extremely stable these projectiles are in tissue – they do eventually yaw, but it takes a considerable amount of time for them to do so. This is a good thing if your target is dangerous game with considerable thickness – such as a lion or a water buffalo, but against a human it tends to create a hole and not much else. Even the temporary cavity of the round is relatively sedate, with little tearing, thanks to the projectile’s low velocity.

How would the .30 caliber round-nosed FMJs of the period have compared? That’s difficult to know without a comparable test, which, unfortunately, does not seem to exist. However, we can make some informed speculation. First, the .30 caliber rounds would have had a much higher muzzle velocity, 600-900 ft/s higher. This would in theory improve their ability to cause remote wounding through the temporary cavity, though whether they were actually capable of remote wounding is something one can only speculate on. Second, we do have available gel tests of both the 6.5x52mm Carcano – a similar, but smaller caliber round, and the .30 Carbine, a less powerful round of the same caliber:

65carcano

Fackler’s famous shot track of the 6.5x52mm Mannlicher-Carcano. Evident is the were high stability of the bullet for over 500mm of penetration. This result is verified by Brassfetcher’s testing; unfortunately the images hosted in the PDF of which have expired – however, the thumbnails are still visible. Image source: firearmstactical.com

It’s likely that the effectiveness of early .30 caliber military round-nosed FMJs is somewhere in between these two – that is to say, poor by modern standards. The bullets were undoubtedly stable (in fact, the math suggests they would be even more stable than the 6.5mm Carcano’s 160gr bullet), and their ability to cause remote wounding through the temporary cavity remains in question. However, this performance is very similar still to the .577/450 caliber, but presumably with a smaller diameter hole. Therefore, it would be premature in my opinion to say that the .45 caliber cartridge necessarily would have better effectiveness.

H/T to the Historical Firearms blog.



Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


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  • M.M.D.C.

    The slo-mo of the ejecting brass and accompanying plume of smoke is a thing of beauty. Thanks, I needed that.

    • MountainKelly

      The Ruger no1 has a similar, satisfying ejection. Glorious

    • Paul White

      it started my friday evening on a happy note for sure

  • MountainKelly

    I need to slug my mh… Still haven’t shot it. Beautiful guns though

  • dick_burger

    First screen cap looks like a dong

    • Dan

      Didn’t notice that before, but I do now, thanks a lot

  • Esh325

    It’s quite something for all that weight and punishing recoil, you get a round that has probably less terminal effect than an expanding .22 LR.

    • dan citizen

      until you hit bone. Those old, large bullets made you bring your own shrapnel to the party.

      • Big slow bullets of that sort have measurably less effect on bone than high velocity jacketed projectiles.

        • dan citizen

          True, but not in the class of .22 as Esh325 said.

        • Marcus D.

          I was under the impression that the big, slow, 57 cal Minie or musket ball caused catastrophic bone damage on impact, resulting in the extremely high number of amputations in the civil War, and also forming the basis for the Hague convention banning soft lead bullets.

          • I wouldn’t categorize myself as an expert on international laws of war of the period, but I don’t recall the Civil War having much effect on the Hague Convention (my assumption is that the Europeans probably didn’t care much about the sorts of projectiles being used across the Atlantic, at the time).

            Having said that, you’re right that they will do a number on bones. They don’t compare, though, to the dramatic effects caused by projectiles like M193. Compare for example the two bones below, one struck by a Minie Ball, the other struck by an M193 projectile:

            http://www.nlm.nih.gov/visibleproofs/media/detailed/ii_a_116a.jpg

            http://www.nlm.nih.gov/visibleproofs/media/detailed/ii_a_116b.jpg

            Compare the extent of the fractures between the two.

            I would expect a jacketed round-nosed bullet of the type that replaced round-nosed lead projectiles to create similar wounds, and for spitzer projectiles to produce wounds more similar to those of M193.

            Of course, either wound is enough to cause an 1860s-era surgeon to throw up his hands, look for a bone saw to sterilize.

          • Marc

            Fairbairn also noted the devastating effect the high velocity .30 Mauser had on bone, in “shooting to live”.

          • iksnilol

            I also remember that. I always thought it was the velocity of the round that caused that. Especially considering that the other pistol rounds of the day were low velocity and they didn’t have so dramatic effect.

          • Marcus D.

            This is the language of the treaty: “The Contracting Parties agree to abstain from the use of bullets which
            expand or flatten easily in the human body, such as bullets with a hard
            envelope which does not entirely cover the core, or is pierced with
            incisions.” So yes, expanding hollow points are a definite no-no, but as one commentator above noted, a lead projectile will flatten quite nicely as well, and the language is broad enough to ban Minies and Dum Dums.
            This treaty was passed, technologically speaking, at the dawn of the age of smokeless powders and massively increased velocities, and the beginning of the end of solid lead projectiles such as the Dum-Dum which could not withstand the rigors of high velocity down a rifle barrel. Thus, as I understand it, the challenge was to build a bullet that still had the mushrooming quality of the lead round but with a jacket to allow use of high velocity powders–hence the hollow point. But th emangling of soldiers who otherwise survived their wounds was an issue addressed by this cnvention–it is fine to kill a soldier (this is war after all), but if you don’t kill him, he shouldn’t be left crippled.

            But, technology being what it is, yawing, tumbling and fragmenting bullets have done what this convention sought to prevent.

          • jess

            Surgical sterilization didn’t take hold til after 1865 (see Joseph Lister, 1865), widespread closer to 1870. The Civil War was still at the tail end of the “Bloody Sawbones” era where a blood crusted blade was the mark of a good surgeon.

          • gunsandrockets

            Any smokeless powder military rifle cartridge striking a major bone will make a nasty wound, spitzer bullet or round nose. Even a .30 carbine at close enough range.

            When it comes to comparing the Martini .450 cartridge vs the M193, I bet that at 300 yards range the damage the .450 inflicts would dwarf the M193 no what part of the anatomy hit, whether bone or only soft tissue is struck.

          • At 300 yards, the .577/.450 has got about 1,000 Joules of energy, but less than 1,000 ft/s velocity. It is moving slow, and it’s a stable, relatively hard bullet that as we can see from the video doesn’t do much more than poke a hole.

            In contrast, M193 has about 2,200 ft/s velocity at that range, and about 550 J of energy. That’s still enough velocity to possibly cause remote wounding, and the small-caliber spitzer FMJ bullet is highly unstable, and may even fragment to an extent at that velocity.

            So I don’t think you’ll be able to make a direct comparison. Which is more effective is a difficult question.

          • Ken

            Declaration III of the 1899 Hague Convention came about because of expanding jacketed ammo, specifically the .303 the British were using in colonial conflicts. It had nothing to do with the older black powder ammo using lead bullets.

            I can’t find it, but there is a US Army (I think) video from the 70’s of gel tests with human bones from cadavers in them. I remember them using an M16A1 as well as a a black powder Sharps rifle. The Sharps rifle put a big, but otherwise fairly neat hole through the bone, while the M16A1 shattered the bone and made the marrow liquify and spray out.

            Nathaniel is right. When reading about the effectiveness about historical ammo, you must consider the medical care of the time. The bullet might not kill someone back then, but the infection or the doctor would. There was no tetanus vaccine back then, and the bullet would bring in dirt from the skin surface or clothing as it traveled through the body.

    • Zebra Dun

      Factor in “No Anti-Biotics and primitive Medical care” and you have a very deadly hole maker.

  • Alex Nicolin

    Surprisingly, the early 6.5 and 7 mm loads, featuring long, round nosed projectiles, were commonly used on large game at the turn of the 20th century with a great deal of success. Many elephants succumbed to well placed 6.5 mm Manlicher and 7 mm Mauser bullets.

  • dan citizen

    “How would the .30 caliber round-nosed FMJs of the period have compared? That’s difficult to know without a comparable test, which, unfortunately, does not seem to exist.”

    Seriously? We need to fund just this. Surplus ammo and rifles abound, we just need some calibrated jello and a camera.

    • lucusloc

      The calibrated jello and the camera are the annoying and the expensive parts, respectively.

      • Darren Hruska

        The camera, definitely. I believe Brass Fetcher’s camera is supposed to cost over $150k. Goodbye house. . .

      • Zebra Dun

        I’d say it would be worth it! For us anyway.

  • DZ

    The problem that plauges all gel tests are the unpredictable nature of the body and the lack of bone. Factor in hardcast lead projectiles and their effect on bone and my may be getting the idea.

    • What effect is that?

      • DZ

        Occasionally fragmentation. With the imperfect science of terminal balistics you have to take into account the psychological aspect, some people dont much want to fight anymore with a shattered femur/forearm/pelvis due to the pain. Also with the possibility of secondary projectiles causing more damage to critical organs along with increased pain levels.

        • DZ

          And to clarify talking about hard lead.

          • Zebra Dun

            More tin/antimony?

        • In what way are hardcast lead projectiles unique in this respect?

          • DZ

            Never said it was unique to it, just that gel tests do not take it into account. Hard lead has a better chance to pass through bone than softer lead.

      • Zebra Dun

        Unknown how ever a large metro phone book soaked in water and shot at 50 yards with my .54 cal BP Bobcat produced with a lead ball one long wiggly tube of battered lead.
        The Shaped Buffalo bullets in the same caliber and rifle produced a perfect large mushroom.
        Soft lead versus Hardcast maybe?

  • RealitiCzech

    “This is a good thing if your target is dangerous game with considerable thickness – such as a lion or a water buffalo, but against a human it tends to create a hole and not much else.”
    Probably useful against an enemy standing in formation and firing at you – you might blast through a couple of ranks with a single round. An accurate volley would shred a unit pretty thoroughly.
    I expect that’s one reason why bullet design has changed so much since then – we’re all about shooting individuals, not formations these days.

    • Zebra Dun

      My first thoughts exactly, the effects on massed line infantry or a Zulu warrior column would be bloody!

  • Don Ward

    That’s curious. Using an old soldier’s tale as reference (with the caveat that I’m working entirely from memory just now) according to Teddy Roosevelt’s book The Rough Riders, the wounds suffered from Spanish 45/70 Remington Rolling Blocks were generally more catastrophic than the 7mm Mausers during the Spanish American War, being more “through-and-through wounds..

    Since these are just gelatin tests, I’m wondering how secondary wounding effects like bone fragmentation and infection factored into military thinking of the day.

    Welp, time for another round of modern testing, The Most Dangerous Game style!

    *Grabs a Rem-Marlin 45/70 and dramatically racks a round*

    What the! Another jam!

  • toms

    2 things, They may not Yaw early but the temp cavity looks huge. Second imagine a bone being struck by that round which based on its size is pretty good. I imagine its pretty close to a 12 guage sabot slug.

  • gunsandrockets

    Hmm… the early breechloading cartridges earned a reputation for fearsome wounding power even at extended ranges. While pioneering small caliber jacketed rifle bullets earned a reputation for fearsome penetration of formerly bullet proof barriers.

    On average it seems a pretty safe bet that the soft lead .45/.43 caliber bullets of the military rifles of the day were more lethal.

  • DIR911911 .

    I’d say both are a bit much for my daily carry needs 🙂