The Gatling Gun
Dr Richard Jordan Gatling
Dr Richard Gatling
Despite the extraordinary fire-power of the modern machine gun it was, ironically, originally designed to save lives. Dr Richard Jordan Gatling was a trained physician who never practised medicine, but devoted his life to engineering. In 1861, in the early months of the American Civil War, Gatling was shocked by the sheer number of dead and wounded passing through his home town of Indiana. In addition to the battlefield casualties, he realised that many soldiers succumbed to disease and malnutrition. Thousands of lives would be saved simply by reducing the number of men at arms.
He is recounted as saying: "It occurred to me that I could invent a machine - a gun, that by it's rapidity of fire would enable one man to do as much battle duty as a hundred".
The new machine was to take, and make, his name - The Gatling Gun.
The key feature of Gatling's invention is that it has multiple barrels, each with it's own firing mechanism. A hand-operated crank rotates the barrels so that they pass under the magazine at the top of the gun. Each barrel is loaded at the 12 o'clock position. When it moves to the 1 o'clock position, a spring-loaded pin fires the bullet. Then the barrel moves to the bottom of the gun and the spent cartridge falls to the ground.
The result is that while one barrel is firing the others are simultaneously reloading allowing for extremely rapid fire.
Gatling hoped his gun could match the fire-power of many rifles, drastically reducing the number of men on the battlefield. US Army field trials began just after the end of the civil war.
Bob Kaboskey with the Gatlin Gun
A re-enactment was staged in Kenosha, Wisconsin to test the Gatling Gun's firing rate. Fifteen riflemen using civil war vintage weapons competed with the Gatlin Gun to compare fire-rates. The riflemen were skilled sharp-shooters but their firing-rate was limited by the technology they used.
The rules of engagement were simple. there were two targets - one for the riflemen and one for the Gatling Gun. Whoever achieved the most hits, in sixty seconds, was the winner.
A well-trained civil war soldier might be capable of firing three rounds per minute. The Gatlin Gun can, in theory, produce 200 rounds per minute, but there are only 40 rounds in each magazine so it will need to be reloaded during the test.
Bob Kaboskey of the American Civil War Shooting Association who manned the Gatling Gun was confident it would achieve 120 150 rounds per minute. Victory went to the Gatling Gun with 110 hits in the minute to the riflemen's 45.
The Gatling Gun went inro service and was used with some success in the Spanish - American war of 1898. In the heat of battle the human operator turned out to be the gun's weakest link. The Gatling Gun was retired after it had proven too unreliable for battlefield use.
CREDITS: All of the above information was taken from the UK's Channel Five "Inventions of War" documentary series.