Ammunition And Tools

Although the cast iron round shot was the commonest form of projectile in use during the 17th century, stone projectiles were in use as were those made from lead. There are even many examples of shot formed of a central iron cube but cast in lead. All of those projectiles were used at long range for siege work. The main problem during this period was that shot sizes tended to be non-standard so that ammunition made for one gun would not fit another. Several contemporary writers have written about the need f or the gentleman gunner to check the size of shot prior to an engagement and then to place the shot in the correct pile so that they were easily discernible. It was also the custom to use smaller diameter shot and wrap them in a coating of lead or anything to hand should ammunition stocks become low. Shot was often cast in a small mould that was held by two long tongs and filled individually with molten iron.

At closer ranges than 300 paces grape shot was used. This normally consisted of seven or eight small lead or iron pellets grouped around a wooden or iron core and then sewn into a canvas bag. When fired, the bag disintegrated and the shot were dispersed forming a sort of large shotgun-style cone of fire. This form of projectile was very effective at close range.

There were also hollow iron shot called grenades (or grenadoes), known more commonly in the later 18th century as shell. They were filled with gunpowder and used a wooden fuse or match to explode them after

An extremely interesting image from the latter part of the 17th century showing in the foreground the process for making the model of a gun. On the left is the core and in the centre of the three the model is made. On the right-hand side we see a mould and then the mould reinforced by iron bars. From Manneson Mallet's Les Travaux de Mars.

a time delay. During this period grenadoes were fired from mortars and it was a dangerous business since the gunners had to ignite the shell just before firing the propellant charge. It was known during this period that the flash of the mortar propellant would ignite the fuse but it rarely seems to have been relied on for this purpose. In addition to iron shells, naked earth and glass grenades are described by Robert Norton as being fired from mortars. They were fired with a greatly reduced charge, typically one-tenth of the normal powder charge.

Gunpowder was clearly of primary importance in a war where control of the magazines dictated the ability to prosecute a war. London was the centre of gunpowder distribution and production was controlled by a small group of manufacturers although laws introduced by the Grown to rectify this situation had little effect during the wars. Charles I used the services of William Baber in Oxford to convert a mill at Osney for gunpowder manufacture. In fact, the trend amongst the Royalists was to try to establish a mill where there was any large garrison. York and Newark are two good examples.

Mallet Breech Loading

Guns being loaded and fired. Note the profusion of tools on the ground in the central scene. The nearest gun is having the breech cooled by applying a wet leather or sheepskin after firing many rounds.

Cartridge-making for guns. The cartridge was often made up of paper but was manufactured to a precise formula based on the calibre of the gun, here represented by circles drawn onto the paper. The upper image is a cartridge case for the cartridge designed in the same way.

On the Parliamentarian side the story was similar and mills were established at Colchester, Derby, Hereford, Ludlow, Nottingham, Shrewsbury and Worcester. What is clear is that gunpowder was manufactured where and when possible by all manner of means and this leads to the question of its quality. Quite clearly, hand-milled powder was often resorted to in times of emergency and soldiers scoured the land looking for saltpetre. The other two ingredients, charcoal and sulphur, were another matter. Charcoal was easy to get and manufacture but sulphur had to be imported and was expensive.

The amount of gunpowder used depended on the gun and the theorists are not clear on this. Nathaniel Nye states that a brass saker of 1,500 pounds weight would need 41b of powder for the propellant charge. A demi-culverin weighing 2,8001b needed a 7/alb charge. There is also a question of whether corned powder or serpentine was used. Corned powder was a more powerful propellant that was mixed together wet then dried and sieved. Serpentine was a much older type, which meant that the ingredients were dry mixed. As we have seen, this might have affected the power of the powder but there was plenty of dry mixed powder around in the Civil War.

Incendiary devices were common during this period and could consist of iron, earthenware or even glass pots filled with a burning composition but normally fired from a mortar. The 1639 inventory of the Tower of London calls them 'Powder Potes of Karth'. The description is as follows: 'Earthen bottels to be made of a round fashion ... half full of serpentine powder, or somewhat more, there is to be mixt with it a quantity of Hogges grease, Oyle of stone, Brimstone, saltpeter twice refined, Aqua vitae, pitch . . .'

As an example of how quantities of ammunition were considered for an artillery train we might consider that calculated for a train of 20 guns by James I, who was considering supporting his daughter Elizabeth of Bohemia in a campaign in 1620. It was calculated that

Cartridge-making for guns. The cartridge was often made up of paper but was manufactured to a precise formula based on the calibre of the gun, here represented by circles drawn onto the paper. The upper image is a cartridge case for the cartridge designed in the same way.

The pouder for the use and service of the sayd twenty pieces of great ordnaunce (alowing nine hundered and sixty shot to every of the sayd peeces of batterye for ten dayes battery in six moneths, and three times as many to the six field peeces, will amount to one hundred thirtie eight lasts [the 'last' was a barrel containing the shot] (from a pamphlet entitled Equipping a CI 7th Army, by Evans).

There was a variety of tools to enable the gunner to perform his duties. They were known as side arms and were mostly long-handled tools that could reach down the bore of a gun. Along with the ladle and sponge, the most commonly used were as follows:

Budge barrel — a wooden gun powder barrel with a leather insert that was used to catch any loose powder.

Hand spikes - long staves of wood used to elevate ihe gun barrel and move the trail when aiming.

Ladle - a long stave with a copper scoop on the end used to handle loose gunpowder.

Linstock - a long stave with an iron head having two extended arms. These arms terminated in screwed clamps which held the burning match used to set off the powder train in the vent when firing.

Powder horn - to provide fine powder in the vent. Pricker - a non-ferrous metal spike used to clear the vent or touch hole of the piece and to pierce the cartridge bag if it were used. Quadrant - the indicator that showed the gunner how much his gun was elevated. The quadrant could also be combined with other instruments.

Rammer — a wooden stave with a cylindrical wooden head for ramming shot and charges down the bore of the gun.

Shot gauges - for measuring the size of shot.

Sponge - a stave with a sheepskin wrapped around a wooden head used for sponging the barrel with water, thus putting out any hot embers, and for cleaning the barrel.

Wads - rings or cylinders of oakum or straw placed between the gunpowder charge and the shot and to hold the shot in place if the barrel were depressed. Normally two wads were loaded per round.

The mounting put forward by William Eldred for mounting a parapet gun. This image shows the component parts of the mounting.

Many gunners had their own specialist equipment and a gunner's stiletto was a common form of measuring device. It consisted of a dagger marked off with a scale for converting the diameter of the bore of the gun into the weight of shot required. Some combination instruments included a sight, a rule and a quadrant.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment