The First “Assault Weapon”? Forgotten Weapons and the Puckle Gun of 1718

The Puckle Gun is one of those firearms of which only a couple of examples exist in the world, but which is covered in a great deal of introductory firearms books, usually in their section on the history of machine guns.

This has led many to assume the Puckle Gun was some kind of proto-machine gun, which isn’t exactly the case, although it is a very important historical step on the road to modern rapid-fire weaponry. Some discussion will follow below, but first, Forgotten Weapons released an installment on the partial original Puckle Gun located at Reed Knight’s Institute of Military Technology:

In terms of rate of fire and operation, the Puckle Gun was less comparable to an early machine gun like a Mitrailleuse, Gatling, Gardner, or Nordenfelt, than to an early repeating rifle like the Spencer Carbine. In fact, the operating procedures of the Puckle and Spencer are broadly similar, with both firearms needing to be manually actuated to present the next round as well as manually cocked between each shot.

What makes the Puckle significant to the development of rapid fire guns? Its features. It is one of the earliest, if not the earliest breechloading guns to my knowledge that incorporates all of the following features necessary for a modern rapid-fire gun:

  • A method of sealing the chamber to prevent gas escape
  • A quick-changeable feeding device for rapid reloading
  • Pre-set, integrated priming to elminate the priming stage of loading and protect the priming compound from the environment

Previous breechloaders did incorporate one or two of these features, but Puckle’s gun combined all three to produce a true rapid-fire weapon.

So what is the Puckle Gun, really? Well, it’s an early rapid-fire naval cannon, and therefore the weapons it should most properly be associated with as their precursor are multipurpose slow-firing (by today’s standards, but still much faster than the Puckle Gun itself) naval autocannons, like the famous 40mm Bofors. If one prefers, the Puckle Gun could also perhaps be compared to modern anti-pirate weapons, like 20mm Oerlikon cannons, dual-mounted .50 caliber M2 machine guns, or the 7.62mm M134 Minigun – the latter of three possessing a rate of fire almost two orders of magnitude higher than the Puckle Gun!



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 nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


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  • John

    First line:

    The Puckle Gun is one of those firearms of which only a couple of expamples exist in the world

    • Bill

      Proofreading is fundamental.

    • Jake

      “professor puckle procrastinated perfecting his puckle projector”

  • Tassiebush

    It really is such an iconic yet obscure gun. I’m glad Ian got to it. It was interesting to discover that the square projectile version for Turks was never actually made. Interesting to know vapour wear was in existence back when miasma was a popular theory.

    • Bill

      Miasma in the ether gave people the vapors.

      • Tassiebush

        He could get one that fires puggles, which is what you call baby echidnas and platypus.

        • Bill

          No kidding – I’d like a pet platypus, an all terrain venomous swamp creature, the perfect police animal.

          • Tassiebush

            It’d be a great stand in for a tazer if you tied a male one onto a stick with the back end pointed at the intended victim. Apparently the spur poison is very similar to the venom of a snake called the green mamba. Not likely to be lethal on an adult but might be serious on pets or a child. The pain apparently isn’t readily treatable with existing pain medications and causes a ongoing problem over weeks or months. Basically those handling them need to be careful. Strange creatures! You couldn’t make it up!
            Always nice to see them though.

    • Anomanom

      It had special ammunition for killing non-white people. I am both kind of horrified and confused. It’s a 1.25in gun to start with. Did this guy think that a regular bullet couldn’t kill Turks dead enough or what.

      • Tassiebush

        It was a pretty ineffective idea compared to the orthodoxy. I don’t think it was a white vs non white thing so much as fighting people from outside of Christendom where the rules of war did not apply. That sentiment being largely mirrored by their opponents. No quarter given or taken. There was precedent many centuries earlier when one of the popes banned (ineffectively) the use of crossbows against Christians. To be fair to Mr Puckle a typical encounter with Barbary pirates for the British or any Europeans meant a significant risk of enslavement at the time and they’d been known to raid parts of Britain, Ireland and even Iceland (with the help of European converts). Sailors were particularly vulnerable to this problem. Barbary pirates being a part of the Ottoman empire hence the “Turk” label. They had a pretty shocking impact on much of the Mediterranean coast too apparently leading to much of the population abandoning the coast. I think the estimates are something like a million European victims over the centuries. It’s a fascinating area of history! Even the United States of America had troubles with them!

        • B-Sabre

          Even the United States of America had trouble with them!

          Leading to the famous line in the Marine Corps Hymn about “the shores of Tripoli.”

          The whole War Against the Barbary Pirates is a fascinating period of American history.

  • yodamiles

    I think the design is perfect for repeating potato canon.

    • Peyton Besand

      You know, I’ve always looked at the Puckle Gun and thought exactly that. It looks like some middle-aged man made in it his garage to launch spuds at the pesky neighborhood kids!

      • B-Sabre

        :THOOMP: “Get off my lawn…” :THOOMP: “Ya damn kids!” :THOOMP:

    • Pickle Gun.

  • Tim

    Had no idea such innovative thinking existed 300 years ago. Mr. Puckle must have been very frustrated by his contemporaries’ lack of vision.

  • B-Sabre

    I’ve only seen rough drawings from the patents before – it’s actually a rather handsome piece of hardware…’

  • Tim Wilkins

    Their is NO such thing as an assault rifle. Way can’t you so called gun experts learn how much harm you are doing to our gun rights by calling certain rifle “assault rifles”.

    • RocketScientist

      wat. Assault rifles most assuredly DO exist. A semi-only version of an AR or AK platform rifle dont count as one, but their full-auto or select-fire counterparts certainly do. I’m guessing your misplaced rage is more rightfully directed at the term “assault weapon” which was created in the 90s to describe scary semi-auto guns that people didn;t like the look of, and the definition of which varies depending on which newspaper you’re reading or which state/municipality you live in.

  • Seth Hill

    I’m thinking a modified reproduction using caps or shotgun primers might be something that would be interesting.

  • Wolfgar

    Another great article from Ian.

  • jcitizen

    Every since I saw one of those in a Dudley Pope book, I’ve wondered how they worked! Excellent video! Square bullets for infidels huh? I need to dig that book back out of my library, as I swore I saw an original turret with the requisite square chambers.