Saturday, August 18, 2007

Royal Naval Brigade Gatling Gun and crew

I finished the Gatling Gun and crew during my holiday last week. Nothing sums up the Colonial period like a Gatling Gun and they are often used as a symbol of appalling British Colonial tyranny by apologists when speaking about the British Empire.

The Gatling Gun was invented by Richard Jordan Gatling in 1861. It had 6 barrels originally and an effective range of 1200 yards. Despite the date they only saw limited service in the American Civil War.

The British adopted it for Colonial service in the 1870s and the RN mounted them on board ships as a deck-clearing (prior to boarding) weapon. It never saw action in this capacity, combat by boarding having long finished.

The RN Gatlings were made under licence in Britain and had ten .65 calibre barrels (not the more usual .45 calibre), and with the side cranked mechanism used had a rate of fire of 800 rounds per minute (in theory).

It's first use by the British in action (by Naval Brigade troops) was at the battle of Gingindlovu on 2nd April in the Zulu War of 1879. The model used in the Sudan (as in South Africa) was probably the 1871 model. It was deployed in the Ashanti war but didn't see action (other than a demonstration to impress some Ashanti envoys!).

The cylindrical magazine was called a Broadwell drum after L. W. Broadwell, an agent for Gatling's company. Inside were 20 stick magazines arranged around the central axis, each holding 20 cartridges with the bullet noses oriented toward the centre. As each magazine emptied, the drum was manually rotated to bring a new magazine into use until all 400 rounds had been fired.

Valentine Baker had (and lost!) two Gatlings at first El Teb. The Mahdists had one of these Gatlings available in their battery at Second El Teb (recaptured by the British at the battle) although I haven't seen any accounts that they actually used it during the battle (unlike the Krupp Guns). Graham had three Gatlings (all with naval crews)which saw action at second El Teb and Tamai. Unlike the other artillery which was transported in pieces by mule or camel the Gatlings and Gardeners were moved purely by the muscle power of their bluejacket crews.

I only need one for my force and one Gardner, which I have bought but not built. I made the mistake of building the Gatling gun before painting it and the whole operation was a lot more difficult as a result. The Gardner will be painted and then assembled! These sailors have the grey felt covers for their water bottles that were issued at the time for naval personnel.

I have a particular affection for the Gatling gun (horrible thing though it must have been, particularly if you were a tribesman armed only with a spear and hide shield) as my father bought me a model one when I was a little boy. It was grey plastic and mounted on wheels. You dropped those little silver balls that you decorate trifles with into a hopper on the top, turned the handle and they spat out the barrel and mowed down my Timpo soldiers very effectively. I would pay quite a lot of money to find one of those models again!


meadows boy said...

Looks very impressive!
Really enjoy your blog.

The Mad Historian said...

If you're looking for one of those little guns, I beleive they were made by W. Britains as part of their 'Deetail' series later on. They went with the French Foreign Legion Line. You can find them on Ebay.


rpgingerbarnes said...

Great painting there - an inspiration to us all.

Henry Newbolt's poem "Vita Lampada" was partially about the battle of Abu Klea and includes the verse:

The sand of the desert is sodden red, -
Red with the wreck of a square that broke; -
The Gatling's jammed and the colonel dead,
And the regiment blind with dust and smoke.
The river of death has brimmed his banks,
And England's far, and Honour a name,
But the voice of schoolboy rallies the ranks,
"Play up! play up! and play the game!"

(read more at Wikipedia:

It was actually the Gardner gun which jammed in this battle; and these days we might question the policies that led to the event: but as a stirring picture of men outnumbered and far from home, it can't be beaten.