The Dagger was a general classification for a small knife. Every sailor carried a dagger of some sort for more than just combat. The dagger became more than just a basic adornment of any sailor. The dagger was useful in eating, cutting cloth, line, and other such items while out at sea. Even to this day, the naval sailor is required to wear a knife while underway on a vessel in such cases when a sailor might be trapped in fouled lines.
A Dirk was a particular type of dagger or small knife. In Treasure Island it is a dirk, like this one from the Eighteenth century, that is thrown at Jim Hawkins. It is possible that such a dirk was carried by Naval men as well as pirates, but, still, to a seaman a dagger was a dagger. The style of the small cutlery was a matter of taste and personal comfort.
The cutlass was a crude weapon, made of cheap steel that did not hold an edge. There was no standard system of training until 1814. Seamen usually tried to use it a a slashing weapon while the Officers, who were trained swordsmen, encouraged them to use the point instead. It was an excellent weapon for close quarter fighting such as repealing boarders or boarding an enemy vessel.
The Cutlass is perhaps the most obvious image of the pirate, perhaps second to the cannon! The swashbuckling pyrate with his blade blazing a path to treasure is so etched into the myth of pyracy that the weapon can hardly live up to the image. In truth, the cutlass was the hand to hand combat weapon used when all shots had been fired from smaller arms. Pirates knew that a shot from a gun was better than a slash from a sword. Still, in the face of an empty firearm, the pirates were determined enough to use such larger cutlery as a means to the same end.
The pike was an effective weapon that allowed a sailor to keep the enemy out of sword reach and to strike out before the enemy was ready. It was kept on the right side and was aimed at the opponents heart. Marine Sergeants also carried a similar weapon in battle.
The tomahawk/axe was a traditional weapon long before the age of tall ships. It was a traditional weapon that found new life at sea. Along with small arms and cutlery, a pirate needed a way to cut through riggings and nets to disable a ship or to get to the treasure aboard. In some cases the treasure was simply to disable the ship and take those aboard hostage. In any case, the tool of choice, or of need, was a simple boarding axe. Of course, such an axe could be used on people as a weapon, but in most cases the axe was used in the process of boarding and disabling a ship.
The bayonet was primarily used for the Marine Muskets. It was 17 inches long and a triangular blade. It was used for thrusting and occasionally off the musket as a stabbing weapon. It frequently required some modification in order for it to fit on the muskets due to a poor fit.
The Musket, a general term used for single shot rifles, was one of the first attempts at small arms with some accuracy. The Musket eventually became the model for the rifle, though, in the days of pyrates, the Musket was only slightly more accurate than the blunderbuss.
The Royal Navy musket was a modified Brown Bess musket. It's barrel was between 36 and 38 inches. It was a simpler weapon so that it would stand up to the corrosion of the salt water and the demands of life at sea. The ramrod was made of steel and stored under the stock of the weapon.
The lock used on the sea musket was a variation from the normal one available on the Brown Bess. The lock plate is flat and has less decoration. It is a flintlock. The lead ball it used was a .75 caliber, but the bore was actually bigger. The muskets also came in two barrel lenghts, 3 feet 1 inch and 2 feet 2 inches, both could take a bayonet, and the effective range was around 100 yards.
In the Royal Navy the weapon was purchased by the Ordnance board from private contractors, with only a few specifications which caused a wide variation in weapons. They also came in two variation of barrels, the bright sea service which was usually used by the Marines and the black sea service, which was used for operations where the glint off the barrel would be a bad thing. Both types of weapons were sent to each ship.
The ammunition was pre-made, with both the ball and powder combined in a cartridge. It was wrapped in either greased or waxed paper. The powder used in these cartridges was not as powerful as that which was used in the great guns.
The Musket ball was smaller and designed to shoot straighter, but ultimately could be counted on less to cause the kind of damage that a blunderbuss or musketoon could cause at close range. The thinking was that a musket could kill a single person, most commonly by sailors in the rigging shooting down on the decks at the officers of other vessels or other marines in the rigging with muskets, whereas a blunderbuss would cause havok for many in smaller doses. Still, be it Musket, Musketoon, or Blunderbuss a pyrate probably only owned one of the varieties of rifle.
The Musketoon of 1758 had a brass barrel and the standard flintlock firing mechanism. This rifle was single shot, loaded and packed from the mouth of the barrel. This weapon was less accurate than a musket, but far more effective at close range. In truth it was something of a small cannon in terms of how it was employed. It is doubtful that a pyrate would cary more than one rifle, if any, unlike the rest of the weaponry.
The Blunderbuss was much like the Musketoon in that it was a close range, devastation inducing tool. The blunderbuss is perhaps a more popularly known name for the same kind of large shot rifle. In most cases a blunderbuss is considered the same type of rifle as the musketoon, with the distinction more to be made in the history of firearms than the type of weapons considered.
Unlike the rifles, pistols seemed to be a pirate's best friend. In most pictures of pyrates, it is clear that a number of pistols were carried by each pirate. In most pictures of BlackBeard, at least a half dozen pistols, assumed loaded and ready, can be seen in his sash. The pistol of the day was a flintlock mechanism exactly like the rifles, and a single shot was also loaded via the barrel.
The pistols came in long and short barreled versions, 9 inches and 12 inches long, with a bore of 0.56 inches. The butt had a metal base (known as a skull crusher butt cap) so the pistol could be used as a club once fired. Issued either singularly or in pairs, the sea pistol had an effective range of only 3 or 4 yards. It would be fired and then thrown away to hopefully be retrieved after the fight.
Grenades were issued to the ship's gunner and sometimes to the marines.
The English guns were considered the best in the world by all nations, Spain included. Not only were they stronger and more accurate, they were safe. This safety allowed the guns to be loaded and fired quicker than other gun designs.
There is probably no truth to the tale that urine was mixed with the powder to increase the range. Instead, the higher quality of the guns allowed the more powerful 'mealed' or 'arquebus' powder to be used instead of the less efficient 'coarse corned' type. This, with a preference for the longer range culverins and demi-culverins, proved a decisive factor in the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588.
Gunners comprised about one-seventh of the crew. In 1586 this was reduce to about one-tenth to one-twelfth, which provided close to one gunner for each gun with a gun crew of four or more drawn from the seamen.
The early guns were either cast in bronze - a technique long known and used for making church bells - or were made of wrought iron. The latter were built up from bars of iron welded into crude tubes and strengthened by hoops shrunk on to the outside. A bronze cylinder might be inserted at the breech end to serve as a powder chamber. Cast iron replaced wrought iron for all but the largest pieces during the 16th century, bronze being too expensive when guns were manufactured in thousands.
Many sizes and types of gun were made in a process of continuous development during the 15th and 16th centuries, ranging from the 'whole' cannon firing a ball of more than 70 lb. weight down to the 'smeriglio' or 'robinet', firing a shot of between 1/2 and 1 lb. A multiplicity of names which sometimes transferred from one type of gun to another were used, such as base, basilisk, bombard, culverin, perier, drake, falcon, murderer, minion, saker, passsavolante, serpentine, sling, mortar, trabucchio, and others.
The guns of the 15th and 16th centuries can be broadly grouped into four classes:
Culverin, This was of smaller caliber relative to its length and therefore of greater range. It was subdivided into:
Culverin, a typical example of which would be of 5-in. caliber and firing a 17-lb shot; its length might vary greatly between 13 ft for a bow chaser and 8 or 9 ft for a broadside gun.
Demi-culverin, a 9-pounder of 4-in. caliber and up to 11 ft in length.
Saker, a 5-pounder of 3-in. caliber and some 9 ft long.
Minion, a 4-pounder of 3-in. caliber and also some 9 ft in length.
Falcon, which were 2- to 3-pounders, 1- to 2-pounders for the falconet.
Perier, (includes cannon-perier), this was a short-barreled gun firing a medium-sized stone shot for a comparatively short distance. A typical example would have been an 8-in. gun, only 5 ft long, firing a 24-lb stone shot to a maximum range of some 1,600 yards, as compared to about 2,500 yards of the culverin and 1,700 yards of the demi-cannon.
Mortar, This was an even shorter gun, the original type of which was a conical bore, resembling an apothecary's mortar. Ship-borne mortars of this date fired quantities of small pieces of iron or stone or bullets, either loose or made up in linen or leather bags, their target being would-be boarders on the enemy's deck.
|Names||Chace||Size of Bore||Weight of Shot|
|Rabbinett||3 feet||1 3/4 inches|
|Falconet||4 feet||2 inches|
|Falcon||6 feet||2 3/4 inches||3 to 4 lbs.|
|Minion||8 feet||3 inches||5 to 6 lbs.|
|Saker||9 feet||3 1/2 inches||6 to 8 lbs.|
|Demi-Culverin||10-12 feet||4 1/2 inches||10 to 12 lbs.|
|Culverin||11-13 feet||5 1/2 inches||18 to 24 lbs.|
|Demi-Cannon||10-12 feet||6 inches||about 36 lbs.|
|Cannon||12 feet||7 inches||58 lbs.|
|Long Culverin||16 feet||4 3/4 inches||12 to 15 lbs.|
The culverin type of gun was preferred for arming ships during the 16th century rather than the heavy and comparatively unwieldy cannon and demi-cannon. The steady improvement in the quality and power of gunpowder and quicker combustion, together with the increasing accuracy in the manufacture of the guns themselves, permitted smaller charges to be used and the length of the culverin to be reduced. At the same time naval guns were mounted on the low wooden carriages running on small, solid, wooden wheels or trucks which they were to retain thereafter, in place of the two or four-wheeled, higher carriages or, sometimes, timber scaffolds on which they were mounted in the early Tudor ships.
The development in the 16th century by the English and Dutch of the galleon, with sides pierced for gunports, brought about a new form of naval warfare, relying upon comparatively long-range broadside fire instead of boarding. Its effectiveness was first notably demonstrated in the defeat by the English fleet of the Spanish Armada.
As with the Carronades the Long Guns took their description from the weight of round shot they fired, from 32 down to 6 pounders. The length of the barrel varied as well, the 24 pounder was manufactured in 6 different lengths, three of which were in common use.
The 32 pounder fired a shot just over 6 inches in diameter and with a full charge of 10lb 11oz could make an extreme range of 2000 yards.
Different weights of powder were used, 'distance with one shot' was the full 10lb 11 oz charge, 'full with one shot was an 8lb charge, 'reduced with two shot' was a 6lb charge ( to avoid bursting the gun), 'exercise and saluting' was 6lb, and 'scaling and blank' which was fired to remove rust or attract attention was 2lb 12oz. They were fired with a flintlock mechanism.
Grapeshot was stored in canvas bags on the gun carriage, and the bar shot (for destroying the enemies rigging) on the deck. The 32 pounder guns were mounted on the lower gundeck about 6 feet (2 metres) above the waterline. Lighter guns being mounted on succeding decks.
An 18 pdr long gun with a charge of 5lb of powder was capable of penetrating nearly 2 feet six inches into oak at a range of 400 yds. and over 1 foot at 1000 yds.
By ricochet firing ranges could be increased considerably:-At 1deg elevation the 800 yds for a 32lb long gun could be increased to 2900 yds after 15 grazes. Contemporary notes add:- Ricochet firing
requires a perfectly smooth sea. The closer the gun is placed to the water, the farther it ranges the shot. It might be advisable to heel the ship over by running in the opposite guns. Ricochet firing is not
used for shells because the fuzes are always extinguished when so
Mounted on a slide instead of a carriage the Carronade was a short barreled weapon of limited range, typically half to a third the range of a long gun. However its lighter weight allowed it to be mounted on a higher deck. They were manufactured in the usual naval caliber's 12, 18, 24 and 32 pounders, with some smaller and heavier versions.
The carronade was a short gun developed by the Carron Company, a Scottish ironworks, in 1778. Half the weight of an equivalent long gun, it could throw a heavy ball over a limited
distance as shown in the following table.
This lack of range was frequently a disadvantage, allowing an opponent with conventional guns to stand off and fire without the British vessel being able to reply.
To allow for irregularities and lack of roundness in cannon balls and the difficulties in boring out long cannon there was always a large gap between the ball and the bore. This was known as "windage" and could be almost 0.2" in a 32 pdr. long gun. The Carron Company managed to reduce the windage to 0.073" in their 32 pdr carronades with a corresponding increase in efficiency.
Extreme ranges were seldom used in battle, a pistol shot or thirty yards was more common. Distances were often described by reference to various of the ships guns, so a pistol shot was 25 to 30 yards, a musket shot about 200 yards and a gunshot about 1000 yards. At such close ranges the power of penetration of roundshot was impressive, at 30 yards an 18 pound shot would penetrate four oak planks 32.5 inches thick (just under 1 meter thick), hurling a shower of splinters up to thirty yards. At 300 yards range a 32 pounder firing grapeshot could penetrate 5 inches of fir planking and 4 of oak.