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I recall a lecture by one of my first history professors concerning New World trade and war. More specifically he was discussing the phenomena of English Imperialism of the time. The lecture ranged from trade to warfare and from locations from the colonies to the East Indies. 

 

However it was one detail that caught my attention: the unique status of English Iron. The professor asserted that one of the elements of English success was the uniqueness of their iron. He claimed that the iron found in England contained fewer impurities and when smelted down and sequentially molded into cannon, it meant that English cannon were far superior to other Nations' as English cannon would last longer, were more durable, and could handle more stress (less exploding cannon scenarios). This meant that English cannon could also handle slightly larger powder charges, resulting in slightly farther range/velocity, among other things.

 

The text assigned to us made no mention of this detail, nor have I seen a reference to this anywhere else. I was wondering if any of you have come across something similar. And if the above case is true, could/should some in-game mechanic/national perk be implemented?

 

Cheers,

William Drummond, the Drake.

Edited by William the Drake
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Well if that was indeed the case, I doubt you will find reference in novels. In that case I tend to believe the history professor. However if we could find some accurate reference, maybe that's something for implementing in the game mechanics.  

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As far as I know, the technical and industrial process of melting iron was far superior in England in the late 18th century than in any other european country. I don't know, if it has something to with the iron they found in England – but for my understanding, the english ironworks produced more, better and cheaper steel. 

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English iron processing, especially the casting of cannons, in generally accepted as being superior to that of the French. At the same time, the quality of Swedish, Spanish and Dutch iron was deemed equally good.

 

~Brigand

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After a quick search I found something in the German wiki:

http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gesch%C3%BCtz#Vorl.C3.A4ufer

"Zudem spielte die Zusammensetzung des Eisens (insbesondere sein hoher Phosphorgehalt, sein niedriger Schwefelgehalt (Verhüttung von Eisen)) eine erhebliche Rolle für die Festigkeit einer Kanone, so dass sich bestimmte Regionen innerhalb Europas, obwohl identisches Wissen auch anderswo vorhanden war, für die Fertigung durchsetzten. Zudem setzte gleichzeitig ein regelrechter Wettbewerb um Kanonengießer ein, die bestimmte Standorte (zum Beispiel Asslar und Marsberg in Deutschland, Sussex und Kent in England) noch zusätzlich bevorzugten."

 

Roughly translated:
The quality of the iron is important for the creation of higher-quality guns, so that the actual gun production focused on certain areas in a country, despite the knowledge being existant in other areas of the country aswell.

Thus in the UK the production was mainly done in Sussex or Kent, in Germany in Asslar and Marsberg.

 

So I wouldn't say that "English Iron" is superior to the iron of other countries (except you proof the contrary), because nearly every country had probably both:
High-Quality Iron ressources and lower quality, while the cannon production was usually located at higher-quality production sites.

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I believe between local and Swedish raw iron materials which were considered superior and imported in large quantities, as well as more specialised processes general in place in England they were indeed able to produce higher grade products as a rule across the industrialised regions. As opposed to less controlled practices in other countries where the quality could vary greatly from forge to forge.

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The leading country in terms of iron works for the mass production of cannon in the 18th century was Britain AFAIK, being the first country to enter the industrial revolution in the 1760's and pioneering many of the mass production methods, with France a close second.  By the start of the 19th century Germany finally overtook France and was close behind Britain, gradually catching up and eventually becoming Europe's leading steel producing nation sometime in the late 19th century (Krupp etc) and finally Europe's industrial & technological center (Göttingen etc) by the start of the 20th century.

 

That's about what I know on the subject :)

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Wouldn't the larger seafaring nations, esp their navies, in our NA timeperiod be using brass (it's referred to as brass but I believe this meant bronze) cannon rather than iron, though? I'm pretty sure brass was a superior material to make cannon from, as it withstood the pressures a lot better. Plus you could melt it down and recast a new cannon from it, something that was more difficult to do with a used iron cannon because of the way the structure of the metal was weakened.

 

My metallurgic knowledge is slim at the best of times, though, so if anyone needs to correct me on this, feel free to do so :) 

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I happened to be reading Theodore Roosevelt's book on the naval war of 1812.   (His book is mainly a recounting of the logs, letters and reports of American ships, he did a lot of reading of original records.)   He writes,

 

 

But while the Americans thus, as a rule, had heavier and better fitted guns they under one or two disadvantages. Our foundries were generally not as good as those of British and our guns in consequence likely to burst. 

 

He doesn't provide any support for the assertion, though the book mentions four or five cases where US guns failed.

Edited by Lt. Obiquiet
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here's a paragraph from 'The Frigates',1979. time life books, Amsterdam -

 

'there were differences as well in the true weight of the shot fired by a cannon of a given rating. A British 18pdr for example, fired a ball weighing just about that amount. But French cannon, because of different casting techniques, generally fired a ball weighing one or two pounds more than the cannons rating. And American cannon, because of various casting deficiencies, usually fired a ball weighing a pound or so less than the cannons rating. American cannon balls also were known to break in two upon hitting the target, and occasionally even fly to pieces in mid-flight. poorly cast cannon also burst on occasion.'

 

The Americans, to make up for the poor quality of their cannons (and poor powder), drilled endlessly. 

 

Im re-reading the book so will find some anecdotal evidence of guns bursting if reqd. - I know there are a few.

 

Edit. - I found why the US guns were bad - the light shot and bursting guns were due to poor and impure cast iron, produced with charcoal in primitive furnaces. this was due to the patriotic defence industry of the time selling the government the lowest quality, shoddiest materials available in an atmosphere of bribery, lobbying, and cronyism.

 

ref. Theodore Roosevelt's book on naval war.

Edited by DazednConfused
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Hmm yep, I was browsing around a bit an found this: http://www.saburchill.com/history/chapters/IR/037f.html

 

I do distinctly remember the professor putting emphasis on the coke used in the iron-working process as well. Unfortunately the course was one of my first and has been a good two years since I have taken it. I curse myself for not holding on to the notebook I used for the class, aas I remember taking dubious notes on this topic. 

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here's a paragraph from 'The Frigates',1979. time life books, Amsterdam -

 

'there were differences as well in the true weight of the shot fired by a cannon of a given rating. A British 18pdr for example, fired a ball weighing just about that amount. But French cannon, because of different casting techniques, generally fired a ball weighing one or two pounds more than the cannons rating. And American cannon, because of various casting deficiencies, usually fired a ball weighing a pound or so less than the cannons rating. American cannon balls also were known to break in two upon hitting the target, and occasionally even fly to pieces in mid-flight. poorly cast cannon also burst on occasion.'

 

The Americans, to make up for the poor quality of their cannons (and poor powder), drilled endlessly. 

 

Im re-reading the book so will find some anecdotal evidence of guns bursting if reqd. - I know there are a few.

 

Edit. - I found why the US guns were bad - the light shot and bursting guns were due to poor and impure cast iron, produced with charcoal in primitive furnaces. this was due to the patriotic defence industry of the time selling the government the lowest quality, shoddiest materials available in an atmosphere of bribery, lobbying, and cronyism.

 

ref. Theodore Roosevelt's book on naval war.

 

This suggests that instead of having a national perk for England, either the United States should get a national disadvantage, or having the quality of cannon be directly related to the quality of foundry built in the city.  Of these two ideas, I like the second one better.

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I have luckily come across my old notebook, although my notes not as detailed as I had hoped. Curse Freshman me!

 

Anyway, here's what I wrote down:

Iron: Early uses of Chemistry- Coke (Coal cooked withe an oxygen rich environment. Coal with almost pure carbon content used in smelting). Britain's advantage: coal low phosphorous iron ore..

 

Hopefully that can shed some light on what my professor was trying to get at (because I can't remember much beyond what I have stated)

 

Cheers gentlemen.

Edited by William the Drake
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I'm in the middle of a book called "To Rule the Waves" the author mentions that at the time of the spanish armada most countries were using brass cannons which were very expensive. However, the english used cat-iron, they were able to do this because the English iron ore had fossilized seashells in it which, after smelting caused the iron to be much stronger. 

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Wouldn't the larger seafaring nations, esp their navies, in our NA timeperiod be using brass (it's referred to as brass but I believe this meant bronze) cannon rather than iron, though? I'm pretty sure brass was a superior material to make cannon from, as it withstood the pressures a lot better. Plus you could melt it down and recast a new cannon from it, something that was more difficult to do with a used iron cannon because of the way the structure of the metal was weakened.

 

My metallurgic knowledge is slim at the best of times, though, so if anyone needs to correct me on this, feel free to do so :)

Bronze was too expensive to mass manufacture,also it used moulds that were destroyed to remove the cannon from it,so it was also far more time consuming against Cast Iron.

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At a certain point especially late 17th century the bronze cannon were forged mostly in Denmark, the Danes and the English weren't always the greatest of friends, and so the English couldn't even if they wanted to purchase these cannon in great bulk. 

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Bronze was too expensive to mass manufacture,also it used moulds that were destroyed to remove the cannon from it,so it was also far more time consuming against Cast Iron.

 

Form what I've read bronze cannon were actually easier to manufacture than Iron. It never got more expensive to do so either, it was simply a decrease in the cost of cast iron that brought about the end of Bronze (or annoyingly, 'brass' guns).

"Cast iron guns appeared around 1543. Over the course of the seventeenth century, cast iron gradually supplanted bronze as cannon material. This was despite bronze's advantages; it didn't rust, it was easier to cast ("iron had a tendency to harden before all of it could be poured into the mould"—Lavery 84), it could be recast without loss of strength, and bronze cannon could always be made lighter than cast iron guns of equal strength. For example, in 1742, a British navy 32-9.5 weighed 6048 pounds in bronze and 6384 in cast iron, and a 42-10 was 7392 pounds in bronze and a walloping 8400 in iron. (Meide).

Nineteenth-century cast iron had a lower yield and breaking strength than bronze (Ord1800, 189), so additional metal was used, preferably at the breech. (Hazlett 82). While a more uniform cast iron could be made in the early-nineteenth century, thanks to improvements in iron-making (coke replacing charcoal, steam replacing water power)(Morriss 188-9), it remained unpredictably brittle (light field pieces were especially prone to bursting—Hazlett 220), thanks presumably to variations in the nonferrous constituents (phosphorus, sulfur, etc.). In the Civil War era, Rodman wrote, "we are at present far from possessing a praactical knowledge of the properties of cast iron in its application to gunfounding." (Wertime 164) and Cooke (53) made a similar complaint in 1880.

Unfortunately, bronze cannon were much more expensive—initially three- or four-fold; eight-fold by the 1670s (Unger 149; Lavery 84). This was the result of a decrease in the price of cast iron; bronze prices were stable. Consequently, bronze guns sometimes remained in service for more than a century—Rodger 215. (But even iron guns were very expensive and were kept in active service as long as possible—Glete 77.) Wrought iron reappeared as a reinforcing element in the mid-nineteenth century; in 1880 it was 2–3 times as expensive as cast iron. (Cooke 654).

As time passed, the lighter guns began to be made from cast iron, then all guns save those on "prestige" ships (flagships and royal yachts) went ferrous. (Glete 24ff). The 42-pounder was first cast in iron in 1657, but 30% of culverins were still bronze in 1660 (Nelson).

Even on first class warships, bronze was pretty much no longer on deck by the 1770s. (Although the British navy still had some bronze mortars in the 1860s.) Bronze continued to be used as a gun metal for field artillery in the nineteenth century, as late as the Crimean War and American Civil War, no doubt because of its weight advantage."

 

So basically Bronze was still the superior gun metal but as the cost of iron casting fell and the reliability of the product improved, Bronze was phased out. This took longer in cases where the weight of the gun was paramount, but in sea service, where you weren't expecting to be manually moving the guns around, the extra 5-10% weight difference wasn't such a handicap.

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One of the Bronze cannon's strengths also became its prime weakness though, and that was its' relative softness, which would lead to pitting of the barrel and as such a reduction in performance & accuracy.

 

Also keep in mind that the lighter weight also meant a more violent recoil, which was not desirable on a ship.

 

In terms of saftety however it is correct that bronze cannons were superior as they rarely if ever exploded, bronze quite simply being more ductile than the brittle cast iron of the day.

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