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The elegant .310 Martini Cadet.

The milsurp stream is full of stylish military single shots, but no model approaches the sheer elegance of that little, delightful wand of a rifle we call the .310 Martini Cadet. Largely made between 1911-1913 by Birmingham Small Arms Co. (BSA) and to a lesser extent by W.W. Greener, the model was used for cadet marksmanship programs, especially in the Commonwealth of Australia. Imported from Australia in the 1950s and 1960s by American surplus arms dealers, thousands of Martini Cadets arrived on our shores and could be had for as little as $9.95 in their original .310 chambering.

Unfortunately, equally impressive quantities of .310 ammunition did not accompany the guns, so a lively trade developed in rechambering the cadets to .32-20 and .32 Special, as well as reboring them to .357 and .44 Magnum. This upped the price a bit, rechambered jobs fetching $15 to $20 and rebored guns, $30 or so. When the dealers still couldn't unload them, they stripped the cadets for their small Martini actions. What followed was a decade or so of custom single-shot rifles being built around the little action in a variety of small game calibers ranging from the. 17 Hornet and .222 Rimmed to the .44 Magnum.

This scaled down version of the Martini-Henry was originated by Francotte of Belgium and is often referred to as the Francotte Patent action. The design is significant because by removing a single split pin the complete internals of the action can be detached from the frame as a single unit. Anyone who has fussed with stripping and reassembling a large Martini-Henry action will appreciate the advantage of the Francotte system.

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Universal Cadet Training

In 1910, the Commonwealth Government of Australia initiated universal cadet training for Australian youths. To arm their young cadets, both W.W. Greener and the Birmingham Small Arms Co. were commissioned to build a lightweight, centerfire, single-shot, training rifle on the miniature Francotte Martini action. According to Frank de Haas in his exceptional book, Single Shot Rifles and Actions, approximately 80,000 Martini Cadets were manufactured by BSA alone between 1911 and 1913. From the standpoint of the milsurp stream, I've handled a number of Martini Cadets over the years but have never seen a Greener Australian model.

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The cartridge selected for the new training rifle was the .310 Greener, an existing small game and target cartridge, sporting a heeled, 120-grain, lead, hollowpoint or solid bullet at approximately 1,200 fps. Think a .32-20 Win. The .310 Greener is so close to our .32-20 in case dimensions that .310 Greener brass can be made from .32-20 cases fairly simply.

What is remarkable about the low-powered .310 Greener cartridge in the Martini Cadet is the precision rear sight of the BSA models is calibrated in elevation out to 600 yards. The elevation staff is adjusted by a caroming screw and a wheel while the vernier calibrated windage scale is adjusted by two, opposing thumbscrews. There's even what appears to be a line of platinum metal inletted into the rear sight directly below the aiming notch.

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Whoever wrote up the specifications for the Martini Cadet was first and foremost an accomplished rifleman or committee of riflemen and expected the cadets to learn something of value about serious long-range marksmanship.

When received by the Commonwealth Government of Australia, the Martini Cadets were parceled out to the states and then state branded and re-serial numbered. On the right, rear side of the buttstock, each state generally stamped the date of acceptance, for example "8/11," the abbreviation for the state "N.S.W" (New South Wales) or "VIC" (Victoria), and a new Australian generated serial number. The state abbreviation and the new serial number were also stamped on the right side of the receiver either above or below the "Commonwealth of Australia" lettering. Those state markings add greatly to the collectability of the Australian Cadets in their original military garb.

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Big Bore?

My first experience with a Cadet was the purchase of one rechambered for the .32-20 cartridge. Since there wasn't any .310 Greener ammunition around, I thought it was rather smart to own one that could be fed .32-20s. I remember asking the seller at the time how the rifle shot. I'll always recall his reply, it went something like, "Son, this is the best, damn jackrabbit rifle you'll ever own. It will really bust those bunnies!"

Getting the rifle home, I grabbed a box of .32-20s, set up a tin can at 50 yards and missed the next 10 shots. Hmm. What I didn't realize at the time was that the groove diameter of a .310 Cadet runs .320" to .323", not .312" to .314". Those .32-20 bullets were just rattling down the barrel of my new jackrabbit special.

Casting about for some bullets to load, I discovered that Huntington Die Specialties had a small stock of .310 hollowbase, Martini bullets manufactured by Norma sometime in the distant past as well as .310 brass by Bertram. Off went a check to Huntington. I thought my problems were over. They weren't. The Norma bullets were as pretty as a picture but proved to be dead-soft lead and graphite coated. Loaded in fire-formed .32-20 cases, they leaded the bore so badly it looked like the inside of a brick chimney within five shots. I laid the Martini aside.

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It took one of my hunting partners, Bud Bristow, who also owned a lovely Martini Cadet in the original .310 chambering which he used for pursuing javelina, to remind me years later that RCBS had introduced a mould for the heeled .310 Greener bullet (mold 310-120-RN). Bristow had also verified the accuracy of a handload developed by Ross Seyfried consisting of 4.2 grains of Hodgdon Universal Clays powder. The RCBS bullet cast fairly hard lubricated with Lee Liquid Alox and seated over a sol wax wad. So far, it is the load for either the .310 Greener or the .32-20/.310 Greener and generates a velocity of 1,200 to 1,220 fps. At 50 yards, it will cut 1-1/4" to 1-1/2" for four or five shots if the cast bullets are uniform.

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I expect there are thousands of .310 Martini Cadets sitting idle in safes across the company. Let's put them back in the field. RCBS has the bullet mould. Bertram still makes .310 Greener cases or you can make your own from .32-20 brass by shortening it to 1.08" and with a lathe or electric drill and file, reducing the rim thickness from the chamber end to .045". You can even use .32 S&W dies to load it.

Better yet, Buffalo Arms offers loaded ammunition, RCBS cast bullets, formed brass and loading dies. If you find a Cadet rechambered for the .3220, just fire form the brass. Should it be rechambered for the .32 Special, you'll find it a little awkward to load the long cartridge in the short action, but the .321" diameter of the .32 Special bullet is compatible with the Cadet barrel. Of course, if you find a Cadet rebored to .357 or .44 Magnum, you're in heaven. And if you cast about on the Internet auction sites, you will occasionally come across one of those fine, little, custom varmint rifles built on the Martini Cadet action and usually, reasonably priced.

Cadet models of all persuasions and periods are fascinating and very collectible arms. We will not see their kind again nor the workmanship lavished on these beautiful examples of youth training firearms. The .310 Martini Cadet is in a class all by itself. Don't miss it if one crosses your path.

310 MARTINI CADET

MAKER: BIRMINGHAM SMALL ARMS CO. AND W.W. GREENER

PIVOTING BLOCK: Single shot

CALIBER: .310 Greener

CAPACITY: 1

BARREL LENGTH: 25"

BARREL TWIST: 1:20"

OVERALL LENGTH: 40-1/4"

WEIGHT: 5 pounds, 12 ounces

FINISH: Blued

SIGHTS: Precision vernier rear, post front

STOCK: Walnut

PRICE: $400+ (original, unaltered condition)
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Title Annotation:SURPLUS LOCKER
Author:Bodinson, Holt
Publication:Guns Magazine
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Oct 4, 2011
Words:1347
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