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239
MACHINE-GUN


Kiiniggratz, he ordered Commandant Reffye (1821-1880), the artillery officer he had placed in charge of it, to produce a machine-gun. Reffye held that the work of a mitrailleuse should only begin where that of the infantry rifle ceased. The handbook to his gun issued to the French army in 1870 stated that it was “ to carry balls to distances that the infantry, and the § '§ i'”°" artillery firing case, could not reach.” The most 86; f§ }0 suitable range was given as 1500-2000 yards against infantry in closing order, 2000-2700 against artillery. As the French shrapnel (abus d balles) of these days was only used to give its peculiar case-shot effect between 550 and 1 3 50 yards, and even so sparingly and without much confidence in its efficacy, it is clear that the canon d balles was intended to do the held-gun's work, except at (what were then) extreme field artillery ranges (2800 and above), in which case the ordinary gun with common shell (time or percussion) alone was used. Constructed to meet these conditions, the Reffye machine-gun in its final form resembled outwardly an ordinary field gun, with wheeled carriage, limber and four-horse team. The gun barrel was in reality a casing for 25 rifie barrels disposed around a common axis (the idea of obtaining sweeping effect by disposing the barrels slightly fan-wise had been tried and abandoned). The barrels were hed together at intervals by wrought-iron plates. They were entirely open at the breech, a removable false breech containing the Hring mechanism (the cartridge cases were of brass, solid-drawn, like those of the American and unlike those of the British Gatlings). This false breech, held in the firing position by a strong screw resembling roughly those of contemporary B.L. ordnance such as the Armstrong R. B. L.—consisted of a plate with 25 holes, which allowed the points of the strikers to pass through and reach the cartridges. The plate was turned by hand so that one striker was admitted at a time, the metal of the plate, holding back the rest. To avoid any deflection of the bullet by the gases at an adjoining muzzle the barrels were fired in an irregular order. Each gun was provided with four chambers, which were loaded with their 25 cartridges apiece by a charger, and fixed to the breech one after the other as quickly as the manipulation of the powerful retaining screw permitted. The rates of fire were “ slow, ” 3 rounds or 75 shots a minute, and “ rapid, ” 5 rounds or 125 shots per minute. One advantage as against artille that was claimed for the new weapon was rapidity of ranging. 'Any ordinary target, such as a hostile gun, would, it was expected, be accurately ranged by the mitrailleuse before it was ready to open fire for effect. The ordinary rifle bullet was employed, but to enhance the case-shot effect a heavy bullet made up in three parts, which broke asunder on discharge, was introduced in 1870 in the proportion of one round in nine. The weapon was sighted to 3000 metres (3300 yds.). The initial.velocity was 1558 f.s.; and the weight of the gun 350 kg. (6-45 cwt.), of the carriage 371 kg. (6~86 cwt.); total behind the team, 1,485 kg. (27-I cwt.). For an artillery effect, dispersion had to be combined with accuracy. The rifle-barrels w en carefully set gave a very close grouping of shots on the target, and dispersion was obtained by traversmg the gun during the firing of a round. When this was skilfully performed a front of 18 metres (about 20 yds.) at 1,000 metres range was thoroughly swept by the cone of bullets. The design and manufacture of these mitrailleuses under the personal orders and at the expense of the emperor enabled the French authorities to keep their new weapon most secret. Even though, after a time, mitrailleuses were constructed by scores, and could therefore no longer be charged to a “ sundry ” or “ petty cash ” account in the budget, secrecy was still maintained. The pieces were taken about, muffled in tarpaulins, by by-ways and footpaths. In 1869, two years after the definitive adoption of the weapon, only a few artillery captains were instructed in its mechanism; the non-commissioned officers who had to handle the gun in war were called up for practice in July 1870, when Major Reffye's energies were too much absorbed in turning out the material so urgently demanded to allow him to devote himself to their instruction. The natural consequence was that the mitrailleuses were taken into battle by officers and men of whom nine-tenths had never seen them fire one round of live cartridges. The purpose of this fatal secrecy was the maintenance of prestige. No details were given, but it was confidently announced that war would be revolutionized. One foreign officer only, Major Fosbery, R.A. (see R.U.S.I. Journal, v. xiii.), penetrated the secret, and he felt himself bound in honour to keep it to himself, not even communicating it to the War Office. But public attention was only too fully aroused by these mysterious prophecies. “ The mitrailleuse paid dearly for its fame.” The Prussians, who had examined mitrailleuses of the Gatling or infantry type, were well aware that the artillery machine-gun was at the least a most formidable opponent. They therefore ostentatiously rejected the Gatling gun, taught their troops that the new weapons were in the nature of scientific toys, and secretly made up their minds to turn the whole weight of their guns on to the mitrailleuse whenever and wherever it appeared on the field, and so to overwhelm it at once. This policy they carried into effect in the War of 1870; and although on occasions the new weapon rendered excellent service, i-n general it cruelly disappointed the over-high hopes of its admirers. And thus, although the Gatling and similar types of gun were employed to-a slight extent by both sides in the later stage of the war, machine-guns, as a class of armament for civilized warfare, practically disappeared. .

As a good deal of criticism-after the event-has been levelled at the French for their “ improper use of the machine-gun as a substitute for artillery, ” it is necessary to give some summary of the ideas and rules which were inspired by the inventor or dictated by the authorities as to its tactical employment. The first principle laid down was that the gun should not be employed within the zone of the infantry fight. Officers commanding batteries were explicitly warned against "infantry divisional generals who would certainly attempt to put the batteries, 'bg sections, amongst the infantry. The second principle was that the mitrailleuses 'were to share the work of the guns, the latter battering obstacles with common shell, and the former being employed against troops in the open, and especially to cover and support the infantry advance. This tendency to classify the rolesi of the artillery and.to tell off the batteries each in its special task has reappeared in the French, and to a more limited extent in the British, field artillery of'to-day (the Germans alone resolutely opposing the idea of subdivision). The mitrailleuse of 1870 was, in fact, intended to do what the perfected' Shrapnel of 1910 does, to transfer the case-shot attack to longer ranges. But, as we have seen, secrecy had pre-vented any general spread of knowledge as to the uses to which the canon d balles was to be put, and consequently, after a few weeks of the war. we find Reffye complaining that the machine-guns were being used by their battery commanders “ in a perfectly idiotic fashion. They are only good at a great distance and when used in masses, and they are being employed at close quarters like a rifle.” The officers in the field, however, held that it was foolish to pit the mitrailleuse against the gun, which had a longer range, and exerted themselves to use it as an infantry weapon, a concentrated company, for which, unlike the Gatlings of 1870 and the machine-guns of to-day, it was never designed. As to which was right in the controversy it is impossible to dogmatize and needless to argue. <

Very different was the Gatling gun, the invention of Richard Jordan Gatling (1818-1903), which came into existence and was to a slight extent used in the field in the latter- years of the American Civil War,1 and also to a still slighter extent by the Bavarians and the French in the lajtter part of the war of 1870. This was distinctively an infantry type weapon, a sort of revolving rifle, the ten barrels of which were set around an axis, and fired in turn when brought into position by darling the revolving mechanism. This weapon had along G"reign, and was used side by side with the latest automatic machine gun in the Spanish-American War of 1898. The following account 0f the old British service Gatling (fig. 1), as used in the Egyptian and Sudanesecampaigns, is condensed from that in the article “ Gun-making, ” Ency. Brit. 9th ed. A block of ten barrels is secured round an axis, which is fixed in a frame a a. On turning the handle h (fig. 2)'the spindle g g causes the worm f to act on the pinion w, making the axis and barrels revolve. A drum'T (figs. I and 4) is placed on the top at the breech end of the barrels over a hopper, through a slot in which the cartridges drop into the carrier (fig; 3). The construction of§ the lock is shown in fig. 4. A A A A is a cam, sloping as in the drawing, which, it must be understood, represents the circular construction opened out and laid flat. As the barrels, carrier and locks revolve the slope of the cam forces 'the locks forward and backward alternately. At position I. the cartridge has just fallen intothefcarrier, the lock and bolt are completely withdrawn. At positions Il., III., IV., the cam is forcing them forward, so that the bolt pushes the cartridge into the barrel. At IV. the cooking cam begins to compress the spiral spring, releasing it at V. Position VI. shows the cartridge just after firing; the extractor is clutching the base of the cartridge 1 A machine-gun of the artillery or volley type, called the " Requa battery, " which had its barrels disposed fan-wise, was also used in the Civil War.