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The Vault

Book Review: The Gatling Gun by Wahl and Toppel

Today’s book review is a re-run, because I’ve been re-reading this book in preparation for doing some video on an 1877 Gatling gun:

The book we’re looking at is Paul Wahl and Donald Toppel’s The Gatling Gun, published back in 1971. In some cases old books are outdated, but this is a case where an older publication is a distinct benefit. The people involved in helping the authors research this subject were that much closer to the actual events that would be possible with a book written today.

The Gatling Gun is an excellent reference work for anyone interested in this iconic father of the machine gun. It is only 164 pages in length, but packed with information. The authors describe each different model of the Gatling, from the first 1862 model (which used separate chambers loaded with ball and percussion cap, since self-contained cartridges were not yet available) to the final 1903 model (chambered for the new .30-03 cartridge). It also includes a section on the more recent development of the Vulcan cannons, which began with vintage Gatlings connected to electric drive motors.

In fact, did you know that electric Gatling guns were first built and tested in 1890? In that year the Crocker-Wheeler Motor Company mounted an 80V electric motor to a 10-barrel Gatling (complete with accommodation to reattach the crank handle and fire manually if the motor malfunctioned) and achieved a firing rate of 1500 rounds per minute.By 1893, Gatling himself had patented a water-cooled all-electric model for Naval use, which could sustain fire at 3,000 rounds per minute.

Firing an electrically-powered Gatling

Firing an electrically-powered Gatling (The Telegraphic Journal and Electrical Review, November 28, 1890)

In addition to discussion of each intermediate model of the Gatling, Wahl and Toppel extensively cover foreign (and American) testing and trials of the Gatling guns as well as actual combat use of the guns. From protecting the New York Times headquarters from riots in 1863 to the Zulu campaigns, the Franco-Prussian War, naval battles between Chile and Peru and more, the authors include many original correspondents’ reports discussing the use of the Gatling. Extensive use of original woodcut illustration is also used – these generally being the only graphic depictions that were made at the time.

If this weren’t enough to make for a thorough book, the authors have further included descriptions of different mounts used with the guns, different feed systems (from the relatively well known Accles drums to the more experimental feeds strips and other mechanisms.

Happily, The Gatling Gun is still readily available through Amazon, unlike so many other excellent books of its age. Anyone interested in mechanical machine guns or the Gatling in particular should definitely pick up a copy:

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