End of the wooden ships

MikeyB

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#1
As ironclads made wooden ships obsolete, how long was it until naval weaponry caught up and you actually had guns able to blow holes in iron ships? Or was this a pretty quick adjustment?

Also, was Ericsson's claim about using more powder ever disproved or proved?
 

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Saphroneth

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#2
Okay, so.

Firstly, it was quick. The first naval vessel proof against all armament then in service was the Warrior, which was just about immune to the high velocity 68 pounder; by summer 1862 Armstrong had a gun that was reliably putting shells through the Warrior target. What followed was a gun-armour race that basically lasted the rest of the century.


Secondly, which claim about more powder do you mean? The best armour penetration is to have as high a velocity and as high a sectional density as possible (the "foot tons" of energy per inch of circumference of the round) but the question there is partly about metallurgy - can the gun handle it?


And thirdly, wooden ships were not obsolete for some decades. They were no longer the ships that could stand up in the main line of battle but they remained the only practical option for cruising on distant stations for some time; wooden construction was replaced by composites for a while before all-metal hulls became standard.
 

MikeyB

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#3
Okay, so.

Firstly, it was quick. The first naval vessel proof against all armament then in service was the Warrior, which was just about immune to the high velocity 68 pounder; by summer 1862 Armstrong had a gun that was reliably putting shells through the Warrior target. What followed was a gun-armour race that basically lasted the rest of the century.


Secondly, which claim about more powder do you mean? The best armour penetration is to have as high a velocity and as high a sectional density as possible (the "foot tons" of energy per inch of circumference of the round) but the question there is partly about metallurgy - can the gun handle it?


And thirdly, wooden ships were not obsolete for some decades. They were no longer the ships that could stand up in the main line of battle but they remained the only practical option for cruising on distant stations for some time; wooden construction was replaced by composites for a while before all-metal hulls became standard.
Thanks for your post. W/ respect to Ericsson, I thought he claimed that if the Monitor cannons had used 30 pound charges instead of 15 pounds, the guns would have penetrated the Virginia's hull.
 

MikeyB

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#4
Okay, so.

Firstly, it was quick. The first naval vessel proof against all armament then in service was the Warrior, which was just about immune to the high velocity 68 pounder; by summer 1862 Armstrong had a gun that was reliably putting shells through the Warrior target. What followed was a gun-armour race that basically lasted the rest of the century.


Secondly, which claim about more powder do you mean? The best armour penetration is to have as high a velocity and as high a sectional density as possible (the "foot tons" of energy per inch of circumference of the round) but the question there is partly about metallurgy - can the gun handle it?


And thirdly, wooden ships were not obsolete for some decades. They were no longer the ships that could stand up in the main line of battle but they remained the only practical option for cruising on distant stations for some time; wooden construction was replaced by composites for a while before all-metal hulls became standard.
And when would you say wooden ships were obsolete? By the time of the Maine? The Great White Fleet?
 

ErnieMac

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#5
The USS Constitution remains a commissioned warship to this day, still manned by active duty sailors and officers and performing specific duties. IMO in more practical terms wooden ships became obsolete the day CSS Virginia sailed against USS Congress and USS Cumberland. It just took a while to change.
 

Saphroneth

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#6
Thanks for your post. W/ respect to Ericsson, I thought he claimed that if the Monitor cannons had used 30 pound charges instead of 15 pounds, the guns would have penetrated the Virginia's hull.
Ah, that one.


Here's the tricky thing about that - firstly, the 11" guns on the Monitor were being given the full authorized charge on that date. 15 lbs was the maximum permitted charge at that time, and later in the war the USN authorized 20 lbs (which required new 20 lb powder bags to be made). Postwar they allowed 30 lbs but "at gunner's own risk".
30 lbs is dangerous overload for a 11" Dahlgren - the "proof" charge, which is a single firing during the acceptance of the gun to test it can deal with maximum strain, is only 25 lbs. The postwar option was actually pushing the gun past what it's proofed to take.

Assuming that it's done, then with wrought iron shot it might be able to penetrate. This conditional is very important because cast iron shot is much inferior to wrought iron shot at penetrating an ironclad (cast iron shot shatters on impact).
The heaviest known firing of a Dahlgren 11" in action was two wrought iron shot fired at the Tennessee with 25 lbs of powder, and it didn't penetrate.

The Monitor had some wrought iron shot on board, but they hadn't been gauged - if they were slightly oversize they'd have burst the cannon straight off (even with regular charges) and killed most of the turret crew. If fired with double charges a hit would probably lead to their penetrating, if the hit is reasonably head-on, but it's a big risk to the Monitor because you're firing untested balls with an untested powder load.
If you do penetrate, meanwhile, what you've done is put a single ball through the armour scheme. The Virginia has backed armour so you've not caused spalling, and at best you've taken out a gun.



And when would you say wooden ships were obsolete? By the time of the Maine? The Great White Fleet?
The process of becoming obsolete is a gradual one. In 1866 at the Battle of Lissa the wooden battleship Kaiser actually fights in the battle line and engages several Italian ironclads at different times; she survives the battle and is ready for action the next day. It's not worth building wooden ships of the line any more but they're still worth using in battle.

The RN stops launching wooden frigates by the middle of the 1860s, but frigate duties are carried out by wooden frigates for the next decade or two (wooden frigates are used in front-line service until the 1870s) and sloops and corvettes and gunboats linger on for a while after that in out of the way places. If you want a ship to cruise the sea for a year or two without coming into a proper dock, the best thing for it to be is a copper-bottomed wooden-hulled cruiser.
 

Saphroneth

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#7
IMO in more practical terms wooden ships became obsolete the day CSS Virginia sailed against USS Congress and USS Cumberland. It just took a while to change.
Why then, and not the previous year when HMS Warrior was commissioned with Martin's Shot furnaces aboard letting her ignite any unarmoured enemy wooden ship at will? Why not after 1866 when the Kaiser proves herself the equal of the Italian ironclads?
 

Saphroneth

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#8
The Monitor had some wrought iron shot on board, but they hadn't been gauged - if they were slightly oversize they'd have burst the cannon straight off (even with regular charges) and killed most of the turret crew. If fired with double charges a hit would probably lead to their penetrating, if the hit is reasonably head-on, but it's a big risk to the Monitor because you're firing untested balls with an untested powder load.
If you do penetrate, meanwhile, what you've done is put a single ball through the armour scheme. The Virginia has backed armour so you've not caused spalling, and at best you've taken out a gun.
I thought I'd just make a point about this, by the way - the Monitor's actions were exactly correct. Her first priority was to keep the Virginia from destroying the rest of the nearby wooden fleet (because the wooden fleet is what keeps the James river blockaded), while actually destroying her is a lower priority. Using wrought iron shot in such a risky way carries too high a chance of destroying the Monitor (thus failing the mission) for too low a chance of doing her serious damage.

If the Virginia was able to badly damage the Monitor anyway then perhaps using the wrought shot would have been acceptable, but if the Virginia had had that capability at the time she'd have done it in the historical battle.

Interestingly I've seen a suggestion that Virginia actually had no (armour penetrating rifle munition) bolts on board for her Brooke rifles during the battle, because she wasn't expecting to fight an ironclad (and was thus mostly firing shell). This implies that if the two ironclads had fought again the Monitor would have been more at risk, but the Monitor was always able to choose whether or not to engage because her draft was lower.
 

ErnieMac

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#9
Why then, and not the previous year when HMS Warrior was commissioned with Martin's Shot furnaces aboard letting her ignite any unarmoured enemy wooden ship at will?
I consider Warrior, Black Prince and Gloire as experiments as they never fired a shot in anger. IMO CSS Virginia proved the technology.

Why then, and not the previous year when HMS Warrior was commissioned with Martin's Shot furnaces aboard letting her ignite any unarmoured enemy wooden ship at will? Why not after 1866 when the Kaiser proves herself the equal of the Italian ironclads?
IMO by the time of Lissa (1866) the handwriting was on the wall. The British and French had stopped producing wooden warships. Both the Austrians and the Italians used ironclads as well as wooden ships. The experience of SMS Kaiser probably reflects the quality of the opposition rather than the technology.
 

Saphroneth

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#10
I consider Warrior, Black Prince and Gloire as experiments as they never fired a shot in anger. IMO CSS Virginia proved the technology.
Eh?
What about the Lave class, then, which bombarded Kinburn in 1856? They took heavy fire and suffered meager casualties, thus demonstrating the merits of armour in a real battle; the only reason they don't engage Russian shipping is that the Russians basically never risk a battle in the first place.

It's also an odd categorization to consider a vessel that never fired a shot in anger as an experiment - that means that HMS Dreadnought suffers the unlucky categorization of "experiment" as opposed to "proven" or "revolutionary" because she never actually got in a gun battle.



IMO by the time of Lissa (1866) the handwriting was on the wall. The British and French had stopped producing wooden warships. Both the Austrians and the Italians used ironclads as well as wooden ships. The experience of SMS Kaiser probably reflects the quality of the opposition rather than the technology.
Perhaps, but to consider Virginia the point where "competitive" becomes "obsolete" is both to miss that there's a continuum involved (the Kaiser could certainly have beaten the Virginia, and indeed I'd argue that a typical British battleship of the time could handle Virginia quite handily) and to not notice that far more powerful ironclads were in squadron service in multiple countries before the Virginia.

Ultimately a major part of the success of the Virginia in battle is simply that she has engines. Both the wooden ships sunk by her are sailing vessels, and she sinks one with a ram before destroying the grounded Congress with hot shot; her actual gunpower is not very large and she's outgunned by some RN sloops (and most corvettes) so can't do enough damage to a proper ship of the line except by means of hot shot.
 
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Saphroneth

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#11
IMO by the time of Lissa (1866) the handwriting was on the wall. The British and French had stopped producing wooden warships.
This is an interesting point, because they actually hadn't. The Amazon, Eclipse, Fantone, Doterel, Osprey, Satellite and Nymphe classes of sloops are all partially wooden and all built during or after Lissa; they're composite construction, which means they have iron for strength, but they still have wooden hulls or sheaths because of the coppering issue. (The switch from wooden-hull to metal-hull is gradual and staged.)
The last proper wooden-hulled class built at a royal dockyard is the Amethyst class of corvette and is built 1871-5.

On the other hand, there was a point when all unarmoured wooden battleship construction was abruptly halted, and it's driven by the clear success of the Warrior - the exact date is March 1861, when all wooden battleships under construction are halted to be converted into ironclads. The Albion is mid-conversion to screw but is abruptly cancelled, and never undocks with screw; the Bombay is undocked on 25 June, but only because the process was so close to complete that it was more economical to do so, and the Defiance is similarly launched basically to clear the slipways as she's too far along to convert.

The French do exactly the same thing. The Intrepide is the only wooden screw battleship they launch after March 1861 and her first role is as a troopship, rather than fitted out for battle.
 

rebelatsea

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#12
I thought I'd just make a point about this, by the way - the Monitor's actions were exactly correct. Her first priority was to keep the Virginia from destroying the rest of the nearby wooden fleet (because the wooden fleet is what keeps the James river blockaded), while actually destroying her is a lower priority. Using wrought iron shot in such a risky way carries too high a chance of destroying the Monitor (thus failing the mission) for too low a chance of doing her serious damage.

If the Virginia was able to badly damage the Monitor anyway then perhaps using the wrought shot would have been acceptable, but if the Virginia had had that capability at the time she'd have done it in the historical battle.

Interestingly I've seen a suggestion that Virginia actually had no (armour penetrating rifle munition) bolts on board for her Brooke rifles during the battle, because she wasn't expecting to fight an ironclad (and was thus mostly firing shell). This implies that if the two ironclads had fought again the Monitor would have been more at risk, but the Monitor was always able to choose whether or not to engage because her draft was lower.
That is quite correct, what is often forgotten is that the first ironclads were not constructed to fight each other but to engage and destroy wooden shups of war whilst being proof against their ordnance. Brooke had steel point shot made for Virginia's 7"MLR subsequent to the fight with Monitor which would probably have been capable of penetrating her turret. This is the only reference I can find to steel point shot being made in the south. I think the reason is that steel at this time was difficult to make in quantity and quality.
 

rebelatsea

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#13
I consider Warrior, Black Prince and Gloire as experiments as they never fired a shot in anger. IMO CSS Virginia proved the technology.


IMO by the time of Lissa (1866) the handwriting was on the wall. The British and French had stopped producing wooden warships. Both the Austrians and the Italians used ironclads as well as wooden ships. The experience of SMS Kaiser probably reflects the quality of the opposition rather than the technology.
May I suggest to ErnieMac that Baxter in "The introduction of the ironclad" would be a good source of information.
 

67th Tigers

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#14
Thanks for your post. W/ respect to Ericsson, I thought he claimed that if the Monitor cannons had used 30 pound charges instead of 15 pounds, the guns would have penetrated the Virginia's hull.
He did, and he spent six months trying to prove it Q4 1862-Q3 1863. He said it worked but wouldn't release the results. Norman Wiard saw the experiments and said the 11" Dahlgrens couldn't handle the charge, and hence burst.

The USN proofed the 11" Dahlgren with 25 lb charges, and after tests authorised a 20 lb charge for long range and for battering, but never authorised a larger charge.

Given what we know about the gun, it seems likely a 30 lb charge would have burst a 11".
 

Saphroneth

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#15
That is quite correct, what is often forgotten is that the first ironclads were not constructed to fight each other but to engage and destroy wooden shups of war whilst being proof against their ordnance.
And to attack fortified places, as well, which was their first battle use. I believe the tiny Po river ironclads the French built in 1859 were intended to maintain control of that river, too, which might mean they were armoured against field guns or against enemy gunboats.
 
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#16
Chilean shot penetrated the armor of the Peruvian Huascar in the War of the Pacific (1879-1883).
Any ship that is armored so heavily as to resist all shot would be too heavy and expensive to be a practical fighting ship.
 

Saphroneth

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#17
Chilean shot penetrated the armor of the Peruvian Huascar in the War of the Pacific (1879-1883).
Yes, that's Palliser shot fired from a 9" 12 ton RML gun (which is originally of 1865 design), which penetrated at about 2,200 metres from the first shot.

Any ship that is armored so heavily as to resist all shot would be too heavy and expensive to be a practical fighting ship.
Tricky. Ships have been built in the past to be immune to the weapons of the time, with the understanding that advances in weaponry will render them vulnerable again. But that's usually when the armour side of the gun-armour race is winning.
 

Saphroneth

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#19
Something I think is interesting.

Given that the failure of the armour of the period is a result of a certain energy density per unit circumference (and therefore a certain energy density per unit diameter), theoretically speaking with no inefficiencies the best armour piercing gun is the one which burns the most powder (thus imparting energy) per unit bore diameter.

In practice there are inefficiencies, some of which get lesser as the gun gets bigger and some of which get greater, and some of which are better served by a particular gun design.

A rifle bolt is superior to a round ball, for example, partly because a rifle bolt is better able to sustain speed through the air and so reach the theoretical performance better and partly because (I think) the rotation of the rifle bolt is such that it's not being "turned" away from the contact point with the surface.
The point about sustaining speed through the air has two elements. Firstly a rifle bolt going at a given speed is a longer form and thus more aerodynamically efficient; secondly a rifle bolt is longer and therefore is going to be moving slower for a given kinetic energy anyway.

A smaller gun may expend more energy in heating up the walls of the chamber as the powder's average distance to the chamber wall is lower, and ditto may expend more energy on bounces or rifling scrapes. A larger gun may expend more energy in pushing aside the amount of air in front of the ball, and also belches forth unburned powder.

However, we should test this by comparing the 16 pound powder charge of the 68 lber 95 cwt with the 20 pound charge of the XI inch Dahlgren.

Since the 68 pounder 95 cwt is an 8" gun while the XI inch Dahlgren is an 11" gun, we should expect that the 68 pounder is the better piece for penetrating armour as a slightly greater amount of energy is concentrated into the unit smaller circumference of action; the actual muzzle velocities in use would seem to confirm this, as the initial velocity of the 68 lber with a 16 lbs powder charge is 2040 fps (implying a theoretical single wrought iron penetration of 4.57 inches by the Fairbairn formula) and the initial velocity of the 11" with a 20 lbs powder charge is "346 yards" (thus 1038 fps, which implies a theoretical single wrought iron penetration of 3.10 inches by the same formula).

The degree to which the 68 pounder is the better gun is surprising. The kinetic energy of the 11" round is 1247.5 foot tons, while the kinetic energy of the 68 pounder round is 1974 foot tons; this implies that a significant amount of the energy in the 20 lbs powder charge is being wasted in ways the 68 pounder gun does not waste it. This may be unburned powder being belched forth (probably is) or it may be that the powder used by the RN at the time was better for a short gun, or it may be both if US powder was large grain.
 



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