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Originally appearing in Volume V17, Page 241 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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HISTORICAL SKETCH Machine-guns of a primitive kind are found in the early history of gunpowder artillery, in the form of a grouping or binding of several small-calibre guns for purposes of a volley or a rapid succession of shots. The earliest field artillery (q.v.) was indeed chiefly designed to serve the purpose of a modern machine-gun; i.e. for a mechanical concentration of musketry. Infantry fire (till the development of the Spanish arquebus, about s ao) was almost ineffective, and the disintegration of the masses of pikes, preparatory to the decisive cavalry charge, had to he effected by guns of one sort or another (see also INFANTRY). Hence the " cart with gonnes," although the prototype of the field gun of to-day was actually a primitive mitrailleuse. Weapons of this sort were freely employed by the Hussites, who fought in laager formation (Wagenburg), but the fatting of two or more hand-guns or small culverins to a two-wheeled carriage garnished with spikes and scythe blades (like the ancient war-chariots) was somewhat older, for in 1382 the men of Ghent put into the field 200 " chars de canon " and in 1411 the Burgundian army is said to have had 2000 " ribaudequins "(meaning probably the weapons, not the carts, in this case). These were of course hardly more than carts with hand-gun men; in fact most armies in those days moved about in a hollow square or lozenge of wagons, and it was natural to fill the carts with the available gunners or archers. The method of breaking the enemy's " battles " with these carts was at first, in the, ancient manner, to drive into and disorder the hostile ranks with the Maude- scythes. But they contained at least the germ of gams. the modern machine-gun, for the tubes (cannes, canons) were connected by a train of powder and fired in volleys. As however field artillery improved (latter half of 15th century), and a cannon-ball could be fired from a mobile carriage, the ribaudequin ceased to exist, its name being transferred to heavy hand-guns used as rampart pieces. The idea of the machine- gun reappeared however in the 16th century. The weapons were now called " organs" (orgues), from the number of pipes or tubes that they contained. At first used (defensively) in the same way as the ribaudequins, i.e. as an effective addition to the military equipment of a war-cart, they were developed, in the early part of the 16th century, into a really formidable weapon for breaking the masses of the enemy, not by scythes and spikes but by fire. Fleurange's memoirs assign the credit of this .to the famous gunner and engineer Pedro Navarro, who made two hundred weapons of a design of his own for Louis XII. These " were not more than two feet long, and fired fifty shots at a round," but nevertheless " organs " were relatively rare in the armies of the 16th century, for the field artillery, though it grew in size and lost in mobility, had discovered the efficacy of case shot (then called " perdreaux ") against uncovered animate targets, and for work that was not sufficiently serious for the guns heavy arquebuses were employed. Infantry fire, too, was growing in power and importance. In 1551 a French army contained 21 guns and 150 arquebuses d croc and one piece faon d'orgue. By about 1570 it had been found that when an " organ " "Organs „ was needed all that was necessary was to mount some • heavy arquebuses on a cart; and the organ, ' as a separate weapon, disappeared from the field, although tinder the name of " mantelet " (from the shield which protected the gunners), it was still used for the defence of breaches in siege war-fare. Diego Ufano,who wrote in the early years of the 17th century, describes it as a weapon consisting of five or six barrels fired simultaneously by a common lock, and mentions as a celebrated example the " Triquetraque of Rome” which had five barrels. Another writer; Hanzelet, describes amongst other devices a mitrailleuse of four barrels which was fired from the back of an ass or pony. But such weapons as these were more curious than useful. For work in the open field the musket came more and more to the front, its bullet became at least as formidable as that of an " organ," and when it was necessary to obtain a concentrated fire on a narrow front arquebuses a croc were mounted for the nonce in groups of four to six. The " organ " maintained a precarious existence, and is described by Montecucculi a century later, and one of twelve barrels figures in the list of military stores at Hesdin in 1689. But its fatal defect was that it was neither powerful enough to engage nor mobile enough to evade the hostile artillery. Enthusiastic inventors, of course, produced many models of machine-gun in the strict sense of the word—i.e. a gun firing many charges, in volleys or in rapid succession, by a mechanical arrangement of the lock. Wilhelm Calthoff, a German employed by Louis XITL, produced arquebuses and muskets that fired six to eight shots per round, but his invention was a secret, and it seems to have been more of a magazine small arm than a machine-gun (1646). In 170I a Lorrainer, Beaufort de Mire-court, proposed a machine-gun which had as its purpose the augmentation of infantry-fire power, so as to place an inferior army on an equality with a superior. At this time inventors were so numerous and so embarrassing that the French grand master of artillery, St Hilaire, in 1703 wrote that he would be glad to have done with " ces sorter de gens a secrets," some of whom demanded a grant of compensation even when their experiments had failed. The machine-gun of the 17th and 18th centuries in fact possessed no advantage over contemporary field artillery, and the battalion gun in particular, which possessed the long ranging and battering power that its rival lacked, and was, moreover more efficacious against living targets with its case-shot or grape. As compared with infantry fire, too, it was less effective and slower than the muskets of a well-drilled company. Rapid fire was easily arranged, but the rapid loading which would have compensated for other defects was unobtainable in the then existing state of gun-making. Thus a . satisfactory machine-gun was not forthcoming until breech-loading had been, so to speak, rediscovered, that is until about 1860. At that time the tactical conditions of armament were peculiar. As regards artillery, the new (muzzle-loading) long-range, rifle sufficed, in the hand of determined infantry, to keep guns out of case-shot range. This made the Napoleonic artillery attack an impossibility. At the same time the infantry rifle was a slow loader, and the augmentation of the volume of infantry fire attracted the attention of several inventors. The French, with their artillery traditions, regarded the machine-gun there-fore as a method of restoring the lost superiority of the gunner, while the Americans, equally in accordance with traditions and local circumstances, regarded it as a musketry machine. The representative weapons evolved by each were the canon a balles, more commonly called mitrailleuse, and the Gatling gun. The declared purpose of the canon d balles was to replace the old artillery case-shot attack. Shrapnel, owing to the defects of the time-fuzes then available, had proved disappointing in the Italian War of 1859, and the gun itself, of the existing model, was not considered satisfactory. Napoleon III., a keen student of artillery, maintained a private arsenal and workshop at the chateau of Meudon' and in 1866, in the alarm following upon Meudon Chateau had long been used for military experiments. The peasantry credited it with mysterious and terrible secrets, asserting even that it contained a tannery of human skins, this tradition perhaps relating to the war balloon constructed there before the battle of Fleurus (1794). Reffye had also many nonthilitary tasks, such as the reproduction of a famous set of bas-reliefs, construction of aeroplanes, and the reconstruction of triremes and balistas. Koniggratz, he ordered Commandant Reffye (1821-188o), the artillery officer he had placed in charge of it, to produce a machine-gun. Reffye held that the work of a mitrailleuse should only begin where that of the infantry rifle ceased. The handbook to his gun issued to the French army in 187o stated that it was " to carry balls to distances that the infantry, and the a The Canon artillery firing case, could not reach." The most Banes, 1866-1870. suitable range was given as 1500-2000 yards against infantry in close order, 2000-2700 against artillery. As the French shrapnel (obus d balles) of these days was only used to give its peculiar case-shot effect between 550 and 1350 yards, and even so sparingly and without much confidence in its efficacy, it is clear that the canon a balles was intended to do the field-gun's work, except at (what were then) extreme field artillery ranges (2800 and above), in which case the ordinary gun with common shell (time or percussion) alone was used. Constructed to meet these conditions, the Reffye machine-gun in its final form resembled outwardly an ordinary field gun, with wheeled carriage, limber and four-horse team. The gun barrel was in reality a casing for 25 rifle barrels disposed around a common axis (the idea of obtaining sweeping effect by disposing the barrels slightly fan-wise had been tried and abandoned). The barrels were held together at intervals by wrought-iron plates. They were entirely open at the breech, a removable false breech containing the firing mechanism (the cartridge cases were of brass, solid-drawn, like those of the American and unlike those of the British Gatlings). This false breech, held in the firing position by a strong screw—resembling roughly those of contemporary B.L. ordnance such as the Armstrong R. B. L.—consisted of a plate with 25 holes, which allowed the points of the strikers to pass through and reach the cartridges. The plate was turned by hand so that one striker was admitted at a time, the metal of the plate. holding back the rest. To avoid any deflection of the bullet by the gases at an adjoining muzzle the barrels were fired in an irregular order. Each gun was provided with four chambers, which were loaded with their 25 cartridges apiece by a charger, and fixed to the breech one after the other as quickly as the manipulation of the powerful retaining screw permitted. The rates of fire were " slow," 3 rounds or 75 shots a minute, and " rapid," 5 rounds or 125 shots per minute. One advantage as against artillery that was claimed for the new weapon was rapidity of ranging. Any ordinary target, such as a hostile gun, would, it was expected, be accurately ranged by the mitrailleuse before it was ready to open fire for effect. The ordinary rifle bullet was employed, but to enhance the case-shot effect a heavy bullet made up in three parts, which broke asunder on discharge, was introduced in 187o in the proportion of one round in nine. The weapon was sighted to 3000 metres (3300 yds.). The initial. velocity was 1558 f.s.; and the weight of the gun 350 kg. (6.45 cwt.), of the carriage 371 kg. (6.86 cwt.); total behind the team, 1,485 kg. (27.1 cwt.). For an artillery effect, dispersion had to be combined with accuracy. The rifle-barrels when carefully set gave a very close grouping of shots on the target, and dispersion was obtained by traversing the gun during the firing of a round. When this was skilfully performed a front of 18 metres (about 20 yds.) at I,000 metres range was thoroughly swept by the cone of bullets. The design and manufacture of these mitrailleuses under the personal orders and at the expense of the emperor enabled the French authorities to keep their new weapon most secret. Even though, after a time, mitrailleuses were constructed by scores, and could therefore no longer be charged to a " sundry " or " petty cash " account in the budget, secrecy was still maintained. The pieces were taken about, muffled in tarpaulins, by by-ways and footpaths. In 1869, two years after the definitive adoption of the weapon, only a few artillery captains were instructed in its mechanism; the non-commissioned officers who had to handle the gun in war were called up for practice in July 187o, when Major Reffye's energies were too much absorbed in turning out the material so urgently demanded to allow him to devote himself to their instruction. The natural consequence was that the mitrailleuses were taken into battle by officers and men of whom nine-tenths had never seen them fire one round of live cartridges. The purpose of this fatal secrecy was the maintenance of prestige. No details were given, but it was confidently announced that war would be revolutionized. One foreign officer only, Major Fosbery, R.A. (see R.U.S.I. Journal, v. xiii.), penetrated the secret, and he felt himself bound in honour to keep it to himself, not even communicating it to the War Office. But public attention was only too fully aroused by these mysterious prophecies. " The mitrailleuse paid dearlyfor its fame." The Prussians, who had examined mitrailleuses of the Gatling or infantry type, were well aware that the artillery machine-gun was at the least a most formidable opponent. They therefore ostentatiously rejected the Gatling gun, taught their troops that the new weapons were in the nature of scientific toys, and secretly made up their minds to turn the whole weight of their guns on to the mitrailleuse whenever and wherever it appeared on the field, and so to Overwhelm it at once. This policy they carried into effect in the War of 187o; and although on occasions the new weapon rendered excellent service, in general it cruelly disappointed the over-high hopes of its admirers. And thus; although the Gatling and similar types of gun were employed to a slight extent by both sides in the later stage of the war, machine-guns, as a class of armament for civilized warfare, practically disappeared. As a good deal of criticism—after the event—has been levelled at the French for their " improper use of the machine-gun as a substitute for artillery," it is necessary to give some summary of the ideas and rules which were inspired by the inventor or dictated by the authorities as to its tactical employment. The first principle laid down was that the gun should not be employed within the zone of the infantry fight. Officers commanding batteries were explicitly warned against infantry divisional generals who would certainly attempt to put the batteries, by sections, amongst the infantry. The second principle was that the mitrailleuses were to share the work of the guns, the latter battering obstacles with common shell, and the former being employed against troops in the open, and especially to cover and support the infantry advance. This tendency to classify the roles of the artillery and to tell off the batteries each in its special task has reappeared in the French, and to a more limited extent in the British, field artillery of to-day (the Germans alone resolutely opposing the idea of subdivision). The mitrailleuse of 1870 was, in fact, intended to do what the perfected Shrapnel of 1910 does, to transfer the case-shot attack to longer ranges. But, as we have seen, secrecy had prevented any general spread of know-ledge as to the uses to which the canon el balles was to be put, and consequently, after a few weeks of the war, we find Reffye complaining that the machine-guns were being used by their battery commanders " in a perfectly idiotic fashion. They are only good at a great distance and when used in masses, and they are being employed at close quarters like a rifle." The officers in the field, however, held that it was foolish to pit the mitrailleuse against the gun; which had a longer range, and exerted themselves to use it as an infantry weapon, a concentrated company, for which, unlike the Gatlings of 1870 and the machine-guns of to-day, it was never designed. As to which was right in the controversy it is impossible to• dogmatize and needless to argue. Very different was the Gatling gun, the invention of Richard Jordan Gatling (1818-1903), which came into existence and was to a slight extent used in the field in the latter years of the American Civil War,' and also to a still slighter extent by the Bavarians and the French in the latter part of the war of 187o. This was distinctively an infantry type weapon, a sort of revolving rifle, the ten barrels of which were set around an axis, and fired in turn when brought into position by oathag the revolving mechanism. This weapon had a. long aua. reign, and was used side by side with the latest automatic machine gun in the Spanish-American War of 1898. The following account of the old British service Gatling (fig. I), as used in the Egyptian and Sudanese campaigns, is condensed from that in the article " Gun-making," Ency. Brit. 9th ed. A block of ten barrels is secured round an axis, which is fixed in a frame a a. On turning the handle h (fig. 2) the spindle g g causes the worm f to act on the pinion to, making the axis and barrels revolve. A drum T (figs. 1 and 4) is placed on the top at the breech end of the barrels over a hopper, through a slot in which the cart-ridges drop into the carrier (fig. 3). The construction of the lock is shown in fig. 4. A A A A is a cam, sloping as in the drawing, which, it must be understood, represents the circular construction opened out and laid flat. As the barrels, carrier and locks revolve the slope of the cam forces the locks forward and backward alternately. At position I. the cartridge has just fallen into the carrier, the lock and bolt are completely withdrawn. At positions II., III., IV., the cam is forcing them forward, so that the bolt pushes the cart-ridge into the barrel. At IV. the cocking cam R begins to compress the spiral spring, releasing it at V. Position VI. shows the cartridge just after firing; the extractor is clutching the base of the cartridge ' A machine-gun of the artillery or volley type, called tiie " Requa battery," which had its barrels disposed fan-wise, was also used in the Civil War. case, which is withdrawn as the locks retreat down the slope of the cam, till at X it falls through an aperture to the ground. The drum consists of a number of vertical channels radiating from the centre. The cartridges are arranged horizontally, one above the other, in these channels, bullet ends inwards. The drum revolves on the pivot b (fig. 3), and the cartridges fall through the aperture B. When all the channels are emptied, a full drum is brought from the limber, and substituted for the empty one. Each barrel fires in turn as it comes to a certain position, so that by turning the handle quickly an almost continuous stream of bullets can be ejected. Experimental Gatlings were constructed which could be made to fire nearly moo shots a minute, and an automatic traversing arrangement was also fitted. As has been said, this weapon had a long reign. It was used with great effect in the Zulu War at Ulundi and in the Sudan. But a grave disadvantage of the English pattern was that it had to be used with the Boxer coiled cartridge supplied for the Martini-Henry rifle, and until this was replaced by a solid-drawn cartridge case it was impossible to avoid frequent " jams." The modern, fully automatic, machine gun suffers from this to a considerable extent, and it was an even more serious defect with a hand-operated weapon, as the British troops found in their campaigns against the Mandtsts. But the Gatling had many advantages over its newer rivals as regards simplicity and strength. Theodore Roosevelt, who commanded sections of both types in the Spanish-American War, speaks with enthusiasm of the old-fashioned weapon' while somewhat disparaging the Colt automatic. The Gardner was another type which had a certain vogue2 and was used by ,the British in savage warfare. But, next to In this weapon the barrels are placed horizontally, and have no movement. A box containing the locks, bolts, strikers and spiral springs, one of each corresponding to each barrel, moves Nordenkldt straight backwards and forwards when worked by the aim. handle of the lever on the right. When the box is drawn back the cartridges fall from the holder on the top into the carriers simultaneously. When the box is pushed forward the bolts push the cartridges into the barrel, cocking-catches compress the spiral springs, the lever releases the catches one after the other at very minute intervals of time, and the cartridges are fired in rapid Alb_ ,^11o. AR. is 15-18, 23-31, Lock and trigger parts; 41-44, Parts of hand-lever; 19-22, Locking action; 45-49, Traversing action; 32-35, Loading action; 50-55, Elevating and trailing action; 36-39, Cartridge receiver; 56, 57, Hopper and slide. 40, Cover; pnmaa:~`~?!a
End of Article: HISTORICAL
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