"It's not quite as bad as the Commodore might seem to be suggesting, My Lord," Clareyk said. Lock Island looked at him, and the brigadier shrugged. "Oh, I'm not saying it won't be a problem, My Lord. I'm just saying that finding firing lanes two miles long isn't going to be all that difficult as long as we make good use of things like hilltops. Or, much as the farmers are going to hate it, cropland and pastures."


            "The Brigadier's right about that, of course," Seamount agreed, "but even without the question of terrain features, there's still the fact that the effective range of rifles can match or exceed the effective range of grape or canister. If a battery's exposed to the fire of a couple of hundred rifles, it's going to lose its gunners in short order."


            "That's true enough, My Lord," Clareyk said a touch more grimly.


            "I take it this is going somewhere?" Lock Island said mildly.


            "Actually, it is, Sir." Seamount shrugged. "As I say, Merlin and the King were watching the artillery demonstration, and I raised the same point with him. You see, I'd been thinking about the new muskets. It occurred to me that if we could increase their range and accuracy by rifling them, why shouldn't it be possible to rifle artillery, as well?"


            Lock Island's eyebrows rose. That idea had never occurred to him at all. Probably, he thought, because he was still too busy being so impressed by the revolutionary changes which had already overtaken the naval ordnance with which he'd grown up. Trunnions, bagged powder charges, carronades — the increase in shipboard artillery's lethality was enormous. Yet even with the new guns, sea battles tended to be fought at relatively low ranges. Longer than before the new guns, perhaps, but still far shorter than the theoretical range of their artillery might have suggested. One of the new long thirty-pounders had a maximum range of well over two miles, for example, but no gunner was going to hit a ship-sized target at that distance from a moving deck, no matter how accurate his artillery piece might theoretically be.


            But the ground didn't move. So what sort of accuracy and execution might be possible for a land-based rifled artillery piece?


            "And what did Seijin Merlin have to say in response to this fascinating speculation of yours, Ahlfryd?"


            "He said he didn't see any reason why it shouldn't be possible." Seamount met Lock Island's eyes for a moment, and both of them smiled slightly. "He did . . . suggest, however, that bronze probably wouldn't be the best material for rifled artillery pieces. As he pointed out, bronze is a soft metal, Sir. Even if we can figure out a way to make a shot take the rifling in the first place, a bronze gun's rifling grooves wouldn't last very long."


            "No, I can see that."


            Lock Island discovered that he was rubbing his own chin in a gesture very like Seamount's.


            "Master Howsmyn told me he was making good progress with iron guns," he said after a moment.


            "He is, Sir." Seamount nodded. "They're heavier, and there are still some of what Merlin calls 'quality control issues' that haven't been completely solved. Despite that, I think we'll be able to begin arming ships with iron guns instead of bronze within the next few months, or possibly even sooner.


            "But that brings up another problem. The pressure inside a rifle's barrel is higher than the pressure inside a smoothbore musket's barrel, because the bullet seals the barrel and traps more of the force of the exploding powder behind it. That's one reason rifles have more range."


            "And if the pressure inside a rifled artillery piece increases, and the piece is made out of iron, not bronze, we're likely to see more burst guns, since iron is more brittle than bronze," Lock Island said.


            "That's what I'm afraid of, Sir." Seamount agreed. "I can't be certain how much it will go up, because I don't know if the bore will be sealed as efficiently in a rifled cannon as in a rifled musket. Too much depends on how we finally figure out a way to do it for me to even hazard a guess at this point. At the moment, I'm playing around with several different ideas, though.  And I'm sure we can come up with a solution for the problem — assuming it actually arises — eventually."


            Which means Merlin hasn't told you it's flatly impossible, Lock Island thought. I wonder why he's so prone to throw out cryptic hints instead of just going ahead and telling us how to do it? I'm sure he's got a reason. I'm just not sure it's a reason I want to know.


            "Oh, the Commodore is definitely playing around with 'a few ideas,' My Lord," Brigadier Clareyk said. Seamount darted him a ferocious look which was two-thirds humorous and one-third serious, and the Marine went on. "After Merlin and the King had headed back to Tellesberg, the Commodore and I were discussing weapons in general, and he suddenly got this peculiar expression. You know the one I mean, My Lord."


            "Like someone about to pass gas?" Lock Island suggested helpfully. From Clareyk's expression, the suggestion didn't seem to help as much, perhaps, as one might have hoped it would.


            "No, My Lord," the brigadier said in the careful, half-breathless voice of a man trying very hard not to laugh, "not that expression. The other expression."


            "Oh! You mean the one that always reminds me of a wyvern contemplating a chicken coop."


            "That would be the one, My Lord," Clareyk agreed.


            "And what, pray tell, inspired that particular expression this time around?"


            "Actually, My Lord," the brigadier's own expression was suddenly serious, "it was a very intriguing thought indeed, when I asked him about it."


            "But it's one I'm still working on," Seamount interjected in a cautioning tone.


            "What's one you're still working on?" Lock Island demanded with more than a hint of exasperation.


            "Well, Sir," Seamount said, "the truth is that simply increasing the range and accuracy of a cannon by rifling it won't make the shot it fires any more effective against infantry than traditional round shot. It would just let us fire the same sort of round further and more accurately, if you see what I mean. So I was still turning that problem over in my mind even after discussing it with Merlin. Then, last five-day, the Brigadier and I were watching a new batch of Marines training with hand grenades, and it occurred to me that, right off the top of my head, I couldn't think of any reason for it to be impossible to fire grenades — only they'd be a lot bigger, a lot more powerful, you understand — out of a cannon."


            Lock Island blinked. If the notion of rifling artillery had opened new vistas, that was nothing compared to the possibility Seamount had just raised. And not just when it came to killing infantry at extreme ranges, either. The thought of what a "grenade" five or six inches in diameter might do to a wooden hulled warship was . . . frightening. No, it wasn't "frightening." For any experienced naval officer it would be terrifying. Heated shot was bad enough. It was undeniably tricky to fire, and dangerous to load, since there was always the possibility that it would burn through the soaked wad behind it and detonate the gun's charge prematurely, with nasty consequences for whoever happened to be ramming it home at the moment. Despite that, however, it could be hideously effective, because a red-hot mass of iron weighing twenty-five or thirty pounds, buried deep in the bone-dry timbers of a warship, could turn that ship into a torch. But if Seamount could fire explosive charges — explosive charges that could be reliably detonated, at least — it would be infinitely worse. Not just an incendiary effect, but one which would literally blow its target open and provide plenty of kindling, as well.


            "Ah, have you discussed this particular notion with Seijin Merlin?" he asked after a moment.


            "No, not yet, Sir. I really haven't had the opportunity."


            "Well make the opportunity, Ahlfryd." Lock Island shook his head. "I find the entire idea more than a little frightening, you understand. But if it's possible, I want to know about it. As soon as possible."



About Eric Flint

Author and Editor
This entry was posted in Snippets. Bookmark the permalink.
Skip to top


16 Responses to BY SCHISM RENT ASUNDER — snippet 65

  1. John says:

    It seems that there will be some ironclads running around Safehold soon, at this rate.

  2. George Phillies says:

    However, steel guns can take rifling, and we’ve seen steel advance. Also, forward firing ship guns do not have all the problems that side-facing guns do…you know, galleys.

    The use in land warfare comes first, I think.

  3. JNees says:

    Fuses and detinators are no trivial problem in explosive artillery. I wonder where he’s going with this.


  4. George Phillies says:

    The original explosive shells did not use detonators. They had time fuses. One choice was to light the fuse, load the shell in the gun, and fire, which with loose powder was not the world’s safest artillery technique. Around 1800 an Englishman realized he could let the propellant ignite the fuse for him. So long as the shell only penetrates into an enemy ship but not out again, there is no particular need for it to detonate at an exact time.

    On the other hand, this might be the project that could not be made to work.

  5. kar says:

    If I remember right, explosive shells existed by the time of the 30 years war. Also, there was no rifling at that time period… So what I don’t see is how Safehold hasn’t developed it yet… well… I guess it may be some stupid religious restriction or something. Additionally, I think Ironclads would be against the “laws”. Most like get Merlin burned at the stake or something… lol… like that’ll do anything

  6. kar says:

    I take it back…. they didn’t exist during that time period… wrong war… can’t keep all of them straight considering the Europeans fought every few years.

  7. hank tiffany says:

    probably not true ironclads, that would require steam power which, IIRC, is agianst the Prohibitions. Some iron armor could be used but weight would be a problem with ships driven by sail only. It certainly was on this world.

  8. Ken Valentine says:

    Ranges will be severely limited as long as they’re using wooden carriages without recoil compensators. Elevating the gun barrel more than about 6 degrees risks cracking the carriage’s cheek pieces when firing. Artillery will have to remain in the front line for a while yet.

  9. Lance says:

    Well…we’ve got our bombshell revelation of the truth about 3-4 snippets back…

    Isn’t it likely that Charis says “screw you” on the prohibitions? After all, if you’re going to revolt and you KNOW the truth of the origin of Safehold, why keep handicapping yourself? Its obvious that some in the religious heirarchy know more; given the opening words of the Declaration.

    We also know that Charis has a fair amount of waterworks – how soon we will see a snippet where Merlin is offhandedly mentioning that you can do the same thing with steam? How far-fetched would it be to see Charis engaging in the next naval battle with at least rudimentary steam-powered vessels?

    Damn I hate this drawn out agony!!! :)

  10. Jon says:

    blah, blah, blah…. I perfereed the opening to the Declaration … when does that chapter come back?

  11. E says:

    Prediction for steam: after the wedding.
    Prediction for explosive rounds: (re: Snippet 64 commentary) Correct!
    Prediction for the Declaration: Charis + Chisholm + Emerald (/ Tarot + Corisande eventually) = Alliance with Republic.

    Prediction for how Merlin destroys the Kinetic Bombardment Satellites: … ? Steam cannon? Has to be undetectable so that Merlin doesn’t get blasted just by building it; has to be remote controlled so that Merlin doesn’t get blasted after using it… Arrrgh! Yossarian!!!

    Prediction for course of war: Piracy + Modern warfare (Re: General Sherman; extension of war into the
    civilians that support it)

    My bet for when the Declaration chapter comes back: 1-3 chapters after this little brainstorm between Lock Island and Seamount.


  12. Kar says:

    For the predictions from E and the commentaries on the proscriptions, you have to remember that even though Charis is skirting the proscriptions.. it hasn’t broken them yet. If it does.. it will definitely be a heretic nation to everyone else. Right now, the fact that they didn’t break them but were attacked puts them on the moral high ground. That will be required in the formation of whatever alliance comes into being between the Republic, charis, chisolm, Emerald and whatever else nation joins up. The break from the proscriptions will probably openly happen after the Temple lands are reduced to “dust”. I think Merlin will probably hack the computer security located in the Temple lands, use the assault shuttle carrying “chosen” soldiers, and storm the temple. In the process, maybe the temple lands end up with some craters and new lakes. lol. Talk about poetic justice after what happened to the southern enclave in the beginning of the first book. I like the saying.. “The only good fanatic is a dead one.”

  13. alibaba says:

    with explosive shells… they can start developing mortars, using trebuchets with grenades, etc…

  14. John says:

    Hey, where’s my snippet fix!!!

    It’s been 3 days!!!

  15. Jon says:

    I have to agree with John, WHERES THE NEXT SNIPPET! the suspense is killing me!

  16. Oliver says:

    One simple development I am missing is indirect fire weapons, especially since the difficulties of not-flat terrain have already been raised. This discussion about firing grenades from guns could easily lead to the question of grenade-launchers. Those are simple in construction, easy and fast to position and have devastating effects on infantry and open fieldworks. Since they in principle only need a simple tube and a baseplate and since the ammunition is easy to manufacture, they could be produced in great numbers easily. Of course the ammunition would be of the type with donout-shaped poder bags, not the modern type.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.