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Experiments with the Armstrong and Whitworth Field Guns.


November-December 1862

From The Missouri Democrat, Saturday, November 22, 1862.

Experiments with the Armstrong and Whitworth Field Guns.

[From the London News of Nov. 1.]

Some very interesting trials of 12-pounder field guns, rifled according to the different systems of Sir Wm. Armstrong and Mr. Whitworth, were made at Fort Twist, near Shorncliffe, last week, before Gen. Bloomfield, Inspector General of Artillery, and a large staff of officers. The Whitworth guns were four in number, and formed part of a battery of 12-pounder brass muzzle-loading guns, being the first guns rifled on this system which have been furnished for the service. The Armstrong guns were two of the ordinary 12-pounder field guns, such as were used in China, with certain improvements since adopted, and, of course, breech-loaders, mad of iron on the plan employed in the construction of all the Armstrong guns.

This was the first occasion on which so direct a comparison has been made between these rival systems in regard to field guns, and the result was regarded as one of considerable importance by the officers of artillery and other scientific artillerists present at the experiment. The trials began by firing at a floating target, distant 500 yards. As the shot fell in the sea, no very close comparison could be made as to the accuracy of the respective hits, but both at the 600 yards range and afterwards at 1,200 yards, the shot from the Whitworth was the first to carry away the flag aimed at, and it was generally conceded that at both ranges this gun fired closer to the mark than the Armstrong. Both guns were then tried with shell, the Armstrong firing the compound percussion shells, the Whitworth firing the new kind of shrapnel perfected under the superintendence of Colonel Boxer, which is now promising, so far, to surpass all shells hitherto invented, whether for the field or for piercing the sides of armor plated ships. It was observed that a considerable number of the Armstrong shells burst in the air before reaching the mark, and, of course, without effect; but the Whitworth shell, being used with a time fuze, which is ignited in front like the old shell by means of the ordinary Boxer time-fuze, was found to be more regular and effective in its action.

But perhaps the most interesting part of the experiments was a comparison made between the two different kinds of ordnance as to rapidity of fire. It has always been held that the one great advantage of the breech-loader was its superiority in handiness and quick firing. The results of this trial does not, however, confirm this opinion. The artillerymen were ordered to fire twenty rounds from each gun as rapidly as they could be served. The Whitworth gun finished the twenty rounds first, completing the task in thirteen minutes; the Armstrong followed 2½ minutes later. This superiority was attributed to the simplicity of the loading and serving the Whitworth gun, the drill being, in fact, precisely the same as in working one of the old smooth-bore guns, whereas the Armstrong drill requires three or four extra movements. All the guns were further tried by firing from each one hundred consecutive rounds. The Armstrongs were fired with lubricating wads, and were also washed out and had their breech pieces changed as often as they became heated so as to be unsafe; the Whitworths all completed their one hundred rounds without being washed out at all, and without using any lubricating wads. It was remarked, too, that the loading was as easy at the last round as at the first.

The trial exhibited a practical proof of the value of brass muzzle loading guns. The French artillery, it will be remembered, have always preferred these guns, as they are found very rarely to get out of order, either by injury in service or by the action of the weather. When rifled, as these guns are, upon the Whitworth system, and made without the complicated arrangement for loading at the breech, it is evident that they are capable of the most efficient service of any field gun yet employed.