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Assume you traveled back in time to the middle ages, and you brought with you the schematics of a fully automatic firearm. Could a group of experienced smiths and jewelers reproduce it? What would the major issues be?

There are some guns which were designed for simplicity and easy of production, like the British Sten, so let's assume you have chosen a very simplistic gun.

I guess their job would be made a little easier if you

  • brought back an actual gun they can study and disassemble
  • you arrived to the late middle ages when the first very crude firearms started to make their appearance.

I guess the biggest problem would be the production of reliable ammunition. People weren't using muzzle-loaders for five centuries because they were too stupid to realize that they could reload faster if they had a cartridge instead of loose gunpowder, they just didn't have any reliable means to ignite the powder. This means you would probably need a recipe for the chemicals required for a primer and for smokeless gunpowder. Would medieval people be able to produce them without having access to modern industrial infrastructure?

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    $\begingroup$ Are you trying to use these to fight a war, or just to create some artifact which the king keeps near him as a symbol of his power? War doesn't require making one: war requires making many, and that stretches resources quickly $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon - Reinstate Monica Feb 21 '15 at 15:52
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    $\begingroup$ High-precision metalworking is a potential problem. A metalworking lathe is the most basic of the machine tools; once you have a 19th century lathe and the ability to cast metal, you can make just about any other tool that was available in the industrial revolution. But building a lathe requires having at least one long, accurately made threaded rod. Once you have a lathe you can make a second one easily, but building that first lead screw is not trivial in a world without high quality steel dies and taps. $\endgroup$ – Eric Lippert Feb 21 '15 at 16:04
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    $\begingroup$ @eric Boring machines are also non-trivial. Getting a small hole drilled precisely is fine, drilling at the end of a 12" length (or 2' length) without wobble is a whole nother story. $\endgroup$ – user3082 Feb 21 '15 at 18:30
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    $\begingroup$ @vsz re: your "most trusted knights" comment - I think you'd be better off working with revolvers and rifles. Rifles will give you enough range that the other line can't come close enough to do significant damage, and revolvers will give you more shots before reloading. And if you get swappable chambers (tough to do, but doable), you can have a reload set waiting. $\endgroup$ – user3082 Feb 21 '15 at 18:32
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    $\begingroup$ I would like to add (to the many good answers and comments) that technically, it is possible for them to make an automatic weapon from schematics, without industrialization. It just wouldn't work very well, nor for very long. It would almost certainly jam/misfire within seconds. $\endgroup$ – RBarryYoung Feb 21 '15 at 19:28

11 Answers 11

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No automatic weapons, without industrialization

You need machines to make modern firearms. You can't hand-rifle a barrel. And while a hand-operated barrel-rifling machine can be made, this is not the best.

Et al. for every other thing. Something like 90 machines were needed for the Enfield (iirc).

Plus you need good materials. Springs? You don't build those out of pig iron. Etc, etc. High quality (uniform!) steel.

Precision milled brass cartridges.

Getting cordite and/or smokeless powder - a lot better chemical industry than existed. You're not going to get nitrogylcerine from your salt-peter pit, and your sulfur mines.

People weren't stupid for using muzzle-loaders, when your powder is completely variable, you don't pick a weight and put it into a package, because you'll get different results with different batches. You'd have to be mixing huge batches, proofing them, and then measuring each in different amounts... Whereas you can just add s'more powder if what you've currently got in the bag isn't working well enough.

Corning. Glazing. Etc, etc.

Medieval workers don't even have the tools to do the measuring to get started on some of that stuff. In order to get some of the scales needed, the guy who made the weights and measures for the US had to design a machine to cut the dials - because a human running a machine to cut the dials eventually threw them off because his body-heat changed the graduations*... If they're dealing with 'recipes' then they're not going to be able to do anything fine. You have to be able to measure. And to do that you need to have tools to do it with. You need precision and accuracy, and that's difficult to just whip up in the shop by drawing something.

Plus, you've got problems even in reading schematics. Even in WW2, we had to completely redo the Bofors 40mm schematics, because they weren't precise (they also had to be redone so that they could be mass-manufactured, instead of hand-finished), and Americans couldn't read them (Europeans used the first angle of projection). A schematic is only as good as your ability to read it/understand what it's saying.

If I tell you (via schematics) to put a 1/2" hole in a plate, you've probably got an idea of how you'd do it. But that's only because you're familiar with power drills, and maybe a drill press. It's probable that you don't know how to put spiral grooves on the inside of a tube. My schematics tell you to put a 1:7 twist in the barrel. How do you change that information into reality? If you're a regular Joe, you probably have no clue. Your smith is going to have the same problem.

Or your schematic says, use "AISI-SAE 4130" for this part. Your smith looks up at you and says, "What is that?". Even, "How do I make that?", if you don't know what it is. Did you bring an industrial dictionary? Did you bring ANSI standards with you? Did you bring testing equipment (or calibrations to make testing equipment) to test potential steel recipes to see if they'll qualify?

You could go to Kentucky-style rifles pretty easily (well, with good materials, and be willing to make a some machines/jigs). Past that... things start to get tricky for medieval workers operating without an industrial base.


+1 for user2448131's ideas: revolver and gatling gun - still are going to need a number of things that're a stretch for Medieval technology


* circular dividing engine. That device, purchased in 1841 from Troughton and Simms of London by Hassler, was intended to be hand operated. Its function was to engrave degrees and fractions thereof onto a circular disk with high precision. It was found, however, that the body heat of the operator could measurably distort the spacings between successive graduations.

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    $\begingroup$ A jeweler (or master craftsman) still needs the right materials. And getting every cartridge to fit would be difficult work, time-consuming work. Your firearm would cost more to fire than to hire some mercenaries to go kill someone. $\endgroup$ – user3082 Feb 21 '15 at 10:07
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, there's much more to industrialization than just ability design constructs. $\endgroup$ – joojaa Feb 21 '15 at 19:06
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    $\begingroup$ +1 for an answer that's not only informative but also thought-provoking. It tends to discredit a lot of the sci-fi tropes around advanced aliens or time travelers gifting or leaving evidence of futuristic weapons or other technology; chances are, even if we had a complete schematic, we'd never be able to build it, and would probably just think it was complete nonsense. $\endgroup$ – Aaronaught Feb 21 '15 at 19:55
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    $\begingroup$ Just to clarify, the 2 key differences between a watch and an automatic firearm (for this discussion), is that 1) because of the heat and forces involved, automatic firearms have to be made from very hard metals, so hard that the tiny delicate tools used by a watchmaker with a jeweler's glass would not be effective. And 2) watches have nothing comparable to the problem of loading and unloading ammunition/shells (hundreds) to/from barrels that it has to precisely fit (while it explodes in-between). Even with machining, it was very hard to develop this to a reliable state. $\endgroup$ – RBarryYoung Feb 21 '15 at 20:08
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    $\begingroup$ So, in a nutshell, you can't have automatic weapons without developing automation. Makes sense. Civilization sense :) $\endgroup$ – xDaizu Mar 27 '17 at 16:17
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Quite an interesting question. First let me say that I am experienced in machinining and toolmaking (a sub-discipline of machining), as well as being an amateur chemist and a student of industrial history, so I am well able to answer this question. The other answers really are guesses by non-experts and are incorrect in many of their details.

Possible with Some Caveats

It would be possible with some caveats. First, you would need to alter the weapon design to accommodate their abilities. Secondly, you would need to provide more than schematics; they would need to know certain processes and the steps to perform them as well as have plans for tooling needed to make the parts. However, if you gave detailed instructions for the different processes, it would be possible, given enough time and money.

Problem 1: Producing Tool Steel

The biggest problem would be getting tool steel. Tool steel is not needed for the gun itself but is needed for making the tools to make the gun, the main thing being files. Once you can get them making a good file, that is 90% of the problem. You may think it funny, that something as simple as a file is the key, but that is the truth. Tool steel requires manganese, chromium and molybdenum, so you would need to help them locate, identify and purify those metals.

Problem 2: Measurements

As long as you provided an example weapon or EXTREMELY detailed drawings they could measure everything with calipers, but it would be very, very tedious. If you provided them with the key to making a casting metal, such as cerrosafe that would make it much easier. To make this they will need bismuth and antimony, which once again, would have to be located, identified and purified.

Problem 3: Propellant

For the ammunition they would need to make a corned propellant and primer. This requires pure sulfuric acid, nitric acid and various other chemicals. They would need to be taught how to make these chemicals. Without high quality glassware and catalysts it would be possible, but very tedious to do this.

Problem 4: Springs

To make the springs they will need spring steel, wire dies and a winding machine. Since we already have manganese and tool steel from Problem 1, this would not be too hard.

Problem 5: Cartridge Casings

Modern cartridge casings are forged using complex dies. Making these dies would be extremely tedious and difficult for them. As an alternative, you could make the cartridges by silver soldering them from hammered sheet bronze, much easier.

Problem 6: Boring and Forging

In order to make the key parts of the weapon, the bore, the frame and the receiver, they would have to acquire a range of specialized tools for forging, boring and rifling these parts. Assuming they have tool steel and you have provided them with plans and instructions for creating these tools, this would be possible for them to do given enough time and manpower.

Problem 7: The Screws

A normal gun uses screws to hold many of the parts together. In theory they could hand file all the screws from steel rod. This would be INSANELY time consuming. Alternatively, you could teach them to how to build a lathe with lead screw and gearing. Once the lead screw is filed, that is the basis for making any type of screw given the proper gears. This would probably be the best option. A third possibility would be to use rivets instead of screws, however, since the lathe would be useful for other parts it would make sense to build the lathe.

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  • $\begingroup$ They had calipers? $\endgroup$ – colmde Feb 27 '15 at 21:28
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    $\begingroup$ @colmde Sure, ancient Egyptians had calipers. Calipers are just two pieces of wood or metal with a hinge. $\endgroup$ – Tyler Durden Feb 28 '15 at 0:54
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    $\begingroup$ Funny thing is the screws aren't exactly necessary. My AR15 has a grand total of four screws: Two to hold the handguard in place, One to attach the pistol grip to the lower receiver, and a mag release button that screws into place. All of those would be trivial to design around. The other dozen or so moving parts are held in place by roll and cotter pins. The only other threaded fasteners are the barrel nut and buffer tube nut in back, and off the top of my head I can think of a way to do away with the threads on the buffer tube. $\endgroup$ – UIDAlexD Mar 24 '17 at 16:27
  • $\begingroup$ Have you read the history of Molybdenum? It was not even identified as not being either graphite or (the lead ore) galena (with which it shares many common chemical ad mechanical properties) until 1754, and the process for smelting it wasn't discovered until 1781. No way no how to refine this element before 1700. $\endgroup$ – Pieter Geerkens Jun 4 '17 at 15:24
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    $\begingroup$ @PieterGeerkens As my answer states, a modern person would have to show the builder how to locate and process various materials. Manganese and Chromium would be the two most important alloying elements. Molybdenum would be more of a nice to have. For all of these materials, a modern person would be required to explain them and help with their location and technical processing. $\endgroup$ – Tyler Durden Jun 4 '17 at 20:15
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No, not really.

They could probably build them and even the ammunition. You are right about needing smokeless powder and the metallurgy would be pretty good for medieval level, but those are solvable problems. As user3082 implies in his answer the medieval people would not have been able to solve those issues, NO WAY, but with enough groundwork with modern technology those issues could be solved. Maybe.

The problem is that an automatic weapon needs lots of ammunition that fits the weapon and is of very consistent quality. Each and every shot would have to be manufactured by master craftsmen separately to a very high standard. I think that the craftsmen could have done that. But I also think that if you intended to use the guns to get yourself a kingdom, you should have taken the money you spent on those guns and bought yourself a kingdom or two. It would be much cheaper.

Better yet, build up the local technology base or simply import modern weapons and ammunition.

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    $\begingroup$ So basically, it might just be on the edge of being possible, but for the costs of equipping one single soldier with on single submachine gun of questionable reliability and enough cartridges, I could easily equip thousands of soldiers with muzzle-loaders. So in such a setting I envisioned, the only way to make at least some sense would be to equip maybe a few or at most a dozen of my most trusted knights with automatic firearms, and let the rest of the soldiers have bows, pikes, and matchlocks? $\endgroup$ – vsz Feb 21 '15 at 10:13
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    $\begingroup$ @vsz You got the basic idea, but fewer guns would be even more expensive per unit... So it still would not really make sense. The funny thing about the weapons is that the weapons people actually use tend to be pretty close to optimal for the technology and economics they have. But if you are importing something from the future one gun with plenty of ammunition could make a lot of difference and the hard limit on ammunition would be a nice story element. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi Feb 21 '15 at 10:41
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    $\begingroup$ @VilleNiemi, with the production techniques required to get the sort of precision you want, you don't get economies of scale. If a master jeweler can turn out two precision-machined cartridges a day, two of them can turn out four a day, at the same cost per unit. $\endgroup$ – Mark Feb 22 '15 at 6:16
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    $\begingroup$ @Mark Yes, that was the point I was trying to make. Guess I failed? Maybe I should have elaborated why I think it would be so ridiculously expensive? Actually, the scaling would be worse than linear as the cartridges produced by different people would need to be compatible and the overhead needed would increase with the number of people. Kind of reverse economies of scale. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi Feb 22 '15 at 10:35
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I agree that fully modern automatic weapons would be out of reach, but perhaps a couple of the precursors could work, the revolver and the Gatling gun.

The revolver uses relatively simple mechanics, and the straight walled, rimmed cartridge cases are much more forgiving about gunpowders and brass length. The Gatling gun again achieves its high rate of fire through more mechanical means involving less precision in cartridge and powder production. The construction of both these weapons should not be out of reach for a tech level where the jewelers can create working timepieces.

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  • $\begingroup$ These are good ideas. $\endgroup$ – user3082 Feb 21 '15 at 14:53
  • $\begingroup$ One thing I've often wondered is why nobody made a revolving-cylinder rifle which enclosed or shielded the side of the cylinder toward the shooter. A few revolving-cylinder rifles were produced, but ejecta from the side near the shooter's face made them too dangerous to use. I can understand why nobody would want to use a revolving-cylinder rifle which would pelt their face with hot combustion products, but that would seem like it should have been an easy problem to fix. $\endgroup$ – supercat Feb 21 '15 at 19:29
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    $\begingroup$ Revolvers? Yes. Gatling guns? No, not without machining. Without the necessary precision of the pieces and ammunition, the Gatling gun will jam, misfire, backfire (dangerous) or just fail to work at all. $\endgroup$ – RBarryYoung Feb 21 '15 at 19:41
  • $\begingroup$ @supercat I do not know for sure, but I would guess that fouling and backfires could be a problem... $\endgroup$ – RBarryYoung Feb 21 '15 at 19:41
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    $\begingroup$ A revolver mechanism is dependent upon spring steel and requires high-quality steel for the frame to be able to support recoil, and those parts need to be very precisely built for the mechanism to function. A lack of percussion caps means flintlock, making chainfire extremely hard to prevent, and producing brass cases on that technology base is right out. There are good reasons handheld revolvers weren't produced until well into the 1800s, and it's not because nobody thought of the idea (see: Puckle Gun). $\endgroup$ – Catgut May 10 '17 at 11:47
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I'll say 'yes' but only if you stretch what you mean by 'automatic' a little.

A modern assault rifle - probably not. However the first 'automatic' weapon, was probably the Ribauldequin - more of a multi-barrel affair, but it does come under the current legal definition of an automatic weapon. (The guy I know who owns one, had a lot of fun with the licensing ;))

Ribaldiquin

Likewise the earliest Gatling guns were hand cranked mechanisms.

In the medieval era you actually had handguns, and early clockwork mechanisms (Salisbury Cathedral clock dates to 1366.

enter image description here

You also have pole lathes for manufacturing barrels - and bear in mind that do have handguns and arquebusiers as well.

The Napoleonic innovation of the 'cartridge' wasn't particularly advanced, technically. I mean, as simple as some gunpower and a musket ball wrapped in some paper. The major difficulty with the medieval weaponry was that they were mostly matchlock, and to fire a matchlock you need to 'prime' by putting some powder on it.

So I reckon yes - you could make an 'automatic weapon' of the gatling emplacement style.

You'd have a hand crank clockwork mechanism to make a rotary musket. The mechanism could feed cartridges, pour the primer powder, and - because you've got 'future knowledge' fire with a flintlock.

You do have Conrad Kyeser the medieval innovator: http://www.medievalists.net/2014/07/11/medieval-siege-machines-the-bellifortis-by-conrad-keyser/

Mechanical thing

http://advanderzee.com/tag/bellifortis/

(And of course, Leonardo) which suggests that such things weren't beyond the realms of conception. Practically they were more fantasy than actual design, but none the less - we're worldbuilding, so making the leap might be feasible.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bellifortis

I should perhaps add - I've crewed a breech loading medieval cannon - the breeches aren't so very dissimilar to cartridges. We only had 4 though, so whilst we did manage a very rapid 7 shots per minute (sustained) it took a crew of 5.

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  • $\begingroup$ How was your friend's Ribauldequin triggered, and what ammo did it use? Reproductions of pre-1898 firearms that do not use fixed ammunition are exempt from NFA'34 requirements. Otherwise, what would you think of the idea of a firearm that separated the front of the barrel from the chamber, and allowed the latter to be rapidly swapped out (perhaps using multi-chamber assemblies like a revolver)? If firing rate were more important than accuracy, and the end of the barrel near the chamber could be moved around a bit, I would think one could accept a pretty huge amount of tolerance... $\endgroup$ – supercat Feb 21 '15 at 19:42
  • $\begingroup$ ...on everything but the dimensions of the ends of the chambers and the bore (rather than lining up the chamber parallel to the bore, I'd counter-bore the chamber and have the barrel slide into it; if the chamber assembly sat rigidly against something that couldn't move (e.g. because it was secured to a castle wall) the force required to hold the barrel in place should be reasonable. Having a bunch of pre-charged chamber (or multi-chamber) assemblies could allow a much greater firing rate than having to use the whole weapon as a chamber; further, for castle defense, one might... $\endgroup$ – supercat Feb 21 '15 at 19:48
  • $\begingroup$ ...have someone convey fired chamber assemblies inside where they could be reloaded by people who weren't being shot at. $\endgroup$ – supercat Feb 21 '15 at 19:49
  • $\begingroup$ Depends on jurisdiction I think. UK is altogether stricter on firearm control :) pistols are just plain illegal (including flint and matchlock - its a question of barrel length), most medieval weaponry can be done under a shotgun license as they are smoothbore. This one has too high a rate of fire, so IIRC needed an arms dealer license. $\endgroup$ – Sobrique Feb 21 '15 at 20:32
  • $\begingroup$ Jurisdictional point makes sense. Otherwise, what do you think of swappable-chamber weapons for castle defense? $\endgroup$ – supercat Feb 21 '15 at 20:47
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No, for all the reasons listed above.

But that doesn't stop you spending a couple of weeks before time-travelling working with a modern gunsmith, designing and testing a weapon which could be manufactured with their technology.

I'd guess you'd be looking at an automatic-shotgun type thing - no rifling, paper cartridges. You'd need to think laterally; e.g. metal helical coil springs could be replaced by something like a leaf spring made from bamboo; it'd have a shorter life, but good enough for a few battles, at least.

There's also many modern improvements to old weapons thanks to modern maths; e.g. trebuchet design is now much more advanced as our understanding of physics and ability to model designs is improved. You could take back plans for those weapons; as they're larger, you don't need precision engineering.

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One of the biggest things needed for modern firearms is high quality steel. After you get the steel you need to bore it out very accurately and rifling didn't really start to take hold until the 1700's. And rifles were much more expensive than smooth bore because of the difficulty.

They used black power which has a much less power than today's gunpowder's and this is part of the reason for high quality steel.

Then of course is the quality of the rounds. Need to have a reasonable consistency in ammunition casings, and even more important is the quality and weight of the gunpowder in each cartridge. and last is the consistent weight and shape of the actual bullet.

You really need industrialization to get this quality of work for all the pieces needed to make a weapon like this.

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    $\begingroup$ Actually, for Kentucky-rifles and such, you can wrap the steel around and hammer it on a mandrel. But, that's a tough process, gets you about an inch or two of tube at a time, then you can finish boring out the interior. Also, not the highest of high quality for big powder loads. Any defects in your weld... boom. $\endgroup$ – user3082 Feb 21 '15 at 14:55
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Not really*. An automatic weapon on modern kind needs standardization, which was taken into use around American civil war. You see the automatic rifle needs precision parts to produce consistent results.

Standardization is much harder than you'd think. See medieval manufacturers didn't have access to precision lathes, even of the kind Elisebathian England had to use (which is why manholes are round since that was the only manufacturing method that was precise/cheap enough to fit them at the time). So first you would have to use a precision lathe that makes standard components to make a precision lathe that makes standard components to build a precision lathe. And off course you'd use this lathe to make cartridges that fit your barrel each and every time. (ah the pain, ultimately youd want to make ammo faster than you shoot)

So first you would need to retool the entire manufacturing industry, break guilds etc. See medieval system was based on artisan skills. Handcrafting is their core, the guilds might not look too favorably of demolishing or at least marginalizing them. This would also be somewhat in contradiction to the world view of most of the population.

Then you would need to advance their metallurgy so that they could make drill-bits for their lathes. So that you can start lathing your ammo, or build punching equipment. Remember they needed hundreds or if not thousands of persons to support a knight.

Their metal working skill would quite good. but ill suited for this particular task. They were doing hand/watermill hammering. But given 10 years then why not. Better bring drawings for manufacturing equipment.

Then there's the chemical industry...

* On the otherhand you could make something like the repeating crossbows of china, does that count? Woodworking would be much more industrialisisable at the time point.

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This made me think of Eric Flint's 1632, aka Ring of Fire series, where an entire town is transplanted from modern West Virginia to central Germany, in the middle of the 30-years war. (Being rural Americans, they had a lot of guns and ammo to use until they could establish local production of ammo, using modern machine tools.)

There's a community of fans that think about what's plausible in that setting, and apparently there's even an article How to build a Machine gun in 1634 with available technology: Two alternate views on their paid-access magazine. (It has a limited free-trial access thing).

If any of this catches your interest, check it out. I enjoyed the the novels (in audiobook form :), but haven't gotten hooked on geeking out about it the way groups like http://ericflint.wikia.com/wiki/Grantville_Firearms_Roundtable have.

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I also think Gatling is the way to go

  • You could make the barrels by forging a spiral welded damascus gun barrel. See an example video without modern tools here : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K7eacS2oDcs. (by Steve Culver of Meriden, Kansas)

  • Using a similar technique, you can also make small around springs. An example video can be found here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yt5Yi6UEqew

  • I'd attempt to have a medieval brass instrument maker cast and work out the rest of the necessary parts. When you search for medieval brass instruments and jewelry, you will find some pretty amazing stuff in terms of complexity of design and precision. Casting brass and working it with simple instruments is surely time consuming, but no especially difficult.

Looking at gatling gun blueprints, I don't see any parts which could not be created within weeks of effort. All you need is to drill and file brass, and tools for doing that are forgable by a medieval blacksmith.

Finding potassium nitrate might be a challenge(*), but both that and sulfur(**) can be found naturally occuring. Charcoal is easily obtainable. Casting simple bullets and sleeves should not be a major obstacle.

It is mentioned that you need a primer, but I think Nobel used pure blackpowder for his first primers, you should be able to get a rotating barrel like that as well. You'll just need a glowing needle or something similar to set the charges off.

(*) compare https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salpetersieder with a in-detail description on how potassium nitrate was obtained at that time

(**) as a first option i'd simply travel down to the Phlegraean Fields and collect some

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  • $\begingroup$ Please flesh out your answer more. Links can go out-of-date and leave your answer basically meaningless. You should only provide them for future readers who are interested in reading/watching more about the topic than is needed to answer the question asked. $\endgroup$ – Sec SE - clear Monica's name May 23 '17 at 14:13
  • $\begingroup$ You start working out an answer and immediately the bots come and hunt you down. Beautiful system :( $\endgroup$ – user2707001 May 23 '17 at 15:05
  • $\begingroup$ You should post complete answers and not add things in an iterative manner, starting only with a link. Your first revision was a "link-only answer", which is what the comment from the low-quality review queue confirms. This version looks far better. $\endgroup$ – Sec SE - clear Monica's name May 23 '17 at 15:33
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe it would also be good to allow adding things in an iterative manner? Any reason why that is considered bad? (need to move this discussion somewhere else, though) $\endgroup$ – user2707001 May 24 '17 at 6:46
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I don't know if this is beating a dead horse at this point, but simple breach loaders wouldn't be horrifically difficult to make. Something like the Martini-Henry, perhaps. Even with a smooth barrel, primitive powder, and a "relatively slow" rate of fire for modern times, you'd have a devastating weapons for the time period. Rimmed shells are easy to make, powder loads don't have to be perfect, and 20 shells or so is more than enough for a single soldier for a large battle. Even if its just a swiveling barrel on a stock with a very simple trigger mechanism, you'll be shooting down hundreds of enemy troops before they get within a hundred yards of you. Of course you'll still need master smiths and jewelers to make your shells and rifles, but probably more economical than an SMG, and more effective than a muzzle loader.

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  • $\begingroup$ They had repeating firearms in the 16-17th centuries, but they were so expensive to make and so difficult to maintain that it was not worth it. They were essentially powder-and-ball wheellock or flintlock guns just like the muskets of their time, but had a complicated mechanism for self-loading, by turning a crank or by pulling a lever back and forth. Maybe useful as a nobleman's fancy hunting weapon, but not practical for armies. Look up the Kalthoff repeater for a typical example. The biggest problem was that without machining there was no mass production, every part being unique. $\endgroup$ – vsz Sep 13 '17 at 19:52
  • $\begingroup$ Another repeating flintlock: youtube.com/watch?v=J_hnC6x036Q $\endgroup$ – vsz Sep 13 '17 at 19:56

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