Martello Towers, firepower and tactics?

#1
Hi

Strange question, would any of the experts know much about 24 pounder shot from the Napoleonic era, and what would have been most ilkely to have been fired from the 24 pounder mounted for 360 defence on the Martello Towers of the era.

My personal theory is that chain shot would have been fired at the rigging and sails to disable the ship, then heated shot would have been fired at the "body" of the ship (facilities to heat shot were available) to set it on fire. I'm presuming it would not have been feisable to heat the chain shot, please correct me if wrong.

Also, would shells have been used at at to fire on ships, and I'm presuming that the effective range of Shrapnel would have meant it not being used except as defence against attacking ground forces.

Thanks for any advice, I've googled it, but havn't managed to find a definitive answer.

Cheers!
 
#2
Chain was used by the Ships (and towers i presume) to destroy sails and rigging. Also used was bar shots (chain but with a bar between the progectiles) for the same thing.

Ball was used to smash holes in the ships sides, and cause masses of splinters and other shrapnel to cause devestation in the gun decks. At clse range, double balling was used (smaller cahrge and two or more balls in the barrel).

Heated ball was used to set fire to the ships, but firing was tricky, and seldom if ever used afloat... Martello towers I am not sure about, they were essentially static warships, and thus had the downsides of hot shot use of ships, whilst not neccesrily gaining the plus points of a land based gun.

Grape/cannister was almost exclusivly used on land. Although used by the higher up guns to clear the decks of the opposing vessels as the two ships came along side for bording (generally how these things ended). Grape shot was only about the size of a musket ball or slightly larger, so wouldn't really harm the sides of ships. Grape was a canvas bag of rounds, where as canister was... well a canister.

And of course sharpshooters in the rigging firing down (usually Marines (RGJ at Copenhagen)) to take on the Captain, etc.

Interesting point to note, the Martello Towers were built just out of range of each other, so they could broadside at each other all day long, without risk of brassing each other up.

Also used but rarely was "fire arrows"... darts of thick wood covered in tar and set alight. Fired at teh opposeing ships.
 

Fang_Farrier

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
#3
It would depend on range.

Chain or bar shot did not have the same range or accuracy as a simple ball.

A simple ball could also be aimed low to skim off the water and thus hit the ship on the up bounce.

I believe also for the first shot of an engagement then the cannon could be double shotted.
 
#5
Mobat said:
This gives a list of ammunition held by a tower in 1818:
http://www.martello-towers.co.uk/south-coast/design/armament.htm

I have no idea what a “junk wad” is and only 20 cartridges seems odd, possibly cartridge meant a reusable container which was filled with lose powder.

JUNK WAD

1. (Mil.), a wad used in proving cannon; also used in firing hot shot.

google is your friend.
 
#6
The best preserved/restored Martello Tower is at Dymchurch, owned if that is the right word, by English Heritage. I haven't been there for a few years, but there was no sign of the heating equipment that would be needed for hot shot. I have seen such a furnace elsewhere, and there's no way it would fit on the top of a Martello Tower anyway.

.
 
#7
Fang_Farrier said:
I believe also for the first shot of an engagement then the cannon could be double shotted.
The charge had to be reduced to prevent the gun from splitting. Rather than the first shot of an engagment it was usually the last round fired, just before the gunners went topside for a bit of boarding and skull smashing.
 
#8


A mobile hot shot furnace of the Norwegian Navy. (Doubt it was used on board though, not with those wheels).

Admittedly most forts had huge furnaces,



I suppose it would depend on how many red hot cannon balls you wanted. You could just warm a few up in a brazier, well stocked with wood/coal. Not great but.

Seem to recall my standard coal fire at home doing a good job on a poker (white hot in about 30 mins). Esp the smaller shots that could be lifted out with metal tonges.

ALthough to be fair, I wouldn't want it near the powder for the gun.
 
#9
Thanks chocolate frog, never seen one of those before. Though, if you have a look at:

http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/server/show/nav.14610

you'll see there was very little roof on the roof thanks to the thickness of the wall. The floor also has quite a slope on it and raised swivelling rail, if thats the right word, for the 24 pounder. I stand to be corrected, but I really don't think there's room on the gun platform.

Shot probably could not have been heated elsewhere and carried up to the roof, as the stairway built into the wall is horribly narrow and low.#

.
 
#10
abeaumont said:
Thanks chocolate frog, never seen one of those before. Though, if you have a look at:

http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/server/show/nav.14610

you'll see there was very little roof on the roof thanks to the thickness of the wall. The floor also has quite a slope on it and raised swivelling rail, if thats the right word, for the 24 pounder. I stand to be corrected, but I really don't think there's room on the gun platform.

Shot probably could not have been heated elsewhere and carried up to the roof, as the stairway built into the wall is horribly narrow and low.#

.
True.... unless there was some way of putting it on the edge to the rear of the gun. It is unlikely the gun would need the sort of traversing speed (or range) to use ALL 360 degrees.

But more likely just not used in these types of emplacements.
 
#11
Just found the English Heritage guide book to the Dymchurch Martello Tower - no mention of heated shot, but good pictures of both gun platofrm and inside.

If anyone woulod like a copy I can scan the whole thing into a pdf file tomorrow and e-mail it. Send me a pm if you want a copy.
 
#12
I take your point about putting it to the rear of the gun, but the floor has a heck of a slope. Also the inner face of the wall has iron rings all around it for ropes for pulling the gun around, add the ropes and the normal gun crew of 10-14 men and its a bit crowded up there already.

The intention was to use the whole 360 degrees, to use grape shot on troops that had got ashore and were trying to get behind the guns.
 
#13
This suggests that a furnace on the roof was possible:
http://www.martello-towers.co.uk/south-coast/design/roof.htm

Note that there are “lockers” cut into the wall, perhaps one of them could house a heater.

Alternatively the floor looks level to me so something like the wheeled Norwegian furnace could have been moved round to keep it suitably positioned in relation to the gun.

If the junk wads are for firing hot shot, then they must have had a method of heating it.
 
#14
Mobat said:
This suggests that a furnace on the roof was possible:
http://www.martello-towers.co.uk/south-coast/design/roof.htm

Note that there are “lockers” cut into the wall, perhaps one of them could house a heater.

Alternatively the floor looks level to me so something like the wheeled Norwegian furnace could have been moved round to keep it suitably positioned in relation to the gun.

If the junk wads are for firing hot shot, then they must have had a method of heating it.
Not sure which tower that is, the Dymchurch one is raised towards the central pivot. The locker recesses in the wall (four of them) are quite shallow and were for storage of ready use ammunition. No room to put any kind of heater. In an engagement a chain of men would bring up powder and shot from the magazine in the lower floor.
The idea of the sloped floor was to enable collection of rainwater to supplement the towers water supply.
 
#15
Perhaps hot shot simply wasn't used - it took hours to get ready, and then rate of fire was very low until the crew had gained the necessary handling experience. In possibly the best documented use - during the siege of Gibraltar - the shot furnaces were only lit on the General's order, in response to obvious signs of a major assault.
 
#16
4(T) said:
Perhaps hot shot simply wasn't used - it took hours to get ready, and then rate of fire was very low until the crew had gained the necessary handling experience. In possibly the best documented use - during the siege of Gibraltar - the shot furnaces were only lit on the General's order, in response to obvious signs of a major assault.
Morelikely in response to the horrific amount fo fuel they would require when lit than anything to do with the technicallities of firing a cannon.

The cannon balls were fed in to the muzzle from a metal "tray", to put the cannon on the tray tongues were used.

Once fired, the cannon would be washed out to cool it, and then a worm used to remove any residue left in the barrel.

Then the charges would be placed in and rammed,

followed by the wad.

whilst that happend a prick would be made through the charge hole, and loose powder placed in. (regardless of a flintlock or slow match being used - also where spiking the guns come from, by driving nails in to this hole, the cannon would be come useless).

After this it would only have required the tea tray to be raised, and the cannon ball shoved in, rammed and then a rope wad rammed to hold everything in place.

Aim.

Fire.

By the time the wet wad would have been loaded and rammed, the hot shot would have been ready.

Can't see it being that much longer, although a bit more technical.
 
#17
Shell was not used much by cannon due to the difficulty of cutting the fuze accurately. Shells were more generally used in mortars and howitzers using high angle fire. Powder was issued in bulk (barrels) to certain magazine locations where it was made up into silk or worsted cartridges as required. The laboratories for doing this can be seen at the magazines in the Portsdown forts or at some of the Redoubts such as Dymchurch..

I would think that 30 rounds would be the normal "peacetime" holding. Enough to keep them going for an initial engagement before reinforcement...

BTW another "Quite Interesting" fact about Martello Towers is that they were built using hot lime mortar. The lime mortar was mixed with mutton fat and laid hot to improve the strength of the walls...
 
#18
chocolate_frog said:
Fang_Farrier said:
I believe also for the first shot of an engagement then the cannon could be double shotted.
The charge had to be reduced to prevent the gun from splitting. Rather than the first shot of an engagment it was usually the last round fired, just before the gunners went topside for a bit of boarding and skull smashing.
Not strictly true.

Double-shotting meant that a gun was loaded with two balls, rather than one. The charge was not increased, thus the effective range was reduced. At pistol shot (the RN's preferred range in action) a naval gun still had sufficient power for both balls to penetrate the enemy's hull where the shot and wood splinters would create utter carnage.

As a rule, Royal Navy doctrine in the 18th Century was to fire into the hull to kill the crew, whilst the French and Spanish were more likely to fire into the rigging to immobilise a ship. Much of the RN's success in that period is down to the simple fact that British gunnery killed far more enemy sailors than theirs did of ours. The RN suffered 1,666 casualties at Trafalgar (450 dead). The French and Spanish experienced 12,000 casualties and lost over 3000 dead.

Double-shotting guns fitted with British doctrine, and was in part possible because our iron guns were well made, of good quality iron, and this very unlikely to burst, even when double-shotted.

Anyway, Martello towers...

Naval superiority back then was as much about technological superiority as it was about the men.
 
#19
Thirty rounds would probably take one gun around an hour and a half to fire. If there were a typical 74-gun ship within range putting down covering fire for the landing, that would mean that they were outgunned by a factor of around 30, assuming that the French coud fire as quickly as the British.

Don't fancy that much, regardless of what kind of lime mortar you use...
 
#20
angular said:
Thirty rounds would probably take one gun around an hour and a half to fire. If there were a typical 74-gun ship within range putting down covering fire for the landing, that would mean that they were outgunned by a factor of around 30, assuming that the French coud fire as quickly as the British.

Don't fancy that much, regardless of what kind of lime mortar you use...
Well... there you go!

I no doubt would agree with you if I were being attacked. And perhaps the allocation would be increased if imminent attack were due..

However the more the powder you disperse to each tower the more is wasted due to aging and the greater the risk of accidents..

Welcome to the wonderful world of logistics..
 
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