Carousel of Death: Gatling Machine Gun

Such multi-barrel guns were called organs or ribodecenes. However, the name “quick-firing” didn’t suit similar systems: although it was possible to simultaneously launch a volley from a large number of barrels, further reloading required a lot of time. And with the advent of buckshot, multi-barrel guns completely lost their meaning. But in the 19th century, they were reborn again - thanks to a man who, with the best of intentions, wanted to reduce combat losses

In the second half of the 19th century, the military was extremely puzzled by the reduced effectiveness of artillery against infantry. For the usual shot with buckshot it was necessary to let the enemy go 500-700 m, and the new long-range rifles, which entered the infantry arsenal, simply did not allow this. However, the invention of a unitary cartridge marked a new direction in the development of firearms: an increase in rate of fire. As a result, several solutions to the problem appeared almost simultaneously. The French gunsmith de Reffy constructed a mitralose, consisting of 25 motionless 13 mm caliber barrels, capable of releasing up to 5-6 volleys per minute. In 1869, the Belgian inventor Montigny improved this system, bringing the number of trunks to 37. But the mitralles were very cumbersome and did not receive much distribution. A fundamentally different solution was required.

Gatling Patent, 1865

Good doctor

Richard Gatling was born September 12, 1818 in Hartford County (Connecticut) in a farmer's family. From childhood, he was fond of invention, helping his father repair agricultural machinery. Richard received his first patent (for a seeder) at the age of 19. But, despite his passion, he decided to become a doctor and in 1850 he graduated from the Medical College in Cincinnati. However, the passion for invention has triumphed. In the 1850s, Gatling invented several mechanical seed drills and a propeller for the new system, but he made the most famous invention later. On November 4, 1862, he received a patent number 36, 836 for a design that forever inscribed his name in the history of weapons - the Revolving Battery Gun. Nevertheless, the author of a deadly invention, as befits a doctor, had the best feelings for humanity. Gatling himself wrote about it this way: “If I could create a mechanical shooting system that, thanks to its rate of fire, would allow one person to replace a hundred shooters on the battlefield, the need for large armies would disappear, which would lead to a significant reduction in human losses.” (After Gatling’s death, Scientific American published an obituary saying: "This man had no equal in kindness and cordiality. It seemed to him that if the war became even more terrible, then the peoples would finally lose the desire to resort to arms.")

Machine gun M134 caliber 7.62 mm Despite the development of technology and materials, the principle of operation of the Gatling gun has not changed. All the same barrel block is spun by an external drive. By the way, precisely because, unlike their ancestors, modern “gatlings” work from an electric motor (or another engine), their use as an infantry weapon is very impractical ... The Terminator, apparently, always had a portable diesel power station.

Gatling’s merit was not at all that he was the first to make multi-barrel weapons - as already noted, multi-barrel systems were no longer a novelty at that time. And not that he arranged the trunks “in a revolving manner” (such a scheme was widely used in hand-held firearms). Gatling designed the original cartridge feed and cartridge ejection mechanism. A block of several trunks was rotated around its axis, under the influence of gravity, the cartridge from the tray entered the barrel at the upper point, then a shot was fired using a hammer, and further rotation from the barrel at the lower point again caused the cartridge to be extracted by gravity. The drive of this mechanism was manual, with the help of a special handle the shooter rotated the barrel block and fired. Of course, such a scheme was not yet fully automatic, but it had several advantages. At first, mechanical reloading was more reliable than automatic reloading: weapons of early designs constantly jammed. But even this simple mechanics provided a fairly high rate of fire at that time. The trunks were overheated and contaminated with soot (which was a significant problem, since smoke powder was widely used at that time) much slower than single-barreled weapons.

Machine guns

The Gatling system usually numbered from 4 to 10 trunks of 12–40 mm caliber and allowed firing at a distance of 1 km with a rate of fire of about 200 rounds per minute. In terms of firing range and rate of fire, it exceeded conventional artillery guns. In addition, the Gatling system was rather cumbersome and was usually placed on gun carriages from light cannons, therefore it was considered an artillery weapon, and it was often not quite correctly called the “card case” (in fact, this weapon is correctly called a machine gun). Prior to the adoption of the St. Petersburg Convention of 1868, which forbade the use of explosive shells weighing less than 1 pound, there were "gatlings" and large caliber firing explosive shells and shrapnel.

In America, there was a Civil War, and Gatling offered his weapons to the northerners. However, the Department of Artillery was inundated with proposals for the use of new weapons from various inventors, therefore, despite the successful demonstration, Gatling was unable to get an order. True, some instances of the Gatling machine gun still fought a little at the end of the war, having proved itself very well. After the war, in 1866, the American government nevertheless made an order for 100 copies of the Gatling gun, which were produced by Colt under the designation Model 1866. These guns were put on ships, they were also adopted by the armies of other countries. British troops used the gatlings in 1883 to crush the rebellion in Egypt's Port Said, where these weapons earned a terrifying reputation. Russia was also interested in it: the Gatling gun here was adapted by Gorlov and Baranovsky under the “Berdanovsky” cartridge and adopted. Later, the Gatling system was repeatedly improved and modified - the Swede Nordenfeld, the American Gardner, the British Fitzgerald. Moreover, it was a question not only of machine guns, but also of small-caliber guns - a typical example is the 37-mm five-barrel gun of Hotchkiss, adopted by the Russian fleet in 1881 (a 47-mm variant was also produced).

But the monopoly on rate of fire did not last long - soon the name "machine gun" was assigned to automatic weapons that worked on the principles of using powder gases and recoil for reloading. The first such weapon was the machine gun Hiram Maxim, who used smokeless gunpowder. This invention pushed the Gatlings to the background, and then completely displaced the army. The new single-barrel machine guns had a significantly higher rate of fire, were easier to manufacture and less bulky.

Gatlings in the air A pilot can change the rate of firing of a GAU-8 gun depending on the task. In the “low” rate of fire, this is 2000 rpm / min, when switching to the “high” mode, it is 4200. The optimal conditions for using the GAU-8 are 10 two-second bursts with minute breaks to cool the trunks.


Ironically, the Gatling revenge over single-barreled automatic guns took place more than half a century after the war in Korea, which became a real testing ground for jet aircraft. Despite its fierce fighting, the battles between the F-86 and MiG-15 showed the low efficiency of the artillery weapons of new jet fighters that migrated from piston ancestors. Airplanes of that time were armed with whole batteries of several barrels in caliber from 12.7 to 37 mm. All this was done in order to increase the second volley: after all, a continuously maneuvering enemy aircraft was only a fraction of a second in sight and for its destruction it was required to create a huge density of fire in a short time. At the same time, single-barrel guns almost reached the “structural” rate of fire - the barrel overheated too quickly. An unexpected solution was found by itself: the American corporation General Electric in the late 1940s began experiments with ... old Gatling guns taken from museums. The barrel block was spun by an electric motor, and a 70-year-old gun immediately issued a rate of fire of more than 2000 rounds per minute (it is interesting that there is evidence of installing an electric drive on Gatling guns at the end of the 19th century; this made it possible to achieve a rate of fire of several thousand rounds per minute - but in at that time, such a figure was unclaimed). The development of the idea was the creation of a gun, which opened a whole era in the arms business - M61A1 Vulcan.

When recharging, the GAU-8 module is completely removed from the aircraft. This greatly improves the ease of maintenance of the gun. The rotation of the barrel unit is carried out by two hydraulic motors, operating from the general hydraulic system of the aircraft.

Vulcan is a six-barrel gun weighing 190 kg (without ammunition), 1800 mm long, 20 mm caliber and a rate of 6000 rounds per minute. Automation "Volcano" works due to an external electric drive with a capacity of 26 kW. The supply of ammunition is non-linkage, carried out from a drum magazine with a capacity of 1000 shells along a special sleeve. The cartridge cases are returned to the store. This decision was made after the incident with the F-104 Starfighter, when the cannon shells thrown away by the cannon were thrown back by the air stream and severely damaged the aircraft's fuselage. The huge rate of fire of the gun also led to unforeseen consequences: the oscillations that occurred during firing forced to change the rate of fire to exclude the resonance of the entire structure. The recoil of the gun also presented a surprise: in one of the test flights of the ill-fated F-104, Vulcan fell off the gun carriage during firing and, continuing to shoot, turned round the nose of the aircraft with shells, while the pilot miraculously managed to eject. However, after correcting these shortcomings, the US military received a light and reliable weapon, which served for more than one decade faithfully. M61 guns are used on many aircraft and in the Mk.15 Phalanx anti-aircraft system, designed to destroy low-flying aircraft and cruise missiles. Based on the M61A1, the six-barreled M134 Minigun machine gun was developed with a caliber of 7.62 mm, which, thanks to computer games and filming in numerous films, became the most famous among all the "gatling". The machine gun is designed for installation on helicopters and ships.

GAU-8 gun near Volkswagen Beatle

The most powerful cannon with a rotating barrel unit was the American GAU-8 Avenger, designed for installation on the A-10 Thunderbolt II attack aircraft. The 30-mm seven-barreled gun is designed to fire mainly at ground targets. Two types of ammunition are used for it: PGU-13 / B high-explosive fragmentation shells and PGU-14 / B armor-piercing shells with an increased initial speed with a depleted uranium core. Since the gun and the aircraft were originally designed specifically for each other, shooting from the GAU-8 does not lead to a severe violation of the handling of the A-10. When designing the aircraft, it was also taken into account that powder gases from the gun should not enter the aircraft engines (this can lead to their stop) - special reflectors are installed for this. But during the operation of the A-10, it was noticed that unburned particles of gunpowder settle on the blades of turbochargers of engines and reduce traction, as well as lead to increased corrosion. To prevent this effect, electric afterburners are built into the aircraft engines. Ignition devices are automatically switched on when a fire is opened. At the same time, according to the instructions, after each ammunition shot, the A-10 engines must be flushed with soot. Although the gun did not show high efficiency during combat use, the psychological effect of the use turned out to be at its best - when a stream of fire literally pours from the sky, it’s very, very scary ...

Means of self-defense Tower automatic gun AK-630 uninhabited. The guidance of the gun is carried out remotely using electrohydraulic actuators. The AK-630 is a universal and effective “means of self-defense” of our warships, which allows us to defend ourselves against a wide variety of misfortunes, be it an anti-ship missile, Somali pirates or a floating sea mine (as in the film “Features of National Fishing”) ...

Soviet answer

In the USSR, work on quick-firing guns began with the development of naval means of near air defense. The result was the creation of a family of anti-aircraft guns designed in the Tula Design Bureau of Precision Instrumentation. 30-mm guns AK-630 still form the basis of the air defense of our ships, and the upgraded machine is part of the Cortic marine anti-aircraft missile and cannon system.

Our country later realized the need to have an analogue of the “Volcano” in service, so almost ten years passed between the tests of the GSh-6−23 gun and the decision to take it into service. The rate of fire of the GSh-6−23, which is installed on the Su-24 and MiG-31 aircraft, is 9000 rounds per minute, and the initial roll-up is carried out using standard PPL squibs (rather than electric or hydraulic drives, as in the American counterparts), which allowed significantly increase the reliability of the system and simplify its design. After the ignition is triggered and the first projectile is fed, the barrel block is untwisted by using the energy of the powder gases discharged from the barrel channels. The power of the cannon shells can be either linkless or link.

30-mm gun GSH-6-30 was designed on the basis of the AK-630 anti-aircraft gun. With a rate of fire of 4600 rounds per minute, it is capable of sending a 16-pound volley to the target in 0.25 s. According to eyewitnesses, the 150-round burst from GSh-6-30 more resembled a roll of thunder than a queue, while the aircraft was enveloped in a bright fiery glow. This gun, which had excellent accuracy, was installed on MiG-27 fighter-bombers instead of the standard GSh-23 double-barreled shotgun. The use of GSh-6-30 for ground targets forced the pilots to leave the dive sideways to protect themselves from the fragments of their own shells rising to a height of 200 m. The huge recoil force also caused complaints: unlike its American “colleague” A-10, MiG- 27 initially did not pay for such powerful artillery. Therefore, due to vibrations and shock, the equipment failed, the components of the aircraft were deformed, and in one of the flights, after a long line in the cockpit, the dashboard fell off - the pilot had to return to the airfield, holding it in his hands.

Gatling firearms are practically the rate of fire of mechanical weapons systems. Despite the fact that modern single-barreled guns use liquid-cooled barrel, which significantly reduces its overheating, systems with a rotating barrel unit are still more suitable for long-term firing. The effectiveness of the Gatling scheme allows you to successfully carry out the tasks assigned to the weapon, and this weapon rightfully occupies a place in the arsenals of all the armies of the world. In addition, it is one of the most spectacular and kinogenic types of weapons. Shooting from the Gatling in itself is an excellent special effect, and the formidable look of the trunks spinning before the shot made these guns the most memorable weapon of Hollywood action movies and computer games.

The article was published in the journal Popular Mechanics (No. 2, February 2009).


Parker probe approached record distance to the Sun
12 snowmobiles produced in Russia: driving in the snow
Huawei Mate 30 Pro tested in AnTuTu