.450 Nitro Express

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.450 Nitro Express
Type Rifle
Place of origin England
Production history
Designer John Rigby & Company
Designed 1898
Produced 1898
Case type Rimmed, straight
Bullet diameter .458 in (11.6 mm)
Neck diameter .479 in (12.2 mm)
Base diameter .545 in (13.8 mm)
Rim diameter .624 in (15.8 mm)
Rim thickness .040 in (1.0 mm)
Case length 3.25 in (83 mm)
Overall length 4.11 in (104 mm)
Primer type Berdan #40
Ballistic performance
Bullet weight/type Velocity Energy
465 gr (30 g) Lead 2,150 ft/s (660 m/s) 4,770 ft·lbf (6,470 J)
480 gr (31 g) Lead 2,150 ft/s (660 m/s) 4,930 ft·lbf (6,680 J)
Source(s): "Cartridges of the World" [1]

.450 Nitro Express also known as the .450 Nitro Express 3¼ inch was designed for the purpose of hunting large game such as elephant. This cartridge is used almost exclusively in single shot and double express rifles for hunting at the Tropics or hot climates in general and is a cartridge associated with the Golden Age of African safaris and Indian shikars.


The .450 Nitro Express was the first Nitro Express, developed around 1898 by John Rigby. This cartridge was based on the then popular .450 Black Powder Express case with 70 grains (5 g) of Cordite and a 480-grain (31 g) jacketed bullet. Muzzle velocity is listed at 2,150 feet per second (655 m/s) with 4,909 ft·lbf (6,656 J) of muzzle energy. This straight case has a length of 3.25 in (83 mm) with a .670 in (17.0 mm) rim.[1]

Early cartridges used the black powder case that was designed for around 22,000 psi and not the 34,000 psi that the Cordite load generated. Case extraction was difficult, especially in warmer climates such as Africa and India where the cartridge was primarily used. To remedy this problem, a reinforced case was produced and Kynoch made a reduced load to lower the case pressure. Another problem lay in the sensitivity of Cordite, loads developed in the cool British climate performed differently in the tropical heat of Africa and India, resulting in excessive pressures. The manufacturers responded by developing "tropical loads" with reduced propellant.[2]

These initial problems led to Holland and Holland developing the .500/450 Nitro Express and Eley Brothers developing the .450 No 2 Nitro Express, both of which offered very similar performance to the original .450 Nitro Express. By the time these two cartridges appeared, the early issues with the .450 Nitro Express had been resolved, and it quickly became the most popular and widely used Elephant hunting round.[2]

1907 British ban[edit]

In the late 1890s, the British Empire was facing a series of internal insurrections in India and the Sudan, and the .450 calibre .577/450 Martini-Henry rifle was the most widely distributed firearm in the hands of the anti-British forces. In 1907 the British Army banned all .450 calibre sporting rifles and ammunition from importation into India and East Africa, the two major destinations for .450 NE rifles and ammunition. Whist the .450 NE cartridge could not be loaded into a Martini-Henry rifle, it was feared the bullets could be pulled and used to reload expended .577/.450 cartridges.[2]

What resulted was a rush by British rifle and ammunition makers to develop a substitute, Holland and Holland created the .500/465 Nitro Express, Joseph Lang the .470 Nitro Express, someone else (no-one is sure who) the .475 Nitro Express, Eley Brothers the .475 No. 2 Nitro Express and Westley Richards the .476 Nitro Express.[3]

By the time the ban was lifted these cartridges had largely supplanted the .450 NE, and Mauser's Gewehr 98 bolt actioned rifles offered cheaper alternatives to the expensive double rifles required by the Nitro Express cartridges.

WWI service[edit]

In 1914 and early 1915, German snipers were engaging British Army positions with impunity from behind steel plates that were impervious to .303 British ball ammunition. In an attempt to counter this threat, the British War Office purchased 62 large bore sporting rifles from British rifle makers, including 47 .450 caliber rifles, which were issued to Regiments, some British officers also supplied their own.[4]

On one notable occasion, Richard "Dickie" Cooper brought down three Albatros D.III fighters from Ernst Udet's squadron, Jagdstaffel 15, with his Holland and Holland .450 Nitro Express big-game double rifle. Cooper is recorded as saying: "I aimed well ahead of the leader. He came down like a pheasant, as did the one that followed, and I had time to reload and fire again at the third before he passed over - he also crashed."[4]


Prominent users of the .450 Nitro Express include Philip "Pop" Percival and Frederick Courteney Selous, whom using this cartridge in Farquharson rifle was the inspiration for the character of Allan Quatermain.[5] Another prominent user was Denys Finch Hatton, who had a gunsmith rebarrel his .450 No 2 Nitro Express Lancaster double rifle into .450 Nitro Express as it was easier to find ammunition.[6]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b Barnes & Amber.
  2. ^ a b c Hailey.
  3. ^ Wieland.
  4. ^ a b Tate, p 103.
  5. ^ Millais.
  6. ^ Wheeler, p 159.