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. He can be reached via email at [email protected]