The Nordenvelt Gun

The Nordenvelt Gun plays a significant role in Britannia’s Wolf and indeed the weapon was in general use on many warships in the late-Victorian period.

Though capable of a heavy volley-fire, the Nordenvelt, like its contemporaries the Gatling and the Gardner, was not an automatic machine-gun. The Nordenvelt was activated by pulling a lever back and forth, feeding rounds into the breeches of the gun’s barrels from a vertical hopper-magazine, firing them, and ejecting the spent cases. The slow rate of fire from each individual barrel was compensated for by placing multiple barrels in parallel. Up to a dozen barrels might be employed, though three or four were more common, the calibre being .45 inch. In one demonstration for the Royal Navy a 10-barrelled version fired 3,000 rounds of ammunition in just over three minutes without stoppage or failure.
The Nordenvelt, due to its multiple barrels, was heavy by comparison with later, genuinely automatic,machine guns. The weight penalty was not a major drawback on shipboard, but if deployed on land it needed a field-gun type carriage. Entering service in several navies in the 1870s, including the Royal Navy, it provided the ideal defence against attack by small torpedo-armed vessels, an increasing threat in those years. A heavy version, firing one-inch solid steel rounds from up to four barrels, was developed to provide a fearsome counter to lightly-constructed, unarmoured torpedo craft and their poorly-protected crews.

The Nordenvelt was made obsolete in the late 1880s by the arrival of the fully-automatic Maxim machine gun but many served on in smaller navies long beyond this time. I found one on display in the yard of a police station in Warri, Nigeria, in the late 1980s, but have unfortunately lost the phototographs I took of it then. It almost certainly came from a Royal Navy ship and may even have participated in the Benin Expedition of 1897.

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