A Journal for Western Man


The History and Significance of the Machine Gun

G. Stolyarov II

Issue CX - June 24, 2007


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The first rapid-fire machine gun was patented in 1862 by the American inventor Richard Gatling, in fact a staunch philanthropist who had hoped that his gun's very destructive power would serve as a deterrent for future wars.

The Gatling gun needed to be cranked by hand to fire, and was initially loaded with expensive 0.58 caliber cartridges. Gradually, however, as the gun's popularity became more widespread, Gatling adapted its design to accommodate smaller and more cost-efficient 0.50 and 0.45 caliber bullets.

The Gatling gun could initially fire 200 shots per minute, and saw its first use in the American Civil War, albeit in a highly sporadic and limited manner. The gun's most notorious application occurred during the Spanish-American War of 1898, where it was used by American forces as an offensive weapon, often being pushed up hills toward the Spanish to devastate their defensive positions. By this time, Gatling had equipped the guns with electric motors, enabling them to fire up to 3,000 shots per minute, an impressive rate unequaled until the 1950s. The guns' success encouraged other countries to order them, and the Gatling gun saw regular action in European struggles until its declared obsolescence in 1911.

The next step in the development of the machine gun was undertaken by American inventor Hiram Maxim, who in 1884 devised the first automatic, portable machine gun, which used the recoil force of each fired bullet to eject its spent cartridge from the barrel and make room for the next bullet to be fired, thus allowing a continuous rate of fire of 400-600 rounds per minute, about the firepower of 100 rifles.

Maxim sold his guns to both the British and Russian armies, and the gun's first use in the 1893 Matabele War in the British African colony of Rhodesia permitted fifty British policemen to mow down over 5,000 indigenous rebel warriors with only four Maxim guns. The Russians used the gun in their 1904-1905 war against the Japanese. Though
Russia lost the war, the gun was responsible for over half the Japanese casualties on land and rendered the Japanese victory extremely costly.

In 1912, the British Vickers Company adapted Maxim's design to its own machine guns, which, along with the Maxim guns, saw widespread use in World War I and subsequent military conflicts up to the gun's declared obsolescence in 1968.

Maxim's design also inspired the American John Moses Browning to invent a machine gun in 1895. Unlike Maxim's gun, Browning's design used the propulsion of a special gas to operate a piston that automatically ejected spent cartridges from the barrel and inserted fresh ones. Browning's machine gun was the weapon of choice for the American army in World War I. The German Army, too, was intrigued by the Maxim Gun and adopted an almost precise replica of it in 1908, which the Germans named the "Maschinengewehr," the German machine gun of standard issue in World War I.

The prevalence of machine guns of extremely similar design and capacity in the arsenals of all European great powers helped facilitate the stalemate of World War I, in which the weapons proved ideal for the defense of trenches, especially when fortified in concrete blockhouses that made it difficult for snipers to eliminate the guns' crew. As a result of the machine gun, attacks of trenches became extremely costly, and gave rise to the gruesome spectacle of thousands of men dying for a few feet of no man's land, as there was often no other way to approach the guns but head-on. As a result, there was a loathing for machine guns prevalent in infantry contingents, and infantrymen were likely to show no mercy to the crew of a machine gun which had defended a captured trench. Richard Gatling's hopes of the machine gun serving to mitigate or deter wars proved entirely unfounded, as, instead, the guns became instruments of mass carnage.






















G. Stolyarov II is a science fiction novelist, independent philosophical essayist, poet, amateur mathematician, composer, contributor to Enter Stage Right, Le Quebecois Libre,  Rebirth of Reason, and the Ludwig von Mises Institute, Senior Writer for The Liberal Institute, weekly columnist for GrasstopsUSA.com, and Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Argumentator, a magazine championing the principles of reason, rights, and progress. Mr. Stolyarov also publishes his articles on Helium.com and Associated Content to assist the spread of rational ideas. His newest science fiction novel is Eden against the Colossus. His latest non-fiction treatise is A Rational Cosmology. His most recent play is Implied Consent. Mr. Stolyarov can be contacted at gennadystolyarovii@yahoo.com.

This TRA feature has been edited in accordance with TRA’s Statement of Policy.

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Learn about Mr. Stolyarov's novel, Eden against the Colossus, here..

Read Mr. Stolyarov's new comprehensive treatise, A Rational Cosmology, explicating such terms as the universe, matter, space, time, sound, light, life, consciousness, and volition, here.

Read Mr. Stolyarov's new four-act play, Implied Consent, a futuristic intellectual drama on the sanctity of human life, here.