The Puckle gun (also known as the Defence gun) was a primitive crew-served, manually-operated flintlock revolver patented in 1718 by James Puckle (1667–1724) a British inventor, lawyer and writer. It was one of the earliest weapons to be referred to as a "machine gun," being called such in a 1722 shipping manifest, though its operation does not match the modern use of the term.
Design and patent
The Puckle gun is a tripod-mounted, single-barreled flintlock weapon fitted with a manually operated revolving cylinder; Puckle advertised its main application as an anti-boarding gun for use on ships. The barrel was 3 feet (0.91 m) long with a bore of 1.25 inches (32 mm). The cylinder held 6-11 shots depending on configuration, and was hand-loaded with powder and shot while detached from the weapon.[i]
According to the Patent Office of the United Kingdom, "In the reign of Queen Anne, the law officers of the Crown established as a condition of grant that "the patentee must by an instrument in writing describe and ascertain the nature of the invention and the manner in which it is to be performed."" This gun's patent, number 418 of 1718, was one of the first to provide such a description. T.W. Lee remarked, however, that "James Puckle's patent in 1718 contains more rhetorical fervor than technical rigor."
Puckle demonstrated two configurations of the basic design: one, intended for use against Christian enemies, fired conventional round bullets, while the second, 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 weapon was also reported as able to fire shot, with each discharge containing sixteen musket balls.
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 cylinder to turn freely. The cylinder would then be advanced by hand to the next 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: it was triggered using a lever which was separate from the crank assembly.
To reload the weapon, the crank handle could be unscrewed completely to remove the cylinder, which could then be replaced with a fully loaded cylinder, an early example of the concepts of both speedloader and detachable magazine. The cylinder appears to have been referred to as a "charger" in contemporary documentation.
Production and use
A prototype was shown in 1717 to the English Board of Ordnance, who were not impressed. At a later public trial held in 1722, a Puckle 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 musketeers 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; it was however inferior in fire rate to earlier repeating weapons such as the Kalthoff repeater which fired up to six times faster.
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. A leaflet of the period sarcastically observed of the venture that "they're only wounded who hold shares therein". Production was highly limited and may have been as few as just two guns, one a crude prototype made of iron, the other a finished weapon made from brass.[ii]
John Montagu, 2nd Duke of Montagu, Master-General of the Ordnance (1740-1749), purchased two guns for an ill-fated expedition in 1722 to capture St Lucia and St Vincent. While shipping manifests state "2 Machine Guns of Puckles" (sic) were among the cargo that departed from Portsmouth, there is no evidence that the guns were ever used in battle.
Two original 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, though this appears to have been a gun belonging to the former Montagu estate (at that point owned by the Buccleuch family) on loan to the Tower at the time.
Elisha Collier invented a flintlock revolver in 1814, nearly a hundred years after the Puckle gun (though examples of flintlock and matchlock revolvers exist much earlier, with the earliest known dating back to the 15th century). 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 the integral cylinder advancing of its single-action revolver mechanism, self-priming mechanism, and the lack of a need to screw and unscrew the cylinder between shots.
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 example 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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- James H. Willbanks (2004). Machine Guns: An Illustrated History of Their Impact. ABC-CLIO. p. 23.
- "The Armoury of His Grace the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry" (PDF). University of Huddersfield.
- George M. Chinn (1955). The Machine Gun: Design Analysis of Automatic Firing Mechanisms and Related Components, Volume IV, parts X and XI. Bureau of Ordnance, Department of the Navy, US Government Printing office. p. 185.
- Willbanks, James H (2004). Machine Guns: An Illustrated History of Their Impact. ABC-CLIO. p. 154. ISBN 1-85109-480-6.
- "The 18th century". Intellectual Property Office.
- T.W. Lee (2008). Military Technologies of the World. ABC-CLIO. pp. 238–239. ISBN 978-0-275-99536-2.
- Charles Ffoulkes, Lord Cottesloe (1937). The Gun-Founders of England: With a List of English and Continental Gun-Founders from the XIV to the XIX Centuries. Cambridge University Press. p. 34.
- Bequette, Roy Marcot ; edited by James W.; Gangloff, Joel J. Hutchcroft; foreword by Arthur W. Wheaton; chapter introductions by Richard F. Dietz; book design by Robert L. (1998). Remington : "America's oldest gunmaker". Peoria, IL: Primedia. ISBN 1-881657-00-0.
- Robert Niepert. "Civil War Revolvers of The North and South". Florida Reenactors Online.
- George M. Chinn (1951). The Machine Gun, History, Evolution and Development of Manual, Automatic and Airborne Repeating Weapons, Vol. 1. U.S. Government Printing Office. p. 46.