Nepal’s Bira gun: The Last Of The Hand-Cranked Machine Guns

Nepal’s Bira gun is a fascinating steampunk-esque hand-cranked machine gun that is notable for being developed and manufactured at a time when true machine guns were being adopted around the world. It is also notable for being the first (or one of the first) guns to feature an overhead circular magazine, which appeared two decades later on the famous Lewis Gun.


IMA are selling this Bira gun for $27,500.

According to Dan Brock, who puts it a lot more colorfully than I will, the British were happy to supply the Nepalese with Martini-Henry rifles and .577/450 ammunition, but were not willing to give them heavier machine gun. A Nepalese general managed to acquire blueprints for the Gardner gun and used those to develop the Bira gun. The overhead magazine held a whopping 120 rounds of .577/450 ammunition  The Bira guns were all handmade and parts were not interchangeable between the individual guns. They were never used in combat.


bria gun


Read more about the history of this gun at Weapons, warfare and industrial idiocy.

Many thanks to Sven for the tip.

Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


  • Honestly, seems like it would work well enough on any sort of peasant uprising. You can put the equivalent of 40 or more soldiers with Martini-Henrys into a single corridor choke point, keep it constantly staffed with fresh, alert soldiers, and still have troops left over in case it gets overrun somehow.

    • Steve (TFB Editor)

      Much like a modern GPMP, it couldn’t not replace 40 soldiers with 40 rifles. 40 soldiers has a lot of redundancy – if one gun jams the rate of fire is almost unchanged. If this jammed and there was no support, the battle would be over very quickly.

      • I won’t contest the redundancy of 40 soldiers with individual weapons- but a hand cranked, gravity fed weapon should be massively reliable. No gas tube, no mismatch between spring strength and cartridge pressure, only an inconsistent rate of cranking in comparison to the speed of the action or feed tray and even then only for a single round.

        And when it jams in a permanent manner, from a draw of 40 conscripts you’ll still have at least 30 ready to go- while this gun might have exceeded the cost of 10 rifles, it wasn’t by much.

        Against an army with a solid core of brave soldiers and gas/recoil operated machineguns, it will inevitably fall to the technologically superior alternative. But that doesn’t denigrate it’s usefulness in the time and place of it’s invention.

        • elcheecho

          > but a hand cranked, gravity fed weapon should be massively reliable.

          i don’t know about that. also, don’t forget handmade.

  • noob

    If the BMF Activator crank, the Emory Jones Crankfire and even gatling reproductions are okay with the BATF, does that mean that a new manufacture replica of this pattern gun in a powerful caliber would be okay as well. I recall somewhere there is a ruling that says turning a crank is basically pulling a trigger for each shot.

    • Komrad

      I think they were imported a while back. I read an article in some magazine that was going under and they basically made the last issue a collection of their favorites from over the years.
      They had an article about this gun in it and they talked about them being imported without ammo trays.

    • P161911

      IMA has Bira Guns for sale, $27,500, they came from the Nepal Hoarde. Colt licensed a reproduction 45-70 Gatling gun last year, the cost around $30k too.

    • Komrad

      Special Interest Arms also makes a Garner GUn repro for $20k-$30k. I can’t remember the exact price.

  • Graham 1

    I’m digging the random chains hanging from the barrels, anyone know what those are for?

    • George

      Chains are for holding the barrels – if I recall, the barrels are removable, and when they get hot you want to hold them by the chains.

      Other cool feature is the cranking process – instead of the Gatling Gun method where you crank counter-clockwise (pulling towards you), the Bira was designed to crank clockwise. When they were designing it, they found that method to be less tiring.

      its the little things 🙂

  • Bill Akins

    The title of this article is incorrect. The Bira gun is not the last of the hand cranked rapid fire guns. The Caldwell gun from 1915 (patented in 1913) is the last of the hand cranked rapid fire guns (which back in those days and even today are often incorrectly called “machine guns” even though they aren’t since they are hand cranked). See this link for the Caldwell……