Deliberately Obsolete: Ottoman S&W New Model No.3 in .44 Henry Rimfire

The S&W No.3 revolver was originally designed for the .44 Henry Rimfire cartridge, but initial US military testing caused it to be changed to a centerfire cartridge, and all serial production would use centerfire ammunition. All serial production, that is, except a couple orders from the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans had a substantial number of 1866 Henry rifles (chambered for .44 Henry Rimfire) that they rather liked (see also: the Battle of Plevna), and they requested revolvers from Smith & Wesson that could use that same cartridge. S&W obliged, and the result was the only production rimfire pattern.

Ottoman purchases of the rimfire No.3 revolver ran for nearly 10 years, from 1874 until 1883. They included 2nd and 3rd model Russian No.3s, and also 5,000 of the New Model No.3, which is what we are looking at today.

Many thanks to Mike Carrick of Arms Heritage Magazine for providing me access to film this example!


  1. OK, you piqued my interest, I’d like to learn the “true” story of Plevna. Could you recommend a good reference or two that addresses the question of the role of the lever action weapons?

      • There’s exactly one use of the word “Winchester” in that work, and it’s kinda ambivalent about much of anything, aside from the good doctor’s possession of it. No mention of whether or not it was a personal weapon, one he picked up from the Turks, or what have you.

        Hard to find much on this “Winchester at Plevna” thing that’s trustworthy, but that book is one I’ve never seen before, either. Maybe there’s more out there than what I’ve seen so far…

        I keep remembering the outline of a thorough magazine article or blog post that was well-documented and had lots of citations backing up the scholarship, which essentially said “Plevna’s Winchester story was Winchester marketing, not truth…”.

        That’s the trouble with what passes for my mind and memory–I devour the information when I’m interested in a subject, which is often a passing thing, then years later, all I remember is the information, not where I found it. Which sucks for trying to answer people’s questions definitively…

    • Plevna is one of those “historical crux” events that has passed into common memory as being one thing, yet not actually being as “just so” as the conventional wisdom would have it. Or, so some revisionist historians have had it…

      I haven’t ever found a really good book detailing all of it, but there are several accounts out there on the internet, such as this one:

      That’s the conventional story, the one everyone believes influenced the adoption of the repeating magazine rifle.

      One of the things that makes me suspicious of the whole “Just So” story about the Winchester in these battles is the question of how much influence Winchester’s marketing had on the whole thing. If you read the various accounts, they all make a lot of reference to Turkish fire superiority, but when you look at the 17 rounds per minute fire that the Peabody-Martini rifle could sustain, along with the greater range that the Russians documented it killing Russian troops at, out to nearly 2000 meters? You really have to wonder what more the Winchesters added to the whole affair, and if, perhaps, someone with really good marketing skills did some embellishment of the reality. Most of the Turks at Plevna did not make it out of the cauldron, dying in job lots as they were led off to captivity, so the testimony we have is from the Russian side, and they were looking for excuses to explain how it was they got their asses handed to them so handily…

      There’s a really good refutation of the whole “Winchester dominated at Plevna” idea out there, but I’ll be damned if I can remember where I read it.

      One reference I can find comes from a British bulletin board here:

      The second entry in the thread summarizes what I remember reading in that refutation:

      “The story of the Winchesters at Plevna is pure fantasy. I’m not certain where it originated – maybe the Winchester advertising department, but there were practically no Winchesters in Plevna because there was practically no Turkish cavalry there. What few there were were in the hands of Bashi Bazooks, the lowest grade of Turkish irregulars so the Winchesters had already been phased out of regular service and passed on. None of the first person accounts of the siege mention them, including Osman Pasha’s memoirs and the memoirs of at least one front line Turkish officer (who happened to be an Englishman) commanding a redoubt during the major Russian assaults. The author of that article simply repeated the common knowledge (i.e. folklore) of the time. In fact, the Pebodys didn’t outrange the Russian Berdans because there were no Berdans there either until the arrival of the Guards AFTER the major assaults. The Russians were armed with Krenkas.

      The US military attache, Francis Vinton Greene, who was also at Plevna and at Shipka pass does not repeat that story. Greene thought very highly of the Peabody-Martini but had a poor impression of the Winchester.”

      I think it’s more than possible that the whole “Winchesters at Plevna” thing was a marketing deal akin to the early days of Colt with the M16 in Vietnam, and I actually don’t see anything in the battle that could convince me differently, due to the presence of Krupp artillery and the Peabody-Martini. I think there is a solid argument to be made that those two features contributed more to the Russian losses than anything else, and that the Winchester played a smaller role in the battle than conventional wisdom would have it. Given what I’ve learned the hard way about taking subjective reports of combat actions at face value…? My cynical supposition is that there was a good deal of Winchester marketing going on rather than well-grounded historical fact.

      It is a fact, though, that the perception of what the Winchester accomplished there was highly influential around the world. It may be a case where the lie was more true than reality, and went a lot further than the raw truth managed.

      I find it interesting that you don’t find a lot of “Winchester” in Osman Pasha’s first-person recollections of the battle, and that the one English officer we have who was there commanding a Turkish redoubt during the battle fails to mention the rifle at all. You would think that if the Winchester played such a critical role in the defense, that there would have been a lot of discussion about it in both those sources…

      I remain suspicious of any “conventional historical wisdom”, simply due to the number of times I’ve encountered well-documented “not-so” stories to counter the “just-so” versions everyone agrees on, after the fact…

    • Martini-Peabody rifle in .45 Peabody/ 11.43x55mmR fired a 486-gr. bullet at a muzzle velocity of 1265fps.

      Valentine Baker Pasha: “On arriving within 800 yards of the Turkish line, [Russians] halted and opened fire. The Krnka rifle with which they were armed was miserably ineffective at this range, while even at this distance, the answering fire of the Turks with the Henry-Martini [sic] told heavily.”

      British Snider, .577 rimmed.

      Turkish cavalry: Winchester 1873 + rifle. 12-shot carbines and 15-shot rifles. In the United States, the 30-in. barrel version was sometimes nick-named the “Turkish musket” and held 17-cartridges. Mostly used by the various partisan bands/ banditti fighting for pay and loot, common to all Balkan armies of the period and into the 20th century.

      There were some Ottoman Krupp breech-loading cannon at Plevna.

      Russia was an early adopter of the Gatling gun, but many of these were used in the Far East or consigned to fortresses. The Turks had 200 Austrian-mfr. 10-barrel Gatlings using the Snider cartridges, and employed alongside field guns. Few references, however.

  2. When you mentioned victory it was a Russian victory. So the Henry rifles, even though they provided the Turks with superior firepower were used by the losing side.

    • According to the Turks themselves, lever guns were in service with the cavalry in small quantities. They did not play any special role. The myth about large losses from them arose much later. This is simply an attempt to explain the large losses not by the tactical mistakes of some Russian officers, but by the enemy’s more modern weapons.

      • There were several battles fought at Plevna. And a lengthy siege. Yes, eventually the Russians won. A very great many died trying. Which specific engagement in which specific battle in a lengthy campaign would help narrow things down. My understanding has it that at the end, the Ottoman general sought authorization to abandon the place but was refused permission.

    • Standard-pattern M249/M240 MG, and M4 rifles.

      The whole collapse is another perfectly orchestrated Democratic Party operation; they cut the maintenance elements of the Afghan air force months ago, grounding it. The lack of air support has been critical to the defeat of the Afghan forces, not least because of the fact that its absence tells them they’re abandoned.

      This is another deal like Iraq; as soon as Obama got into office in 2008, they started cutting the planned deployments of the mentor units to the Iraqi army, and cutting the oversight elements that were supposed to ensure that corruption didn’t go on. Effect? By the time ISIS was on the upswing (don’t ask about the Camp Bucca detainees being released at the behest of Obama, either…), the Iraqi army we’d trained and mentored had evaporated due to lack of pay and outright sabotage by the regime. The easy destruction of the force that existed when ISIS came down on it was due to its nature, consisting of raw new recruits that were not getting the support they needed, and who weren’t trained at all.

      This is another failure of American military force that’s more on the political side than anything else. Don’t expect anyone to go into those details though–I’m expecting a hostage crisis and lots of video showing torture and slaughter of the Afghans who rallied to our side, and probably even some unfortunate Americans who were trusting enough to believe what Biden said about it being months before Kabul fell. I’ll be pleasantly surprised if we don’t get another 1979 hostage crisis and a bunch of highly visual decapitations out of all this, but I think we’re pretty much going to see that happen.

      Thank you, Biden voters. May you receive what you deserve, and many happy returns for your blind obeisance to “Orange Man Bad”.

      Highly ironic, ain’t it, that the military and diplomatic corps slow-walked Trump’s orders to get us out of Afghanistan and Syria, saying that the speed he wanted was high-risk; now that Biden is in, they’re all-in on that speed, not even bothering to pay attention to the whole “trust, but verify” deal Trump had going with the negotiations with the Taliban that Biden deep-sixed…

      If you’ve been paying attention to all of this, you’d see the same things happening that happened in South Vietnam during and after our abandonment of them, and Iraq. I’ve been expecting this precise outcome since Biden won the election, and I can tell you where it’s going in the media after this blows up even worse than it has already.

      Expect a lot of blood, and squads of Taliban going around to round up Westerners and Afghans in Kabul. It’s gonna be ugly.

  3. Same to you, Stephen. I have never said that Afghanistan was a good idea, ever. Trying to turn that place into a country was a forlorn hope right from the beginning, despite the state it was in back during the 1960s and early 1970s. You can’t unwind the clock, after what happened then. Afghanistan might have achieved something for itself, had it been left the hell alone by outsiders, notably the Soviets. The rest of the world wasn’t exactly blameless, either–But, the Soviets and the local Communists did most of the damage.

    Only thing I’m pointing out is that this withdrawal has been mis-managed from the point that Biden took over–The refusal to allow in aviation maintenance? What does that tell you about the intelligence of this all? The midnight departures from major bases, without informing the Afghan army?

    I’d also like an explanation for why both the Pentagon and the State Department slow-walked Trump, and then put the pedal to the metal without a single demurral for Biden? If they thought Trump’s withdrawal plan was bad enough to disobey the President, why didn’t they want to disobey similar orders from Biden?

    You blame Trump for not involving the Afghan government, but you’ve no words for Biden’s midnight departure from major bases without informing that same government?

    Other question I’d like answered would be just where the Taliban is getting all that money to bribe their way to victory. The payoffs have been going on for months, apparently reported by the military intelligence people to no avail. What source is that money flowing in from? Pakistan, most likely–More of our military aid being repurposed. Likely, also from China. Expect more “Belt and Road” work going on, and the current Taliban cadre going the way of the Uyghur once they get more control.

    Despite your desire to deny it, this is a purely Biden disaster, right up there with Saigon in ’75–For which he was in Congress, BTW. He voted to cut the aid to Saigon, and to stop the air support that crushed the invasion in ’73.

    Biden hasn’t made a correct foreign policy choice in his entire life, and I don’t expect him to start changing now.

      • Your not nuts, he he. oooh a giraffe 🙂

        I am watching R.T Biden poor old fella is on; mind you it had to end.

        Isis are worse than the “Taliban” ex Osamas lot don’t like either, and the Uzbeks/Tajiks are nuts, if less nuts, and really is not a country.

        Pakistan; further loonies. Isis got cash from Syrian oil via Iran, both techincally hate each other.

        Nuke the south. I am not nuts, he he.

    • I apologize for my insulting language to you. I sincerely hope we can return however to the subject at hand. Mainly forgotten weapons and the history and technical side of the discussion. This should remain a site of intellectual curiosity and not political differences. I also apologize to the forgotten weapons audience at large for my inappropriate language.

    • Bipartisanship characterizes U.S. foreign policy, ‘fraid to say. You’ve got a nice symmetry here: George W. (GOP), O’bomb-ya (Dem), Trump (the new post-Tea Party Tick-Tock generation GOP), Biden (practically a late Soviet-style geriatric Dem of the old Clintonista regime…) Twenty years. Four presidencies. All of them lied. They continue to do so.

    • Kirk:

      What you say is true.

      I believe that the ARVN could have held South Vietnam if the congress had allowed US air power to be used. The NVA invaded with a conventional force of tanks and artillery, which would have been smashed by B52 strikes. Congress, of which Joe Biden was a part, preferred to abandon an ally that 55,000 Americans died for.

      Those people, alive and dead, who voted for Joe Biden made a terrible mistake.

  4. Belt and road lark; mind you Isis… Alot of them like the more loonie ones. Must be boring on a Sunday; stone a few women who want some cash from a divorce etc.

    I doubt China will have any better luck.

  5. And Kirk the Afghan government was corrupt as fuck; albeit they didn’t “mash” adulters i.e Women who want to divorce them.

    Its been coming this since at least 2018 farce as it is on the ground. Sleepy Joe aside.

  6. The only thing we can do is let all the potentional “mashees” think means squishing by jcb track etc… Over here, and hope they don’t grow into isis loon balls.

    Now , as I was saying nuke the south, our anti ussr creations ha.

  7. From Wikipedia on the battle of Plevna:

    On 11 September the Russians and Romanians mounted a large-scale assault on Plevna. The Ottoman forces were dug in and equipped with German Krupp-manufactured steel breech-loading artillery and American-manufactured Winchester repeaters[10] and Peabody-Martini rifles. For three hours they pushed back the waves of advancing Russians with superior firepower.

    It’s hard to find any more detail than that. Too bad Oliver Radkey, my old Russian history professor isn’t still alive. He was studying the Ottoman Turkish language in his retirement. He was a hell of a historian maybe he could have dug something up in the archives.

  8. The .44 Henry was fragile, particularly the loading tube.
    OK for Cavalry who had more training than Infantry and who did not spend as much time in the mud.
    Not a bad weapon for the day.
    Ammunition consistency and reliability was a far cry from what we see today or even what had been achieved by 1914 and rimfire due to the priming method ( Spun into the rim) was generally less reliable than center fire.
    Generally because there were serious QC issues across the board when it came to self contained Ammunition.

    • The Henry was expensive. It was privately purchased by some Union troops, primarily cavalry. It was superseded by the Model 1866 “yellow boy” or “improved Henry” lever action. Improvements in lever-actions continued. They typically fired pistol-caliber ammunition, which rendered them short range propositions. There were some attempts at “musket” versions and so on, but notably it was the Model 1895 Winchester, capable of being loaded with rifle cartridges like .30-40 Krag or 7.62x54mmR that became the Russian contract rifle during WWI. Most armies thought their troops should be able to operate the rifle from a parapet of a trench or while lying prone, which prevented any great interest in lever actions as opposed to bolt-actions.

  9. Regarding ammo reliability. The Winchester rimfire .44 Henry had a firing pin which imparted two strikes on the rim of the cartridge to improve the chances of it igniting. I analyzed cartidges from an historic military site which included a lot of .44 Henry cases;a lot of which had multiple strikes from these double strike pins.

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