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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.
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) repeating firearm.
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?]
The Puckle gun was fired in a similar fashion to a conventional flintlock musket; however, after each shot, a crank on the threaded shaft at the rear would be unscrewed to release the 11-shot cylinder to turn freely. The cylinder would then be advanced by hand to the next loaded chamber, and the crank turned back again to lock the cylinder into the breech of the fixed barrel. The flintlock mechanism could then be primed for another shot.
After all 11 chambers of the cylinder had been fired, the crank handle could be unscrewed completely to remove the cylinder, which could then be replaced with a freshly loaded cylinder, an early example of a speedloader.
Production and use
Prototypes were shown in 1717 to the English Board of Ordnance, who were not impressed. However, "at a public trial held in 1722, the gun was able to fire 63 shots in seven minutes (approx 9 rounds per minute) in the midst of a driving rain storm." A rate of 9 rounds per minute compared favourably to riflemen of the period, who could be expected to fire between 2 and 5 rounds per minute depending on the quality of the troops, with experienced troops expected to reliably manage 3 rounds a minute under fair conditions.
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 mechanical 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.
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.
Elisha Collier invented a flintlock revolver in 1814, nearly a hundred years after the Puckle gun. Unlike the Puckle, the cylinder of the Collier was not interchangeable, slowing reloading, but would have had a faster rate of fire for its five chambers due to its single-action mechanism.
During the period between the widespread adoption of the revolver, but prior to widespread use of cartridges, it was common to use multiple replaceable cylinders functioning as speedloaders, similar to the Puckle gun. This practice was primarily done on Remington revolvers, as their cylinders were easily removable and were held by a cylinder pin, unlike the early Colt revolvers which were held together by a wedge that went through the cylinder pin.
Confederate revolving cannon
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 cartridge-based derivatives of 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.
The Puckle gun appears as a feature of naval warfare in the 2014 game Assassin's Creed Rogue.
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