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About them 18th Century Cannon Balls?

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I'm reading that that cannon shot was 'cast' back in the 1700's. Okay, I'll buy that, but I need more info. Were the castings made of pure cast iron, or were those balls actually cast via an 'alloy' of mixed metals? 

Also, were those cast cannonballs treated, after casting, much like typical ornamental cast iron, for purposes of rust prevention?

Last, but not least. "How were those cannonballs efficiently transferred from a shot locker, down in the hold, up to the proper decks, cannons and firing locations during the heat of battle?"

Were man powered elevators used to keep cannonballs constantly moving up to the appropriate gun decks to insure that a ready supply of shot was always available? Surely folks didn't manually 'hand tote' 12, 24 and 32 pound cannon-balls from shot lockers, in the hold, up to misc. gun decks and individual battle stations... "Or did they?"

 

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Not a job I would want!

 

I would assume they'd have something to help carry them - maybe something like a leather/rope sling. Carrying a round 32lb ball would have required 2 hands, which would have made ladders a fun exercise.

 

Richard.

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24 minutes ago, RichardG said:

Not a job I would want!

 

I would assume they'd have something to help carry them - maybe something like a leather/rope sling. Carrying a round 32lb ball would have required 2 hands, which would have made ladders a fun exercise.

 

Richard.

Larger round shot was carried with tongs. This was, of course, absolutely necessary with "hot shot." Shore batteries used a lot of heated shot against ships. The red-hot heated shot would set the ships afire. The Royal Navy forbid the use of heated shot aboard ships, due to the risks involved with it. The French and Americans, among others, used heated shot in certain circumstances. USS Constitution had a shot furnace for heating shot installed aboard at one time. 

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I'll take a shot (so to speak) at the unanswered questions.....

 

They were plain cast iron, untreated.  Periodically, it was required to pull the cannon balls out of the shot locker and chip off the rust.

There were cast using a "shot tower" where a quantity of liquid iron was hauled to the top, poured into a measuring device and the the iron poured out where it dropped inside the tower to land in water.   Here's a link to shot towers:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shot_tower

 

As getting the balls up to the guns... man/boy power. 

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6 minutes ago, JerseyCity Frankie said:

It makes me wonder if anyone recorded the number of shot fired during any of the naval engagements. I’m sure the number and size of shot was recorded when it was taken aboard but was there a running accounting of the inventory during a cruise or campaign?  It’d be interesting to know those numbers. In a given engagement, if you knew the number of shot fired you’d be able to work out the average for each gun. Somewhere on some deck at Trafalgar there was one gun that was fired more times than any other gun in the battle that day. I wonder which ship it was on and how many shots?

I would suspect that numbers of shot, pounds of powder, etc. was recorded and kept track up log somewhere on the ship.. purses maybe?   They'd need to know when going into port for provisions, etc. how many were needed to bring the loadout back up to whatever was needed for next cruise.   And I assume the the numbers of shot and power were also recorded during target practice and drills.

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3 hours ago, mtaylor said:

There were cast using a "shot tower" where a quantity of liquid iron was hauled to the top, poured into a measuring device and the the iron poured out where it dropped inside the tower to land in water.   Here's a link to shot towers:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shot_tower

 

I thought shot towers were just used for producing shotgun pellets. The height of the tower determines the diameter of the pellets, so if it required an 80 metre tower to produce 3.8mm pellets then I guess a tower producing 32lb cannon balls would need to be several miles high🥴.
 

I suspect they were cast in moulds, but it would be interesting to know more. 
 

Derek

Edited by DelF

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Good Morning All;

 

The number of cannon-balls of each size was laid down in the Navy Board's standing orders, with quantities reduced for each smaller size of ship. When a ship was commissioned, the guns, powder and shot were all supplied by the Ordnance Board, and the ship's gunner had to check the quantity and was then responsible for all the stores issued. At the end of the commission, he had to account for, or return, everything which had been issued previously. As these stores were worth a lot of money, a strict inquiry was made for each ship. I have read of cases of powder being concealed behind piles of timber or under other stores in order to steal it (merchant ships or privateers were ready buyers) One ship, whose name I cannot remember, is believed to have been blown up when a stolen cache of powder was accidentally ignited.

 

All the stores were listed and named on a printed sheet several pages long, with the quantities entered by hand. One document was created at issue, and then updated on return of the stores. See sample below, dating from 1682.

 

1611356455_Gunnersstores1682.PNG.c547f3187d54077fcc86b0b6b2be115e.PNG

Regarding the storage and movement of round-shot, the shot-lockers were located either side of the ship's well, directly under the successive layers of the main hatch and the after hatch on each deck. It would not have been difficult to rig a sling through either hatch and haul a net-full of shot up to whatever deck required it, which was the reverse of the method used when loading the round-shot from a delivery. Additionally, a quantity of shot was stored on each deck in racks, ready for use. The shot-lockers were divided internally to keep different sizes of shot separate. Each locker is approximately 9-10 feet tall, so they would have held a lot of shot.

 

See below an excerpt from a draught of a 74, showing the hatchways (the solid red, horizontal rectangles) and shot-lockers in line.

 

All the best,

 

Mark P

427240615_Shotlockershatches.PNG.778815ec22db8236282e52392dd5b6f0.PNG

 

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Some boys would be killed in action and some hatches destroyed but then again some guns would also got damaged and/or their crews killed so the rate of fire would slow down after a while to much the slowing of the provision of shot from the hold. Still 75 guns would fire shot quicker than it could be replenished but then again each gun had a supply of shot already near the gun.

At a theoretical rate of fire 2/min or 3 in 2 min, I would think that shot could run kind of short for individual guns after 20-30 min of heavy fighting. I wonder though if these ships could go on shooting each other at close range for much longer. 75 guns x 30 shot is a lot!

 

Much easier to make calculations when not on board during the actual fighting!

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Brian Lavery, in The Arming and Fitting of English Ships of War 1600-1815, states that iron cannon balls were cast in clay. He also reports that by the 1780s a 74-gun ship had 2,800 rounds of ball shot, plus 166 grape, 84 double headed, 115 langridge and 173 canister. 2,800 rounds of ball equates to around 38 per gun. Sounds a lot, but I would imagine it would soon get used up in an extended action or on a long and active cruise. Lavery also believes that the practice of chipping rust off shot stopped with the introduction of the carronade which required tightly fitting, accurate balls. Instead, balls were painted black to protect them from rust.

 

Thanks to tmj for raising an interesting topic.

 

Derek

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This picture from NMM shows workers at Woolwich Arsenal in the 18th century. Difficult to tell, but it looks like they're either cleaning/finishing very large shot, or possibly breaking shot out of their clay moulds.

IMG_1285.thumb.JPG.be666ab7a804b39884bf9bbad35bdb35.JPG

Derek

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In 1812, American cannon balls were locally cast in sand molds, and the results were unsatisfactory. Many of our shot were underweight, and I saw a letter printed in the papers complaining that the Constitution's 24-pound shot actually weighed closer to 22 pounds, while Purer Charles Ludlow reported that the French 18-pounder cannon and shot (Guerriere and Java were both French prizes) were original French issue. This calibrated to French pounds, is about 20 pounds English equivalent. Thus this diminishes the famous, old 24 vs. 18 pounder cannon fairness argument considerably!

 

The US navy vessels carried 100 round shot for every gun onboard. I don't recall if this was for every gun mounted or rated.

 

Many famous engagements did not fire as many shot as we suppose that they did. We are used to Patrick O'Brien's fictional accounts of the famed 'three broadsides in five minutes' ability of Captain Aubrey's commands, but this was rarely done in real life. The bloodiest battle of the War-of-1812 occurred between the Shannon and the Chesapeake, an engagement that lasted, at very most, 15 minutes. The Chesapeake fired only three broadsides, according to the court of enquiry testimony of the midshipman belonging to the second division, while the first division fired only twice before her guns were out of view of their target. Remembering that each side began at moment zero with loaded guns, this makes, on average, one broadside every seven and a half minutes. The report of the damage inflicted on the Chesapeake, drawn up by the British in Halifax, notes that hundreds of projectiles were embedded in, or passed through, the American's port side.  While this sounds amazing at first, this report actually counted every individual grape shot! Actually, the Shannon reportedly fired, alternating, one round and one grape - and then two round shot - from her 18-pounders at each discharge, and that her carronades fired one round and one grape/cannister at each discharge. The shots were inflicted at point black range, so few could have missed, and so counting specifically the round shot that stuck in, or passed through, the Chesapeake 's hull, (I don't have the numbers readily available)  - then again we have three broadsides only into the Chesapeake's side. (I know that there was a destructive stern rake at the end of the fight - I'm simplifying.) But that was enough to kill or wound 170 Americans, including most officers on deck and nearly every marine. Shannon was the best gunnery ship in the RN!

 

Worse still was the USS Constellation/La Vengeance fight of 1800. The French captain reported later that he fired about 780 (if I remember correctly) projectiles that night, of which 400, he specified, were round shot. This seems like a lot, until one does the math. Assume that the 380 grape and canister were all double-shotted with a single round shot - and that none of the round shot were double shotted. La Vengeance mounted 52 carriage guns that night, two of them being standing stern chase 18-pounders on the main deck. That's 25 guns per broadside. The battle lasted on and off for four hours, or 'all night' according to one account. That means the Frenchman fired, on average, 400/25 = 16 equivalent broadsides in 4 hours. That's one broadside every 15 minutes - and that excludes the opening phases when the Vengeance opened up on the Constellation with her stern chasers for about an hour. The battle was described as a furious night time engagement, that ended in a draw, when both ships were partially dismasted and drifted out of sight. Not exactly HMS Surprise rates of fire!

 

In addition to the shot on deck, in garlands along the hatches and/or bulwarks, wooden boxes of grape and canister were brought up before the battle, probably hoisted up through the hatches. After the Chesapeake fight, according to one local paper, a wooden box was fished out of Boston Harbor by a spectator, that was marked "Chesapeake, Cannister Shot, Fourth Division". In addition, the Constitution had shot wooden trays with nine 32-pounder round shot in arranged them 3 X 3. There are contemporary accounts of Sunday services, given on board ship, where the crew reportedly sits on capsten bars that were lain across "shot boxes". Click the image in the link below to scroll through the five pictures to see what the trays looked like and the painting of Captain Hull which contains them:

 

https://www.model-monkey.com/product-page/1-96-shot-trays-and-shot-for-32-pounder-carronades

 

 

 

 

Edited by uss frolick

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16 hours ago, Bob Cleek said:

Larger round shot was carried with tongs. This was, of course, absolutely necessary with "hot shot." Shore batteries used a lot of heated shot against ships. The red-hot heated shot would set the ships afire. The Royal Navy forbid the use of heated shot aboard ships, due to the risks involved with it. The French and Americans, among others, used heated shot in certain circumstances. USS Constitution had a shot furnace for heating shot installed aboard at one time. 

 Wow, never knew about “hot shot”, that’s very interesting.

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10 hours ago, vaddoc said:

Actually I read that Victory at most could do 2 shots/3 min

That's what I've read, also... one shot every 90 seconds. 

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3 hours ago, Auger said:

Wow, never knew about “hot shot”, that’s very interesting.

Yeah, most folks probably associate a 'Hot-Shot' with someone of character who's famous last words begin with the statement; "Hold My Beer and Watch 'THIS'!" 😲

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21 hours ago, DelF said:

I thought shot towers were just used for producing shotgun pellets. The height of the tower determines the diameter of the pellets, so if it required an 80 metre tower to produce 3.8mm pellets then I guess a tower producing 32lb cannon balls would need to be several miles high🥴.
 

I suspect they were cast in moulds, but it would be interesting to know more. 
 

Derek

 

From what's been said, you're correct. I stand corrected.  So much for listening to "old wifes" tales.  

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Growing up I always thought the Old Baltimore shot tower was pretty interesting.  Haven’t been in awhile but it was a cool trip as a kid

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Additionally, it would not be possible to haul a container of molten iron to the top of a tower without it cooling so much that it would have been at least partly solid.

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As stated above, cast-iron cannon balls were sand-cast, which results in approximate diameters only. Hence, cannon-balls had to be calibrated using specific sets of calipers (for larger balls) or wooden screens. Undersized or oversized ones were returned to the furnace. Sand-cast balls also had to be cleaned carefully from any adhering sand (a process which appears to be depicted in the 18th engraving shown above) to avoid eroding the gun-bores. They would wear oval quite quickly by any adhering sand. The cannon-balls would be calibrated again upon arrival on board by e.g. the master-gunner in order to make sure that they fit the guns of the ship.

 

I believe some sort of forged-iron cradles were used to move cannon-balls around. These consisted of a ring with two handles. For larger balls the handles may have been extended into handle-bars so that four people could carry them. Not sure how these were handled on the ladders in the hatches.

 

Musket-balls and the likes were cast from lead in steel-molds two or three at a time. These were kind of prongs with two half-spheres drilled out/engraved on each side and a funnel. The flash and the spigot from the funnel would have to be trimmed off by hand with a file. As the shrinkage during the casting process depends on accessories in the lead, also the musket-balls need to be calibrated. Musket- etc. balls would also be produced in the arsenals, but ships would have carried lead ingots, casting prongs, calipers etc. Privat guns would often be supplied with a complete set of tools to make your musket- or pistol-balls.

 

Shot-gun pellets were cast by pouring lead through sieves in the said towers. Sometimes disused church-towers were acquired by contractors for that purpose, as the still existing Tour St. Jaques in the middle of Paris.

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On 1/12/2020 at 1:56 PM, DelF said:

Brian Lavery, in The Arming and Fitting of English Ships of War 1600-1815, states that iron cannon balls were cast in clay. He also reports that by the 1780s a 74-gun ship had 2,800 rounds of ball shot, plus 166 grape, 84 double headed, 115 langridge and 173 canister. 2,800 rounds of ball equates to around 38 per gun. Sounds a lot, but I would imagine it would soon get used up in an extended action or on a long and active cruise. Lavery also believes that the practice of chipping rust off shot stopped with the introduction of the carronade which required tightly fitting, accurate balls. Instead, balls were painted black to protect them from rust.

 

Thanks to tmj for raising an interesting topic.

 

Derek

At the battle of Hogland (1788) the Swedish fleet disengaged with all or most ammo spent, so they certainly ran that risk.

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I read somewhere, but can't recall where, that there were more than a few broken ankles caused by cannon balls coming adrift and rolling across the decks. Getting whacked in the ankle with a rolling cannon ball would have to smart a bit, I'd expect! :D

 

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