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Breech-loading Naval cannon & "the late unpleasantness"

Discussion in 'Civil War History - The Naval War' started by georgew, Oct 20, 2013.

  1. georgew

    georgew Private

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    One question that occurs to anyone interested in the naval war is why the otherwise forward-looking Confederate Navy did not try to use breech loading cannon? There seem to be two answers: 1) the British were not interested in having advanced ordnance sold to foreign powers, and 2) by the middle of the war, a very public demonstration of the limits of current technology with breech loaders appeared when the Royal Navy opened fire in mid-1863 on the Japanese fortifications at Kagoshima. This was the first battle test of the infamous Armstrong guns. Intended to become the main armament of the heavier British warships, there were 28 accidents including bursting from only 21 guns firing a total of 365 rounds. The British "went back to muzzle-loaders for fifteen years". In one case at Kagoshima, "the Euryalus's forward 7-inch gun blew out its breech-block and concussed the whole (gun)crew..." ref: Preston & Major, Send a Gunboat, Revised Edition, Conway via Anova Books Ltd, London, 2007, pp 54-55.

    Although small rifled breech loaders were tried on a limited scale by the Confederate Army, (Hughes and Whitworth), there appears to be no record of an attempt to mount either type on a vessel. The Whitworth breech-loaders look as though they might have been adaptable for Naval use. They also had the advantage of being used as a muzzle-loader if the breech mechanism was damaged. The unique Hughes mini-cannon were produced in a very limited quantity (50 or less) and fired a very small round. They did have a rapid reload rate and good accuracy, suggesting that they might have made an excellent anti-personnel secondary armament aboard river gunboats or rams for suppressing Union snipers.

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  3. rebelatsea

    rebelatsea Sergeant

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    Breechloaders were not a great success anywhere until Krupp produced the sliding wedge breech, and Schneider a form of the modern interrupted screw. The major problem with the big Armstrongs was that you could not tighten the breech screw securely enough after a few rounds, hence the accidents you describe. I have seen a photograph which was taken at the moment a breechblock was propelled through the canvas awning above the gun.
    There was actually no pressing need for the RN to abandon the muzzle loader, as the French rifled guns at the time, like their armour, were measurably inferior.

    I demonstrated the 7" Armstrong on Warrior's f'csle ( at the request of her captain) to a group of naval cadets, using them as the gun crew. An interesting exercize, but as it is glass fibre, I had to curb their enthusiasm. I've been promised a video but nothing has so far arrived.
    andy19k10 and georgew like this.
  4. rebelatsea

    rebelatsea Sergeant

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    Forgot to mention the Whitworth BLR, They pointed the way forward, but the hexagonal rifling was difficult to produce, as were the "twisted" projectiles . Having said that, they were very powerful and accurate guns for the time, and several minor navies made good use of them.
    georgew likes this.

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