Brora Targets

Martini-Henri Rifles

One morning, I decided to do some metal detecting along the backshore near Brora. I didn't really expect anything other than the usual rusty iron stuff, but I was in for a surprise. After an hour scanning cracks in exposed bedrock at low tide, I had a haul of 8 bullets.

These things really had me scratching my head. None of them were deformed, so I assumed they couldn't have been fired. If they hadn't been fired, how on earth did they wind up down cracks in exposed bedrock at low tide? If they had been fired into the sea, surely they would have been deformed to some degree? They were large enough and heavy enough to have been sniper rounds, but what were they doing there? How did they get there? And if they hadn't been fired, where were the casings? It was time to call in the experts.

Photos were taken, dimensions, calibre and weights were recorded, and the information was sent to an arms dealer. Turns out these bullets are old, much older than world war 1. They are 0.577/450 calibre bullets which were made for Martini-Henri rifles.

Submitted for British Army evaluation in 1868, the new Martini-Henri astonished everyone with its performance. Not only could it fire 20 aimed shots accurately in under a minute, but it also exhibited extraordinary reliability following water-immersion and dirt tests.

The rifle was officially brought into service in 1871. As Britain's first purpose-designed breech-loading metallic cartridge service rifle, it represented a massive leap forward in technology and defined British imperialism at the height of the Victorian empire.

Although notorious for causing bruised shoulders, it proved to be a brutal man stopper. The rifle is famously known for its performances during the Zulu War of 1879, the Afghan War of 1878-1880, and the First Boer War of 1880-1881. It wasn't replaced until 1888, when the first of the British bolt-action magazine-fed rifles, the Lee-Metford, came into service.

All intriguing stuff, but how did these rounds wind up down cracks in bedrock at low tide on the coasts near Brora? And if they had been fired, why were they not mushroomed and deformed?

The arms dealer then forwarded information which solved the riddle. These rifles were issued to local civilian Brora volunteers during World War 1, and would have been fired at the old shooting range along the Brora backshore near Sputie Burn. The range is still there, and is referred to locally as The Targets.

The bullets I'd found with my metal detector were rounds that missed the targets, expended their energy in the air, and simply tumbled harmlessly into the sea at the end of their trajectory. This photo was taken from the firing positions and is looking back towards Brora at the Targets.

This photo shows you where I was finding the bullets. There is so much history lying around just waiting to be discovered.

Snider Enfield Rifles

A short time later I was down the back shore again, hunted out a few more Martini-Henry rounds, and then picked up this 0.50 cal. Where did this come from? Were 0.50's around before WW1? Or did someone actually fire Brownings at the Brora targets towards the end of WW1?

I wrote to a friend in Australia and he emailed me back with this: 'The Snider Rifle (1853) and the US Sharps rifle (1848) both fired .577 cartridges. Around 1900, the .50 cal was invented by Browning based on the 30.06 but not adopted by the US Army as the .50 cal Browning Automatic Rifle until the First World War.

My next job was to determine what calibre of bullet this was. This photo clearly shows that the bullet is far bigger than 0.50 cal, so it is definitely 0.577, most likely for the Snider Enfield, which was in service in the British Army at the same time as the Martini-Henry which superceded it.


Regarding the Snider Enfield, Wikipedia has this to say: 'The British .577 Snider Enfield was a breech-loading rifle. The American Jacob Snider invented the firearm action, and the Snider Enfield was one of the most widely used of the Snider varieties. The British Army adopted it in 1866 as a conversion system for its ubiquitous Pattern 1853 Enfield muzzle loading rifles, and used it until 1874 when the Martini-Henry rifle began to supersede it. The British Indian Army used the Snider Enfield until the end of the nineteenth century.'

This is the Snider Enfield with a photo of a bullet used during the first Boer war (1880-1881).

This bullet and the one I found above are identical so the Snider Enfield was most likely issued to Brora civilian volunteers during WW1 along with the Martini-Henry's, probably as a sniper rifle. It's amazing what's lying around Brora.

It isn't far to the targets from the car park marked on the map. If the tide is out there are plenty of stretches of hard sand for easy walking, but if the tide is in you might be better walking along the grassy coast instead. There is barbed wire fencing around the targets, but the fencing is old and if you take your time and look there are easy places to gain access.

This is the car park marked on the map, and it has easy access to the back shore.