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This is a rehash of much I have found on the forum and possibly some new information. I have seen discussion of how to model the rigging of carriage guns, with lots of speculation. I hope to condense this a bit here.


Here are some drawings of British and American gun tackle and breeching lines. The breeching lines are attached to ring bolts on the bulwarks and are attached to the cascobels at the rear of the cannon. In some cases they are wrapped around the cascobel as shown at the left. Sometimes they were attached with a cut splice that fit around the cascobel, as shown at the right.  Later guns had a breeching ring cast into the barrel above the cascobel, and the breecing line passed through it. The breeching line stopped the recoil of the gun when it was fired, preventing it from crashing about the deck. It was roughly 1/3 the diameter of the shot, and was long enough (3 times the length of the cannon bore) to allow the cannon to move about a foot or two inboard of the bulwark to give the gun crew room to swab and load the cannon. There were very specific methods of attaching the breeching lines to the bulwark ring bolts, normally using seizing of small line wrapped around the breeching line.





The gun tackle (outhaul tackle) hooked to a ring bolt on the bulwark, and hooked to a ring bolt on the gun carriage. The gun tackle was used to haul the gun out to the battery (firing) position after it was loaded. This tackle for larger guns consisted of a single block hooked to the gun carriage and a double block hooked to the bulwark. Smaller guns might just use two single blocks. A "loose end" (pun intended) in the descriptions of the gun tackle is what to do with the falls (loose ends) of the tackle? The line leading from the block attached to the bulwark had to be long enough for the gun crew to grab. Then when the gun was hauled to battery and the blocks came together, more line, 3-4 times the longest distance between the blocks when the gun was in the loading position, was pulled out of the tackle - that is a lot of line. Typically drawings just show the falls going off somewhere. What did they do with all of that line?



I have seen four variations for dealing with the gun tackle falls. The picture on the left above shows the loose ends "frapped" (wrapped) around the tackle. However, most of the falls was taken up by looping it a few times through the rings on the hooks at the bulwark and gun carriage, with the remaining part frapped around the bundle of lines. This would have been used to secure the guns when they weren't being used, in port or at sea. Note the breeching loop cast into the rear of the cannon.


The picture right above shows the end of the falls "Flemished" in a tight spiral on the deck. Many models use this method because it is a simple way to deal with the loose ends. However, on real ships this was done for show only, during inspections or ship visiting days. There is no way this would have been used at sea! The loose ropes would be scattered all over the deck, and this was not good!




Another way to secure the gun tackle loose ends that I have seen was to belay the line around cleats or belaying pins on the bulwarks. This would be a "ready stowage" solution to keep the ropes from flopping around the decks and getting tangled while approaching a battle. But it could also be used when the guns were secured. Another method was to just roll the line into a lose coil and place it on the deck near the bulwark block. Again, this would have been a temporary stowage while preparing for battle.


In battle the falls would have been pulled taut straight back from the block along side the cannon by the side tacklemen, and perhaps faked down on deck for long falls. When the gun was fired the line ran cleanly through the block - the tackle absorbed some of the recoil momentum. Note: Not everyone is happy with this explanation - see the references below to support my reasoning.




The training tackle (inhaul tackle)  was similar to the gun tackle. It hooked to a ring bolt at the rear of the gun carriage and to another ring bolt mounted in the deck some distance behind the gun.  The training tackle was used to haul the gun back inboard to the loading position. Some ships used a single training tackle, others used two training tackles (only the heaviest guns >= 36 pounders had two training tackles), and you often see pictures and drawings where no training tackle is used. What did they do with the training tackle when it wasn't being used? Apparently it was stowed with all the other gun handling gear, often on the bulwarks between the guns, at least while they were preparing for battle. When the guns were secured all the loose paraphernalia was probably stowed below.




This drawing shows a Continental (French, Dutch, etc.) style gun. First note that the breeching line passes through a hole in the gun carriage, and it does not attach to the cannon. It serves the same function, to stop the recoil, and it must be long enough to allow the gun to move inboard at least 1/3 meter for loading.


The drawing shows the gun in a stowed position with the end of the barrel raised (with the quoin removed) and pulled tightly against the top of the inside of the gun port. This was common in all navies, but there were probably as many variations as there were ships. The tackle was used to draw the gun tight against the bulwark, and lines were frapped to take up slack. Chocks were also used to secure the gun. The last thing you wanted was a loose cannon rolling around the decks in heavy seas!




The answers to many of these questions are found in Ordnance Instructions for the Unites States Navy (1860) which can be downloaded here:




Gun and train tackles were not removed before the gun was fired (pages 45 -47)! Up to the Ready/Fire commands the side tacklemen held the falls taut. At the command "fire!" side tacklemen dropped the tackle and falls and let them run to slow the recoil. The train tacklemen pulled on the falls to take up the slack as the gun recoiled, and then held the gun until it was loaded. However, the train tackle could be unhooked before firing in calm seas and then attached after recoil.


Note: The text describes when the gun tackles are hooked to the bulkheads and to the rings on the gun carriage, and which of the gun crew does each task. It never mentions unhooking the gun tackle until the gun is to be secured and stowed. In the drawing below the gun tackles and training tackles are attached in the firing position.


The gun was pointed by hauling it in to the extent allowed by the breeching line, and then one or the other side tackle was hauled in to swing the gun left or right (page 46). Here is a diagram showing pointing, firing and loading:


Breeching must be long enough to allow the gun to clear the gun port at least one foot when hauled fully inboard. Neither breeching nor tackle can be blackened or treated in any other way that reduces flexibility. They are to be made of manila or another pliable rope. (page 150).


I haven't read it all, but I couldn't find any description of how the gun tackle falls were to be secured/stowed when not in use. However, at the command "cast loose" the tackles were to be removed from stowage and then hooked to the bulwark and gun carriage. So maybe they were not hooked to the guns while they were stowed? Or were the frapped tackle considered "stowed?"



As far as placement of the ring bolts for the gun tackle on the bulwarks, the diagram above shows the attachment points spaced far from the gun port to allow a significant angle of pull on the tackle for pointing the gun. But most photos and drawings do not show them as widely spaced as in the drawing above. I have also see (somewhere) a drawing showing double ring bolts for the train tackle on the bulwarks, on each side of the gun port, spaced fairly close together, in case one bolt fails.


In the description of how to point the gun it says the gunners used the handspikes to lever the gun left/right to assist the tackle. So it wasn't necessary for the gun tackles to be spaced widely as shown in the diagram above. The tackle could be used to hold and fine tune the point. The handspikes were also used to raise the breech to free the quoin so it could be repositiond to change the gun elevation.


One other detail I had been wondering about - the port tackle (for the gun port lid) was secured to a cleat on the inner top of the gun port. The door/lid was to be raised high to prevent damage from the blast of the gun. After each shot the port lids might be closed to provide protection for the gun crews while they were reloading.




There is a lot of useful information in this document. It was written in 1855 and amended in 1860, but gunnery practices probably had not changed much in centuries except as new gun types were introduced. The referenced text describes practices for smooth bore muzzle loading guns.




I hope this is helpful, and that it will stimulate further discussion.


Edited by Dr PR
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Pages 52 - 54 describes securing and housing a gun, but I'm having a hard time visualizing exactly how the breeching, side tackles, and train tackle are used in the process.  Lots of new terms to decipher.  It does mention the use of two different types of wheel chock, which I don't recall ever seeing modeled.


Thanks again for posting this reference.





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While it is a good reference, one must check for dates and nationality as things changed and varied by country (including the duties and numbers of the gun crew) over time.  But overall, it's a good document and can help understand how the guns were manned and served.  


Thanks for posting this Phil.  I'll bookmark for future reference.

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28 minutes ago, el cid said:

....the use of two different types of wheel chock, which I don't recall ever seeing modeled.

I don't recall seeing the inhaul tackle modeled, while the outhauls seem to be almost mandatory these days.. 

If modelers feel such detail is important, why omit the inhaul?


I remember when just the breaching rope was considered a nice touch.

Edited by Gregory
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1 hour ago, popeye2sea said:

Great information! Though I am not convinced about the gun port being closed after each shot.  The port would have had to stay open to allow for the rammer, swab, and worm to be able to be inserted into the muzzle for loading the next round.





This from page 42; it seems closing the gun ports between shots was situational, perhaps as a ship rolls or comes about in heavy seas?



Edited by el cid
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Thanks to everyone for the comments.


I also thought closing the gun ports between shots seemed a bit strange, although the desire to be protected from musket fire and grape shot while the gun was being loaded was obvious. There is even a caution that the men should avoid exposing themselves through the gun port. With a clearance behind the bulwarks to the gun muzzle of only about a foot there wouldn't be room for a typical worm, swab and rammer. As I understood it the men would poke the handles out the gun port to get these long pieces into the barrel.


However, I have seen several references, and even videos of modern reenactments, where the sponge/swab was a flexible bunch of rags and ropes that could be bent around and into the barrel. Also, some gun port covers had holes called "ventilation scuttles" (Mondfeld's Historic Ship Models page 177) and I had wondered if the handles were pushed out through these? Maybe these holes are the "port scuttle" mentioned in the Ordnance Instructions?


Mark is correct about checking the period and type of ship and guns. There was a lot of variation between ship types and periods, so whatever we model must fit these requirements. But until someone invents a time machine we won't know how things were really done way back when!

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I also notice the wheel chocks. Some were used when the cannon was secured for stowage, and others were used during loading to prevent the gun from moving.


In the drawing of the stowed gun it appears to me that the training tackle was hooked to a rope that was looped around the cascobel and the other end was hooked to a ring bolt on the bulwark above the gun. Then the tackle was pulled tight to push the gun against the bulwark. The gun tackles and breeching ropes were siezed to take up slack and hold the gun in place. But I have seen other drawings showing different methods of securing the gun. My guess is that it might have been done differently on each ship, depending upon the type of gun, configuration of the gun port and bulwark (if any) and other features peculiar to the ship and crew.


When I was in the Navy the ships changed all the time, especially the small details. If the Ship's Bosun decided he needed another cleat or eye he called the engineers and they brought up a torch and added the new piece. In the yards a five pound tin of coffee could buy quite a few unauthorized things! On the old wooden ships you only needed to ask the carpenter. And the Captains had a habit of customizing the configuration of major things like masts and spars to suit their whims. If it isn't too absurd, just about anything you can model has a chance of being "prototypical."

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In model railroading, you can find a prototype for just about anything. One of the hard and fast rules, though, is never put a window in a chimney. However, when I lived in Pittsburgh, there was a house with just such a window in the middle of the chimney! A couple of years ago I found the house on Google Maps, and the street view shows that the chimney and window are still in place!

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  • 1 month later...

Here is another image showing a way to stow the gun tackle falls when it is not in use. Thanks to archjofo's La Creole post #1386 (an excellent build!):




The falls were coiled, bound with small stuff to keep them together, and tied to the gun carriage or placed on the deck beside/below the carriage. One strange thing about this drawing it that it is supposed to be for a French ship, but the breech rope passes through a loop at the cascobel instead of passing through a hole in the carriage as described for Continental ships in several publications. I wonder what period this drawing represents?


In my current build I chose to attach the ends of the falls to cleats on the bulwarks.



This not only secures the loose ends of the falls, but it also prevents the gun from moving as the ship rolls. Note: THIS IS NOT A FIRING CONFIGURATION. As described earlier, when the gun is hauled out to the firing position the gun tackle falls would be pulled back taut so when the gun recoils the line runs smoothly through the blocks. This would just be a temporary arrangement used after the gun was released from the stowed position but before it was manned for firing. It would be a simple and quick task to release the falls from the cleats.


Other than the one drawing (post #1 above) I have seen showing the falls secured to belaying pins on the bulwarks I have no reference for this. It is just a possible solution to securing the gun and the loose ends of the falls.


Any thoughts about this?


Edited by Dr PR
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  • 4 weeks later...

Here is another image showing ways to deal with the ends of the gun carriage tackle falls.  It is said to be Russian. Here the breeching rope passes behind the rear end of the carriage in the top view. The tackle falls appears to be coiled on the deck beside the gun. The bottom view shows the gun run out with the breeching line draped over or looped around the cascobel and then folded back in a couple of loops over the top of the gun. Also, the tackle falls appear to be hung over the cascobel, then run forward and looped and hung on the side of the carriage. This must be a stowage position, and not a firing configuration.




Edited by Dr PR
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  • 1 year later...
On 4/13/2021 at 9:45 PM, HardeeHarHar said:

thanks for the thought-provoking discussion!!!


I will second that!  Just starting rigging my Bounty cannons, thanks all for sharing your knowledge, makes it so much more accessible for the less experienced amongst us. 👍😄

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  • 5 months later...

Here are the results of some of my research. Even though the preventer breeching line - as propagated by Goodwin - is still quite doubtful to me, I tried some different ways for the tackles as shown already in the contemporary sources mentioned above.

First was to determine the length the tackle has that is really needed for the full compliment
of gun crew pulling on it.



In my opinion very important: Give the tackles stopper knots at the backwards blocks, the carriage or the cascabel if none of the crew holds it!

Otherwise the gun will run loose ...

Also all trials of arranging the tackles will be useless in a minute or after the first wave. Also do look that the rope has a realistic slack in it. Often seen are tackles coming out of the unsecured block and running in a straight line into a flemish eye, no way of reproducing that in real life 😉


Here are my favorites. V1 or V2 are for "prepared for action", V3 and V4 much more for run out but secured guns.   

V1 tackles laid in flakes beside the gun, keeps clear the passage behind the gun1221438154_Victory131101_0499.thumb.jpg.50456be456f7a084768a4670ae38171b.jpg

V2 tackles laid in flakes behind the gun, keeps them clear the breeching line and in position for the crew to grab it.


V3 tackles laid in flakes over the barrel, gun run out but secured, as seen today on Constitution


V4 tackles laid in flakes over the barrel as V3, but with a seizure to keep it arranged322881652_Victory131101_0511.thumb.jpg.ca7e15b46850360583ad0f2778cb6c02.jpg

That is the version I opted for in my display as these guns are secured but run out and it keeps clear the floor.





Also already discussed how much the sponge and rammer point out the port, just see here:







And action 🙂





Edited by dafi
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This is a REALLY nice action display Dafi.  Questions for you, hope you don't mind.  What are the two eyes on the inboard side of the carriages for?  You have an eye for the training tackle (which would not be rigged once the guns were in action) but I was wondering about the extra two eyes.   Also, the two breech lines seem to be unusual, but that may just be me.    I cannot find any drawing, including  on a 1795 carriage in Congreve's Treatise on the Mounting of Sea Service Ordinance, 1811 that shows two breech lines.   The closest I found is a drawing based Congreve's drawing in Caruana's History of British Sea Ordinance that  shows the breech rope folded over when run out but secured on page 382. (See below)
Thanks in advance




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Hello Alan,


thank you for the feedback. 


The preventer breech line was installed on my model at the times as Goodwin has reported on this very convincingly and that all 24 and 32 pounders should have one. Also it was installed on the ship in Portsmouth.



But as quite often he lacked the sources. At least me and many others did not find a final conclusion. Here are the few hints for that topic:


David Steel in 1796 "Art of rigging" states this:



Sea-Gunners Vademecum von Robert Simmons, Verlag Steel and Company, 1812



But with these sources I did not find out if this was for action or bad weather. Saumarez on the Orion ordered "extra breech ropes" to be fitted before a storm in 1798. Harland also describes this use. 
In 1826 Johann Wilhelm David Korth shows how to link multiple guns in his book "Schiffbaukunst"  





 John Masefields mentions the preventer ropes for action in "Sea life in Nelsons time" but this was only in 1905 ...

https://archive.org/details/sealifeinnelsons00maserich/page/n61/mode/2up?view=theater page 39


Also the captain of the Little Belt reports of double breeching lines in 1811 but this was for the double shotted carronades. https://ia600404.us.archive.org/8/items/cihm_20959/cihm_20959.pdf


Also in 1855 Sir Howard Douglas "A treatise of Naval Gunnery" mentions on page 415 the preventer breeching rope on the carronades of the Shannon.





Also have a look at the lay of the breeching rope in the first picture, it is layed the other way possibly for more flexibility. I think this was changed ever since I took the picture - as was the messenger 🙂

My believe is that this is based upon Nares in 1862, otherwise I did find no mention of this fact yet.





Does anybody has further sources upon these topics? Especially for the preventer breeching lines for the big 24 and 32 pounders in 1805.




PS: One picture still giving me some confusion is the quarterdeck of the Venurable. Look at the double (?) breeching line on the larboard guns. These are omitted on the starboard side ...



Edited by dafi
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Dear Alan,


also thank you for the hint for the 2 eye bolts. It is a reminiscence upon the carriages displayed in Portsmouth 😉


I had a look into my sources. First of all William Rivers Gunner of the Victory does not display these ones 🙂


Also the best hint are always the artifacts, one of the best is Thorsminde St. George, nothing to be seen too 🙂


All other contemporary plans or drawings of 1800 +/- do not show them either. Drawing of the HMS Venerable from NMM.



The confusion starts after 1820+, where these eyebolts start appearing in paintings and photographs.







Also the french heavy guns had these eyebolts.



As seen for the sources approx. 1800 I will omit these bolts confidently on my Victory 🙂


All the best, Daniel












Edited by dafi
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One issue with the Victory gun carriages is that when reconstructed in the 1920’s (and earlier) the carriages used as a template were fort carriages.  You will see in many earlier photos the guns do not sit central to the gunports.  This issue was identified by Peter Goodwin.  The carriages have been modified to rectify the centring of the guns, but those rear eyebolts persist. 

The St. George carriages Dafi points to are strictly contemporary with Victory in 1805, the St. George being refitted almost immediately after Victory. You will also note the positioning of the eyes on the carriage cheek are not as represented on many models. 

Some of these St. George carriages retain the side cleats, and also have evidence of fitting points for frontal horns which acted as a ‘stand-off’ from the ships side.



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Gary,   Yes the frontal breasts and side cleats are clearly described by Caruana in volume II and would have been in use at the time of Trafalgar and evident on the famous painting of Victory.   See pic below.  Also, you can see these on the Congreve drawing in my earlier post above.  These came into use about 1790s so could be appropriate for Victory in 1805.


Dafi,  Still living and learning on my part, so thank you very much for your reply, it is very much appreciated.





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Thank you Alan and Gary.


Comparing the drawing of Rivers and the artifact of St. George the position of the bolts is quite the same. Have to look my other pictures for the traces of the cleats. Even though Rivers does not show these, any thoughts about that?


Also funny that the St. George carriage appears to have shades of red and ochre. Were they overpainted once? Was there already any research about the color?






And another question: What was the iron pin for? What else served the eyebolt that it is stuck in?




Edited by dafi
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One thought is that the cleats and horns were made of soft wood and were of a sacrificial nature and regularly replaced as these took the bulk of the wear and tear.


Another is that they were fitted by the carpenter and that the carriages were supplied without them.


They could have been painted red, to be honest I haven’t seen anything on paint analysis, the publications available haven’t addressed the carriages.



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I just noticed something on the painting I posted above which gives me pause.   There is a double block hooked to the carriage which means there is a double block at the bulkhead as well, but even then it appears that the line starts at the double on the carriage.  This would have the loose end coming from this block which would be in the wrong direction.    From everything I have found to date, there were never two double blocks, even  on 32's which were the largest guns on Victory.   So much for accuracy on this painting (which was done quite a few years after Trafalgar) 

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Completely agree 🙂

Just looked at my archive and found two pictures with marks that could come from cleats and checks: Two holes in the front of each carriage´s cheek and some change of color where a cleat could have been on the side. Make up your on mind upon this 🙂




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Thank you Morgan, one can nicely see the pair of two holes in the front that could have been used for fixing the horn/breast.


What you believe to recognize as horn is in my opinion another wrecked cheek in the background, see the pictures above with the guns on the Euro-pallet.


But what was the side cleat for? Keeping the breeching line clear? Keeping clear of hanging knees?



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