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Thread: Could Cannon Balls From The Early 19th Century Sink Warships?

  1. #16
    Senior Member DPM_Sheep's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by [WDW]Megaraptor View Post
    From what I have read and heard in college lectures, often cannon balls would not punch straight through the hull. Instead, the impact would cause massive splintering on the other side of the wood. And yes, these would be huge sharp splinters the size of a forearm that would cut through any soft thing in their way. The Royal Navy painted its decks red so people wouldn't notice the blood as much, and put down sand before battles so people wouldn't slip in it.

    My bold. That's an urban legend. While it's true about the sand, Bulwarks were painted bright colours to create contrast with the horizon. They were just as commonly painted, yellow ochre, pale green and powder blue as they were dark red.

    Also, there's not much point painting the bulwarks to hide blood if your crew usually spends its mornings holystoning the decks to a nice snowy white.

  2. #17
    Senior Member [WDW]Megaraptor's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by brainplay View Post
    Mythbusters did a "pirate" special where they tried to simulate this. They used a real cannon (6 pound) on a replica wood hull at a 30ft range. They couldn't get any significant splinters to impact in a pig carcass.

    On one hand it was a great attempt at a simulation. On the other hand it was using the smallest cannon you would see on a ship minus a swivel gun, the wood was not "seasoned" in salt water (not sure if there would be any difference though), and their was no attempt to try different fps tests as claims of carronade vs cannon had existed for hundreds of years.
    What sort of warship would use a 6 pound cannon? Ships of the line in the Napoleonic period mounted 32 pounder and 24 pounder guns as primary armament. There's a big difference between the two.

  3. #18
    Senior Member Smok's Avatar
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    6 pounders were used on small ships. Remember that fleet consisted not only ships of the line and frigates. There were also hundreds of sloops, cutters etc.
    For example sloop of war HMS Speedy (1782) had 4 pounders and brig HMS Chatcham had 3 pounders (1788).

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    Quote Originally Posted by nemowork View Post
    True, although they have apparently found French cannonballs in the wreck so who knows?
    Who knows? We do. There was ONE French cannonball found within the wreck - clearly not enough to sink it.

    Thank you, exactly what i meant.

    Wooden ships fairly obviously sink left to their own devices, otherwise the ships carpenters
    Fair enough, I realised that you were replying to the wood comment - I just didn't want people thinking that the French sank her!

    I actually completely agree - the way the research has been presented (by the media I think) is almost ridiculous - the question isn't 'could cannon balls sink ships', it's 'how many did it take'.

    Considering the experiments that have been done already (e.g. the Royal Armouries experiment with a replica gun from the Mary Rose herself), I'm amazed that anyone is surprised that a cannon ball of 300 years later could penetrate that thickness of wood. I'd have been far more surprised if it hadn't.

  5. #20
    Senior Member nemowork's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Smok View Post
    6 pounders were used on small ships. Remember that fleet consisted not only ships of the line and frigates. There were also hundreds of sloops, cutters etc.
    For example sloop of war HMS Speedy (1782) had 4 pounders and brig HMS Chatcham had 3 pounders (1788).
    Plus it was a 'Pirate special' to quote and they were mainly in small boats with light weapons.

    I think in the test they used fresh pine planking as well rather than aged and seasoned hardwood which will effect the splintering. Oak was a popular building material for hard wear and longevity but its splintering effects were highly lethal.

    Pine doesnt splinter but its too light and wears out fast. The only war ship i can think of that used pine (or at least fir) is HMS Pallas which was famously light, manouverable and combat effective and is mostly remembered for this

    The Admiralty imported oak from Germany and it was known as “Stettin
    Oak”, but ships built of it lasted only a quarter as long as true British oak.
    Teak was a suitable alternative until it was found that splinter wounds from
    teak always festered with dire results. In 1806, the Frigate H.M.S Pallas, built
    of fir instead of oak, taking full advantage of the extra speed and
    manoeuvrability that came with the lighter wood, fought a superior force to a
    standstill. When she tried to board the French three-decker Minerve, a surge
    threw them together. The difference was seen between the light fir timbers of
    the Pallas and stout Adriatic oak of the Minerve, which took no injury from
    the collision. The Pallas lost her foretopmast, fore and topsail yards, all her
    forward rigging, and all the forward ship-furniture, including her cathead and
    bower anchor. The Pallas retired in ignominy wondering just how much her
    construction had lost in prize money.

  6. #21

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    Just for clarity, the article is presented by a science website (media) but the findings were printed in archaelogical journals and were an academic attempt to answer some unknowns, experimental archaeology i believe it is called. Evoking the "media skewing things" argument is not really valid in this case as i think the experiment was done in a scientific manner and no specific agenda was forwarded.

    the question " could cannonballs sink ships?" was forwarded as there was some doubt that the thickness of the timber could be breached by a cannonball, a simple question that when answered adds to the knowledge pool of the field, a hypotesis was put forward and tested, pure and simple.
    Keep in mind they were working with replicas and scale miniatures.

    i find it interesting that people feel the need to argue about the validity of the article even though they agree with the findings, i think it says more about the arguers than the article.

  7. #22

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    Quote Originally Posted by nemowork View Post
    Plus it was a 'Pirate special' to quote and they were mainly in small boats with light weapons.

    I think in the test they used fresh pine planking as well rather than aged and seasoned hardwood which will effect the splintering. Oak was a popular building material for hard wear and longevity but its splintering effects were highly lethal.

    Pine doesnt splinter but its too light and wears out fast. The only war ship i can think of that used pine (or at least fir) is HMS Pallas which was famously light, manouverable and combat effective and is mostly remembered for this
    Agree with nemo. The MB test used pine instead of seasoned hardwood. Their test unfortunately mislead people. The splinter wounds were documented quite intensively in RN records. It's hardly a "myth".

  8. #23

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    Quote Originally Posted by SineJustitia View Post
    Battle at Sea: From Man-of-war to Submarine, by John Keegan, gives readible, great insight in battle during the age of sail.

    Especially the chapter on the Battle of Trafalgar is relevant to Spiraleddie's post. With amazing (though a bit nerdy) details like "a single man-of-war had just as much firepower in guns as Napoleon's entire army at Waterloo" and "Trafalgar was the first battle in which the opposite fleet was actually destroyed, in stead of merely deterred". Not actual quotes, but you get the point.
    Beg to differ.

    Please check Battle of the Nile.

  9. #24
    Senior Member Johnny_H02's Avatar
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    Just in case anyone's interested, when I was down for Tallships there is a fella who I know who re-enacts a ships surgeon of the 18th & 19th centuries. He has a full surgical kit and had a mini-surgery set up in addition a replicated ship splinter. I'll upload these to this thread if anyone wants to see them.

  10. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by Johnny_H View Post
    Just in case anyone's interested, when I was down for Tallships there is a fella who I know who re-enacts a ships surgeon of the 18th & 19th centuries. He has a full surgical kit and had a mini-surgery set up in addition a replicated ship splinter. I'll upload these to this thread if anyone wants to see them.
    Does he also reenact being a parttime spy, going on botanical expeditions and being high on Laudanum??

  11. #26
    Senior Member Johnny_H02's Avatar
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    Not that I'm aware of, but he does give one hell of a lecture about the "Perils of the Scurvey" lol.

  12. #27
    Senior Member SineJustitia's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Clown123 View Post
    Beg to differ.

    Please check Battle of the Nile.

    Do feel free to.

    I forwarded your post to mr. Keegan.

  13. #28
    Member Blue387's Avatar
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    This discussion reminds me of a clip I found on YouTube:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XfsuIaTU92Y

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