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The Puckle gun mechanism was essentially a flintlock revolver; the design concept behind the Puckle gun turned out to be years ahead of what was technologically achievable with 18th century technology. The first practical guns using this design principle, now known as revolver cannons, only appeared in the mid-1940s.
Design and patent
It is a tripod-mounted, single-barreled flintlock weapon fitted with a multishot revolving cylinder. It was intended for shipboard use to prevent boarding. The barrel was 3 feet (0.91 m) long with a bore of 1.25 inches (32 mm). It had a pre-loaded cylinder which held 11 charges. It was thus a manually operated (thus externally powered) machine cannon.
According to the Patent Office of the United Kingdom, "In the reign of Queen Anne of Great Britain, the law officers of the Crown established as a condition of patent that the inventor must in writing describe the invention and the manner in which it works." This gun's patent was one of the first to provide such a description. One modern author remarked however that "James Puckle's patent in 1718 contains more rhetorical fervor than technical rigor."
Puckle demonstrated two versions of the basic design: one, intended for use against Christian enemies, fired conventional round bullets, while the second variant, designed to be used against the Muslim Turks, fired square bullets. The square bullets were considered to be more damaging. They would, according to the patent, convince the Turks of the "benefits of Christian civilization." The square bullets, however, were discontinued due to their unpredictable flight pattern.[unreliable source?]
Production and use
Prototypes were shown in 1717 to the English Board of Ordnance, but they were "not impressed". However, "at a public trial held in 1722, the gun was able to fire 63 shots in seven minutes in the midst of a driving rain storm, an amazing feat for the period."
The Puckle Gun drew few investors and never achieved mass production or sales to the British armed forces. As with other designs of the time it was hampered by "clumsy and undependable flintlock ignition" and other mechanism problems. One newspaper of the period sarcastically observed, following the business venture's failure, that the gun has "only wounded those who hold shares therein".
John Montagu, 2nd Duke of Montagu, Master-General of the Ordnance (1740-1749), purchased several for an ill-fated expedition in 1722 to capture St Lucia and St Vincent. There is no evidence that the guns were ever used in battle though.
Two examples are on display at former Montagu homes: One at Boughton House and another at Beaulieu Palace. There is a replica of a Puckle gun at Bucklers Hard Maritime Museum in Hampshire. Blackmore's British Military Firearms 1650–1850 lists "Puckle’s brass gun in the Tower of London" as illustration 77.
A single exemplar of a 2 inch bore, five-shot revolver cannon was built and used by the Confederate States of America during the Siege of Petersburg. It was captured on 27 April 1865 by Union troops and sent for examination at West Point.
In popular culture
In the 2009 PC game Empire: Total War, the Puckle Gun is available as a unit in the late 18th century. Only a limited number may be maintained at a time by a faction, reflecting the weapon's historical unpopularity.
In the Belisarius series by Eric Flint and David Drake, the Romans mount Puckle Guns on their steamships and supply barges to protect their supply lines on the Indus River. One is used to repel boarders in the final novel The Dance of Time.
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