Gatling gun
Overview
The Gatling gun is one of the best known early rapid-fire weapons and a forerunner of the modern machine gun
Machine gun
A machine gun is a fully automatic mounted or portable firearm, usually designed to fire rounds in quick succession from an ammunition belt or large-capacity magazine, typically at a rate of several hundred rounds per minute....

. It is well known for its use by the Union
Union (American Civil War)
During the American Civil War, the Union was a name used to refer to the federal government of the United States, which was supported by the twenty free states and five border slave states. It was opposed by 11 southern slave states that had declared a secession to join together to form the...

 forces
Union Army
The Union Army was the land force that fought for the Union during the American Civil War. It was also known as the Federal Army, the U.S. Army, the Northern Army and the National Army...

 during the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

 in the 1860s, which was the first time it was employed in combat. Later it was also famously used in the assault on San Juan Hill
Battle of San Juan Hill
The Battle of San Juan Hill , also known as the battle for the San Juan Heights, was a decisive battle of the Spanish-American War. The San Juan heights was a north-south running elevation about two kilometers east of Santiago de Cuba. The names San Juan Hill and Kettle Hill were names given by the...

 during the Spanish-American War
Spanish-American War
The Spanish–American War was a conflict in 1898 between Spain and the United States, effectively the result of American intervention in the ongoing Cuban War of Independence...

.

The Gatling gun's operation centered on a cyclic multi-barrel design which facilitated cooling and synchronized the firing/reloading sequence.
Encyclopedia
The Gatling gun is one of the best known early rapid-fire weapons and a forerunner of the modern machine gun
Machine gun
A machine gun is a fully automatic mounted or portable firearm, usually designed to fire rounds in quick succession from an ammunition belt or large-capacity magazine, typically at a rate of several hundred rounds per minute....

. It is well known for its use by the Union
Union (American Civil War)
During the American Civil War, the Union was a name used to refer to the federal government of the United States, which was supported by the twenty free states and five border slave states. It was opposed by 11 southern slave states that had declared a secession to join together to form the...

 forces
Union Army
The Union Army was the land force that fought for the Union during the American Civil War. It was also known as the Federal Army, the U.S. Army, the Northern Army and the National Army...

 during the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

 in the 1860s, which was the first time it was employed in combat. Later it was also famously used in the assault on San Juan Hill
Battle of San Juan Hill
The Battle of San Juan Hill , also known as the battle for the San Juan Heights, was a decisive battle of the Spanish-American War. The San Juan heights was a north-south running elevation about two kilometers east of Santiago de Cuba. The names San Juan Hill and Kettle Hill were names given by the...

 during the Spanish-American War
Spanish-American War
The Spanish–American War was a conflict in 1898 between Spain and the United States, effectively the result of American intervention in the ongoing Cuban War of Independence...

.

The Gatling gun's operation centered on a cyclic multi-barrel design which facilitated cooling and synchronized the firing/reloading sequence. Each barrel fired a single shot when it reached a certain point in the cycle, after which it ejected the spent cartridge
Cartridge (firearms)
A cartridge, also called a round, packages the bullet, gunpowder and primer into a single metallic case precisely made to fit the firing chamber of a firearm. The primer is a small charge of impact-sensitive chemical that may be located at the center of the case head or at its rim . Electrically...

, loaded a new round, and in the process, cooled down somewhat. This configuration allowed higher rates of fire to be achieved without the barrel overheating.

History

The Gatling gun was designed by the American inventor Dr. Richard J. Gatling
Richard Jordan Gatling
Dr. Richard Jordan Gatling was an American inventor best known for his invention of the Gatling gun, the first successful machine gun.-Life:...

 in 1861 and patented in 1862. Gatling wrote that he created it to reduce the size of armies and so reduce the number of deaths by combat and disease, and to show how futile war is.

Although the first Gatling gun was capable of firing continuously, it required a person to crank it; therefore it was not a true automatic weapon. The Maxim gun
Maxim gun
The Maxim gun was the first self-powered machine gun, invented by the American-born British inventor Sir Hiram Maxim in 1884. It has been called "the weapon most associated with [British] imperial conquest".-Functionality:...

, invented in 1884, was the first true fully automatic weapon, making use of the fired projectile's recoil force to reload the weapon. Nonetheless, the Gatling gun represented a huge leap in firearm
Firearm
A firearm is a weapon that launches one, or many, projectile at high velocity through confined burning of a propellant. This subsonic burning process is technically known as deflagration, as opposed to supersonic combustion known as a detonation. In older firearms, the propellant was typically...

 technology. Prior to the Gatling gun, the only rapid-fire firearms available to militaries were mass-firing volley weapons
Volley gun
A volley gun is a gun with several barrels for firing a number of shots, either simultaneously or in sequence. They differ from modern machine guns in that they lack automatic loading and automatic fire and are limited by the number of barrels bundled together.In practice the large ones were not...

 as the French Reffye mitrailleuse
Mitrailleuse
Mitrailleuse is the French word used to describe all rapid-firing weapons of rifle caliber. Therefore the word mitrailleuse, when used in the French language, applies to all machine guns including modern full automatic weapons. However in the English language the word mitrailleuse applies to...

 in 1870–71 or grapeshot
Grapeshot
In artillery, a grapeshot is a type of shot that is not a one solid element, but a mass of small metal balls or slugs packed tightly into a canvas bag. It was used both in land and naval warfare. When assembled, the balls resembled a cluster of grapes, hence the name...

 as fired from field cannon
Cannon
A cannon is any piece of artillery that uses gunpowder or other usually explosive-based propellents to launch a projectile. Cannon vary in caliber, range, mobility, rate of fire, angle of fire, and firepower; different forms of cannon combine and balance these attributes in varying degrees,...

s, similarly to a very large shotgun
Shotgun
A shotgun is a firearm that is usually designed to be fired from the shoulder, which uses the energy of a fixed shell to fire a number of small spherical pellets called shot, or a solid projectile called a slug...

. The latter were widely used during and since the Napoleonic Wars
Napoleonic Wars
The Napoleonic Wars were a series of wars declared against Napoleon's French Empire by opposing coalitions that ran from 1803 to 1815. As a continuation of the wars sparked by the French Revolution of 1789, they revolutionised European armies and played out on an unprecedented scale, mainly due to...

. Although the rate of fire
Rate of fire
Rate of fire is the frequency at which a specific weapon can fire or launch its projectiles. It is usually measured in rounds per minute , or per second .-Overview:...

 was increased by firing multiple projectiles simultaneously, these weapons still needed to be reloaded after each discharge, which for multi-barrel systems like the mitrailleuse was cumbersome and time-consuming. This negated their high rate of fire per discharge thus making them impractical for use on the battlefield. In comparison, the Gatling gun offered a rapid and continuous rate of fire without having to manually reload by opening the breech.

The original Gatling gun was a field weapon, which used multiple rotating barrels turned by a hand crank
Crankshaft
The crankshaft, sometimes casually abbreviated to crank, is the part of an engine which translates reciprocating linear piston motion into rotation...

, and firing loose (no links or belt) metal cartridge ammunition using a gravity feed system from a hopper. The Gatling gun's innovation lay neither in the rotating mechanism (featured by many revolver
Revolver
A revolver is a repeating firearm that has a cylinder containing multiple chambers and at least one barrel for firing. The first revolver ever made was built by Elisha Collier in 1818. The percussion cap revolver was invented by Samuel Colt in 1836. This weapon became known as the Colt Paterson...

s of the day)| nor the use of multiple barrels to limit overheating (used by the mitrailleuse
Mitrailleuse
Mitrailleuse is the French word used to describe all rapid-firing weapons of rifle caliber. Therefore the word mitrailleuse, when used in the French language, applies to all machine guns including modern full automatic weapons. However in the English language the word mitrailleuse applies to...

gun); rather, the innovation was the gravity feed reloading mechanism, which allowed unskilled operators to achieve a relatively high rate of fire of 200 rounds per minute.

The Gatling gun was first used in warfare during the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

. The gun was not accepted by the Union Army
Union Army
The Union Army was the land force that fought for the Union during the American Civil War. It was also known as the Federal Army, the U.S. Army, the Northern Army and the National Army...

 until 1866, but a "sales engineer" of the manufacturing company demonstrated it in combat. Captain Germán Astete of the Peruvian Navy
Peruvian Navy
The Peruvian Navy is the branch of the Peruvian Armed Forces tasked with surveillance, patrol and defense on lakes, rivers and the Pacific Ocean up to 200 nautical miles from the Peruvian littoral...

 took with him dozens of Gatling guns from the US to Peru in December 1879 during the Peru-Chile War of the Pacific
War of the Pacific
The War of the Pacific took place in western South America from 1879 through 1883. Chile fought against Bolivia and Peru. Despite cooperation among the three nations in the war against Spain, disputes soon arose over the mineral-rich Peruvian provinces of Tarapaca, Tacna, and Arica, and the...

. Gatling guns were used by the Peruvian navy and army, especially in the Battle of Tacna
Battle of Tacna
The Battle of Tacna, also known as the Battle of Alliance Heights , effectively destroyed the Peru-Bolivian alliance against Chile, forged by a secret treaty between both countries signed on 1873...

 (May 1880) and the "Battle of San Juan" (January 1881) against the Chilean army invaders. Lieutenant A.L. Howard of the Connecticut National Guard
Connecticut National Guard
The Connecticut National Guard consists of the Connecticut Army National Guard and theConnecticut Air National Guard. The Constitution of the United States specifically charges the National Guard with dual federal and state missions. In fact, the National Guard is the only United States military...

 had an interest in the company manufacturing Gatling guns, and took a personally-owned Gatling gun to Saskatchewan
Saskatchewan
Saskatchewan is a prairie province in Canada, which has an area of . Saskatchewan is bordered on the west by Alberta, on the north by the Northwest Territories, on the east by Manitoba, and on the south by the U.S. states of Montana and North Dakota....

 in Canada in 1885 for use with the Canadian military against the Métis
Métis people (Canada)
The Métis are one of the Aboriginal peoples in Canada who trace their descent to mixed First Nations parentage. The term was historically a catch-all describing the offspring of any such union, but within generations the culture syncretised into what is today a distinct aboriginal group, with...

 during Louis Riel
Louis Riel
Louis David Riel was a Canadian politician, a founder of the province of Manitoba, and a political and spiritual leader of the Métis people of the Canadian prairies. He led two resistance movements against the Canadian government and its first post-Confederation Prime Minister, Sir John A....

's North-West Rebellion
North-West Rebellion
The North-West Rebellion of 1885 was a brief and unsuccessful uprising by the Métis people of the District of Saskatchewan under Louis Riel against the Dominion of Canada...

.

Early multi-barrel guns were approximately the size and weight of artillery
Artillery
Originally applied to any group of infantry primarily armed with projectile weapons, artillery has over time become limited in meaning to refer only to those engines of war that operate by projection of munitions far beyond the range of effect of personal weapons...

 pieces, and were often perceived as a replacement for cannon firing grapeshot
Grapeshot
In artillery, a grapeshot is a type of shot that is not a one solid element, but a mass of small metal balls or slugs packed tightly into a canvas bag. It was used both in land and naval warfare. When assembled, the balls resembled a cluster of grapes, hence the name...

 or canister shot
Canister shot
Canister shot is a kind of anti-personnel ammunition used in cannons. It was similar to the naval grapeshot, but fired smaller and more numerous balls, which did not have to punch through the wooden hull of a ship...

. Compared to earlier weapons such as the Mitrailleuse
Mitrailleuse
Mitrailleuse is the French word used to describe all rapid-firing weapons of rifle caliber. Therefore the word mitrailleuse, when used in the French language, applies to all machine guns including modern full automatic weapons. However in the English language the word mitrailleuse applies to...

, which required manual reloading, the Gatling gun was more reliable, easier to operate, and had a lower but continuous rate of fire. The large wheels required to move these guns around required a high firing position which increased the vulnerability of their crews. Sustained firing of gunpowder
Gunpowder
Gunpowder, also known since in the late 19th century as black powder, was the first chemical explosive and the only one known until the mid 1800s. It is a mixture of sulfur, charcoal, and potassium nitrate - with the sulfur and charcoal acting as fuels, while the saltpeter works as an oxidizer...

 cartridges generated a cloud of smoke making concealment impossible until smokeless powder
Smokeless powder
Smokeless powder is the name given to a number of propellants used in firearms and artillery which produce negligible smoke when fired, unlike the older gunpowder which they replaced...

 became available in the late 19th century. When fighting troops of industrialized nations, Gatling guns could be targeted by artillery they could not reach and their crews could be targeted by sniper
Sniper
A sniper is a marksman who shoots targets from concealed positions or distances exceeding the capabilities of regular personnel. Snipers typically have specialized training and distinct high-precision rifles....

s they could not see.

The Gatling gun was used most successfully to expand European colonial empires by killing warriors of non-industrialized societies including the Matabele, the Zulu, the Bedouin
Bedouin
The Bedouin are a part of a predominantly desert-dwelling Arab ethnic group traditionally divided into tribes or clans, known in Arabic as ..-Etymology:...

s, and the Mahdists
Mahdist War
The Mahdist War was a colonial war of the late 19th century. It was fought between the Mahdist Sudanese and the Egyptian and later British forces. It has also been called the Anglo-Sudan War or the Sudanese Mahdist Revolt. The British have called their part in the conflict the Sudan Campaign...

. Imperial Russia
Russian Empire
The Russian Empire was a state that existed from 1721 until the Russian Revolution of 1917. It was the successor to the Tsardom of Russia and the predecessor of the Soviet Union...

 purchased 400 Gatling guns and used them against Turkmen
Turkmen people
The Turkmen are a Turkic people located primarily in the Central Asian states of Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and northeastern Iran. They speak the Turkmen language, which is classified as a part of the Western Oghuz branch of the Turkic languages family together with Turkish, Azerbaijani, Qashqai,...

 cavalry and other nomads of central Asia. The Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

 used Gatling guns against the Egyptians at Alexandria
Alexandria
Alexandria is the second-largest city of Egypt, with a population of 4.1 million, extending about along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the north central part of the country; it is also the largest city lying directly on the Mediterranean coast. It is Egypt's largest seaport, serving...

 in 1882.

Because of infighting within Army Ordnance, Gatling guns were again used by the U.S. Army during the Spanish-American War
Spanish-American War
The Spanish–American War was a conflict in 1898 between Spain and the United States, effectively the result of American intervention in the ongoing Cuban War of Independence...

. A four-gun battery of Model 1895 ten-barrel Gatling Guns in .30 Army
.30-40 Krag
The .30-40 Krag was a cartridge developed in the early 1890s to provide the U.S. armed forces with a smokeless powder cartridge suited for use with modern small-bore repeating rifles to be selected in the 1892 small arm trials...

 made by Colt's Arms Company
Colt's Manufacturing Company
Colt's Manufacturing Company is a United States firearms manufacturer, whose first predecessor corporation was founded in 1836 by Sam Colt. Colt is best known for the engineering, production, and marketing of firearms over the later half of the 19th and the 20th century...

 was formed into a separate detachment led by Lt. John "Gatling Gun" Parker
John Henry Parker (General)
General John Henry Parker aka "Gatling Gun Parker" was a brigadier general in the United States Army. He is best known for his role as the commander of the Gatling Gun Detachment of the U.S...

. The detachment proved very effective supporting the advance of American forces at the Battle of San Juan Hill
Battle of San Juan Hill
The Battle of San Juan Hill , also known as the battle for the San Juan Heights, was a decisive battle of the Spanish-American War. The San Juan heights was a north-south running elevation about two kilometers east of Santiago de Cuba. The names San Juan Hill and Kettle Hill were names given by the...

, where three of the Gatlings with swivel mountings were used with great success against the Spanish defenders. During the American charge up San Juan and Kettle Hills, the three guns fired a total of 18,000 .30 Army rounds in eight and one-half minutes (an average of over 700 rpm per gun) against Spanish troop positions along the crest of both hills, wreaking terrible carnage. Despite this remarkable achievement, the Gatling's weight and cumbersome artillery carriage hindered their ability to keep up with infantry forces over difficult ground, particularly in Cuba, where roads were often little more than jungle footpaths. By this time, the U.S. Marines had been issued the modern tripod-mounted M1895 Colt-Browning machine gun
M1895 Colt-Browning machine gun
The Colt-Browning M1895, nicknamed potato digger due to its unusual operating mechanism, is an air-cooled, belt-fed, gas-operated machine gun that fires from a closed bolt with a cyclic rate of 450 rounds per minute...

 in 6mm Lee Navy
6mm Lee Navy
The 6mm Lee Navy aka 6mm U.S.N. is an obsolete American rifle cartridge. It was the service cartridge of the United States Navy and Marine Corps from 1895, officially replacing the .45-70 Government round, and was the first small-bore high-velocity smokeless powder cartridge to be adopted by...

, which they employed to defeat Spanish infantry at the battle of Cuzco Wells.

Basic design

The Gatling gun was hand-crank operated with six barrels revolving around a central shaft, similar to the Puckle Gun
Puckle gun
The Puckle gun was invented in 1718 by James Puckle an English inventor, lawyer and writer.-Design and patent:...

. Early models had a fibrous matting stuffed in among the barrels which could be soaked with water to cool the barrels down. Later models eliminated the matting-filled barrels as being counterproductive. The ammunition was initially a steel cylinder charged with black powder and primed with a percussion cap, because self-contained brass cartridges had not yet been fully developed and become available. The shells were gravity-fed into the breech through a hopper or stick magazine on top of the gun. Each barrel had its own firing mechanism. After 1861, new brass
Brass
Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc; the proportions of zinc and copper can be varied to create a range of brasses with varying properties.In comparison, bronze is principally an alloy of copper and tin...

 cartridges similar to modern cartridges replaced the paper cartridge, but Gatling did not switch to them immediately.

The Model 1881 was designed to use the 'Bruce'-style feed system (U.S. Patents 247,158 and 343,532) that accepted two rows of .45-70
.45-70
The .45-70 rifle cartridge, also known as .45-70 Government, was developed at the U.S. Army's Springfield Armory for use in the Springfield Model 1873...

 cartridges. While one row was being fed into the gun, the other could be reloaded, thus allowing sustained fire. The final gun required four operators. By 1876 the Gatling gun had a theoretical rate of fire of 1,200 rounds per minute, although 400 rounds per minute was more readily achievable in combat.

Each barrel fires once per revolution at about the same position. The barrels, a carrier, and a lock cylinder were separate and all mounted on a solid plate revolving around a central shaft, mounted on an oblong fixed frame. The carrier was grooved and the lock cylinder was drilled with holes corresponding to the barrels. Each barrel had a single lock, working in the lock cylinder on a line with the barrel. The lock cylinder was encased and joined to the frame. The casing was partitioned, and through this opening the barrel shaft was journaled. In front of the casing was a cam with spiral surfaces. The cam imparted a reciprocating motion to the locks when the gun rotated. Also in the casing was a cocking ring with projections to cock and fire the gun.

Turning the crank rotated the shaft. Cartridges, held in a hopper, dropped individually into the grooves of the carrier. The lock was simultaneously forced by the cam to move forward and load the cartridge, and when the cam was at its highest point, the cocking ring freed the lock and fired the cartridge. After the cartridge was fired the continuing action of the cam drew back the lock bringing with it the spent cartridge which then dropped to the ground.

The grouped barrel concept had been explored by inventors since the 18th century, but poor engineering and the lack of a unitary cartridge made previous designs unsuccessful. The initial Gatling gun design used self-contained, reloadable steel cylinders with a chamber holding a ball and black-powder charge, and a percussion cap on one end. As the barrels rotated, these steel cylinders dropped into place, were fired, and were then ejected from the gun. The innovative features of the Gatling gun were its independent firing mechanism for each barrel and the simultaneous action of the locks, barrels, carrier and breech
Breech-loading weapon
A breech-loading weapon is a firearm in which the cartridge or shell is inserted or loaded into a chamber integral to the rear portion of a barrel....

.

The smallest caliber gun also had a Broadwell drum feed in place of the curved magazine of the other guns. The drum, named after L. W. Broadwell, an agent for Gatling's company, comprised twenty stick magazines arranged around a central axis, like the spokes of a wheel, each holding twenty cartridges with the bullet noses oriented toward the central axis. This significant invention does not appear to have been patented separately, and may have been included in the April 9, 1872 patent, U.S. 125,563; a post and base, apparently for mounting a Broadwell drum, is visible in Figure 13 of U.S. 125,563. As each magazine emptied, the drum was manually rotated to bring a new magazine into use until all 400 rounds had been fired.

By 1893, the M1893 Gatling was adapted to take the new .30 Army smokeless cartridge. The new M1893 guns featured six barrels, and were capable of a maximum (initial) rate of fire of some 800-900 rounds per minute. Dr. Gatling later used examples of the M1893 powered by electric motor and belt to drive the Gatling's crank. Tests demonstrated that the electric Gatling could fire at up to 1,500 rpm for short periods.

The M1893, with minor revisions, became the Model 1895, and 94 guns were produced for the U.S. Army by the Colt's Arms Company. Four M1895 Gatlings under Lt. John H. Parker saw considerable combat service during the Santiago campaign in Cuba in 1898. Model 1895 was similar to the model 1893, but was designed to accept only the Bruce feeder. All previous model were unpainted, but the M1895 was painted olive drab (O.D.) green, with some parts blued.

The Model 1900 was very similar to the model 1895, but with only a few components finished in O.D. green. The U.S. Army purchased a quantity of Model 1900 guns. All Gatling Models 1895-1903 could be mounted on an armored field carriage.

In 1903, the Army converted their Model 1900 guns in .30 Army to fit the .30-03 cartridge that became the Army standard with the introduction of their new model 1903 Springfield rifle; these Gatlings were designated the Model 1903. The later Model 1903-06 was a Model 1903 Gatling converted to cal. .30-06. This conversion was principally carried out at the Army's Springfield Armory arsenal repair shops.

All models of Gatling guns were declared obsolete by the U.S. Army in 1911, after 45 years of service.

Development of modern Gatling-type guns

After the Gatling gun was replaced in service by newer recoil- or gas-operated non-rotating machine guns and automatic cannons, the approach of using multiple rotating barrels fell into disuse for many decades, reappearing after World War II with the development of the M61 Vulcan
M61 Vulcan
The M61 Vulcan is a hydraulically or pneumatically driven, six-barreled, air-cooled, electrically fired Gatling-style rotary cannon which fires 20 mm rounds at an extremely high rate. The M61 and its derivatives have been the principal cannon armament of United States military fixed-wing aircraft...

.

External links

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