MANUALLY OPERATED MACHINE GUNS
Billinghurst Requa Battery
The effect of the failure of the Colt revolving rifle was to turn development of new weapons entirely over to civilians. The military authorities refused to be interested in anything beyond some means of producing volley fire, similar in arrangement to the early organ gun.
The civilian inventors realized they had a difficult sales problem. When they produced a reliable weapon, they arranged to have its performance witnessed and endorsed by public officials and retired officers of high rank. By this they hoped to prove that their weapon merited trial.
The professional standing of the distinguished endorsers was used as a warranty of the product.
The great lengths to which they all went in attempting to market their weapons resulted in many reliable records. These establish, beyond doubt, if one accepts the United States Patent Office definition, that "Machine Guns" were used in battle by both Union and Confederate forces during the Civil War.
Perhaps the weapon most in keeping with the acceptable idea of producing volley fire was the Requa battery. This caliber .58 gun was built
Billinghurst Requa Battery Gun. Cal. .50, Model 1862.
late in 1861 by the Billinghurst Co. of Rochester, New York. It was publicly demonstrated in front of the Stock Exchange Building in New York City in the hope of interesting private capital in manufacturing it for army use.
This gun had 25 barrels, mounted flat on a light metal platform. The sliding breech mechanism was operated by a lever. Charging was accomplished by means of cartridges held in special clips. These cartridges were of light steel with an oval base that had an opening in the center for ignition. They were spaced in the 25-Round clip so as to mate with the open rear end of the barrels.
After the breech was locked, each cartridge came to rest with its opening alined to a channel filled with priming powder. All 25 barrels were fired simultaneously by a single nipple and percussion cap, which ignited the powder train, passing the rear hole of each cartridge. A single hammer, manually cocked and released by lanyard, served as the firing mechanism.
The Requa battery did not employ paper cartridges inserted in the steel cases. Instead, the cylinders were loaded by hand with loose powder, and a patched ball was used in the belief it gave the weapon greater accuracy.
This early weapon, though crude, had a few unusual features that warrant mention. The cliploading, and the quick means of locking and unlocking, allowed a fair rate of fire.
This gun became known as the "covered bridge" gun. During the Civil War, practically every important crossing over a stream was in the form of a wooden bridge, with roof and side-walls to protect the floor and under-structures from the weather. As these covered bridges were usually long and narrow, one of these weapons in the hands of an alert crew could break up a quick charge by the enemy, either on horse or afoot. The 25 barrels could be adjusted to the necessary height and width. With a crew of 3 men, the weapon could be fired at the rate of 7 volleys, or 175 shots per minute. The effective range was 1,300 yards.
In the field, however, the Requa battery had its limitations. Dampness in the unprotected powder train would render it useless. Consequently, it was unfit for offensive service, but very effective in defense of restricted fields of fire.
There is a record of possession by the Confederate forces of a gun of this design on a fort at Charleston, South Carolina. As it was used for defensive purposes only, and there was no problem of mobility, it was heavier than the field-piece type of the North. The Confederate weapon weighed 1,382 pounds and was of considerably larger caliber than the Northern version.
Ager "Coffee Mill" Gun
The next machine gun to be used by the Union forces was the Ager, better known as the "toffee mill" gun. The nickname was derived from its being crank operated with a hopper feed located on top so that it closely resembled the contemporary kitchen coffee grinder. This gun was the invention of Wilson Ager, an American citizen, who for some unknown reason patented his weapon only in Great Britain, although he did patent in this country many industrial devices, such as rice cleaners and corn planters.
The coffee mill gun is a hand-cranked, revolver-type weapon that can use either loose
Ager Machine Gun, Serial No. 2.
powder and caliber .58 ball projectile, or an impregnated paper cartridge. The ammunition is loaded into steel containers which do the double duty of being cartridges and explosion chambers. The cartridge does not enter the barrel, but is held in alignment and cammed forward by a wedge lock, the chamber being rotated and held fast behind a stationary barrel, somewhat like a revolver.
To prepare the gun for firing, a number of containers are loaded, either with powder and ball, or a paper cartridge. A percussion cap is placed on a nipple that is screwed into the rear end of the steel container.
These loaded containers are then placed in a rectangular box, or hopper, so mounted on top of the weapon as to allow the containers to roll down, by gravity, one at a time, into a recess formed in the rear of the gun barrel. A crank, turning a system of cogged wheels, allows the charged chamber to be shoved forward forming a prolongation of the barrel. A wedge, rising behind it, locks it in place. Continued turning of the crank secures it firmly for the instant, and while so held, a hammer operating from a camming arrangement falls on the cap, firing the piece. As the crank continues to revolve, the wedge relaxes its pressure. A lever device shoves the discharged container out of the recess, and a loaded container instantly drops into place.
The Ager weapon was purposely made not to exceed a speed of 120 shots per minute, since it used only a single barrel. The heat from rapid firing was considered a serious drawback. Subsequently the inventor arranged a very ingenious cooling device. The superabundant heat was rapidly carried away by a stream of air driven through the barrel and around a jacket surrounding it. The air was forced through the barrel by the action of a turbine type of fan connected to, and operated by, the same turning of the crank that also charged, fired, and ejected the empty containers. This affair also helped blow away any unconsumed particles of paper cartridge that were in the vicinity of the chambers or bore of the weapon.
Besides this artificial cooling, it also had many construction features that were either new or improved, such as a quickly detachable barrel. Two spares were carried as a further means of overcoming the heating problem. Speedy elevation and traversing was effected by a ball and socket joint mounting, which could be locked at any desired position. The barrel was rifled,
Ager Machine Gun, Cal. .58, without Carriage.
and the maximum effective range, using the caliber .58 Minié-type bullet and a 750-grain powder charge, was 1,000 yards.
The gun was mounted on a light, two-wheeled carriage, with ammunition boxes at either end of the axle, very similar to that used by the mountain guns of the period. It also came equipped with a "manlet" to protect the operator from the fire of small arms.
The Ager gun was a very advanced weapon for the Civil War era. But there was no military demand for a machine gun. Contemporary authorities condemned it as requiring too much ammunition ever to be practical. Also, from the fact that it had only one barrel, they reasoned it could never reach sustained fire to the extent of being considered as an effective arm. Quite a few guns were bought, but they were relegated to covered bridge duty with the Requa battery, there being only a few isolated instances where they were actually used in battle.
The fact that an adequate machine gun mechanism capable of sustained fire existed during the Civil War period can best be verified by a report by a British officer, Major Fosbery, who witnessed a demonstration of the Ager weapon. In his opinion, any weapon consuming such quantities of ammunition was prohibitive from the standpoint of cost and supply. He scoffed at the idea of a single barrel being able to stand the unheard-of feat of discharging from 100 to 120 bullets a minute.
Major Fosbery, an inventor in his own right, felt he had expressed adequately the consensus of all military reasoning when he appended the following to his report: "The only thing forgotten seems to be that, when firing at the rate of 100 discharges a minute, the flame of 7,500 grains of exploded powder and nearly 7 pounds of lead would pass through a single barrel in that time. The effect during the trial proved that the barrel first grew red and nearly white hot, and large drops of fused metal poured from the muzzle, and the firing had to be discontinued from fear of worse consequences."
Further proof of the existence of a serviceable machine gun during the Civil War is unnecessary. It would be considered a severe test even now to fire a weapon either continuously or in short bursts of sufficient duration to heat thebarrel until molten metal ran from the muzzle end.
As early as 1861, the Ager gun was being considered for service. The gun's reliability, during test, had been proved, and the armed forces were at last interested, but the official records show that no one would request unreservedly its purchase.
President Lincoln, himself, made a direct inquiry about the feelers that were being put out by the Army concerning the possible use of the coffee mill guns, and asked whether the Army actually wanted them or not.
The following exchange of correspondence and memoranda among the President, a representative of the makers of the gun, and General McClellan illustrates clearly the reluctance of the armed service to demand boldly something new—even if the time was desperate and the weapon in question had been proved to be reliable enough for consideration.
Washington, December 12, 1861
"MY DEAR SIR:
"I do not intend to order any more of the 'coffee mill' guns unless upon General McClellan's distinctly indicating in writing that he wishes it done, in which case I will very cheerfully do it. This is very plain: He knows whether the guns will be serviceable; I do not. It avails nothing for him to intimate that he has no objection to my purchasing them. "Yours truly,
"J. D. MILLS, ESQ."
Washington, December 12, 1861
"The President is under the impression, after seeing the copies of your application to the Secretary of War for fifty guns, and the reply of Colonel Scott, Assistant Secretary, that, as it does not expressly say so, perhaps you do not want them, and that, if you say you want them, in writing, he is ready to order them. He has addressed me a note, of which the foregoing is a copy, for the sake of ascertaining from you in
writing the simple fact that you want the guns. Your early reply will give him the desired information, and much oblige.
"Your obedient servant,
"J. D. MILLS
"MAJ. GEN. GEORGE B. MCCLELLAN,
Commander In Chief, United States Army."
"I would recommend that fifty of the 'coffee-mill' guns be purchased, at twenty per cent advance on cost price, which cost may be ascertained by competent Ordnance Officers. I think $1,200 entirely too high.
"GEORGE B. MCCLELLAN
Major General, Commanding."
"December 19, 1861
"Let the fifty guns be ordered on the terms above recommended by General McClellan, and not otherwise.
"July 3, 1862
"If the fifty guns have been made or tendered according to the above recommendation of General McClellan and conditional order of myself, let them be received and paid for.
The extreme caution evinced in these letters was due no doubt to the dismal failure of the 1855 model Colt revolving rifle.
Claxton Firing Mechanism
Of the other firing mechanisms that appeared soon after the stimulus of war, the most notable was the Claxton. This weapon consisted of two rifle barrels placed side by side on a framework in such a manner that the pair of the barrels were always in alignment with the two sliding breech mechanisms. This temporarily formed a double-barrel breech-loading rifle that operated by the manipulation of a pump handle located between the two breech actions.
The handle was worked by one man, while another fed the cartridges by hand into a short magazine feeder. Rapidity of fire was governed by the physical ability of the soldier to work the handle to and fro.
The gun could be mounted on a carriage somewhat like the Ager, and with the same kind of shield arrangement to protect the operator. This device was of ingenious construction in that it gave full protection to the gunner and still allowed freedom of action in operating and servicing the weapon.
The various officers and military representatives who attended the tests and demonstrations, conducted by the producers of the Claxton weapon, were not impressed by its performance. According to the general opinion, it was of too frail a construction. The manual feeding was far from positive and had a tendency towards an erratic rate of fire. The whole procedure was slowed until 80 rounds a minute was considered maximum.
The weapon was invented by F. S. Claxton, son of Alexander Claxton, a well-known American naval officer. After the weapon failed to receive the interest expected, young Claxton took his invention to France and introduced it to the French service. The same weakness in construction was noted in France. It was later taken to England and manufactured by the Guthrie & Lee Explosive Arms Co., and is sometimes erroneously known as the Guthrie and Lee. Records of its actual use are very limited. However, its mechanism was revised by a Scandinavian engineer and after much refinement was popularized two decades later as an original European design.
Claxton Machine Gun, Cal. .69.
Machine Guns Used by the Confederacy
Williams Machine Gun
To Capt. D. R. Williams, C. S. A., of Covington, Ky., goes the distinction of inventing the first machine gun to be used successfully in battle. This weapon, a 1-pounder, with a bore of 1.57 inches and a barrel 4 feet in length, was mounted on a mountain-howitzer-style limber and drawn between shafts by a horse. It was adopted by the Bureau of Ordnance, C.S.A., at the very beginning of the Civil War, and looked upon as a secret weapon.
The firing mechanism was operated by a hand crank located on the right side. When rotated clockwise, an eccentric actuated by the crank alternately retracted and pushed forward the breech lock, which was so arranged that the striker was released simultaneously with the locking of the piece. The weapon used a self-consuming paper cartridge. The latter was dropped by hand into position to be fed by the reciprocating breech lock into its loading recess. The mechanism was so arranged that, when the cartridge was fired, the shock of the explosion was taken by the shaft on which the breech lock moves by the partial revolution of an eccentric. This transferred the force of the discharge from the breech lock to the shaft.
The rate of fire was 65 shots per minute and by actual test in battle the mechanism proved very reliable. The only trouble encountered was that after prolonged firing the breech would expand from the heat. A resulting failure to lock securely would take place until the barrel had cooled enough to permit the bolt to go fully into battery. A report was made on this type of malfunction by Capt. T. M. Freeman, C.S.A., Houston, Tex., of Giltner's Brigade. This officer commanded a battery of six of these weapons.
The extreme range of the Williams gun was set at 2,000 yards and, when several were operating at one time, unheard of fire power for this era was attained. The most effective official use was its initial test in battle when on 3 May 1862, at the battle of the Seven Pines, Va., under the direction of the inventor, a battery of the weapons opened fire on the Union forces with telling effect. This battery was attached to Pickett's
Williams Smooth Bore Machine Gun, Cal. 1.56.
Brigade. Later, when some Union officers were captured by the same Confederate forces, their first inquiry was concerning the strange rapid-firing guns used on them at Seven Pines. It clearly made a great impression on the Northern troops.
These weapons were used by the Confederacy all through the Civil War with a great deal of success, as attested by the written reports of various officers and men of the Union army that met this innovation in warfare. One of the most graphic descriptions was given by Capt. T. T. Allen of the Seventh Ohio Cavalry, who in his writings expressed amazement at the rapidity of fire and devastation wrought by the guns in the Battle of Blue Springs, in east Tennessee, 10 October 1863.
Two batteries of six guns each were constructed at Lynchburg, Va., and four batteries at Richmond, Va., by the Tredegor Iron Works, and one battery at Mobile, Ala. Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner, C.S.A., placed those made at Mobile into the artillery branch of the army under his command. One of these guns, with all accessories, was captured by the Union army at Danville, Va., in April 1865 and sent to the West Point Museum as a trophy of war. The unique gas check on this weapon was later adapted to the first breech-loading field piece adopted by the United States Army.
Vandenberg Volley Gun
The Vandenberg volley gun, manufactured in England, was a weapon of questionable value. It was the invention of an American, Gen. O. Vandenberg, who tried to market his weapon in Britain. He delivered a lecture on 9 May 1862, which was published in the Journal of the Royal United Service Institution (British). In his address he discussed his "new system of artillery, for projecting a group or cluster of shot."
The Vandenberg gun closely resembled an earlier Belgian weapon. However, when made
Vandenberg Volley Gun, Cal. .50. 85-Barrel Model Used by the Confederates.
in caliber .45 using a 530-grain lead bullet, many authorities of that day considered it superior to the continental model. Depending on the size of the projectile for which it was designed, the gun had from 85 to 451 barrels. The breech was removable, and was positioned fore and aft by a screw; it was guided into place by a key-way, which, when fitted, brought the holes in the breech end in alignment with those in the stationary barrels.
In order to overcome the escape of gas and smoke at the point where the breech end joined the barrels, the forward end of each chamber was counterbored, and a short copper sleeve, cone-shaped, was placed ahead of the bullet. Upon forcing the breech in place by the screw leverage, the copper piece was crushed into position to form a gas-tight seal or gasket.
The method of ignition was unique in that the center charge was fired by percussion and ignited the whole volley simultaneously. However, by plugging off the vents, or ignition galleries, in advance, the discharge of the piece could be regulated to fire by sections of one-sixth, one-third, or one-half of the group. The other sections remained charged, ready to be fired by inserting a new percussion cap, and opening the formerly plugged orifices.
General Vandenberg also made a loading machine for facilitating the charging of the many chambers in the breech. The device, when placed on dowels, was in proper position over the holes in the chambers. By manipulating a lever, measured charges of powder were dropped simultaneously into every chamber. This mechanism could be removed quickly, to be replaced by another containing lead balls. When properly positioned, the latter dropped the bullets into place. A ramming device was then put on, and all charges were compressed at once by the action of a lever on the loading plungers.
It can readily be seen how by three operations all chambers could be loaded in a relatively short time. An elongated lead ball was used that was
Vandenberg Volley Gun. A Loading Tool Was Supplied with the Weapon that Loaded all Chambers Simultaneously.
.010 inch larger than bore size. The resulting pressure, as it started to engage the rifling, was sullicient to compress the soft lead enough to seal off any gas leakage that might otherwise have resulted.
A test of this weapon in a 91-barrel version showed that it could place nine-tenths of the volley in a target 6 feet square at 100 yards. The British showed an interest in its shipboard use against enemy personnel but, because of its terrific weight, it had little future as a land weapon.
General Vandenberg, at the outbreak of the Civil War, made many attempts to sell the arm to the United States Government. He even went so far as to offer to ship the gun from England for experimentation, free of charge.
When no interest was shown, he wrote a letter on 18 February 1864 to Brig. Gen. George D. Ramsey, Chief of Army Ordnance. In it he stated that he would either send or bring three of his guns to this country, and present them to the President, or the Secretary of War, as an "offering to our country and government."
The three guns were later shipped. Upon arrival they were tested with little delay by Captain Benton, United States Army Ordnance. After a very comprehensive test, he reported that they were not acceptable for Government service. Many improvements would have to be made before they could even be considered for further testing.
Captain Benton, being a very thorough man, decided, after testing the weapon, to clean it, keeping account of the time required to do so. He found it took 9 hours for one man to clean the bore and chambers of the weapon adequately. This maintenance problem, alone, made its usefulness doubtful in the field.
At this stage, General Vandenberg, perturbed over what he termed a "purely negative attitude" with regard to his artillery, requested that the Government either put the guns in order and further test them, or make payment in full. The Government, after much correspondence, put the weapons in the same condition as received and returned them to him.
The use of several of the guns in the South demonstrates that the Confederate forces did not concur in Captain Benton's views on the subject. However, on these Southern weapons the name of the British firm, Robinson and Cottam, is stamped. Undoubtedly, General Vandenberg was "too patriotic" to allow them to be sold to the South marked with his name.
There is a record of one being used in the defense of Petersburg, Va. Another was purchased by Gov. Zebulon B. Vance of North Carolina, and called by his skeptical constituents "Vance's folly." Later this weapon was captured by a
Confederate Revolving Cannon.
Union cavalry unit under Maj. Gen. George Stoneman at Salisbury, N. C., in April 1865.
The Confederacy also developed a 2-inch bore 5-shot machine gun during the war. It was used in the siege of Petersburg, Va., and was later captured on 27 April 1865, at Danville, Va., by Union troops and sent to the Ordnance Laboratory, United States Military Academy, West Point, N. Y.
The weapon uses the principle of the service revolver whereby rotation of the cylinder indexes a loaded chamber with the breech end of the barrel. It is held in alignment by a spring-loaded dog slipping into a recess in the cylinder. To cut gas leakage to a minimum, a screw arrangement at the rear jacks the cylinder forward after positioning until a tight joint is effected between the front of the chamber in the cylinder and the breech end of the barrel.
The chambers are ignited by use of a percussion cap on a nipple. The cap is struck by a huge spring-actuated striker built into the flat strip that supports the chambers at their aft end. The cylinder is moved one-fifth of a revolution and lined up for firing by the moving of a lever from left to right. The lever is attached to a ratchet arrangement, the distance moved being regulated by its mounting in the frame in such a manner as to control the revolving of the cylinder. The lever, when brought to the left as far as possible and swung to the right as much as the frame will permit, turns the cylinder one-fifth of a revolution and indexes the loaded chamber.
While its use at this time showed the serious effort of the Confederacy to develop a weapon capable of sustained fire, this bit of experimentation added nothing but a bit of colorful history. All the principles involved were as old as the use of gunpowder in warfare.
Gorgas Machine Gun
Another machine gun, under construction by the Southern forces, was the invention of their Chief of Ordnance, Maj. Gen. Josiah Gorgas, C.S.A., (1818-83). It was a single-barrel, cast-iron, smooth-bore affair, caliber 1.25 inches.
Gorgas Machine Gun, Cal. 1.25.
The barrel is fastened by an eye and wedge key to a heavy cast-iron horizontal plate. This plate extends under part of the barrel, is circular in rear of the barrel and has an extension to the rear; the rear part contains gearing which is operated by a hand lever. This gearing rotates a horizontal ring contained in the circular portion of the horizontal plate. There are 18 copper-lined muzzle loading chambers on the outside circumference of the ring, and 18 corresponding percussion cap nipples on the inner circumference. Under these nipples and on the ring are the same number of cams; these cams act successively on a lever which withdraws a hammer and compresses a firing spring when the ring is rotated from left to right. The hammer is released as it reaches the end of the cam. The trunnion piece is pivoted underneath the front of the horizontal plate. A lever and loading piston, on the right of the barrel and attached to the horizontal plate, rams home the charges in succession as the ring is rotated and the chambers are seated behind the barrel. The gun is mounted on a pivot that allows it to be moved in azimuth.
General Gorgas was born in Dauphin County, Pa., was a West Point graduate, class of 1841, and an outstanding artilleryman during the Mexican War; he resigned his commission in 1861 and was made Chief of Ordnance of the Confederacy. His own version of a machine gun was not perfected in time to be tested in battle. However, his tactical use of the light and mobile smooth bore cannon, using canister or grapeshot, somewhat in the form of an oversized shotgun, was employed with deadly effect against personnel. It showed the lethal results of concentrated fire and the need for controlling dispersion. This, no doubt, made foreign observers take an interest in any weapon that might come in this category.
Gatling Machine Gun
The Model 1862 Gun
The North was deprived of a great ordnance officer when Major General Gorgas joined the Confederacy, but this loss was more than offset when Richard Jordan Gatling moved to the North in 1844, hoping to manufacture and market several of his mechanical inventions.
Gatling was born in Hertford County, N. C, on 12 September 1818. His parents were Mary Barnes and Jordan Gatling, both descended from English colonists in North Carolina. His father, while still a young man, had invented a machine for planting cotton and another for thinning the plants to a stand. Richard Jordan Gatling assisted in the construction of these mechanical aids and, in his own name, patented a rice planter. The younger Gatling, believing that the prospects of a northern market were more profitable, adapted his rice planter to other grain, and moved to various cities in Missouri, Ohio, and Indiana.
In 1847-48, he studied medicine at Laporte, Ind. The following year he entered Ohio Medical College from which he received a degree. While he was ever afterwards known as Dr. Gatling, there is no record of his ever practicing medicine. It is claimed that he studied only to protect his family from the ravages of the smallpox epidemics which were regularly sweeping the country.
Purportedly at a suggestion by Col. R. A. Maxwell that a special objectives weapon was needed, Gatling drew up plans for a machine gun. Conceived in 1861 and patented in 1862, it was designed to defend buildings, causeways, and bridges. The first model was only a crude forerunner of the gun he soon perfected, the prototype of one of the most remarkable firing mechanisms of all ordnance history—the Gatling gun.
The weapon was the logical outgrowth of the trends portrayed in the Ager and Ripley guns.
Gatling combined the best principles of both and overcame their most objectionable features. His successful results caused him to be credited generally with being the father of the machine gun.
The 1862 Gatling guns, types I and II, were fundamentally the Ager principle, improved by the multibarrel arrangement of the Ripley gun. In these models the engineering difficulties had not been completely overcome. However, his first gun laid the basic design groundwork. It was crank-operated with six revolving barrels, having a bolt for each barrel. Cocking and firing were performed by cam action and the weapon was gear driven. By taking advantage of the machine tool progress, he was the first to have used successfully a method of camming to insure positive action and certainty of fire.
This model had many of the bad features of its forerunner, the Ager. It used paper cartridges and steel chargers that acted as firing chambers. The chargers were primed with percussion caps on nipples and the bolts acted as strikers to fire the caps. The chargers were supported during combustion by a cylindrical piece that housed the striker. A hopper gravity feed similar to that of the Ager was also used.
As early as 1862 enough progress had been made on the weapon that a model, actually in working order, was exhibited before thousands of people in Indianapolis. One of the most interested spectators was the Hon. O. P. Morton, Governor of Indiana. This gentleman wrote to P. H. Watson, then Assistant Secretary of War, advising him of the weapon's unusual performance. He suggested that Dr. Gatling's gun be permitted officially to prove its worth.
With this encouragement, Gatling continued to perfect his prototype until he deemed it reliable enough to pass any government test. Financial backers were sought in order to produce the weapon in sufficient quantities should
A Section View Showing the Action of Gatling's First Model Gun.
the armed services become interested. With all the capital he could muster, Gatling went to Cincinnati, Ohio. There Miles Greenwood & Co. contracted to make six weapons in accordance with his patent of 4 November 1862.
Unfortunately for Gatling, this factory, together with the weapons then near completion, blueprints and patterns, was destroyed by fire. The inventor was subjected to a heavy loss, both in money and in irreplaceable pilot models used in constructing these first weapons.
But he was not easily discouraged. After a very short interval he was again in business, now backed by McWhinny, Rindge & Co., also of Cincinnati. This time 12 guns of the 1862 model were manufactured.
Constantly seeking perfection, Gatling made several basic construction changes soon after the guns left the factory. For instance, the prototype and the November 1862 weapons employed a steel container with a percussion cap on the end and paper cartridges for the charge. Soon after the guns were completed by McWhinny, Rindge & Co., Gatling decided to use copper in place of paper in the cartridge cases. These metal cartridges were rim fire, which necessitated the placing of two projections on the bolt head to strike the rim-fire primer. The striker served both as firing pin and as a hammer while eliminating the use of the percussion cap on a nipple. In view of these modifications the gun can be classified correctly as type II of the 1862 model.
Results were so successful that, while the inventor retained the steel chambers on this model, he always used metal cartridges thereafter.
The copper-cased rim-fire ammunition was a definite step forward. It made the 1862 model Gatling easier to load and more certain to fire. However, it did not overcome the one difficulty that plagues all revolver-type firearms: the excessive gas leakage that takes place between the forward end of the cylinder and the breech end of the barrel.
Gatling tried to solve this in both of his 1862 types by using a fixed steel cam, so placed as to wedge the chargers tightly against the barrel at the moment of firing. This arrangement was not too efficient. It made the crank hard to turn and caused excessive wear on the parts involved. To some extent this galling action could be compensated for by an adjusting screw that controlled the fore and aft position of the cartridge container.
Both types of the 1862 model were made with six barrels and in rifle caliber .58 only. One of the oddest things about the design of the guns was a tapered bore, which was used to overcome mismatch of the barrels with the steel chargers in the cylindrical carrier. However, this proved very unsatisfactory. Recovered projectiles often showed no engraving marks of the rifling and generally struck the target sideways. An attempt was made to remedy this by increasing the taper and reducing the bore at the muzzle.
Tests and Demonstrations
Dr. Gatling and Mr. Rindge, one of his partners, demonstrated the gun themselves. They made no attempt to conceal the characteristics or construction of the weapon, but published fully illustrated accounts of its design and performance. These eventually found their way to all parts of the world, and aroused foreign inquiry. Nevertheless, our military authorities did not consider the invention especially desirable.
On one of his numerous trips to Washington to interest the Army, Gatling called on Brig. Gen. J. W. Ripley, Chief of Ordnance, and asked that the weapon be given tests with a view of adopting it. General Ripley refused point blank to take the gun under consideration; no doubt he was influenced by confidential reports on the inventor's southern sympathies as much as by any other factor.
A few days later, one of Gatling's representatives met Gen. Benjamin F. Butler in Baltimore, and asked permission to demonstrate the weapon. At the same time he neglected to mention General Ripley's refusal to become interested. Butler was enthusiastic over the resulting exhibition. He immediately purchased 12 guns, paying $12,000 for the weapons, on carriages, complete with 12,000 rounds of ammunition, and personally directed their use in battle during the siege of Petersburg, Va.
Gatling was not the kind to hide his light under a bushel. Ever the opportunist, he had written to Maj. R. Maldon of the French Royal Artillery as early as 29 October 1863, suggesting the devastating possibilities of his gun in warfare, and enclosing a full and accurate description of the weapon. He proposed that should the major think it ethical, this might be the appropriate time to show the description and drawings to the Emperor Napoleon III.
Gatling did not have to wait long for a reply. A request, in the name of the French Government, promptly came making specific inquiry on test reports, type of ammunition, the kind considered best for field conditions, proof of reliability, and the possibility of obtaining one of the weapons with ammunition for conducting a conclusive test.
It is of particular interest that the text of the letter showed the keen awareness of the French Government toward this gun. Its observers during the Civil War, knowing the effectiveness of grapeshot fired from cannon against personnel, had recognized the need for an even more efficient weapon. Undoubtedly they had already dispatched information concerning the Gatling gun to their own ordnance department, and discussed the possibilities of its deadly use in European warfare.
To the French inquiry, Gatling promptly responded by sending all the data requested, including published endorsements from high ranking military and civilian persons who maintained that the weapon was revolutionary and the most destructive engine of war ever invented. He likewise informed the French that he would not sell them one gun, as requested; but he could deliver them a hundred if needed, as he was now in a position to manufacture them in a reasonable length of time. This proposition was declined—fortunately; since the United States Government, shortly thereafter, forbade the exporting of arms and munitions of war.
Gatling's correspondence with the French authorities definitely proves that his gun was known to the French high command as early as October 1863.
This occurred considerably before Napoleon III ordered Commandant de Reffye, the leading French ordnance engineer, to produce a weapon that would actually do what records of tests and statements of individuals claimed was possible for the Gatling. It is conclusive proof that Gatling had a reliable and practical weapon for military use, long before any similar gun of European origin was beyond the blueprint stage.
With the hope of getting the necessary Union authorities interested in the matter, Gatling wrote President Lincoln, and pointed out that his deadly invention was an act of Providence for suppressing the rebellion in short order.
This brings to light a peculiar thing about the personality of this extraordinary man. At the same time he was describing his gun as the tool of Providence to help the North defeat the South, Army authorities were investigating his personal life. Henry B. Carrington, commanding general of the District of Indiana, reported that Gatling belonged to the Order of American
Knights, a group of Confederate sympathizers busily engaged in aiding the Southern cause by acts of sabotage; and described Dr. Gatling, "inventor of the gun so named," and the jailer of Louisville, Ky., as the most active and dangerous of the entire organization. Furthermore, he reported that at Louisville a Federal supply boat had been recently burned by them.
Having been born in North Carolina, Gatling's loyalties were naturally assumed to be with the South. This is believed to have influenced the location of his place of manufacture in Cincinnati, on the opposite side of the Ohio River from the South. Should he have gotten into quantity production, it would be a strategic position for selling his product to both the North and the South. He could either have delivered guns, or let them be seized in his shop by a quick Southern raid.
Whatever his incentive was for locating in Cincinnati, nothing materialized. Gatling did not receive from the armed services of either side the recognition he expected. Therefore his production was meager. However, during this period his gun was given an official trial at the Washington Navy Yard and was successful enough for Admiral Dahlgren to approve the weapon's adoption by any fleet or squadron commander who requisitioned it.
The Model 1865 Gatling
As bad features appeared during tests, Gatling observed them and a short time later made corrections. In the autumn of 1864 he made his first attempt to prepare changes that would correct the parts causing malfunctions, so common to all prototype or first model weapons.
With the completion of what he thought was the solution, Gatling ended his partnership with McWhinny, Rindge & Co., of Cincinnati, and contracted with the Cooper Fire Arms Manufacturing Co. of Frankford (Philadelphia), Pa., for the production of the improved gun. James Maslin Cooper already had an outstanding reputation for precision-built weapons. Therefore, the Gatling guns made under this contract between 1865 and 1866 were a marked improvement over the earlier models.
Incorporated in these later guns were all the things thought necessary to correct the objection able features of the previous design. Gatling ended the gas leakage problem by redesigning the weapon, and combining the cartridge chamber with the barrel; which, in effect, resulted in a breech-loading musket barrel, chambered to receive the metallic cartridge. At the same time he introduced reciprocating motion to a bolt of new design. While this piece revolved with the barrels, a fixed helical cam imparted a shuttle movement that performed the functions of loading, firing, extracting, and ejecting.
Since the cartridge was placed in the chamber of the barrel, a method of extraction had to be put into the gun. This was done by adding a spring leaf attachment on the side of the bolt. When the bolt was in battery, the notched lip of the extractor cammed itself over the rim of the cartridge in order to pull the empty case rearward immediately after it was fired.
This modified Gatling design used the caliber .58 with a rim-fire copper cartridge case, having a powder charge of 54 grains, and a Minié bullet of 566 grains. It had six barrels, as did the earlier models. However, this gun design resulted in the excellent piece that was so universally accepted.
The operation of the weapon is very simple. One man installs a loaded feeder while the operator aims the gun and turns the crank. A set of beveled gears revolves the main shaft, carrying with it the bolt cylinder, carrier, barrels, and bolts. As the barrels rotate, the cartridges, one by one, drop into the grooves of the carrier from the feed. Instantly the bolt, by its engagement in the spiral cam surfaces, moves forward pushing the incoming round into the chamber. On the continued forward movement of the bolt, the spring is fully compressed by the cocking lug of the striker reaching the highest projection on the cam. Upon being released at this point, the spring drives the striker forward into the primer, firing the cartridge.
As the rotation continues, the bolt starts rearward. The extractor hooks loosen the empty case, and carry it to a point where its base hits the ejector, knocking the empty brass through an opening in the housing, clear of the mechanism.
Each barrel is discharged in turn as it reaches the lower right hand position, the cycle of operation of any single bolt and barrel assembly
being completed in one revolution. The firing continues as long as the crank is turned and the feeder remains loaded.
One of these weapons was finished in late December 1864. One month later it was sent to Washington and submitted by the Gatling representative, Gen. John Lowe, to the Army Ordnance Department for test.
A trial was ordered and carried out satisfactorily within a month. The improvements made by Gatling were hailed as a great success. The fact that it had completely overcome all gas leakage at the breech was accepted as the greatest accomplishment of all. After these tests he was granted a patent on the changes (9 May f 865).
General Dyer, the new Chief of Army Ordnance, suggested that additional guns be designed in 1-inch caliber. These were to use either a solid lead ball, or a ball and buckshot load for close shooting—such as might be needed for street fighting and bridge protection. If the design changes could be accomplished, Dyer agreed to order Government trials at the Frankford Arsenal at Philadelphia where machinery would be especially constructed to make the 1-inch rim-fire cartridges. It was decided to build eight such weapons and Gatling personally supervised their construction at the Cooper plant.
When these weapons were completed, they were turned over to Col. S. V. Benét, officer in charge of the Frankford Arsenal. He was to conduct tests for the purpose of improving the ammunition design, since it was very difficult not only to manufacture the conventional rim-fire ammunition, but also to maintain even distribution of mercury fulminate all around the inside of the rim. The latter was necessary to insure positive ignition.
While the weapons were in the hands of Colonel Benét, who later became the Army's Chief of Ordnance with the rank of general, many demonstrations were conducted for high ranking officers. Among those who witnessed a firing in Washington were Generals Grant, Hancock, Dyer, Manadier, and Hagner, as well as other Army and Government officials.
With respect to these various exhibitions, and the expenditure of thousands of rounds of ammunition, Colonel Benét, in a summation that was unique in its brevity, stated: "The gun worked smoothly in all its parts."
Adoption by the United States
The development of this type of weapon divided military men into two schools of thought. One believed that it should be an artillery support; the other considered it a special objectives gun for bridges or street defense. Neither recognized its true mission as an infantry weapon.
Many of the trials included its being fired in competition with howitzers and cannon. In each instance the Gatling placed more bullets in the target than did the artillery if allowed to fire as many bullets as the number of grapeshot fired. On the basis of these results, the gun was officially adopted by the United States Army on 24 August 1866. In 18 months' time the 1-inch weapon had been manufactured, given strenuous tests, and adopted by the Army. An order was placed for 100 guns. Fifty were to have 1-inch caliber. The remainder were to use the service ammunition for the caliber .50 army rifle. These 1-inch and caliber .50 rounds were the outgrowth of experimentation and development by Colonel Benét to produce a successful center-fire cartridge.
While maintaining, as before, his Indianapolis main office, Gatling made another change in manufacturing connections. This time he entered into contract with Colt's Patent Fire Arms Co., Hartford, Conn., to build the 100 guns for delivery in 1867. This business connection proved so satisfactory that as long as the service used the Gatling, it was manufactured by the Colt Co.
To adapt the gun to the improved cartridges of Colonel Benét, Gatling again modified his bolt in order to convert from the caliber .58 rim-fire to the caliber .50 center-fire ammunition. By this improvement he completed in four short years an evolution in design. He divorced the machine gun for all time from the percussion nipple on a steel cartridge container and substituted instead the center-fire brass cartridge. In doing this he developed the kind of bolt assembly used in so-called "modern" machine guns.
Among the guns in this 1866 group were the first deviations from the original six-barrel
Gatling Gun Aboard the USS Alliance.
design. A 10-barrel version was made in both the 1-inch and the caliber .50 dimensions.
With the Civil War over and the arms embargo lifted, the Colt Co. appointed representatives for the purpose of introducing and selling Gatling guns throughout the world. They met in open competition the best that Europe had to offer. In every instance where a properly designed cartridge was used, the Gatling gun out-shot everything else under consideration, and successfully met dispersion trials against artillery loaded with grape.
The United States Navy on 30 May 1868, concluded its trials on both the caliber .50 and the 1-inch guns at the Navy Yard, Washington, D.C. The weapons performed in such a creditable manner that the improved model was recommended to replace the few obsolete caliber .58 rim-fire Gatlings that were on hand. A letter praising the weapon's over-all performance was sent on that day to Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy, apprising him of these facts. The board, appointed by the Navy's Bureau of Ordnance, concluded its report by saying that to its knowledge, the gun tested by them had no superior.
International Acceptance of the Weapon
Shortly after the adoption of the 1865 model Gatling by the armed forces of this country, the weapon was manufactured in Europe by the Messrs. Paget & Co., Vienna, Austria, and the W. G. Armstrong Co., Newcastle-on-Tyne, England. These firms made the guns with 10 barrels, which were chambered to whatever musket cartridge was used by the various governments. Some of the off sizes included a caliber .65 using a solid 3 1/4-ounce bullet, and a caliber .75 with a lead projectile of 4 1/2 ounces. All were 10-barrel guns, the only exception being the 1-inch model which was made in both 6- and 10-barrel sizes.
Some of the European governments, in order to prove certain tactical points, subjected the weapons to most unusual competitive events. For instance, in Carlsbad, Baden, in 1869 there were pitted against the rifle-caliber Gatling, 100 picked infantry soldiers, armed with the celebrated needle gun and trained to fire by volley. The machine gun was to fire the same amount of ammunition as the 100 riflemen at a distance of 800 meters. The results showed that the Gatling put 88 percent of its bullets into the target, while
the soldiers succeeded in scoring only 27 percent hits. Doubtless the difference would have been even greater had the firing taken place during the heat and smoke of battle.
Even after such a show had clearly demonstrated the Gatling gun's superiority as a death-dealing instrument, its general acceptance was not too enthusiastic. The London Times accused the Russian Government of making "undue haste" in adopting this American invention, and ordering a number of guns without even more rigorous trials than had already been conducted.
British distrust of the Gatling at this particular time was due to stubbornness in demanding that all tests be conducted with the famous Boxer cartridge, invented in 1865 by the then Chief of British Ordnance, Colonel Boxer. This was far inferior to American ammunition. The Boxer cartridge case, instead of being made of solid drawn copper, was formed by rolling a thin brass plate around a mandrel, and after soldering, attaching an iron base to it. The bullet had a hollow base with a clay plug. Later, for stability at long range, the clay was replaced with a wooden plug. In 1866 the Boxer cartridge was officially adopted as the standard ammunition of all the English armed forces. The persistence of English authorities in conducting tests of highly efficient manually operated machine guns with this outmoded ammunition led to many failures through no fault of the weapon.
During the first Gatling trials in England, the Boxer cartridge was used. On every burst attempted, the extractor, at some point in the firing, invariably tore the head off the cartridge and left the remaining brass in the chamber to block the incoming round and jam the gun.
At later trials in Vienna, continued malfunction was caused by the use of ill-fitting ammunition. The Gatling gun, which had been advertised as firing 300 to 500 shots a minute, barely succeeded in doing more than 200 a minute.
Gatling Gun, Model 1883, Ten-Barrel, Cal. .45, with Accles Feed Drum.
However, any time reliably constructed ammunition was used, the weapon's performance was equal to, and sometimes beyond, the claims of its promoters.
When the British finally developed cartridges suitable for the Gatling, they ordered a demonstration at Shoeburyness. There they put the gun in competition with everything and anything that could be mustered; all ranges and various sizes of targets, both stationary and moving, were included. It was concluded that the arm in no way matched certain types of field guns, but that no artillery branch of an army would be complete without Gatlings as auxiliary or supporting weapons.
Although almost ignored in the Civil War and practically untested in battle, the Gatling slowly but surely impressed observers of all nations that, when used with suitable ammunition, it was the most reliable firing mechanism yet designed. Its drum-type gravity feed was improved by the invention of a positive cartridge-positioning device by James G. Accles of Hartford, Conn. This corrected a feature in the gun's design that had heretofore limited the angle of fire.
The Gatling Gun Co. sent expert operators to every part of the world. In their enthusiasm to put on a good show, they have been known to set up their guns against the enemy of a prospective customer and repel a charge, just to show its effectiveness as an instrument of annihilation.
After the United States Navy and Army had adopted the Gatling, in 1862 and 1866 respectively, the French successfully used a few in the Franco-Prussian War, while the much publicized rapid-firing weapons of European origin were being proved utter failures. For more than 40 years thereafter, the Gatling was used by practically every major power and influenced world events in no small manner.
The Colt Co.'s greatest feat of salesmanship was in Russia. That government, one of the first foreign powers to adopt the Gatling (1871), sent General Gorloff to Hartford as head of a mission to witness the construction of the weapons, and, if thought advisable, to purchase an additional number. They were to be chambered for the Russian infantry rifle cartridge. Four hundred guns were made and delivered in less than a year, but not until each gun was stamped in Russian with Gorloff's name, since he had supervised their construction. Years later Gatlings were manufactured in Russia's own arsenals, but under the Gorloff name. Finally, when the Russo-Turkish War came, the Russians were fully equipped with Gorloffs. The Turks had the same weapons, but theirs were called Gatlings.
Performance and Improvement During the Nineteenth Century
The endurance of the Gatling gun seems almost phenomenal when judged by modern standards. On 23, 24, and 25 October 1873, at Fort Madison near Annapolis, Md., 100,000 rounds of center-fire caliber .50 ammunition were fired from one gun to test not only the durability of the 1865 model gun, but also the quality of the cartridges. Lt. Comdr. J. D. Marbin supervised these trials under the auspices of Commodore William Nicholson Jeffers, Chief of the Navy Bureau of Ordnance. Excerpts of the official report are given below:
"October 23, 10:33 a. m., commenced firing in the presence of Chief of Bureau of Ordnance and others. Ten drums, each holding 400 cartridges (making 4,000), were fired rapidly, occupying in actual time of firing ten minutes and forty-eight seconds. The firing was then discontinued to witness experimental firing of the 15-inch Navy rifle. The firing of the Gatling gun was resumed in the afternoon, when some 28,000 cartridges were fired. Commenced firing at 8:50 a. m., October 24, the gun having been cleaned.
"One hundred and fifty-nine drums, of 400 cartridges each, making a total of 63,600 cartridges, were fired without stopping to wipe out or clean the barrels. At the close of the firing, which extended over a period of five hours and fifty-seven minutes, although the actual time of firing was less than four hours, the barrels were not foul to any extent; in proof of which a very good target was made at 300 yards range before cleaning the barrels. On the 25th day of October the remainder of the 100,000 cartridges were fired. The working of the gun, throughout this severe trial was eminently satisfactory, no derangements of any importance whatever occurring."
Colt representatives sold the rifle-caliber guns,
with the improved feed, to Egypt, Morocco, China, Japan, and practically all South American countries. However, it remained for Britain to give the gun more world-wide use in its empire building than any other nation had done. It not only adopted the weapon as the first-line machine gun for its army and navy, but manufactured Gatlings under royalty rights from the Colt Co. In fact, the gun was looked on so favorably by English authorities that it paved the way for the long list of American inventors who have since designed machine guns for the British Empire (there being no record of an Englishman designing any that were officially adopted by his own government).
As other gun designers attempted to encroach on Gatling's world market, he boldly stood his ground. An English publication in September 1881 carried the following:
"THE GATLING GUN.
"Recently many articles have appeared in the press claiming superior advantages for . . . other machine guns over the Gatling system. In order to test the question which is the better gun, the undersigned offers to fire his gun (the Gatling) against any other gun on the following wagers, viz:
"First--£100 that the Gatling can fire more shots in a given time, say one minute, than any other gun in the world.
"Second--£100 that the Gatling can give more hits on a target, firing, say one minute, at a range of 800 or 1000 yards, than any other gun.
"The winning party to contribute the wagers won to charitable objects.
"The time and place for the trials to be mutually agreed upon. Trials of the above character will do more to determine the efficiency of the guns than newspaper articles ever so cleverly written.
"(Signed) R. J. Gatling
Of Hartford, Conn., U.S.A."
The English Navy used Gatlings against the Peruvians in 1877, put them ashore against the Zulus in 1879, and at Alexandria in 1882. Historians claim the British Christianized the uncivilized world with the Gatling. In fact, it, more than any other weapon, helped change the odds in their favor during their days of empire building.
The United States, however, was in the midst of peace. There was nothing to warrant the expenditure of ammunition except an occasional Indian uprising, which was suppressed by the regular army. The old-line military men were still not inclined to accept anything as revolutionary as the Gatling. Although it is recorded that each detachment in the field had several of these guns on its allowance list, nothing can be found to show their use in the Indian warfare of the Western plains.
For the purpose of conjecture and discussion, it should be noted that when Gen. George Custer's entire troop was annihilated at Little Big Horn in 1876. his headquarters had on hand four of the 90-pound Gatlings having a rate of fire of 1,000 rounds a minute. These perfected
General Custer, Who Left his Gatlings Behind When He Met Sitting Bull at Little Big Horn.
weapons were designed especially for animal transportation, and could be fired from horseback or from the ground on a tripod mounting. They were chambered for the Army standard caliber .45-70-405 infantry center-fire rifle cartridge. Had General Custer taken with him only one of the four that were available, the phrase "Custer massacre," so well known to every school child, would have had a reverse meaning--as one can hardly visualize a more perfect target for a tripod-mounted machine gun than a band of Indians galloping in a circle.
Conditions remained about the same until the war with Spain in 1898. Then, for the first time, American troops fired a Gatling gun at a foreign enemy. This event might well have never taken place had it not been for the audacity of one man, Capt. John H. ("Gatling Gun") Parker. Having recognized the potentialities of this new kind of weapon, he asked that he be allowed to organize a Gatling unit against the Spaniards at Santiago in Cuba. His immediate superior opposed Parker's plans. However, he carried the request to the commanding officer, Gen. Joe Wheeler, who not only liked the suggestion, but directed Parker to get together the proper men and equipment to operate and maintain the guns.
Parker's effective work against the enemy is a matter of history. As a result of his theories on the employment of the machine gun, the high command of the Army commissioned him to "devise a form of organization for machine guns to be attached to regiments of infantry." For the first time, 36 years after the Gatling was used by General Butler, the Army recognized the value of the weapon in offensive warfare, and gave it a place in future planning.
Machine gun development owes much to Parker, for he organized with great foresight, laying the groundwork of tactical application, and creating in the military a place for future weapons of such a nature. Were it not for Parker, it is quite possible that the Gatling, first-line machine gun at the time of all the major powers in the world, although conceived, developed, and
Gatlings at Baiquiri Just before Starting for the Front in the Spanish-American War.
perfected here, could have been declared obsolete by this country without firing a shot against a foreign foe. The weapon was finally abandoned and its manufacture discontinued in 1911, after surviving its inventor by 8 years.
The 37 years that Gatling lived, following the official adoption of his gun by the United States, were spent as head of the Gatling Gun Co. (a section of Colt's Patent Fire Arms Co., Hartford, Conn.), where he constantly sought to keep the weapon ready to meet changing conditions.
In 1871 Gatling patented his first improvement on the gun, namely, the introduction of a center-fire firing pin. In the next year he was granted a patent on general improvements allowing him to reduce the size and weight of the gun. This patent covered most of the features of his caliber .45 camel gun, so called because it could be easily transported on mules, horses, or camels, and was useful in mountainous desert countries. The gun had 10 barrels, weighed 125 pounds, and fired at a rate of 600 rounds per minute. An automatic traversing mechanism was described, but not claimed in this patent. The patent also shows an alteration in the breech housing to facilitate the use of the drum-type gravity feeder. The feeders came in two sizes, holding 200 and 400 rounds. The heavy guns were equipped with two of the large drums.
In 1873 Gatling patented his automatic traversing mechanism. The same year he began experimenting with a five-barrel model with a direct-drive crank in the rear replacing the side crank with reduction gears.
In 1875 the Springfield Armory issued a pamphlet with field instructions for maintenance and use of the weapon. In this handbook, under the heading Precautions, it was noted that the headspace of the gun was customarily adjusted to the ammunition to be used before being issued to the service. In the event this critical measurement was changed; through use or disassembly, and the weapon started separating brass from excessive headspace, a simple field adjustment could put it back in safe operation. By removing the front cover, and tightening the adjusting screw on the front of the main shaft, headspace could be shortened, allowing a minimum clearance for freedom of action between rotating barrels and breechblock. If a case should rupture during firing, or a block should fail on any barrel, there came as standard equipment with every gun a steel insert that would prevent an attempt to feed the fouled chamber and eliminate jams, while permitting the remaining chambers to function.
The same handbook cautioned the man in the field to limit bursts to 10 minutes, or 4,000 rounds. It had been observed that a burst of this duration was sufficient, by color test, to heat the barrels to a point where ammunition in the feed might be exploded from contact with the hot mechanism.
In 1876 the Gatling gun received the only award for machine guns at the International Exhibition in Philadelphia. The gun shown there was a 5-barrel one using a caliber .45 infantry rifle cartridge. It had a traversing mechanism that, at the choice of the gunner, could either fire at a single target or spread its field of fire automatically over a large lateral area. The weight of this gun was a little over 90 pounds. It fired sustained bursts at 700 rounds per minute and short bursts at 1,000 rounds per minute. At this time the Colt Co. was also making a 10-barrel model with all the improvements of the smaller gun.
By 1880 Gatling was getting fire at a rate of 1,200 rounds per minute from his light gun. Three years later, James G. Accles, an employee of the Gatling firm, patented what has since been known as the Accles feed. This made the weapon even more reliable, and is the grandfather of the drum feed we know today.
In 1886 Gatling developed a new type of gun alloy, composed of steel and aluminum, which was successfully adapted to gun manufacture. In this case, like other inventors of the era, Gatling was forced by popular demand into a field in which he had no business.
About this time Congress granted him $40,000 to develop a method of casting large steel gun barrels in one piece. An 8-inch cannon was made at the Otis Steel Works, Cleveland, Ohio, and taken to Sandy Hook Proving Ground to be test fired. On the first shot, the gun blew up. Gatling called on an astronomer-mathematician, John Stockwell, to explain the accident. This choice was indeed a wise one, because Stockwell's report was such a mass of scientific confusion and improbable probabilities that Gatling was given the
War Department Letter Attesting Capabilities of Gatling Mechanism.
benefit of the doubt, and the whole thing forgotten.
In 1886 L. F. Bruce, also employed by the Colt firm, received three patents on a gravity-type vertical feeder for use with the light model gun. The novel feature of this feeder was that ammunition could be loaded into it just as it came packaged from the factory. To load, the operator removed the top of the box and in one motion could insert all 20 rounds.
Two patents were granted Gatling in 1893 for a flat strip type feed and for a rifle caliber gun with an electric motor built into the rear of the gun casing. The motor could be detached and replaced by a hand crank should no power be available.
By this time the Gatling gun was totally obsolete, because the word "automatic" was now part of the ordnance vocabulary. Gatling, still a man of determination, proved his vision by designing this built-in electric motor drive. The gun was chambered for the smokeless caliber .30-40 Krag-Jorgensen rifle cartridge.
The power-driven weapon in tests was fired at the phenomenal rate of 3,000 rounds per minute. Production of a reliable mechanism capable of this terrific volume of fire placed Gatling's design as far ahead in the power-driven field as his reliable hand-cranked gun had been with respect to the manually operated weapons of 1865.
As a final defiant gesture to the "full automatic" trend, a device was designed in 1895 for eliminating the electric motor and converting Gatling machine guns to automatic. It did not entirely eliminate the hand crank, but depended on it only to sear off the first round. Thereafter, the gun became gas-operated in the following manner: A spring loaded pivoted lever was mounted on the front of the gun housing. Near the muzzle of each barrel there was a gas orifice. Upon firing the initial round, the orifice of the discharged barrel was positioned against the lever. This allowed the gas to bleed through this vent driving the lever down. The lever, upon being returned by its spring, indexed the gun through a ratchet assembly bringing the next barrel into position to be fired. This permitted a constant rate of fire to be obtained by correlating the size of the gas orifice with the spring pressure on the lever arm.
No automatic Gatling, either electric or gas operated, was ever accepted by the armed forces of the Nation. However, the crank-operated guns were rechambered for the latest model cartridges caliber .30-40 and .30/06, and the Colt firm continued to produce them until they were declared obsolete by the United States Army in 1911. James Accles, inventor of the feed, went to England, became associated with Shelldrake Arms Co., of Birmingham, and continued to produce the gun.
Gatling lived to see his weapon progress from loose powder and percussion cap to primed metallic ammunition, from black to smokeless powder, and from hand crank to electric drive and thence to full automatic.
Mitrailleuse Type Weapons
The successful employment by the Confederates of light cannon firing grapeshot caused a wave of inventions to correct the greatest weakness in this method of using artillery. The cannon were smooth bore, and, like fowling pieces, had limited accuracy. The gunner had little or no control over the placement of the individual grapeshot.
The inventors reasoned that if there were 50 balls in a charge or canister, and 30 were wasted in the scatter effect, a concentrated accurate fire, using an equal number of projectiles, would be even more deadly than the already revolutionary tactics of Generals Gorgas and Bragg.
Developmental approach was along two lines, representing separate and distinct schools of thought. One was the volley system, strongly favored by European armies, whereby a number of barrels were grouped in a plane, parallel or in stacks; and could be fired simultaneously and reloaded rapidly. The other viewpoint, strictly American, employed one or more barrels that did not fire simultaneously, but instead developed a high rate of fire from simplicity of action. In lieu of the volley, it fired in rapid succession a veritable stream of bullets.
To impress military authorities and advertise an improved means of delivering the universally used grapeshot, European inventors called their firing mechanisms "mitrailleuse," meaning "grapeshooter," or more literally "grapeshot shooter." By this name they hoped to imply that theirs was a system for controlling the dispersion of grapeshot.
The general principle was not new. It appears to have been invented originally by Captain Fafschamps of the Belgian Army in 1851. His rough prototype and finished mechanical drawings were offered to Joseph Montigny. This noted Belgian engineer and armorer had his factory at Fontaine l'Eveque, and a branch of his gun business at Brussels.
Later, Montigny constructed some guns of this kind for the defense of the Belgian fortifications. In 1867 he persuaded Emperor Napoleon III of France to introduce the improved Fafschamps gun (now bearing Montigny's name) to the military authorities. Napoleon III was so impressed with the gun that he ordered its manufacture under great secrecy by Commandant de Reffye at the arsenal at Meudon. Montigny had been aided by Louis Christophe, another Belgian ordnance engineer, who added some unique features.
The Montigny gun consists of 37 rifled barrels contained in a wrought iron tube. It is loaded by an iron plate bored with 37 matching holes corresponding in position and number to the barrels. A cartridge is inserted in each hole of the loading plate. The firing mechanism is operated by a hand crank, one turn of which in a clockwise direction fires all 37 rounds in less than a second. If the gunner prefers, each barrel may be fired alternately at any speed desired. The average rate of fire by a competent crew has been recorded as 12 bursts, or 444 shots a minute.
When the loading plate is dropped into position, the encased cartridges are alined with their chambers. Grooves formed on the face of the breechblock receive the plate which, upon being dropped into it, is guided by the advance or withdrawal of that piece.
With the cartridges in place, the gunner rotates the loading crank with his left hand. The breechblock advances, pushing the plate forward until the projectiles enter their appropriate barrels. The plate serves as firing chamber. By this act of locking the weapon, the spring-loaded firing pins are brought back to the seared position, ready for firing. As it cannot be cocked until the weapon is securely locked, accidental discharge is impossible. The neck of the cartridge case
extends into the barrel just enough to form a tight seal preventing gas leakage.
The gunner now quits the loading crank and takes his position by the firing crank at the right side of the gun. He can fire all of the barrels by one swift turn, or slowly space each shot as he sees fit. When the last barrel has been discharged, the operator backs off the loading crank, opening the breech. He then reverses the firing crank, returning the sear, and withdraws the empty cases from the barrels by means of the plate, which now performs the function of an extractor--or rather 37 extractors in one. The plate is then lifted from the positioning grooves carrying with it the empty cases, and is replaced by one filled with loaded cartridges ready for repeating the operation.
A clever device on the gun trail enables the ordnance man in charge of loading to clear and reload the plate very rapidly. It consists of a series of pins matched to the holes in the loading plate. The plate is placed over these holes, and by shoving down on a hand or foot lever the empty cases are jacked sufficiently to free them. Fresh cartridges are then put in the empty chambers, and the plate is ready to be returned to the gun. Use of several plates was recommended for each gun to eliminate any loading lag.
The weapon weighs in the neighborhood of 2 tons, with limber and 2,100 rounds of an especially designed Chassepot ammunition. This cartridge, used in the French version, is composed of a heavy paper case with a brass base, a powder charge, conical bullet and center-fire cap filled with mercury fulminate. The case features a cone-shaped collar that holds the bullet more securely in place. A light coating of tallow over the entire cartridge helps preserve the round. The over-all length of this ammunition is 4 11/16 inches. It carries a bullet weighing 776 grains and 185 grains of propellant, topped by a felt wad. The powder is formed into cylindrical pellets.
Commandant de Reffye made some corrections on the working drawings. For this reason the weapon has often been called the de Reffye mitrailleuse. The barrels were reduced in number from 37 to 25, the Medford type rifling was adopted, and the ammunition changed from an ill-designed cartridge to the Chassepot, at the suggestion of Major Fosbery of the British Army.
Montigny Mitrailleuse, a Belgian-Designed Volley Firing Gun.
From the arsenal, where the weapon was being produced with much security, came fantastic stories of France's terrible secret weapon. Only the officers and men who worked on its production were ever allowed to see or handle it. When one was completed, it was moved from the factory to storage under tarpaulins and accompanied by armed guards. This air of mystery gave the French press a field day. Stories appeared regularly, intimating the weapon was capable of doing just about anything desired by the military.
The fantastic: publicity was intended to intimidate their victorious Prussian neighbors, whose surprising military success over Austria, in 1866, had been due in great measure to a new infantry weapon, the bolt-action needle gun, a product of the German inventor, Johann Nikolaus von Dreyse (1798-1868). All Europe suddenly became aware of this rifle, and muzzle-loaders were eliminated, either by substitution of new models or by conversion from muzzle- to breech-loading.
France had attempted to supply her infantry with the Chassepot rifle, her answer in the armament race, but had found it impossible to restock the army quickly enough to prepare for coming trouble. The political events of 1867 foreshadowed the Franco-Prussian conflict. Napoleon III sought desperately to overcome the
De Reffye Mitrailleuse, a 25-Barreled Version as Modified by the French Ordnance Officer.
German arms supremacy. He felt the morale of the French army had been endangered by the achievements of the Prussians with their Zundnadelgewehr (needle gun), and required some strong stimulus to regain prestige. His attention had been called to the Gatling gun, but national pride rebelled at accepting a foreign weapon. However, when he saw the weapon on exhibit at the Paris World's Fair of 1867, he had it withdrawn to Versailles to be tested in his presence. Presumably this weapon embodied Gatling's 1865 improvements, but the French ammunition was of inferior design. The tests were unimpressive; and the Montigny mitrailleuse, already adopted, continued to be ordered as the standard French equipment, 190 being in service at the outbreak of hostilities 3 years later.
The Franco-Prussian War proved the downfall of the weapon. Too many separate operations needed to be done by hand, and in sequence, any one of which, if neglected, would prevent the gun from firing. The firing crank must be reversed after the loading crank has pulled back the breech, otherwise the gun would not sear. The loading crank must then close the breech after the replacement of the loading plate with discharged cases by one filled with complete rounds. Where the Gatling depended on steady rotation of a single crank, its French competitor required constantly changing operations: forward and reverse rotation of two separate cranks, and a pause while the loader removed and replaced the loading plate between each 25 shots. Contemporary foreign writers commented on this complexity and marveled that the French, who usually insisted on simplicity above all else in their guns, should have adopted such a weapon.
If the mitrailleuse had been used against rifle fire, it might have been successful, for it was shooting rifle ammunition and had only a small arms range. However, the military command insisted on matching it against field artillery where it was completely outclassed.
Though the first engagement using mitrailleuse, on 2 August 1870, at Saarbrücken was a mere skirmish, it was glowingly publicized as a devastating victory for the new weapon. Later battles, however, proved disastrous. The open location of these guns made them conspicuous targets, and they were quickly put out of action by Prussian artillery fire.
Apparently the secret weapon had been concealed only from the French. The rest of the world had accurate information about it, and the enemy had profited by devising effective countermeasures. Even during the first battle, with only a few hundred Prussian infantry pitted against a complete French division, the Germans deployed themselves in extended skirmish lines, and offered the worst possible target for machine-gun fire.
At Wissembourg 2 days later, the mitrailleuse was matched against the field guns of the Prussian Eleventh Corps advance guard. The French position at the Chateau of Geisburg was under lire. A battery of mitrailleuse was brought up and positioned on an unprotected knoll. It was immediately spotted by the Prussian artillery. One of its ammunition wagons was blown up by enemy shell fire; and the commanding general, Douay, was mortally wounded, after which the battery was withdrawn.
The army, in spite of these lessons, continued to bring its mitrailleuse into action side by side with field pieces. Naturally, the Krupp guns had little difficulty in destroying them. The Parisian newspapers, however, continued to lull the French with imaginative pictures of the enemy being mowed down by this weapon like grass before a scythe.
Whenever the gun was used as a reinforcement for infantry, it was successful, but these occasions were given little publicity. It had been mounted as a field gun, and was too heavy for the infantry, which insisted on treating it as artillery.
The Chassepot Rifle Cartridge that Was Used in the Mitrailleuse.
Even Major Fosbery, in a contemporary paper, discussed the chances of a duel between a field gun and the French mitrailleuse. He contended that "if both were loaded, and the first shot from the gun failed to smash the mitrailleur, the gun could not be loaded a second time; nor would a horse or a man belonging to it survive the first minute's practice from the weapon opposed to it." However, the major granted this would be a very unusual circumstance, since the field gun could come into action at a distance beyond range of the machine gun.
On 18 August 1870, the first successful use of the Montigny weapons occurred at the Battle of Gravelotte. Here, they were placed with the infantry firing line, and protected by a cluster of trees. The Prussians suffered heavy losses. One battery of these weapons was responsible for the capture of the only field guns lost by the enemy during the entire war. The French did not analyze the victory and profit by its lessons. They did not recognize that success had been due to a difference in tactics.
Machine guns proved of little use to the French. Nearly half of their guns were captured by the Prussians at Sedan. The rest were shut up in the siege of Metz. Colonel de Reffye attempted to increase the supply by operating workshops for their manufacture along the Loire River. In the meantime foreign machine guns were purchased. America supplied Billinghurst's Requa battery and some Gatlings. However, few Frenchmen knew how to operate these weapons.
By January 1871, Gatling guns were successfully defending the plateau of Anvours and the river crossings. A few were also in trenches. Wherever the mitrailleuse machine gun was used from a protected spot and for short ranges, it was successful. In spite of this the French
authorities recognized but one fact: the weapon had been unsuccessful in 9 out of every 10 encounters. They ignored the factors that made the tenth use a success, and were defeated by their own secrecy, for they failed to correlate design and practical tactics.
There was another model, type IV, patented by Montigny and Christophe in 1872 after the French had lost the war. It simplified the locking, and was controlled by means of a jointed lever. This cut in half the time heretofore necessary for securing the breechblock in place, as the toggle joint lock could be opened and closed by two swift movements of the lever. The loading plate was reduced to 11/16-inch thickness in place of the heavier plate that had been drilled practically the entire length of the cartridge. By this time, however, the mitrailleuse was doomed, following its discreditable showing in the war with Prussia. Although 20 years were spent in its development until it appeared on the battlefield, it lasted less than a year before total failure in action gained it the dubious honor of being the shortest-lived rapid-fire weapon to be adopted by a major power. About all it contributed to the development of quick-firing weapons is the name, "mitrailleuse," used to this day by the French when referring to their most modern machine guns.
The Feld (or Feldle) machine gun was also used during the Franco-Prussian War. It was employed by the Germans in the siege of Paris, in the Loire campaign, and at Orleans. It was a mitrailleuse type weapon of the Bavarian Army, but was not considered mechanically reliable. It had 24 barrels mounted in parallel rows, and worked by a crank handle, firing about 300 shots per minute. The extreme range was 1,300 to 1,400 meters. It used Bavarian infantry rifle ammunition. These cartridges were unsatisfactory for the purpose. The gun frequently jammed. The barrels overheated easily, warped permanently in their frame, and had to be replaced. The Feld gun's failure contributed to the general dislike for machine guns which prevailed in the German Army for many years after the war of 1870.
American gunmakers, nevertheless, continued to study the problem of sustained fire. Lacking the European prejudice fostered by the mitrailleuse, they came up with some effective hand-operated machine guns.
Farawell Machine Gun
A machine gun of novel design was originated by Mr. W. B. Farwell of New York City in 1870. This weapon, while quite odd from an operational standpoint, was similar in appearance to the many multibarrel guns that were introduced shortly after the Civil War. It was of very heavy metal construction and had four octagon-shaped barrels chambered for the black powder caliber .45-70 standard infantry rifle cartridge.
The operating mechanism consists primarily of an assembly of gear racks and heavy screw threads. It is actuated by the clockwise rotation of a handle located on the right side of the gun. Each barrel has its own individual bolt, having an upper and a lower rack attached to its rear end, through which the bolts are given a reciprocating motion by segmental pinions. At each revolution of the gear wheel the clutch causes the pin to engage temporarily the drive wheel to which is imparted a partial stoppage in the rotation movement. This pause takes place immediately after firing, thereby providing a time lag in case of a hangfire. The cartridges are led by means of a box located over and to the rear of the chambers. The ammunition container has four double-feed slots, or a set of two for each barrel. A peculiar arrangement called the shutter by the inventor is also incorporated in the feed system. Actuated by the bolt's retracting action, this device permits the dropping of a cartridge in the feed slot only when the bolt is far enough back to allow the positioning of the round for chambering.
When the feeder is loaded and latched on top of the gun, a double row of ammunition sits above the loading recess of each barrel. However, the rounds will not drop until the feeder is moved slightly to the right or left enough to create an opening greater than the over-all width of the case. When the weapon is firing, the shutter merely moves the feed box right and left as the empty loading recesses are opened by the rearward action of the bolt.
The operating mechanism is unusual in design, especially the locking and retraction methods. These novel features employ telescoping tubing both as bolt and breech lock. The inner
Farwell Machine Gun, Cal. .45 (Experimental Model).
tube carries the firing pin assembly and also serves as the final support behind the base of the cartridge when fired. The outer tube has a rotary rather than a longitudinal movement. It is provided internally with a screw thread which when revolved imparts the reciprocating action to the inner tube. The forward advance of the lower tube chambers the round and fires it while its withdrawal rearward extracts and ejects the empty cartridge case. The rate of fire is probably unusually low, since the actuation of the parts is dependent upon the screw thread method for reciprocating motion.
The weapon could be assembled and disassembled readily with all working parts easily removable for inspection or cleaning. The inventor claimed that, while firing, each barrel could be moved so as to give converging or scattered fire. The mounting of the large flat ammunition box made it necessary to incorporate an offset sight. It was the first appearance of a feature that was used extensively in later years. Only one of the guns was ever made. Since there were so many better weapons already in existence, no one could be interested in financing its production.
Hotchkiss Machine Gun
Benjamin Berkley Hotchkiss, born in Water-town, Conn., in 1826, served his apprenticeship and became a master mechanic at the Hartford plant of the Colt's Patent Fire Arms Co. He is credited with helping to design and perfect various models of the world-famous Colt revolver.
As early as 1856 he built a rifled field piece that was purchased by the Mexican Government. In 1860 he submitted to the United States Government an improved system of rifling and a new kind of percussion fuze for projectiles. The latter was adopted and was manufactured in New York City. Hotchkiss was placed in charge of the City Arsenal there during the draft riots of 1860.
Like so many other inventors of this time, Hotchkiss felt that his gun knowledge was not being given the recognition it deserved. Therefore, he went to France in 1867 and demonstrated an improved metallic cartridge case to replace the poorly designed paper ones used in the Chassepot rifle.
The French Government ordered the immediate manufacture of his cartridge case at St. Etienne. Hotchkiss was induced to remain in France, when orders were placed in advance for a machine gun he had in mind. Hotchkiss had a theory that the most efficient use of such a weapon could be obtained by combining the destructive forces of the explosive shell with machine-gun rapidity of fire. In 1871 he had developed his gun, a revolving cannon type, to such a point of perfection that it was hailed as a novel and successful weapon.
Four years later he organized Hotchkiss & Co., with offices in Paris and a manufacturing plant in the neighboring town of St. Denis. It was intended to make, not only the weapon itself, but the mounts and ammunition as well.
Hotchkiss had earned his first reputation in ordnance by designing artillery projectiles and systems of firing. From this background he proceeded to formulate what he considered the best caliber to produce maximum devastation on personnel while the arm remained light enough to be fired with great rapidity.
It is interesting to note that the St. Petersburg Convention in 1868 had specified 450 grams as the minimum weight of a projectile carrying explosives intended for antipersonnel use. This total included the projectile and bursting charge. To be on the safe side, Hotchkiss allowed himself 455 grams minimum. When he arrived at the proper caliber with bursting charge cavity of correct dimensions and a balanced fuzed nose, he had a 37-mm projectile. So accurate were his calculations that, though Hotchkiss originated this dimension, it is still considered absolutely the largest projectile that can be fired with any semblance of machine-gun rapidity.
A pamphlet, prepared by the company in 1874, described the gun, its action and ammunition. The publication was incorrect, however, because improvements had been added to the gun during manufacture. The brochure, by this very fact, indirectly shows the rapid progress made by the factory. Early malfunctions were corrected and a reliable gun was turned out that was able to overcome the official prejudice against repeating weapons dating from the dismal failure of the Montigny mitrailleuse.
The Hotchkiss gun was primarily designed for flank defense. To perfect this feature, a peculiar modification was introduced. Each of the five barrels was rifled with a different pitch. This insured that the weapon, having once been correctly installed and aimed, would never require alteration, but could sweep the target area with a shower of shrapnel, 1,500 lethal fragments being obtained from a 60-round burst.
Although planned as an army gun, the introduction of the torpedo boat gave the Hotchkiss a chance to prove its usefulness to the navy. The appearance in 1877 of the high-speed torpedo
Hotchkiss 37-mm Revolving Cannon Mounted on Ship's Gunwale.
boat as a new weapon of naval warfare created the demand for a new type of gun for naval defense that would combine the highest degree of destructive power, rapidity of fire, quickness of aim, and reliability.
The Gatling had by this time been generally adopted by all the leading navies of the world, but the power of its solid lead projectiles was totally inadequate as a defense against the torpedo boats.
The English Navy felt that a gun of Swedish origin, on which it was conducting trials, would meet the new exigencies if the caliber were increased to an adequate size. However, the British discovered the general arrangement of the weapon was so unwieldy that if its total weight were limited to that of the Hotchkiss revolving cannon, it was necessary to make the projectiles no larger than 1 inch (less than 26 millimeters). This precluded the use of an explosive shell under the terms of the St. Petersburg convention. This clearly illustrates Hotchkiss's foresight and engineering ability, for the Swedish gun was thus eliminated from competition in weight design. As the size of the torpedo boat increased, and its armor plate thickened, the need for the Hotchkiss and its explosive nose fuzed projectile became more apparent.
The French had been taught a bitter lesson in secret weapons by their stupid handling of the production and testing of the mitrailleuse. They were taking no chances with the Hotchkiss, which was making them again a power to be reckoned with. Although the nation was at peace and no immediate war was in prospect, ordnance writers agree that no French machine gun ever
received so thorough an investigation as did the Hotchkiss revolving cannon. Even though the weapon was considered reliable when adopted (and later events verified this conclusion), for 10 years the gun was fired at the French Naval Testing Grounds at Le Havre. During this period every possible point connected with the gun, or its ammunition, was exhaustively studied and reported. When this prolonged trial was finally ended, all the data covering the test were assembled and properly classified.
A mass of information was obtained that enabled the authorities to form a true and exact judgment, not only of the absolute value of the gun itself, but also of the comparative value of all other machine guns that were considered competitors.
Various models were constructed to suit the special requirements for which they were designed. These different types varied in ballistic features, weight, dimensions, and manner in which they were mounted; but the general system of the mechanism was common to all calibers.
Although the Hotchkiss revolving cannon bears a marked resemblance to the Gatling, the design is original throughout and has many peculiar characteristics found only in this gun. For instance, it has intermittent rotation of the barrels without turning the breech mechanism. The barrels remain stationary at the moment of discharge, thus suppressing the centrifugal motion normally imparted to projectiles at the commencement of flight when fired from a continuously rotating barrel. Extracting and initial loading take place simultaneously in other barrels during this pause. Also, the time lag is adequate to handle hang-fires safely. One firing pin and spring for discharging all barrels and a single loading piston give greater simplicity to the mechanism of the Hotchkiss. Therefore all parts could be made sufficiently strong and heavy to withstand the rough usage to which guns are subjected in actual service.
The shock of discharge is received against a massive, immovable breech, which distributes the force evenly to the whole system. This permits the employment of charges and projectiles whose only limits on weight and size are those dictated by the rapidity of fire. As further proof of superb engineering, the weapon is so well designed that it can be completely disassembled and assembled without the aid of tools.
The Hotchkiss revolving cannon is composed of four distinct groups: (a) The barrels, (b) the frame carrying the trunnions and serving as a bearing for the forward end of the central shaft, (c) the breech containing operating parts, and (d) the actuating mechanism.
The five rifled barrels are made of compressed steel, which was thought to be the best metal for their construction. They are rigidly mounted parallel to each other around a central shaft, between two metal discs, and rest in the frame carrying the trunnions. They are rotated and controlled by means of a hand crank placed on the right side of the breech. The loading, firing, and extracting also are controlled by this mechanism.
The frame is composed of two channel-shaped beams carrying the trunnions. The rear end of the frame forms the rest for the breechblock which is carried by and fastened to the two parallel members.
The breech itself is cast steel, massively constructed to receive the impact of firing. Since it is very heavy, it absorbs the greater part of the recoil. The rear portion of the weapon contains the actuating mechanism, all of which is accessible through a latched door.
The mechanism for rotating the barrels and performing the functions of loading, firing, and extracting is composed of a crankshaft carrying a worm which works in a pinwheel on the rotating axis of the barrels. The worm is of irregular design, partially helical, partially circular, and during operation of the weapon it rotates continuously. The helical portion causes the barrel assembly to rotate 72°, from one indexed position to the next. The circular portion locks the barrels at indexed position, during which period there are three simultaneous actions, each in different barrels, loading, firing, and extracting.
A spiral cam, on the side of the worm, cocks and discharges the piece at the proper time by action of a lug on the firing pin bearing against the cam. Rotation of the worm retracts the firing pin against a leaf spring and allows it to fly
Section through Worm Wheel of Hotchkiss Cannon.
Section through Loading Rack of Hotchikiss Cannon.
Section through Drive Shaft of Hotchkiss Cannon.
forward at the right moment to strike the primer and discharge the cartridge.
Loading and extracting are accomplished by an eccentric on the crank shaft that imparts a reciprocal motion to the extractor, which is geared to the loading piston. The rotation imparts an alternating and opposite movement to the two racks, so that while one is being retracted, the other is going forward. Thus, a fired cartridge is extracted from the lower left barrel at the same time a loaded round is placed in the upper left-hand chamber.
The cartridge is not driven home in one complete thrust, but is cammed the last fraction of an inch into position by further rotation of the screw. This completes a gradual introduction of the cartridge into the chamber without shock.
After the case is extracted from the chamber, it strikes against an ejector prong which pushes it out of the extractor and allows it to fall through an opening in the under part of the breech. The extractor does not depend on a spring at any time to retain its hold on the cartridge, the action being made positive by camming.
To obviate the difficulties that existed in other machine-gun systems when the cartridges in the act of loading were piled one upon another, there is used an introduction trough, or feeder, through which the loading piston works. As the piston moves forward to load, a gate rises and isolates the other gravity-fed cartridges from the one in the act of being placed in the chamber. In this manner all jamming of cartridges during rapid firing is prevented by the even spacing of the incoming rounds.
The Hotchkiss gun was new in that it occupied an intermediate position between the light machine gun shooting solid small-caliber bullets and the rapid-fire cannon employing an explosive shell. When mounted correctly, the weapon could easily be operated by one man. However, the average crew was composed of a loader, an operator, and a man on the crank. The operator can control the fire by means of a searing arrangement that permits him to stop the firing even when the man on the crank still continues to rotate the mechanism. The weapon can be fired single shot until the exact range is determined. Then, if rapid fire is desired, feed cases with 10 cartridges each are inserted in the feed trough. In this manner 60 to 80 rounds can be fired. The projectiles were of the type known as shrapnel, containing 24 lead balls, .71 inch in diameter, arranged in 8 tiers of 3 balls each, and having the interstices packed with sawdust. When a rate of 80 rounds a minute is attained, the target area is sprayed with over 2,000 pieces of jagged iron and lead bullets a minute.
The 37-mm cartridge proper consisted of a soldered tube of tin, with one end closed to form a cup. This end was reinforced both within and without by two iron caps, and fastened with three rivets to a wider round iron plate, which formed the true base of the cartridge. This bore the pressure of the gases and afforded a lip for the extractor. The percussion cap was also fixed permanently in the center of this plate. The load was 3½ ounces of powder and had a thick felt wad between it and the projectile. The cartridge case had a total length of 3.66 inches without the projectile. A complete round weighing 2.42 pounds was 6.68 inches long.
The 37-mm gun, when mounted for shipboard use, weighed 1,181 pounds and measured 70 inches over-all. However, there were six models of the crank-operated Hotchkiss made for specific purposes: the light 37-mm for field use; a high velocity 37-mm for flank defense and fortifications; the 37-mm designed for shipboard use only; a 40-mm for fortifications; a 47-mm gun for naval use; and a 57-mm weapon, also for naval use.
The Hotchkiss Co. was a success from the start and enjoyed the confidence of the French authorities, who felt they had the services of the greatest machine-gun designer of the age. The company not only received large governmental orders, but was allowed to export arms to the rest of the world. It normally employed a thousand craftsmen who built and assembled weapons. Long before the revolving cannon had ended its usefulness, Hotchkiss turned his attention to the development of other weapons, and experimented at great lengths with a machine gun to fire a 75-mm projectile that automatically opened and closed a drop breech. The principle was so sound it is used today on the French 75-mm gun.
Hotchkiss 37-mm Revolving Cannon on Naval Deck Mount.
In 1884, the business having outgrown the St. Denis factory, a connection was made with William Armstrong & Co. of England for the manufacture of Hotchkiss guns at the Elswick works. At the height of his fame on 14 February 1885, Hotchkiss died. For a while the company was operated under a trusteeship, but in 1887 the affairs of both companies were placed under the control of the French corporation, and renamed respectively the Société Anonyme des Anciens Etablissements Hotchkiss et Cie. of France and the Hotchkiss Ordnance Co. Ltd. in England. In 1891 the company acquired certain patent rights allowing it to manufacture magazine small arms and automatic machine guns. For this, they built a separate factory outside Paris.
From the establishment of the original company to the building of the new plant to produce automatic guns, the firm built and delivered to the French Navy alone, over 10,000 revolving cannon and 4,000,000 rounds of ammunition. The revolving cannon was used by practically every navy in the world at one time or another, including Germany, England, Holland, Italy,
Denmark, Austria, Russia, Turkey, and the United States.
The inventor's theory of combining rapidity of fire with destructiveness of exploding projectiles was recognized by all nations, and the great company he originated in France carried on his policies until his death. One of the most successful methods of selling a weapon to a foreign power was first to make the gun as good as honest work and engineering skill could produce, then to seek out some person of high rank who could be interested in promoting the weapon. This man's own name was then attached in such a complimentary way that such individuals were sometimes mistakenly credited with inventing the weapon itself.
Hotchkiss contributed much to the development of repeating arms and left conscientious workmen who carried on his progressive ideas after his death. In fact, with the coming of an entirely different trend in machine-gun design, they were prepared to exploit this new principle.
Gardner Machine Gun
Notwithstanding the wide variety of inventions during this era covering all classes of machine guns, few justified the term "improved" which was invariably mentioned at the beginning of each patent claim. One of the noteworthy exceptions was the Gardner machine gun, invented by William Gardner of Toledo, Ohio, who during the Civil War served in the Union Army as a volunteer in an Ohio regiment and rose to the rank of captain. Being unable to finance production of the weapon, he sold American patent rights to the newly formed company of Pratt & Whitney, Hartford, Conn., after an agreement had been reached whereby the inventor would receive a royalty on each gun delivered. This proved to be a wise move on Gardner's part, for Francis Pratt was no novice in gun design. Being a master mechanic and having spent many years in the employ of Colt's Patent Fire Arms Co., Pratt had attained a reputation for being one of the best gun designers in the field.
The original gun, invented in 1874, was built by hand. The prototype was turned over to Pratt & Whitney, who in less than 1 year produced a weapon thought capable of meeting military requirements.
The Gardner gun consisted of two breech-loading barrels placed parallel to each other, an inch and a quarter apart. The barrels were fastened at the breech ends and housed in a single casing. They were loaded, fired, and ejected alternately by one complete revolution of the hand crank.
To facilitate loading, a special wooden block was filled with ammunition, rim end protruding. This insured fast alignment of the base of the round with the slots in the feed guide. These two T slots, machined in a vertical post, dropped the loaded cartridges in correct position for the feed entrance.
To load and fire, one man inserted the rim end of the ammunition projecting from the loading block into the feed guide, then withdrew the box from the rounds. Another turned the crank and aimed the piece. As the cartridges were fed from the guide, they were replenished by the loader. In this manner the weapon could be fired continuously.
At the request of Commodore William N. Jeffers, Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance, a test was held at the United States Navy Yard, Washington, D.C., in November 1875. In this trial the system was greatly commended by the officers who supervised the test. They suggested that Pratt & Whitney be allowed to take the weapon back to the factory in order to perfect the new feed system, invented by E. G. Parkhurst, an engineer of that company. This simple and efficient feed was an arrangement of cammed levers that transferred the cartridge from the feed guide to the perforated plate, and positively positioned the round in place, retaining the empty case until ejected. The method eliminated the unreliable gravity feed for which the weapon was originally designed.
A very unique feature was incorporated in the gun's design. In order to overcome extraction difficulties, a device known as a "shell starter" was used. This arrangement consisted of two crescent-shaped pieces pinned to the receiver that engaged the rim of the discharged round before unlocking was fully accomplished and cammed it free in the chamber. A loose cartridge case was thus left to be removed by the conventional extractors. This method of initial extraction was also a development by Parkhurst, who added many new and improved parts to this already reliable mechanism.
The official report on the working of the Gardner gun mechanism stated that it possessed every quality desirable in a machine gun, namely: lightness, strength, simplicity and durability; all working parts readily accessible; prospects of a
Gardner Machine Gun, Model 1879, Cal. .45.
feed that positively alined the incoming rounds independently for each barrel; and an adaptation for firing each barrel at will. The mechanism worked perfectly and "commends itself to the critical examination and consideration" of the Government.
The weapon had other unusual features, such as a firing pin that was slowly cocked, thereby preventing any sudden impact; and a safety device that allowed ammunition to be run through the weapon without the possibility of discharging the cartridges.
Although General Benét, Chief of Ordnance, was present at the first test at the Navy Yard, the Army showed no inclination to be interested in the Gardner gun, feeling, no doubt, that the Gatling was sufficient for Army needs.
In 1877 additional tests were held to try the new feed system, which was deemed reliable, and to determine the initial velocity, which was measured as 1,280 feet a second.
The weapon used a center-fire metallic-cased caliber .45 infantry rifle cartridge, manufactured by the Union Metallic Cartridge Co. of Bridgeport, Conn.
The barrels are securely screwed into the rear barrel ring, which is pinned fast to the case. The muzzles pass through a similar part called the front barrel ring. The rear ring extends from the back of the housing far enough to contain all
bolts, together with operating crank and safety slop. A swinging cover, hinged at the forward end of the case, is locked firmly in position by a quick opening latch. When the cover is raised, the whole operating mechanism is fully exposed, which permits the hasty clearing of malfunctions. The manually operated hand crank is pinned to the crankshaft which is supported by journal boxes. These boxes are locked into the rear of the case and serve to protect the swinging cover from side thrusts. The body of the crankshaft is circular in construction and has journals, or crank pins, for operating the bolts. These pins are diametrically opposite each other for alternate firing and are eccentric: enough to give the necessary motion to the bolts as they moved to the front and back, performing the functions of loading the live round, and extracting and ejecting the empty cartridge case.
The center portion of the driven side of the bolt is machined to fit the periphery of the driving cam. This is for the purpose of holding the bolt stationary about one-fifth of a revolution of the crank, so that the time lapse after the firing pin falls will be ample security against hang-fires.
Each bolt is so constructed that it resembles the letter U having a horizontal extension which contains the firing pin, firing-pin spring, and extractor. The U part of the bolt, which works under and around the crank pin, is curved at the inner point to correspond with the outer circle of the crank. The purpose of the curved front is to hold the bolt in position at the instant of firing. The firing pin extends from the head of the lock through the firing pin spring and sector sleeve, ending in a flange, for locking it into a sear.
The latter is made in the form of a bell crank,
Section Drawing of Gardner Machine Gun.
pivoted in the center of the bolt. It holds the firing pin securely and prevents it from coming in contact with the primer until purposely released from its position by action of the crank journal after the lock is in battery in its extreme forward position. The cocking device, called the sector, or spring compressor, is hinged in a recess of the bolt and engages by means of gear teeth. This pivoting arm is forced against the safety stop, as the main crank advances. The firing pin is then compressed through the medium of the sector sleeve and held safe from accidental discharge but under tension, until released by the action of the sear.
The face of the bolt now receives the recoil from the charge's explosion, but is backed up by the crankshaft, thus presenting at the time of discharge practically a solid member. Each bolt carries a hook-type extractor which cams itself over the rim of the round as it is seated in the chamber. When the bolt is retracted, the extractor pulls the empty cases from the receiver. It also performs a double function of preventing cartridges from falling through the perforated plate, as they are mechanically forced down through a kind of feed valve.
This valve is operated off the feed-plate lever, attached to the hinged cover and actuated by the motion of the locks. It utilizes about one-eighth the stroke of the crank in its forward motion. The valve is thus given sufficient time to hold both cartridge and empty case down in position while one is loaded and the other ejected. The valve, which is also fastened to the hinged cover, has a reciprocating movement across the perforated plate, containing two angular openings the size and shape of the cartridges. The centers of the openings are equidistant from the center line of the chambers of the barrels.
After a cartridge has dropped one-half its
Section Drawing of Gardner Feed Action Showing Method of Indexing Cartridges for Loading.
diameter into the valve, it is forced by the action of the latter into position for loading, and held positively against the cartridge support. As the valve is moved back into its original position, the cartridge is cammed downward into the slot in the plate. At the same time it cuts off the incoming rounds in the feed system, and prevents their obstructing the progress of the one being chambered.
The upper end of the Gardner's feed guide has a trumpet-shaped mouth to facilitate the entrance of the rimmed cartridge heads. The lower end has a stop which holds the remaining ammunition in the guide whenever the latter is lifted out of its supporting cover.
The safety is an oblong block with two positions. It has an angular face against which the projections of the cocking device in the locks may engage when they are moved forward by the operation of the crank. The block is held in position by two links, which are moved by an arm pinned fast to a shaft passing through the rear of the receiver. The stop is fastened to the outer end of the shaft. This arrangement is constructed in the form of a crank having a stop spindle placed in the handle.
Behind the shoulder a spring is located that forces the spindle out of the arm into either of two stop holes, upper and lower. When the spindle is in the upper hole, the arm is in line with the barrels and the safety stop is thrown in contact with the cocking arm, by which the firing-pin springs are compressed. This makes the weapon safe, although in a cocked position. However, with the spindle in the lower hole the safety stop places the cocking arrangement out of gear, making it possible to turn the operating crank without compressing the firing-pin springs. As a result the operator may crank live ammunition through the weapon with perfect safety.
When worked in conjunction with the feed valve, which can be made to block the remaining ammunition in the feeder, the loaded rounds can be removed from the chambers. Yet the feeder will remain fully loaded, ready to be put in action instantly. Thereafter, the crank working the gun can be turned without loading the chambers. The double safety feature of the Gardner gun has many advantages, both for testing and combat, especially when combined with the unique feature of being able to fire the barrels individually or simultaneously.
The barrels can be changed in short order by driving out a lock pin, and then unscrewing, with the use of a wrench, the flats which are machined on the barrels and made accessible by a large opening on top of the barrel jacket near the muzzle end. This feature is very necessary in this type of machine gun, because it uses a black powder cartridge. The arrangement permits a visual check and is an easy way to keep the chambers free from the residue left by this kind of propellant.
All these features were incorporated in the Gardner weapon, test fired to the satisfaction of company officials, and proved successful. Finally, after many delays and much correspondence the Navy again took it under consideration. Commodore Jeffers ordered a final test to be run on the gun, and specified that it be conducted at the Washington Navy Yard range under the supervision of Commander H. L. Howison. The weapon was brought to the Navy Yard by Francis Pratt and Amos Whitney, who not only explained the mechanism and general characteristics, but took turns at the crank operating it during the day set aside for the test, 17 June 1879.
The weapon was first examined by the board and found to be in good condition, with all parts working smoothly. The locks were lightly lubricated with a coating of tallow to keep the black powder residue in a fluid state. At a given signal the test got underway, with Pratt cranking, and a company representative, Mr. Saunders, feeding the gun. A 200-round warm-up burst was fired, and the operating parts were examined and found to be in perfect condition. Then two ammunition boxes were placed on the left side of the gun so that continuous feeding could be accomplished and a 1,000-round burst was fired without incident. Another check then showed that the fouling on the parts was soft because of the tallow, and the barrel cover was quite hot, but not enough to stop the test. Firing was resumed again. When the ammunition was expended from the boxes, a burst of 431 rounds had been fired. The barrels were then found to be moderately fouled. The mechanism was visually inspected and pronounced in good shape. However, the barrels and their cover had
Section of Gardner Bolt Assembly Retracted.
Section of Gardner Bolt Assembly in Battery.
become so hot that in clearing the weapon of cartridges at the end of the burst, it was recorded that "the live round taken from the right barrel was too hot to hold in the hand." (It is clear that no one had ever experienced a "cook off" up to this time.)
It was decided at this point that the gun should be given a burst that would prove the reliability of the weapon. A total of 5,000 rounds were prepared for continuous feeding. It was recorded that the time taken in bringing up the cartridges and putting them in the special feeding block allowed some cooling of the weapon before firing commenced. With 2 men feeding and a third ordnance man helping Whitney on the crank, firing was resumed, and 3,019 rounds were fired without stopping. The weapon then had its first malfunction when the extractor in the right-hand barrel failed to withdraw the empty case.
There was a delay of 1 minute 15 seconds (according to Navy records) before the brass could be removed and firing resumed. Then after a burst of 359 shots the same malfunction occurred. The officer in charge allowed the gun's proprietors to take the lock out and examine the extractor hooks. They appeared in good condition, but when flexed by hand, the right extractor shank appeared not to be as stiff as the left one. The extractor recess and the grooves in the barrel were observed to be moderately fouled,
but they were not cleaned as the test continued. Since each failure occurred with the right ex-tractor, it was evident that the ammunition was not at fault.
On the next attempt 690 rounds were fired and another stoppage occurred. After two more bursts consumed 870 rounds, the ammunition that had been prepared for the 5,000-round test was entirely expended, and firing was concluded for the morning. The total time consumed in the actual firing of 6,631 rounds, not counting the delay for cleaning, was found to be 18 minutes 55 seconds. The five stoppages from failure to act from the right-hand barrel were recorded as taking 5 minutes 34 seconds.
At noon Messrs. Pratt and Whitney were allowed to remove the locks in an attempt to put the right-hand extractor in working order. The hook on this piece was found to be dulled and it was filed by hand to provide more bite into the inside rim of the cartridge. The shank was bent inward a bit to increase spring tension.
When firing was resumed after lunch, the jackets covering the barrels were found to be still too hot to pick up the gun by hand. The afternoon test was to be for the purpose of obtaining the best rate of fire. The company elected to fire a 2,000-round burst, with an average of 380 rounds a minute. Pratt was not satisfied with this performance and, turning the crank himself, fired a short burst of 100 rounds in exactly 11 seconds, or a rate of 545 rounds per minute.
The barrels were so hot by this time that permission was asked and granted to pour water through the bores until they cooled down to a safe operating temperature. The weapon then was moved to the sea wall and the muzzle depressed 29°. With two ordnance men feeding and two assisting on the crank, 430 rounds were run through in a 1-minute burst. With 3 men feeding and a like number on the crank, the remaining ammunition of the 5,000 to be used in the afternoon test were fired, but the rate of fire was not recorded.
No failure to extract took place in the afternoon firing, as the quick fix resorted to by company officials to overcome the malfunction most certainly proved to be the correct diagnosis and cure. The total time for actually firing the 10,000 rounds, again omitting the 5 minutes 35 seconds delay, was 27 minutes 36 seconds.
Mention should be made that Gardner also designed a one-barrel gun, which was bought in limited quantities by the United States Navy.
Unfortunately for Gardner, the firm of Pratt & Whitney, and the United States Government, the armed services had no interest at this time in the further development of machine guns. The services were supplied with the Gatling and even this reliable weapon was seldom, if ever, brought into action against the Indians, whose spasmodic uprisings were the only events that warranted the use of such weapons.
The result was that though the Gardner met successfully every test ordered, nothing was done other than the support given by the Navy, which adopted the weapon and purchased a limited number. Gardner was the first inventor to take into consideration the terrific weight factor involved in the design of hand-transported weapons capable of a high rate of sustained fire. His single-barrel gun weighed only 70 pounds and
Gardner Single Barrel Machine Gun with Cover Open.
its fire power depended solely on how fast the operator could turn the handle. This feature was recognized by the Navy as desirable for mounting in the rigging and for easy handling aloft and by landing parties where weight and bulk were quite critical.
The Army on 15 January and 17 March 1880, ran duplicate trials at Sandy Hook Proving Grounds before a board consisting of Lieut. Cols. S. Crispen and T. G. Baylor and Maj. Clifton Comly. After a successful performance the board stated that the weapon was reliable, simply constructed, light in weight, and easily operated. It recommended that the War Department buy a limited number for actual use in the field service, especially since the cost of the weapon was so much less than that of other machine guns offered to the Government. Despite these recommendations, nothing was ever done officially by the Army to utilize the weapon. By its inaction the United States lost the benefits of one of the best machine-gun designs of all time. For, the British Navy was quick to capitalize on the great contribution Gardner made to weapon development.
Influenced by its successful employment of the reliable Gatling, the British Navy had long respected the engineering ability of American gun designers. The light, inexpensively produced, highly mobile Gardner, to be used in conjunction with the Gatlings, answered some pressing naval problems. Gardner accepted a cordial invitation to visit England and exhibit his weapon. The Admiralty not only adopted the gun after trials proved its worth, but it also purchased manufacturing rights whereby the Government would erect a factory for building the arms, provided the inventor would remain in England to supervise their construction. Gardner agreed, and after terminating his business connections with Pratt & Whitney, he moved to England where he resided until his death.
That the British Admiralty knew what it was after is evidenced by the fact that the army, noting the navy's successful trials of the weapon, also became interested in machine guns. The government was requested to order a selection committee to examine all existing systems of machine guns for the purpose of military adoption. This move was very flattering to the navy's foresight in promoting this gun and proving its extreme serviceability, for the army had
Gardner Machine Gun, Cal. .45. This Weapon Could Be Used Either Water- or Air-Cooled.
heretofore been violently opposed to any form of machine gun.
The British Government granted the request. The committee, on 21 March 1881, reported that, after exhaustive trials of different machine guns on 10 points of comparison, the Gardner had been preferred in 9. It recommended the adoption of the two-barrel gun for all branches of the service where a light weapon could be used and a limber or similar artillery transportation was not required.
The extremely rigorous workout given the weapons under consideration by the committee can be best illustrated by using its own statistics. The Gardner 5-barrel gun fired 16,754 rounds before a failure occurred, which was considerably more than was done by any of the other 8 guns on trial. Then, each of the 5 barrels fired singly 1,500 shots. The total number of malfunctions was 24, or a percentage of 0.14. Several of the jams were at the very beginning of the trial before the gun, which was new, had been perfectly adjusted. In the last 7,500 rounds fired for endurance, there were but 5 stops: 4 failures to extract and 1 cartridge bent in the feeder. Two of these jams were officially credited to accidental dropping of ammunition in the mud by inexperienced loaders. Leaving out these two stoppages, the percentage drops to 0.04, or 4 malfunctions in 10,000 rounds.
As another example of the strenuous demands placed on these guns during this examination, the weapons were left uncleaned and exposed to the weather for a full week before firing was
Robertson Double-Barrel Machine Gun, Cal. .30.
resumed. The 5-barrel Gardner fired without hesitation at the rate of 812 rounds a minute.
The committee unanimously agreed that the Boxer cartridge should be eliminated, or at least perfected, as it gave trouble when tried in the Gardner, as it did in the Gatling tests.
That the Royal Navy adopted this lightweight gun long before its official use by the army is credited to hostile opposition from the Woolwich Headquarters of the Royal Artillery. This branch was prejudiced against machine guns of this type, since the lightweight construction of the weapon removed it from the jurisdiction of this organization. Artillerymen, though tolerating cannon-type machine guns for flank defense, always regarded them as inferior field pieces.
While speaking on the rapid machine gun development of the British Navy, Capt. Charles Beresford in July 1884, in a lecture given before the Royal United Service Institute, stated, "It must be remembered that the navy had had more actual experience in the working of machine guns in the field than any other branch of Her Majesty's Service, as guns for this purpose were supplied to the navy, but not to the army."
The early encouragement to Gardner from the British Government in giving him limited orders for the navy was soon followed by the purchase of large quantities of the weapon for all branches of the service. Its value was proved in Sudan at the battles of El Teb and Tamasi, and with the naval brigades in the Upper Nile in 1884 and 1885. A superior method of mounting was designed by a naval engineer which eliminated the limber system and resulted in a tripod arrangement that was used quite successfully.
Long after the Gardner and other hand-cranked guns had ceased to be considered first-line weapons, due to the method of feed and the employment of black powder cartridges, the British attempted to bring this type of weapon up to a point where it would again be a gun with great possibilities.
The most serious effort along this line was a belt-fed design that used smokeless powder cartridges. It was commonly known in this country as the Robertson, being named for the British engineer who was responsible for the devisement. As the only improvement deserving mention was the belt-feed arrangement, it should rightfully be called the Gardner-Robertson, there being too many features of the earlier gun present not to be given credit.
This hybrid was tested in the United States in competition with other mechanisms and failed so many times during the trial it was withdrawn by its sponsors. Existing records indicate it was never again entered in trials.
Lowell Machine Gun
The next competitor in the field of machine guns was produced in 1875 by the Lowell Manufacturing Co., Lowell, Mass. It was the invention of DeWitt Clinton Farrington. He organized the company at this time, to produce the Lowell weapon, which he contended was more reliable than any known firing mechanism. Many concurred in his opinion and the official tests conducted by the Navy at its Experimental Battery at Annapolis, Md., brought out a number of original and improved features. It most certainly did show Farrington to be a man with the single purpose of producing the best machine gun in existence. It seemed to matter little to him that the Government already had similar weapons whose performance, according to ordnance experts, could not be surpassed.
The Lowell is of unusual design. It has 4 barrels mounted between two supporting discs, arranged to revolve in a circle. The ring at the center of the barrels is provided with trunnions which work in the frame connecting the barrels with the breech mechanism. When in position, the rear ring and enclosed disc lock with the frame. By a fastening and pivoting arrangement, the barrels can be disconnected and the breech end tilted up. This allows the bore to be readily inspected or cleaned and makes it relatively easy to remove any residue, or a stuck case, from the chambers.
One of its most original features is that only the upper barrel is fired. When it becomes overheated, it is rotated out of the way by a lever, and another is locked in place. This change can be made in a matter of seconds, without cutting off the feeder, thus allowing the operator to fire continuously with the assurance of a cool barrel at all times.
The working parts are exceedingly simple, and of rugged construction. It requires only a matter of seconds to inspect or remove them. The two extractors have a unique feature in that they do not depend upon springs, but operate by a positioning cam, forming a solid T slot until the empty case is well loosened from the chamber.
The principal parts of the breech mechanism are the crankshaft and worm for rotating the feed or carrier rolls. There is also the lock which encases the firing pin and spring, and serves as a support for the double extractors. All of this mechanism with the two carrier rolls and shaft is housed in a brass casing, the upper left half of which is hinged. Immediate access to the operating parts is permitted by pressing down on a spring-loaded latch, and then raising the whole side. With the barrels tilted and the housing raised, the entire operating mechanism is exposed for inspection, maintenance, or replacement.
The cam used to force the plunger, or lock, home is so designed that after the lock is in battery, and the round has been fired, it continues to back up the member while the crank rotates. This features allows a time lag to take care of hang-fires which are such a dangerous possibility in the manually operated type of machine gun where rounds are fed in and out of a chamber with great rapidity.
The operating crank of the Lowell gun is located directly to the rear, and made so that it can be turned without interfering with the gunner's vision. Because only the barrel located in the center of the gun fires at a given time, there is no tendency for the recoil to throw off the operator's aim.
The feeder consists of a square iron tube, inserted in a recess directly over the carrier rolls. Extending its whole length on the forward side is a T slot milled slightly in excess of the diameter of the cartridge and its rim. The feeder holds 30 cartridges, and can be removed, if necessary, by loosening a set screw located at its bottom end. The top of the feeder is open and
Lowell Machine Gun on Carriage Mount.
flared to facilitate the introduction of the cartridges into their proper position.
When the rims of loaded rounds are dropped into the grooves, they fall by gravity to the bottom. The original horizontal position is maintained throughout the whole descent. They pass out of the feed case at the bottom, and enter the recess in the carrier rolls in proper position to be chambered by the advancing lock plunger.
In the socket which holds the feeder is an ammunition stop that consists of a spring-loaded pawl. It allows the operator to interrupt the feeding at will merely by pushing the release button in and turning it slightly to the left. The stop plunger snaps forward under the incoming round, and holds it above the recess of the carrier rolls.
The Lowell gun uses the service caliber .50 infantry cartridge with a ball of 450 grains and 70 grains of powder, as developed by General Benét. This ammunition is packed in paper containers so that the rims protrude enough to allow easy insertion in the trumpet-shaped mouth of the feeder.
When the feeder is loaded, the weapon may be put in action by changing the selector from safe to fire and rotating the crank clockwise. As each round is expended, a fresh one drops from the feed guide into the fluted carrier roll. It is moved downward by further rotation of the crank until indexed into position for the plunger lock to shove it forward and chamber the cartridge. As the loading plunger starts toward battery, the firing pin lug is held in contact with the cocking plate, slowly compressing the spring. Upon reaching the locked position, the firing pin rides off the cocking plate cam, causing it to snap forward under spring tension, striking the primer and firing the cartridge.
The continued motion of the propelling cam, after a short dwell to allow for hang fires, starts the plunger lock rearward. During the first fraction of an inch of this travel, the double hooks of the extractors are positively positioned around the rim of the cartridge case forming a solid T slot until the case is fully loosened. Then the extractor claws come out from under the influence of the cam and are left in a position where they offer no resistance while the carrier roll rotates the empty case through the opening in the housing. It would be very difficult to originate a more positive system to extract and eject an empty cartridge case than is found on this weapon.
At the request of the Lowell Manufacturing Co., Commodore William W. Jeffers, Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance, on 30 September 1876, ordered a board to witness an official test of the 1876 model weapon. At 10 a. m. on 3 October 1876, at the Experimental Battery at Annapolis, Md., the board met. Lt. Comdr. A. S. Crowninshield, the officer in charge of the trials, introduced Farrington, who described the weapon in detail, explaining the function of each working part while demonstrating the ease of assembly and disassembly.
To prove the Lowell's simplicity and substantiate the very important claim that trained operating personnel was unnecessary, Farrington asked that someone not engaged in ordnance work fire the Lowell during the entire test. This request was granted. Two unskilled laborers who had never seen the gun before its arrival at Annapolis were selected. They alternated as operator and loader throughout the test. After being shown once how to remove the lock and two carrier rolls, the only parts considered susceptible to derangement or fouling, they were able successfully to assemble and disassemble the weapon when necessary during the trial.
The muzzles were depressed 35° to subject the feed to the maximum vertical angle thought necessary for shipboard use. In this position a burst of 2,100 rounds was fired. The feed system and all other mechanisms worked perfectly. The only delays in this burst were for rotating a cool barrel into position. These changes were deemed necessary approximately every 400 rounds, and averaged 5 seconds each. The 2,100 shots were fired in 8 minutes 30 seconds, including all delays in shifting barrels.
A total of 9,870 rounds were fired during the day, with the laborers manning the weapon. Practically all firing was in bursts averaging 400 rounds. It was noted by the firing officer that when such a burst was fired the barrels were hot enough to char paper, but not to light it. When 600 rounds were fired without stopping, the paper would light upon contact, but the barrels
Lowell Machine Gun with Cover Open and Barrels Depressed for Inspection.
could still be rotated easily with the shifting lever.
Farrington had had trouble in doing this in a previous unofficial test. Therefore, a clearance of 1/64 inch had been made between the breech end of the barrels and their fastenings in the main body of the receiver to compensate for expansion from heating.
Near the end of the day, Farrington asked to be allowed to use a new method of detonating the primer in lieu of the conventional spring-loaded firing pin. He called it a system of firing by pressure. The tip of the firing pin was forced into the primer by a cam arrangement striking a lug on the assembly at the instant the weapon was securely locked. Farrington claimed the lurching forward of this heavy piece crushing the primer would bring about ignition as effectively as the quick snap effect heretofore administered by the spring-loaded firing pin.
An attempt to fire 550 rounds was made using the new method. All but 15 of the primers ignited. Farrington explained to the officers present that the novel principle was really undeveloped. Its discovery had been the result of observation from an unofficial test, when he found he could fire the weapon with the firing pin spring removed.
The Naval board was much impressed by this system of detonating the primer and went so far
as to make drawings of modifications that, in its opinion, would make it more reliable. This bit of observation on Farrington's part, and the helpful suggestions made by Lt. Comdr. Crowninshield and Lt. Edward Very, were the origin of what is known today as inertia firing. It has been basic in machine-gun design ever since.
Several 300-round bursts were checked for rate of fire. The two best rates recorded were one in 50 and the other in 53 seconds. Since the cycle of operation was governed by the operator's strength in rotating the crank, this rate could be increased or decreased at will.
The firing records show only four malfunctions in the total number of rounds expended during the day's firing. Of these, only two hang fires were considered serious by the firing officer. No damage was done in either case to the firing mechanism. One of the hang fires exploded, driving the bullet into the barrel. After an examination showed the weapon could continue firing, the plugged barrel was rotated out of the way with the idea of driving out the bullet at the end of the burst. At the end of firing, however, the barrel was found to have been so hot that the bullet had melted, making removal very difficult.
Inventors of this era were quick to capitalize on even the smallest things. Farrington, therefore, pointed out that no other weapon could so quickly resume firing when a barrel had been hopelessly plugged by the worst malfunction imaginable--a shell going off when the weapon was unlocked, leaving a bullet in the barrel. The total time involved after the accident until firing was resumed was recorded by the observers as being 40 seconds.
The rate of fire of the Lowell was well over the minimum previously agreed upon as a practical rate for manually operated machine guns. The board recommended that more consideration be given to simplicity of mechanism, possibility of getting out of order, feed and extraction methods, durability, and accessibility of parts. It further stated that of all the machine guns known to them, the Lowell mechanism had been brought closest to perfection.
Following its creditable performance at Annapolis, the weapon was sent back to the factory. There all the modifications suggested by the board, plus many features Farrington believed would constitute improvements, were built into the gun. Finally, when it was thought ready for the grueling bursts of fire demanded by the Navy during this period of machine-gun development, it was returned for another test. The records of this performance show the stamina of the improved weapon.
The whole program was carried out with unusual speed. Commodore Jeffers issued the order authorizing the trial on 12 July 1877. The weapon arrived at Annapolis at 8 a.m. on the 13th. By the next afternoon, 50,000 rounds had been fired through the weapon. And on 16 July 1877, the full report, including all firing data, recommendations, and conclusions, was in the hands of Commodore Jeffers who, with high officials, had witnessed the trial in its entirety.
The report is far too bulky to give more than the high lights. The most outstanding is the statement of the firing officer, Commander R. S. McCormick, concerning the weapon's over-all performance.
"There were two stoppages only during the prolonged test of the gun. The first which occasioned a delay of 68 minutes was caused by the crank and internal gear which are connected together, binding upon the crankstud for want of lubrication. The second which consumed seven minutes was due to the shanks of the extractors having been probably sprung by the explosion of a cartridge left intentionally partly inserted in the barrels, to try the effect of their heat on it, aided perhaps by the action of a serious hang-fire that had occurred in the rolls. It was necessary to shift lock once, the firing pin having become jammed by the back fire of a cartridge which had been pierced through the cap. The old lock was repaired and made ready for use by simply hammering back the firing pin and then pouring alcohol into its cylinder [firing pin recess]. The trial showed the great advantage of being able to throw out of use altogether and without delay a barrel which from any cause had become choked. At the end of the trial the gun was taken apart and carefully inspected. No wear or signs of failing were discovered about any of its parts."
In view of the fact that the United States was not at war, and there was not even the slightest indication of trouble in the near future, the
Lowell Machine Gun with Tripod Mount.
rapid development of machine guns by the American Navy at this time was indeed out of the ordinary. The early tests of the Lowell gun were remarkable for a prototype weapon, as there seemed to be no limit to the ingenuity of DeWitt Farrington in adding improvements to an already reliable mechanism. This was especially unusual since he had no Government contracts to encourage him financially. However, the Navy did give the weapon every consideration possible in the way of testing facilities and advice. The firing officers even went so far as to make suggestions and prepare drawings on features that they thought would be beneficial to its operation.
One of the improvements requested was the simplification of the bulky design of the rear housing containing the two feed rolls. With this in mind, Farrington worked out a modification which retained all the good qualities of positive extracting and ejecting. Only one roll is used in conjunction with a cam-operated feed arm that positively places a cartridge in position for the plunger to chamber and fire. In this change the cartridges are fed, not directly into the flutes of the rolls as before, but upon an inclined surface. They are placed into the recess by a spring-loaded finger that is held back until the proper moment by a roller cam functioning only when the roll is at rest. The round is positively held in the flute of the roll, until it is revolved into the prolongation of the axis of the barrel. There it is chambered by the plunger lock. The design is thus improved by permitting a more streamlined housing.
The single feeder roll is locked by the fluted plate on the roll shaft whose flutes are concentric with, and ride upon, the disc on the main shaft. This action prevents any motion of the rolls until the recess in the disc is opposed to, and frees the corner of, one of the flutes. The stud on the disc then comes into action and engages a tooth of the carrier allowing it to turn only one flute and stop. The feed finger is now cammed forward, positioning the round.
It was recognized that the second cartridge which exploded in the feed rolls during the early test might have been the result of the firing pin prematurely searing off, while the lock plunger was chambering the round--instead of a too hasty unlocking of a hang fire as was first stated in the firing records. In order to make certain that the modified weapon could not be seared off accidentally (as had been possible with the first gun), the main cam, or the lock plunger driving cam, was fastened to the main shaft. It was so designed that the firing pin was retracted and cocked during the forward motion of the lock plunger. The cocking lug was removed as an obstruction only when the weapon was securely locked. This eliminated the possibility of accidental discharge in the act of chambering.
A handle for shifting the barrels was placed on the front side of the rear barrel disc in order to make the lever stronger. It permitted the extension of the carrier roll so that the flute served as a guide to within a sixteenth of an inch of the chamber entrance.
There were a few other modifications, such as placing a plate in front of the breech ring to hold the barrels more firmly and a change in the way the weapon was connected to the traverse mechanism and elevating screw. The latter proved to be undesirable. Firing was interrupted on an average of once every thousand rounds because the brass separated and left a portion in the chamber to jam the incoming round.
The demonstrators were successful in getting off a 2,000-round burst, on which the rate of fire was recorded as being 452 rounds a minute. This was a marked increase over the first Lowell model. When a second man on the crank was added, the gun later reached a rate of 600 shots a minute.
After 4 hours 57 minutes of firing, the board of officers stopped the test. They felt at this point it should be established whether the weapon or the ammunition was at fault, with regard to the consistent splitting of cartridge cases. Out of 19,200 rounds fired throughout the day, 1,803 had split the brass down the side. A few had ruptured, leaving a portion of the empty case in the chamber.
A Remington infantry rifle with perfect head spacing was brought to the range, and 500 rounds of the ammunition were fired. Upon examination of the empty cases, 105 were found to be split in the same manner as were the ones fired in the Lowell gun. To be more certain that the gun was not at fault, a sulphur cast was made of each
chamber. When gauged, they were found to be of correct dimensions.
As no other ammunition was available, the board deemed that a continuance of the trial would only expend labor and material without furnishing any information as to the real quality of the gun after its alteration. Testing was postponed therefore.
A comparison of the Lowell gun with its rivals detracted nothing from the performance. It used only one lock, and was able to change quickly from an overheated or disabled barrel to a cool and serviceable one, maintaining in this manner a continuous fire. It was most certainly a wonderful example of the skill and ingenuity of gun designers of this period, who thrived on competition and welcomed opportunities to pit inventive skill against all problems.
After the unsuccessful attempt resulting from the bad lot of ammunition, no further test was made of the weapon until 7 May 1879. The gun was then returned to the Experimental Battery, accompanied by 25,000 rounds of ammunition, furnished by the Lowell Co., and made expressly for the test by the United States Cartridge Co., also of Lowell.
It seemed to have been an ironclad policy of the Navy to take under consideration practically anything offered. Before a weapon could be sent to the proving ground, all claims made for it must be verified at the Experimental Battery of Annapolis. This Battery superintended all prototype firing and offered to the inventor any help or suggestions that would better the performance of his firing mechanism. It permitted the inventor, or company representative, the privilege of actively operating the weapon himself, or of designating some particular individual, if it was felt his knowledge and experience would help it pass the severe trials for endurance and speed.
It will be noted that once a test got under way, a delay for any reason whatsoever was counted against the rate of fire. In taking a specific rate of fire, a 5-, 10-, or 15-minute burst was shot, followed by counting the empty brass on the ground.
The results of this 1879 trial are hard to believe when compared to our present-day conception of machine guns. Therefore, the report of the day's firing is given in its entirety. A more complete picture may, thus, be obtained of the requirements demanded.
The following tabulation outlines the test chronologically:
Remarks Commenced firing: No. 1 barrel 11.45.00 500 The gun has considerable vertical vibration. No. 2 barrel 46.42 1,000 No. 3 barrel 48.34 1,500 No. 4 barrel 50.17 2,000 No. 1 barrel 51.50 2,500 All parts of the gun working well. Changed man at crank 52.10 No. 2 barrel 53.50 3,000 No delays over 2s. in shifting the barrels or the men at the crank. Changed man at crank 54.31 No. 3 barrel 55.33 3,500 No. 4 barrel 57.20 4,000 No. 1 barrel 58.53 4,500 A slight breeze blew the smoke directly to the rear causing much annoyance to the men serving the gun. Changed man at crank. 59.00 No. 2 barrel 12.00.38 5,000 Ceased firing 02.06 Commenced firing: No. 3 barrel 12.18.00 5,500 5,000 cartridges were fired in 17m. 06s. which is at the rate of 292 per minute. No. 4 barrel 19.35 No. 1 barrel 21.13
Remarks No. 2 barrel 22.50 No. 3 barrel 24.05 No. 4 barrel 26.12 Stopped 27.13 Delay of 18s. caused by the splitting off of a piece of brass lining which was soldered in head of feeder. No. 1 barrel 28.00 No. 2 barrel 29.40 No. 3 barrel 31.20 Changed feeder. Stopped 33.10 A cartridge shell failed to extract. Delay of 20s. No. 4 barrel 33.50 Ceased firing 35.25 10,000 Commenced firing 1.03.15 Changed barrel 3.50 At 1h. 03m. 50s. a shell failed to extract, delay of 10s. Ceased firing 6.56 12,000 The bearing of the [finger pivot] was found to be loose, and the points of the extractor hooks appeared to be much worn. (Afterwards cleaned and found to be broken off.) Changed lock and screwed up bearing of the finger pivot. Commenced firing for maximum speed 2.04.56 Ceased firing 2.06.56 12,740 740 cartridges were fired in 2m., which is at the rate of 370 per minute. Commenced firing for maximum speed 2.10.00 240 cartridges were fired in 35s., which is at the rate of 411 per minute. Stopped firing 2.10.35 12,980 Resumed firing for maximum speed 2.15.00 Stopped and changed barrel 2.16.00 At 2h. 16m. 00s. a shell failed to extract: delay of 12s. Resumed firing 2.16.12 Stopped 2.17.35 13,950 At 2h. 17m. 35s. there was a jam caused by one of the leaves of the carrier roll being split at its rear end and turned into its flute, preventing the entrance of the lock. Cause unknown. The leaf was pushed back into line and at 2h. 20m. Commenced firing 2.20.00 00s. resumed firing at a slow speed. Ceased firing 2.20.20 13,980 Gun worked well. Commenced firing for maximum speed 2.25.00 No. 4 barrel alone was used, and it became very hot, inflaming paper and pine splinters. Ceased firing 2.27.37 14,980 Commenced firing for maximum speed 2.33.00 No. 1 barrel alone was used, with same results as above. Ceased firing 2.35.30 15,980 Commenced firing 3.03.30 The gun mounted on its field carriage and depressed 34° was fired without traverse from the sea wall into the water.
Remarks Jam 5.05 At 3h. 05m. 05s. a shell was torn near the ball in loading and caused a jam. Delay of 40s. Resumed firing 5.45 Changed barrel 7.30 Jam 10.20 At 3h. 10m. 20s. jam same as above, delay of 10s. Resumed firing 10.30 Changed barrel 11.45 Jam 12.13 At 3h. 12m. 13s. jam same as above, delay 5s. Resumed firing 12.25 Changed barrel 15.14 Examination of the cartridges shows that in many of them the shells are not properly crimped around the balls, which is probably the cause of their tearing in loading. Failed to extract Changed barrel 18.15 Failed to extract Changed barrel 19.10 Gun seemed to work less easily. A screw pin of one extractor works out. Ceased firing 20.50 19,980 Commenced firing 3.32.00 Gun mounted as before and depressed 34° was fired with full traverse. Changed barrel 33.30 Jam 3.34.20 At 3.34.20 jam from torn shell as before, delay of 25s. Ceased firing 35.36 20,980 Commenced firing 3.48.25 Ceased firing 52.13 21,980 Gun mounted on its rail pivot and fired from sea wall into the water. Depressed (about 25°) and trained by means of the training bar. The man turning the crank attended to the training bar until 600 cartridges were fired, after which the training was done by another man. Examination of the lock showed that one of the extractor hooks was broken at the point--changed lock. Commenced firing 4.01.12 Gun mounted on its field carriage--depressed 34°, was fired from the sea wall into the water. At 4h. 04m. 20s. a shell was torn in loading as before--delay of 10s. Jam 4.20 Failed to extract 4.07.10 At 4h. 07m. 10s. a shell failed to extract--delay of 10s. Ceased firing 4.11.26 23,960 The gun was examined and found to be in serviceable condition with the exception of the broken extractor hooks. Cartridges fired in preliminary 40 Total 24,000
Résumé Total number of cartridges fed to the gun 24,000 Greatest number per minute (at 2b. 16m. 12s.) 407 Misfires (bad primers) 39 Shells torn in loading 10
A similar test was also conducted by the Army at the Sandy Hook Proving Ground with practically the same results as the Navy had obtained.
While the most skeptical individual was forced to marvel at the reliability of the weapon, the fact remained that this country had no immediate need for the gun. The limited encouragement given by Naval adoption of the gun was not sufficient in a financial way to keep the Lowell Firearms Manufacturing Co. solvent. A few were delivered to the American Navy, 20 were sold to the Russian Navy, 3 went to the State of California for its prisons, and 1 to the police department of the city of Cincinnati. After these sales, the Lowell Co. collapsed, but not before DeWitt Farrington had contributed certain basic principles of design that have been used to the present day.
Wilder Machine Gun
The phenomenal success of the Gatling and Gardner guns led many inventors in this country to design weapons that, in their opinion, were superior. In doing so, they hoped to sell their products to the Government, but if no interest was forthcoming, then to any foreign power that would adopt them for service use. One of the most outstanding examples of an attempt to better machine-gun design by sheer engineering ability was the gun invented by Elihu Wilder of Hillsborough, N. H. In 1876 he made a prototype weapon capable of being demonstrated.
The Wilder gun was made with five barrels in a semicircle, fastened rigidly fore and aft. The barrels did not revolve, which, Wilder claimed, allowed him a great advantage in loading. With revolving barrels the ammunition had to feed through one port and be chambered as each barrel followed the other in the cycle of rotation. With his system each barrel had its own cartridge inlet which enabled one to load considerably faster, and to use, at will, any or all of the five barrels.
Wilder pointed out that other machine guns using stationary barrels side by side, or in stacks, necessitated an equal number of locks. As firing capacity and the number of locks are increased, so do the chances of their getting out of order, to say nothing of the additional cost, weight, and bulk. However, with the five barrels placed in a half circle, as Wilder had done, the weapon was not only much more compact, using only two locks; but one cam could operate all the bolts, fore and aft. This was especially important, since the action of the bolts was independent of either the striker or the hammer, thereby eliminating the wear and friction that most weapons of this type would naturally have. Wilder positioned his two locks opposite each other. This enabled him to discharge all the barrels with a half turn of the crank; in other words, each barrel was fired twice during one revolution of the crank, giving a rate of fire double that of similar weapons.
His extractors were the double-jawed kind that cammed over the rim of the cartridge when the bolt was in battery with the cartridge in the chamber. This presented a solid T slot until initial extraction had been accomplished.
The original weapon used the caliber .45-70 service cartridge and first was designed for tripod firing, although provision was made whereby it could be mounted on the standard howitzer limber.
After the five feed guides are filled to a capacity of 50 rounds each, the feed stop pawls are placed on open and the weapon is ready for action. As the rotation of the operating handle begins, a cartridge is dropped into the top recess and brought immediately in line with its intended barrel. The forward travel of the bolt forces the round into its chamber by the engagement of the lug that rides in the cam. At the same time the hammer is cocked by a ratchet-type cam, compressing its spring. It sears off at the high point, and the hammer snaps forward, driving the firing pin against the primer with great force and firing the cartridge. Located diametrically opposite each other are two such hammers for the five barrels--a very simple system that would save much maintenance.
The weapon having been fired at the conclusion of an intended time lag, a helical cam with a steep slope jacks the bolt rearward with great speed, carrying with it the empty cartridge case. At a distance slightly greater than that of the empty case the extractors relax all hold on the rim of the case, and a section of the star-wheel guide revolves the empty case free of the working mechanism, where it is released to drop out of the gun by gravity.
This method of completely releasing the brass by the extractors before ejection functioned perfectly when firing horizontally. For shipboard
Wilder Machine Gun on Tripod Mount.
Section Drawing of Wilder Machine Gun.
use, however, where firing was sometimes straight down, the cartridge would drop back in the chamber before the star wheel rotated it to strike the ejector fingers. To overcome this fault, five levers were used (one for each barrel). Actuated by cams, they would swing in between the spent cartridge and the chamber, until ejection was completed, and then return to their normal position, leaving the barrel open to receive the next round.
The ejectors, called by the inventor "abutment fingers," forced the empty cases out of the star wheel and insured that they could not fall or bound back into the mechanism. In the bottom of the receiver a deflection plate helped to control the flight of the brass and kept spent cartridges from piling up in the housing when firing at a high rate.
The Wilder gun was optionally equipped with a water jacket and a device giving the muzzles a lateral motion to and fro during firing. There was also a three-barrel version of the weapon intended for mounting on horseback. This smaller arm weighed only 70 pounds, and was rated as being capable of firing at a speed of 1,000 rounds a minute. This fire power was doubled in the five-barrel version. Brig. Gen. Charles Benjamin Norton, former United States Commissioner to the Paris Exposition, referring in 1882 to one of the guns which had been displayed there, stated, "It is claimed this arm is capable of being fired at a rate of 2,000 shots a minute, this being based on results of a late trial where 200 shots were fired in 6 seconds."
There is no doubt that the Wilder gun would have furnished serious competition to contemporary weapons if the inventor had not died shortly after his first models were produced. Little was done with it until nearly 20 years later when his widow sold her interest to a Boston concern which, no doubt, planned production of the weapon.
By this time manually operated guns were doomed, regardless of cleverness of design or rate
of fire, as the fully automatic machine gun had become a reliable weapon.
The Wilder gun in reality embodied the Ripley principle made to employ a feed system capable of producing sustained fire. In doing this, Wilder used Gatling's mode of feeding practically in its entirety. It seems ironical that this weapon could very easily have furnished stiff Competition to the Gatling, which was likewise very similar to the Ripley mechanism.
A large caliber weapon was under design by the inventor before his death. It was to use the 37-mm round of the Hotchkiss revolving cannon and had a high rate of fire resulting from the fact that only the firing mechanism revolved in place of the heavy barrels of similar guns. Its easy cycle of operation, combined with the devastating explosive effect of the projectile, would have made a naval weapon of great destructive possibilities against torpedo boats and other lightly armored vessels. It was later estimated that its rapidity of fire would have been four times that of the Hotchkiss. However, there was no immediate need for the gun, and without stimulus the 37-mm version was never carried beyond the blueprint stage.
J. H. McLean's "Peace Makers"
For some reason the profession of gun design and development seems to have been infested with more phonies than any other known vocation. It would be a great injustice to the true craftsmen of the manually operated machine-gun era not to mention in contrast the alleged inventions of Dr. J. H. McLean and his assistant, Myron Coloney. These men invented more mythical weapons, had more publicity, and accomplished less than anyone since Puckle.
McLean was born in Scotland in 1829, and a few months later his father emigrated to Nova Scotia. At the age of 13 the boy left home and followed the frontier west as far as St. Louis, where he attended a medical college. He decided, at this time, to concoct a preparation known as a "strengthening cordial" which, according to advertisements, would cure just about anything from pink eye to paralysis. The returns from his patent-medicine sales, which were practically all profit, soon made McLean immensely wealthy. At this point he entered the gun-development field. This sudden change in professions was no doubt due to a chance meeting with Myron Coloney of New Haven, Conn., a self-confessed inventor of great renown.
Dr. James H. McLean.
This pair set out upon a mission, the scope and ambition of which the world has never known; they patented impregnable forts, unsinkable ships, repeating cannon, gun-launched torpedoes, repeating pistols, rifles, and machine guns of all descriptions. The best insight into the aims of McLean and Coloney can be obtained by quoting from a 200-page brochure advertising their world-shaking ordnance designs and extolling the inventors. The pamphlet, entitled Imperial Edict, was written by the promoters themselves, but was phrased stiltedly in the third person.
"Dr. J. H. McLean's Strengthening Cordial and Blood Purifier, with his other prepared medicines, can now be found in drug stores in nearly every village, hamlet and home in the Western and Southern States--in fact, in many places in Europe as well as the United States-accessible to the poor as well as the rich. That humane mission fully accomplished, that great life work carried out, one might think would be sufficient; but the Doctor's great heart burned to go on--go on to do more for his fellow men. Hearing of the killing and slaughter of the brave soldiers in Europe and Asia at the will of their rulers, he resolved to develop such terribly destructive weapons of war, arms, torpedoes, and fortresses, and such perfect defenses, as would compel all nations to keep peace towards each other.
" 'Save the Lives of the People' is his motto.
"In pursuing his professional career unaided and alone, he amassed a large fortune. The people of the Mississippi Valley know well Dr. J. H. McLean's Grand Tower Block and his vast Laboratory. With him to will is to do and to have done, having all the means necessary at his
command, and the brain and vital force to carry out his enterprises. He has succeeded in developing, and now presents to the world, the most terribly destructive weapons of war, from a 48-shot pistol and 128-shot rifle (self-loading) up to cannons of all grades; Battery (machine) Guns capable of firing from 600 shots a minute up to 2.000 shots a minute, and sweeping an area of six miles; Infantry and Rifle Protection Forms; Floating and Permanent, absolutely impregnable Fortresses; swift-sailing vessels, which cannot be sunk by perforation.&nbbsp;. . .
"When the world has fully realized the grand success of the crowning act of the life of Doctor fames Henry McLean&nbbsp;. . . we think all will acknowledge that he is truly a Man of Destiny, a great reformer in the highest sense of the word, and a savior of the tyrannized and down-trodden human race. 'So mote it be.'
It will be noted that McLean could not resist the temptation to list the wonderfully curative powers of his patent medicine at the same time he described the awesome engines of war he and Coloney invented. It is hard to believe any man could write about his own accomplishments in such glowing terms without stretching his ego to the exploding point.
Myron Coloney, in writing about himself in the same pamphlet, left no indication that he was suffering from an inferiority complex and admitted that he even startled himself, at times, with his various gun inventions. A short quotation is given from the many pages he wrote about himself.
"Myron Coloney was born in St. Lawrence County, N. Y., on the 24th of April 1832, and when still quite young, exhibited great constructive skill and mechanical ability in building boyish sawmills, apple-paring machines, animal traps & etc., of curious and novel workmanship. Amongst those rich traits of character with which he was endowed, there was also a deep love for literature. This desire grew almost into a passion, and determined the young lad to enter a printing office, rather than follow his father's more successful trade.&nbbsp;. . .
"Among the most important creators of wealth, in any nation, are the inventors. They are the pioneers in merchandising, in mechanics, and in the arts of sciences. One class of ingenious men invents a new forcible and impressive method of making known their business and of selling their wares, and thereby secure wealth for themselves and afford a means of livelihood to their employees. Other inventive minds, of a mechanical turn, perceive defects in mechanism, and thereupon, originate new devices which cheapen cost and increase production. Both of these classes, in their way, are creators of the wealth of a nation.
"There are others, and great inventors, who, with one master stroke of genius, wipe out all past works of a class and create instead better and more useful forms, which in their application, give employment to the many, and contribute to the general prosperity of the nation. The effort of their genius may be directed toward improvements in the tools employed in husbandry, or towards the perfection of machinery for the manufacture of textile fabrics, or in an effort to create more powerful engines of war. Whatever may be the bent of their effort, the achievement is the same. The world is astonished at the result, and then commences to make use of the improvements, and carries them forward to ultimate perfection, employing the labor and the skill of thousands.
"To this class, we think, belongs Myron Coloney, one of the inventors of the Dr. James H. McLean Peace Makers.&nbbsp;. . . Myron Coloney engaged at once with Dr. McLean, and removed to New Haven, Connecticut, where he could obtain the best skill and most able and intelligent mechanics, to superintend and develop these terrible engines of destruction, which are intended to strike terror to the heart of every enemy. Not only those devices&nbbsp;. . . but other great inventions, which his fruitful inventive brain suggested and which he has since perfected, have been called into being, and which will create an enthusiasm and a sense of security in every nation on this globe, handing down to posterity the name of Myron Coloney, in connection with Dr. J. H. McLean's Peace Makers, with the great honor and credit."
These two self-acknowledged geniuses continued on for more than 200 pages on a subject they both loved, namely, J. H. McLean and Myron Coloney. They stopped only to illustrate the terrible engines of war conjured up in their frequent outbursts of brilliant design.
Their machine guns were given such colorful names as the "Annihilator," "Pulverizer," "Broom," and "Vixen." But like all strong men, the doctor had his weaker moments and named the most deadly of all his machine guns the "Lady McLean." The paramount motive behind the exorbitant claims of these "Men of Destiny" is to be found after reading 171 pages of sensational copy. At this point the author states:
"Fortunes to be Made Everywhere
"The important fact that companies formed in each nation for the manufacture of Dr. J. H. McLean's Peace Makers can contract with their governments to convert all sound old-fashioned guns into these formidable repeaters at a great saving to the government must be steadily remembered. In this business alone companies can make fortunes in each nation. Address Dr. J. H. McLean, 314 Chestnut Street, St. Louis, Mo."
It is interesting to find, in studying the drawings of McLean's "improved" machine guns, that one rapid-firing cannon has a tubular feed on each side. In order to place the ammunition in this type of feed, the designer drew the cartridges without rims and with a cannelure exactly like the present-day rimless ammunition. While there is no record to show that McLean's great masterpiece ever fired a shot, there is strong likelihood that this drawing was seen later by some wideawake inventor and developed into the rimless cartridge. It is hoped that this was the case, as it would be a shame that such self-admitted talent did not contribute anything to the field of machine gun development except a large stack of meaningless drawings and ridiculous claims.
Dr. McLean's project was the first attempt of a European to develop a machine gun in America. And should anyone be interested in looking further into his inventions, it will be noted that he remained close to the European demand for volley fire, whereby a number of stacked barrels were to be discharged simultaneously. This ordnance venture, however, proved that unlimited money and publicity cannot make a poorly designed weapon work if the inventor does not have the necessary skill. These self-appointed "geniuses," therefore, were unable to compete with the master mechanics of this era, who did have the happy faculty of knowing what they were doing.
Bailey Machine Gun
Another interesting machine gun tested by the Navy was designed in 1874 by Fortune L. Bailey of Indianapolis, Ind. One year later the Winchester Arms Co. had manufactured a working model, which seemed reliable enough to warrant a request for Navy consideration for purposes of adoption.
After an interview with company representatives, Commodore T. H. Patterson of the Navy Yard, Washington, D. C., on 31 January 1876, ordered a trial to be held on the Navy Yard Range. At the appointed time, 11 February 1876, the board convened. Commander Montgomery Sicard, Inspector of Ordnance, was the officer in charge.
The weapon shown was small in comparison with similar mechanisms, being made to use a caliber .32 rifle cartridge. The reason for this, according to Bailey, was that the gun being tested was built merely as a working model. Its performance had proved so phenomenal in private tests, however, that its producers had been convinced it was capable of being demonstrated.
The inventor called attention to the fact that until now all machine guns fired either from hoppers or drums. These were limited in their capacity of rounds. His weapon, however, had no such restrictions. It fired from a belt which could be made any length desired. He also made the astounding claim that the round would be fired without being withdrawn from the belt.
After the formal discussion, a close inspection was made of the weapon. Many unusual features were noted that had not been known in other machine guns.
In appearance the Bailey resembles the Gatling, with its barrels grouped around a central Baft and held securely by central discs fastened in the frame. But at this point all resemblance ends. The systems of feeding and firing are radically different from earlier types.
When the crank on the right side is turned, the barrels revolve. Concurrent with this they have a reciprocating motion caused by successive engagement of an inclined flange, or cam. Sufficient play is, of course, allowed in the bearings to permit such fore and aft motion, and to compensate for the increased diameter of the metal due to heating from sustained bursts.
The firing is done from the top barrel. While this is taking place, the empty cartridge, still in the belt, is cleared.
A plate revolving with the barrels houses the firing pins and springs. As a barrel arrives at battery position, its firing pin is struck by one of the two plungers, or strikers, that alternate in firing. The dual plunger assembly consists of two flat pieces of steel with shanks on the rear end that serve as guides to the striker springs. These springs drive the plungers forward when the studs are alternately released from contact with the flanges of the cocking cam, located on the lock flange cylinder.
The cylinder is a simple, well constructed tube, firmly secured to the center shaft. About its circumference are two separate helical cams of rapid pitch. As the cams are rotated by the clockwise movement of the crank, they are brought into engagement with the studs on the reciprocating plungers. Each set of flanges manipulates its own plunger. As the cylinder con-
Bailey Machine Gun, the First Such Weapon to Use a Belt Feed.
tinues to turn, the cam that is engaged with a stud forces it back until the end is reached. At this point it sears off, actuated by the compression of the spring, and strikes against the floating firing pin.
As each barrel is fired, the continued rotation of the crank brings up the next one, with its firing pin in position to be struck by the alternate plunger. The weapon cannot possibly be fired until alined with the striker. Accidental firing before being in battery is impossible, as the weapon is secured for firing by the novel method of locking the barrel and not the bolt.
The plan for feeding and extracting is indeed extraordinary. A cylinder of wrought iron is fastened on the center shaft, just forward of the firing pin plate and inside the circle formed by the rear end of the barrels. Its surface is indented by recesses, the general direction of which is parallel to the axis of the center shaft.
These indentations mate with flat pieces of brass similarly shaped, which are riveted to the underside of the feed belt. This makes the cartridge belt a kind of flexible feed rack, running over the wrought iron drum.
The cartridge containers of the Bailey gun are conical-shaped brass sockets fastened at right angles to the flat side of the belt. They receive the loaded rounds when the ammunition is belted before firing. The distance between the rounds in the belt when mated with the recesses in the drum exactly equals that between the center lines of the chambers.
Bailey Machine Gun Cartridge Belt. A Sketch Made by the Officer Who Tested the Weapon at the Washington Navy Yard, 1876.
The cartridge containers are conical in exterior design, but are bored internally to receive the round. When the ammunition is pushed into this device from the rear, the rim is seated in the slight recess made for it, while the entire bullet and the neck of the metallic case protrude through the forward end of the cartridge container.
When the belt is inserted in the left side of the Bailey gun, the cartridge holders are then positioned in a prolongation of the axis of the barrels and directly to the rear of them. The chambers of the barrels of the weapon are bored conically to receive and fit snugly over the cartridge-carrying belt sockets.
As the center shaft is revolved by the crank, the belt and cartridge containers are drawn over the alining cylinder. The cartridges in succession come opposite the rear openings of the barrels, and the reciprocating cam causes the barrels on the left, or loading, side of the piece to move rearward. While they revolve, each successive chamber covers more and more of its assigned cartridge container. By the time the firing position is reached, the whole container is covered, and the firing barrel is securely locked, the butt of the cartridge being backed up by the firing pin plate. With everything now in place, one of the plungers is released by running off the high point on the cocking cam, and the weapon is fired.
As the rotation continues, the discharged barrel starts to cam forward, pulling the chamber off the cartridge holder. By the time one quarter of a revolution is made on the crank, the belt section with the cartridge container and empty case is free to go out the right side of the gun, dropping vertically to the ground.
The Navy board found that Bailey had not brought a sufficient number of belts to warrant an opinion on reliability and endurance in a firing test. Therefore, it refused to take the weapon under consideration, but offered to allow him to fire any amount he wished in an unofficial demonstration.
Because the belts supplied by Bailey held only 100 rounds, and the reputed speed of the weapon precluded attaching additional ones after a burst had started, the sustained fire periods were of relatively short duration compared to Navy requirements. However, he was permitted to prove one point of this claim--rapidity of fire. One of these 100-round bursts was officially recorded as
The Mechanism of the Bailey Machine Gun. Sketched During the 1876 Trials.
being fired in 6 seconds, or at a rate of 1,000 rounds per minute. This rate of fire impressed the officer in charge. Commander Sicard stated in describing the unusual performance: "The test that was made for rapidity of fire was, however, truly astonishing. One hundred rounds being fired in about 6 seconds, the gun appearing to be almost in a continual blaze, the whole number ran off smoothly."
Thus ended the first successful attempt to fire a machine gun fed by a belt, in lieu of drum or hoppers. Like many others in his field, Fortune Bailey did not gain financially, but he admirably overcame the bottleneck in machine-gun feeding. The novel mechanism he originated not only fed the weapon from a belt, but fired the round without ever removing it from the conveyor as it passed through the machine.
Nordenfelt Machine Gun
At the same time that American inventors were bending every effort to produce a reliable fast-shooting gun, employing only one barrel at a time, European engineers were still trying to improve volley fire. This they considered to be the acme of perfection in relation to delivering a concentrated small arms fire.
The best attempt at perfecting a system of volley fire was done by Heldge Palmcrantz, a Swedish engineer. He originated a mechanism, very similar to the Claxton, that permitted the operator to keep up sustained fire, or discharge the barrels one at a time if desired. Locking and firing were accomplished by the operation fore and aft of a single lever; a separate gravity feed was installed over each barrel. The cartridge cases fell through openings in the frame, after they had been extracted beyond the length of the empty brass.
As was the case with most inventors, Palmcrantz was without funds to produce his weapon and had to appeal to a Swedish broker named Thorsten Nordenfelt, who at the time was conducting a banking business in London. The latter agreed to finance its manufacture, but not until the name was changed to the Nordenfelt machine gun.
The broker proved himself one of the world's greatest salesmen, as, by sheer merchandising ability, he promoted successfully a multibarrel weapon inferior to half a dozen other guns available at the time. Nordenfelt was a shrewd businessman who made every effort to meet the whims of influential people who could help him in disposing of his products. He constructed from 1- to 12-barrel versions in any caliber from rifle cartridge to artillery.
Realizing that England never took a weapon of this type under consideration unless it was actually built on English soil, his first move was to construct a manufacturing plant in the British Isles, with offices in London. His salesmen, and in most instances Nordenfelt himself, never let an exhibition go by without the display of his product. If possible, a long demonstration was arranged to bring out the simplicity and reliability of the "Nordenfelt system," as it was now universally called.
The English Government's Small Bore Machine Gun Committee in 1880 laid down three basic conditions that must be met before a machine gun could qualify as being worthy of consideration:
"It must be capable of firing 400 rounds a minute.
"The breech of the barrel being fired to remain securely closed one third of a second, or ample time in the opinion of the experimental committee to insure safety from a delayed explosion of a cartridge (hang fire).
"To fire rapidly 1,000 continuous rounds at a speed satisfactory to the committee. That must not cause undue heating of the barrels."
These specifications favored the Palmcrantz system. This fact was exploited by Nordenfelt, as most of his trials were conducted with the 12-barrel rifle caliber gun. With this he could easily shoot 400 rounds a minute, or less than 50 rounds per barrel. A 1,000-round burst figures out roughly only 83 shots per barrel, so the problem of overheating the barrels did not exist.
Time has proved that the weapon, as far as design was concerned, was hopelessly obsolete while still in the blueprint stage. However, with respect to reliability, workmanship, and endurance, its performance in some cases was nothing short of phenomenal. For instance, at a test of the 10-barrel rifle caliber model, held at Portsmouth, England, in July 1882, the weapon fired 3,000 rounds of ammunition in 3 minutes 3 seconds, without a parts failure or stoppage. In other words, it maintained a rate of fire of 1,000 rounds a minute for three consecutive minutes.
Nordenfelt Machine Gun, Cal. .45, with Gun Carriage Convertible to Tripod Mount.
This model had a rated speed of 1,200 shots per minute with shorter bursts.
A description of one of the Nordenfelt multi-barrel mechanisms will describe all 18 models. They differed only in size, number of barrels and caliber. The operating parts remained basically the same.
All the Nordenfelt weapons can be classified easily by placing them in groups as follows:
- Rifle-caliber machine guns.
- Light machine guns including those of less than 150 pounds in weight that can be carried by the individual soldier, or on horse or mule back.
- Heavy machine guns. Those of 150 pounds upward, that could not be transported other than by limbers or shipboard mountings.
- One-inch caliber machine guns. The gun, especially designed for torpedo-boat defense, was made with four barrels only.
- Rapid-loading shell guns.
- Light guns including 1 ½ inch, 37-mm and under.
- Heavy guns. Those upwards of 1 ½ inches, 37-mm.
One inch was the largest caliber gun using the lever toggle joint locking system of Palmcrantz, lor which Nordenfelt was famed. The larger shell guns were simply manually operated droplock mechanisms, that permitted rapid loading
Nordenfelt Single-Barrel Machine Gun.
and extracting. They should in no way be confused with the other weapons, regardless of the fact that the company advertised the heavy guns as "Shell Machine Guns."
The Nordenfelt Co.'s most interesting product was a light single-barrel machine gun designed for the infantryman. It was lever operated and used toggle joint locking. The principal parts of this rifle caliber weapon were: (a) Hand lever with cam plate combined, (b) plunger, (c) action slide piece, and (d) breech cover.
Energy for the horizontal motion necessary for firing is obtained by means of a lever pivoted on the left side, extending under the breech to be manipulated by the right hand.
The plunger contains the firing pin, spring, and extractor. The latter is claw shaped, the upper part seizing the rim of the cartridge above. The lower portion grasps it on the right side. In the center of the plunger, on the under side, is machined a broad slot, and on the rear, two recoil or locking projections. The firing pin is housed in the plunger, and has on its end a T-shaped projection for cocking.
The action slide has a friction roller, as well as a cam piece of the same shape as the slot in the plunger. The roller runs in the hand lever cam slot, with the cam piece working in the plunger slot. Forward travel of the plunger causes rotation of this piece to engage with projections in the receiver, securely locking the piece.
The breech cover has an ejector, fastened underneath at the forward end, which throws the empty cases through the opening and clear of the gun. In the breech of each barrel, on the inside, one above the other, are cut two longitudinal grooves. In the lower one is fixed a flat spring, with a projection on it for the purpose of compressing the firing pin springs.
To fire the single-barrel Nordenfelt, the operating lever is pulled back evenly. This rotates the plunger, bringing its locking projections clear, at the same time alining the cocking piece with the lower grooves. If the weapon has just been fired, the empty cartridge case is drawn to the rear with the plunger, carrying the T-projection cocking piece over and behind the flat spring.
As the operating lever reaches its furthermost travel rearward and the empty case is ejected, the cocking lug is held back under spring compression. The lever is then shoved forward and the bolt strips a loaded round from the feeder and chambers it. When the lugs rotate down into locking position, the obstruction is removed from the T of the cocking lug, and the firing pin is seared off, discharging the weapon. A driver permits the operator to use the piece as a reciprocating rifle if he so desires.
It is especially to be noted that the Nordenfelt employs the rotating bolt head that unlocks by a straight pull rearwards. The system has since been copied throughout the machine-gun world.
By shoving the operating handle forward, the firing pin spring is compressed and the lock plunger chambers a loaded round. The final movement forward rotates the locking projection on the plunger. At the instant the act of locking is completed, the T-shaped cocking piece is turned clear of the flat spring projection, releasing the firing pin to strike the primer and fire the piece.
The mechanism is very simple, there being only 23 parts in all. It can be removed in a matter of seconds by unscrewing the rear screw by hand and drawing out the parts. The operating lever is so designed that, when removed, it can be used as a spanner wrench to disassemble the remainder of the weapon.
This gun weighed only 13 pounds, and could be fired by the average soldier at a rate of 180 shots a minute. It was made by the Nordenfelt Co. to show that a machine gun could be made, with a weight only four pounds more than that of the average service rifle.
European military authorities were prejudiced against the single-barrel machine gun at this time. Farrow's Military Encyclopedia expressed the opinion of practically all Europe by stating: "A general would probably not submit to the expenses and inconveniences of machine gun equipment, and services of men and mules for gun and ammunition, when the efficiency of the gun is entirely dependent on one single rifle barrel."
The multibarrel models of the Nordenfelt (Palmcrantz) system (it was internationally known by this name) have a magazine fixated directly over the carrier block holding 250 rounds of rifle caliber ammunition with an entrance slot behind each chamber in which the rounds drop by gravity.
Power for operating the weapon is furnished when the gunner moves a bent lever using a fore and aft movement of his right hand.
The frame has three cross pieces, and the barrels are inserted from the front (from 1 to 12), all lying in the same plane and parallel to each other. The breech ends of the barrels are secured into the metal crosspiece, while the muzzles rest on a solid part of the frame.
The principal parts are: (a) Hand lever, (b) action lever, (c) action block, (d) breech piece, (e) trigger comb, (f) carrier block, and (g) cover.
The hand lever is pivoted to the axis pin, and when actuated manually, sets the whole mechanism in motion. The action lever is fixed to the action pin, and has a stud on which a friction roller works. In the rear, a projection riding in a slot, gives a transverse motion to the action block, which is located at the back of the breech framework.
The action block contains slots for the plungers to pass through. In the solid portion between the slots, chambers are bored to house the firing pin springs and hammers, the hammers being each a T-shaped projection. Through the middle part of the action block, a channel passes from right to left for the reception of the trigger comb.
The breech piece consists of a plate with a plunger for each barrel, each plunger housing the firing pin and extractor. Beneath this plate is fixed the director cam slot in which the action lever friction roller works. This affords the breech piece longitudinal movement only. On the upper part are fastened studs which engage the T projection on the hammers, forcing them back and compressing the firing pin springs.
A lug on each side of the breech piece acts against a corresponding lug on the carrier block, thus forcing it to the right or left as the operating handle is moved forward and back. The trigger comb has a small spring to bring it to the right, and to retain the hammers after they have passed the teeth on its lower surface. The comb which projects to the right of the action block is forced against the right side of the framework on the action block, moving to the right. The comb is thus pushed to the left, releasing the hammers.
The carrier block, or cartridge receiver, is given its lateral movement by lugs on the breech piece, allowing the cartridges to drop by gravity into position for chambering.
The cover is hinged to the center crosspiece, and secured in its place by a spring lock on the rear member. The cover is opened towards the muzzle and access to the mechanism is obtained without moving the feeder.
To fire the multibarrel Nordenfelt, the operator moves the handle to the rear, and the aft projection of the action lever carries the action block to the left. The openings in the action block for the plungers being in line with the
action lever roller in the breech plate cam slot, the breech piece and plungers are carried rearward. If a volley has been previously fired, the empty cartridge cases at this point are extracted and ejected to drop through openings in the bottom of the housing.
By the time the handle has reached its extreme rearward position, the studs on the upper surface of the breech plate catch the lower part of the hammers' T projections. This forces them back against the beveled edges of the trigger comb teeth. The comb is then moved against its spring to the left until the hammers are clear. When the spring carries the trigger comb to its original position with the teeth in the jaws of the hammers, the firing pin springs are compressed and the carrier block brought to the left.
As the handle is pushed forward to battery position, the carrier block is moved to the right, placing loaded rounds in position for chambering. Then the breech piece with its plungers is carried forward, chambering the cartridges in their respective barrels.
After the rounds are driven home, the action block then moves to the right and the hammers are alined behind their firing pins. At the same instant the projecting part of the trigger comb is carried against the framework of the gun, causing the trigger comb to be pushed to the left, freeing each hammer in turn, to be driven forward to strike the firing pin and thus fire the cartridge.
The method of feeding all the barrels from one hopper is unique. The hopper consists of an upper and a lower part. It is constructed of steel plates, with the exception of the rear face and guides, which are of gun metal. The lower hopper, often termed the distributor, is placed on the gun at the top of the breech cover over the carrier block, and secured into position by a spring lock where it remains during firing.
The distributor has a separate compartment for each barrel. On the rear face of each compartment is a guide for holding the cartridges by their rims. The ammunition lies in an inclined position, with the bullet slightly raised and touching the front inner face of the distributor.
The upper part of the hopper also has separate compartments. It is loaded from the top, a hinged cover being provided for that purpose. The cartridges are kept in place by means of a catch at the rear running the whole width of the hopper. This catch can be thrown in and out of action by a handle on the left outer side of the hopper. A similar catch is used on the distributor.
To operate, the empty lower distributor is first fixed in its place. An upper filled hopper is then positioned. The catch handle is pushed down, dropping the cartridges into the lower hopper where they then fall into their respective compartments in the distributor. When the catch on the distributor is released, a cartridge for each barrel falls into position on the carrier block. The others continue to take their places as soon as a vacancy occurs.
By means of the catch, the distributor and upper hopper could be taken off separately at any time without the cartridges falling out. This method of feeding proved quite adequate and was very simple and positive. The cartridges being contained in a closed case, any chance of the gun being fouled by dust and grime on the cartridges was obviated. While the system served this type of weapon well, it suffered by comparison with other feeds developed for the rapid-firing mechanisms of single-barrel guns.
On the models that had five barrels and over one of the most unusual devices ever put on a machine gun was found. This feature was called the Nordenfelt automatic scattering gear. By this, the shots composing a volley were separated from each other by a space of 3 feet between each bullet. Thus volley fire of 10 shots would cover respectively 5 to 10 men in formation. This spread of bullets can be given for any distance up to 500 yards by adjusting a thumbscrew placed on the left rear of the gun. Beyond that range it was thought the natural dispersion of the gun would insure a sufficient spread. When firing volleys at bodies of troops, the lateral direction on the gun could be slightly altered after each discharge so that no two volleys would fall in the same target area.
Another accessory, called a drill stop, was provided with the 1-inch four- and five-barrel guns. By this the operating lever was prevented from fully completing its back stroke, so that the hammers could not be retracted far enough rearward
Nordenfelt Machine Gun, Cal. .45, Five-Barrel Model. Mounted in Top of a Fighting Ship to Sweep the Decks of the Enemy.
to pass into the trigger comb. With this device the gun could never be full cocked, as the firing springs were not compressed when the action block moved forward. The stop, as the name implies, was for drill purposes only; it allowed the gunner to train gun crews using live ammunition with absolute safety.
The Nordenfelt multibarrel guns as a whole were clumsy contraptions when compared with American-designed weapons of this era. However, the firm did one thing that justified its existence by introducing the rifle caliber armor-piercing bullet years ahead of its time. In fact, it was so revolutionary that it was rediscovered nearly 40 years later. Nordenfelt left no doubt that he had the modern-day AP round in mind when he described his projectile as follows: "The bullet of this kind of cartridge is formed of hardening cast steel with a sharp pointed head. Over this projectile, for the purpose of a gas check and for rotating the bullet, is placed an envelope of brass, which is choked into a cannelure around its base. Also on the base are several radial cuts, into which the envelope is set on firing. In place of a brass envelope a coating of copper may be deposited on the projectile by the electro-galvanic process, and thus any possibility of altered flight due to the stripping of the brass envelope is rendered impossible."
This high-velocity armor-piercing projectile that had a speed in excess of 2,000 feet a second and penetrated 2 inches of solid iron plate at 300 yards was a distinct contribution to the field of ordnance. It is ironical that Nordenfelt was either far ahead of his time or hopelessly behind it.
But the most outstanding achievement of his long and colorful career was a machine gun that weighed only 13 pounds, capable of easy operation by the individual soldier, and with a rate of fire of 180 rounds a minute. Any army in Europe would have had a great advantage with this fire power and mobility.
Military authorities in Europe still looked upon the machine gun as an auxiliary or supporting arm to artillery in order to protect the
latter from being rushed by foot soldiers or cavalry charges. They continued to insist that volley fire was the best way to break up a charge, and it was practically impossible to sell them on any weapon that would not discharge a hail of bullets at one time.
The British Navy, however, did not share this opinion. Like the American Navy, it did much to encourage and develop a lighter weapon capable of sustained fire that could be put ashore or fired from the rigging of the ships. The Admiralty already had what it considered the best manually operated weapon ever designed (the Gardner). It took no particular note of the single-barrel Nordenfelt gun, and as the army simply ignored it, the weapon went out of existence. However, Nordenfelt did produce and place in the hands of the British Army the first lightweight rifle-caliber machine gun for carriage and operation by the individual soldier.
Taylor Machine Gun
Because of inertia and lack of encouragement, there was little incentive actually to produce a weapon capable of standing the rigorous tests demanded by the proving grounds. Of the more than 80 patents issued in the United States on machine guns between 4 November 1862 and 26 June 1883, only one other was completed sufficiently to justify trial. This weapon was the Taylor machine gun. The inventor, James Patton Taylor of Carter County, Tenn., made a gun very similar in appearance to the Wilder.
Nine rifle-caliber barrels are permanently fastened in a half circle. The bolts work in conjunction with a revolving cam cylinder which is constructed with two grooves or flanges. One is for imparting a longitudinal movement to a series of reciprocating bolts, one for each barrel. The other flange is for retracting the striker and spring, and for searing off the firing mechanism when the bolt is securely locked. The flange that operates the bolts is formed with an opening at the extreme rear of its stroke to facilitate the removal of a bolt when necessary.
The feeders are of unusual design. A semicircular housing containing nine separate columns allows the cartridges to drop in line with the corresponding slot behind each chamber.
To fire the weapon, the feeder is loaded and tended by one man, while the gunner turns the crank and aims the piece. As a loaded round drops into position behind its respective barrel, the cam that actuates its bolt causes it to go forward and chamber the round. At the same time the engagement of the cocking lug on the striker with the breech cam on the revolving cylinder compresses the striker spring. When a bolt arrives at its extreme forward travel, the lug reaches the end of the cam. It then sears off, allowing the striker to be driven into the primer and fire the weapon.
As the actuating cylinder continues to turn, the cam that controls the bolt starts jacking it rearward. On its first movement in this
Taylor Machine Gun.
direction, the double jaw type extractors pull the empty case from the chamber. After a travel of 1 inch, a physical interference forces the jaws to release their hold on the rim. When a distance slightly greater than the over-all length of the cartridge is reached, an ejector butts down in its path; striking it a smart blow on the base, it pivots and drives it through an opening in the housing, clear of all operating parts. Continued turning of the crank repeats the cycle. With every complete revolution of the handle the weapon fires nine times.
Of the three machine guns that Taylor patented, the one described is the only one that got far enough along to stand trial (in 1878). At the time, because of its feed, it failed to meet the demands of the Army board. The only comment was: "The Taylor gun is an ingenious and promising machine gun, but with the present arrangement of feeding the cartridge, it does not compete favorably with the other, better perfected machine guns that have been offered for test before this board. It is probable that a better feed can be effected for the service of this gun by the inventor; until this is accomplished however the board cannot recommend the procurement by the United States of any of these guns for service."
End of Manually Operated Period
From Gatling's original patent on 4 November 1862 to 26 June 1883, American supremacy in machine-gun design went unchallenged. It is of particular importance to note that from the adoption of the Gatling gun by our Army until the conclusion of this era, there was no threat of war to our country. This disproves the pacifist's claim that once any nation has fully developed a superior weapon, war is inevitable to prove its effectiveness.
In this peaceful era, the Navy demanded perfection from the weapons tried. Some of the requirements placed upon these guns seem impossible when compared with our present-day system of testing.
It should be especially noted that at this time a Naval Acceptance Board functioned. This body of officers had the responsibility of seeing that any gun inventor could bring his invention to trial for purposes of adoption, and of extending to him all assistance possible to make his weapon reliable and effective. In fact, some of the suggestions offered helped in no small way the phenomenal success the guns later enjoyed.
The intense and wholehearted cooperation of these officers not only contributed to the mechanical accomplishments of the weapon under test, but undoubtedly furnished the inventor an incentive, since he knew that these officers would give him all the help in their power. That this procedure paid big dividends can best be judged by comparing these 21 years of progress with any other period in the continuous effort to produce weapons.
The establishment by the Navy in 1872 of the Experimental Battery at Annapolis, Md., showed the farsightedness of the officers responsible for weapon development. This facility handled all the firing of prototype weapons. And certain defects, inevitably present during initial firing tests, were required to be remedied before the weapon was allowed to go before the board for final trial at the Navy Yard, Washington, D.C. The unbelievable performances of machine guns tested there was due to their having previously been fired under the expert supervision of Naval officers at the Experimental Battery. Many of the defects were eliminated that would otherwise have caused the weapon to fail during the rigorous acceptance trials demanded by the Navy.
Some of the official records from these two firing ranges of the Navy reveal performances that no modern fiction writer would dare to credit to the present-day machine gun; yet they were actual accomplishments of this era.
Incidentally the Experimental Battery at Annapolis was the pioneer Naval Proving Ground. In 1890 it was moved to a new tract overlooking the Potomac River at Indian Head, Md., and in 1921 the present Naval Proving Ground was opened at Dahlgren, Va.
Though these tests helped gun design, they did not enrich the designer. One fact, standing out above all others, is that during this era a successful machine gun inventor was compelled to go abroad to market his weapon, although in every instance it was first offered to his Government.
While the United States had no need, and no immediate prospect, of using these superb weapons, foreign governments not only recognized their superiority, but made every possible overture to induce the inventors to leave home and market their discoveries abroad. With no incentive in this country to warrant any other choice, a steady trek of gun geniuses left America for Europe to establish factories--not only taking with them the "know-how" and top talent of the gun profession, but, in most instances, staffing their foreign factories with the highest skilled Yankee machinists they were able to hire. Their services were thus lost forever to their own country. And the factories they established abroad
have been there so long that today they are thought to be of foreign origin, when in reality they were started by skilled American citizens, building a product unwanted at home. Necessity alone placed them on foreign soil to design and perfect the deadliest known instrument of war--the machine gun.
The weapons of this quarter century were all manually operated. Since it was always necessary for a gunner to aim the piece, there seemed no reason why he should not also furnish the power to feed and fire the gun. Mechanical advantage was utilized to enable the individual soldier to maintain sustained fire with a minimum effort.
During the latter part of this era, the weapons reached such a high degree of efficiency it was predicted there was nothing left to be improved. They were accepted as "invincible reapers of death."
As has been the case throughout weapon history, when perfection in the nth degree seems accomplished, an "impossible" principle is suddenly made to work. Past ideas, years of heartbreaking effort, and standards of perfection are outmoded overnight; yesterday's invincible weapon is today's obsolete scrap.