Guns of Indian Mutinee: First war of Independence
From Dixie Gun Works Blackpowder Annual
Source: Royal engineers canada
After considerable testing, they settled on an arm of the French Minie system. This practicle muzzle-loader employed a hollow-based sub-caliber conical bullet that a soldier could ram down the barrel easily, which, when the gun was fired, would be expanded into the rifling by the force of the explosion.
The first British issue Mini rifle was the .702 caliber Pattern of 1851. Externally it resembled the older smoothbores, with the exception that it mounted a sophisticated graduated rear sight rather than the customary non-adjustable notch. This arm was issued to selected troops in the Crimea, where it received almost instant acclaim.
Swiss smallbore experiments convinced the Select Arms Committee that a reduction in caliber would provide greater range, better accuracy and an advantage in logistics. Exhaustive research and redesigning resulted in one of the finest arms of the age, the .577 caliber Pattern 1853 Enfield Rifle Musket. The gun was sleeker and lighter than its forebearers and, for the first time in an English military arm, had a barrell that was secured to the stock by bands rather than pins or wedges. With its brass furniture, browned barrell, case-hardened lock and oiled walnut stock, it was indeed a handsome piece.
Though tests showed that ranges of 900 yards were not excessive for the riflr, it was agreed that the P-53 Enfield did its best work at distances between 50 and 300 yards.
The cartridges for the P-53 consisted of a heavy paper tube containing 2 1/2 drams (68 grains) of musket powder and a 530-grain, pure lead "Pritchett" type bullet which had a boxwood plug in its hollow base to improve expansion. As the bullet incorporated no annular grease rings like the French and American Minies, it was wrapped with a strip of greased paper to facilitate loading. Then cartridge itself was covered with a thin mixture of beeswax and mutton tallow for waterproofing.
To load his rifle, the soldier first bit off the rear of the cartridge and poured the powder down the barrel. He then inverted the tube (the projectile was palced in the cartridge base up), pushed the end portion into the muzzle to the approximate depth of the bullet and tore off the remaining paper. The bullet could then be easily rammed on top of the charge.
P-53 Enfields saw limited used during the Crimean War, and their marked superiority over the older muskets, and even the P-51s, caused them to be in great demand. The War Department and East India Company set about equipping all their troops with versions of the P-53 rifle musket, and by early 1857 the arm was being carried in India by the regular British regiments hired out to the Company, as well as many sepoys (native troops).
At first the rifles were well received by the sepoys, but sooner a rumor was spread that the cartridges were greased with pig's or cow's fat. The former was regarded by the Muslims as unclean, and the latter by the Hindus as sacred. To the native troops this was just another plot by the Feringhees to force them to renounce their traditional religions.
Fears and rejection of the cartridge began to spread. Officers noticing the unrest amongst the sepoys suggested that the drills be revised to allow the men to tear off the base of the cartridge with their fingers, or to allow the troops to grease their own cartridges. These reasonable suggestions, however, had come too late.
During a parade on February 27, 1857, the sepoys of the 19th Native Infantry refused to accept their issue of cartridges. Their commander, Colonel Mitchell, rushed to the parade ground and threatened to ship the troops to Burma. The soldiers became restive and Colonel Mitchell backed down, fearing an open revolt. He allowed the men to retain their arms and return to duty while he decided what to do. On March 23 the 19th Infantry was marched some 90 miles to the south to Barrackpore where it was ignominiously disbanded.
Three days later another incident occured which brought the situation rapidly to a head. A Sepoy named Mangal Pande had run amok during a parade and cut down two British officers. He harangued the troops to join him and kill all the British, while surprised officers looked on aghast. The commander at Barrackpore, General John Hearsey, rushed to the scene and was warned by one of the officers, "Have a care--his musket is loaded!" Hearsey continued undaunted. "Damn his musket, " he replied. "If I fall, rush in and put him to death somehow."
The frightened sepoy turned the rifle on himself, but only sustained a minor wound. He was captured, tried and hanged, but his name became a rallying cry for the mutineers, and "Pandy" a term of contempt the British heaped on all native troops.
The Europeans soldiers were out-numbered some eight to one by the Indians, and it was decided that as many Crown troops as possible be swiftly brought to India--a decision that merely fanned the embers of the rebellion.
Events soon speeded up, and on May 10, in Meerut, 85 sowars (native troopers) of the 3rd Light Cavalry who had refused to take the Enfield cartridges were sentenced to deportation, publicly stripped of their uniforms and medals, and imprisoned. This humiliation and harsh punishment proved to be the final straw and Indian soldiers and civilians rebelled. After releasing the prisoners, they swarmed to the European bungalows where they committed unspeakable depredations.
Sepoys ransacked houses for weapons and valuables, killed the inhabitants, then burned the structures to the ground. Despite numerous warnings the British were caught completely off guard, and by the time they were able to organize a defense. Meerut was in ruins. The sepoys headed toward Delhi some 40 miles away, and when they arrived the old Emperor received them cooly, although they were hailed by other rebels as liberators. The native troops within the city rose and by May 12, Delhi itself had become a hellish scene of carnage. The rebellion had begun in earnest.
According to General G. F. McMunn, in his book The Armies of India, "The mutinous regiments, under command of their native officers, marched to Delhi, to Lucknow, or to Cawnpore, with their British colours flying, wearing British war medals, with their bands playing British airs. The British on the ridge before Delhi could often hear the mutineer bands playing the airs their officers had taught them, before the Emperor's palace. The anomalies of the mutiny were many. In some regiments the officers were murdered with every possible atrocity. In others great pains were taken to conduct them within reach of a place of safety. One day the bulk of the regiment or the older native officers, with tears in their eyes, would protest their loyalty to their colonel and comrade of fifty years. The next morning he and his officers would be dead in the rising sun."
Military arms found in India during the time of the Mutiny were of two basic types: regular British service patterns carried by Crown troops, and weapons ordered from contractors by the East India Company to equip its own Army.
For the most part, the arms used by the East India Company kept pace with those used by the Regular Army. This had two distinct advantages. First, the Company was able to take advantage of the research and design work done by the Board of Ordnance, and secondly it was able to place orders with the very same contractors who were furnishing arms to Her Majesty's forces.
Generally, Company guns were of the same style as those of the British Government. Often, however, subtle differences, such as a slightly modified trigger guard or ramrod would be encountered. The lock markings were quite different: Government locks would be engraved (later stamped) with a crown surmounting the initials "GR" Georgius Rex for King George III) or "VR" (Victoria Regina for Queen Victoria), the date of manufacture, and the name of the contractor or the word "TOWER" for Tower of London Armouries where the gun would have been assembled. The P-53s that were made at the Royal Small Arms Factory bore the name "ENFIELD". Company lock-plates featured either a quartered heart containing the letters "VEIC" (United East India Company), a rampant lion holding a crown, or simply the contractor's name.
Too, many richer Indian princes had their own private armies, whose arsenals were stocked with everything from the latest British and European military weapons to fine sporting arms, surplus East India Company flintlock muskets, and rifles and domestic matchlocks.
The Crown troops for the most part were equiped with the new Enfields, as were a goodly number of mutineers. Once the rebellion had begun, the sepoys seemed to forget their objections to the "accursed cartridge" and gleefully turned them on their former masters.
While undoubtedly the most common model of the P-53 in service was the 39-inch-barreled infantry rifle, two variations--the 33-inch-barreled P-56 Short Rifle and 30-ich-barreled Artillery Carbine--were also available in some quantity. In fact, all the men of the 60th Rifle Regiment, who were stationed at Meerut at the time of the uprising, were armed with Short Rifles.
The main differences among the three arms, besides barrel length, were the rear sights and bayonets. While the infantry rifle took a standard triangular bayonet, the Short Rifle and Artillery Carbine were both fitted with a long, leather-handled, wavy-bladed "yataghan" style sword bayonet designed to offset the guns' reduced lengths.
Many Company troops still carried the older .753-caliber Pattern 1842 percussion smoothbores, and arsenals were well stocked with India Pattern and New Land Pattern Brown Bess Flintlocks. Aside from their ignition systems these three arms resembled each other quite a bit. They all featured more or less ornate brass furniture, full-length walnut stocks, and pinned barrels.
The .75-caliber India Pattern Bess had been introduced in the late 18th century. It was simplified and streamlined in 1802 and rechristened the "New Land Pattern." When the decision was made in the early 1830s to switch to percussion ignition, the New Land models were at first converted to that system, and then, following a disastrous fire in the Tower of London where a great many of these muskets were destroyed, work was started on the manufacture of the P-42.
This last general-issue smoothbore musket was similar to its flintlock ancestors, although it incorporated simplified brasswork and a new-model bayonet catch located at the forend cap. Earlier Brown Bess bayonets simply slipped over a stud at the muzzle and, with the exception of some East India Company models, they employed no catch or retaining spring.
Two other percussion smoothbores that found favor in India were the .753-caliber Sappers and Miners Carbine and Artillery Carbine. They both looked a great deal like the P-42 Musket and, in fact, used the same locks and furniture. Their barrels. however measured only 30 inches, and this extra bit of handiness caused them to be quite popular with the sepoys. The Sappers and Miners Carbine, which was originally intended for issue only to company pioneers, was fitted for a long straight sword bayonet (early ones were saw-toothed) with a socket similar to that found on the P-42 musket bayonet. The artillery carbine mounted the standard triangular blade.
The 26-inch-barreled .733-caliber "Victoria" cavalry carbine, while never particularly popular with the regulars because of its excessive recoil, was also used on both sides during the Mutiny. It resembled its infantry cousins, but incorporated a "Paget" swivel ramrod that made the arm easier for the trooper to load on horseback.
While none of these smoothbores had the long-range accuracy of the modern P-53s, they were deadly at 50 yards, could be loaded fairly rapidly and, like all British military arms, were well made and serviceable.
Prior to the decision to equip all troops with rifles, the British Army and East India Company formed special rifle units which were at first armed with flintlock Baker rifles, and later with percussion Brunswicks.
The Baker had first come into service during the early stages of the Napoleonic Wars and had served with distinction on the Peninsula Campaign and in America. It was later issued worldwide, and continued in regular service for almost 40 years. The design of this sturdy weapon hearkened back to its Germanic Jager forebears. Its .625 barrel was rifled with seven grooves, and featured a bar at the muzzle to which a brass-hilted, 17-inch-bladed sword bayonet could be affixed. The Baker had all-brass furniture, including a buttbox on the right side of the stock where a soldier could carry tools or spare patches. It was loaded with loose powder and a patched ball in the manner of the American and German arms it emulated, although the soldiers were issued paper cartridges so the rifle could be fired rapildy with "running ball," should the need arise.
In 1837 the Baker rifle was replaced with the Brunswick. While this percussions cap rifle resembled its flintlock ancestor externally, the rifling system was totally different. The brunswick employed a.704 belted ball which fit mechanically into two deep spiral grooves in the barrel.
Brunswick bullets were issued to the troops sewn into greased calico patches. Powder was contained in separate packets. Like the Baker, musket type cartridges were given to the soldiers for emergency use. The Brunswick took a wide-bladed sword bayonet, somewhat similar to that of the Baker.
Both Bakers and Brunswicks were on hand in some numbers during the mutiny, though it is likely they saw more use with the sepoys than with the English. The Bakers were old and in questionable condition, and because of their heavy recoil and indifferent accuracy, the Brunswicks had never been particularly popular with British riflemen.
European civilians rapidly joined existing Crown or Company regiments and some formed their own irregular cavalry or infantry units. A good number of these clerks-turned-warrior carried high-quality sporting rifles or shotguns brought from home, although when available, they would opt for military muskets or carbines.
Mutineers were known to brandish matchlocks, but they too preferred the modern percussion arms. Many Indian princes (and at least one princess--the Rani of Jhansi) even rode to battle wearing traditional gold- and silver-ornamented Indo-Persian helmets, breastplates and chain mail.
Handguns were widely used during the Mutiny, and we find many references to them in British dispatches, letters, and reminiscences.
Colt revolvers were well known to the British. In 1851 Samuel Colt had exhibited his wares at the Crystal Palace Exhibition in London, and had made repeated attempts to interest the Board of Ordnance in adopting them for the military.
Large .44 caliber 1st, 2nd and 3rd Model Dragoons, as well as the widely popular .36 caliber 1851 Navy revolver, were imported into England and were eagerly snapped up by officers and civilians headed for the Crimea, Africa, India and any number of other colonial outposts throughout the world. The initial acceptance was so good that Colt was promoted to open a London factory in 1853.
The Colt's main rival in England was the self-cocking (double-action) five-shooter of Robert Adams. Adams too had exibited his Deane, Adams and Deane revolver at the Crystal Palace and, like Colt, was an aggressive entrepreneur who was anxious to secure lucrative government contracts.
Trials by a select small-arms committee showed that the singel-action Colt navy had greater long-range accuracy than the Adams, but that the Adams was more powerful (both .442 and .50-caliber versions were available), and that it could be discharged much more rapidly than the Colt--two features that were favored by British officers. The Adams'main drawback was that it could not be fired single action.
In 1855, however, Adams incorporated the improvement of F. B. E. Beaumont, which enabled the gun to be thumb-cocked. This sounded the death knell for the Colt Navy, as reports of its lack of power began to filter back from the Crimea and, later, India.
A typical damning report of the '51 Colt's lack of stopping power against the sepoys was related, second hand, by Lieutenant Colonel G. V. Fosbery.
"An officer, who especially prided himself in his pistol-shooting, was attacked by a stalwart mutineer armed with a heavy sword. The officer, unfortunately for himself, carried a Colt's Navy pistol of small caliber and fired a sharp-pointed bullet of sixty to the pound and a heavy charge of powder, its range being 600 yards, as I have frequently proved. This he proceeded to empty into the sepoy as soon as he advanced, but, having done so, he waited just one second too long to see the effect of his shooting, and was cloven to the teeth by his antagonist, who then dropped down and died beside him. My informant, who witnessed the affair, told me that five out of the six bullets had struck the sepoy close together in the chest, and all had passed through him and out of the back."
The Board of Ordnance did favor Colt with some orders for the Royak Navy, but they eventually chose the Beaumont-Adams for general adoption by the Army. This decision, coupled with the public's flagging enthusiasm for his wares, caused Colt to close the London factory after only 4 years of operation. Even though the Colt Dragoon revolvers were every bit as powerful as the Adams, their finish was not as good, and they were half again as large. For want of other arms, Dragoons and Navies were used in the Mutiny, though officers discarded them for more "modern" weapons as soon as they had the chance. Because of this, Deane, Adams and Deane .442 and .50-caliber revolvers and Beaumont Adams .442s seem to have been the most favored, if not most widely used, handguns during the Mutiny.
Other handguns used during the rebellion included a potpourri of English pepperboxes, transition revolvers, double-barreled greatcoat and holster pistols, and
military horse pistols. In the latter category, two particular arms saw some action in India--the Pattern 1842 Lancer's Pistol and the East India Company pistol.
The single-shot P-42 Lancer's Pistol was, as its name implied, adopted as a sidearm for lancers who did not carry carbines, and for cavalry troop sergeants. It was little more than a scaled-down version of the P-42 musket, and its poor balance and awkward hold, abetted by a 9-inch .75- caliber barrel, caused it to be "lost" by the men at earliest opportunity. It featured the usual P-42 brass furniture and a Paget swivel ramrod.
The East India Company Pistol, while maintaining the same general dimensions, caliber and ramrod as its Regular Army cohort, was somewhat better designed. It's grip was not as severe as the P-42's and the brass furniture was much hardier. Also, a lanyard ring was attached to the butt.
Crown troops were eventually sent to Dehli and finally laid siege to the sity--a siege that would provide severe hardships for both the Europeans and the mutineers. Rations became short, and disease broke out. Ammunition became so low that the British would pay natives to retrieve cannon balls after they had been fired. Finally, on September 14, 1857, Dehli was stormed by a mixed force under Brigadier General John Nicholson, and the city was reoccupied.
Other part of India, notably Cawnpore and Lucknow, both about 250 miles south of Dehli, were the scenes of fierce fighting and horrible carnage. However, by mid April, 1859, English forces had the situation pretty much under control.
The British repaid the sepoy's cruelty in kind, and in retribution committed some of the worst rapacity of the conflict. Captured mutineers were shot or hung out of had. One favorite method of execution involved tying a prisoner over the muzzle of a cannon then firing the piece [a method of execution learned from the Indians]. The results were vividly described by an eye witness at Lucknow.
"It was a horrid sight that met the eye; a regular shower of human fragments--of heads, arms and legs--appeared in the air whirling through the smoke; and when that cleared away, those fragments lying on the ground--fragments of Hindoos and of Mussulmans mixed together--were all that remained of those ten mutineers . . .Perfect callouseness was depicted on every European face; a look of grim satisfaction could even be seen in the countenances of the gunners serving the guns. But far different was the effect on the native portion of the spectators. Their black faces grew ghastly pale, as they gazed breathlessly at the awful spectacle. You must know that this is nearly the only form in which death has any terror for a native. If he is hanged or shot, he knows that his friends or relatives will be allowed to claim his body, and will give him the funeral rites required by his religion; if a Hindoo, that his body will be burned with all due ceremonies; and if a Mussulman, that his remains will be decently interred, as directed in the Koran. But if sentenced to death in this form, he knows that his body will be blown into a thousand pieces, and that it will be altogether impossible for his relatives, however devoted to him, to be sure of picking up all the fragments of his own particular body; and the thought that perhaps a limb of some one of a different religion to himself might possibly be burned or buried with the remainder of his body is agony to him."
Fears brought about by the Mutiny caused the British Government to transfer control of the country from the East India Company to the Crown.
The Company's white troops were disbanded, and in the future the only European soldiers to serve in India would be those of the Regular Army. It was decided that the proportion of native to British troops would never be more than two to one, and that Indians would not be allowed to man artillery.
The Government also decreed that small arms given to natives would be of lesser quality than those used by Crown regiments. Muskets and carbines externally resembling the P-53 series, but smoothbore, were included in early issue.
In 1876 Queen Victoria assumed the title of Empress of India. However, the hate and mistrust engendered by the Mutiny would eventually cause the brightest stone in the Crown Imperial to fade in the eyes of both the Indians and the victorious British.