Midst Toil And Tribulation – Snippet 36

Midst Toil And Tribulation – Snippet 36


The Citadel,

King’s Harbor,

Helen Island,

Kingdom of Old Charis,

Empire of Charis.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t here yesterday, Sir,” Sir Ahlfryd Hyndryk, Baron Seamount, said to High Admiral Rock Point. “The firing test ran over.” He shrugged wryly. “I’m afraid one of the recuperators failed fairly drastically. It was, ah, quite lively there for a few moments.”

“Was anyone hurt?” Sir Domynyk Staynair, Baron Rock Point and High Admiral of the Imperial Charisian Navy, asked sharply, although the truth was that he knew the answer to his question before he asked. He’d been watching the tests through Owl’s SNARCs.

“Two of Captain Byrk’s seamen were injured,” Seamount acknowledged unhappily. “I think one of them may lose three or four fingers.” He held up his own maimed left hand and wiggled its remaining fingers. “Unfortunately, it’s his right hand and he’s right-handed. The other fellow should be fine, though.” He lowered his hand and grimaced. “I blame myself for it.”

“Really?” Maikel Staynair’s younger brother tipped back in his chair. “You personally built all the components of the recuperator that failed, I take it?”

“Well, no.” Seamount shrugged. “I did have more than a little to do with its design, though. And I was supervising the test in person.”

“And I’ll wager no one could’ve prevented whatever happened from happening. Am I right about that?”

“Well . . . .”

“As a matter of fact, High Admiral, you are right,” Captain Ahldahs Rahzwail said. He glanced at Seamount, then looked back at Rock Point. “It was a fault in the casting, My Lord. That’s my initial analysis of why the cylinder wall split when the pressure spiked, at any rate. And there was no way anyone could’ve known it was there until the gun was fired.”

“That’s pretty much what I expected. So if you’ll stop kicking yourself over that, Ahlfryd, what say we get down to the reason Seijin Merlin and I are here? I have to get back to the fleet, and he has to get back to Their Majesties, and I’ll give you one guess how impatient Their Majesties are to hear about your latest developments.”

“Yes, Sir,” Seamount said, and opened the leather folder lying in front of him on the conference table.

Seamount’s office seemed smaller than it had been, with the conference table and a complete additional desk crammed into it, but its slate-lined walls were still covered with smeared notations, Merlin observed. He was tempted to smile, but the temptation faded, because those half-smeared notes were all in Seamount’s handwriting, or Ahldahs Rahzwail’s. Urvyn Mahndrayn, who’d been Seamount’s assistant for years, would never chalk another cryptic memorandum to himself on those slate walls again.

He settled into his own chair, across the table from Rahzwail. The burly, dark-haired captain reminded him of a shorter version of Rahzhyr Mahklyn’s son-in-law, Aizak Kahnklyn, with blunt, hard features and a heavy forehead which did their best to disguise the quick brain behind them. He might not be another Urvyn Mahndrayn, but very few people were. Rahzwail couldn’t multitask the way Mahndrayn had, and he lacked Mahndrayn’s ability to intuitively leap across obstacles. Yet he was an immensely experienced officer, the ex-commander of the bombardment ship Volcano, and what he lacked in intuition he compensated for with relentless, methodical determination. In some ways, he was actually a better foil for Seamount then Mahndrayn had been, because of how differently their minds worked, but no one recognized what a disaster Mahndrayn’s loss had been more clearly than Rahzwail himself.

Merlin glanced at Seamount as the short, portly baron gazed down at his own notes. Seamount had finally made admiral’s rank, despite the fact that he hadn’t commanded a ship at sea in decades. There were undoubtedly at least a handful of diehard old salts who might be tempted to denigrate Seamount’s admiral’s streamer because of that lack of seagoing experience, but if there were, they would be well advised to keep their opinions to themselves. Most of the Imperial Charisian Navy recognized how much it owed to Seamount’s fertile brain, and Domynyk Staynair had finally taken the first concrete steps towards completing the naval reorganization Bryahn Lock Island had mapped out but never had time to implement.

Seamount was now the commanding officer of the Bureau of Ordnance, with authority over all weapons-related development for the Navy and with Rahzwail as his executive officer and senior assistant. Rahzwail’s primary focus was on artillery and its development, while Commander Frahnklyn Hainai, Seamount’s liaison with Ehdwyrd Howsmyn’s engineers and artificers, was focusing on the development of new and better alloys of steel and the new steam engines coming out of the Delthak Works. It was a comment on just how severe Mahndrayn’s loss had been that it took both of them to fulfill all of the functions he’d fulfilled, although Merlin suspected Rahzwail and Hainai might each actually be better at their part of Mahndrayn’s old work load than he himself had been, if only because they had to juggle so many fewer projects simultaneously. He also knew Rock Point had earmarked Hainai to take over the Bureau of Engineering once it was formally established (in about another two or three months, at the outside), just as Captain Tompsyn Saigyl (yet another Seamount assistant, who’d also worked closely with Rock Point and Sir Dustyn Olyvyr) would be assuming command of the equally soon-to-be-established Bureau of Ships. Captain Dynnys Braisyn was already settling in as the CO of the Bureau of Supply, and Captain Styvyn Brahnahr had been named to head the Bureau of Navigation just last five-day.

There were those who found all the reorganization disturbing, and others who questioned the newfangled notions — especially the newfangled notion of a shore-based naval academy — and whether or not the middle of a desperate war was the best time to be mucking about with problematic innovations. Most, however, realized it was the energetic adoption of new ideas which had permitted the Royal Charisian Navy and, now, the Imperial Charisian Navy to sweep all opposition from the face of Safehold’s seas, and it struck them as a very good idea to continue to innovate if they wanted to keep things that way. As for those who didn’t feel that way, the vast majority of them were at least wise enough to keep their opinions to themselves rather than carelessly scattering them about where they might come to High Admiral Rock Point’s ears.

“For the most part, Sir,” Seamount said finally, looking up from his notes to meet Rock Point’s eyes, “we’re essentially where we expected to be as of our last conference. Ahldahs and I just returned from the artillery tests, and Fhranklyn’s headed up to the Delthak Works to confer with Master Howsmyn. The recuperators worked fairly well, but not perfectly. There’s still too much fluid leakage, and I’m not as comfortable in my own mind about how well they’ll stand up to really heavy guns. So far, we haven’t tried them with anything heavier than a thirty-pounder or a six-inch rifle.”

Rock Point nodded gravely. The thirty-pounder and the six-inch rifle had approximately the same bore, but the ICN had found itself facing much the same problem which had been faced back on Old Earth during the transition from smoothbores to rifled artillery. Smoothbores fired round shot; rifled guns fired elongated, cylindrical shot, which were considerably heavier than the shot from a smoothbore of equal caliber. Given the differences in performance — and bore pressures — that caused, it was a non-trivial distinction. The increase in bore pressures to which rifled guns’ heavier projectiles (and tighter windages) contributed had turned out to be even greater than Seamount and Urvyn Mahndrayn had predicted, yet the advantages would be well worth the headaches. They were going into service, probably sooner than even Merlin had anticipated, and that made figuring out what to call them a rather more pressing concern than some people might have anticipated.


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35 Responses to Midst Toil And Tribulation – Snippet 36

  1. Nimitz13 says:

    Drak, don’t stop NOW!!! Augh! (Ok, due to length you have to stop SOMEWHERE, but things were just getting good!)

    Yes we are getting rifled artillery, but we knew that already – they were winding wire around 24 pounders early in HFaF.

    It looks like the EoC is about to skip ahead a century or so with the latest artillery, although their desire to implement the new tech on heavier guns implies they’re mostly looking at ship artillery. That will be useful to kill off Thirsk from long range, but they need field artillery in Siddarmark NOW!

    Google tells me “a recuperator is the British name for the mechanism which returned the gun barrel to its firing position after recoil. US ordnance uses the term “run-out cylinder”. We’re probably gonna get an explanation of the whole system in the next snippet (Thanks a LOT Drak!) but does this mean we’re going to see breech loading artillery? That would be SWEET!

    If they’re stressed about naming the new hardware, Merlin could always suggest they call the new field artillery Hahwitzers. Bleek!

    • ZachB says:


      The US actually uses the term “recuperator” for the mechanism.

      The biggest issue before the introduction of the recuperator was that force of firing the gun not only sent the shell down range but also displaced the gun from its original firing position. This means that any corrections for the fall of the shot are really only a really good guess because the gun is not in the same position.

      The introduction of the recuperator is the first step towards increasing accuracy of the guns. By including a recuperator the displacement of the gun is limited which means that the gun will not move as much (even modern weapons systems still jump a little when fired) and thus corrections applied from the fall of the round can be more accurately applied to future rounds. I can, in turn, seeing this as stepping stone to real indirect fire capability in the long run and in the short run to increased accuracy over long ranges in direct fire.

      The recuperator will also be a very large stepping stone towards the creation of a breach loading gun, especially with its introduction by the ICN. No they have gun that will return its self to battery (firing position) without giving the crew time to reload its muzzle. I could see the creation of hydraulic recuperator with a stop point at the high point of recoil like the one that John Ericsson created for the muzzle loading Dahlgrens in the turret of the USS Monitor. I honestly think with Merlin pushing, as well as others “in the know,” that they will skip that step and go straight to some sort of breach loader. For those of you that are a fan of what is called the interrupted screw breech (like those on the US’s modern 155mm howitzers like the M109A6 and the M7777A2) I just don’t see that happening right away. Honestly I think that that type of mechanism is too much of a leap even for DW at this point in the story. The necessary metallurgy and level of machining is just not there yet in Charis. The amount of pressures involved in is type of breech system is huge.

      What I think will happen instead is that they will go the much safer and honestly easier route of sliding, or falling, block breech much that same way that the modern howitzer developed. This type breech is both easier manufacture and in the long run is easier to maintain. The one thing that use of the sliding block breech is predicated upon is the creation of a cartridge system, which have already seen hints of in earlier snippets.

      If you are interested let me know and I will get into much more detail.


      FYI, I am a career Red-Leg

      • justdave says:

        duh, no kidding

        been almost 20 years since I got to ‘smell that smell’

      • Robert H. Woodman says:

        Hi, ZachB,

        I am unfamiliar with the term “Red Leg” except as it applies to the American Civil War. Would you please explain what you mean by “career Red-Leg”?



        • classicspaceoperafan says:

          most likely a red leg refers to artillery branch, and career means, of course, having spent one to three decades or so in that branch of the military, likely army, or maybe marines.

          • Robert H. Woodman says:

            Hi, Classicspaceoperafan,

            I thought that it might be that, but my only familiarity with the term came from the Union (terrorists/guerillas/freedom fighters, you decide what they were) in Kansas during the ACW. Further searching showed that “red leg” is a disease and “redleg” is a derogatory term for a poor white person in Barbados and other places. However, I did eventually discover that “Red Leg” meant a U.S. Army Artilleryman, and came from the red stripe that used to be on the trousers of the field artillery.

    • JeffM says:


    • Lee Parker says:

      Speaking of Hahwitzers, when are we going to hear about Mahrters? Put some of THOSE in Siddarmark!

  2. JMBM says:

    Additionally to this new recoil system, have they found a way to manufacture breechloading artillery ?.

  3. EM says:

    Hmm. Will we see the charisian version of HMS Warrior (1860) in this book or the next or will Charis sidestep it to a pure ironclad? It looks like we’ve seen all the critical pieces of technology presented and it would be a good class to have to get officers, men, the fleet supply system and shipyards) used to steamships instead of galleons. If the charisians do build it, either as a testbed or as a transitional ship class, it will likely have as a short a first line career as Warrior, or Charis’ original ‘experimental squadron’, did.

    • RichardK says:

      I think that the battle at Iythria showcased the power of the exploding shell to the point that the ICN is thinking in VERY defensive terms. They know the Navy of God will copy the exploding shells, and eventually have more ships.

      The Warrior type of ship is more defensible but still has vulnerable rigging. The ironclads are defense first and lend themselves to protected steam propulsion. Ironclads.

      • StaaleS says:

        Well, the Warrior _was_ an ironclad, actually. A ship clad in iron armour. Not the first one, even, that honour goes to the French Gloire, although she had the armour bolted on to a wooden hull.

        Now, these early ships, and not so early ones at that, retained a full sailing rig. The most important reason for this was that their steam engines were too hungry for coal, too inefficient, to enable the ship to dispense with the rig and have a useful operational range on coal alone. They would certainly fight under steam but would probably have gotten there in the first place under sail. Later ironclads retained the full rig until very late in the game, the exceptions were pure coast-defence ships like the Devastation, 1871, which would always have a friendly port nearby to recoal in. Interesting ship by the way, she looks like a prototype pre-dreadnought battleship twenty years before her time. (The USS Monitor and her kin fall into the same bracket, coast-defence use only, or even riverine use. Damned things would sink in a mill-pond in a fresh breeze.)

        The better boilers that Charis is playing around with _probably_ means that they could dispense with the rig. On the other hand, it is a long, long way to steam to reach the enemy, and a sailing rig both saves on coal and serves as a backup to the machinery in case of any mechanical hiccups or even battle damage.

        Dare they trust brand-new engine designs absolutely yet? Will they keep working in all weather and sea-states for months on end? Is there some hidden glitch in the design, or some flaw in their manufacture, or some mistake in how they are operated, that won’t show up until you are weeks away from home? Do they carry enough spare parts? Do they carry the right spare parts? Is the hull big enough to carry all the coal? _Can_ you build a big enough hull from wood, or must you switch to composite wood/iron or all-iron hulls? Which would open a new can of worms entirely; a practical anti-fouling treatment for an iron hull was a thorny problem that took decades to work out. Copper plates worked very well on a wooden hull but were pure poison on an iron one. And making effective, cheap, durable antifouling paint is not easy. Copper plates plus sacrificial zinc anodes maybe, but how many must you carry and how on earth do you periodically replace the ones on the bottom of the hull outside of a drydock?

        If I were emperor, I’d stick with a full ship rig on my ironclads for a few years yet, thank you very much. Better safe than sorry. As for vulnerability, you can always strike the topmasts down on deck prior to action, which is the one time you absolutely will want to use engines instead of sail (not that the air uptakes and downtakes for the engine can be expected to be shellproof either, come to that).

    • JMBM says:

      The high pressure boilers and triple expansion steam engines we saw some snippets ago are late 1890s technology, much more advanced than Warrior’s. In these books, innovation is much faster than Earth’s.

      • Doubting Thomas says:

        They are using 260 psi boilers. This is not high pressure. The navy used 600 psi superheat boilers when I was in for DDs and 1200 psi superheat for CVs. Comercial coal plants use 4500 psi super heat boilers, that is high pressure. Or are you using the OSHA definition that anything over 100 psi is high pressure?

        • Robert H. Woodman says:

          Doubting Thomas,

          Are you implying by your question that OSHA might be WRONG or overly cautious? The very idea is unthinkable!

          :-) :-) :-)

        • JMBM says:

          I was just using a different frame of reference, comparing the Safehold design to XIXth century designs. HMS Warrior (1860) used 20Psi boilers, HMS Dreadnought (1905) 250Psi boilers, USS Iowa (1943) 600 Psi. In other words, in their first try they have developed the equivalent of 1900 boilers.

  4. dave o says:

    I agree with Zack B: The sliding breech is a lot more practical at this stage of technology than an interrupted screw. It’s interesting ( to me at least) to compare this discussion with that on the same issue in Kremlin Games. Here, people seem to have some idea what they’re talking about.

    I remember reading in a book on artillery by a British gunner that the Germans preferred sliding breech guns even for very heavy naval artillery (15-16 in guns.) despite the weight and the need for cartridges. The author thought bagged propellant was more practical for guns of this size.

    • JeffM says:

      I’ve always had a fundamental opposition to interrupted screws myself. Especially if we’re talking a second floor window with no balcony. [G]

  5. BobG says:

    One thing that almost surprises me is that Clyhtahn has failed to see that playing catch-up with the Charisians is a losing proposition, especially by playing copy-cat and not innovating. I realize that he hates the innovation, but each time his forces encounter a new technology, they lose catastrophically. And it has happened twice in naval combat (cannon-armed galleons + copper bottoms + schooner rig, shells), and once on land (rifles + field artillery). Can’t the idiot look ahead and see that they will innovate again and again? And each time, the CoGA has been ambushed by the new technology. Technology which may not be reproducable – consider percussion caps, for example. Obtaining a number of percussion caps does not tell you how to make them, and I doubt there are many alchemists on Safehold other than the Charisian ones. I don’t think you can make more than a handful of cartridges without some of Howsmyn’s more advanced manufacturing. If the war were to continue for another decade or so, we’ll have WW I destroyers and cruisers against galleons, and machine guns against cavalry and flintlocks.

    So far, the only evidence we’ve seen of “new” innovation from the CoGA forces are the chains on the Desnarian ships, and Thursk’s thinking about how to armor his ships. And Clyntahn hates both creators.

    • Et1swaw aka Rob says:

      I am wondering if they are mercury fulminate or ?PerChlorate? (see 163x-verse French primers) primers that CoGA has stolen the process for?
      The dangers in production vary wildly between the two.
      I can just see CoGA forcing Harchong slaves to try to produce mercury fulminate primers. The death toll would be atrocious!!!

      The RCN was the leading naval force (copied somewhat by the now members of the Eoc) by factor of their professional seamanship leadership vice having army or noble commanders overriding ship’s masters like the rest of Safehold.
      Now the ICN is extending the professionalism to the administrative side and forming designated Bureaus with ALL having a R&D precept!!

      I also agree for sliding block over interrupted screw. OTOH interrupted screw can be “quick and dirty” over-engineered if neccessary. If “furstest with the mostest” becomes the priority, they may have to go the lesser way.

      • Anthony says:

        I’m not sure that the church has captured any process or samples for primers, or any knowledge yet of breech loading rifles. Those were items that Mahndrayn was working on when he was killed. His cousin was the spy and appears to have died in the mill explosion. Hence no way for Clyntahn to know about those recent developments (except via another spy).

        • Nimitz13 says:

          The crucial things in Mahndrayn’s briefcase were new formulas for the fuses of exploding shells, and diagrams for the angle guns. Since the traitor blew himself up, we’ve all been lulled to think the briefcase was also destroyed.

          He had the time to stow it in a safe place to be picked up by a SECOND spy, presumably one who didn’t know much but was an emergency backup to get stolen information to the CoGA. The information about new fuses and angle guns would be damaging, but not critical.

          Apparently there was NO information on the breech loading rifles or percussion caps included, so those should come as a very NASTY surprise in the Sylmahn Gap. Bleek!

      • BobG says:

        IIRC, perchlorate requires an electrical current for production. Build a big enough plant and see what visits :^)

    • Jeff Ehlers says:

      This is a good example of a “heads I win, tails you lose” scenario. If the CoGA continues playing catch-up, they’ll peter away their material advantage over the Charisians, to the point where the Charisians will eventually be in an unbeatable position. If they start innovating on their own, then Langhorne’s system to strangle progress on Safehold will suffer critical, if not fatal, damage. In other words, either the Charisians win outright, or else the CoGA will have to abandon its resistance to technological advancement. Though, the “angels” supposedly coming within two decades are the joker in the deck.

  6. dave o says:

    Even a tightly machined interrupted screw breech still leaks gas, endangering the gun’s crew. Something like the de Bange obturator is an answer, but this makes the mechanism more complicated. Sliding block breaches depend are sealed by their cartridge which expands under pressure.

  7. dave o says:

    sorry. Delete “depend”

  8. Randomiser says:

    Can anyone tell me if Tor are doing an electronic version of the book and if so when it comes out and where I can find it?

  9. What? It’s been three whole days and no new snippet? Looks like the Bolshevik is falling down on the job!

  10. More to the point, I would submit that TMW is really reaching here with talk of a working recuperator for artillery, given that it wasn’t until 1897 that working recuperator system was produced IRL, and required extraordinarily precise seals made out of sterling silver machined to extremely fine tolerances to be successful. I haven’t seen anything in the entire series to indicate that any “mechanic” on Safehold is capable of machining to .0001 tolerances. I’m just sayin’….

  11. OK, a couple of late comments, first one @ doubtingthomas: a working pressure of 260 psi for a boiler is indeed a high-pressure boiler. By way of example, the Lusitania and Mauretania, the first large turbine-powered passenger liners ever constructed, had a working pressure of 215 psi. 600psi boilers are properly termed super-high-pressure boilers, and that was available only via super-heating.

    Second one is @Et1swaw: the interrupted screw breech will not work without some form of breech-pad, something based on the original DeBange system. Otherwise, no matter how finely machined the screw threads are, there will still be gas leakage, which will lead to rapid if not immediate breech failure, must to the dismay of the guncrews. The sliding block does not require such sealing, especially if the cased propellant concept used in the new breech-loading small arms is upscaled for artillery use. Sliding breech-block really is the quicker and dirtier way–the big advantage the interrupted screw system has is less mass needed at the breech and less room required for the entire breech assembly.

    While I acknowledge the requisite “suspension of disbelief” necessary for this series to succeed, so far all of the technical and technological advances introduced by Charis (kingdom or empire) have been more or less incremental, and logical, direct progressions from existing technologies and equipment. Talk of high-pressure boilers and reciprocating engines worries me, especially the latter, as they require fabrication to much more precise tolerances than has been evidenced anywhere on Safehold so far. It’s one thing to do fine machining of a musket barrel, but trying to forge and machine a twenty-ton crankshaft is a different kettle of fish entirely. For that matter, Housemyn hasn’t even begun to cast steel in the sort of volume and size needed to produce such a thing. Is it just me, or does anyone else feel that TMW might be getting ahead of himself with this? The technical progress that seems to be implied is about to take place is not simply a major advance, but a quantum leap forward–Charis is jumping from about 1790 technologically to about 1860. And while I realize that Merlin is behind a lot of this innovation, even with nothing more than hints, nudges, and winks, in a way, it’s defeating his ultimate objective of having the people of Safehold rediscover the scientific method. It was during that period of 1790-1860 that the scientific method as we understand truly came into being, and all of the technical and technological dead ends were necessary for the scientists and engineers to learn not only what to do and not to do, but why as well. There seems to be an almost utopian atmosphere developing around the scientific and technical innovation, as nobody appears to be following any blind alleys or dead ends. And if they start to go down on, will Merlin allow it to happen or will he intervene to turn the misguided research into a more productive path? Wouldn’t doing so make him the “deus ex machina” that he is determined not to be, and invalidate all of the work he has done so far to accomplish his ultimate mission? Interesting concept here, perhaps: Merlin becomes, as he says in an earlier snippet, more Charisian than he properly should be, given the mission assigned to Nimue Alban. Is it possible that he might willingly surrender that mission in order to assure the survival of Charis, and rely on the inevitability of history to which he referred in earlier books? I’m just sayin’….

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