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5 Barrel Gardner Machine Gun, 1882


Gardner 2 barrel gun

Improved Gardner 2 barrel

5 barrel gun


William Gardner patented this 5 barrel machine gun in 1881. It fires a .45 inch bullet, and during trials in 1881 demonstrated a firing peak rate of 812 rounds a minute. A major advantage over its competitor, the Gatling gun, was its light weight. At 290 lbs (131 kg) it could be mounted on a tripod or lightweight carriage as well as a standard naval mounting. The United States Army was, however, committed to the Gatling gun, so Gardner came to the United Kingdom and manufactured his guns for the British Navy and later for the Army.

If you are unable to view this Quicktime movie, click here to view the animation on YouTube



These guns have five barrels; their axes lie in a horizontal plane and are parallel to each other. The breech ends are fixed in the centre cross-piece of the frame. To the rear of the centre cross-piece the frame is increased in depth to form the breech-casing. In this casing are the locks which carry the mechanism for igniting the cartridges and extracting the empty cartridge-cases. The locks are driven backwards and forwards by means of a disk crank. At the forward motion the cartridges are pushed into the barrel chambers, and held there during the time of discharge, whilst during the backward motion the empty cases are withdrawn. [Gn2]


Naming the Parts


Sectional View of Gardner 5-barrel Gun [Gn2]

Major Components of 5 barrel Gardner Gun

Major Components of 5 barrel Gardner Gun (1882 Patent)



Telescopic Rear Sights

Hopper and Cartridge Feeder, showing catches

Firing Mechanism of 5 barrel Gardner gun

Operation of the Valve to Load Cartridges

The gun is fed from a grooved plate or cartridge feeder, which is fixed above the hopper, through openings in which the cartridges fall from the cartridge feeder to the cartridge carrier.

Between the hopper and the cartridge carrier is the feed valve, in which are openings corresponding with openings in the hopper. It has transverse motion, for the purpose of bringing the cartridges from the openings in the hopper to a position opposite the barrels and in line with the lock plungers.

The cartridge feeder contains 100 cartridges in 5 columns of 20; this is kept supplied during firing from cartridge holders of which 24 are supplied with each gun. The cartridge holder is a wood block with holes sunk to contain 50 cartridges. When filled, the slide is put on, care being taken to keep the side marked ‘outside’ outwards.

The elongating tangent sight consists of a slide upon which teeth are cut to form a rack, a stem, and a spring which snaps into a recess in the slide, and acts as a stop when the stem is drawn out to its full extent. The slide is marked on its right edge from 0 to 1,300 yards, and on its left edge from 1,400 to 2000 yards. The right-hand marking is for use when the head of the stem is resting on the top of the slide. The left-hand marking for when the slide is fully withdrawn. The sights are interchangeable, and may be used either as right or left hand.

The Shield (if fitted) consists of a steel plate, which is held in holders swinging on the sides of the frame, and secured by spring bolts when up or down.

The feeder is secured to the shield, grooves down by a projecting lug in rear and by a clamping screw in front.

The Cone Mounting consists of the cone, crosshead, traversing and elevating gear. The cone fits into the standard service holding-down ring (see Nordenfelt movie). It is bored out to receive the stem of the worm-wheel and is furnished with a locking-bolt to prevent the worm-wheel turning when it is screwed into position. The cross head holds carries the elevating and traversing gear.

The elevating gear consists of telescopic right and left hand screws, working in a nut pivoted at the crosshead. It is furnished with a brake (not shown in animation).

A safety bar is added for drill purposes. When the handle is down, or in the safe position, cartridges may be worked through the gun unfired.


The Action


The springs having been first released by firing; as the crank handle revolves, the crank disk bears down on the hammer arms and compresses the firing springs. The crank then takes against the rear end of butts of locks, and the locks move to the rear extracting the cartridge cases. When the locks are as far back as possible the left cam takes against the left cam follower, and moves the feed valve from left to right, forcing down a filled cartridge on top of the empty case, which falls to the ground. When the crank handle passes the highest part of its revolution the crank takes against the front parts of butts of locks and the locks start to move forward, driving the filled cartridges in front of them. The extractor is pivoted to the lock plunger and is free to rise over the cartridge head as the lock moves forward. At the same instant, the right cam takes against the right cam follower, and moves the feed valve from right to left. As the handle continues to revolve, the locks move forward till the breech ends of barrels are closed by the plungers when they stop.

There is now a slight further action of the right cam follower which moves the feed valve more to the left, and causes it to bear on the extractors, which are thus forced down over the cartridge rim ready for extracting. The handle then continuing the revolution, each spring is released in succession as the hammer arms arrive at the break in the crank disk, which allows them to rise and discharge the cartridges.

With the Safety bar in the 'Safe' position, when the hammer arms reach the break in the crank disk, the safety bar prevents them from flying forward and discharging cartridges loaded into the breeches. In addition to making the gun safe before and after live firing, it also permits the gun crew to practice their drill, using live ammunition if necessary, as the cartridges will be loaded and extracted by the locks, but the hammers will not be permitted to strike the cartridge primers.


To Remove a Lock

See that the safety bar is in the firing position. Open the cover and turn the crank handle until the cranks are uppermost. When in this position the fore ends of the plungers are about 2 inches from the breech ends of barrels. Take hold of the plunger and raise it, at the same time moving the crank slightly (great care being taken to prevent locks remaining in the gun from coming within 1 inch of breech ends of barrels), the lock will now come away.


Drill for 5-Barrel Gardner Gun

The crew consists of 5 men.

Command - "Action"

1, at the rear, checks elevation and training gear are clear, then raises the cover and feels each extractor to ascertain that it is working freely.

2, on the right, revolves the crank handle, and sees that the handle of the safety bar is at "Fire", and releases the springs in succession.

1 then replaces the cover, and screws up the cascable knob.

3, on the left, provides and places the cartridge feeder, seeing the bottom slide closed and the top slide open.

4 and 5 provide cartridge holders and fill empty ones.

The target range is given (in yards). 1 and 2 adjust the sights.

Command "Target is..."

3 Receives two cartridge holders from 4, and slides the cartridges into the cartridge feeder, and returns the empties to 4. 1 lays the gun, working the training gear with his right hand and elevating gear with his left hand (for the naval cone mount).

Command "Commence"

3 opens the bottom slide, 2 revolves the crank handle, bringing it forward to an horizontal position, and fires by order of 1, by continuing the revolution and bringing the handle back to the same horizontal position.

3 keeps up the supply of cartridges in the cartridge feeder, and returns the empty holders to 4. 4 and 5 refill the holders.

Command "Cease Firing"

2 discontinues the fire and puts the safety bar to safe; 3 closes the top and bottom slides, and then removes the cartridge feeder.

1 removes cartridges from the hopper, then lifts the cover and takes out any cartridges that are in the gun, 2 turning the handle backwards as necessary to enable him to do so. 1 then re-closes the cover.

1 and 2 put down the sights, 3 returns the cartridges, 4 and 5 fill the holders. [Gn3]


G5B Tripod Mount1 886

5 Barrel Gardner gun on Tripod mount, with ammunition box (Gn3]


Firing Rate

The firing rate was dependent on the strength and stamina of the gunner turning the crank, and the ability of the supply numbers to keep the ammunition feeder charged. Trials were carried out in England in the early 1880s which demonstrated the capabilities of the 5 barrel Gardner gun. During the trials, the gun fired 16,754 rounds before a failure occurred, which was considerably more than any of the other 8 guns on trial. Then each of the 5 barrels fired singly 1,500 shots. The total number of malfunctions was 24, or a percentage of 0.14. Several of the jams were at the very beginning of the trial before the gun, which was new, had been perfectly adjusted. In the last 7,500 rounds, fired for endurance, there were but 5 stops: 4 failures to extract and 1 cartridge bent in the feeder. Two of the jams were officially credited to accidental dropping of ammunition in the mud by inexperienced loaders. Leaving out the these two stoppages, the percentage drops to 0.04, or 4 malfunctions in 10,000 rounds.

As another example of the strenuous demands placed on these guns during this examination, the weapons were left uncleaned and exposed to the weather for a full week before firing was resumed. The 5-barrel Gardner fired without hesitation at the rate of 812 rounds a minute [Gn5]. This rate would only have been achievable for a short period, since the crank would have to be turned at 160 revolutions per minute, and a fresh 50-round pack loaded every 3 - 4 seconds. A more sustainable firing rate would be about 300 - 350 rounds a minute.


Volley Fire vs. Ripple Fire


Figure from Gardner's 1881 Patent, showing staggered release edges on Crank, and different lengths of trigger arm. [Gn4]

An interesting feature of Gardner's Patent, No. 245710, dated August 16. 1881 (US Patent Office) was the ability to set the 5-barrel gun to fire full volleys, or to fire in a ripple, as shown in the animation. It will be seen from the animation and diagram showing the parts, that the cut away portion of the cranks is staggered, so that the firing hammers will be released in sequence (3 - 2 - 4 - 1 - 5, counting from left to right when viewed from the rear). However Gardner patented the idea that by supplying a set of locks with trigger arms of different lengths, the locks could be arranged so that either the triggers would be released in the sequence shown above, or by rearranging the locks, which can be easily dismounted without the need for any tools, so that the longest trigger arm was paired with the earliest crank release. In this way, all the five locks could be made to fire at once - a volley. Alternatively with a slightly different arrangement, the gun could fire the central barrel, then volley barrels 2 and 4, followed by a volley of barrels 1 and 5.

It is doubtful if the military saw any value in this feature, since the recoil of five barrels discharging simultaneously would cause severe mounting problems. As each lock would be different they would have to be clearly marked so the gunner can place each lock in the desired position - for either ripple or volley fire. The gun I have examined has no such markings. Additionally, each gun would have to carry a spare of each lock if it was to maintain volley fire. I contend that for practical reasons, this feature was never adopted.



The mean absolute deviation at 300 yards is about 4.45 inches.


Weights and Dimensions

Length of gun, extreme (cone mount)

53 inches

134.6 cm

From pivot to rear end

19 inches

48.3 cm

Weight of gun with cartridge feeder

290 lbs

131.5 kg

Weight of traversing gear

37 lbs

16.8 kg

Weight of tripod

59 lbs

26.8 kg

Weight of crosshead with elevating and traversing gear for cone mounting

117 lbs

53.1 kg


63 lbs

28.6 kg

Shield (when fitted)

77 lbs

34.9 kg

Barrels – number


Barrels – calibre

0.45 inches

11.43 mm

Barrels – length extreme

33 inches

83.8 cm



No. of groves


Twist, uniform

1 in 22 inches

1 in 55.9 cm

Length of rifling

30 inches

76.2 cm

Cartridge holder, containing 50 cartridges

Weight empty

3 lbs

1.36 kg

Weight full

8 lbs 12 oz

4.0 kg


Ammunition "Gardner and Gatling" (1895)

Projectile, a lead projectile of 480 grains and 0.45 inch calibre.

Charge is 85 grains of R.F.G. powder

A box of cartridges contained 680 cartridges and weighed 92 lbs.


Shield fitted to Gardner gun on naval mount [Gn2]


Failures Likely to Occur



The jams may be caused in this gun in two ways:

1. Failure to extract

2. Explosion in the action

1. A failure to extract is caused by the rim of the cartridge filing or being cut through by the extractor. Should this occur the handle must be backed until the plunger does not rest against the cartridge; it can then be extracted by means of a rod passed down the bore from the muzzle.

Non-extraction – should any cases of non-extraction occur owing to the extractor rising over the cartridge rim during the backward movement of the lock, the feed-valve must be adjusted to bear upon the extractor. To do this, the adjusting screw in the right end of the lever must be drawn out slightly and fixed with the set screw.

2. An explosion in the action is caused by hang-fire: i.e. a cartridge, not firing immediately after its cap is struck, is drawn some way out of the barrel by the movement of extraction before firing; the case then being unsupported, is burst open by the powder gas, and an explosion occurs. In this case a portion of the body of the case may be left in the barrel, the head being blown off. To remove this, a cartridge clearer is provided at one end of the cleaning rod. By passing this down the gun from the muzzle end the piece will be removed. If an explosion occurs, even if no part of the case is left in the barrel, firing should at once cease, and the cleaning rod passed down the barrel to see that the bullet has passed out.

3. In the event of a firing pin breaking, the readiest method is to put in the spare lock provided. To replace the broken firing pin, proceed as described below 'to Remove a Lock'. Put in the new firing pin, and put the lock together again. Before firing care should be taken that the cover is down and locked by turning in the screw by the cascable knob.

4. Miss-fires may be caused by a weak lock spring. The weight of the spring may be tested with a wire and spring balance. It should require a pressure of not less than 10 lbs. to press the point if the firing pin back slightly


The Field Carriage


A Field Carriage is used by naval shore parties and is the same as that for the .45-inch 5-barrel Nordenfelt guns (Mk I and II). (see photograph in the Nordenfelt Gallery)


Field Carriage, rear view [Gn2]

Field Carriage for Gardner gun, side view [Gn2]

The body of the carriage consists of a wrought iron frame, A, formed to support the two steel ammunition drawers, B, and a wooden under box, C, which is fitted with a steel cover. The frame is partially covered with a steel sloping top or shield, D, on the rear side of which two brackets, E, and a hasp are fitted to stow the cartridge feeder of the Gardner gun when that gun is mounted.

At the rear end of the body is fitted the wire net receptacle, F, which is suitable for carrying light stores such as drag ropes; but this net arrangement is primarily a prolongation of the carriage intended to prevent the mounting from tilting backwards if the shafts are lifted high and let go. The frame, A, is riveted to the axletree, which is slightly cranked to lower the centre of gravity of the load.

The wheels are four feet in diameter and have 2-inch tyres; the naves are of metal.

The shafts are cased on three sides with steel to strengthen and protect them.

A telescopic steadying bar is attached to the front part of the carriage and hinged so as to trice up underneath the carriage when not in use. Iron shoes are also fitted to the ends of the shaft which take the ground and prevent the carriage running back when firing.

This field carriage is adapted to be drawn by horse power or by hand as required, and is provided with the means of carrying 1,200 rounds of ammunition readily placed in 24 Nordenfelt hoppers or Gardner holders.

The ammunition is carried in the two boxes or drawers, B, which are made ‘right’ or ‘left’. Each drawer contains 12 compartments for hoppers or holders and three additional compartments for tools and small stores. The front half of each drawer is fitted with a sliding lid which permits access to half the quantity of ammunition carried (that is 600 rounds) without removing the drawer from the frame. When it is necessary to take ammunition from the rear half of the drawers they must be pulled out (and placed on the ground), as that portion is fitted with a hinged lid.

This arrangement of the ammunition stowage permits of an immediate supply being available with the least amount of delay and of getting at the whole of the hoppers by simply pulling out the drawers.

No limber is supplied for carrying extra ammunition as this can always be more conveniently done by means of pack animals or country carts according to the circumstances of the locality.

The wooden under-box, C, is intended for carrying two Nordenfelt distributors.



The majority of the text in this page comes from The Handbook for the 0.45" Gardner Gun (5-Barrel) 1895 [Gn2], with additions from the 1886 publication of the same name [Gn3]. Additional information comes from William Gardners 1881 Patent, no. 245710, dated August 16, 1881, US Patent Office [Gn4]. While Gardner declares himself a resident of Hartford, Connecticut, the two witnesses for this patent are both residents of London, England.


5 barrel Gardner machine Gun (1882 Patent) (vbbsm)

5 barrel Gardner machine Gun (1881 Patent)


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