A few days ago I was at a small machine gun shoot (which wound up being a bit larger than I’d expected), and was happily surprised to discover that one of the attendees had brought along a prototype of a reproduction Nordenfelt Gun. The Swedish-designed Nordenfelt, of course, was one of the major contenders in rapid-fire military arms during the day of the manually-operated machine gun (see also, Union Repeating Gun, Hotchkiss Revolving Cannon, Gatling, Gardner, Lowell, etc). The Nordenfelt system used a series of barrels (each with its own dedicated bolt) fixed in a horizontal line, with a feed hopper holding a stack of cartridges for each barrel. A long-throw lever was used to operate the gun, pulled backwards to open the action and eject the cases, and pushed forward to chamber and fire new cartridges. The guns could be purchased in a massive number of permutations, from one barrel to twelve, and chambered for a variety of cartridges from service rifle sizes up to 2.45 inch shells. The Nordenfelt was primarily successful in the naval market, as it could be easily mounted aboard a ship and was also light enough for use high up on a mast or on a carriage with a small landing party. What ultimately took over the market for this sort of gun was the Maxim – and the Nordenfelt company merged with Maxim in 1888.
The reproduction that found its way to the shoot was a three-barrel type chambered for .45-70. I had never had the opportunity to fire a Nordenfelt before, and it was a very cool experience. The gun was very simple to use – fill the feed hopper with cartridges (this one held 12 rounds per barrel, but was not a finalized version), aim at your target (brass “iron” sights are on the right edge of the gun’s frame), and just rack the firing lever back and forth. It took a significant effort to actually fire the cartridges – this is not a gun you can dial in with the sights and then carefully pop off shots without disturbing the aim – you really have to slam the lever forward to actuate the mechanical bits. Upon pulling the lever back, three empty .45-70 cases would tinkle out to the ground below.
The Nordenfelt, like the Gatling and other guns of this type, is not considered a machine gun under US law because it actually fires its three round sequentially. A skilled and deft operator could theoretically push the lever just the right distance to fire single shots. I gave that a try on my third volley on the video below, and was thoroughly unable to get the timing right – all of my shooting sounded like single reports.
I don’t know when these guns will be available for sale (or who will be distributing them, or what they will cost), but I’m looking forward to getting an opportunity (if I can!) to do a much more extensive shooting session with one, and take a good look at the internals. It would be particularly interesting to get one of them on the line along with a reproduction Gatling, and evaluate their respective strengths and weaknesses – Americans tend not to know about any of the manual machine guns beyond the Gatling, but the Gatling was really a fairly small part of that market worldwide, outside the US and Russia.
With all that said, here is some footage of my fairly uneventful firing:
For a more in-depth look at an original Nordenfelt, I would refer you to this video I did a while back with Joe from GardnerGuns.com:
What if you tried operating the bar with and under hand grip instead of an over hand grip?
Crossed radius and ulna, extra muscle tension, you can’t sustain the effort as long.
It’s the same reason you don’t “turn” your hand on the end of your wrist when hitting forehand or backhand in tennis. It wears you out faster if you do.
The ideal “Nordenfeldt grip” would be an operating lever bar with an upright handle at its end that allowed you to keep your hand vertical while “pumping”, and just let your elbow, bicep, and shoulder do the work. Engineering it would be difficult, because it is at the point of maximum leverage-induced stress on the operating lever. This may be why they never built it that way, AFAIK.
I was recently able to examine an original 5 barrel 45 cal. Nordenfelt held by the QVMAG in Launceston, Tasmania. This gun is said to have been at the siege of Ladysmith during the 2nd Boer war. Once the preservative grease loosened up the mechanism was very slick to operate with little effort. Once the operating lever had cammed into battery the lever then slid with little effort the remaining distance to slide the trigger comb. The gun is on it’s original naval mount and barely moves when being operated even though not bolted down to ship’s deck. I agree that an underhanded grip is the best way to go as along with strength (think Browning M2 .50 cal. MG), the sights are not obstructed. The gun was beautifully timed with the first barrel letting off first, then consecutively outwards. I figure a skilled gunner would have three ways of firing: going hell for leather on the lever for putting maximum lead down range; precision ‘burst’ firing (this should be the most effective, the lever is operated & gun placed in battery. The gun is then corrected for aim and by gently pressing the lever a five round volley is released. The process repeated would be quite effective. If the barrels were regulated to give a level string of shots with the correct elevation set it would be good on crossing targets); the last method would be gently letting off a single shot, one at a time. This gun’s timing made it easy on the first barrel but the remainder tripped close together. Maybe due to a century of wear. This could be an advantage through using the first shot as a sighter, then following with the remaining four if on target. All up, I was mighty impressed with the simplicity and functioning of this system.
Yet another reason I need to win the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes. 🙂
http://www.victorianshipmodels.com/antitorpedoboatguns/Nordenfelt/ have some information about and photos of Nordenfelt guns (aswell other early rapid-firing naval gun like Hotchkiss or Gardner)
And there are also 3D animation if you wonder how it works, for example 5 barrel model: http://www.victorianshipmodels.com/antitorpedoboatguns/Nordenfelt/nordenfelt5barre.html
It mentioned somewhere in that linked page that the Nordenfelt was probably more accurately used if one person worked handle and another aimed it. Food for thought!
The pictures of Nordenfeldts and actual examples that I’ve seen were mounted on more solid carriages. They may have been easier to handle in those cases than when stuck on the top of a wobbly display stand.
Yeah, all the mountings I’ve seen had fairly substantial locking mechanisms.
Considering that Nordenfeldt was concerned about putting lead downrange more than getting timing correct, I assume that he intended to cut the opposition down to size (perhaps literally, as getting hit by twelve bullets in a straight line simultaneously may cut someone in half…). In any case, this gun is simpler than the Gatling and probably a lot cheaper and easier to position in such a way that nobody’s clothes or appendages get stuck in the works.
The Gardner gun on the other hand had the advantage of continuous fire without the Gatling’s rotating barrels and it was simpler and cheaper than the Nordenfeldt, even if produced with a water-filled cooling jacket. To set a five-barreled Gardner for continuous fire one must adjust the bolts so that they do not produce an instant five-gun volley at everything in the gunner’s firing zone. Any recommendations for manually operated rapid-fire guns if one cannot afford a Maxim or a Hotchkiss?
Well, you could always build your own .22 rimfire Gatling Gun;
A Billinghurst-Requa “battery gun” would also be doable. Technically, it barely even qualifies as a “gun” under present-day Federal regulations, because no matter how many barrels it has, each one has to be unloaded and reloaded manually before it can be fired again. And the “firing mechanism” is a percussion cap and hammer setting off a train of loose powder.
It could just as easily be fired by a flintlock, or set off by a piece of “match” cord.
It’s really about as simple as a multiple-barrel “machine gun” can get and still actually work.
The Hotchkiss revolving cannon on this site, would be ok in .45/70 I think for commercial sales, particularly if you could incorporate a belt feed via using a type of Maxim gun rotating cylindrical drum arrangement.
This is fantastic to see! It seems to be the only live firing Nordenfelt footage to be seen anywhere!? There is an old fort at Kangaroo Bluff, Bellerive across the Derwent river from Hobart Tasmania which from 1888 had one covering it’s entrance. I have looked at what is left of the mounting point and it had a lot of bolts so they must have intended for it to be very firmly anchored down presumably to make rapid aimed fire easier. I’m not knowledgeable about machine gunnery but to me it seems the horizontal barrel layout of this probably had some advantages it hitting targets vs a wind and strafe alternative if it was bedded firmly enough to not wiggle from being operated.
The Russian Pribor 3b and TKB059 triple barrel assault rifles have a similar layout.
Well that’s an interesting firearm
A Nordenfelt and Kropatschecks “in action”: “Chaimites” (1953), a movie about a battle between the Portuguese Kingdom and the Gaza Empire, 1894.
When I wrote my book on the Spanish American War USS Texas, I of course had to study the opponents to better understand the Texas and I fell in love with the Nordenfelt. A five barrel Nordenfelt off the Reina Mercedes on a light landing carriage was part of the defenses of Santiago Harbor. They were standard issue for the Spanish Navy in 1898. It’s only combat would have been firing on the USS Merrimack in it’s bid to block the narrow entrance but still awesome. A dozen or so Nordenfelts were brought back to the US from the Philippines.
Who has made this Nordenfelt, I would like to correspond. A friend of mine in California has restored one I myself, with a help of a few friends am going to at least make a model one although a repro is not out of the question after retirement, part of my bucket list of retirement projects.
A qualified friend and myself have decided to start a project for a single barrel Nordenfelt machine gun in .45/70 solely for entertainment. It was a prototype and did not prove a great idea and was never adopted by anyone, but it is pretty cool. 23 parts. Starting to collect all the available data. It utilized a low tripod, designed for prone shooting so the tripod concept was a little ahead of its time but of course, single barrel mechanical guns were not considered that useful until the true machine guns came in with smokeless powder. Firing rate was 180 rounds per minute, but I think it would get tiring very quickly.
Certainly not as ambitious as a multibarrel Nordenfelt but I think would be fun.