Jump to content

Recommended Posts

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
Link to post
Share on other sites

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.





Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

Link to post
Share on other sites
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
Link to post
Share on other sites
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
Link to post
Share on other sites

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!

Link to post
Share on other sites



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."

Link to post
Share on other sites

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!

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 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
Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 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
Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

  • Create New...