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Author Topic: Woolwich Arsenal War Preparations  (Read 2270 times)

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Offline kyn

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Re: Woolwich Arsenal War Preparations
« Reply #3 on: February 03, 2016, 09:05:06 »
I have had a couple of quiet days at work and other projects have quietened down a little so will try and get some bits posted :)

Offline conan

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Re: Woolwich Arsenal War Preparations
« Reply #2 on: February 03, 2016, 00:11:43 »
That's an interesting piece Kyn, glad you still have a bit of time for research.
Here's some information on the Minie rifle

http://guns.wikia.com/wiki/Minie_Rifle
To remain ignorant of what happened before you were born is to remain a child......Cicero

Offline kyn

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Woolwich Arsenal War Preparations
« Reply #1 on: February 02, 2016, 15:17:51 »
Saturday 19th July, 1859 – The Hobart Town Daily Mercury

WAR PREPARATIONS AT WOOLWICH ARSENAL.
If warlike preparations affect home trades there ought certainly to be a decent average of cotton-mills and iron-works at a stand still to compensate for the immensely increased activity which is being displayed in our arsenal and dock-yards. At Woolwich, the great manufacturing centre for destructive weapons and warlike material of all kinds, works in every department have been suddenly urged forward, and with the exception that the men are not yet engaged day and night - a continuance of labour which would add very little to the amount of production - the same activity is observable as during the very height of the Crimean war. These preparations, it is true, are regarded at Woolwich – and perhaps rightly so - as being more in the nature of increased efforts for the maintenance of peace than intended for carrying out a war. But be the object what it may, the means to the end are the same in both cases, and the public we are sure will be glad to learn that such diligence is now being used that every day materially strengthens the defensive position of this country, and that in the course of two or three months more England will be in a condition to be perfectly indifferent, as far as preparations are concerned, to either peace or war. Woolwich Arsenal is the greatest depôt and manufactory of warlike stores not only in this country, but of its kind in the world, and the activity that is visible here is a fair sample of what is going forward at all the naval and military stations throughout the kingdom. The new gun factory at Woolwich is not, at present, contributing its quota to the general din of preparation. For the last two or three weeks work has been suspended, in order that additional furnaces might be erected, In the original design for this foundry it was intended to erect five pairs of furnaces, but from a sudden fit of timidity or economy it was at last re-solved only to begin with two pairs or four furnaces in all. With this small number during the past year, 197, 32 and 68-pounders have been cast, at an average cost in round numbers of about £50 per gun.
About a fortnight or three weeks ago, sudden orders came down to construct two additional furnaces, which have accordingly been erected, and working easily with these the foundry can now turn out 10, 68-pounders a week; but in case of emergency, and working overtime, this number can at any moment be doubled.
During the last financial year the Government ordered of private contractors 1,335 pieces of iron ordnance, weighing in the aggregate 4,800 tons, and nearly all of which were from the well-known Low Moor and Gospel Oak Ironworks. Of these guns, 312 were long 68-pounders, 460 10-inch guns for hollow shot, 300 long 32-pounders, 19 10-inch howitzers, 44 8-inch ditto, 200 guns 10inch, and 19 10-inch field Howitzers. The contract prices of these varied from £19 to £21 per ton. This year tenders have been sent out for about 1,000 iron guns of the different calibres we have mentioned above, but contractors for quite treble that number can easily be found if wanted, and, with the aid of the new gun factory in full work, between 4,000 and 5,000 of the best and largest ordnance used in the service could be made with the greatest ease in this country each year. But even without these enormous resources, England is amply provided, even at the present moment, with guns enough to carry on an European war for years to come. There are now in store at Woolwich very nearly 12,000 pieces of iron ordnance, and deducting from this number old guns and 24-pounders, which are now no longer issued either to ships or forts, there are still available for service at any moment upwards of 7,000 cannon, all of the best modern make and the heaviest calibre. In the number of course no account is taken of the store guns at the great dockyards, at each of which there are kept from 1,000 to 1,500 heavy cannon of the very newest description. The resources of Woolwich Arsenal are now equal to bringing forward, fitting, and issuing these reserve guns for active service at the rate of 200 per week, and on an emergency this number could be increased to nearly 500. At present the orders are to get ready and send off for service 100 of these heavy ordnance weekly, and they are accordingly being mounted and shipped off to Malta, Corfu, Gibraltar, and other ports in the Mediterranean with the utmost rapidity. Ordnance of the heaviest description is also being shipped for the Canadian forts, and sent round in lighters to replace the light guns of the martello towers and coast defences, especially on the eastern shores of this island. The guns of all the forts and lines at Chatham and Sheerness which are of old construction and light calibre are also being changed as quickly as possible for ordnance of the newest and heaviest kinds.
The same is being done with the works at Tilbury Fort, where several additional 68-pounders will also be mounted. The latter armament may be regarded as an instance of excessive precaution on the part of the authorities, inasmuch as there will be very little worth defending when an enemy's fleet can come so far up the river, and the fleet that could do it would knock Tilbury Fort into a mudbank in10 minutes. We should be very glad to see a little of this jealous fear manifested on behalf of the works at Portsmouth and Plymouth. In the former especially, the greater part of the guns are of the oldest kind, and many batteries are armed with nothing better than short 18's and 24-pounders of the year 1800. At Plymouth it is not so bad, though, even there, heavier ordnance is wanted and, above all, more of it.
Under the old contract system all the shot and shell used in our wars were made by private firms at an average price of about £13 per ton. During the Crimean war the enormous expenditure for material of this kind alone at last directed attention to the subject, and a foundry was erected at the Arsenal for the special manufacture of shot and shell.  The success which attended this plan led to its gradual extension; till now, all the shot and shell we are ever likely to use in wars of the greatest magnitude could be supplied with ease by the everyday working of the Arsenal foundry, and this, too, at a saving to the nation of no less than £6 per ton. Just now this department is unusually active, and is turning out shot and shell at the rate of 26,000 rounds per week. Working overtime and during the night the weekly total can be raised to nearly 40,000 rounds. That this quantity is ample with the many hundred thousand rounds already in store to meet all emergencies can easily be seen by contrasting the weekly rate of production at Woolwich with the rate of consumption during the siege of Sebastopol, as shown by official returns, made to the board of Ordnance as follows :- in the first bombardment commencing October17, 1854, there were 72 siege guns employed, which fired in all 21,881 rounds; in the bombardment commencing April 9,1855, there were 123 guns, and 30,633 rounds; in that commencing on the 6th of June, 155 guns and mortars fired 32,833 rounds; in that commencing on the 17th of June, 166 guns used 22,684 rounds. The attack of August 17 was by 196 guns, and 26,270 rounds were fired; and in the final bombardment of September 8, 207 guns and mortars consumed 28,476 rounds of shot and shell. Those numbers, with 88,640 rounds fired casually or to repel night attacks, and 405 rounds of carcases and "light balls," give a total of 251,872 rounds of shot and shell fired by the English during the whole siege, from first to last.This, in the whole course of operations, gives an average weekly consumption of 6,000 rounds of shot and shell, or less than one sixth of the amount which could be supplied weekly by Woolwich Arsenal alone. In a naval war, however, the expenditure of iron  ammunition would average nearly double the amount required for the siege of the Euxine's great mistress.Thus in the combined attack by the fleets on the sea forts during the land bombardment of the17th of October, the Agamemnon in the course of four hours or so fired away upwards of 8,000 rounds of shot and shell, and the Rodney, Sanspareil, and  Bellerophon expended nearly the same enormous quantity.
Close by the new gun factory at Woolwich a newer one still is about to be erected for the manufacture of Sir William Armstrong's breech-loaders. The intended edifice will not be a very  large building, as the large range of foundries erected at the cost of some £250,000 sterling for the manufacture of the worthless Lancaster guns and shot are now to be given over, with all their plant, to assist in making Armstrong's artillery. The Lancaster factory machinery, containing 13 large furnaces and nine steam hammers, will now at last be put to some good use, and before this time twelve months Woolwich ought to be able to turn out, at the very least, 300 of these splendid guns per annum. 
We, of course, could not think of saying that the military authorities of this country ever seem ridiculous, but if there is one occasion more than another when they go very near to assuming that undignified appearance, it is when they make a great parade of possessing a secret invention which is never to be divulged. Thus it has been with the Armstrong cannon, which has been watched, hidden, and guarded as if every lounging civilian who cast his eye on it was certain at once not only to divine the whole process of its most intricate manufacture, but instantly therefrom to be able himself to make any number offhand for foreign potentates. With Armstrong's gun there is literally no secret worth preserving at all, save that great one which can neither be sold or divulged - our manufacturing superiority. If an Armstrong gun was presented to each arsenal in Europe, their engineers might and undoubtedly would try to make them but their efforts would only result in long delay, immense expenditure, and in their sending over to have them made here after all. It is a popular, but nevertheless, a very great error to suppose that the weapons which are made here, if seen, can at once be made to any extent in the arsenals of France, Russia, Austria, or Prussia. As a proof of this we have only to look at the Minié rifle, which, long as its paramount advantages have been known, is, nevertheless, used entirely by no army in the world but our own. Our readers may be surprised, but it is still strictly true that the armies of France, Russia, Prussia, and Austria, with the exception of about5 per cent, of their entire numbers, who are armed as sharpshooters, have no better weapon than the discarded Brown Bess. Nine-tenths of the small proportion of rifles to be found in the Austrian, Russian, and Prussian armies are made at Liege, where they can be manufactured at the rate of about 500 a week. The French make their own, but very slowly, and a heavier or more awkward weapon to use than their Chasseurs possess it would be hard to devise as a firearm, though in range and accuracy it is nearly equal to the Minié. These facts at least show there is no fear either of the eagerness of foreign Powers to secure improvements for their armies, or of their capacity of adopting them even when their value is well and widely known. The Emperor of the French made a great mystery of his rifled, field pieces, yet, great as are his means of securing secrecy, our Government have information of every gun he has made. We believe we are right in stating that not 100 have yet been constructed, and these are only very light guns rifled in four grooves, and made to fire cylindrical shot cased with lead to fit the rifling, This is certainly an improvement on the ordinary fieldpiece, but as inferior to Armstrong's gun as a pocket-pistol is to the Enfield rifle. But, to return to the Armstrong weapon. The principle on which it is made and its mode of manufacture are well known in the neighborhood of Sir William's works at Newcastle, and if we are not much mistaken, good working drawings of the invention are already at Paris and St. Petersburg, though they might as well be here for all the practical use that is likely to be made of them just now in those countries. 200 guns are to be made this year by Sir William Armstrong-all of them 9, 12, and l8-pounder field guns, a  number quite sufficient to supply all our field artillery batteries, Before long, however, we hope to see guns of 50 cwt. which will throw a 90lb. or 100lb. ball a distance of five miles. Each gun is made in about three feet lengths, and on much the same principle as the twisted gun barrels. Thin bars of the best wrought iron, about two inches broad, are heated to a white heat, and in this state twisted and welded together in spiral rolls  round a steel bar or core, smaller in diameter than the bore of the gun. Over this, when cold, another twist of the same kind is made with the spiral running in a contrary direction, and so, until three or four layers have been put on, according to the calibre of the gun and the thickness required. The whole is then reheated and welded together for the last time under the steam hammer. The edges of the three feet lengths are next planed down so as to admit their joining and lapping over, and over these edges are forced on thick wrought iron rings, which being welded down at a white heat, of course contract so as to make the joint almost stronger than if made in one piece. In the breech an opening is cut down into the chamber; but the breech itself is separate from the gun, and is worked backwards, by a powerful screw. When the gun is to be loaded, the breech is worked back and a wedge-shaped piece, fitting into the opening of the gun, lifted out, but not to admit the introduction of the charge, which is pushed forward with a ramrod at the back, working through the large screw in which the breech turns into the chamber where the rifling begins. The wedge is then replaced, the breech screwed close by a single turn of a lever handle, and the gun fired. The operation of loading and firing can be performed, we believe, three times in one minute. Apart from the simple but effective mechanism of the breech, the great merit of this gun consists in the manner in which it is formed in spirals of metal bands which give it such an enormous increase of strength, that one-half the thickness of iron can be dispensed with. Thus, an ordinary long 32-pounderweighs 57cwt., and requires 10lb. of powder to throw a ball to its utmost effective range, 3,000 yards, Sir W. Armstrong's 32-pounder only weighs26cwt., and a charge of 5lb. of powder throws its shot 5½ miles, or nearly 10,000yards. In a 32-pounder of this latter kind there are no less than 44 rifle grooves, having one pitch in 10 feet, or making one complete twist round the inside in a gun of that length. A greater pitch would no doubt give greater impetus to the shot, but the risk of "stripping" the lead was so great that it could, not be attempted, The shot used are iron and cylindrical, and at first were completely coated over with lead; but this plan has just been altered, and the shot have now only two rings of lead ¼ inch thick, and1.25 inches broad, one at the shoulder and one at the base of the cone. Both these rings are dovetailed, so to speak, into the iron shot, so as to leave about one-tenth of an inch to fit the rifling. Thus, when the cartridge is ignited the ball is forced forward from the chamber into the narrow bore, which it fills so closely, being actually too large for it, that there is no windage whatever, and every portion  of the explosive force is applied to projecting the ball. The gun on which the Government experimented for months at Shoeburyness before adopting it was actually fired 3,500 times, and yet is now as serviceable as the day it left the foundry. So perfect is the weapon to accuracy that it is said that at 4,000 yards a target 10 feet square could be hit 90 times out of 100 by a good artilleryman. So much for the artillery preparations at the Arsenal. With regard to small arms everything is in an equal state of readiness. There are between 80,000,000 and 90,000,000 rounds of Minié ammunition in store, and the Minié bullet machines are turning out the conical balls at the rate of 2,000,000 rounds per week, a number which can always be increased to 3,000,000 by keeping the machines going during the night as well as day. Of percussion caps we should be afraid to say how many millions there are ready, or how many hundred thousands could be manufactured per day if necessary. On the whole, even from this brief summary of the preparations at Woolwich, our readers will be able to see that they are on a somewhat extensive scale, and, If only intended for defensive purposes, are of a nature well calculated to make even the most timid sleep securely. But, whether meant for defensive or offensive operations, it is rather a comfort as well as a novelty to know that at this time we are well prepared for whatever eventualities may arise, and that if unfortunately England be compelled to take part in the war it will be with such power and resources at command as will astound the world. The Crimea has been a severe and bitter lesson; but costly as its experience has proved, it has been invaluable of its kind.

 

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