The first serious effort abroad to adapt percussion ignition to a mid Li-firing weapon of war was done by a former officer of the Belgian Army. He completed a model in 1857, which was composed of 50 barrels of rifle caliber, assembled parallel to each other in a prismic group. It had the appearance and weight of a cannon. Records show ihis unusual weapon's rate of fire to have been a hundred shots a minute; its range, 2,000 meters (I14 miles), was unusually long for that, period.
At the same time, Sir James S. Lille attempted to build a similar weapon in London, it is now in the Woolwich Museum labeled as a "freak" device. Lille attempted to combine the revolving chamber with die multibarrel system. Twelve barrels were arranged in two rows, fastened several inches apart. To the rear of the breech end was a revolving cylinder, chambered for 20 charges. Each chamber was fitted with a nipple and percussion cap which could be exploded when a charge was manually alined with a barrel. The firing was carried out by turning a crank that manipulated a series of rods, serving as hammers, striking the percussion caps in turn. The problem of servicing and loading must have been appalling. It is understandable why this weapon was termed a freak even at a time when radical design was usually heralded as an improvement.
In 1854 Sir Henry Bessemer patented in England a self-acting breech-loading gun that used steam to perform the functions of feeding, locking, and firing of the piece. The weapon's recoil opened the valve after the projectile had safely cleared the bore. This is the first time any outside agent other than manual operation was employed in an attempt to produce sustained fire.
There is no record of the existence of even a working model of this unusual weapon. Bessemer also patented what is known as the "Bessemer process" for making steel. This was so successful and so revolutionary to the steel business that Bessemer lost all interest in his earlier patents.
An earlier British steam gun, however, was witnessed by the Duke of Wellington. When asked by the proud inventor, a Mr. Perkins, what he thought of the idea of steam propulsion of missiles, the Iron Duke replied, "It would be a very good thing if gunpowder had not been invented."
Thomas F. Linden, also of London, filed a specification in May 1856 for a gas-operated piston beneath the barrel of a weapon. This piston actuated a device that was used to fire and raise a hinged chamber to receive a paper cartridge. The weapon, however, had to be cocked manually and to have a percussion cap placed on the nipple after each shot. The principle, nevertheless, was a dear application of mechanical breech opening.
The United States Patent Office on 8 July 1856 issued patent number 15,315 to C. E. Barnes of Lowell, Mass., for a crank-operated machine cannon. This weapon had many original improvements, and was the forerunner of a series of crank-operated weapons. The gun's locking system employed a toggle joint arrangement that rammed a fixed charge home. The stiff linen cartridge was fed from a tray located on the left side of the breech end of the gun. A very clever method was used to place a percussion cap oil the nipple mechanically after the weapon was safely locked. The cap was firecl by a continued forward movement of the crank action which tripped a sear. The hammer, similar to a piston, was confined in a cylinder. A part of the force of the explosion in the chamber came back through the nipple and imparted enough energy against the head oFtlic hammer to comprcss the firing pin spring allowing a sear to engage this
Barnes. Machine Gun. Patented 1856, part. This was a novel employment of gas pressure from the chamber for the purpose of cocking the piece.
The rate of fire depended solely upon the speed with which the crank could be turned. This weapon was far ahead of its time, and its development would have placed a reliable machine gun in the armed forces several years prior to the Civil War.
The design of the flintlock system limited its application in weapon construction, but the percussion method of firing seemed to invite attention to its unlimited application. The ignition, now a small separate unit, could be used in many reliable ways, some of which were more ingenious than others.
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