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Different Weapons, Different Wars

By Cliff Wright


I often get a bit annoyed by folks who have to create an ATL by introducing absolutely impossible changes into history. The ASB approach has never appealed to me.

Actually just one musket ball could have changed everything. In the southern colonies in 1780 one Major Ferguson was killed in combat with American forces. Lets say that the bullet hit a tree instead- Now the Major had already invented a quite practical breech loading flintlock rifle a few examples of which had already been made.

After the loss of the American colonies the British government is a little more open to the idea of rifled arms, even in OTL units like the 95th rifles and some German troops were equipped with muzzle loading rifles almost at once.

Ferguson is able to push forward his design and gradually it comes into service. It could use the same ammunition as the Tower musket so there was little problem with such a changeover.

Soon it becomes clear to all but he most hidebound members of the officer corps that this new weapon must change tactics and deployment of troops in battle.

1. It can be loaded and fired from any position. No need to make oneself a big target.

2. The rate of fire is probably 3 times as fast as a muzzle loader

3. It is several times more accurate than a musket and makes close order fighting suicidal.

4. It can be fired and loaded easily even with a fixed bayonet.

5. Opening fire at longer ranges would put a premium on marksmanship. It would also help the smoke from the black powder to dissipate between volleys.

Now when a new weapon system appears it soon requires someone to invent a counter to it. Strangely enough a weapon invented as early as 1702 was already available which could perhaps supply some sort of counter.

This was the Puckle gun. In its original form a 2 pounder light, breech loading, repeating, flintlock cannon, smoothbore but capable of a rate of fire of perhaps 8/10 rounds per minute under good conditions.

With some kind of emplacement or shield this weapon could have some of the effect of later machine guns and make even rifle armed troops take cover or retreat.

At sea, replacing muzzle loading swivel guns its effect would be even more revolutionary. Puckle guns in fighting tops would make the decks of a nearby ship of war totally uninhabitable. Not only had the gun a high rate of fire but it was a revolving breech loader. This meant the gun crew didn't have to expose themselves to reload and could have several 8 round magazines preloaded for each gun.

Nelson would have had a lot of company as an admiral to die in combat!!! Boarding against the fire of several Puckle guns would be a very bad insurance risk also.

Now I'm not a good storyteller. The history of technology is my field. But here are 2 suggestions for writing a totally changed Napoleonic period based on 1 bullet and the use of 2 weapons both of which were actually available and could be produced with the technology of the time.

Imagine a cavalry charge against a square of infantry armed with Ferguson rifles and man portable (on small carts) Puckle cannon. Perhaps the romance of war would dissipate even quicker than in OTL. A thought just occurred to me , infantry drill and formations would need a lot of modification. For example a square would fire with the front rank prone.

The drill might be for the front rank to getup on one knee to receive a cavalry charge just before the horsemen charged home.

Well just an idea, anyone like it?

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