Friday, September 10, 2010

A high-caliber Fullbore Friday

The 25-foot Launch is slowly coming into shape - though we have taken a break from construction efforts there while we build a steam box and wait for repair parts for two critical tools. So in the interim, we're working on our Super Secret Project for a while, with hopes to see it completed by the End of Summer Bash.


The subject of this week's Fullbore Friday is naval artillery - that all glorious facet of naval operations that fascinates, inspires and slaughters. Our own 3 pdr light naval gun might still be sitting in her crate, waiting for a carriage, but we're hoping that inspiration comes soon - after all, all of the timber required, irons, fittings, sheepskin for sponges and a whole myriad of other pieces and parts are laying around in the shop... but I digest.

Cannons, properly called guns in the naval service, have been a mainstay of armament for hundreds of years. From the early days of muzzleloading black powder propelled iron balls - and just about anything else you could fit down the muzzle - to the great sixteen-inch guns of the Iowa class battleships and rocket propelled, pinpoint accurate, laser guided, widow making 5-inch rounds fired by today's cruisers and destroyers, it has evolved a great deal, becoming ever more powerful, deadly and intimidating.

For our part, the artillery we utilize has to fit the context of operations and contribute to our mission - that's why we selected the light 3-pdr. The concept of the "light" gun (yeah, try lifting the little lady!) in service aboard US Navy boats can be traced back to the Revolutionary War, where Continental and State Navies often armed ships' boats with a myriad of available ordnance. Often times, small boats so armed were all that local patriots could come up with to strike out at British targets of opportunity. The British themselves responded to the threat by arming their own boats in similar manners, and there is documentary evidence to suggest that most ships armed their launches to the limits of its capacity, then sent them into littoral waters hunting for patriot targets.

This practice continued as the Navy grew and developed. The evolutionary process probably reached the climax of its development with the invention of the "boat howitzer" by naval engineer and certified genius John Dahlgren. The 12 pdr gun could be readily transported ashore, where manned by the boat's crew it could maneuver faster than other comparable artillery and deal devastatingly effective destruction with astounding rapidity (there are reports that rates of fire as high as seven rounds a minute could be sustained - yikes!).

The gun was usually situated in the bow or stern of the boat, where its field of fire was most advantageous. But just as in ships, the resulting weight so far from the longitudinal center of flotation coupled with the reduced flotation of the fore and aft extremities could cause problems in hogging the boat. General research has uncovered an alarming number of structural failures where artillery placement was the primary culprit.

With respect to the damage such guns could do to an enemy, however, I can only speculate, and imagine. There is one fantastic live-fire test worth mentioning, from our friends at the US Brig Niagara. A side of a ship was painstakingly recreated, using correct wood, construction techniques and proportions, and it was shot to hell by 32 pdr carronades, the sort used at the Battle of Lake Erie. The video is self-explanatory.


With respect to operation, we cannot stress enough the level of hazards involved with not only firing the gun, but the movement as well. As I alluded to before, there are some tricky facets in moving her from boat to shore and back. Moving it rapidly will be an exercise in careful analyzing and repeated drill and practice. ORM will keep me awake many a night, thinking of this.

But I suppose I shouldn't worry so much - its not as if we Navy personnel aren't used to risks like these.


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