Tuesday 3 February 2015

The Nordenvelt Gun - as featured in Britannia's Wolf

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

Triple-barreled 1-inch Nordenvelt 
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.

5-Barelled rifle-calibre Nordenvelt
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.

Nordenvelt in action in 1890s
Note the hopper magazine above
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 photographs 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.


  1. I live only a few miles from Erith and Crayford, where the Maxim Nordenfeldt Company had its factories. There is a pub in Erith named 'The Nordenfeldt' on the corner of Naimfeldt Road. (The pub is known as the 'Pom Pom' by the locals.) I don't think that any Nordenfeldt guns were built in Erith or Crayford, but the Maxim machine gun (and its derivative Vickers machine gun) certainly were.

  2. Thanks Bob - history certainly lives on by such means!