MartinB

Deafness on a 74 gunner

Recently, I have seen a couple of documentaries on Nat Geo or similar regarding the recreation of life on an 18th Century Naval ship. Powder monkeys were young, all hell broke loose below decks when in port etc, etc, etc. Now, as I have been building HMS Elephant (Amati Vanguard option), I can see the restricted space on the gun decks for myself. 

 

So, how were these guys not deaf after the first engagement. Fourteen cannon per side being fired at the same time! Several years ago I heard one cannon fired. Car alarms went off, kids were crying, it was loud, In the open air!

Fourteen plus cannon fired in an enclosed space. I can imagine perforated eardrums, blood running from the ears etc.....then deafness.

I guess from 200 plus years we can romanticize the era of tall ships. But it must of been a living hell for those below decks.

 

Thoughts of the night.

Regards

Martin.

 

albert, thibaultron, Canute and 4 others like this

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I doubt anybody romanticizes the life on board. It is basically a floating prison with an extremely high mortality rate and inhumane conditions. Lots of people on board were there not on their own will. The ships are lovely, but trying not to think about how they were used daily... 

In a similar way, we can admire a nice castle or a cathedral - but both were most probably built with a slave-like labour and a whole lot of people died during construction. 

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Fortunately, most of the noise from firing the guns was to the outside of the hull as the sound was directed out of the gun barrel.  It would still be very loud in the hull, but the concussive shockwave of the firing was not present to rupture ear drums and such. 

 

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According to what I've read, life in those lovely ships was hell, and it was tenfold in moments of war. Rats in the pantry, rotten food, stale water, hygienic conditions in general at the worst, sleeping in a rocking hammock and the natural consequences of humans cramped in tight spaces. Although this was the general scenario, I prefer not to think about it.

To me a three masted Man O' War is one of the most beautiful things ever created by man.

 

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For somebody on the lowest end of the economic scale, life aboard ship was not much worse than on shore.  While not the nicest, the food was usually plentiful and on a regular time table, they had a place to sleep that wasn't under a bush in a field, they could be punished in what is to us a barbaric fashion ashore as well as afloat.  In a British ship that was long at sea but close enough to a shore base to get regular provisions, considering that the crew was young men in the peak of physical condition, the death rate was less than the population ashore.

There are usually two sides to any story.  Many of the horror tales were told in the 19th century as reformers were becoming active, after the war was won.

Now, as to deafness, probably.  They could tie a scarf around their heads, but probably a long-serving gun crewman would not hear as well as somebody not exposed to that racket.  They had to hear well enough to understand and carry out orders, after all.

mtaylor, jud, trippwj and 6 others like this

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Sounds bad to some of us, but when you think about what is normal at the time, that's life and few or any felt sorry for themselves. I don't feel sorry for the seamen of old because of the conditions and the times they lived, they were a tough bunch. Gunfire topside is hard on your ears, an explosion within a confined space also hurts eardrums but explosions in confined spaces destroy ships and were avoided. Gun muzzles were outboard when the gun was fired and the blast wave went outboard. Does concussion from guns harm hearing, yep, I wear two  hearing aids, they help a little but some frequencies are gone and no hearing aid in the world can bring those frequencies back, perhaps a vibration device implanted in bone

could, but don't expect the VA to pay for such an operation. Suspect that there was more hearing damage done on the weather decks than on the gun decks under normal conditions.

 

 

 

 

DIRECT FROM CEARCLICK 309.1.jpg

 

 

 

 

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Given the conditions on land at that time, many made a choice... Army or Navy.   In my view, Army life would have been far harder and more dangerous given the casualty numbers in battle and due to disease, accidents, etc.  Warfare back then was brutal in the sense that huge numbers of men fought and died or were wounded.  On naval ships, the casualty rate was lower...  Even the Army at times had a hard time feeding itself.  Pay was higher for the Army than the Navy which was part of the underlying problem that lead to the Spithead and Nore Muntinies of some English navy crews, but, they had a place to sleep and food.   

 

As to hearing... I have deafness caused by rifles, machineguns, being around jet helicopters and then later... drag racing both as a participant and as a trackside photographer.   No regrets on any of it.

coxswain, Mike Y, KennyH78 and 6 others like this

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I was a signalman in the Navy for 24 years.  Topside duty, several decks above the guns usually.  And I had some hearing loss from being aboard ship.

 

It's not that unusual, even today.

 

Regards

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Even in today's Air Force, hearing loss is prevalent. Most of us wear hearing protection, but that only helps so much when you are working around jet engines running all the time on the flight line

jud, thibaultron, mtaylor and 1 other like this

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Was sent to the Air Force hospital at Cam Ranh Bay in 68. Watched a guy come out of the sound proof booth where he had had his hearing tested and boy did he get an *** chewing. I was sitting there thinking, I'm next. The first words that were directed at me as I was exiting that booth was a statement about having been around a lot of jet aircraft. I hadn't, just guns, same frequencies were lost as those on your flight lines apparently.

jud :pirate41:

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I know know a great deal concerning artillery. Not a boast, but I have about 50 years worth of expertise in this specialty.  Loud noise can cause hearing loss over time. You can, for example, go to a lother of rock concert's and over time suffer a loss at certain frequencies, but carry-on just fine.  With artillery, the issue is blast over pressure.  If the over pressure is outside the hull, then you have a loud rock concert in the 10th of a second or less of the actual blast.  If the firing took place inside the hull, the over pressure could perforate ears and and cause brain concussions. With modern artillery has muzzle brakes that direct the pressure to the side of the tube.  At maximum charges not many persons are required to have hearing protection in the battery area.

 

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This topic has intrigued me from the first day it was up.  Have been searching my books and my memory for 10 days now and can find no references to this type of injury. I really appreciate the responses from our military members.   I read a lot of history and military stuff other than naval history and always have.  Guess what I never read about?  I never read about a military person later in their life being completely deaf by their service.  I read all the time about Naval Figures and other Military personnel dying from their wounds years later, but never being deaf years later.  The more I think about it the more sense the responses about the pressure wave and that the real danger is from constant noise for years.  Think about this.   If in every sea battle you were doomed to lose your hearing permanently, or in a land battle with artillery,  why would you  service the gun?   The weapon itself would not be used and would never be developed. A weapon must be safe to use or no one will use it.  In books, both fiction and non fiction, I read all the time about ears ringing, sometimes temporary hearing loss or blood oozing from the ears, but not injuries from using the weapon directed at others.  Soldiers in concrete bunkers in which grenades are tossed are unlucky. My reading says that at least temporary hearing loss is immediate if you are not killed out right.  The pressure wave is contained.  It sucks to be in the container.

 

About that pressure wave.  Most ship guns on smaller vessels and frigates through 1775 were nine pounders or less.  How far does the pressure wave on these guns go before they dissipate to harmless levels.   Think about the ranges at sea at the time.  Close could be anywhere from 100 yards to hailing distance to pistol shot.   How about the guys on the target?  The ones not protected  by the wooden walls.   In all my reading of individuals who are on the receiving end of a broadside, I still can find no hearing issues.  I think we are back to the pressure wave.   Does anyone know how it dissipates over time and space(up, down, sideways, etc)?

 

Things to think about.   Perhaps the guns themselves do not create an issue until they are much larger in size and caliber?  Perhaps the size and scale of the pressure wave created are simply not big enough. 

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Pressure Wave, that is muzzle blast and you have it with BB guns, it is a measurable force. That blast alone can cause impact damage but it is damage caused by force, not sound waves which are directional and travel in sine type waves, the amplitude and length of sound waves  can be measured and their frequency is then defined. I have observed muzzle blast blow loader covers off of 3" 50s, tear sound powered phone boxes and first aid boxes from the splinter shields. When you are on or next to the gun and attempt to record the sound all you will get is the splat from the blast forces as they impact the mike, that splat is blast effect, it overwhelms the sound waves acting on the  mic., get well out of the blast area and you can then record the sound waves.  Sound is detected by our ear drum being vibrated by sound waves, that vibration is detected by the nerve endings in the inner ear and we hear sound, different sound for different frequencies. Our ear drum is like a drum head or that microphone noted above, it can pass different frequencies or get blasted by the splat. That splat can cause pain or damage the membrane of the ear drum itself. What passes through the ear drum is what can damage the hearing nerves, it can happen with one episode or with an accumulation of repeated exposure. Muzzle Blast is accompanied with Sound Waves, blast can cause physical damage, sound waves typically pass by and through. Ears are designed to detect different sound wave frequencies and they all collectively feed information to our brains, when frequencies are lost, so is the ability to distinguish the finer subtleties in speech and bewilderment or request to repeat become irritating to the speaker and the listener. The hearing when lost is lost at the time of the incident, not years later, may be some exceptions to that but I know of none myself. My hearing was tested at above average in boot camp in 1959, in 68 at Cam Rahn Bay in 68 I had measurable high frequency hearing loss and was told that the ringing would never go away nor the lost frequencies return. I learned to read lips, avoid crowds or any other environment with background noise where I would be expected to interact with others. Had hearing aids only for the last 7 years, they help but do not replace the missing frequencies so my high frequency loss effect around background noise  has not changed and I still need to watch you speak or I will be hearing some very strange comments coming from your mouth and spend some time attempting to figure out what you really said. No disability from the VA, although I just have started on the groundwork to make a claim. Two types of forces when working around guns, blast and strong sound waves. Each gun has different frequencies. Small arms, 40 MM, 3"50, 5" 38s and 8" 55 were the guns I was around, it was the 3" 50 and the 40 MM that did most of the damage. Was gun captain and had a headset over one ear and kept the other open to listen to the crew and loaders working, hours of this resulted in switching ears with the phone headset.  :pirate41:

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This has bee an interesting thread to follow.  Question for those who have studied this far more than I:

 

Is it valid to use experience with modern weapons using modern, smokeless propellants and muzzle velocities of Mach 3 or more to cannon used in the age of sail?  Black powder gives more of a "whoomf" than a "bang" and as best I can find, muzzle velocities were less than or maybe equal to the speed of sound so the sharp "crack" is missing.  And the total energy was far less.  Back in the day, they maybe lobbed a projectile small enough for you to carry, over ranges of hundreds or maybe a thousand yards.  The big 16" guns on 20th century battleships sent projectiles weighing on the order of 2,000 pounds over distances of 20 miles or so.

 

Just curious what others may think about this aspect.

jud, thibaultron, mtaylor and 1 other like this

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Both Black and Smokeless powder produce gas to launch a projectile, we can put more potential energy into smaller packages  of modern smokeless powder than we can using Black Powder but provided enough room we can place the same amount of potential energy in a gun tube using either mix. Using smokeless powder instead of Black powder, the advantage is mainly because the rate of burn can be controlled much better and slowing down that rate of burn allows smokeless powder to deliver an increasing power push against the projectile for the full length of the bore, Black powder is packed tight against the projectile because it is much closer to an explosion, its rate of burn and the packing prevents a void from being pressurized before the projectile begins to move, smokeless powder acts on the projectile like a compound bow does on an arrow, the push starts slow and increases with travel so a void does not create an over pressure point as the projectile begins movement. Pick up a Black Powder cartridge and shake it, you won't hear the powder moving inside the case like you often can in a smokeless cartridge, there are compressed loads produced today using smokeless powder so exceptions are out there. Anyway the energy released at the time the projectile leaves the bore can be equal using either powder, the speed of the projectile will be different, the forces with black powder peak sooner and the projectile acts more like shrapnel traveling down the bore than a projectile brought up to speed slowly and pushed out. The crack or womph is sound waves emitting from the blast, there can be some supersonic crack added from the projectile and hot gasses at the muzzle passing through the air but that projectile crack  is added because of velocity not pressure. Does not matter the propellant type, hearing damage can happen even when using a high pressure air gun, pressure can build unheard, the release of that pressure is always forceful. Sound waves can be caused by any number of things creating potential damage to hearing, they don't need to be accompanied by blast to compromise your hearing. Keep in mind everything I have written is out of the memory banks, I did no research while making these posts.

jud  :pirate41:

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An interesting comparison - muzzle loading black powder guns of old had a muzzle velocity on the order of 1,600 feet per second.  The 5"/54 caliber Mark 45 gun used by the US Navy has a muzzle velocity on the order of 2,600 ft/sec.  16 inch guns on an Iowa Class Battleship likewise were about 2,600 ft/sec. 

mtaylor, jud, thibaultron and 1 other like this

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All good stuff here on velocity.   I am somewhat surprised that the muzzle velocity of the 16" guns and the mark 45 are the same and and that they are no faster that a high powered rifle.  A  30-6 Springfield  has a  muzzle velocity of 2700 ft/sec, but depending on load and weight of the bullet can be faster or a bit slower.   I understand that  a 9mm pistol round is normally about 1700 to 1900 ft/sec.  A shot gun goes at 1200.  At that speed you can see a shot gun slug travel down range if you position yourself correctly to watch it. 

 

I have read that Soldiers and Marines have seen large shells fly over, especially if nearly at the end of their trajectory.  I have read on numerous occasions that cannon balls were very visible in their travels from muzzle to impact.   Which brings us back to our age of sail small to larger bore cannons.  Anybody know the muzzle velocity of these things? I am going to guess very low.  Ranges were only a few hundred yards. Effective ranges less so I believe.  Short range means low velocity.   I think I will go hit the books.

Altduck, jud, thibaultron and 1 other like this

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We have been able to get muzzle velocity up to and above 4000 ft/sec but at those speeds the bore erosion become excessive and the heat generated on the projectile can melt it like was happening with the 17 bee if loaded a little fast. Bore wear and rotating bands effectiveness is what limits maximum velocities at the bore, other projectile design factors will contribute to stability and down range retention of speed. Changing a gun tube is not usually done aboard ship, did change barrel's on the ready mount on the Harnett County, LST 821 because of wear, easy change, didn't even unload the loaders.58d49fa562f18_DIRECTFROMCEARCLICK120.1.thumb.jpg.320795ab794bd23c308c3cc6fbe47cdf.jpg

 

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As you say, off the top of the head without doing any research, old muzzle loader about 1200 fps, no matter the caliber.  Larger ball needs larger charge, but result in fps stays about the same.

mtaylor, donrobinson, jud and 1 other like this

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I have found some information on ranges and velocity for our muzzle loading naval cannons.  I found it in the book Arming the Fleet, U.S. Navy Ordnance in the the Muzzle-Loading Era by Spencer Tucker published the the Naval Institute Press in 1989.  I always give full credit.  I believe posting this information below is within the educational exception for copyrighted works.

 

I was surprised at the ranges indicated in the chart.    I am not sure they are effective ranges.  The text contains information about the state of the art at about 1850.

 

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