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Re: Colonial firepower

Paint Dog
For the many well informed members on the subject of the AZW, I have some questions with regards to Colonial fire power:

Gatling guns: I know they jammed. How difficult was it to clear a jam? Would guns return to firing in that engagement or would they be rendered useless until lengthy repairs were met?

Infantry Officers: These seemed to carry revolvers. In fire fights with the Zulu, was there any point in their firing at anything beyond point blank?

Officers of Colonial Horse & Mounted Rifles: Would these use handguns or long arms?

Carbines for the Mounted Troops: Would these be habitually fired from horseback or on foot? Was there an accepted dogma on fighting mounted or dismounted?


.......The first question, Gatling guns , best educated guess, usually could be cleared in the field, but not always quickly and not nearly quickly enough, no bad examples during the Zulu war, but I seem to recall one in the Sudan. Officers revolvers, packed a punch, but inaccurate, but that was about technique not the weapon, but seeing as they all used the same bad technique pretty much point blank. Mounted officers, irregulars often carried both, best guess with regulars mounted would be side arm only. Carbines for mounted troops, they were trained to fight on foot , but could and did fire mounted, but less accurately. They were used as scouts and skirmishers so Isandlawana and Hlobane aside did not feature much in any of the pitched battles, they did however raid a lot of Kralls,where they did their work both on foot and mounted.

Re: Colonial firepower

The sand of the desert is sodden red,
The colonel's jammed and the Gatling's dead...

Re: Colonial firepower

A book in my collection by Brian Robson and titled 'Fuzzy Wuzzy; the campaigns in the eastern Sudan 1884-85' is illuminating as to just how relatively ineffective early 'machine guns' were.

The biggest problems with both Gatling and Gardner guns were jamming, weight, and ammunition supply; in respect of the last of these, although the guns fired 0.45 calibre rounds, these were not the same as the rounds used in the standard infantry Martini Henry rifle. This effectively meant that Gatlings and Gardners were of much greater use in pre-prepared defensive positions, than as part of an attacking column. In use in the Sudan in the 1880s, they were in fact also a liability in the large marching squares beloved of the British army as the main defence against fanatical Mahdist attackers, since the gun itself could present a weak point in the square.

There were notable successes nonetheless: At the action at Tofrek on 22 March 1885, a Dervish attack on one part of the defensive zariba was stopped in its tracks by a combination of rifle fire and a barrage from Gardner guns operated by Royal Marines. The account states:

" Most if not all the Marines were inside the zariba with their rifles close at hand. Against them and the Gardner guns the enemy made little further progress. For once the Gardners performed reasonably well, and 400 rounds were successfully fired, causing considerable execution."

Having said this, the best defence and guarantee of sustained firepower would be a well drilled and steady company or two of British infantry, equipped with Martini Henry rifles, with plenty of 0.45 calibre ammunition to hand and a good long view of their targets....

Re: Colonial firepower


Gatlings: The major cause of a jam was when a cartridge fouled the barrel and couldn't be ejected. Each gun had 10 barrels that turned and were locked in to place prior to being fired. When a cartridge got stuck it prevented the next round from entering that barrel and the whole cycle for turning the barrels stopped. Rather than having to force the problem round out (as with the Martinis) the lock to the jammed barrel was removed so the gun would continue its cycle but only firing the other 9 barrels, the offending barrel not locking and passing over the firing mechanism. If during this procedure the jammed round could be easily removed, all the better. Once done the gun could continue to be used during the engagement. I don’t know how long removing a lock took but it wouldn’t have been too long and would probably seem like an eternity when you have the opposition charging at you!

Revolvers: They were point blank weapons. You may have hit someone if you were faced with a wall of warriors but it may not be the individual you were aiming at. The Zulu had little regard for revolvers. They had a name for them, which I can’t recall at the moment but it was along the lines of ‘pop gun’. There is a Zulu statement that at Isandlwana one warrior was shot 3 times by an Officer using his revolver before the warrior overpowered him. Either the accuracy or effectiveness was questionable.

Officers of the Volunteers and Irregular horse were issued revolvers and the 1822 light cavalry sword. Volunteers were also issued revolvers along with their carbines. However, as the Officers of the Volunteers were elected by their units there would be nothing stopping them also carrying carbines.

Carbines for Mounted Troops: At Isandlwana, Hlobane, Khambula and at the Mahlabathini plain prior to Ulundi the tactic was for mounted troops to dismount to fire before remounting and riding to their next position.

Hope it helps!

Re: Colonial firepower

Many, many thanks for the responses.

I'm beginning to think this HaT Forum should be my first stop with an historical query.


Re: Colonial firepower

With most machine guns theres a number of things that can go wrong heres what the manual say:
"Should Jams occur in firing this may generally be attributed to the defective management of the drum"

It goes in to some detail in a couple of sections about how to operate the drum correctly to avoid problems and how to clear jams from other causes and it also has instruction on how to go about removing the locks, I think though most remedies other the simple jams would take way to much time in combat and present a serious danger if the enemy was close and advancing rapidly....

The Handbook Gatling .45 calibre Naval British version:

If you want more technical info on the guns themselves this American manual may be helpful it also includes images of just about everything associated with the guns:

The British manual is only one I've seen of several that includes the info regarding jamming etc

Too put it in perspective normal rate of fire for a gatling gun is 525rpm this is equivalent to about 50 men rapid firing with Martini Henrys, but the barrels would quickly get to hot to handle.. the gatling could however maintain that fire reliably for up to 8 minutes non stop with a good crew before ammo started cooking of in the barrels.....