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Encyclopedia > Naval artillery in the Age of Sail
Firing of a 18-pounder aboard of French ship
Firing of a 18-pounder aboard of French ship

During the Age of Sail, when large, sail-powered wooden naval warships dominated the high seas (roughly: 1571-1863), these warships mounted a bewildering variety of different types and sizes of cannons as their main armament. By modern standards, these cannon were extremely inefficient, difficult to load, and short ranged. These characteristics, along with the handling and seamanship of the ships that mounted them, defined the environment in which the Naval tactics in the Age of Sail developed. Image File history File linksMetadata Download high resolution version (2837x2634, 3577 KB) This article incorporates content from the 1728 Cyclopaedia, a publication in the public domain. ... Image File history File linksMetadata Download high resolution version (2837x2634, 3577 KB) This article incorporates content from the 1728 Cyclopaedia, a publication in the public domain. ... Download high resolution version (1200x906, 247 KB) Wikipedia does not have an article with this exact name. ... Download high resolution version (1200x906, 247 KB) Wikipedia does not have an article with this exact name. ... The age of sail is the period in which international trade and naval warfare were both dominated by sailing ships. ... A small cannon on a carriage, Bucharest. ... Naval tactics in the Age of Sail were used from the early 1600s when sailing ships replaced oared galleys to the 1860s when steam-powered ironclad warships rendered sailing line of battle ships obsolete. ...

Contents

Common characteristics

Essential parts of a cannon: 1. the projectile, or cannonball (shot) 2. gunpowder 3. touch hole (or vent) in which the fuse or other ignition device is inserted
Essential parts of a cannon: 1. the projectile, or cannonball (shot) 2. gunpowder 3. touch hole (or vent) in which the fuse or other ignition device is inserted

During the Age of Sail, essentially all cannon designs were muzzle-loading; the cannon is essentially a sealed tube, open only at the front, and the powder, wadding, and cannonball were loaded from the front in that order. There was a small opening at the rear, usually on top, into which a fuse or other ignition mechanism was fitted to ignite the powder. This cannon diagram was created by user:Quadell. ... This cannon diagram was created by user:Quadell. ... A projectile is any object sent through space by the application of a force. ... Smokeless powder Gunpowder, whether black powder or smokeless powder, is a substance that burns very rapidly, releasing gases that act as a propellant in firearms. ... In an explosive device, a fuse (or fuze) is the part of the device that causes it to function. ... A muzzleloader is any firearm into which the bullet is loaded from the muzzle of the gun (open end of the gun barrel). ... Black powder was the original gunpowder and practically the only known propellant and explosive until the middle of the 19th century. ... Wadding is used in guns to seal gas behind a projectile. ... Cannonball can refer to: The ammunition for a cannon. ...


Firing

Firing a naval cannon required a great amount of labour and manpower. Cannon used gunpowder as the propellant, and being high explosive gunpowder had to be kept in a safe storage area below deck. Powder Boys, typically 10-14 year old children were enlisted to run powder from the armoury up to the gun decks of a vessel as required.


The firing procedure for a cannon was as follows: A wet swab was rammed into the muzzle to moisten the interior the cannon, extinguishing any embers from a previous firing and preventing the gunpowder from going off prematurely. Gunpowder was rammed in behind a wad—typically made from canvas and old rope—followed by the cannon shot (see below). The gun in its carriage was then 'run out' — men heaved on the gun tackles until the front of the gun carriage was hard up against the ship's bulwark, and the barrel protruding out of the gun port. A slow match was used to ignite the gunpowder at the touch hole and the cannon was discharged at a high speed. From the 1790s, cannon were sometimes fitted with flintlocks, becoming standard in the early 19th Century. When the gun discharged, the recoil sent it backwards until it was stopped by the breach rope — a sturdy rope made fast to ring bolts let into the bulwarks, and a turn taken about the gun's cascabel. Species Capsicum annuum The cascabel is a small, round, hot chilli that is prized for the hot, burning sensation that it produces in the mouth when consumed. ...


A typical broadside of a Royal Navy ship of the late 18th century could be fired 2-3 times in approximately 5 minutes, depending on the training of the crew, a well trained one being essential to the simple yet detailed process of preparing to fire. Ironically, the British Admiralty did not see fit to provide additional powder to captains to train their crews, generally only allowing 1/3 of the powder loaded onto the ship to be fired in the first 6 months of a typical voyage, barring hostile action. Instead of live fire practice, most captains exercised their crews by "running" the guns in and out — performing all the steps associated with firing but for the actual discharge. Some wealthy captains — those who had made money capturing prizes or from wealthy families - were known to purchase powder with their own funds to enable their crews to fire real discharges at real targets.


Types

A complete and accurate listing of the types of naval guns requires analysis both by nation and by time period. The types used by different nations at the same time often were very unlike, even if they were labelled similarly. The types used by a given nation would shift greatly over time, as technology, tactics, and current weapon fashion evolved.


Some types include:

One descriptive characteristic which was commonly used was to define guns by their pound rating: theoretically, the weight of a single solid iron shot fired by that bore of cannon. Common types ranged from 42-pounders, 32-pounders, 24-pounders, 18-pounders, 12-pounders, 9-pounders, 8-pounders, 6-pounders, and various smaller calibres. French ships used standardised guns of 36-pound, 24-pound and 12-pound calibres, augmented by carronades and smaller pieces. A small cannon on a carriage, Bucharest. ... This article needs copyediting (checking for proper English spelling, grammar, usage, etc. ... A culverin is a cannon that fires an 18-pound solid round shot. ... Demi-culverin is a seventeenth century term for a cannon which fired a nine solid pound shot (a culverin fired an eighteen pound shot); also known as a saker. ... The carronade was a short smoothbore, cast iron cannon, similar to a mortar, developed for the Royal Navy by the Carron Company, an ironworks in Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland. ...


The muzzle loading design and weight of the iron placed design constraints on the length and size of naval cannons. Muzzle loading required the cannon to be positioned within the hull of the ship for loading. The hull is only so wide, there are back to back guns, plus hatchways in the centre of the deck. Weight is always a great concern in ship design as it affects speed, stability, and buoyancy. The desire for longer guns for greater range and accuracy and greater weight of shot for more destructive power, led to some interesting gun designs.


Long Nine

One unique naval gun was the long nine. It was a proportionately longer barrelled 9-pounder. Typically mounted as a bow or stern chaser, where it was not perpendicular to the keel, allowed the room to operate. In a chase situation, the gun's greater range came into play. However the desire to reduce weight in the ends of the ship and the relative fragility of the bow and stern portions of the hull, kept this role from a 12 or 24-pounder.


Carronade

Main article: Carronade

The carronade was another compromise design. It featured an extremely heavy shot, but to keep the weight of the gun down it had a very short barrel, so short range. But naval engagements frequently closed to pistol range anyway, and then the "smashers" were very effective. The lighter weight allowed them to be used on smaller ships. The carronade was a short smoothbore, cast iron cannon, similar to a mortar, developed for the Royal Navy by the Carron Company, an ironworks in Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland. ...


Shot

In addition to varying shot weights, different types of shot were employed for various situations:

  • Round shot - Standard round forged iron shot, the standard fare in naval battles.
  • Grape Shot - Canvas bags filled with hundreds or thousands of tiny metal anti-personnel "grapes" that were employed against opposing crews, particularly when fighting off or engaging in boarding attempts. Grape was commonly used against the quarterdeck, in an attempt to kill the officers of the opposing ship.
  • Chain Shot - Two iron balls joined together with a chain. This type of shot was particularly effective against rigging, boarding netting and sail.
  • "Double Shot" - When two round cannon balls were loading in one cannon and fired at the same time. Doing this would lower the effective range of the cannon, but could be particularly devastating within pistol shot - that is when ships drew close enough for the shot of a theoretical pistol to reach between the two ships.

To meet Wikipedias quality standards, this article or section may require cleanup. ...

See also


 
 

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