Walk Around: Donnington Castle

With many of us being stuck in COVID-19 imposed lockdowns I thought now would be a good time for a video-walk around Donnington Castle. Think of it as a virtual stroll. The 14th century castle found itself embroiled in a long siege during the English Civil War (1642–1651) with extensive earthworks built to defend the old castle.

DSC_0717.jpg
The approach to Donnington Castle (Matthew Moss)

Donnington Castle in Berkshire is sited at the top of a hill overlooking the River Lambourne, a mile north of Newbury. It was built by its original owner, Richard Abberbury the Elder, under a license granted by King Richard II in 1386. The castle was designed as a fortified residence with a rectangular enclosure with a three-storey round tower at each corner and two square towers midway along the longest sides. The gatehouse, the only remaining part of the castle is a three-storey rectangular building with two, four-storey, round towers flanking the entrance. The wall opposite the gatehouse bows outwards.

Donnington_Castle,_Newbury,_Plan_view Matthew Prior.jpg
Aerial view showing the outline of the castle’s walls (Matthew Prior)

The castles walls probably enclosed a hall, kitchens, storerooms and accommodation for guests with the main quarters being in the gatehouse keep. While not an elaborate, larger or militarily complex as some other castles it still imposing sight.

DSC_0724.jpg
The rear of the gatehouse shows the outline of former rooms which were damaged and demolished. Note the later brick used to repair some damage (Matthew Moss)
DSC_0729.jpg
The vaulted and corniced ceiling inside the gatehouse entrance, hinting at the castle’s role as a home more than a military position (Matthew Moss)

Both Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I visited the castle during the Tudor period.  The castle didn’t see action until the 1640s and the outbreak of the English Civil Wars (1642-1651). While the castle has been owned by a Parliamentarian family, the Royalists took control of the caste in 1643 and began fortifying it. Sir John Boys set about building elaborate star-fort defences around the original medieval castle. Boys built a set of angular trace Italienne at the considerable cost of around £1,000. Donnington Castle was one of many medieval castles that saw new life during the Civil Wars. Old castles along with churches and country houses were re-purposed and hastily defended by new earthworks.

berkshire-england-plan-of-donnington-castle-1776.jpg
18th Century map showing outline of the castle’s Civil War defences

The castle’s new defences included four new bastions, with emplacements for cannon, ditches and a palisade wall. Royalist forces at the fort initially numbered just over 200 men and four cannon.  The Second Battle of Newbury was fought within sight of the castle in October 1644 and after the battle the castle’s defences were reinforced by a number of large guns left behind by King Charles’ retreating forces.

The castle itself was attacked numerous times during the war, during the second attack on the castle part of the wall was damaged. The castle had to be and had to be relieved by Royalist forces twice the final siege in March 1646 began. The castle was badly damaged after the siege with its walls and outer towers hardest hit but remained defensible. With no hope of relief the garrison surrendered and were allowed to march out with their colours.

As with so many other castles after the war Parliament voted to demolish it and only the gatehouse was left standing. It is now a scheduled monument.


If you enjoyed the video and this article please consider supporting our work here. We have some great perks available for Patreon Supporters

The Tank That Climbed A Mountain

In April 1919, a lone US-built M1917 light tank climbed over 11,000 feet up a mountain in Colorado. We are lucky enough to have some original photos and footage of the tank’s climb up Pikes Peak in the Rocky Mountains.

165-WW-313A-021 - Copy
The tank with ‘Pikes Peak or Bust’ painted on its hull (US National Archive)

Why was a tank driving up a mountain?

Simply put the expedition was a publicity stunt to help raise cash to pay off America’s war debt. By 1919 the cost of US involvement in World War One had reached $32 billion – that’s around $547 billion today.

The purpose of the stunt was to encourage Americans to purchase ‘Victory Liberty’ War Bonds which would help pay off some of the debt accrued by the war. This was the fifth, and final, round of Liberty Bond sales. The drive began in mid-April 1919, and aimed to sell $4.5 billion of government bonds.

The tank arrived in Colorado Springs at the beginning of April and on the 14th a crowd of nearly 1,000 people watched Mrs W.H.R. Stote, the chairwoman of Colorado Springs’ Victory Liberty loan committee, christened the tank ‘Little Zeb’  – after explorer Brigadier Zebulon Pike – who led an expedition that attempted to climb the mountain in 1806)

Mrs Stote reportedly declared  “I charge you with making the trip to the summit. As the Victory Loan shall not fail, you must make it to the top!” The tank’s commander Sgt. A.H. Worrell, told The Colorado Springs Gazette that he had “driven tanks over trees and trenches on the western front and I am betting we get to the top.”

18-AA-28-035
The road up to the summit of Pikes Peak, photographed in 1934 (US National Archive)

At the time the 19 mile road up to Pikes Peak was said to be the ‘World’s Highest Motor Drive’ with the summit at 14,115 feet (or 4,302m). Cpl. Howard Brewer, the tank’s driver told reporters “I know we can climb it. Given time, the tank could go to the top of the world.” In terms of publicity having the tank make it up the mountain would certainly have been quite a feat.

On the front of the tank’s hull the words ‘Pike’s Peak or bust’ were painted in white – this is a reference to a phrase coined by prospector’s during the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush of the 1860s.

Pikes-Peak-Tank-2-Pikes-Peak-Library-District-Special-Collections
The tank on the road up Pikes Peak (Pikes Peak District Library)

The tank was driven by Corporal Howard Brewer and tended by a crew of mechanics and support vehicles. The road which climbed the mountain was unsurfaced and had only been completed in 1916. The tank’s ascent began on April 15, and incredibly over the next two days the tank climbed to 11,440 feet, 13 miles along the road and through several deep snow drifts, reportedly up to 20-feet tall, before a track plate snapped. After repairs the tank and support convoy pressed on – but the tank never made it to the summit. Not because of mechanical failure but unbelievably because it was needed to appear in other Colorado towns as part of the Victory Loan drive.

While the tank may not have reached the very top of the mountain, it unsurprisingly became a record breaker – setting the first elevation record for tanks. Western Union claimed that it also set a distance record for continuous distance travelled and penetrated the farthest into the snow than any other vehicle had ever done at that time of year – battling snow drifts up to 20 feet tall. While the US-built M1917 was never tested in battle the drive up the mountain proved it was a capable, hardy vehicle – demonstrating the tank’s abilities.

Bibliography:

Various photos and contemporary footage taken from the US National Archives (source)

Additional photos held by the The Manitou Springs Historical Society (source)

‘Army’s Tank Assault on Pikes Peak Was About More Than Being Macho’, The Gazette, M.L. Cavanaugh, (source)

U.S. Economy in World War I, Economic History Association, (source)


If you enjoyed the video and this article please consider supporting our work here. We have some great perks available for Patreon Supporters

Walther P5

The Walther P5 was developed in the mid-1970s as an response to the West German police’s continued search for a 9x19mm service pistol to replace the older smaller calibre pistols then in service, like the Walther PP. It was developed to fit the new police specification for a small, handy pistol which could be brought into action quickly. Walther’s design competed against pistols from Mauser, Heckler & Koch and SIG Sauer.

P1.png
Walther P38 (Rock Island Auctions)

The P5′s design evolved from the P38, combining the lock work and dual recoil springs of the P38 (re-designated the P1 in 1963) with a shortened barrel and a full length slide. While a shortened P38k had been produced in the early 1970s, this was only an as an interim solution. The P38K retained the same slide and frame as the original P38s, but had the front sight mounted on the front strap of the frame and none of the pistol’s contours were rounded to aid drawing and returning to a holster. Only around 2,600 P38Ks were produced.

Following the attack on the 1972 Munich Olympics games West German police began the search for a new service police. Walther’s response, the P5, was introduced in 1978. The P5 is a locked-breech pistol and has double-action/single-action (DA/SA) trigger. It uses the same short-recoil operated system and locking mech as the P38. This means that the barrel and slide recoil together for a short distance before the locking block falls and allows the slide to continue moving rearward, ejecting a spent case and chambering a new round.

wm.jpg
Walther P5 (Matthew Moss)

Walther moved the P5’s decocker from the slide to the frame and this also served as the slide stop and slide release. I would say that the P5’s decocker is easier to operate, with a shorter length of travel, than the SIG P6’s.

Following the West German police specification Walther designed the pistol to be safely and rapidly brought into action, and as a result dispensed the manual safety. Instead, the pistol could be carried in condition two – with a round in the chamber and the hammer down. This was safely achieved by some upgrades to the P5’s hammer and firing pin. There is a small recess in the pistol’s hammer for the firing pin. The firing pin only moves into alignment with the hammer surface when the trigger is pulled.

The P5 has a 3.5 inch (9cm) barrel and fed from an 8-round, single stack, magazine with a heel release. Like the P38 the pistol ejects to the left rather than the right. The P5 has a stronger and more durable fully enclosed slide which is contoured to aid holstering. The pistol has an alloy frame, with full-length slide rails and an enlarged trigger guard for use with gloves.

p5 diagram.png
Diagram showing the P5’s parts and internal layout (Walther)

In addition to the P5, Walther also developed a compact model for plain clothes use which had a slightly shorter barrel (3.1 inches), slide and a truncated hammer. It was introduced in 1988 and had a lighter alloy frame with the P5 Compact weighing 750g (1.65lbs) rather than 795g (1.75lbs). While early production pistols retained the heel magazine release the majority had a thumb release. A small number of P5-Lang, long barrel target pistols were also produced in the late 1980s.

Disassembly is simple and comes directly from the P38. The slide is retracted a little until the barrel catch can be rotated. The slide and barrel can then be slid forward off the frame once the trigger is pulled.

The P5 proved to be an accurate and reliable pistol and once it was accepted by the police trials (along with the designs from Heckler & Koch and SIG-Sauer – the P7 and P6 respectively.) It was adopted by uniformed officers of Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate’s State Police – these pistols were marked ‘BMI’ for Bundesministerium des Innern – the Federal Ministry of the Interior. This pistol is a BMI-marked gun and dates from February 1983.

89375397_2557513201128821_8998838306330378240_n.jpg
Walther P5 brochure cover (Walther)

It also became the standard issue sidearm of the Dutch police who purchased around 50,000 pistols, becoming Walther’s largest customer for the P5. The Dutch guns were later fitted with aftermarket Houge rubber grips and some changes to the hammer safety system were later made in the mid-1990s. The Dutch police retired the P5 in 2013 replacing it with the P99Q.

The P5 also saw some military sales with elements of the Portuguese Army adopting it and the P5 Compact was also adopted by the British Army. Selected in the late 1980s for issue as a personal protection side arm. It was designated the Pistol L102A1 and was extensively issued to British troops in Ireland for use while in plain clothes or off duty.

The P5 on screen: Sean Connery as James Bond in, the technically unofficial, 1983 Bond movie Never Say Naver Again. Roger Moore’s Bond also carried it in Octopussy (also in 1983)

While certainly one of Walther’s lesser known pistols the P5 is a well-made, well-designed duty pistol, with comfortable ergonomics – the fiddly magazine catch not withstanding – and the slide and decocker are very smooth to operate. The trigger pull in both the single and double action modes is also pretty good. Overall, around 100,000 pistols were produced before production came to an end in 1993.


Specifications (P5 Standard:

Overall Length: 7.1in
Barrel Length: 3.5in
Weight: 1.75lbs (795g)
Action: short-recoil with locked breech
Capacity: 8-round box magazines
Calibre: 9×19mm


If you enjoyed the video and this article please consider supporting our work here. We have some great perks available for Patreon Supporters.

The B53 ‘Bunker Busting’ Thermonuclear Bomb

In the late 1950s the US military began development of a bomb capable of destroying deeply buried bunkers. The result was a bunker busting unguided thermonuclear bomb. Durng a visit to the Atomic Testing Museum, in Las Vegas, Matt had the chance to take a look at a decommissioned B53 up close.

DSC_0362wm.jpg
B53 on display at the Atomic Testing Museum (Matthew Moss)

The B53 is a two-stage high-yield thermonuclear weapon, designed as a bunker buster, that could deliver a massive shockwave deep underground to the deepest Soviet command and control bunkers. Developed between 1958 and 1961, the B53 was intended to combat deeply emplaced Soviet bunkers with a yield of 9 megatons. It used a highly enriched uranium core as its primary fission stage with Lithium-6 deuteride as its second stage fusion element. The warhead itself was developed from the earlier Mk46 warhead, the experimental TX-53 was tested at the Pacific Proving Grounds as part of Operation HARDTACK I, which saw no less than 35 nuclear test detonations. Codenamed HARDTAK OAK, the TX-53 was detonated aboard a floating barge on 28th June 1958, with a yield of 8.9 megatons. The detonation created a cloud 78,000 feet (23.8 km) tall.

bvppznujoyy9zpbuihgb.jpg
Cloud produced by HARDTACK OAK (Los Alamos National Laboratory Archive)

Designed to be dropped from the Strategic Air Command’s B-47, B-52 or B-58 bombers, the B53 is a gravity bomb which free fell to its target and could be air or surface detonated. The bomb itself weighed 8850 lbs or 4014kg and the casing is 12.5 feet long (3.8m) and just about 50in (1.27m) in diameter. The bomb’s outer-casing is split into a nose section, a two-piece central casing and the rear assembly with four fins which housed the parachute assembly. They were built by the Atomic Energy Commission between 1962 and 1965, over 340 bombs were built. Initially designated the Mk53 it was re-designated the B53 in 1968, when the US Air Force updated its ordnance nomenclature.

The bomb itself could be deployed in four ways: a delayed surface burst, a free fall air burst, a parachute retarded air burst (the B53 had five parachutes at the rear which can be deployed) or an immediate contact surface burst. Here we can see the panel to control the parachute deployment, with markings for safe, free fall and retard.

IMG_20200201_114757
Declassified general diagram showing the assemblies of the B53 (US DoD)

The B53 was obsolete in terms of its safety by the early 1980s with none of the more modern safety features such as an Enhanced Nuclear Detonation Safety (ENDS) additionally its explosive lens, consisting of a mix of RDX and TNT was not an insensitive munition – meaning it wasn’t designed to resist detonation from external stimuli or damage. The B53 also had no Fire-Resistant Pit (which prevents the spread of radioactive material in the event of a far), Permissive Action Link (which prevent unauthorised arming) or Command Disable safety measures.

B53 at the Pantex Plant in Texas about to begin the dismantling process (National Nuclear Security Administration)

Many of the B53s in US inventory were decommissioned in the mid-1980s, and by 1987 just 50 were retained in inventory. The last of these were disassembled and decommissioned by October 2011 – after being in service for 50 years. The B53 was replaced in its bunker busting role by the smaller B61 Mod 11.


If you enjoyed the video and this article please consider supporting our work here. We have some great perks available for Patreon Supporters.

 


Bibliography:

Operation Hardtack I Fact Sheet, US Strategic Command Centre for Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction, (source)

Operation Hardtack I 1958, US Defense Nuclear Agency, (source)

‘Scrapping the Unsafe Nuke’, Federation of American Scientists, (source)

Hardtack OAK footage courtesy of Atomicarchive

 

CIS SAR-80

The SAR-80’s story begins in the early 1970s, when Frank Waters, the Sterling Armaments Company’s chief designer, began developing a 5.56x45mm rifle for sale to foreign militaries. While two initial prototypes were produced the project lapsed when Sterling secured a license to manufacture Eugene Stoner’s AR-18.

DSC_0462
Right-profile view of the SAR 80 (Matthew Moss)

In the late 70s the project was resurrected and in February 1977, two prototypes were sent to Chartered Industries of Singapore (CIS)[later known as ST Kinetics] who had been seeking a 5.56x45mm rifle design to produce for export to sustain production at their factory. The initial prototypes reportedly suffered issues with obturation with some cartridges and Sterling engineers worked to rectify this with another batch of half a dozen prototypes being sent to CIS in late 1977. CIS produced their first pre-production prototypes in 1978, for testing by the Singapore Army. CIS opted for a plastic buttstock and redesigned the handguards too.

vfffvfv
Factory brochure photo of Singaporean soldier with SAR 80 (CIS)

Initially described as the Sterling Light Automatic Rifle and later the Sterling Combat Rifle the rifle, however, as it finally entered production in 1979, it became known as the Singapore Assault Rifle 80 or the SAR-80. The first SAR-80s were delivered to the Singapore Armed Forces in early 1981 for troop trials. Faults with these early production rifles included poor fit and finish and extractors which bent leading to extraction and ejection issues. Refinements made rectified these faults and subsequent production runs had improved reliability.

DSC_0477
Close up of the receiver, note the sliding dust cover is missing from this rifle (Matthew Moss)

The SAR-80 can be described as a clone of the Armalite AR-18 with their internal designs almost identical. The SAR-80 is gas-operated, with a short-stroke gas piston and a rotating bolt. The bolt has 7 locking lugs, the internal mechanics of the rifle are more or less identical to that of the AR-18, using dual recoil springs and a rectangular bolt carrier. The bolt geometries differ slightly to the AR-18’s and the SAR-80 also has an additional weight inside its bolt – which adds mass and helps slow the rate of fire down to around 600rpm. Like the AR-18 its charging handle is attached directly to the bolt carrier and is reciprocating.

US4272902-drawings-page-5
Frank Waters’ 1981 patent for the rifle (US Patent Office)

The rifle feeds from standard STANAG magazines and is select-fire, with a selector on the left side of the rifle and a magazine release on the right. The selector layout is modelled after the M16’s and the front handguard’s design was also influenced by the M16. The SAR-80 has simple stamped receiver, similar in profile to the AR-18’s, it has a crackle-paint finish, like that seen on the commercial Sterling Mk4 SMGs. It has a two-position folding rear peep sight and is 97cm (38in) long and weighs 3.7 kg (8.2 lb) unloaded.

DSC_0474
Close up of the rifle’s sights, note the rudimentary scope mounting rail (Matthew Moss)

The SAR-80 had a bayonet lug just beneath its adjustable gas block and mounted an M16-pattern bayonet, other accessories included a scope mount, bipod and a blank-firing adaptor. And of course a folding stock variant was also available.

fgfgfgfgfgfgfgdgf
Graphic showing the rifle’s features from factory brochure (Matthew Moss)

I didn’t have a chance to strip the rifle but here you can see the hammer inside the receiver – its worth noting that this rifle does not have the sliding dust cover seen on other examples, and the charging handle slot is completely open.

DSC_0465
Left-profile view of the SAR 80 (Matthew Moss)

Developed with cost in mind, contemporary literature from CIS state an export price of around $300 per rifle, the equivalent to day of about $930. CIS produced more than 80,000 between 1980 and 1988, it saw limited service with Singapore’s military but did enjoy some export sales, with the SAR-80 used by the Central African Republic’s Gendarmerie, the Croatian Army, the Papua New Guinea Defence Force and the Slovenian Territorial Army. CIS replaced the SAR-80 with the SR-88, a rifle co-developed with Sterling as the SAR-87, but this proved unsuccessful and has since been superseded by the SAR-21 bullpup.

If you enjoyed the video and this article please consider supporting our work here. We have some great perks available for Patreon Supporters.


Specifications (from CIS Brochure):

Overall Length: 38.25in
Barrel Length: 18.1in
Weight: 7.5 lbs
Action: Gas-operated
Capacity: 20 or 30-round box magazines
Calibre: 5.56x45mm


Bibliography:

Guns of Dagenham, P. Laidler (1995)

The World’s Assault Rifles, Thomas B. Nelson & Gary Paul Johnston (2010)

‘Firearms’, US Patent #4272902, F.E. Waters, 16 Jun. 1981, [source]

SAR 80: Singapore’s Assault Rifle, Defence Attaché, Vol. No.2 1982, I. Cohen

SAR 80 rifles and 5.56 x 45 ammunition in the Central African Republic, ARES, N.R. Jenzen-Jones (2014) [source]

SAR 80 5.56 Assault Rifle, CIS, Factory Brochure c.1982 [source]

Nock Volley Gun

Commonly referred to as Nock Guns, the seven barrel volley guns were actually designed by James Wilson. Wilson presented his design to the Board of Ordnance for testing in July 1779. Following testing at Woolwich Arsenal the Board of Ordnance decided that the guns, while of no use to the Army, might be useful aboard the Royal Navy’s ships. The volley gun’s impressive firepower could be devastating at the relatively short ranges aboard ships. The Navy had historically used blunderbusses/musketoons and the Board of Ordnance probably viewed Wilson’s gun as an advancement of this concept. London gunmaker Henry Nock was given an order for two ‘seven barrelled rifle guns’ for Admiralty testing but these proved slow to load in action and subsequent guns had smoothbore barrels.

DSC_0262a
Right-side profile of the volley gun (Matthew Moss)

The Admiralty envisioned equipping first rate ships of the line (vessels with 75 guns or more) with 20 volley guns, while second and third rates would have 16 and 12 volley guns respectively, and frigates would carry 10 Nock guns. This represented a sizeable order. The Admiralty eventually purchased 500 guns, paying £13 per gun, to equip Royal Marines and sailors manning the fighting tops (at the top of ship’s masts). The Navy felt that the volley guns’ firepower would be useful when boarding enemy vessels or in repelling boarders by pouring down fire on enemy boarding parties.

DSC_0266 (1)
A close up of the gun’s muzzel-end, not also the ramrod which appears to have been lengthened at some point in its life  (Matthew Moss)

Henry Nock, better known for producing high quality duelling pistols and sporting guns, became the sole supplier of Wilson’s volley guns to the Royal Navy. The weapon’s 0.46 inch calibre outer barrels were arranged around the seventh centre barrel. The 51cm or 20in barrels were brazed together and screwed to an iron plate set into a walnut stock. The outer barrels had vents drilled through them to the central barrel while the central barrel had a vent leading from the lock. Once the flintlock ignited the powder charge in the central barrel, the surrounding barrels were ignited through the vents. As the vents had to be drilled with the barrels already brazed into position, the outer barrels all have plugged drill holes on their outer surfaces.

DSC_0264
A close up of the lock and the ‘H. NOCK’ makers mark (Matthew Moss)

All seven barrels fired almost at once producing significant recoil, reputedly able to dislocate shoulders. The service load was originally 2.5 drams of finer rifle powder (which I believe equals 68gr) for each barrel – totalling 476gr. Despite the gun weighing 12lbs, this did little to mitigate the weapon’s recoil and a reduced charge or 1.5 drams of standard musket powder was ordered.

The Board of Ordnance and the Admiralty granted Wilson an awarded of £400 (equal to £48,000 or $63,000 today) in May 1780. He played no further role in the testing and development of the volley gun. In 1787 the Navy ordered a further 100 guns from Nock.

DSC_0267a
Left-side profile of the Nock Gun (Matthew Moss)

Entering service just too late for service during the American War of Independence the first reported use of the guns came with Admiral Howe’s fleet at the siege of Gibraltar in 1782. They continued to be carried aboard other vessels during the 1790s, but few accounts refer to them and little is known about their service.

Howard Blackmore suggests that naval officers, including Admiral Nelson who disliked placing marksmen in his tops, disliked the guns. There were some fears that the volley guns’ wads could set the ships sails and rigging on fire. Reputedly it was also not uncommon for some of the volley gun’s barrels to fail to ignite. As a result the guns were seldom used on board ships and removed from Royal Navy service in 1804. In 1805, Wilson, then a captain of the Marines suggested the Navy reissue the guns to the Sea Fencibles, a naval militia which helped defend the British coast, however, his recommendation was not followed up.

large_A3018_8
The early (top) and later (bottom) patterns of Nock volley gun (Royal Armouries)

This particular example has the second pattern of lock used on the Nock guns with a smaller lock positioned a little lower on the gun. The earlier pattern was a back action lock, fitted high on the gun with the front of the lock plate in line with the side of the barrel.

The gun has a maker’s mark of ‘H. NOCK’ on the second barrel on the left and various barrel proof marks. Unlike other examples the lock itself isn’t Tower and ‘GR’/Crown cypher marked but does have the Ordnance Broad Arrow just behind the pan. Interestingly, the steel ramrod appears to have an extension brazed onto the end of it, this might indicate that the shorter rod used with the initial charge had to be extended when less powder was used for the lighter 1.5 dram load.

Why did the Nock Volley Guns fall out of favour?

As I mentioned earlier the recoil of the initial service load was significant, Howard Blackmore hypothesised that there may have also been some weakness to the lock springs leading to misfires. One key factor is that close quarters fighting aboard ships often relied on edged weapons like cutlasses, boarding axes and pikes. These paintings give us some feel for what fighting aboard a Napoleonic Man-of-War might have been like – a close, chaotic, terrifying affair.

Drummond, Boarding Party BHC1155
Boarding Party by D. Drummond, (National Maritime Museum)

While pistols were commonly used they were disposable and may not have been reloaded during a fight – more likely they were dropped or used as a club. The Nock Gun would have offered a devastating first volley, and while its 20 inch barrels would have given it better accuracy and range than a musketoon, how much of an impact a single volley of seven .32 bore projectiles would have had especially once the fighting became hand to hand is a matter for debate. At close quarters the Nock Gun quickly becomes a short, ill-balanced, 12lb club.

The Nock Volley Gun is perhaps best known for appearing in the Sharpe series of books and films as Sergeant Harper’s weapon of choice but it first appears on screen in the 1960 classic The Alamo with Richard Widmark’s Jim Bowie carrying one and more recently a fleeting, anachronistic, appearance in Master & Commander: Far Side of the World.

576c6f52614f00151316aec60b5a4b30
Richard Widmark as Jim Bowie in The Alamo (1960) with his pretty rough mocked-up Nock Gun

Despite a relatively short and undistinguished service life the Nock Volley Guns also saw some civilian sales with a number of ornate hunting guns with wooden forends, engraving, rifling and rear leaf sights.

3222585_1
A civilian Nock Volley Gun, note the rear sights, wooden forend and fine craftsmanship   (Cowan’s Auctions)

Later in 1818, Nock’s workshop manufactured a design by Artemus Wheeler, an American gun designer with a fondness for revolving guns.

Revolving Nock Carbine
A Nock-made rotating barrel carbine designed by Artemus Wheeler (Rock Island Auction Company)

Wheeler’s carbine resembles the earlier volley gun externally but is in fact a manually rotated, self-priming flintlock ‘pepperbox gun’ with six barrels arranged around a central axis. Unlike the earlier volley gun the pepperbox carbine was never trailed or purchased by the Admiralty. Henry Nock’s workshops produced approximately 655 volley guns between 1780 and 1788. The Nock Gun is a weapon that would greatly benefit from some in-depth contemporary research as the current best source is over 50 years old and relatively little is known about the gun’s service history.


If you enjoyed the video and this article please consider supporting our work here. We have some great perks available for Patreon Supporters.


Specifications:

Calibre: .32 bore
Action: Muzzle-loading 7-barrel flintlock
Barrel  Length: 51.3cm/20in
Overall Length: 92.7cm/36.5in


Bibliography:

British Military Firearms 1650-1850, H. Blackmore (1961)

Centrifugal Machine Guns

Today, we’re going to take a look at a little known type of weapon which rose to prominence in around the time of the First World War with a number of examples being developed and some even tested. As you can see from this footage it’s something pretty unconventional, seen here mounted on the back of a truck – is a centrifugal machine gun.

I found this short footage while doing some digging through the online catalogue of the US National Archives. The centrifugal machine gun was not a new concept by the time this footage was filmed in the early 1920s, sadly the footage notes done give an exact date.

Centrifugal Machine Gun   111-h-1246-r1_HD_2Mbps_Trim_Moment - Copy.jpg
A still from footage of the demonstration (US National Archives)

While the technology had risen to a new prominence what was the allure of centrifugal machine guns? The principle of centrifugal force – an inertial force which appears to act on objects moving in a circular path, directs them away from the axis of rotation. As a result a centrifugal machine gun required no propellant powder to propel the projectile, or a case to contain it, nor a conventional rifled barrel to stabilise the projectile. Once released from the axis of rotation the projectile travels on a linear trajectory until it expends its energy. It works along the same principle as a primitive sling. The primary issue is providing power to exert the centrifugal force and a means of accurately firing the projectiles.

Some of the earliest work on centrifugal guns was done in the late 1850s in the US. The hand-crank or steam powered guns patented by William Joslin (US #24,031), C.B. Thayer patent for a ‘machine gun’ in August 1858 (US #21,109) and Charles S. Dickinson (US# 24,997) in 1859. Dickinson went on to secure financial backing from a wealthy Maryland industrialist Ross Winans and developed a steam powered version of his gun. Despite gaining much press attention Dickinson’s centrifugal gun saw no action during the US Civil War. In 1862 G.C. Eaton and S.W. Turner also patented a ‘machine gun’ (US #37,159).

Frank_Leslie's_Illustrated_Newspaper_-_1861-05-18_-_p1_-_Winans_Steam_Gun
An illustration of the Winans Steam Gun, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, May 1861

It wasn’t until World War One that the concept began to be considered again. In June 1918, Major Edward T. Moore and Saul Singer filed a patent for a centrifugal machine gun powered by an electrical motor (US #1,332,992). The motor spooled up the centrifugal barrel assembly to rotate extremely quickly and impart centrifugal force on projectiles. According to Julian Hatcher the gun could fire steel ball bearing projectiles at approximately 1,200 feet per second. Fire was controlled by a stop pin in the ammunition feed tube. Moore claimed the weapon could fire a projectile 1.5 miles with enough force to kill a man. He also suggested the weapon’s rate of fire approached 2,000 rounds per minute. It appears that Moore’s gun may have been tested in 1918 but Hatcher described its accuracy as ‘extremely poor’.

Moore Centrifugal Machine Gun from hatcher's
Photograph of Moore’s gun during testing (Hatcher)

Another centrifugal design developed during World War One was E.L. Rice’s half-inch centrifugal gun, sadly I’ve been unable to find any photographs or drawings of Rice’s design but the weapon was submitted to the US National Research Council in 1917. The NRC’s 1919 report states that the gun had been further developed by the NRC’s Physics Division in Pittsburgh but work had been slowed by “a common defect which has been difficult to eliminate”. Despite what the report described as ‘considerable headway’ the weapon was subsequently abandoned amid some controversy about credit for the design.

There seems to have been something of a centrifugal machine gun craze with several more patents filed between 1917 and 1926. A Scientific American article from March 1918, even noted that “every so often the daily press becomes enthused over a new centrifugal gun.”

US1223069-drawings-page-1
Porter’s Centrifugal Gun patent drawing (US Patent Office)

One of the earliest patents granted appear to have been for a design by E.E. Porter, granted in January 1917. This was followed in July 1919 by inventor, Herbert A. Bullard being granted a patent (US #1,311,492) on a design which fired a disc rather than a ball. At the same time T.A. Gannoe was granted a patent (US #1,309,129) for a large, complex looking gun shown mounted on a pedestal.

In 1920, F.R. Barnes (US #1,327,518) and W.W. Case (US #1,357,028) were also granted patents which had been filed in 1917. In late 1921, Levi Lombard was granted a patent he had filed in March 1918, his gun even appeared in Scientific American. It appears to be notably smaller than Moore’s gun and has a spade grip for aiming.  This was followed in 1923, by an interesting patent from Joseph T. McNaier for a centrifugal gun that could be powered by an electric or petrol engine, some of the patent diagrams show how the gun might be placed in an armoured car or aeroplane (US #1,472,080). Intriguingly, McNaier and Moore appear to have known each other quite well and were partners in a law firm together.

Here’s a gallery of some of the various patents mentioned above, not all are as detailed or as advanced as others:

The question is which of these guns is featured in the footage. The most likely bets are the Moore or the Czegka. Sadly, with only a side view and just 18 seconds of footage we don’t have much to go on. The accompanying reel notes, describing what is seen in each section of the film, describes the gun as being in the “experimental stages only” and that the prototype seen here “is intended for use as aircraft armament, for tanks and for landing parties of the Front line trenches.”

Sadly, we don’t get to see how the gun works but we can see the operator feeding the ball bearing projectiles into the hopper which has a powered feed system – he empties two cylindrical containers of balls into it one after another. It is unclear how many rounds might be in the containers, perhaps 50 each. The gun and its motor are mounted on a truck bed with a soldier in uniform, possibly aiming the weapon via a tiller.

Another of the later designs dating from the period came from Victor Czegka, a US Marine Corps Technical Sergeant, who is perhaps best known as the supply officer of Admiral Richard Byrd’s first two expeditions to the Antarctic. Czegka was granted a patent for a centrifugal machine gun in January 1922 (US #1,404,378).

US1404378-drawings-page-1
Czegka’s 1922 patent (US Patent Office)

With some further digging I managed to find several articles referring to the gun in the US Army Ordnance Journal. Interestingly, a photo from the same demonstration is printed in one article, from late October 1920, with the caption confirming the man loading the weapon is the inventor, however, he isn’t named. The footage was filmed during the Second Annual Meeting of the US Army Ordnance Association. Another article dating from May 1921, also notes that the tests took place at Aberdeen Proving Ground, with the gun firing at 16,000 revolutions per minute which required 98 horsepower from the engine powering it. The gun apparently needed a “very rapid increase in power required for operation” when the speed of its revolutions was increased incrementally from 12,000 to 16,000 rpm. The article concluded that “a horsepower above 100 would have no material effect in increasing the speed” suggesting that a much more powerful, and therefore larger, engine would be needed to increase the revolution rate.

Unnamed Centrifugal Gun from 1922 Popular Mech
While researching I came across this set of images from a March 1922 edition of Popular Mechanics showing an unnamed centrifugal gun set up on a truck, powered by an engine on the truck bed. From the images it appears to be a gun similar to Moore’s with a single rotating ‘barrel’. The captions also note that the photographs were taken in New Jersey and Moore was a Major with the New Jersey National Guard, which may also indicate the gun is Moore’s.

Despite various designs seeing some US military testing none were ever adopted and relatively little information on them is available. It seems that they were relatively cumbersome weapons with extremely varying accuracy but this footage at least proves the concept. A short report in a may 1921 edition of Scientific American may shed some light, stating an unnamed gun was rejected “because of its great weight and its inability to obtain high initial velocity” concluding that “no centrifugal gun can have military value”. It appears that the range of the centrifugal guns was limited to the speed of their revolution, which in turn was limited by the power of the engine and motor that powered them. The larger the motor, the more cumbersome the weapon system was.

There are very few photos of centrifugal machine guns so stumbling across actual footage of one guns actually operating is very exciting. They are a fascinating tangent to the history of the machine gun – one that occasionally still garners interest.


If you enjoyed the video and this article please consider supporting our work here. We have some great perks available for Patreon Supporters.


Bibliography:

Demonstration of Ordnance Materiel at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Maryland, 1920-26, US National Archives, (source)

Scientific American v.124, Jan-Jun 1921, (source)

Scientific American v.118, Jan-Jun 1918, (source)

Hatcher’s Notebook, J. Hatcher (1962)

Army Ordnance: The Journal of the Army Ordnance, v.1-2 (1920-1922) (source)

United States Congressional House Documents Vol.119, 1921 (source)