In the same state as the first one was tested, Tippmann Armory makes a modern take on the famous Gatling Gun.
STORY BY JIM DICKSON
PHOTOS BY TIPPMANN ARMORY
The story of the Gatling gun dates back to the Civil War when Dr. Richard Gatling incorporated the best features of the earlier Agar and Ripley guns into what would become universally famous as the Gatling gun.
Constant refinement resulted in a magnificently reliable design, where turning a crank handle operates a set of beveled gears to transmit this rotation to the main shaft, which carries the bolt cylinder, carrier, barrels and bolts.
As the barrels turn, each cartridge drops into its corresponding groove of the carrier from the feed. The spiral cam surfaces engage the bolt and it pushes the round into the chamber. The cocking lug of the firing pin is shoved against the cam as the bolt goes forward, compressing its spring, which then releases as it passes the cam and fires the cartridge.
The continued rotation brings the bolt to the rear. The extractor hooks pull the empty case out of the chamber until the case hits the ejector and is knocked out of the gun.
Each barrel is fired in turn when it reaches the lower right hand position and the operating cycle of the bolt and barrel assembly takes one revolution of the shaft.
The ammunition loads at the 11 o’clock position, it fires at the 4 o’clock position, and ejects at the 7 o’clock position. Since there are multiple barrels, a high rate of fire is possible and it is easy to fire at a rate of 600 rounds per minute. The maximum amount of fire at one time was 4,000 rounds, or about 10 minutes of firing. After that, ammunition in the feed could cook off.
In 1893, Gatling patented an electric motor-driven gun that fired at a rate of 3,000 rounds a minute. In recent years, that gun was resurrected as the 20mm Vulcan and the Navy’s Phalanx Weapon system. What’s old is new. Gatling even patented a gas operated version to compete with the new automatic machineguns being invented.
FAR AHEAD OF its time, the Gatling gun was misunderstood and not properly employed by the military in the 19th Century. General Custer had four 90-pound tripod-mounted .45-70 Gatling guns that could have resulted in the Battle of the Little Bighorn being a massacre of Sioux Indians instead of 7th Cavalry men, had he not left them behind. But then Custer was known for his brashness and dash, not his brains.
It was not until the Spanish-American War in Cuba that they were properly employed in the assault. Captain John H. “Gatling Gun” Parker had been opposed by his superior when he wanted to organize a Gatling gun unit against the Spanish in Santiago. But he went over his head to General Joe Wheeler, who authorized it. His use of the Gatling guns was so successful that the high command of the Army commissioned him to “devise a form of organization for machineguns to be attached to regiments of infantry.”
At the battle of San Juan Heights, his Gatling guns were used on both San Juan Hill and Kettle Hill, providing covering fire for the American forces. At a range of 600 to 800 yards, Parker’s three Gatling guns raked the heights with 18,000 rounds fired over an 8½-minute period. Trooper Langdon stated that they would never have been able to take Kettle Hill without the Gatling guns.
Captain Boughton found the trenches at the top of San Juan Hill filled with the dead and dying victims of Parker’s three Gatlings, while the open ground behind the trenches was filled with Spaniards cut down by the Gatlings as they attempted to retreat.
Once in possession of the Heights, the Americans braced for the expected counterattack. It was not long coming. Parker had brought up two of his Gatling guns and sited them near the crest of San Juan Hill. Only one was in shouting distance when a force of 600 Spaniards was
sighted about 600 yards away. Parker ordered Sergeant Green to open fire.
The results were devastating. There were only 40 Spanish survivors. Parker then moved the guns to avoid counter battery fire by Spanish artillery. At a range of 2,000 yards, they engaged the crew of a Spanish heavy artillery piece, killing or scattering the lot of them.
Colonel Theodore Roosevelt said that he thought Parker deserved more credit than any other one man in the entire campaign. That’s an understatement. Considering how many casualties the surviving Spaniards, with their M93 Mauser 7mm rifles, inflicted on the American troops making an uphill frontal assault, it is obvious that the attacks would have been failures without the Gatling guns and there would probably never have been a President Theodore Roosevelt.
The obsolete tactic of having troops make a human wave assault on an entrenched enemy had proved disastrous during the Civil War when tried on troops equipped only with muzzleloaders, and to do it against modern Mausers was suicidal. The excessive casualties of the assaults on the San Juan Heights led to the adoption of the American version of the Mauser rifle, the M1903 Springfield. A large part of this was to divert attention away from the American commanders’ cavalier attitude toward the lives of their men with their obsolete tactics.
Parker went on to an illustrious career, finishing as a brigadier general covered with medals for valor in the Spanish-American War and World War I.
THE GATLING FARED better with the British, where it was a major factor in civilizing their native opponents as they set up their colonial empire. It was decisive in many far-flung battles, where it was a bigger force multiplier for the British than the breechloading rifle had been, and that’s saying a lot.
They saw service first in the Anglo-Ashanti Wars in Africa in 1873. Before long, Matabele and Zulu tribesmen were being mowed down like wheat with the Gatling gun. Further north in Africa, it did yeoman service on attacking Bedouins and Mahdists.
They played a major role in Kitchener’s defeat of the Mahdist forces. If General with them, Khartoum would not have fallen at the start of that war. As late as the Boxer Rebellion in China, a relief column rushing to try to rescue a British outpost with little hope of finding them alive was surprised to find that a very busy Gatling gun had preserved the lot of them.
Gatling guns continued in service in the U.S. and U.K. until 1911, when they were declared obsolete. They came back several decades later in the aforementioned weapons systems, as well as the 30mm tank buster cannon on the A-10 Warthog antitank airplane. Obviously they weren’t obsolete after all.
Due to their size and weight, the Gatling gun has proved a problem for gun collectors. They do tend to take up the whole room when mounted on an artillery carriage and most wives are not in favor of them as the centerpiece of den décor.
You need a horse to pull that artillery carriage and they don’t let horses on the roads in most places nowadays. Some of the cartridges they chamber are more than a little expensive. While those in .30-06 and .30-40 Krag or .45-70 are bad enough to buy ammo for, you are in
big trouble if you want Gatling gun shooting quantities of .50-70 or .577-450. Heaven help you if your Gatling is in .58 rimfire or 1-inch Gatling.
You’d better be rich for those because custom-making that ammo is going to cost enough to make a Vanderbilt weep. You will have to go overseas to get .58 rimfire ammunition made because the laws in the U.S. make it impractical to make big rimfire cartridges. But the manufacturing hazards are enough that you will still have trouble finding someone to make it for you, no matter how rich you are.
You might have to even build your own factory to make the priming compound and the rest of the cartridge. Better be rich, m’boy. Really rich.
ENTER TIPPMANN ARMORY with the solution: a small 27-inch-long, eight barrel Gatling Gun that stands 18 inches high on its wheels and is 20 inches wide. It weighs 60 pounds. A tripod is available. It is small enough to be displayed on your coffee table or desk and it is a real attention-getter.
This little gem shoots regular 9mm Luger ammo in 32-round Glock model 19 magazines. Now you can afford to have some fun with a Gatling gun! Fun is what this little gun is all about. There is nothing more fun to shoot than a machinegun, but they are heavily restricted under the National Firearms Act of 1934. Well, Gatling guns are exempt from the NFA machinegun category. They can be sold just like any manually operated rifle on a standard Form 4473. The only thing to remember is where the dealer fills out their part of the form. On section
B #16, mark “Other firearm” and under Section 27, label it simply “Firearm.”
Gatling guns are designed to operate with very little wear on their moving parts as the gun operates. This makes for a very long life. The parts of the Tippmann gun that face wear or need strength are made of nickel plated 4140 steel. These include the barrels, bolts, cam at the firing point, gears, and firing pin. The frame and rails are made of 1018 cold rolled steel.
All of the shock of firing is transferred to the frame, so there is very little stress on the gun’s working parts. The front sight ring and the cascabel are brass. To save weight, the turret and cylinder are aluminum. The carriage is wood. Rubber tires were used instead of wood wheels to make it clear that this gun was intended to shoot. They also are easier on desk and coffee table tops than the traditional iron-shod wooden wheels when time comes to put the gun up.
Nine-millimeter Luger was chosen for the caliber because it is the cheapest available ammo, next to .22 LR. If you encounter a dud, it will be ejected as the crank turns and there will be a momentary skip in the burst as one round is missed. Thanks to the improvements in ammunition in the 1920s, the dreaded hangfire is almost unknown today. A hangfire is when a cartridge does not fire immediately when the primer is struck. They were common before the 1920s and were the bane of all manually operated machineguns, as a cartridge going off outside the chamber meant a serious jam.
This was one of the reasons the automatic machinegun was so welcome. It stops when the cartridge does not fire. Wait a few seconds and then eject. No more problem. While a 32-shot magazine is a lot of bullets, there are a couple of other options available. ProMag makes a 50-round drum magazine for the Glock Model 19 and this works well with the Tippmann Gatling Gun, as does the Beta Company’s 100-round twin drum for the Glock 19.
The ProMag 50-round drum sells for $99.49, while the Beta Co. 100-round twin drum sells for $350. The Tippmann Gatling Gun sells for $5,000. That’s because there is a small output made by 20 men, as opposed to Colt mass-producing them for a large government order.
Workmanship is first-class. The Tippmanns have been manufacturing in Fort Wayne, Indiana, for three generations. Coincidentally, the very first Gatling gun was first test-fired in 1862 100 miles south of them, in Indianapolis. Over the years, they have made refrigeration units, paintball guns, air guns, miniature Browning machineguns in .22 LR and .22 Magnum, rolling block rifles and other items.
In 1984, they made 24 half scale Gatling guns in .380 caliber. They have the experience you want and need in a gun maker. Equally important, they have always been known for their customer service. That’s how a firm lasts through three generations. Reputation.
While the Tippmann Gatling Gun is intended as a fun shooting gun, one look at the newsreels of the Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian showing residents formed into militias and standing at barricades to defend against looters is enough to show how welcome this little Gatling gun would have been there.
That is a common situation after any disaster of this magnitude. A warning burst at a rate of fire of 500 to 600 rounds per minute is a lot more persuasive than single shots on a mob. If persuasion doesn’t work, the effect of that rate of fire on attackers has been well proven for over 146 years, since the British first used them on massed native attackers.
That $5,000 price tag suddenly seems awfully cheap when you need this kind of firepower in order for you and your family to stay alive. The Tippmann is a quality piece of work that will not fail you. Just make sure you have plenty of magazines and ammo.
Editor’s note: For more on the Gatling Gun, see tippmannarmory.com.