U.S. Civil War cannons compared to European cannons.

major bill

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How did the performance of U.S cannons compare to European cannons? I am not sure U.S. cannons were superior or even on par with European cannons. Part of this was the U.S. needed large numbers of cannons quickly and could not rely on overly complicated designs. I am not sure the Union could not have manufactured breach loading guns, but did not jump on breach loading guns.
 

Kurt G

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This is purely a guess on my part , but they were facing an enemy with the same , not superior technology . Rather than look into major improvements they were using guns that had served well during the war . The use of breachloaders really didn't have a major impact on the war . They opted for production over innovation . Consider during WW2 we had to upgrade our aircraft and tanks continuously to keep up with improving enemy aircraft and tanks . I think that by the time the 3" ordnance rifle became readily available improved cannon were not really a necessity .
 

rebelatsea

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When compared to England, no country was their equal.
In naval terms that was true until France and Prussia perfected their respective breechloaders, but even then they were slower firing than the RN's Armstrong/Woolwich MLR. Ironically John M Brooke was well ahead of Britain when Tredegar produced the single banded and then double banded 7" MLR.
 

drezac

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In regards to Field Artillery, I think that the U.S. cannons would have been about the same. Major Alfred Mordecai traveled to Europe to study their artillery systems. On his return he wrote the book "Artillery for the United States Land Service" ( 1849) which was the standard for U.S. Heavy and Field Artillery. In this book and the first editions of the Ordnance manual he even uses drawings he brought back from Europe. for example, if you look at the drawings for artillery harnesses in the first editions the horses have bobbed tails which were common in Europe. in later editions, the drawing was changed to have the full tail ( other than that, the drawing is identical).
 

Rhea Cole

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The 12 pdr gun-howitzer was known as the Napoleon because it was a French design from the reign of Napoleon III. It was as good as a bronze smoothbore cannon would ever get.

Comparing rifles is more problematical. U.S. Waird & British Whitworth rifles outranged 3" Parrott & ordinance rifles. However, Civil War artillery were, with rare exceptions, line of sight weapons. In the field, the guns were laid by a man squinting over a sight at a guesstimated range. Even with a spotter who observed the fall of shot, after the recoil, the gun was repositioned every time & the gun was laid afresh. This is not to say that accurate long-range fire did not happen, but in practice it was rare. Within the 800-1,200 yard range that typified C.W. artillery fire, there was nothing to choose between U.S. rifles & their European counterparts.

Each of the various rifle projectile designs performed differently when fired with the same charge. From one ammunition chest to the next, the fire table could change. That creates another layer of complexity to head to head comparisons.

In any case, muzzleloading blackpowder weapons were obsolete. Steel breechloaders relegated them all to the status of a bird perch in front of a courthouse.
 
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major bill

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The 12 pdr gun-howitzer was known as the Napoleon because it was a French design from the reign of Napoleon III. It was as good as a bronze smoothbore cannon would ever get.

Comparing rifles is more problematical. U.S. Weird & British Whitworth rifles outranged 3" Parrott & ordinance rifles. However, Civil War artillery were, with rare exceptions, line of sight weapons. In the field, the guns were laid by a man squinting over a sight at a guesstimated range. Even with a spotter who observed the fall of shot, after the recoil, the gun was repositioned every time & the gun was laid afresh. This is not to say that accurate long-range fire did not happen, but in practice it was rare. Within the 800-1,200 yard range that typified C.W. artillery fire, there was nothing to choose between U.S. rifles & their European counterparts.

Each of the various rifle projectile designs performed differently when fired with the same charge. From one ammunition chest to the next, the fire table could change. That creates another layer of complexity to head to head comparisons.

In any case, all muzzleloading blackpowder weapons were obsolete. Steel breechloaders relegated them to the status of a bird perch in front of a courthouse.

I like the border perch on front of the courthouse comment.
 

Belfoured

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In naval terms that was true until France and Prussia perfected their respective breechloaders, but even then they were slower firing than the RN's Armstrong/Woolwich MLR. Ironically John M Brooke was well ahead of Britain when Tredegar produced the single banded and then double banded 7" MLR.
Regarding field guns, I'd give the Prussians some credit. Krupp was using cast steel before the war and began using the Bessemer process during the war. By 1870 the breech-loading Krupp C64 was a pretty advanced gun. In any event they were ahead of the US by that point. The French should have been but for lots of reasons some advanced ideas didn't get implemented.
 

Rhea Cole

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The 12 pdr gun-howitzer was known as the Napoleon because it was a French design from the reign of Napoleon III. It was as good as a bronze smoothbore cannon would ever get.

Comparing rifles is more problematical. U.S. Waird & British Whitworth rifles outranged 3" Parrott & ordinance rifles. However, Civil War artillery were, with rare exceptions, line of sight weapons. In the field, the guns were laid by a man squinting over a sight at a guesstimated range. Even with a spotter who observed the fall of shot, after the recoil, the gun was repositioned every time & the gun was laid afresh. This is not to say that accurate long-range fire did not happen, but in practice it was rare. Within the 800-1,200 yard range that typified C.W. artillery fire, there was nothing to choose between U.S. rifles & their European counterparts.

Each of the various rifle projectile designs performed differently when fired with the same charge. From one ammunition chest to the next, the fire table could change. That creates another layer of complexity to head to head comparisons.

In any case, all muzzleloading blackpowder weapons were obsolete. Steel breechloaders relegated them to the status of a bird perch in front of a courthouse.
 

Belfoured

Sergeant Major
Joined
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The 12 pdr gun-howitzer was known as the Napoleon because it was a French design from the reign of Napoleon III. It was as good as a bronze smoothbore cannon would ever get.

Comparing rifles is more problematical. U.S. Waird & British Whitworth rifles outranged 3" Parrott & ordinance rifles. However, Civil War artillery were, with rare exceptions, line of sight weapons. In the field, the guns were laid by a man squinting over a sight at a guesstimated range. Even with a spotter who observed the fall of shot, after the recoil, the gun was repositioned every time & the gun was laid afresh. This is not to say that accurate long-range fire did not happen, but in practice it was rare. Within the 800-1,200 yard range that typified C.W. artillery fire, there was nothing to choose between U.S. rifles & their European counterparts.

Each of the various rifle projectile designs performed differently when fired with the same charge. From one ammunition chest to the next, the fire table could change. That creates another layer of complexity to head to head comparisons.

In any case, all muzzleloading blackpowder weapons were obsolete. Steel breechloaders relegated them to the status of a bird perch in front of a courthouse.
A significant point: "Each of the various rifle projectile designs performed differently when fired with the same charge"

This is why Hunt was not a big devotee of the 3" Ordnance and 10 lb Parrott rifles - far too many designs for projectiles with different characteristics, sabots, etc.
 

rebelatsea

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Regarding field guns, I'd give the Prussians some credit. Krupp was using cast steel before the war and began using the Bessemer process during the war. By 1870 the breech-loading Krupp C64 was a pretty advanced gun. In any event they were ahead of the US by that point. The French should have been but for lots of reasons some advanced ideas didn't get implemented.
The smaller Armstrong /Woolwich field pieces were much more successful than their bigger naval counterparts and were accepted into service in quantity during the early 1860s too.
 

poorjack

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In naval terms that was true until France and Prussia perfected their respective breechloaders, but even then they were slower firing than the RN's Armstrong/Woolwich MLR. Ironically John M Brooke was well ahead of Britain when Tredegar produced the single banded and then double banded 7" MLR.

One factor I've seen referred to a number of times is the amount of gunnery drill the RN did. They place a premium on speed and execution in servicing the gun. The downside to that is sometimes safety gets bypassed. Look at the reason the Hood blew up. From testimony, it was common practice to "stage" projectiles and powder outside the magazines and hoists for speed. Downside, if there's an ignition source, it's not going to go well.
 

Belfoured

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One factor I've seen referred to a number of times is the amount of gunnery drill the RN did. They place a premium on speed and execution in servicing the gun. The downside to that is sometimes safety gets bypassed. Look at the reason the Hood blew up. From testimony, it was common practice to "stage" projectiles and powder outside the magazines and hoists for speed. Downside, if there's an ignition source, it's not going to go well.
Great point. When Beatty said "there appears to be something wrong with our bloody ships today" at Jutland in 1916, he was right - it was all of that cordite lying around and carelessly stacked to enable rapid fire.
 

rebelatsea

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Unfortunately it doesn't apply to our era. The RN drilled for speed and accuracy using the rudimentary director system on the broadside ironclads, but knew only too well the consequences of misuse of black powder. Hood's destruction had nothing to do with accumulating ready use ammunition.
 

Rhea Cole

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The miserable performance of the RN Mediterranean squadron at Alexandria is a prime example of a lack of accuracy. It wasn’t enough to have guns that could send shot flying for miles, it mean nothing if it missed the target. It was standard practice to aim the big guns by sighting through the bore from the open breech. It was well known that certain smart ships dumped their monthly powder allowance overboard rather than mess up the perfection of their bright work with nasty powder smoke.
 

Belfoured

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The miserable performance of the RN Mediterranean squadron at Alexandria is a prime example of a lack of accuracy. It wasn’t enough to have guns that could send shot flying for miles, it mean nothing if it missed the target. It was standard practice to aim the big guns by sighting through the bore from the open breech. It was well known that certain smart ships dumped their monthly powder allowance overboard rather than mess up the perfection of their bright work with nasty powder smoke.
The RN had sort of a tradition of inferior gunnery. In the War of 1812 there was a significant difference between US gunnery and the Royal Navy's (at least partly due to a different emphasis on drill). Although the gap closed by the end of the war it appears to still have existed.
 

Belfoured

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Unfortunately it doesn't apply to our era. The RN drilled for speed and accuracy using the rudimentary director system on the broadside ironclads, but knew only too well the consequences of misuse of black powder. Hood's destruction had nothing to do with accumulating ready use ammunition.
Fair point. As for the Hood, if I recall correctly that was probably due to armor penetration snd the magazine being hit. Not my area, though. The loss of Beatty's battle cruisers at Jutland was pretty clearly due to careless storage - they had cordite laying around all over the place. I don't know if that was a result of any long-standing practices of the RN, however..
 

67th Tigers

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The miserable performance of the RN Mediterranean squadron at Alexandria is a prime example of a lack of accuracy. It wasn’t enough to have guns that could send shot flying for miles, it mean nothing if it missed the target. It was standard practice to aim the big guns by sighting through the bore from the open breech. It was well known that certain smart ships dumped their monthly powder allowance overboard rather than mess up the perfection of their bright work with nasty powder smoke.

At Alexandria the RN showed a high degree of accuracy, and silenced all the enemy forts. The issue was that the GS percussion fuses did burst the shells reliably, with about half the shells that went through packed earth failing to burst. The British have a tendency to dissect every action and look for things that could be improved upon, and hence a lot of reports of the failure of the fuses to properly function has made. There are other nations that ignore the fact that their equipment doesn't work properly.

They'd had similar problems with the Moorsom fuze, which was a nose-percussion worked well against ships and stone/ brick fortifications, but was found to be unreliable against earthworks in 1855. That was replaced by the Pettman base-percussion fuze, which worked well for the guns of the time, and was still the fuze in use in 1882.

However, the propellent had changed. The Pettman fuze was armed by the rapid acceleration of the shell with common powder. With prismatic type powders the acceleration was lower and the fuse did not reliably fully arm. Against harder targets they still worked, and no-one had done the experiment of a bombardment of an earthwork to realise. The fuze was modified easily enough, by weakening the restraining cup.

You are however dead wrong on how the guns were fought.

In 1829 William Kennish proposed the idea of laying all the guns to converge and firing them simultaneously to get a tight group. It was immediately adopted. His "theodolite" evolved into the gun director. On the broadside ships the gunners still pulled their lanyards individually on a signal, but by the 1860's an electrical firing circuit was utilised and the gunnery officer aimed the guns from the director (with the gunners setting range and elevation individually), and fired them electrically. The system was named the "director firing", and the theodolite station became the director. The manual refers to using it as "firing by director". Ships still had these directors (called Elliot Directors after the admiral) installed in the 1890's, with pre-dreadnoughts having a pair in the superstructure on specially constructed armoured towers.

In fact practice was a fire-control officer in the director directing the guns, and fired them with an electrical circuit. The problem at Alexandria was that it was found that in the turrets the voice-tubes the fire control officer used to communicate with the turret were difficult to hear during an action. Henceforth electric telegraphs would be installed to communicate between the director and the turrets (the broadside ships didn't have the problem and fired under director control).

Fisher's Inflexible hence couldn't fire by director, and the two turret captains and four gun captains fired independently, from their fire control positions at the aft of the turret using their own optics. The position is clear on the turret layout (there are three positions per turret, the centre one for the turret captain, and two wing positions for the gun captains):

1590855739452.png
 
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Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
How did the performance of U.S cannons compare to European cannons? I am not sure U.S. cannons were superior or even on par with European cannons. Part of this was the U.S. needed large numbers of cannons quickly and could not rely on overly complicated designs. I am not sure the Union could not have manufactured breach loading guns, but did not jump on breach loading guns.

I think the best way to put it is that US cannon were on par with the less advanced European great powers (i.e. the French) as regards artillery. Prussian and British artillery was superior.
 

Saphroneth

Major
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Feb 18, 2017
So to nuance it a bit.

Smoothbore points of comparison.

The finest British naval artillery piece of the smoothbore era was the 68 pounder 95 cwt, and the US had a comparable weapon in the 64 pounder, but the British had it as a main weapon and the US had gone off into using lower velocity shell guns (the Dahlgren system) and it's this decision, not the metallurgy as such, which means that the US wasn't on par with Britain for high velocity smoothbore anti armour pieces - basically a doctrinal issue. There are a number of Dahlgrens which burst or otherwise fail though so the Dahlgren has a few reliability issues.

As regards smaller smoothbore artillery, the Napoleon smoothbore was basically a copy of the French weapon. So that's obviously on par.
Other powers were transitioning away from smoothbore field guns at this time, though I believe the Austrians still had a fair chunk of smoothbores.


Rifle points of comparison.

Smaller weapons first, so field guns.

My understanding of French rifles is that they were not good, though I'm unclear on whether that was a doctrinal, metallurgy or design issue - if it were a doctrinal issue then they could have been fairly long ranged and accurate.

The Krupp, Armstrong and Whitworth pieces being manufactured in this period are reliable, accurate and powerful weapons with a very long battlefield range. They're also breechloaders, which doesn't necessarily mean superiority but does add some useful capabilities.

US Parrott and Ordnance rifles do not appear to be as accurate at range (this isn't certain because we don't actually have properly tested accuracy figures for the smaller Parrotts and Ordnance rifles, but we have data for the larger guns in each family and the Armstrongs and Whitworths outmatch them). There are also fuze reliability issues which the European guns appear not to have had (my suspicion is that this is attributable to the massive expansion in fuze production, but I'm unsure on that).

Larger weapons (siege guns and naval guns).

The position/siege guns have accuracy problems compared to the larger European weapons, but are still, well, rifles. Parrotts have a reliability problem with bursting, and this actually killed quite a lot of people (more than the Armstrong, at any rate, which has a reputation but didn't do as much to deserve it as the Parrott did - nobody seems to have died as the result of a burst Armstrong, and this is because what actually gives out is the vent-piece which is a piece of safety equipment). The Armstrong has poor armour penetration characteristics but it's paired with high velocity smoothbores on naval ships precisely to get around this; the Parrott 8" has theoretical penetration characteristics similar to the 68 pounder, which is pretty good.

Towards the end of the sample period (i.e. 1864-5) some high velocity muzzle loading naval rifles start to appear on British ships. These weapons have penetration superior to anything used in the US, and also at this time the British were introducing Palliser shell which meant that these high velocity RML guns were firing armour piercing shell rather than AP bolts.

I'm not immediately able to check penetration stats for the French naval rifles.




The picture that this presents is that the US has the capability to produce some good weapons (the 64 pounder) but the rapid expansion of production accompanying the start of the Civil War - coupled with differing doctrinal decisions - meant that the quality of their cannon production began to lag behind the state of the art (as represented by e.g. the British, or Krupp). Some different decisions could have been made to rectify parts of this problem, but I think a lot of it is just that you can't really make big improvements in quality at the same time as a need for as many effective cannon as possible as fast as possible. It would have been an actively bad decision for Parrott to delay mass production by six months while he worked out the kinks in the 10 pounder Parrott to give it the same accuracy and reliability as the Armstrong, as it would have cost the Union army perhaps hundreds of cannon.
 

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