Naval Artillery in The Age of Sail - Firing


Part of a series on
  • Artillery in the Song Dynasty
  • Artillery in the Middle Ages
  • Naval artillery in the Age of Sail
  • Field artillery in the US Civil War
  • Breech-loading
  • Muzzleloading
  • List of cannon projectiles
By country
  • English cannon
  • Japanese cannon
  • Korean cannon
By type
  • Hand cannon
  • Autocannon
  • Falconet
  • Minion
  • Saker
  • Demi-culverin
  • Culverin
  • Demi-cannon
  • Carronade
  • Field gun
  • Howitzer
  • Mortar
  • Bombard
  • Basilisk

Firing a naval cannon required a great amount of labour and manpower. The propellant was gunpowder, whose bulk had to be kept in a special storage area below deck for safety. Powder boys, typically 10–14 years old, were enlisted to run powder from the armory up to the gun decks of a vessel as required.

A typical firing procedure follows. A wet swab was used to mop out the interior of the barrel, extinguishing any embers from a previous firing which might set off the next charge of gunpowder prematurely. Gunpowder, either loose or in a cloth or parchment cartridge pierced by a metal 'pricker' through the touch hole, was placed in the barrel and followed by a cloth wad (typically made from canvas and old rope), then rammed home with a rammer. Next the shot was rammed in, followed by another wad (to prevent the cannon ball from rolling out of the barrel if the muzzle was depressed.) 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. This took the majority of the guncrew manpower as the total weight of a large cannon in its carriage could reach over two tons, and the ship would probably be rolling.

The touch hole in the rear ('breech') of the cannon was primed with finer gunpowder ('priming powder'), or a 'quill' (from a porcupine or such, or the skin-end of a feather) pre-filled with priming powder, then ignited.

The earlier method of firing a cannon was to apply a linstock - a wooden staff holding a length of smoldering match at the end - to the touch-hole of the gun. This was dangerous and made accurate shooting from a moving ship difficult, as the gun had to be fired from the side, to avoid its recoil, and there was a noticeable delay between the application of the linstock and the gun firing. In 1745, the British began using gunlocks (flintlock mechanisms fitted to cannon).

The gunlock was operated by pulling a cord, or lanyard. The gun-captain could stand behind the gun, safely beyond its range of recoil, and sight along the barrel, firing when the roll of the ship lined the gun up with the enemy and so avoid the chance of the shot hitting the sea or flying high over the enemy's deck. Despite their advantages, gunlocks spread gradually as they could not be retrofitted to older guns. The British adopted them faster than the French, who had still not generally adopted them by the time of the Battle of Trafalgar (1805), placing them at a disadvantage as they were in general use by the Royal Navy at this time. After the introduction of gunlocks, linstocks were retained, but only as a backup means of firing.

The linstock slow match, or the spark from the flintlock, ignited the priming powder, which in turn set off the main charge, which propelled the shot out of the barrel. When the gun discharged, the recoil sent it backwards until it was stopped by the breech rope — a sturdy rope made fast to ring bolts let into the bulwarks, and a turn taken about the gun's cascabel, the knob at the end of the gun barrel.

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. 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 six 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.

Read more about this topic:  Naval Artillery In The Age Of Sail

Other articles related to "firing":

Anvil Firing
... Anvil firing (also known as an anvil launching or an anvil shooting) is the practice of firing an anvil into the air with gunpowder ... Anvil firing was once commonly performed in the Southern United States as a substitute for fireworks during celebrations ...
Celebratory Gunfire - Notable Incidents - United States
... Police later traced the fatal bullet to a gun confiscated from a man firing into the air more than a mile away ... A tourist from Boston was killed by a falling bullet from celebratory firing while walking on the Moonwalk in the French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana ... the public on the danger since then, frequently making arrests for firing into the air ...
Celebratory Gunfire - Penalties
... In the Republic of Macedonia, a person found guilty of firing off a gun during celebrations faces a jail sentence of up to 10 years ... In Pakistan, section 144 of the law is imposed to prevent aerial firing during celebrations if harm is caused, and an FIR may be registered against a person who does so ... However, many cases of aerial firing go unreported ...
Glossary Of Firearms Terms - O
... out-of-battery The status of a weapon before the action has returned to the normal firing position ... artillery, referring to a gun that fires before it has been pulled back into its firing position in a gun battery ... a condition in which a live round is at least partially in the firing chamber and capable of being fired, but is not properly secured by the usual mechanism of that particular weapon can occur ...
14"/50 Caliber Railway Gun - Mark II Navy Railway Mount
... and the car rolled back 30–40 feet after firing to absorb remaining recoil ... After firing the gun car used a winch mounted at the front, connected to a strong point in the ground in front, to pull itself back to its firing position ...

Famous quotes containing the word firing:

    Slowly, and in spite of anything we Americans do or do not do, it looks a little as if you and some other good people are going to have to answer the old question of whether you want to keep your country unshackled by taking even more definite steps to do so—even firing shots—or, on the other hand, submitting to be shackled for the sake of not losing one American life.
    Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945)

    The sight of a planet through a telescope is worth all the course on astronomy; the shock of the electric spark in the elbow, outvalues all the theories; the taste of the nitrous oxide, the firing of an artificial volcano, are better than volumes of chemistry.
    Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882)