I have indicated, in the ﬁrst chapter, the description of ordnance used in the navy in 1840. Cast-iron guns, with a smooth bore for throwing spherical projectiles, were then employed. Mounted on wooden carriages, with four low, solid wheels—called trucks—of the same material, they were worked by tackles and wooden handspikes.
The recoil on discharge was controlled by a stout piece of rope—called a breeching—which passed through a ring at the rear of the gun, the two ends being secured to the side of the ship. Sufﬁcient slack was allowed, so that on discharge the gun would recoil far enough to bring the muzzle just inside the port, where it was in the most convenient position for entering a fresh charge. The decks of a line-of-battle ship were a ﬁne sight when gun drill was taking place. To ﬁre three rounds at an imaginary passing vessel as she quickly shifted her bearing was an exercise calling forth both skill and physical capacity, in which our sailors excelled . The comparative lightness of the gun, and the simplicity of its mounting, permitted of great variety in the exercise. If a carriage was disabled, the gun could be dismounted without delay. A frequent evolution was to transport a gun from one end of the ship to the other. The sailing trim of a vessel was often altered in this way. The method of giving elevation to the gun was exceedingly crude. Wooden inclined planes called quoins were pushed under the breech, by which the muzzle was elevated or depressed. They were marked in degrees, but were exceedingly likely to be displaced by the movement of the gun. The marking usually took place after the ship was commissioned, and was not unfrequently delayed for a considerable period. It depended on the zeal of the gunner. This recalls to my mind a certain captain, well known for his great faculty of exaggeration, who sent for his gunner some time after commissioning a ship, and said to him: ‘ Mr Bluelights, are all the quoins marked ? ’ ‘ Yes, sir,’ promptly replied the other. The captain, having good reason to know that this was not the case, merely said, ‘I will just go round the gun deck.’ Not a single quoin was marked.
Turning to his subordinate, he quietly observed, ‘Mr Bluelights, you are the biggest liar in this ship.’ The other simply looked at him and retorted, no less calmly, ‘No, sir, I am not,’ with a slight emphasis on the pronoun .
These guns were naturally very inaccurate, and could not be otherwise, independently of the rude methods
for directing their ﬁre. In the ﬁrst place, the bore was considerably larger than the shot, to facilitate loading and the use of red-hot shot. This difference of diameter was called-‘windage,’ and varied from one-ﬁfth to onethird of an inch. It allowed, therefore, a considerable portion of the gunpowder gas to escape past the projectile , and wasted so much energy. Then, for reasons which would require too technical an explanation for this work, the round shot was subject to special inaccuracies in its ﬂight. These defects were not so manifest at close quarters in action, which ofﬁcers in command usually sought to attain, and the charge of powder, however reduced in energy by windage, retained sufﬁcient power to penetrate wooden ships. But for some years previous to the substitution of ironclads for the old types of ships the Admiralty of this country had been impressed with the advantages of having the armament of the navy of greatly increased power and weight. This view was conﬁrmed by the introduction of the 68-pounder, which proved a powerful and effective weapon. But when it had been ascertained that this gun was powerless against 4135-in. plates, it was at once evident that some new system of gun construction must be devised. A long series of experiments proved that the old ordnance was exceedingly defective; that every gun, great or small, should be riﬂed, in order to give long range and precision to the projectile; and that to have the required strength guns must be made of wrought-iron or steel.
The object of a riﬂed gun is to give to a cylindrical projectile rotation or spin on its longer axis. The rotatory motion keeps the shot steady during ﬂight, and prevents its being subject to the special inﬂuence which caused the inaccuracy of smooth bore guns. A cylindrical projectile is heavier than the round shot of similar diameter. Thus the old 32-pounder was of 6-in. diameter, but the modern 6-in. riﬂed gun throws a projectile of 100 lbs. weight.
There are other advantages, on which it is unnecessary to dwell, but for many years artillerists had been seeking a satisfactory method of giving rotation to the projectile. One of the earliest inventors in this country was Mr Lancaster, who conceived the idea of making the bore of a gun slightly elliptical or oval, with a twist, so that a projectile of the same shape received a spin during its passage through the bore. Fairly successful experiments resulted in the construction of some of these guns and their employment in the siege of Sebastopol . But they were not reliable, and more than one burst. In the meantime a riﬂe had been adopted for the army in place of the old smooth bore musket, and it was only a question of working out the principle for larger guns.
In 1846 Major Cavalli, of the Sardinian army, and Baron Wahrendorff, a Swedish noble, had each brought forward a breech-loading riﬂed gun throwing cylindrical projectiles with pointed heads. Cavalli’s gun was of 6-§-in. calibre, and had two grooves cut spirally along the bore. The projectiles had two winged projections which travelled in the grooves and caused rotation. The breech was closed by an iron wedge entered from the top of the gun. With the usual interval for improvements , experiments were carried out in Italy with this gun, which showed considerable advance in accuracy over the smooth bores.
Wahrendorff’s gun was similar in principle, though the details were different. Trials took place at Shoeburyness in 1850 with both the Wahrendorff and Cavalli gun, but the breech mechanism was defective, and neither was adopted. 50 matters rested until after the Crimean War, when the question was seriously taken up in this country. Able inventors turned their attention to riﬂed ordnance, and among the foremost were Messrs Armstrong and Whitworth. In fact Mr Armstrong had made a small riﬂed gun in 185 5, and the principle on which this was constructed was eventually adopted.
The ﬁrst had a steel barrel strengthened externally by wrought-iron, applied in a twisted or spiral form as in a fowling piece. This gives the strength due to the ﬁbre of the material being disposed at right angles to the bore. The gun was riﬂed with numerous small grooves. The projectiles were cylindrical, of cast-iron, and coated with lead, to take the grooves and so receive rotation. Being pushed in from the rear or breech, allowance for windage was unnecessary, as the projectile was only inserted sufﬁciently far for the lead coating to abut against the beginning of the riﬂing, and the action of the powder forced the projectile to take the grooves.
Satisfactory results were obtained, and a larger gun was constructed. The steel barrel was abandoned as being untrustworthy, and difﬁcult to manufacture sound. Coiled wrought-iron was used entirely. The breechclosing arrangement was the same as before. This was arranged as follows. The rear of the gun had a hole through it, forming a prolongation of the bore, and by this aperture powder and shot were entered. Then the bore was closed by an iron plug inserted through an opening on the top of the gun. To press it ﬁrmly against the end of the barrel, it was tightened in its place by a screw working in the loading aperture. The Government so highly approved of this gun that Mr Armstrong was knighted and given an ofﬁcial appointment at Woolwich. It was certainly a great improvement both in range and accuracy over any preceding weapon. With one of these guns a range of 9000 yards was obtained.
Between 1860 and 1861 we commenced supplying the navy with 20, 40 and loo-pounder Armstrong guns. My ﬁrst experience of the sea was leaving England in a 50-gun frigate, towards the close of 1861, with several of these guns for distribution among the ships of the North American Squadron. The arrest of Messrs Slidell and Mason had lately occurred, and relations with the United States were rather strained. But the new guns did not reach their destination, for we encountered a tremendous gale of wind off the banks of Newfoundland, and sustained such damage as to necessitate our return to England. Our cargo assisted the elements in our discomﬁture, making the ship roll so heavily, and she had this propensity in a less degree at all times, that much of the damage resulted from this cause. We were not sorry, therefore, to see the guns transferred to another vessel, while we went into dock with all the appearance of having taken part in a severe action.
These Armstrong breech-loaders did not, however, remain long in use in the navy. There was an absence of simplicity for which, coming directly after the old smooth bores, the navy was not yet prepared. The advantages of charging at the breech were not sufﬁciently apparent. It was formerly difﬁcult to make a mistake in handling a gun, but now more care had to be taken. In one of our periodical small wars, which occurred at that time in Japan, some cases occurred of vent pieces being blown out on ﬁring these guns. This was owing, no doubt, to the plugs not being screwed up tightly, but it created a prejudice against a system in which this might occur.
Another objection was that the lead coating on the projectile occasionally stripped off when being forced through the grooves. This affected the land service, as such artillery ﬁring over the heads of troops might give them a leaden shower. Anyhow the ﬁat was issued that a new gun must be devised which should be riﬂed and load at the muzzle. Was this a retrogade step taken less that thirty years ago, and at a time when other nations had adopted the breech-loading system? I do not think so. At that time all guns were short, and loading at the muzzle was not inconvenient. Their handling was equally expeditious, and simplicity was on the side of the muzzle-loader. This advantage would have been more apparent in war. Our fault was not in reverting to muzzle loading, but in retaining the system after the introduction of slower burning powder, which required a long gun to utilise all its energy. The new combination gave increased velocity, range, and penetration. As is well known, the path of a shot in the air is a curve, owing to the action of gravity. The quicker it is in travelling the less time there is for gravity to act, and consequently the more nearly does the projectile travel in a horizontal line. One of the great objects in gunnery is to have this path—or trajectory, as it is technically termed—as ﬂat as possible. I have mentioned Mr Whitworth as being early in the ﬁeld as a designer of riﬂed guns. His system differed from Mr Armstrong’s in important respects. It will be sufﬁcient to allude to his method of riﬂing and the form of his projectiles. The former consisted of a hexagonal bore with a sharp twist. The projectile had six bearing surfaces and accurately ﬁtted the bore. Mr Whitworth advocated ﬂat-headed steel shot for attacking armour; but a pointed head is less impeded by the wind and better suited for penetrating armour.
Captain Blakeley also put forward riﬂed guns which did not materially differ from Whitworth’s construction. Captain Palliser had already turned his attention to utilising our old smooth bores, by inserting an interior barrel of coiled wrought-iron, the gun being previously bored out for its reception. It was then riﬂed, and a few heavy rounds ﬁred, which expanded the inner barrel to a tight ﬁt with its cast-iron exterior. A 68-pounder was so converted into a 9-in. muzzle-loading riﬂed gun and subjected to severe tests in 1863. With a charge of 16 lbs. of powder projectiles up to 680 lbs. weight were ﬁred from it. The recoil was naturally violent under such conditions. It smashed carriages, and then the gun was suspended in iron slings. It broke these, however , and ﬂung itself out of them on to the ground, but did not burst. This eventually occurred with 32 lbs. of powder and a zoo-1b. shot. The evidence of increased strength given by a coiled iron barrel led to a number of smooth bores being converted in this way and employed until comparatively recently in the navy. A steel barrel was subsequently used.
When it was decided to revert to muzzle-loading for new guns the Woolwich system was adopted. This consisted of a steel barrel with a series of wrought-iron coils shrunk over it by being put on when heated. They thus tightly gripped the inner tube, and enabled it to sustain the explosion of a heavy charge without rupture. The strength of the gun was considered to lie in the outer coils; the steel tube gave a hard surface to the bore and a homogeneous material for the riﬂing process. This tube was made from a solid ingot of steel, turned and then bored out to the required diameter. It was thus the most costly part of the gun, while the boring and riﬂing processes required considerable time before the rest of the parts could be added.
In 1865 we began equipping our ships with guns of this construction. As an advance on the 68-p0under a gun of 7-in. calibre and 61; tons weight was produced . Its projectile was 115 lbs. weight, while the charge was 30 lbs. of powder. The charge of the old 68-pounder was 16 lbs. At 1000 yards there was sufﬁcient energy to penetrate 7 in. of iron. Had armour not increased in thickness, we might have been satisﬁed with such a capability. But much stouter plates were now being rolled, and the gun had to grow likewise. Ordnance of 9, 12 and 18 tons, all on the principle described, were successively designed and put aﬂoat. The largest of these was charged with 70 lbs. of powder and a projectile weighing 400 lbs. The 9-in. armour of the ‘Hercules’ had deﬁed the efforts of a 300-pounder, and Sir William Armstrong, in a letter to the Times of June 26th, 1865, said, speaking of a 6oo-pounder which had then been tried: ‘Powerful as this 6oo-pounder has proved itself to be, I confess I have great doubts of its obtaining the mastery over the “ Hercules” target unless the enormous charges already used with that gun be still further increased.’ He doubted the possibility of constructing a gun of sufﬁcient strength to penetrate the ‘ Hercules’ target. But hardly had these words been written when heavier guns began to be produced, and we passed on to ordnance of 25 and 35 tons. This was the struggle between guns and armour.
It is not to be supposed that guns of this weight could be carried on board ship without an entire reconstruction of the methods of mounting them. To Captain Scott’s iron gun-carriages is due a facility in working these guns which had not in some respects been obtained with the much lighter smooth bore. The same rapidity of loading could not be expected, but a gun could be directed on its object much more expeditiously with cogged wheels and winches than with the old rough method of handspikes and tackles. The gun recoiled up a slide, the extent of the recoil being regulated by friction between carriage and slide.
The projectiles, instead of being passed from hand to hand, as in the case of the 32-pounder, were wheeled up in iron trucks to the muzzle and then hoisted by a tackle for insertion. There was still room for the display of strength and activity. We had not arrived at working a lever—as at a railway siding—to actuate a hydraulic ram which would bring up the ammunition , while the movement of another handle ejected a rammer which forced all into its place. By the improved method of mounting already described, and mechanical arrangement for controlling the recoil, we were enabled to work guns weighing 25 tons on the broadside with celerity and safety. Though heavy, such guns were necessarily short. Thus the 12-in. 25-t0n gun had a bore only I2 calibres long—the calibre of a piece being the diameter of its bore. As we are now employing ordnance of 25, 35, and 45 calibres, the advance in this respect since 1870 can be realised. But after that date longer and heavier guns were constructed. With the same calibre, 12-in., we proceeded to a 35-ton gun of greater length for the ‘Devastation’s’ turrets. Then a slower burning powder being produced, we found that a 38-ton gun could be made nearly 16 calibres long of 12 1/2-in. bore, which would speed an 800 lb. projectile with an initial velocity of 1540 ft. per second, an increase of 200 ft. per second over the 25-t0n gun, while the charge of powder had advanced from 85 to 200 lbs.
The 38-t0n gun was justly considered a great step, but its projectile, weighing 800 lbs. had passed beyond manipulation by hand or tackle. Then the ingenuity of the great Elswick ﬁrm provided us with that admirable system by which all the operations of loading , elevating, and training heavy guns are performed by hydraulic machinery. To describe these in detail would require a volume in itself. It will be sufﬁcient to state that, on the principle of the ‘Bramah’ press, power is transmitted from an engine by water pressure through a small pipe actuating hydraulic rams. Water is contained in a tank and pumped by a steam engine into pressure pipes, by which it passes to the different hydraulic machines and then returns to the tank. One of the advantages of this system is that fewer men are required round the gun. To work a turret by hand originally took ﬁfty men, now it is effected by a third of the number. Then there is no such danger as the bursting of a steam pipe would involve. The gun does not require a high carriage, but rests in a block on the slide. The recoil is controlled by a solid ram ﬁxed to this block, which on discharge of the gun travels in a cylinder full of water. The pressure of the ram or piston forces the water through a number of weighted valves, the resistance of which gradually brings the gun to rest. Then forcing water into the cylinder pushes the piston or ram and the gun out again. The same principle is employed to raise the breech and extract the breech piece when too cumbrous to be withdrawn by hand. Objection has been raised that the system is too complex, and that the gun may be disabled by the rupture of a small pipe. This is true, but the same result may ensue through the destruction of some portion of hand—worked ordnance. It is impossible to have simplicity with any modern gun. It is legitimate, however, to argue that guns should not be mounted aﬂoat which, in the event of anything happening to the hydraulic machinery, cannot be worked by hand.
The 38-ton gun thus loaded and controlled gave great satisfaction. Several of our turret ships are still armed with it, but in time a breech-loading gun will take its place. In 1873 the struggle between guns and armour produced what was then considered likely to prove the climax in each. To equip the ‘ Inﬂexible,’ carrying 24 in. of armour, with equally powerful ordnance , guns of 80 tons weight were designed. They were originally intended to be of I4é-in. calibre, but were ﬁnally bored to 16 in. This gun was given a length of 18 calibres; the charge of powder was 450 lbs. and the projectile weighed 1700 lbs. At 1000 yards it could penetrate 23 in. of wrought-iron, and its initial velocity was 1600 ft. per second.
A few words must now be said about the ammunition . Experiments had shown that against armour cast-iron shot broke up like a snowball, while forged wrought-iron projectiles ﬂattened, as if made of lead, against the hard or comparatively hard surface. In both cases the iron plates suffered little, because the energy was expended in breaking or distorting the missile.
In this dilemma Captain Palliser came to the rescue with his ingenious device of hardening the front portion of a shot by chilling. The body is cast in an earthen mould, but the head is formed by a metal mould, which rapidly extracting the heat in this portion gives great hardness to the material. The result is
that chilled shot of this nature are able to penetrate wrought-iron plates without breaking up or distortion. They are of cylindrical shape, with a pointed head, which against armour acts like a punch, forced into the plate by the energy of the other portion of the shot behind it. All are cast with a hollow core, which can be utilised for a bursting charge, but the space is so limited that such an addition is of little value. A great merit of these projectiles is their cheapness as compared with those now made of steel, so that they are still largely used for practice, and would be efﬁcient against thinly armoured ships, though unable to cope with the thick steel or compound armour which has superseded wrought-iron for protection.
Other kinds of missiles are common shell and shrapnel shell. The former being required to contain a large bursting charge, have not sufﬁcient strength to pass intact through armour, but are most destructive against any unarmoured portion of a ship. Shrapnel are iron cases containing a great number of small round shot, the case being fractured by a small burster at the required moment. The small shot then spread with the impetus previously acquired in ﬂight. Against boats or bodies of men on shore they are very effective.
It has been mentioned that an improvement in the velocity obtained with the later muzzle-loading guns resulted from modiﬁcations in the powder employed. Not in the ingredients, because they had remained unaltered for centuries, and the same may be said of the proportions of the mixture, but by making each individual grain or pellet larger the whole charge took longer to consume. Hence, as the shot travelled down the bore continual increments of gas were generated imparting an augmenting velocity to the projectile, which should reach the muzzle when this was at maximum . If the gun was too short, a large portion of the powder would be blown out unconsumed, and result in wasted energy. Even with considerable addition to the length this occurs in a minor degree, as can be seen by an instantaneous photograph of a gun at the moment of discharge. As guns grew in size so did the grains of explosive composing the charge, ﬁrst to what was termed pebble powder, and then to cubes of much larger dimensions. At a short distance from the gun unconsumed portions of these are a veritable hail of small projectiles.
In 1880 we appeared to have reached some ﬁnality in ordnance. We had advanced from 7 to 80 tons, and found no difﬁculty in manipulating on board ship the heaviest guns. There had been few accidents of a serious nature. The bursting of a 38-ton gun in the ‘ Thunderer’ owing to the insertion of a double charge was a notable exception. The gun had actually missed ﬁre the previous round without the crew being aware of it. It was then loaded again, and burst with great violence on being discharged. Being one of a pair in a turret, the discharge of the other gun had deceived the crew into a belief that both had gone off. Even spectators watching the target stated that they saw two shot strike the water. Such illusions are not uncomv mon. When two or more guns are ﬁred at the same instant, and close together, especially if after recoil the gun automatically returns to its place, a single report may cause a doubt as to the discharge of both. This is the converse of the ‘Thunderer’s’ case, but it may apply either way. One thing certainly was evident—such an accident could not occur with a breechloading gun, because a second charge could not be inserted.
But other causes were at work to bring about once more a complete revolution in our armaments. Foreign powers had in most cases adopted breech-loading guns, and by giving increased length were obtaining higher velocities. This meant increased penetration, in which respect we were being left behind. It became necessary for us to adopt the same principle, because we had arrived at the maximum of length in muzzle~ loading ordnance for use in ships. We were undoubtedly slow to appreciate the necessity. There had been no loud demand from the navy for the change, and all ordnance coming to us from Woolwich, which is under the control of another department of the Government, there was naturally no great eagerness in that quarter for a move which would involve an entire change of pattern and construction. This matter belongs to the past, and I am willing to apportion blame to both sides. But when the great Elswick ﬁrm produced a 6-in breech-loader, throwing an 80-lb. projectile with a velocity of 1800 ft. per second, it was evident that we must at once discard all idea of adhering to our old guns. The Woolwich gun factory, under the able superintendence of Colonel Maitland, promptly grappled with the problem, and from that day we have gradually been overtaking the lost ground. There has been delay, of course, but to entirely rearm the British ﬂeet with a weapon essentially different to all that had gone before in our experience was a stupendous task, and this should be recognised. Mistakes must necessarily occur, and one important change we did not at ﬁrst make. We adhered to the principle of an inner steel barrel surrounded by wrought-iron coils. There was a distrust of steel, which it took some years to eradicate, though Krupp had always used. this material entirely in the construction of his guns. A 6-in. gun on the wrought-iron coil system burst with great violence in the ‘ Cordelia’ from some unknown cause.
Since guns of this pattern were made we have discarded the wrought-iron coils, and now strengthen the steel barrel with wire of the same material. In again taking up breech-loading guns an important matter to decide was the method of closing the breech after insertion of the charge. We could follow the plan adopted by Krupp, of a wedge inserted at the side or a screw plug at the rear, as used in France. The latter was adopted, and with it the ingenious device for saving time of an interrupted screw. The plug is a solid steel block with a screw thread on outer surface. This is divided longitudinally into a certain number of equal parts, and then the screw threads entirely removed from alternate portions. In the screw thread of the gun similar portions are taken away, those remaining being opposite the blank spaces on the block. Consequently the latter can be pushed straight into the gun, and a portion of a turn engages the screw threads on each, so locking the breech without the loss of time involved by screwing the block in the ordinary way. As the cap or tube which ignites the charge is placed in this plug, which has a channel through the centre to allow the ﬂame to pass into the chamber of the gun, there is a mechanical arrangement for preventing the tube being inserted until the breech piece—as this plug is termed—is thus locked. To prevent escape of gas to the rear it is necessary to effectually seal the end of the powder chamber. This is done by securing to the inner end of the breech piece either a thin steel cup, which on discharge of the gun is expanded against the inner sides of the chamber, or a pad of asbestos, which under pressure of the powder gas performs the same function. This, in technical language, is the obturator, and when we consider that the ignited gas exerts a pressure of some I 5 tons to the square inch the importance of conﬁning its energy to the base of the projectile may be understood.
As regards method of ignition, we have for some years utilised electricity for this purpose. On an unstable platform, such as a ship presents, it may be readily conceived that any delay in discharging a gun when it bears on an object must result in a miss. The remedy our ancestors had for this was to attain such close proximity to their object that a certain proportion of their projectiles could not fail to hit somewhere. But as close range is not always attainable, and may not be desirable, the delay in igniting the charge by means of a falling hammer or pulling a string should be eliminated. Electricity, being instantaneous, corrects this defect, the only motion required being to press a button. Its advantages are even more apparent when several guns are ﬁred simultaneously and it is desired to lodge their projectiles in one spot. The apparatus simply consists of a galvanic battery, with wires leading to the guns and terminating in a ﬁne ﬁlament of platinum silver wire, enclosed in a tube and surrounded by a small quantity of gunpowder. The current, when allowed to pass, heats the ﬁlament sufﬁciently to ignite the powder, and the ﬂame passes on to the charge of the gun.
Having once recognised the advantage of a breechloader , we proceeded with the design and construction of different patterns suitable for large and small ships. They greW, in fact, similarly to the old muzzle-loaders.
We mounted in succession I4, 22, 29, 45 and 67-ton guns, with a length of bore varying from 25 to 30 calibres. By augmenting the powder charges velocities were increased to 2100 ft. per second, the projectiles being over half a ton in weight. No difﬁculty was experienced by our ofﬁcers and seamen in becoming proﬁcient with such weapons, though it involved an entirely new procedure in their manipulation. Having been accustomed for years to insert powder ﬁrst, one can imagine that to reverse the process does not come intuitively. Yet of many changes this is perhaps the simplest. The inevitable was cheerfully accepted. But when these new guns made a jump from 67 to III tons, and the number carried by a single ship fell from four to a pair, the policy of thus relying upon such a limited heavy armament, though reinforced by a number of smaller guns, began to be questioned. The case in favour of monster guns is that they represent concentrated power and the ability to do immense mischief if successfully applied. A single projectile from such a piece could disable the stoutest battle ship or penetrate the thickest armour carried. Nor, with the assistance of hydraulic apparatus, is their manipulation more complicated than with guns of half their weight. Though themselves offering a large mark, their very bulk is a protection against light projectiles. As against these points in their favour, 'three main objections may be stated. First, that the portion of a ship covered by the extremely thick armour is so small that hitting it under the varying conditions of a sea ﬁght must be a chance. Second, it therefore becomes more proﬁtable to attack the larger unarmoured area, or at any rate that area will be struck by the greater number of projectiles . For such work moderate sized guns are sufﬁcient and superior to those throwing enormous bolts, which would pass through thin armour without impediment . Thirdly, there is the risk of half your principal armament being disabled by an accident or by a single lucky shot from your enemy. On the whole, therefore, I think the balance is in favour of smaller guns, and I view monster ordnance as one of the abnormal growths of peace which the rough test of war will sweep away. I have not dwelt on the element of time required for construction or cost. They should, however, be taken into consideration.
The projectiles used with our new guns are much the same in shape as before. For receiving rotation they have a copper band, which acts much in the same way as the lead coating in the ﬁrst breech-loaders without the defect of stripping. Steel shot are, however, necessary to overcome the resistance of steel or compound armour, and to get satisfactory projectiles of this material has long been a difﬁcult matter. France was before us in this respect, but our steel makers when called on rose to the occasion and now produce an efﬁcient article.
Powder has gone through several phases. The ordinary black substance in cubes was replaced by prisms of brown material known as cocoa powder. Then came a demand for something which would give us energy without smoke, and all nations are seeking such an explosive. A propelling agent with this characteristic has been produced in this country by Professor Abel, known as cordite, from its resemblance when manufactured to a grey cord. It is more powerful than ordinary powder, without subjecting guns to an increased pressure, and is comparatively smokeless. One of the chief points to ascertain is whether, under the varying conditions of climate which our vessels experience in all parts of the world, this explosive will remain unaltered after a considerable lapse of time. We have had satisfactory tests in this respect, and therefore can conﬁdently admit it into our ships.
No review of the progress of ordnance would be complete without notice of the great development of what are now called quick-ﬁring guns. They have grown out of the mitrailleuse, ﬁrst used in the FrancoGerman War, which consisted in a cluster of riﬂe barrels automatically fed with cartridges and ﬁred by turning a handle, as sound is produced from a barrel-organ. At ﬁrst discredited by defective mechanism, which caused stoppage of the action at critical moments, they have since been greatly improved in the systems of Gatling, Gardner, Nordenfelt, and Maxim. The last named has brought to considerable perfection a gun in which the energy of recoil is utilised to perform all the operations of extracting the ﬁred cartridge, reloading, and ﬁring without human interference. Set to operate in this way the gun will continue to ﬁre until its ammunition is exhausted. Against bodies of men the machine riﬂe —as it might be more ﬁtly termed—can work great execution, but to stop torpedo boats requires a heavier projectile, so that Mr Hotchkiss and Mr Nordenfelt designed a machine gun of larger calibre. In that of the former the barrels revolve, while in Mr Nordenfelt's gun they are stationary. Both are effective weapons. Then came a demand for a single-barrel gun which could throw shot of about 6 lbs. weight and ﬁre several rounds a a minute. The ammunition was to be made up like a riﬂe cartridge instead of, as formerly with small guns, having powder and projectile separate.1 Messrs Hotchkiss and Nordenfelt both complied with the demand, and these were termed quick-ﬁring guns. They are now largely represented in all our ships. An important feature was aiming and ﬁring from the shoulder by means of a wooden shoulder piece attached to the gun, which being accurately balanced could thus be freely moved, horizontally and vertically, with little exertion of the body. The movement of an object could thus be followed almost as easily as the ﬂight of a bird with a fowling piece. These guns have considerable range and penetration ; and would be effective against the unarmoured parts of a ship, while the 3-pounder, a smaller piece on the same principle, is specially adapted to meet a torpedo attack.
Observing the success of small quick-ﬁring guns, Sir William Armstrong’s ﬁrm were not long in extending it to larger ordnance. An increase in the rapidity of ﬁre of all guns is an advantage which every sea ﬁght has endorsed, so a gun having a calibre of 4'7 in. and throwing a projectile of 45 lbs. was designed. The projectile is separate from the powder cartridge, as being more convenient to handle. Very satisfactory results have been obtained with this gun, from which about ten aimed shots a minute can be ﬁred. The success attending the introduction of this pattern led to the principle being extended to the 6-in. loo-pounder gun, a calibre now largely employed for the secondary armament of battleships and as the 1 This is the principal cause of obtaining greater rapidity of ﬁre.
principal weapon of all large cruisers. Its manipulation and use are similar to the smaller nature of quick ﬁrers. The captain stands at the side of the gun pressing the shoulder piece—which is unaffected by the recoil—with eye along the sights; one hand works the elevating, or training wheel, while the other grasps the ﬁring trigger. The mounting is a centre pivot, and, being on live rollers, turns with little effort. The recoil of the gun, which is not great, takes place inside a casing which envelops it like a sleeve and forms the carriage. The shoulder piece, being attached to this portion, is not disturbed by the recoil. In these guns the base of the brass cartridge case seals the breach end when closed, and forms the obturator. Of course in advancing from a 6-pounder to a projectile weighing 100 pounds, with a corresponding increase of charge, it involved having a much larger and heavier brass case.
Weight of ammunition is an important item in a warvessel’s equipment. Besides, in action it may not be easy to get rid of the empty cases after use, and they will become, if struck, dangerous to the gun’s crew. For these and other reasons, in the latest 6-in. quick ﬁrer devised by Messrs Vickers, Maxim & Co., the brass case for the cartridge is dispensed with, and they revert to the asbestos pad system of obturation, with modiﬁcations in the breech block, by which they consider the escape of gas to the rear will be as eﬂiciently prevented.
This, our latest type of 6 in. gun, is a very powerful weapon, discharging its projectile with a velocity at the muzzle of over 2500 ft. per second. This is obtained by strength of gun—wire wound ; length—45 calibres— and powerful charge—25 lbs. of cordite. The great advantage of high velocity guns is the ﬂat trajectory thereby obtained and consequently increased accuracy of ﬁre. It means that the gun has not to be elevated to the same extent for the shot to travel a certain distance, and that the shot will strike a fairly close object, if the direction is accurate, without using elevation when it starts with such a velocity as 2500 ft. per second. To realise this, we must always remember that the path of a projectile in the air is a curve, more or less accentuated according to its speed, and hence time of ﬂight. There has been as great, if not greater, advance between modern and early riﬂed guns as there was between the latter and the old smooth bore ordnance they superseded. And how great that was.
At short distances, from 300 to 500 yards, the smooth, bore guns were fairly accurate, but after that range the chance of hitting an object, even a three-decker, rapidly diminished. When the improved shooting of a riﬂed gun was demonstrated forty years ago, calculation showed that at 1000 yards the area into which it could place a certain number of shots was 23 yards long by 1 yard broad, whereas in the smooth bore it was 147 yards by 9 yards; while with only an increase of range of 350 yards the 147 yards error in direction became doubled. In each case the gun was stationary, ﬁrmly ﬁxed and accurately laid. No doubt variations in gunpowder exercised an important inﬂuence, for we know lots made at the same time often gave different results;
but we can understand how this, combined with want of accuracy in the gun, led captains of old who wanted a decisive action to engage at close quarters. That guns with higher velocity have greater power of penetration is also an advantage, and in the case of our latest 6-in. gun its steel projectile can perforate 20 in. of iron.
It was mentioned that at the time of the ‘Royal Sovereign’s’ design we had not a suitable 12-in. gun of about 50 tons weight of great power. The latter attribute could hardly be applied to the I2-in. breechloading guns, with which the ‘Colossus, " Edinburgh,’ ‘Collingwood,’ ‘ Conqueror’ and ‘Hero’ are equipped, for in the interval ordnance had taken great strides. A new 12-in. gun of greatly increased power was therefore worked out, and is to-day the largest piece of ordnance given to new battle ships.
A description of it will indicate the principle and construction appertaining to practically all modern guns. The inner steel tube is now simply a thin cylinder of great hardness for taking the riﬂing. It imparts no appreciable strength to the piece. Outside this is another steel cylinder, on which several layers of steel riband are tightly wound from end to muzzle.
The use of wire furnishes a gun of a given weight with so much additional strength that much more energy can be obtained from it. It allows the walls or sides to be thinner and greater length to the gun. Thus the new Iz-in. guns are IO ft. longer than the ﬁrst patterns. Over the wire is placed a stout steel jacket at the breech end, and a steel tube prolongs the jacket to the muzzle. The breech has a screw with portions of the thread removed in six places, and the breech block, having a screw also with six interruptions, is locked by giving it one-twelfth of a turn. To remove it clear for loading is ingeniously effected in one motion. By turning a hand wheel the breech screw is ﬁrst unlocked, then withdrawn, and ﬁnally swung round clear of the aperture. It is similarly closed by reversing the hand wheel. The projectile for this gun weighs 850 lbs., and is discharged with a velocity of 2400 ft. per second, so great accuracy and penetration are secured. In these respects it compares favourably with the 67-ton gun of the ‘Royal Sovereign,’ but the destructive power of its common shell is inferior. The efﬁciency of this projectile is in direct proportion to its size and the amount of explosive used as a bursting charge. Besides the 12-in gun we have in those of 10-in. and 9.2-in.
calibre effective weapons for the smaller battle ships as well as for the bow and stern guns of the larger cruisers. We have also employed the former size for rearming such ships as the ‘ Devastation’ and ‘Thunderer,’ replacing the pair of 12-in. muzzle-loading guns in each of their turrets with two Io-in. 29-ton breech-loaders by which the eﬂiciency of these ships is much increased.
A similar rearmament should take place with other vessels now equipped with absolute ordnance where it is feasible. Independent of increased power and accuracy in the guns thereby obtained, it is a grave inconvenience retaining two systems of ordnance in the navy, involving additional instruction, besides having to maintain stores of entirely different ammunition at home and abroad. It adds greatly to the difﬁculty of providing sufﬁcient magazine space in all depots, now that quick-ﬁring guns require a large stock of reserve ammunition. When replenishing after an action the shot lockers of a squadron composed of ships having a multitude of patterns of guns it might result in some not receiving the right sort. It is time that muzzle-loading ordnance disappeared in our ﬂeet.