Editor's note: The firearms round table that produces these articles on firearms doesn't always reach agreement on a specific issue. They didn't on this one, and asked me how to proceed. Since I don't see any reason the fictitious universe of the 1632 series should be any less contentious than the real one, I told them to produce both views and we'd run them simultaneously in the magazine. So. The question now raised is: which of these alternatives will be chosen in the series? And the answer is . . . Probably both. Not only is the Europe of the 1632 series full of disputing nations, but none of those nations—certainly not the USE—has a command economy to begin with. Most likely, someone will produce one variant, and someone else will produce the other. And then, it wouldn't surprise me to see someone produce something else entirely. That's how it happened in our history, after all. Why should an alternate history be any tidier?
One question that is always coming up on Baen's Bar is why are there no new machine guns being built in the 1632 universe. The one M-60 is wearing out and spare parts are three hundred years away. What is going to replace it on the battlefields of 1634? One thing to note is the replacement will not be a home built copy of the M-60 or even a mechanical gun like a Gatling. A real machine gun is beyond the gun makers of the USE for a while, possibly until 1639 or 1640.
A real machine gun would require inside-primed brass cases and smokeless powder. Both of those are coming to the 1632 universe, eventually, but not right away. The ability to make guncotton (nitrocellulose) and nitroglycerin exists by 1634 with the first advent of nitric acid, but not the ability to completely stabilize it so the acids used to make it do not cause it to deteriorate into an unstable state – nothing worse than having a soldier's cartridge go "boom" when dropped, or go "click" when fired. This took some 20-30 years to figure out in Our Time Line (OTL).
Brass was made from Roman times on in Europe, though zinc was not known as a separate element. By mixing zinc ore with copper ore and heating it together, brass was produced; some brass church plaques made this way were the correct 70% copper, 30% zinc ratio for rifle brass, but this was a happy accident. Reliably getting a 70/30 ratio to make good rifle brass is another problem; delivery of metallic zinc from Japan may help solve this.
So we are not going to have a new machine gun—but as of 1634, the armies of the USE don't need the best, just something better than any enemy can come up with. And they need it on the battlefield now, not in the design room or even being made in a factory somewhere.
First of all, let us look at what a machine gun is. No, that doesn't mean a physical description, or a description of how it works, but more what its presence on the battlefield accomplishes.
First and foremost, a gun like this is a force multiplier. That means that the crew of a machine gun, usually two to four, can take the place of many more riflemen. As an illustration let's look at two weapons from our world that fire the same caliber round, the M-60 machine gun (as found inside the ROF) and the M-14A1 rifle. Both use the same.308 cartridge, the same round Julie Mackay uses in her sniper rifle.
But first a definition is required from the Combat Leader's Field Guide, 9th edition (1980): Maximum Effective Rate (MER) of Fire (Rounds per Minute) . . . The rate at which a trained gunner can fire and obtain a reasonable number of hits (50%).
Now, one man firing an M-14 rifle in semi-automatic mode has a MER of 20 to 40 rounds per minute (RPM). Compare this to the 200 RPM of the M-60. Simple math shows that the (normally) two-man crew of the M-60 can produce the rate of fire that it would take as few as five and as many as ten men with M-14's to produce. If one now compares the rate of fire of the semi-automatic (and the fully automatic mode has been purposely ignored here) M-14 with the muzzle-loaders found on the battlefield in the sixteen hundreds it is easy to see why the M-60 has been such a big boost in battle. The "Battle of the Crapper" scene in 1632 shows this very vividly.
Second, a machine gun is an area denial weapon, meaning it prevents an enemy from using an area. This area may be a bridge, a path or a line of attack. Basically the machine gun crew has the job of making an advance by an enemy force through the covered area too expensive in manpower. To put it in even simpler terms, those Spartans of old could have held that pass with thirty troops and four machine guns, and the other two hundred seventy could have been watching for that flanking movement.
After much discussion, we have concluded that the best bet to have a weapon that does these two jobs, and to have it quickly, is to construct a ribauldequin, or "organ gun." This is a multibarreled gun in a rifle caliber on a two-wheeled carriage. Search Google for ["ribauldequin"], and you will find a number of pages about these so called "Organ Guns," including this one with an illustration way down towards the bottom (http://xenophongroup.com/montjoie/gp_wpns.htm).
Historically, these guns often have about 6 barrels, each one to two inches in bore diameter. We are proposing a larger number of rifle diameter barrels, in rifle calibers of.50 to.75 calibers (one-half to three-fourths of an inch). For ease of production the.58 caliber of the SRG may be best.
Sometime in 1634, USE Steel will go online and one of their first products will be rifle barrels for the SRG and other uses. These are simply tubes of steel that are then rifled by cutting spiral grooves inside to make the bullet fired from it spin-stabilize. We expect that this will be the easy part of a rifle to mass-produce and that their ability to make these will exceed the number of skilled craftsmen making the rest of the rifle. Ever heard the expression "lock, stock and barrel"? –– this refers to the gun maker's craft. The lock and the stock take as much or more work than making a barrel by hand-forging it—and we won't be hand-forging. Barrels not used in making rifles can be made into organ guns.
So, why didn't this get used before? Well, it did. By 1632 multibarrel guns, including organ guns that looked like this design, had already been made and used. But, they were still muzzle-loaders—loaded from the same end the bullet goes out. Thus loading was such a slow process that once they made their initial shot, they might as well be removed from the field. Organ guns that loaded from the muzzle were probably best relegated to defending a fortress wall against siege, since several could be positioned with interlocking fire zones for mutual protection during reloading. Such a fixed emplacement weapon is seen here:
Both cluster barrel and "duck foot" guns (a pistol with three or more barrels splayed out like a duck's foot) already exist and have been used by 1632. Since they are muzzle-loaders and very slow to reload, they were not found useful other than as a means for an individual to intimidate a group. The classic use for a "duck foot" pistol is for a naval officer trying to suppress a mutiny. There are some excellent images at this site: http://website.lineone.net/~da.cushman/ducksfoot.html
As was pointed out in the SRG report, the SRG as it exists can be modified from flintlock, to percussion, to a Snyder, or some such self-contained cartridge breechloader. But the reality is that as soon as cartridges become available, the USE is likely to have better things to do with them than stick them in Snyder or Springfield trapdoors. To all intents and purposes the SRG is a dead end . . . but it was a weapon that could be done fairly quickly at the time.
The organ gun is the same; it can be done using the technology of the time, with only a little up-time help in the design. The USE armies might be able to wait on a true machine gun if they were the absolute strongest power on the continent, not just militarily, but in all categories. They are not. They need a force multiplier now, not three or four years down the road.
Although all elements for this gun were available in 1632, and the need for such a gun was clear (take a look at Gustav Adolf's own desperate search for antipersonnel artillery), 200 years would pass before someone put them all together. Then they were obsolete within 6 years when cartridge-firing Gatlings and other magazine-fed mechanical machine guns were introduced, which were then made obsolete themselves in another dozen years.
In this light, there have been a number of proposals for defeating the problem of loading time. All, of course, involve various schemes for loading from the breech. Whether the resulting weapon will have preloaded blocks that attach to the back of the barrels, or individual breech mechanisms using paper cartridges remains to be seen, but rest assured, someone is going to introduce multibarreled guns to the battlefield in the near future.
Indeed, someone will develop these guns, and who's to say it's our friends in Grantville?
It could go like this . . .
As head of the gun makers' guild in St. Etienne, Andre Gueydan had been called to Paris where he had been handed a number of pages of information on firearms he had never dreamed of. Today, a Sunday, he had been sitting quietly watching the organist in the cathedral and contemplating the problem of making a device that would produce the same volume of fire as the American's "machine gun." It was then that the epiphany struck.
Tubes! He could make tubes to preload with powder and shot and then load them into the back end of barrels. Barrels which would be clustered just as were the pipes of the organ. Even the holes in the bottom of the organ's pipes were part of the vision he had been presented with; powder could be trailed into those holes and used to fire the "cartridges" sequentially. It must be God's will, he thought, why else would I have had such a vision in such a place, at such a time?
"God's will," or a good guess on the part of Andre, or someone of whatever nationality, finally figures out how to build an organ gun, or to use the correct term, a volley gun.
We're really sorry, but this is only available to up-to-date paid subscribers.
If you're not already a subscriber you need to know that our columns and editorials are free, along with a few other items, but almost all stories and all downloads are paid only.
- The Grantville Gazette Staff