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The piece to be fired was mounted on a small pontoon, and planted off upon the water to the distance of about six hundred and forty yards from the eightygun ship, which was to be the target.
The experiments were made in the presence of a number of the most eminent officers in the French navy.
The first shot sufficed to determine opinions; but, to complete the evidence, twelve shots were fired.
The following is a summary from the official report on the occasion :
“The first shot struck low, and, as soon as the explosion was heard the commission repaired on board. A thick smoke filled the between decks, where the bomb had burst. The fire engine was worked and the smoke lasted ten or twelve minutes; the bomb had made a breach of eight and a half inches in diameter in the ship's side, which there was twenty-nine inches thick; it had torn off two feet of the inner plank and then exploded; made a hole in the orlop deck of two to three feet square, kncoked away and shattered to atoms more than one hundred and sixty square feet of timber.
“The second gun traversed the quarter-deck, carrying with it two peices of plank, one of which was five and a quarter feet long, then striking the mainmast obliquely, it knocked off a splinter from three to four feet long and nine and a half inches thick, and bursting, tore away a mast band ten and a half feet in circumference, weighing one hundred and thirty pounds; this mass of iron was driven with such a force that one of its halves struck the opposite bulwark, seventeen feet distant, where it flattened and adhered. The splinters of the bomb shattered the bitts, cut some of the braces, and would have injured many men and articles of rigging if the ship had been equipped. The explosion also set fire to a coil of rope.
“The third bomb entered the side, between two ports, struck and tore off an oaken knee seven feet five inches long and six and a half to thirteen and threequarter inches thick, which, with its iron fastenings, weighed more than two hundred and six pounds; then bursting, its splinters knocked down forty of the wooden figures nailed around the guns to represent men. The explosion also shattered one of the beams supporting the deck above, starting several planks, one of which was ten and a half feet long, and another five and a quarter feet," &c.
“To abridge this detail, I will,” says the reporter, “ only refer to the two most remarkable shots of the remaining nine.
“Perceiving that the bombs always passed through the side of the vessel, the charge of the gun was diminished each time. With four and a half of powder, and always at six hundred and forty yards, a bomb struck in the wood, between two ports, and burst, tearing away the frame and planking, and making a breach of several feet in height and width, so shattered that all present thought that the shot would have endangered the vessel had it taken effect near the water-line.
“Besides this, two pieces of the iron work, weighing sixteen pounds, were driven in board by the force of the explosion, and nineteen figures knocked down.
“ Finally, the twelfth and last bomb, with the same small charge and at the same distance, struck the corner of a port, knocked away a heavy piece of iron work, and lodged on the other side of the ship against an iron knee five and a quarter inches in size and firmly supported; the blow made three fissures in the iron, two of which were four and a quarter inches thick; and the bbmo still unbroken buried itself further in the side, burst, and knocked down twenty figures." As to the havoc made upon a ship by these projectiles, the French commis
pounds sion was of opinion that it was "so terrible and so great that it is thought that one or two bombs of this kind bursting in a battery would make such confusion as to cause the surrender of the vessel, or at least conduce materially to it;" and "to produce, by the power of the bomb and its splinters, such damage in the frame that if the explosion should take place near the water-line the vessel would probably sink. There is no doubt on this subject," it was added, “as may evidently be perceived from the result of bomb No.-, which, had it struck a few feet lower, would certainly have done irreparable mischief,”
That any ship "must unavoidably give over the attack on being struck with a few shells.”
That it would be very useful to mount these guns either on floating pontoons, gunboats with sweeps, or steamers ; and it is thought that for the defence of roads and coasts, or for attacking ships in a calm, or on a lee shore, the success of the bomb cannon would be infallible.”
Furthermore, that commission of distinguished men also expressed the unanimous opinion “that these shell guns would be of incalculable utility in coast batteries, gunboats, or launches, bombardment, floating batteries, steamers," &c.
The subject was brought before the Academy of Science, and the opinion of the board were indorsed by that body after full deliberation.
Subsequently a second trial was made upon the same ship in the presence of another board of officers, with like results. This board, after a full discussion as to the effect of these shells, gave it as their opinion likewise, that “their power is so terrible that should one or two bombs of this kind burst in a battery, the vessel would be rendered untenable; that the explosion of a bomb in the frame of a ship would be productive of great mischief; and if this occur at the water-line, the vessel must founder, as may be inferred from the effect of bomb No. 8.”
Respecting the use of this kind of ordnance in fortifications the commission were unanimously of the opinion that these guns are capable of prodigious effect in coast batteries, as no ship of any force could possibly withstand such a fire at 640 guns or 1,300 yards; that it will also be desirable to mount the new artillery on floating batteries, launches, gunboats, or steamers; and it is believed that the bomb cannon is well adapted to the defence of roads and coasts, the attack of ships in a calm, or on a lee shore,” &c.
Moreover, the experiments which have been conducted by the Bureau of Ordnance and Hydrography of the United States navy, show that guns of this heavy calibre will carry further and truer, and penetrate deeper than 32-pounders; and, therefore, considering that the navies of the world are substituting these heavy guns, whenever they can, for the old 32-pounders, and considering that it is ships, and not sieges, that our fortifications are to be called upon to withstand, it appears to me it would be both prudent and judicious so to modify the plan of 1816 as to furnish our forts, as far as practicable, with heavy ordnance, all of the most effective and destructive kind.
Whether a ship’s battery, throwing 10-inch solid shot, would not readily breach the walls of our strongest forts is worthy of inquiry. The concussion from such a broadside would be tremendous. It is true there are no ships at present that can throw such a broadside, yet it is thought practicable and desirable by navy officers to build such ships, and experiments have been made which leave no doubt that such ships will be built. Whether our ramparts on shore could withstand such ordnance is not for me to say. I therefore suggest the inquiry.
It is a curious fact that, as a general rule, the fire of large forts has always been proportionally less destructive than those mounting only a few guns, and having those in barbette, in open battery, either with or without breastworks.
This may be accounted for by the smoke; for wild firing applies not only to
the guns of a fort, mounted in casemates, but also to the guns of double-decked ships.
À single broadside from the gun-deck of a man-of-war will so fill her between decks with smoke as to render the object at which she is firing invisible, and consequently, unless she will wait for her own smoke to clear off, which requires some time, the rest of her firing, as all sea fights prove, is without aim, very much by guess, and therefore to little purpose.
The same is the case with guns fired from casemates of forts on shore, for in no other way can we account for the random firing; the very shots, in proportion to the whole number cast, that tell in the engagements of double-decked ships and casemated forts.
Two frigates or two seventy-fours will engage each other within pistol shot, or a fleet will attack a fort, and when we come to count the shot that have been fired, and to compare those that have told with those that have been thrown away, and then recollect the size of the target, we are astonished.
In the action between the Constitution and the Guerriere, which lasted for about half an hour, the two ships being within pistol shot, the former sufferred “ very little in her hull, and lost but seven men."*
In the fight between the United States and Macedonian, the two ships were at close quarters for one hour. The former had five men killed. The United States," says the same authority, "suffered surprisingly little, considering the length of the cannonade."
In the case of the Constitution and the Java, the action lasted two hours. The Constitution lost nine men, and only “received a few round shot in her hull.” Perhaps in this time the Java did not fire less than two thousand shot, and
fifty of them, well placed in the hull of her antagonist, would have sunk her.
The Hornet and the Peacock were single-decked ships; their smoke would clear, and the Hornet could see to take aim. In less than fifteen minutes she sunk her antagonist.
In the battle of the Nile, where seventy-fours were principally engaged, and they in smooth water at anchor, and close, too, lasted through a part of three days. (No firing here like the Hornet's, though her target was so small in comparison. The secret is, she fired with aim; they, blinded in smoke, without.)
The action between the Wasp and the Frolic, also single-decked vessels, lasted forty-three minutes, in which time the killed and wounded aboard the Frolic amounted to between ninety and one hundred. These small vessels are more unsteady in a sea-way than large ones; they do not offer so large a target, and yet their fire is so destructive. How else is it to be accounted for ?
In the battle of Trafalgar, which was of long duration, and mostly between ships-of-the line, the loss was only about six men to every ten guns engaged, not one-tenth part of what it was in the action of the Wasp.
The use that I intend to make of these facts may be objected to, on the ground that I deduce a principle from the sea and apply it to the land, viz: that, because at sea, guns fired in the open air are much more destructive than those about which the decks confine the smoke, it does not follow that guns, when served from behind sand bags or mud banks on shore, are more destructive than they would be if served in casemates, by a crew blinded with smoke. I will quote cases directly in point: our army in Mexico, with guns behind sand bags, battered down the walls of Vera Cruz, and lost only some half dozen men in the siege.
At the battle of Fuenterabia, in 1836, the town, with two guns of small calibre behind an old wall, and a third of large calibre, which was added on the evening
• Cooper's Naval History.
of the attack, was successfully defended for a whole day from a combined attack of British and Spaniards, in six armed steamers and a number of gunboats.*
Then there was the famous case of the Martello tower, in the bay of Martello, in Corsica; one heavy gun, on the top of a tower, beat off in 1794 " one or two British ships-of-war, without sustaining any material injury from their fires."
“This circumstance,” says Colonel Pasley, in his rules for conducting the practical operations of a siege, “ought merely to have proved the superiority which guns on shore must always, in certain situations, possess over those of shipping, no matter whether the former are mounted on a tower or not.”
This is quoted with approbation by Colonel Totten, in his celebrated report of 1840, as an example of the superiority of forts over ships. But it appears to me only to prove and beautifully to illustrate the superiority of one gun, so mounted that it can fire with aim, over many guns that are enveloped in smoke, and fired without aim.
But if this Martello case affords grounds really for the "just decision" claimed by these two distinguished military authorities, then why have any forts at all ? Why should our army engineers advocate so elaborately in 1836, and with so much ingenuity in 1840, the continuance of the system of 1816, if one gun on shore, “whether mounted on a tower or not,” can and ought to beat off“ one or two British ships-of-war ?" May I not, therefore, in proposing to reply, in part, upon open batteries on the shore for coast defence, urge the modification as a thing proved by actual experiment, and, by legitimate conclusion, quote in favor of such modification the opinion of our most distinguished engineers? We can never expect our works on the seashore to have anything stronger to resist than “ British ships-of-war;" and if one gun, in open battery on the shore, “whether mounted on a tower or not,” be superior to - one or two” of those ships, surely our seaport towns of second and third rate importance may safely rely upon open batteries on the beach to protect them from “ British” or any other “menof-war.”
Colonel Jones, another authority of equal weight in military matters, quotes Nelson's attack upon Copenhagen, Sir John Duckworth's daring passage of the Dardannelles, the attack at Acre in 1840, and Lord Exmouth's cannonade of Algiers, as cases which lead to the supposition that land batteries cannot resist an attack by fleets. The Queen Charlotte, bearing Lord Exmouth's flag, being brought within fifty yards of the Mole, at Algiers, “poured such an irresistible fire on the works around,” says Colonel Jones, “ as to silence every gun, and was ultimately compelled to withdraw, with the loss of only eight men killed and one hundred and thirty-one wounded."
The sides of a ship are of wood; it is combustible, the walls of a fort are not; and on board ships in a fight it is the splinters that do the mischief. One gun, even in open battery on the shore, has greatly the advantage of one gun on board ship. The former can take better aim, has nothing to fear from splinters, and presents a very small target; whereas it has the whole ship, with all its vulnerability for å target. But as to the superiority of ships over forts, it appears to me there is scarcely room for the question; each in its own sphere is superior to the other.
And that the Queen Charlotte should silence the mole battery, is to be accounted for upon the principle of firing with and without aim. She was within fifty yards of it; it therefore occupied nearly or quite one-half of her horizon, and she could not miss it, it was so large. In comparison to the fort she was a small target, and it required some attention to aim to hit her; but the smoke on both sides prevented this.
Therefore, supposing that in the attacks of ships against forts, the guns on each side be served with equal bravery, the question of superiority resolves
• Colonel Totten's Report on National Defence, 1840, Doc. No. 206, page 16.
itself almost entirely into a question of marksmanship. A shot that is fired without aim is generally a shot thrown away,
Nevertheless, the gallant colonel very properly cautions the "engineer charged with the defences of maintaining a fortress, so to arrange his batteries that the defence may be from several points distant from each other, armed with fifty-six pounders as the lowest calibre.”
The system of 1816, according to the report of the board of army officers in 1840, does not contemplate a single gun heavier than a forty-two pounder, or an eight-inch howitzer. It contemplates mortars, but mortars against ships and random shots.
Previous to the attack of the junk ships in 1782, Gibraltar resisted a bombardment for two years.*
In 1789, Admiral Rodney threw into Havre de Grace 19,000 heavy shells, and 1,150 careasses, in fifty-two hours, “ to destroy a few boats.”+
In 1792, the Duke of Saxe Tessehen threw into Lille, in one hundred and forty hours, “without effect, 30,000 hot shot and six hundred shells."I
In 1795, Pichegree threw 3,000 shells into Manheim, and 5,000 into the Fort of the Rhine.
In 1807, at Copenhagen, in three days of partial heavy firing, 6,412 shells, besides eareasses were thrown.ll All these were thrown to no purpose.
At Fort Browne, on the Rio Grande, our men dodged the shells thrown by the Mexicans from Matamoras.
At Fort McHenry “the bomb bursting in air” furnished the poet with a stanzas; they produced no other effect.
Bonaparte's opinion of them may be learned from the instructions which he caused to be issued to the governors of besieged towns.
"Quant aux effets des bombes, et des autres projectiles incendiaires, nous examinerons plus tard, les moyens de les diminuer; mais nous observerons dés ce moment, qu'ils n'ont jamais contraint une place, bien défendue àse rendre. Les anciens sièges, en offrent la preuve; et les examples tout reèns de Lille, de Theonville, et de Mayence, la confoiment."
Therefore let us modify the system, so far as most of the mortars and all the 6,309 pieces of ordnance, from a twelve up to a long forty-two pounder, required by the plan of 1816, are concerned, and substitute for them the heavy calibres of the present day—the nine, ten, and eleven-inch solid shot and shell guns.
Taking the Martello tower for our guide, let us also, instead of building forts of the second and third class, contemplated in the system of 1816, send to every town along the seaboard, that an enemy could reach in his ships, one or more heavy pieces, and plant them there in open battery upon the beach, for the defence of the place, “ no matter whether they be mounted in a tower or not.”
By a proper organization, easy to be effected and kept up without any draft upon the treasury whatever, except for powder and ball to practice, volunteer crews for these guns may be procured from the towns themselves. Well-trained officers of the army should be sent to instruct them. In such hands each gun so planted and served out in the open air, having an embankment or a few sandbags for protection, will be more than a match for “two British ships-of-war.”
Sir Sidney Smith, whose dashing gallantry and skilful bravery have been so much admired, attacked and felt the force of one of these open batteries in 1806. He was in the Pompée, an eighty-gun ship, and accompanied by two frigates; he anchored about seven hundred yards from a battery of two guns, situated on the extremity of Cape Licosa.
" The line-of-battle-ship and frigates fired successive broadsides till their ammunition was nearly expended; the battery continually replying with a slow
Sir J. T. Jones's Journal of Sieges in Spain, vol. II, page 374.