Cannon with a faceted bore

1st artillery battery. Fort Richardson. Calculation of a 20-pound Parrot cannon with a pentagonal bore. This cannon is model 1861, it was made of cast iron and had a barrel reinforced with a wrought iron band. Despite its good characteristics, it has earned a dubious reputation as an explosive weapon. There was a burst of the barrel with death or injury of the gunners, which did not happen with the Whitworth cannons. The Confederate States of America also made copies of this weapon.

It was not for nothing that Cyrus Smith was an expert in artillery. He immediately determined that the guns were made to glory. The best steel was used for their manufacture, they were loaded from the breech, fired with large-caliber shells and, therefore, fired at a considerable distance.
Jules Verne. Mysterious Island

Weapons from museums. In one of the articles published on “VO” there was a photograph of an old gun with a hexagonal bore hole. Not a circle, but a hexagon! It is unusual, of course, but it is obvious that such weapons existed. But what kind of gun was it, who created it and where was it used? This is what our story will go about today.


What types of artillery pieces were not used during the American Civil War. For example, the 10-pounder Parrot cannon also had a faceted barrel, but only had a muzzle-loading

Such a weapon was invented by the Englishman Joseph Whitworth (1803-1887), a famous engineer, from whom it was just right to write the image of Cyrus Smith for the novel “The Mysterious Island” by Jules Verne, so he was a versatile gifted person. However, his first military invention was still not a cannon, but a rifle. It was he who was commissioned by the British Government’s Military Department to design a rifle to replace the 1853 Anfield rifle, which had a caliber of 0.577 inches (14.66 mm). The fact is that at this time the Crimean War had just ended and it turned out that this rifle, which fired with the Minier expansion bullet, had a number of shortcomings. First of all, the military was not satisfied with her accuracy, since Minier’s bullet did not always cut into the rifling as needed, and therefore flew at the target in a very arbitrary way. A bullet was required that would not change its shape inside the barrel and would have more flatness. And Whitworth just such a bullet and a rifle invented for it!


Sir Joseph Whitworth (1803-1887). Photo from Nadar atelier

His rifle had a much smaller caliber than the previous one, only 0.451 inches (11 mm), and the barrel inside was not round, but hexagonal. That is, his rifle fired a hex bullet. Accordingly, the speed of rotation of such a bullet was much higher than that of all other samples. It was calculated that during the flight, the bullet made one revolution for every twenty inches of distance traveled. The rifle was tested in 1859, and it surpassed the old “Anfield” in all respects. First of all, the bullet easily entered the barrel, which was important for any muzzle-loading weapon. But the accuracy of the shooting was still much higher, and it was the military who were trying to achieve it. Already on April 23, 1859, the Times newspaper reported the test results of the new rifle as a great success in British arms business. But there are spots in the sun too! The barrel of the new rifle, as before, quickly became contaminated with lead, while the Whitworth rifle was exactly four times more expensive than the Anfield rifle. Therefore, when it came to its industrial production, the British government abandoned it. True, these rifles began to be produced for the commercial market. During the American Civil War between North and South, some of them ended up in the hands of the Confederate army, where they were armed with a part of the well-aimed riflemen, called “Whitworth Snipers”.


Parrot’s 20-pounder cannon. Loaded from the muzzle

And this is his performance characteristics:

Weight: 1,750 lbs (794 kg).
Barrel length: 84 ft (2.13 m).
Projectile weight: 20 pounds (9.1 kg).
Powder charge weight: 2 lb (0.9 kg).
Caliber: 3.67 inches (93 mm).
Projectile speed: 1.250 ft / s (381 m / s).
Effective range: 1.900 yards (1,700 m) at an elevation angle of 5 °.

However, Whitworth himself liked the idea of ​​a hexagonal barrel very much, and he decided to make a cannon with such a barrel! And he did: a breech-loaded, breech-loaded, 2.75-inch (70 mm) field gun that fired shells weighing 12 pounds 11 ounces (5.75 kg) and with a range of approximately six miles (10 km). The elongated spiral-grooved projectile was patented by him in 1855. Again, the British army rejected his cannon in favor of W.J. Armstrong’s cannon, but several of these guns again ended up in the United States, where they were most actively used during the Civil War. Moreover, it should be noted that for that time it was an absolutely incredible technological breakthrough, because in both armies, both the northerners and the southerners at that time still used 12-pounder smooth-bore Napoleon-type guns loaded from a muzzle, and no one then even It never occurred to me that they had outlived their age long ago!


But this is Whitworth’s gun, loaded from the breech. The handles with which the piston bolt was turned are clearly visible.


Close-up shutter. Gettysburg


The cannon, as you can see, is still shooting, it is clear that with blanks …

At the same time, Whitworth tried to increase the tensile strength of his gun barrels and eventually patented the process of casting and pressing steel under pressure, which he called “liquid-compressed steel”, and then also built a new metallurgical plant in the Manchester area, where this technology was applied! His castings were shown at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1883 and were highly appreciated by specialists.


A photograph of a Whitworth cannon from that distant era …

The Whitworth cannon was considered an excellent field weapon primarily due to unprecedented shooting accuracy. Only she at that time could sightly hit stationary targets at a distance of 1600 yards (4800 feet), which at that time was just an excellent indicator. The first gun was 2.75 inches (12 pounds) in caliber, but otherwise did not differ from all existing guns at the time, that is, it had a single-bar carriage and two spoked wheels. The cannon was towed by horse harness, but the team of artillerymen could easily roll it by hand over short distances across the field of pain. Another version of the gun was 2.17 inches (6-pounder).


12-pounder 60 mm Mk I cannon in Nova Scotia Park, Halifax, Canada

The cannon fired a 13-pound projectile in the shape of a pointed hexagon, precisely matching the barrel bore when moving, along which it began to rotate. Perhaps the main drawback of the Whitworth cannon was some fragility of the bolt, which is why many calculations, having muffled the bolt tightly, began to shoot from its guns as from ordinary muzzle-loading guns, since the design allowed it. This reduced the rate of fire, but did not affect the accuracy. And since Whitworth’s guns were usually fired at long distances, then, in principle, the not very high rate of fire of such “alterations” did not play a special role!


75-mm gun Whitworth M1873, supplied to Spain


Marking of its barrel with an indication of the manufacturing plant


And this is the section of her bore!

In an August 10, 1861 article in Harper’s Weekly, Whitworth’s gun was described as follows:

“The Whitworth rifled cannon has remarkable power and accuracy thanks to the use of a polygonal spiral bore, which is more comfortable than a barrel with a lot of small grooves. The barrel of a 12-pounder gun with a 3.2-inch bore has one revolution per sixty inches; this gives a barrel length of eight feet not counting the breech. The projectile is oblong, made of cast iron and manufactured in such a way as to fit the profile of the barrel. The breech of the barrel is closed by a piston, which is screwed into the barrel, and when removed, it turns on a hinge and leans to the side; the projectile is then inserted into the open breech, followed by a tin case containing gunpowder and coated with a layer of wax or other lubricant. Then the bolt is turned and screwed in with the handles, so that the gun is completely ready for the shot, which is carried out by the ignition tube. The lubricant is also applied to the projectile and cleans the barrel well. Due to the presence of the liner, there is no backward gas breakthrough. They say that the range of this weapon is greater than that of the Armstrong cannon, and its accuracy is much higher. The cost of this gun in England is £ 300. “


Standard shell for Whitworth cannons

All Whitworth’s guns were supplied to the northerners, but some of them as trophies fell into the hands of the southerners, who considered this acquisition as a real gift of fate.


Whitworth’s 2-pounder mountain cannon, Model 1867, Fort Granville, South Australia. Battery “A” of the South Australian Volunteer Artillery

The northerners used them in the defense of Washington, as well as in the Battle of Gettysburg. Southerners used them in the Battle of Oak Ridge, where they used them to shoot the positions of the northerners at the cemetery and on the Calp Hill with impunity.


Utterly Monstrous 70-pound Whitworth Cannon from Fort Princess, Willard Park, Washington Naval Dockyards


1860 Whitworth 18-pound naval gun. Royal Danish Naval Museum, Copenhagen

Very soon the southerners ran out of “branded” oblong shells for these guns and they were left without ammunition. But the need for invention is cunning. The southerners came up with the idea of ​​turning round balls under a hexagonal profile and shooting them. The work was, of course, not for the faint of heart, round shells did not have the accuracy that oblong shells had, they had less gunpowder, if any, but even such “ersatz” hit targets much better than the “Napoleon” cannonballs …


Joseph Whitworth in old age

TTX gun Whitworth, received in the United States:

Caliber: 2.75 inches (70 mm).
Barrel material: iron and steel.
Barrel length: 104 inches (264 cm).
Barrel weight 1.092 lb (495 kg).
Powder charge: 1.75 lb (0.79 kg).
Projectile weight: 13 pounds (5.2 kg).
Firing range at an elevation angle of 5 °: 2800 m (2560 m).

Two such cannons were used at the Battle of Gettysburg.

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