Saturday, February 26, 2011

Pic of the Day: Pickens--Hands Up, Varmint!

This is somewhere you didn't want to be, if you didn't belong near one of these old forts.

That's the muzzle of a 32-pounder smoothbore cannon peeking out of Casemate #2. Big guns like these were the primary defense of the fort and were trained on the Gulf, the channel, and Pensacola Bay. Especially on the channel--50 cannon in the lower tier alone, with about as many more up on the roof. Down inside the walls, the gun's better protected from direct fire, but it's got a 90 degree field of fire side to side and a few degrees up and down. You could expect a mile and a half effective range, maybe 2 miles if you weren't picky.

Given the technology of the time, these old forts could not be beaten by a wooden ship. You've got a stable gun platform, lots of guns, and hundreds of men. Once you've dialed in your range on a target you can keep throwing iron at it until it sinks or surrenders.

A ship the size of the frigate USS Constellation was rated for 38 cannon, but they weren't all on the same side of the ship. Even given a good gun crew and 19 big guns on one side, you're still dealing with a platform that's moving with the waves--up & down, rolling left to right, pitching front to back, and there's no way to keep getting direct hits on the same spot on that fort no matter what a big target it is.

Once ships got rifled guns, iron plating and screw propellers, the tables were turned. A rifled gun is more accurate, iron plating more resistant to impact, and a propeller lets you move your ship against the winds and currents, something a sailing ship can't do.

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