Object Title

Martini-Enfield VTC carbine

Martini-Enfield VTC carbine


The Martini-Enfield was a marriage of the aging Martini action of Martini-Henry fame, with a rifled barrel of the same pattern as that fitted to the Magazine Lee-Enfield and Short Magazine Lee-Enfield service rifles. As such, it was a single-shot weapon manually operated weapon by means of a long lever behind the trigger guard. This was an efficient system when the Martini-Henry was originally adopted in 1871; simpler and faster to operate than the early bolt-action weapons being adopted in Europe. By the 1880s though, the internal magazine had given bolt-action rifles a great deal more firepower. Despite an  impressive if over-engineered solution by Canadian army officer Captain C. Greville Harston,  the Martini action proved incompatible with a magazine, and it became obsolete. All Martinis still in service after the introduction of the Lee-Metford (1888) and Lee-Enfield (1895) rifles were therefore converted to .303 calibre and relegated to reserve status. Because the Volunteer Training Corps were not part of the British army's formal establishment however, their Lee-Enfield and Martini-Enfield rifles were purchased commercially from local gunmakers. For example, in the case of the Kings Lynn detachment, an order was placed with Agnew and Sons of Colchester, more usually known for their shotguns. This approach gave rise to a specific 'VTC' pattern of carbine, based upon existing 'trade' versions sold abroad to economically less well developed countries.

Use and effect

Like many nations, Britain lacked enough up-to-date weapons to equip every military unit. Priority went to front-line regular and territorial regiments. The unprecedented need for weapons meant that even some of these were equipped with older types. The Volunteer Training Corps was a precursor of the Home Guard of the Second World War, that is, a volunteer unit comprised of men too old or infirm for service abroad. It also included those in reserved occupations deemed essential to the war effort. With the technology and politics of the day, invasion of Great Britain by Germany was extremely unlikely, yet from 1915 Zeppelin and aeroplane attacks began to claim civilian lives. An armed presence on the 'Home Front' was therefore important, if only to reassure the population that they were protected. In fact, it was primarily the responsibility of the Royal Navy and Royal Artillery to respond to any attack. The Martini-Enfields of the VTC were never called upon, but they certainly would have had the power to put up a rugged defence against enemy infantry. The weapon was a carbine in name only, sharing barrel length with the short SMLE rifle. Therefore, the power, accuracy, and overall weight of the two weapons were very similar. However, the lack of a magazine for rapid fire would have been a disadvantage in pitched battle. Some VTC units had access to the Lee-Enfield, and early on, some had actually been provided by the War Office with the modern Pattern 1914 rifle. However, due to a shortage of rifles in 1914, the latter were withdrawn and reissued elsewhere, as this verse from a poem sent in to The National Guard Magazine in 1917 laments:

Nor is there room to write a trifle
About the 1914 rifle.
One day 'tis here, the next day gone,
Our darling from our arms is torn,
And "Old Martini" carried on!


Action / Operating system Lever-operated tilting block
Barrel length 64 cm (25.2 in)
Calibre / Bore 7.7x56mmR (.303 in)
Capacity (rounds) 0
Country of manufacture Britain
Date entered service 1914
Effective range 503 m (550 yd)
Feed Single shot
Manufacturer Royal Small Arms Factory Enfield
Muzzle velocity 744 m/s (2440 fps)
Overall length 1.18 m (46.5 in)
Primary operator Britain
Rate of fire (rounds per minute) about 12
Weight 3.71 kg (8 lb 3 oz)


Jonathan Ferguson