To the Wall!

The Wall Gun, that is. This monster is up for sale in Rock Island’s December Premiere Auction.

belgian-wall-gun

The marlinspike looking thing was meant, they assume, to go into a socket in a fortress wall. (It appears to be well forward of the point of balance, for some reason). In most respects, this 5’2″ long, 33-lb .75 caliber rifle is just an overgrown percussion rifle-musket. A way big one.

How big is it? Here’s a snapshot.

wallgunvsgarand-768x1365

And it’s also about the weight of three of those M1s.

It is a breech-loading(!) percussion gun, so was probably made between 1840 and 1870, but there are no guarantees. The sights resemble those used in the latter half of that period, as on an 1853 Enfield or 1861 Springfield. The unusual breech-loading mechanism is shown below.

Such guns may have been equipped with multiple removable chambers to promote rapid fire.

We also find the spring-steel pistol grip interesting. We do not recall having seen such a thing anywhere else in the world of firearms. Anybody?

This rifle comes from Belgium. Belgium has very little in the way of defensible positions on its borders. Accordingly, it has not only often been overrun itself, it has provided the unhappy battlefields for many a Great Power throwdown, from Waterloo to the Bulge. (Even earlier, Julius Caesar fought local Germanic tribes here).  Its defense in the First World War was armed neutrality, which failed spectacularly; after a postwar period of alliance with France and especially Britain, its strategy in the Second was ultimately the same (Belgium broke the alliances and declared neutrality in 1936, after the Anglo-French alliance didn’t react to Nazi repudiation of Versailles and militarization of the Rheinland), with an even more spectacular failure resulting. Fortresses were a major part of Belgian defense plans at all time of Belgian independence; some fortresses held out in World War I (think of Namur) but they were made irrelevant by technological and strategic advances by 1940 (consider the fate of Eben Emael and its brigade-sized garrison, defeated in detail by 78 gliderborne combat engineers).

In any event, fortress weapons were a Belgian specialty, one of several rational responses to the very difficult problem which is the defense of a small coastal nation from much larger neighbors.

RIA has relatively little information on the weapon, apart from what may be gained by inspecting it. It might reward European patent research. They do offer some general thoughts on the class of arms.

These guns can essentially be described as massive longarms. Initially designed as muskets, but developing into rifles as the technology became available, these guns are roughly the height of a man and accompanied by an appropriately large bore. If their size wasn’t enough to identify them on sight, the presence of a large hook or post on their bottom usually will. Used to help mitigate recoil, the use of such hooks can be traced back to the earliest of firearms, such as the arquebus and hand cannon. Posts or spikes (also called “oar locks”), as seen on the firearm featured in this article, are more indicative of the weapon’s placement at fixed positions in a fortification, as opposed to hooks which could be used on fences, bulwarks, trees, window sills, etc. While the post style may not be usable in as many locations as the hook, it would allow for easy swiveling and pivoting once in position. Not all wall guns have such devices.

Despite their many designs and firing mechanisms over the years, they were valued for pretty much three things: range, accuracy, and punch. Any one of those is a huge advantage should your opponent not have them, but all three is downright devastating. Though playing the intermediary role between small arms and artillery, these oversized longarms often served with artillery, and with notable success.

RIA doesn’t know of any tactical guidance for the employment of these monsters, but notes that it must have been highly limited and readily countered by a thinking, adapting enemy.  The US used them in the Revolutionary War (in flintlock, naturally) and that and a little more history is embedded in the Rock Island Auctions blog post. Read The Whole Thing™.

Large guns like this were often used as “punt guns” by market hunters, but those were even larger-bore smoothbores, used to take many waterfowl (usually, sitting waterfowl) in one shot. Four- and even two-bore punt guns exist, monsters even against this .75 in. rifle. Market hunting was once common, especially in the USA, but was outlawed even here in the 20th Century, after causing at least one species extinction (passenger pigeon).

If you’re looking for something a noodge more modern, we can recommend this article by Pete at TFB on a couple of catastrophic silencer failures… at least one of which turned out to be entirely exogenous.

7 thoughts on “To the Wall!

    1. Hognose Post author

      Both the Baden and Prussian wall guns are very interesting. There’s always demand for something that will outrange the soldier’s individual weapon….

  1. DaveP

    “We also find the spring-steel pistol grip interesting.”

    Any chance this fixture was mated to a short dowel perp to the gun axis, for elevation and traverse leverage, either by the sole gunner or an asst, esp with the given wt and pivot spike so far forward?

    DaveP

    1. Hognose Post author

      Hadn’t considered that, but I reckon it’s a possibility. It’s hard to know what the intended application of this gun was, but that just makes it more of a puzzle.

  2. Light Dragoon

    When I was in my youth, there was one of these in the combination gunshop/liquor store (!!!?) that I used to frequent in Placerville CA (yeah, they had those back then… and I still have the SMLE I bought there for $30…) Being a gun-nut, I was fascinated with it, needless to say. The old guy who owned the store was friendly and claimed that it was, of course, Confederate. Heck, it could have been for all I know, but I didn’t ever see any verification (not that he would have cared what an 18-year old kid wanted!) I well remember that the frigging thing was huge, hanging over the center counter, and actually in pretty darned good shape considering. I wonder what ever happened to it, as the shop was long since closed the last time I was through there. Cool gun though!

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