Naval Artillery in The Age of Sail - Shot


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

  • Round shot - Solid spherical cast-iron shot, the standard fare in naval battles.
  • Canister shot - Cans filled with dozens of musket balls. The cans broke open on firing to turn the gun into a giant shotgun for use against enemy personnel.
  • Grapeshot - Canvas-wrapped stacks of smaller round shot which fitted in the barrel, typically three or more layers of three. Some grape shot was made with thin metal or wood disks between the layers, held together by a central bolt. The packages broke open when fired and the balls scattered with deadly effect. Grape was often used against the enemy quarterdeck to kill or injure the officers, or against enemy boarding parties.
  • Chain-shot - Two iron balls joined together with a chain. This type of shot was particularly effective against rigging, boarding netting and sails since the balls and chain would whirl like bolas when fired.
  • Bar shot - Two balls or hemispheres joined by a solid bar. Their effect was similar to chain shot.
  • Expanding bar shot - Bar shot connected by a telescoping bar which extended upon firing.
  • Link shot - A series of long chain links which unfolded and extended upon firing.
  • Langrage - Bags of any old junk — scrap metal, bolts, rocks, gravel, old musket balls, etc. — fired to injure enemy crews.
  • Fire arrows - A thick dartlike incendiary projectile with a barbed point, wrapped with pitch-soaked canvas which took fire when the gun was fired. The point stuck in sails, hulls or spars and set fire to the enemy ship.
  • Heated shot - Shore forts sometimes heated iron shot red-hot in a special furnace before loading it (with water-soaked wads to prevent it from setting off the powder charge prematurely.) The hot shot lodging in a ship's dry timbers would set the ship afire. Because of the danger of fire aboard, heated shot were seldom used aboard ships.
  • Double shot - Two round shot or other projectiles loaded in one gun and fired at the same time. Double-shotting lowered the effective range and accuracy of the gun, but could be devastating within pistol shot range — that is when ships drew close enough for a pistol shot to reach between the two ships. To avoid bursting the gun, reduced powder charges were used. Guns sometimes were double-shotted with canister or grape on top of ball, or even triple-shotted with very small powder charges which still were enough to cause horrible wounds at close range.
  • Exploding shell - ammunition that worked like a grenade, exploding and sending shrapnel everywhere, either by a burning fuse which was cut to a calculated length depending on the range, or (after 1861) on contact with the target. Shells were often used in mortars, and specialized and reinforced "bomb vessels" (often ketch-rigged so there was less rigging to obstruct the high-angle mortar shell) were adapted to fire huge mortars for shore bombardment. The "bombs bursting in air" over Fort McHenry in the American national anthem were this type of projectile.

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