Shooting a Reffy Mitrailleuse

Not for a lack of vision did 18th and early 19th Century weapons designers fail to create successful automatic weapons. Attempts were made to facilitate fully repeating, automatic fire as early as they could be conceived with the technology of their period. Eventually, rapidly reloaded fully automatic fire was brought into service in the early days of the metallic cartridge with the Gatling and its French analogue, the mitrailleuse, with the more obscure Gardner following about a decade later. Julien Lucot, writer for the French gun magazine Cibles, sent footage of a reproduction French Reffy (or Reffye) mitrailleuse to Forgotten Weapons, where it was posted for our enjoyment. It is embedded below:

This isn’t the first time the Reffy has made an appearance on YouTube, as in November of 2013 a video of what is most likely the same reproduction gun and crew was uploaded. Embedding has been disabled for it, so readers will have to follow the link to view it directly through YouTube.

The Reffy, and its earlier Belgian counterpart the Montigny mitrailleuse, both used centerfire composite rolled paper and brass cartridges (though of different types), which like most contemporary ammunition were too fragile for true automatic loading. The mechanisms of both weapons are explained in two 3D animations also available through YouTube, embedded below:


More information on the Reffy and Montigny, and their ammunition, can be found at this link, which unfortunately will also automatically start a download of the 3D Reffy mechanics video embedded above.

The legacy of the French volley gun can still be seen today: Machine guns are still called mitrailleuses in French, despite being truly automatic.

Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He is also the author of the original web serial Heartblood, which is being updated and edited regularly. He can be reached via email at


  • guest

    Hindsight being 20/20 a shrapnel canister loaded in a gun of same dimensions would probably have much better effect than a retarded almost-machinegun that probably cost 10x the price of a normal cannon and required a professional mechanic’s education just to operate.

    • RocketScientist

      I dunno, canister/grapeshot out of smoothbore would probably not have the range of a rifled bullet fired at (presumably) a higher velocity. Just speculation on my part though.

  • William Johnson

    Interesting firing sequence, I would have expected the progression to be horizontal instead of vertical.

    • HSR47

      Given how the striker release system works, you can make it fire in whatever order you want it to.

  • Porty1119

    Why is this listed under NFA/Class III? It is crank-fired and therefore not classed as a machine gun.

    • We do not have a category for mitrailleuses.

      • Porty1119