Five-Barrel Nordenfelt Video

While we were visiting the Institute of Military Technology, we took a few minutes to check out their two 5-barrel Nordenfelt guns and chat with Joe from about them. The Nordenfelt was one of the early manually-operated “machine guns” not seen much in the United States (the Gattling being much more common), but it was a popular and successful design in the rest of the world. We think the Nordenfelt (and its contemporaries like the Gardner, Gattling, Lowell, and others) are fantastically cool machines – they are the pinnacle of what can be done with a strictly manually-operated repeating firearm. Really, who wouldn’t want one in their living room?


  1. Nice Nordenfeldt, indeed. If you want to see one actually firing (even though only with blanks) see 1966 movie ‘Khartoum’: there’s a sequence of steamer fleeing Khartoum besieged by Mahdi troops and blazing a 5-bbl Nordenfeldt at the posse.
    BTW Has anybody spotted any NON-GATLING hand-operated machine guns in the movies? ‘Cause Gatlings there are a-plenty, see although this listing lacks 1954 Vera Cruz starring Kirk Douglas.

  2. Each forward and back stroke of the operating lever chambered 5 rounds, fired them, extracted, and then ejected them. The difference from the Gattling is that it operates with a forward-backward motion instead of a circular rotating crank.

  3. It doesn’t slam fire. The action of the lever first locks the action and then releases a hammer to hit each firing pin in sequence. Because of the feeding mechanism, it’s a lot more complicated than just glomming 5 rifles together in a frame. That concept would be more like the French Mitrailleuse.

    • My mistake then. The reason I said slam-fire is because I never really had a clear concept of how the gun works. I’ve only ever seen pictures of it and the only time I’ve seen one working is in the Charlton Heston movie Khartoum. Because of this, I likened the action to that of a Winchester rifle being fired a’ la The Rifleman with Chuck Conners or holding down the trigger of a Winchester ’97 while pumping it. That is where I got the slam-firing idea from.

      • Off topic: i have read somewhere some older lever action rifles came with a little flip up notch that triggerd the trigger on the final stroke of the lever, making it “auto slam fire” .

  4. There is (or was at least) a five barrel Nordenfeldt gun sitting outside one of the buildings at the Tower of London. A lot of people have probably seen it over the years, but I doubt that many recognized it or even understood what it was. I don’t recall it having a label, and most tourists simply walked by it without a glance.

    The “magazine” that is on the gun in the video is I believe just the lower part of the magazine. The entire magazine was in two parts, an upper and a lower part. The lower part was fixed to the gun and distributed the ammunition to the breeches, while the upper part was easily removable and dropped in from above. The lower magazine in the video has a raised part on one side to make it easier for the loader to insert the upper magazine. I have a picture of Cossack troops in the Pamirs with a pair of five barrel Nordenfeldts on wheeled carriages. The gunners are seated on the trails and there are loaders standing by with spare box magazines in their hands ready to reload. The carriages have a long narrow box on either side of the gun which looks to be about the right size to hold spare magazines.

    I believe that the “straight” and “stepped” magazines mentioned in the video were intended to handle different types of ammunition. Nordenfelt made guns in a number of calibres for different customers around the world, and the “stepped” magazine was necessary to prevent some types of rounds from sticking in the gravity fed magazine. I don’t know the details, so I’m not sure exactly what the problem was. A lot of early cartridges however were not designed with automatic feed in mind.

    There were also versions made with more barrels. I have a picture somewhere (which I can’t find at the moment) of a ten barrel version deployed somewhere in India.

    The Royal Navy used heavy calibre versions with armour piercing bullets as anti-torpedo boat guns. The guns were intended to deal with the boats by piercing the boilers and engines. In that era torpedo boats (not to be confused with motor torpedo boats which came much later) were considered to be a major threat to capital ships. The ability to easily scale up the gun to larger calibres was one of the reason why it was so popular for Navies. The development of torpedoes with longer range was the major reason for naval Nordenfeldt machine guns falling out of favour.

    Nordenfeldt eventually sold his business to Maxim, who in turn sold to Vickers-Armstrong.

    I believe the effective rates of fire for both the Nordenfeldt and the Gatling were very similar. It should be noted that in both cases the effective rates of fire would be considerably less than the theoretical maximums (as is true for modern machine guns).

    The multi-barrel machine gun goes back to the middle ages (with the earliest ones being muzzle loaders of course). In general, all of the pre-Maxim “machine guns” were really a sort of light weight artillery rather than what we think of today as machines guns. Their size and weight meant they had to be handled and deployed like light field pieces whereas a modern (Maxim or later) machine gun could go almost anywhere a rifleman could go. Because of this I personally consider the Maxim gun to be the first “real” machine gun.

  5. Because I am a crazy person, I have been wanting to make a NERF Mitreleuse,, a NERF Gardiner gun and most of all, a NERF Nordenfelt for YEARS!!!

  6. Hello. Just wanted to post a clarification regarding the miniature Gardner guns. The design and all of the tooling have been sold and they are currently being worked for introduction to the market. I can’t speak for the new owner but I’m certain that any release will be well publicized. That said, I am always interested in correspondence regarding any of the manually-operated gun or early Maxim guns so feel free to get in touch.
    Thanks and regards,

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