The Belgian Behemoth Wall Rifle
By Joel Kolander
Wall guns, rampart guns, turret guns, fortress guns, “Jingals,” and boat guns, are all names used to describe essentially the same weapon, though for this article they will be referred to primarily as “wall guns” if for no other reason than it is shorter to type.
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.
It is documented in several sources that on February 4, 1776, Fielding Lewis, Commissioner of the Fredericksburg Manufactory, wrote to his brother-in-law, George Washington: “I propose making a Rifle next week to carry a quarter of pound Ball. if it answers my expectation a few of them will keep off Ships of Warr [sic] from our narrow Rivers, and will be usefull [sic] in the beginning of an engagemt by Land.”
However, despite their obvious advantages they found little use in the Revolutionary War. Another quote on the page testifies to their accuracy and distance, this from Gen. Charles Lee who stated, “I am likewise furnishing myself with four-ounced rifle-amusettes, which will carry an infernal distance; the two-ounced hit a half sheet of paper 500 yards distance.”
When you consider that the most prolific weapon in the Battle for Independence, Brown Bess, was only accurate from 50 – 100 yards, the advantage is undeniable. They had a longer range than standard longarms and were more precise than artillery.
Usage / Tactics
While I’m sure that some obscure tome may contain the information, surprisingly little is readily available on the tactics used for wall guns. Most often we think of larger weapons such as this (the T-Gewehr or the Barrett M82A1) as anti-armor or anti-materiel weapons, but with armor not in practical use for centuries, and armored vehicles not yet invented, this 1866-dated wall gun doesn’t seem to provide much advantage. One could conceivably use it against short range artillery pieces given the right circumstances, but that would seem a job better left to one’s own artillery to ensure destruction of the target.
Essentially, they would be used to reach out and touch enemy soldiers before the enemy marched within range to touch you. Unfortunately, this would seem to have a small window of opportunity to be used before the enemy would march within range of regular musket fire. In a prolonged engagement or even a siege, it could keep infantry at bay a longer distance, but only as long as your opponent’s artillery was preoccupied on other targets.
Basically, all these theories are conjecture, but if anyone has more concrete information on how these massive guns were specifically used, I’d be interested to see any links in the comment section.
A Distinct Feature
As mentioned earlier, these massive guns have gone through a variety of evolutions, from flintlock muzzle-loaders, to bolt action cartridge guns and everything in-between. The gun appearing in Rock Island Auction Company’s December 2016 Premiere Firearms Auction is a percussion arm made in Liege, featuring hexagonal rifling, and a very unusual breech-loading design. Some sources cite that certain wall guns would use multiple barrels as a way of quickly reloading, but this gun has its own unique way to efficiently reload: a small removable chamber.
OK, so “small” is a relative term. This removable block alone weighs 4.15 lbs. However, removing just the chamber would have been far less cumbersome than manipulating this 32.9 lb. behemoth rifle. Having half a dozen pre-loaded chambers would be even more efficient, in addition to being easier and cheaper to produce than multiple barrels. Here’s how it works.
1. Cock the hammer to get it out of the way.
2. Pivot locking arm away from breech, until perpendicular to barrel (note the camming side plate).
3. Swivel now-open locking arm upward, creating a cavity behind the removable chamber
4. Slide removable chamber rearward.
5. Remove and reload.
Of course, while this seems like an innovation in firearms design, the idea of breech loading was far from new and similar devices had been used for centuries though had not experienced the wide-spread success of the muzzle-loading counterparts. The photo on the left is from a breech loading “swivel gun” as photographed in the Musee de l’Armee in Paris, France. Note the mug shaped chamber and the block behind it to wedge it in place.
Other features are similar to guns of this type.
Overall Weight: 32.9 lb.
Removable Chamber Weight: 4.15 lb.
Overall Length: 61.75″
Barrel Length: 39″
Gauge: .75 caliber
Bore: Hexagonal rifling
And for fun, here it is on one of our rifle racks next to an M1 Garand.
Interesting collectible firearms such as this are scattered throughout our auctions, and this December’s is certainly no exception. Take a look through the online catalog today, and see what beautiful, innovative, compelling, and curious arms you can find to add to your gun collection.