In the mid-19th century, weapons such as the Gatling were used in action by the Americans in the Civil War, while the French used the Montigny mitrailleuse, one of the first secret weapons, in the Franco-Prussian War. The Swedish-designed Nordenfelt was adopted by the British for use by the Royal Navy.The Gatling gun
Patented in 1862 by Richard Jordan Gatling, a dentist from North Carolina, this gun was a variation on the revolver principle, with six to ten barrels revolved around a central axis, firing one barrel at a time. The main advantage of having many barrels was that they cooled in between shots, so maintaining their accuracy and preventing "cook-off": the premature ignition of a charge. In 1865 the US Army bought its first Gading. The first weapons used paper cartridges, but a year later, metallic ones were introduced. Other types of automatic weapons were used in the Civil War but only the Gading remained in service afterwards.
The Gading was improved and served with a number of armies around the world as an infantry support or a light artillery weapon. Usually chambered for the contemporary general issue rifle cartridge, some naval Gadings, however, had calibres up to lin, and some derivatives, such as the Hotchkiss, were up to 2in in calibre. To fire the Gading, a handle at the back was cranked, which rotated the barrels and fired them in turn. Each barrel had its own bolt that reloaded with each turn. A competent gunner could reach rates of fire of over 200 rounds a minute - a far higher rate than with a single-shot muzzle-loaded or even magazine-fed bolt-action rifle. By 1890, the first true recoil-operated machine guns had been developed but some Gatlings remained in service until 1914.
The Montigny mitrailleuse
The mitrailleuse was designed in Belgium by Captain T. H. J. Fafschamps in 1851 and manufactured by Joseph Montigny of Fontaine-PEveque near Brussels. It was deployed in Belgium in the 1850s, apparentiy only on a limited basis as a defensive weapon to protect Belgian fortresses.
The Montigny mitrailleuse entered service with the French Army in 1869. Although it looked similar to a modern machine gun, it was strictly speaking a volley-fire gun. It had 26 barrels enclosed in a brass cylinder. A plate pre-loaded with ammunition was inserted into the breach, and to fire it, the gunner cranked a handle. He could fire all 26 barrels in one blast.
At the outbreak of war between France and Prussia in July 1870, the French Army had approximately 190 of these weapons available. Each division was issued with one battery of six guns, issued as replacement for the Canon de 4 (86.5mm) battery. However, the tactical philosophy behind the deployment of the mitrailleuse was unsuccessful in practice. The guns were ideal at short range against cavalry and infantry, and on one occasion a single mitrailleuse stopped a charge by 500 Prussian cavalry in a murderous 90-second fusillade. Yet French gunners assumed the mitrailleuse was an artillery piece and attempted to use it in long-range duels with very efficient Prussian artillery, a role for which it was entirely unsuited.
This machine gun was of Swedish design and consisted of four to ten barrels mounted on a tripod and fitted with a hopper magazine, with a hand lever to operate the mechanism. It was adopted by the Royal Navy and used as an anti-torpedo boat weapon and by naval landing parties.
There were several designs, including a ten-barrelled Nordenfelt machine gun in .45 calibre, a four-barrelled Nordenfelt lin-calibre gun with a rate of 200 rpm (introduced into service by the British in 1880, replacing the Gatling .45-calibre machine gun and five-barrelled Gardner machine gun), and the five-barrelled Nordenfelt .45-calibre, 600-rpm gun introduced in 1882.