Original Item: Invented by General Sri Sri Sri Maharajah Gehendra Shamsher Jang Bahadur Rana (1871-1905) the Bira Double Barreled Quick Fire Rifle was a copy of the American Gardner Gun. In Martini-Henry .577/450 caliber fed from a double stacked 120rnd pan magazine (like a Lewis Gun) the weapon was fired by a crank handle not unlike the American Gatling Gun. Interestingly, however, it required cranking backwards (counter-clockwise) which the Nepalis consideredmore efficient; to "pull" than to "push".
These remarkable weapons were developed in Nepal in 1896 and 1897 just after Great Britain opened the flood gates with gifts of "modern" military hardware in 1894. Constructed of plate steel festooned with large rivets, the receiver and wheeled mount resemble the construction of Jules Verne's "Nautilus" from 20,000 Leagues under the Sea.
Every example in our inventory has been expertly cleaned and restored by Curtis Wolf of Ordnance Research who has been involved in the firearms manufacturing field for more than 30 years. His work in restoring antique Gatling Guns and other crank fire weapons is world renowned as being second to none.
The Bira Gun by John Walter:
Named in honor of King Prithvi Bir Bikram Shah, who reigned from 1881 to 1911, the Bira Gun shares the basic operating system of the Gardner even though the magazine and feed systems differ. The most important details of its history were placed on a red-filled castbrass plate on the right side of the body between the feed and the crank handle, including a long dedication to the king (customary with Nepalese artillery) and a date of acceptance into service in the 1890s. It is suspected that only about fifty guns were made immediately prior to the war with Tibet that began in 1897, as no gun has yet been found with a higher number.
The Bira Gun takes the form of a small artillery piece, mounted on a carriage with a trail made of inverted L-shaped wrought-iron girders. The barrels are about 41.3 inches long, placed side-byside about 46 inches from the ground. The entire gun weighs about 900 pounds without the distinctive pan magazine. The gun is mounted on a central pillar, and can be elevated or traversed with the assistance of hand wheels. The carriage wheels, with a diameter of about 36 inches, each have twelve spokes and an iron tire which has been shrunk onto the rims.
An exceptionally sturdy open-topped iron box-body, held together with large slotted-head screws, has a top plate (pivoted at the front) that lifts up and forward to expose the breech - or, more accurately, the inner dust cover over the mechanism. Removing the dust cover reveals two cylindrical breech-bolts, attached to massive iron slides, which are driven by cam plates on the transverse operating handle axle.
Each slide consists of a base block, rising at the rear to a cam path closed by a dovetailed bracket held by hexagon nuts. A massive V-spring on the base provides the power for the striker, which is retracted and released by a rocking L-bar with a tip that passes up into a slot in the underside of the bolt.
The cam plates, one for each barrel, are rigidly attached to discs on the operating handle axle. They control the operating sequence of the gun. An eccentric on the crank axle, on the left side of the body (looking from the rear), drives the magazine-rotating pawl by way of a slider attached to the left body side plate; a similar eccentric on the right drives the feed tray cam plate.
The feed tray, which is moved laterally by a peg acting in the cam plate slot, is a vital component of the mechanism. It consists of two parallel bars, held apart by three spacers. The central spacer is raised to act as a partition between the two rotating spools, each with four troughs that control not only the supply of cartridges but also the ejection process. Two C-shaped leaf springs, with the tips extended, are attached beneath the rear of the feed tray by pegs and small screws. They run towards the front of the tray, where each splays outward.
The magazine is a heavyweight pan, about 16 inches in diameter, comprising an iron base plate, a body containing brass chambers in groups of ten between radial spokes, and a comparatively light sheet-iron top cover. Each of the chambers can hold two .450 cartridges with their noses towards the center. The magazine locates over a spindle projecting from the centre of the feed block cover plate. (There is some circumstantial evidence to suggest that each gun was accompanied by several magazines. This makes sense, as the pans are cumbersome and the loading process is timeconsuming. However, too few of the surviving magazines have been exam ined to allow a proper conclusion to be drawn.)
The operating cycle is relatively simple. If the right-hand bolt is forward, with a spent case under its extractor, then the left-hand bolt is at the limit of its rearward stroke, drawn back behind the feed tray. As the operating handle is turned - oddly, back towards the firer - the parts begin to move. The right-hand bolt is drawn back, extracting the spent case, and the left-hand bolt moves forward against the base of the cartridge that has dropped from the feed way into one of the troughs in the left-hand feed tray spool. As the crank handle rotates farther,the right-hand bolt pulls the spent case out of the chamber and the left-hand bolt pushes a new round home. Nearing the end of the stroke, the right-hand extractor is cammed upward to release the spent case.
At the very end of the stroke, the lefthand cam disc suddenly releases the rocking lever it has been pressing down, and the lever head propels the left-hand striker to fire the cartridge in the lefthand chamber. Continuing to turn the lever repeats the process in reverse, and the right hand-barrel fires to complete one revolution of the crank handle.
The eccentric in the right hand side of the body oscillates the feed tray during the firing process, flicking an extracted case sideways (as the backward-moving bolt clears the end of the sprung spool) and positioning a spool-trough to receive a new round from the feed way. Cartridges are delivered by turning the magazine one-sixtieth of a revolution during each operating cycle, the movement being undertaken by a spring loaded pawl driven by the left-hand eccentric by way of a slide fixed in the left body wall. The magazine rotating pawl protrudes through a slot cut inthe sheet metal shroud slotted verticallyinto the body beneath the front edge of the top cover. The magazine is prevented from over-rotating by a regulating pawl, with an attendant spring, set into the left rear side of the feed cover plate.
Two sets of sights were provided: one for point-blank range, consisting of a groove in the rear of the cascabel plate and a blade on top of the magazine spindle; and another, for longer ranges, in which the blade on the spindle was used in conjunction with another blade mounted above the muzzles. A decorative sheet-brass clinometer, with a hanging pendant, lies on the left rear side of the body. However, as there are neither graduations nor any way of compensating for the angle the gun may make with the ground, its value would have been minimal.
The Bira Gun is exceptionally sturdy for a rifle caliber cartridge. All the parts are massive, contributing greatly to its great weight, and even the retaining screws are large. The quality of the material looks to be better than that used in the Martini-Henry and Gehendra rifles made in Nepal in the same period, and the springs still work after a nearly a hundredyears of inactivity.
The method of attaching the barrels to the front plate of the body is unusual, as they require a sturdy cross-pin (held to the gun by a captive chain) and a cradle beneath the breech to hold them in place. However, as the cartridges chamber directly into the barrels, any play in the construction - though it may affect pointof- strike - would not compromise safety. Another manufacturing quirk may be seen in the construction of the feed cover plate, where the cartridge aperture block is held by a narrow transverse shim (attached to the block by a hidden screw) and then by a broader flat fillet dovetailed on each side into the feed cover plate. This method presumably allowed a selection of shims to be tried until the parts meshed satisfactorily.
Most of the individual parts are numbered, even to the eccentric straps and the feed block C-springs, and the ‘handed’ parts are also identified by the initial Nagari characters of the words ‘left’ or ‘right.’ The Bira Guns were all hand made and adjusted individually during assembly; consequently, the major parts will only occasionally interchange satisfactorily. Even the screws are threaded individually, and should be carefully numbered if the gun is ever dismantled as there is no guarantee that screws selected at random will enter anything other than their original seat!
Only ever produced in very small numbers these are extremely rare and a wonderful examples of Victorian firepower. IMA found a limited number of these exceptionally scarce weapons in the Old Palace of Lagan Silekhana in Kathmandu, Nepal which were included with the purchase of over 50,000 Antique Firearms from the Royal Nepalese Army in 2003.
Now available, having been expertly restored to cycling condition for the Serious Collector; although mechanically functioning these items are offered as historical artifacts and not as shooting weapons.
Truck freight with curbside delivery within 48 states is included in price. Approximate weight 1200 Lbs.