Tuesday, August 29, 2006


Can someone let me know if I'm talking complete garbage here?

At work today I've been thinking about artillery. Specifically artillery in the middle of the 18th century, firing roundshot - after all, I want to keep this fairly straightforward for now.
Guns in this era - field artillery in the 8-12pr range - was immobile. Once put in place the limber teams who were mostly civillian contractors would wisely move to the rear. Field artillery being what it was in this era being beastly heavy was almost impossible to move by hand and so tended to stay where it was put.

Take it as read that I do not include battalion guns or the infant horse artillery.

An iron ball fired at the enemy. Surely each shot would kill or disable only a few enemy troops at a time. This especially would be the case if you were firing at a battalion advancing against you. Histoies mentioning "entire files" of men being carried away at a time were talking of between two and four men becoming casualties at a time depending on nation or period of time. A battalion facing a battery of six guns would suffer in the order of 12-24 casualties per salvo in the instance that every shot struck home. There is plenty of evidence available that not every shot would.
For this reason, I do not think that a gun should cause anything more than about two casualties to my 40-man units should it be firing through the unit. Should a gun be lucky enough to catch my unit in enfilade by firing along it, perhaps it might knock over as many as 10 figures per gun firing before the press of bodies halts the ball.

Bounce Sticks.
I'm not sure I agree with bounce sticks. I agree that a shot bounced along as it went - indeed, it was the gunners aim to skim the ball along to make sure it didn't bound off above the heads of the targets. I think though, that the ball would be lethal or incapacitating for most of it's flight, not merely incapacitating for that part of it's flight in which it "bounced".I think I might advocate a shot-rod, aligned with the gunbarrel, lethal to all it underlay until it had perhaps intersected 10 (random number) figures at which point it would cease to be incapacitating. The length of the shot-rod would be equivalent to the effective or as it were, maximum range of the piece. Every figure would take an automatic hit, but save rolls might be allowed. The shot-rod would have a minimum range below which no hits would be scored and we would employ some other device attempting to simulate the effect of grape or cannister.

Anyway, let me know what you think.


Anonymous said...

It is somewhat of a myth that armies of the mid 18th century were using civilian drovers to haul their artillery & limbers around the field. Austria and Prussia both had uniformed artillery drovers (drivers) that were part of the army. I suspect that the same might be true of other armies in this period.

Also, at Rossbach and Leuthen, the Prussian artillery fired and advance with relative ease. At Leuthen, they were using the large garrison guns (brummers) and still moving them up to support the troops. So the evidence would seem to contradict "conventional wisdom".

I think that the civilian teamsters idea may have been more prevalent during the Marlbourian wars as well as in the American Revolution, but not in Europe's mid 18th century wars.

The roundshot still had a lot of force even after it had stopped bouncing and was merely rolling along on the ground. There are numerous accounts (particularly one at Waterloo) of soldiers purposely sticking out their leg and foot to see if they could stop one of these iron bowling balls. the perpetrator promptly lost his foot (and probably died, given the primative medical care of the day).

The bounce stick idea is more of an Old School thing - an interesting idea, but one that I've never used in a game. I've contemplated using one for the sake of adding a fun twist to the game, but I'm not sure that it is worth the effort or the extra rules. It sounds like fun, but is it really practicable to use in a game? I don't have an answer.

In summary, artillery was more mobile than you would imagine, but tactics hadn't evolved to the point where they were used in a Napoleonic manner of regularly advancing with the troops. Guns could be manhandled with relative ease using the matrosses assigned to the artillery battery to do all of the heavy lifting. That's why you see ropes and the wooden rod that sticks thru the gun trail at the very end, these were tools used to move the cannon back into place.

marinergrim said...

Civilians were in plenty in the army but scare on the field. Drovers and the like were useful during the march to the field although I find it unlikely that many would be willing to go to the field of battle to move artillery around.

Roundshot was effective over a very long distance, but relaity should not exclude playability. Making guns effective is a fine balance in a game between our historical perception and the enjoyment aspect of the game. Make them too effective and you make it difficult for armies to advance to contact.

I don't like bounce sticks - great idea but slow to use. Instead we just concentrate on closest target priorities.

Anonymous said...

The artillery is often the least romanticized arm of any army of the 17th, 18th or 19th Centuries.

Typically, in games, they are similarly less well-represented.

True that many armies did not employ regular uniformed troops to perform the movement function of the guns from garrison to battlefield, most notably the Austrian, French and Russian armies of the periods, until the Napoleonic that is.

However, even if the guns were transported to position by civilian contractors, the gunners could very easily 'prolong' their guns by man-handling them into new positions. Some had the foresight to 'requisition' a few of the drovers ponies or horse teams.

In game terms, you will need to decide the toss between 'realism' and 'playability'. For my part I would take the view of the very heavy, 20# or 12# (in the early period of their use) as civilian team driven and only allow short 'prolong' for these guns. For the 'medium' pieces of 9# to 6#, permit a longer 'prolong' or even (at random chance - or card driven mechanics) have the drover 'team' present for more aggresive moves. However the draw-back of such guns coming under fire while in motion is the civilians will either abandon the piece or run with the guns, possibly fouling the teams and tack along the way...

For 'bounce', of ball-shot it was truly lethal at close range, good gunnery would give 3-5 'skips'. Consider that the direct impact likely causes death, then close impact causes limbs to be torn off etc. The local effect would also at the very least 'distract' the troops next to the ones so maimed. Over a longer period, there would be strecher parties whom would carry away the wounded.

I mention these items as your concept of only 5 men out for a single shot at an 80 man unit is a bit optimistic, even for a 'bounce'. Since the shock or distraction value of men lost to artillery fire in such a way must be counted, perhaps not as 'dead' but at least 'disordered'.

You did not mention a rules-set that you are using, so I suspect something homespun. If you are familiar with SHAKO at all that ruleset uses artillery 'sticks' and accounts for 'bounce' effects of ball-shot in a single moment of placing the 'stick' and seeing where the extreme effective range ends.

Such items cause for more historically accurate use of the 'heavy' guns where they would be directed at the largest concentrations of enemy forces, not only since they present the largest, easiest to hit target, but also because the 'bounce' effect would maximize the casualty count.

More, since your unit size is fairly small, you should also consider the nature of the terrain in the 'bounce' as solid rocky ground will throw off more secondary 'shrapnel' (for want of a better word) from the impact on the ground (this is what the ball-shot fired at a ships hull was expected to do - not penetrate the hull, but send thousands of shards of wood all over the gun decks). Were the ground very muddy and wet, like the field at Waterloo, then 'bounce' may be cut off completely as the first point of impact of the ball will simply become a puddle as the ball sinks into the ground.

Again, the real decison is one of 'realism' vs. 'playability'.