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: