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Nelson and His Navy - The Carronade

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The Black Pig Carronade The carronade, named after its developer and manufacturers, the Carron Iron company of Falkirk, was invented in the 1770s. The company subsequently manufactured many thousands of these guns for customers all over the World until production ceased in the 1850s. They were used in the American Civil War, and may well have been used afterwards. They were made in the usual naval calibres, with schooners carrying 12 pdrs, brigs and sloops carrying 18-24 pdrs, and frigates and ships of the line carrying 32 pdrs. Some smaller and larger calibres were also manufactured.

The gun, known as the "smasher" in the Navy, has a number of special features:  

    • it scaled down proportionately in size, unlike long guns
    • from the 1780s they were usually manufactured without trunnions, with a loop cast underneath the barrel for attaching the gun to its mounting. They were usually mounted on slides on board ship, and elevated with turnscrews (like field guns) from the 1780s, whereas long guns kept truck carriages and less accurate quoin (wedge) elevation for many years.
    • it has the disadvantages of less range (about a third to a half less) than the equivalent long gun, and less accuracy, owing to theshorter barrel, although this was partly compensated for by the reduction in windage (gap between ball and the bore) on long guns.
    • it has the great advantage of being less than half the weight and length of the equivalent long gun, enabling ships to carry heavier broadsides, particularly on the higher decks where only lighter weight guns could be placed. Consequently many merchant ships replaced their standard armanents of 4 x 4pdr long guns with 4 x 12 pdr carronades.
    • the weight, length and slides made the guns easier to handle than long guns, allowing fewer men to crew them than long guns mounted on naval truck/garrison carriages.
    • they consume les than half the gunpowder of equivalent long guns owing to the shorter barrel, and their stepped breeches with a narrower powder chamber at the rear of the breech (necessitating the use of a ladle to place the cartridge)
    • Gunners were warned to keep the shot and cartridges for the carronades separate from the long guns as the size differed
    • they often had a distinctive swell in the muzzle, which apparently makes the gun louder!
    • they were prone to violent recoil and oversetting, which often necessitated the use of double breechings.

Carronades were never, as far as I know, used by armies on field carriages. They were used on land in fortresses and martello towers, and brought ashore by ship's landing parties, being easier to take on amphibious operations than long guns.

From 1795 the largest ship's boat was fitted with a carronade of 12-24 pds depending on the ship's rate, mounted on a slide. This was of great use in amphibious operations/cutting-out expeditions compared to the 1pdr swivel guns that boats had previously been limited to. From 1809 12pdr carronades on swivels were supposedly fitted to fighting tops, again superceding swivels - if true, this would have meant a very sturdy swivel and toprail mounting for a 6cwt barrel.

Truck carriages were used on ships, however. Merchant ships with more ports than guns would prefer carronades on trucks that could be much more easily moved from port to port. The Practical Sea Gunner's Companion recommends to warships a carronade on a truck carriage elevated at an extreme angle and breeched on ringbolts in the deck for harassing the enemy's fighting tops.

Carronades were introduced into the Royal Navy during the Revolutionary Wars, but were subsequently only fitted at the captain's discretion until the Napoleonic Wars, when many smaller single deck ships were entirely rearmed with carronades, with the exception of a pair of long guns for use as long range bow chasers. They were used in larger ships on the top decks as well, e.g. the Trincomalee was designed for an armanent of 8 x 32 pdr carronades and 10 x 9pdr long guns on her forecastle/quarterdeck. The Victory at Trafalgar had 2 large 68pdr carronades on her forecastle, one of which devastated a gundeck of the Bucentaure by firing a 68pdr roundshot with a keg of several hundred musket balls though her stern windows.

Carronades can be seen in many locations. The Unicorn at Dundee has a pair of 12pdr carronades that were originally made for Trinity House as signal guns. In the 1970s before the works were closed and mainly demolished in 1981, Carron made a number of large ornamental pieces (without touchholes) on cumbersome block carriages, examples of which can be seen at Elizabeth Castle in Jersey and the Unicorn.

More recently H.M.S. acquired a 12pdr ( truck lovingly and laboriously handcrafted from solid oak and iron by our own Purser Mr Spence and Armourer Mr White) which was fired for the first time in Norfolk at Easter 1998. The replica brig Niagra has recently acquired 4 x 32 pdrs. A number have been made for the ship Grand Turk which should be seen in action in the forthcoming "Hornblower" films . The Falkirk museum at Callendar House are opening an exhibition on the history of Carron this year, featuring H.M.S. members in a mulitmedia presentation on the carronade. Also imminent is the publication of Volume 2 of Captain A B Caruana's History of English Sea Ordnance, which will include an authoritative history of the gun's use in the Royal Navy up to 1815. Interest in these important, revolutionary guns is growing

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