Humans are rarely more ingenious than when they are attempting to kill one another. Sometimes, this is an ingenuity born of desperation, but many times the motivation is more likely to be cold, hard cash. Such is likely the case with James Puckle, a lawyer, who invented his “Defence Gun,” which would later be known as the Puckle Gun. His complicated contraption is the grandfather of a weapon that redefined the battlefield of the 20th century: the machine gun.
A flintlock machine gun?
The Puckle Gun was essentially a large, tripod mounted flintlock revolver. The central operating piece of the gun is a revolving cylinder that is turned by a hand crank. There were several varieties of cylinders with various numbers of chambers. Turning the crank brought a cylinder in alignment with the barrel and the flintlock firing mechanism.The cylinder would be clamped into place, then a lever would be pressed to trigger the flintlock mechanism. When the charge was fired, the cylinder would have to be unclamped and the whole operation begun again. When the cylinder was empty, another could be swapped in its place and firing could resume.
Operating in this way, the Puckle Gun could fire nine rounds a minute. While this doesn’t sound impressive to a modern reader, in the early 1700s that would have been an impressive pace. A well trained musketeer could fire off about three rounds a minute with the muskets of the day. A weapon that could fire three times as fast as the best musketeer would have been quite impressive.
However, the military men of the time.were less than impressed by Puckle’s odd looking gun.
A clunky dud
Puckle had designed his gun to be used to defend ships from boarding parties. However, his invention was not well suited to life on the high seas, or any other battlefield for that matter. While advanced for the time, it was clunky to operate. The flintlock mechanism was unreliable, reducing the efficiency of the weapon. The parts used were complex to manufacture, making the weapon expensive. One odd feature o the weapon were cylinders with square chambers to house square bullets. These were to be used on Muslims, to show them “the superiority of Christian civilization.”
Certainly, Puckle did his best to sell the weapon, odd features and all. He demonstrated it for English military officials several times, but none of them offered to buy. No investors supported his contraption; very few were ever sold and none were fired in anger. The Puckle Gun faded into history, an eccentric footnote in the history of weapons and warfare.
Brevard, Katherine McLean. The Story of Guns: How they Changed the World. Capstone. 2010. pg 34
Willbanks, James H. Machine Guns: An Illustrated History of Their Impact. ABC-CLIO. 2004. pg 22-23