Tag Archives: Nepal rifle

Testing the Bhojpure

Matt Easton of Schola Gladiatoria has been cleaning and testing a relic Bhojpure kukri (khukuri) from the large collection of original 19th century Nepalese Government military stores that IMA and Atlanta Cutlery scored back in 2003. Of course, he is a little late to the party as I picked up one of these a few years back and found it to be just a remarkable edged weapon. Truly excellent once you got the yak grease off.

Here is Matt testing it:

Speaking of Gurkas, this year’s intake at Infantry Training Centre Catterick has gone off swimmingly.

However, with Nepal still in COVID-19 lockdown, the 2021 Intake could be delayed, which could mean some uncertainty in the manning of the Brigade of Gurkhas, the Indian Army’s seven Gorkha regiments, and the Singapore Police Force’s Gurkha Contingent.

Kukri update, and a companion patch knife

A couple months back I posted about the Nepalese Gurkha Kukri Bhojpure fighting knife that I bought to go with my semi-cleaned Nepalese 1878 Martini-Henry Francotte pattern short-lever rifle and bayonet as created by Gen. Gahendra Rana’s “kami” cottage gunsmiths in the 1880s (more on the rifle and bayonet here.)

Like the Francotte and its bayonet, the $89 Bhojpure Kukri came from IMA/Atlanta Cutlery’s 2003 purchase of the entire Royal Nepalese Arsenal, then located at the semi-ruined palace of Lagan Silekhana in Katmandu.

Well, that post got picked up by The Truth About Knives, which is cool. Maybe it resulted in some people saving some of these old knives.

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I’ve continued to work the blade and, thanks to a tip from a reader (thanks, Robert!) picked up a new replacement sheath for the old man that fits it like a glove. It currently shaves forearm hair (knife fighter mange) and shreds paper with no problem.

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However, at Atlanta I also found this bad boy:

They list it as a “Gurkha Officer’s Patch Knife” for $25 (!) and bill it as “most likely carried in kukri pouches by the elite Royal Guard of Bhimsen Thapa”– Nepal’s military minded prime minister, in the early 19th century– the chap that owned Lagan Silekhana.

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The knife came without a scabbard, is 7.5-inches long with a 3.75-inch slightly drop point carbon steel blade, one-piece carved bone handle and brass furniture.

Like the rest of the Katmandu stash, it had sat in a wooden palace for generations open the elements and was covered in a thick layer of soot, yak butter, and Nepalese flotsam. It was in unissued condition and the blade had never been used (or sharpened– it was a total butter knife).

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This is what it looks like after a good TLC with Ballistol, green pads, and the like, with the brass parts touched up with Brasso.

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Patina on a weapon means it’s seasoned, right? I mean this little pot sticker is 150~ years old, or so the story goes.

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I had to do a small repair on the butt cap as it separated from the handle during the cleaning process, but some replacement brass nails and epoxy corrected just fine.

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I used water stones with a 1000/6000 grit to get first a bevel, then a fine edge– though not so thin that the edge would roll. You can trim fingernails with this bad boy now.

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I intend to use a strop to keep it fine. A generic leather patch knife sheath ($10, eBay) fits it like a glove.

All in all, not a bad blade for a total of about $40 and a half-dozen hours of sweat into it. I rather like it and may pick up a few more just to have. A few more years in storage probably won’t hurt them.

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Gurkha Francotte redux

Last week I posted images of my “untouched” Nepalese 1878 Martini-Henry Francotte pattern short-lever rifle as created by Gen. Gahendra Rana’s cottage gun smiths in the 1880s. (More info on these here ) Put in storage no later than 1919 if not a decade or two sooner, this poor weapon was stored in an open-air 16th century castle with the only protection offered being yak grease until it was salvaged and brought over to the states a few years ago.

In my possession for a couple weeks, it looked rough when unboxed.

Nice shiny bore!

Nice shiny bore!

You know you want one...after you get your tetanus shot

You know you want one…after you get your tetanus shot. By the way, that sling swivel is non-moving

In fact, I’ve seen relic weapons dug out of the earth that looked better than this poor specimen. Now as I said last week, my goal was not restoration or repair, but simply to clean away as much of the dirt, grime, rust and critters as I could to see what was underneath.

The armament:

Stack of hotel handtowels, both aerosol and non-aerosol Ballistol, direct from Germany, brass and plastic brushes, green pads

Stack of hotel hand towels, both aerosol and non-aerosol Ballistol, direct from Germany, brass and plastic brushes, green pads..

Pre-1982 pennies are 95 percent copper, and, as long as you keep them lubed up, work great at removing heavy rust from iron/steel without harming the base metal

…Pre-1982 pennies are 95 percent copper, and, as long as you keep them lubed up, work great at removing heavy rust from iron/steel without harming the base metal

The battle:

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A full day spent like this, disassembling the action, soaking, scrubbing with pads, brushes and Lincolns, wiping away the debris (oh the debris…) then hitting repeat on the soaking, scrubbing with pads, brushes and Lincolns, wiping away the debris cycle over and over and over….

The first patch down the barrel...

The first patch down the barrel…

...But far from the last. Overall, while the bore is dark and the barrel is pitted inside and out, it is solid with no pinholes or splits and there is still some visible rifling

…But far from the last. Overall, while the bore is dark and the barrel is pitted inside and out, it is solid with no pinholes or splits and there is still some visible rifling

These guys put in a workout and work much like copper scouring wool, but are so much easier to use. Just don't use too much pressure and keep them lubed the whole time

These guys put in a workout and work much like copper scouring wool, but are so much easier to use. Just don’t use too much pressure and keep them lubed the whole time

Sadly the outer metal parts were extremely pitted, but the rust did part enough to show off this only marking on the gun, protected from the elements by the cocking lever while in storage

Sadly the outer metal parts were extremely pitted, but the rust did part enough to show off this only marking on the gun, protected from the elements by the cocking lever while in storage

The markings under better light and viewed from another angle

The markings under better light and viewed from another angle

The results after the First Battle of the Yak Grease

When compared to the before pictures, it's a night and day difference...

When compared to the before pictures, it’s a night and day difference…

I was able to get off most of the blackened grease to show the asphaltum (a mixture of tarmac and mineral spirits used to seal the grain) on the original wood underneath

I was able to get off most of the blackened grease to show the asphaltum (a mixture of tarmac and mineral spirits used to seal the grain) on the original wood underneath. The butt has decayed to the point of no return so I wasn’t able to do much with it for fear it would crumble.

While the metal is still in horrible shape, it is now at least smooth to the touch with the red rust removed and the steel coated with a layer of Ballistol to help keep it from coming back

While the metal is still in horrible shape, it is now at least smooth to the touch with the red rust removed and the steel coated with a layer of Ballistol to help keep it from coming back– and the sling swivel actually moves freely now!

Overall, you can touch the gun without having to take a shower after

Overall, you can touch the gun without having to take a shower after

Then there is the bayonet.

British-made Martini-Henry socket bayonets won’t fit the Nepalese Francotte but IMA did have a few period socket bayonets made by the Nepalese specifically to fit the thicker barrel wall on this rifle. Like the guns, they are handmade so length and shape vary quite a bit from blade to blade with IMA advising they range everywhere from 15-21 inches long.

I asked for a nice long one and they sent one that measures out to a full 24-inches and fits the gun like a charm.

They look good together

They look good together

The bayonet came coated in rust, but cleaned off much better than the rifle, showing off a handsome patina

The bayonet came coated in rust, but cleaned off much better than the rifle, showing off a handsome patina

The Gurkha who carried this bayonet really loved it, it has been sharpened nearly razor-thin on at least two of the leading edges

The Gurkha who carried this bayonet really loved it, it has been sharpened nearly razor-thin on at least two of the leading edges

And of course has a needle point.

And of course has a needle point. You could give a Gurkha one of these alone and expect him to hold a hill until he died of old age.

Where to next? Well I will do a few more cleanings to see if some of these rust spots will even out a bit more with the pits and eventually may get a electrolysis bath going if I think it will produce more results.

Firing?

There was a reason the Gurkhas moved past these guns as soon as they came up with something different. They were just too unsafe. You see the bore diameter varies considerably from rifle to rifle, which was made by wrapping a steel rod around a mandrel and hammering it out.

As scary moment of pause on this particular gun: the issued cleaning rod that came with the rifle was too fat to fit down the barrel, even after I cleaned the rust out, leading to the conclusion that either (1) the bore wasn’t swagged wide enough leaving under-powered loads to squib in the barrel and overpowered ones to shatter it, or (2) the cleaning rod was out of spec.

Even IMA says “These are 100+ year-old hand made guns, be very careful, IMA sells these for display purposes only, they are not intended to be fired.”

In short, this is a Khyber Pass breechloader before Khyber Pass breechloaders were cool.

I’m am, however, searching for a few rounds of vintage .577/450 Martini-Henry to put with the gun for display purposes. Nonetheless, as this rifle should never be fired, I will likely insert a cork plug in the breech throat with a warning written across it in ink so that no one comes behind me in future years and inserts said .577/450s in this gun and goes ka-boom.

As for repairing the piece, I don’t think I am going to go that route. Most parts from one Nepalese Francotte won’t fit another one, which means if I tried to do a restoration I’d have to fab my own parts which would mean that I have less and less a collectable piece of interesting mechanical and military history from the 1880s and more a construct that I created from the remnants of one in the Snatchat age.

The action cycles and fires as it is, which is all I could really ask. Since I am missing a front sling swivel, rear sight and butt plate, if I can find those correct parts (as well as possibly a decent period style sling) I will add them to the gun, but that’s about it.

Bring on the next 100~ years.

Wallhanger time

You know you want one...after you get your tetanus shot

You know you want one…after you get your tetanus shot

The Kingdom of Nepal was isolated and in some very real struggles with its neighbors in the 19th Century. Bumping against the East India Company led to the Anglo-Nepali War during which the plucky Nepalese Gorkhali soldiers smacked the Brits around a good bit until some 17,000 redcoat regulars and Indian mercenaries could be mustered to roll over the locals. Still, the peace of the Treaty of Sugauli in 1816 led to an uneasy alliance with Nepal that saw the British Army induct 5,000 Gurkhas right off the bat and keep coming back steady for the past 200 years for more.

Then came the Rana dynasty and ever-increasing British influence who provided some arms for the local Nepal forces, capped at 16,000-men, who proved useful in the Sepoy Mutiny. These arms included stocks of Brown Bess flintlocks, P.1853 Enfield muskets, Brunswick Fusils and other guns which by the 1880s were well past being obsolete.

Gurkhas in the 1870s, note the 1867 pattern Snider-Enfields

Gurkhas in the 1870s, note the 1867 pattern Snider-Enfield breechloader conversions and giant Kukris!

Never to fear though, as the Gorkhali were resilient.

Local engineers found a few examples of 1878 Martini-Henry Francotte Pattern Short Lever Infantry Rifles which used a simplified detachable action fitted without the classic Martini cocking Indicator and decided to clone them Khyber Pass style for local use.

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Some argue Francotte’s “improved system rifle” tweaks to the Martini-Henry made a better gun and while the British didn’t use Mr. Francotte’s changes for their standard issue rifles, the Francotte patent was used in tens of thousands of miniature Cadet rifles made by BSA and Greener, most of which went to Australia and New Zealand chambered in .310 Greener/ Cadet. Westley Richards also made many large bore commercial hunting rifles using the Francotte patent.

The thing was, the Nepalese didn’t actually have a firearms factory to make the gun. This in turn led to a cottage industry where these rifles were largely made by hand using sourced parts in a purpose-built site at Naku.

The worst thing about these guns is the suspect metallurgy as the steel was locally sourced and scrounged from whatever they could use including remelted plows. The screws and springs– cast by hand. The barrels were formed with bar steel wrapped in a coil and forged into the barrel, which was common for the era, just not in industrialized countries. The wood was originally coated in asphaltum, a mixture of tarmac and mineral spirits used to seal the grain. In short, they were hand-built guns with damascus wrapped barrels made by unskilled labor in a Third World country long before there was a concept such as QC, CNC or ISO.

Likely less than 16,000 were ever produced and the country, limited to a very small supply of powder for their indig ammo works, were only occasionally fired in musketry drills, so none saw exceptionally high round counts.

The breechloaders worked to a degree and were better than muskets, and the Nepalese took the lessons learned in the making the Francotte and used them to build the Gahendra Martini, which they based off a loaned Martini-Henry trials rifle given to them by the British that had a Peabody type action with a flat mainspring, instead of the improved coil spring used by the Martini, and Henry rifling. That is why Gahendras only “look” like Martinis.

As soon as the Gahendras were available around the 1890s, the Francottes moved to reserve use.

British Gurkhas from Navy And Army Illustrated, 1896, note the Martini-Henrys

British Gurkhas from Navy And Army Illustrated, 1896, note the Martini-Henrys

Then around 1894, with the British Army moving to the Lee-Metford rifle, no less than 8,000 “real” Mk II Martini-Henry rifles were surplussed to Nepal. By 1906 and after another shipment of more modern Mark IV Martini-Henrys appeared, both the Francottes and Gahendras were placed in arsenal storage alongside the old Brown Besses, Enfields and Brunswicks– just in case– while the newer British-made guns were the primary arm.

Nepalese troops in 1901, note the difference between these soldiers and the ones above in British service. These men still used Francottes and Gahendras to a degree

Nepalese troops in 1901, note the difference between these soldiers and the ones shown above in British service at the same time. These men still used Francottes and Gahendras to a degree and saw a good bit of campaigning on occasion in border disputes with the even less well-equipped Tibetans and bandits.

In 1912, King George V visited the country and saw the various Martinis were still in very active use after the rest of the Empire had moved on, and whistled up some Boer War surplus Lee-Metfords for the country while Short Magazine Lee Enfields appeared after World War I and remained in use up to the Civil War in the 1990s and are still seen in imagery from the region.

By 1919 and enduring for a half century or more, the Nepalese have used the SMLE, though the example shown is a very well equipped Gurkha in HMs service in WWII

By 1919 and enduring for a half century or more, the Nepalese have used the SMLE, though the example shown is a very well equipped Gurkha in HMs service in WWII

However, instead of throwing out the Brown Besses, Brunswicks, Francottes, Gahendras and Martinis, the Nepalese just kept stacking them deep, never throwing them out. After all, an old rifle can still be used in a pinch.

Then in 2003, Atlanta Cutlery and International Military Arms made the score of a lifetime when they gained access to the crumbling, open-air 16th Century Lagan Silekhana Palace in Katmandu where all of these guns were stored.

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In the end, they bought and moved out of the country more than 52,000 rifles, 25,300 bayonets, 13,100 Kukris, 600 swords, 20 hand-built Bira double-barreled machine guns (all with non-interchangeable parts), 1.3-million Revolutionary War-era flints and 170 antique black powder cannon.

The two have been selling the cache for the past decade and just a couple months ago Atlanta Cutlery tapped out and sold their remaining inventory from Silekhana to IMA, who has been making some deals of their own lately.

Which led me to pick up this original Nepalese Francotte in “untouched condition” for $169 on sale with a 24-inch socket bayonet for $29, free shipping.

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Isn’t she a beaut!

I’m not trying to restore it or refinish it, I’m just looking to clean the gross accumulation of junk off while preserving as much of the original finish and patina as possible, then lube it up and set it aside for display.

I understand the Nepalese used yak grease (not kidding) as sort of a Himalaya cosmoline to coat these guns before they were stored long term.

Nice shiny bore!

Nice shiny bore!

The screws haven’t been turned in 100~ years. Like most of these guns, the brass buttplate was salvaged by scavengers years ago and likely sold for scrap while the buttstock itself is cracked and loose. But on the bright side, the action works like a charm and the springs still seem tight.

Still, the end result should be interesting.

Of Peabodies and Zulus: The British Martini Henry Rifle

One of the most iconic rifles of the late 19th century was the Martini-Henry. While it didn’tave
anything to do with the drink, this very British design (with American undertones) was revolutionary for its time and is still an affordable collectable today.

To understand where the Martini rifle started at, one needs to look at the 1862-era rolling block rifle of Henry O. Peabody from Boston, Massachusetts. Good old Henry O tried to get his rifle worked out for ready sales to the Union Army in the Civil War but just missed out. He did
however sell about 15,000 of his Peabody rifles, nice single shot breech-loaders with a lever
action that loaded and extracted the cartridge, to Switzerland. It was in Switzerland that Friedrich von Martini took the basic design, added a toggle moved by the rifle’s striker, added it to the barrel designed by Scotch gunsmith Alexander Henry, and produced the Martini-Henry rifle in 1871.

The rifle was simple and easy to operate. Instead of muzzleloading rifles that took even a skilled soldier 15 seconds and a half dozen movements to load, all one had to do with the Martini was drop the lever by the trigger which opened the breech, slide a one-piece brass cased cartridge into it, and close the lever before pulling the trigger to fire. This meant that the average rifleman could fire amazing 12-rounds per minute, which for 1871 was the equivalent of a machinegun today. Since the 485-grain .577/450 caliber Boxer-Henry brass cartridges replaced paper cased loads, the shots were more consistent and accurate with effective hits on man-sized targets out to 400-yards expected. Volley sights, raised like a ladder with the intention of producing plunging fire at great distances to ‘keep the enemies head down’ allowed rainbow trajectory rounds to be fired as far as 1900-yards distant.

Read the rest in my column at Firearms Talk

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