Patrick O'Brian Discussion Forum

Re^2: How were the gun drills run?

Bob Bridges

What Don says is correct (and more detailed than I could have given) but I think misses the point of Mr Barksdale's question.  I don't recall the exact scene he's reading, but in the canon speed of gunnery is usually measured as the time between two broadsides.  That is, the crew approach the target, fire at it, and then set about reloading as the clock starts.  When they're ready to fire again, that's the time between broadsides.

Eight minutes between broadsides is perfectly abysmal—half that time would still be worse than could be expected of a well-trained crew—so I'm guessing this is Jack's first practice with a new and largely untrained crew and that it represents the gap between the first shot of the first round and the last shot of the second.  One hopes that the very slowest gun crew had a bad time dropping things, misplacing equipment and having to do over, and that the rest of the crew averaged something closer to four or five minutes, Jack saying "oh dear, oh dear..." to himself the meanwhile.

Jack, as you know by now, was a great believer in gunnery and was willing to spend great amounts of his own money for the powder and shot required in order to get his crew much, much faster.  IIRC, two minutes between rounds was respectable but Jack wasn't satisfied until his crews got under that.  One gets the impression that Jack was in the minority, though, and that many captains placed rapid, accurate gunnery further down in their individual priorities, either from conviction or from lack of funds.

But eight minutes is so very far below what must be regarded as a poor showing that I wonder whether the text didn't make it clear that it's supposed to be the time for the four broadsides Don describes, that is, two minutes and forty seconds between rounds.

On Tue Jan 31, Don Seltzer wrote
>Here is a typical scenario for a live gun exercise:

>The cutter is dispatched with a float target made up of a few casks.  At perhaps a half mile away it is released.

>The ship makes a slow striaght approach at perhaps 2 knots (200 feet per minute) on a course that will pass the target at about one cable distance off the starboard beam.

>The starboard guns are loaded and trained forward about 45°.  When they bear on the target the gun captain fires and the clock begins.

>The guns are reloaded, re-aimed, and fired a second time in about three minutes.  The ship has traveled 600 feet in this time and the target is nearly on the starboard beam.

>Again the guns are reloaded, re-aimed, and fired for the third time.  Now the target is somewhat aft, with six minutes expired from the moment of the first gun.  If the crews were somewhat quicker, they might even get in a fourth broadside before the target was so far aft that the guns could not be trained around enough.

>For an extended exercise, the ship could then be turned around to make a similar slow pass of the target on the larboard side.

>On Mon Jan 30, mike barksdale wrote

>>EXAMPLE: In the book, "Master and Commander", Jack Aubrey has his gun crew try and beat something like eight minutes. How do they shoot over that time? Did they all shoot from the larboard side, and then the captain would come about on the wind and then they would fire as she makes on the starboard side? I read it that one circuit of practice was actually firing four different broadsides. Did that mean that they would go port, starboard, port and starboard? 

>>I am completely confused on this one part, and all five books I own that explain the Aubrey/Maturin books don't offer any insights into gunnery practice. Can one of you please help me?

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