The British military exhibition, or at least the part devoted to land and sea artillery and equipment proper, is divided between two separate pavilions, one of which contains the products of the arsenals of private industry, one of which contains the products of the arsenals of private industry, which contributes in such a high degree to the military power of Great Britain by the importance of the supplies and equipment which it can deliver in a short space of time, if the gravity of the circumstances should require it, and the second of which is more particularly devoted to the new types adopted in the last instance by the Artillery Committee, and to the production of the royal arsenals.
After having spent enormous sums of money, estimated at no less than one hundred million, on experiments with various systems of artillery and breech loading, having thought for a moment that it had reached its goal with the Armstrong guns and having ordered a considerable amount of equipment, the English government, frightened by the eventualities of the future, decided to launch a new project, frightened by the political contingencies which were arising, of having as yet no really practical system for its army and fleet, rejected in 1863 the Armstrong, Whitworth, Scott and other inventions as too complicated, and discarding breech-loading for large calibre guns, adopted a system of muzzle-loading guns very similar to the system in use in the French navy until 1865, - at the very time when our naval artillery, after careful experimentation, was transforming with marvellous skill our old equipment, by surrounding our cast iron pieces with steel hoops which gave them a new force, found a system of loading by the breech, whose solidity and safety united all the suffrages, and relatively endowed our ships, almost without expense, with an artillery which, for penetration, accuracy and range, is most remarkable.
In adopting the new system called the Woolwich gun, named after the royal arsenal where it was manufactured, the English committee did not intend to create a gun without rivals and which could not be surpassed, but it wanted above all to get out of the experiments and to provide the fleet immediately with a really practical artillery. - He needed an immediate weapon, and the Woolwich gun provided it.
The excitement which had greeted Sir W. Armstrong's first results, and his various systems of design, were not lost on him. Armstrong's early results, and his various breech-loading systems, had not stood the test of time. A great metal manufacturer, Sir W. Armstrong had been struck by the idea that, with the perfection of English tooling and the point at which manufacture had reached, a rifled tube could be forged to such a size as to produce a gun; and in the English survey of 1863, which to some extent records the history of rifled guns among our neighbours, he himself says: "In the month of February 1854 my friend Mr. Rendel, a well known engineer, came to see me. Rendel, a well-known engineer, submitted to Sir James Graham a communication from me, suggesting the possibility of increasing the ordinary rifle to the size of a field gun, and of employing elongated lead projectiles instead of cast iron balls. "This was the starting point. It was to have first, and it resulted in a gun loading by the calasse, where the projectile would fill the role of the forced bullet in a rifle, which could be obtained for pieces of this dimension only with the help of projectiles of a diameter larger than that of the core. Hence the necessity of this lead sleeve which enveloped the projectiles, tore in the rifling and, sometimes, became, at the exit of the muzzle, dangerous for the servants themselves, and, suppressing the wind, i.e. the space between the projectile and the bore of the piece, increased the resistance and the fouling, and decreased the accuracy of the shooting; for, at the exit, the gases having a velocity four or five times greater than that of the projectile, serve, as it were, to prepare the atmosphere for the ball and to throw it on the straight line of its trajectory.
Sir W. Armstrong himself was soon to recognise the error he had fallen into, at least for the larger calibres, and adopt the Shunt Principle for his large muzzle-loading guns. - The Shunt Principle, reports Captain Aloncle in his curious and interesting studies on marine artillery, consists in the fact that the rifling of the gun is a little wider at the muzzle of the gun than it is towards the bottom of the bore. In the body of the projectile are embedded protruding parts of soft metal, which, when the gun is loaded, are placed in the flared part of the rifling. This creates a certain amount of play which facilitates the introduction of the projectile. The projectile passes through one side of the rifling on its way in and the other side on its way out. - As for the actual process of building the guns, it has not been modified. This process always consisted in establishing a barrel, thanks to the perfection of manufacture, as one established the barrels of rifles known under the name of ribbon barrels, and consequently to form the barrel of an interior tube on which one rolls in spiral two or more successive layers of hot metal strips. The number of these layers is proportioned to the resistance which the muzzle must offer, and these cylinders or strips, are worried together by means of a steam hammer, and, to better resist the pressure which is felt inside the gun, at the time of the explosion of the powder, one reinforces the system by an interior cylinder of steel, on which are established and are rolled up the bandages (Coïls) which made give this manufacturing process found by Sir W. Armstrong, and soon imitated by other manufacturers, the name of Coil Principle.
Our drawing represents one of Sir W. Armstrong's marine guns, placed at the Exposition. Armstrong's naval guns, placed at the Champ de Mars Exhibition, on its side mount, in front of the ship's wall, as it would be in the battery of a battleship. The gun is of the calibre of nine English inches (0.228m) and weighs twelve and a half tons. Two organs, if one can use this expression to unbundle the various parts of this complicated machine, the whole of which must allow the use of the gun itself, are particularly remarkable: - The small stretcher which raises the heavy projectile, and, sliding on an iron rod, carries it to the mouth of the gun, where it is fixed by two holders while the servants make penetrate the projectile in the heart of the piece, - and the brake invented to decrease the recoil of the gun, a kind of comb multiplying the surface of friction in an enormous way. Finally, the perfection of the manufacture cannot be praised enough. The art of handling metals, of forging and softening iron, could not go further.
In the same room is a field gun of the Armstrong system, breech-loaded, with iron carriage and wheels, and the gun of another famous Manchester manufacturer, Mr. Whitworth, which is distinguished by a peculiar system which may be called "the hexagonal rifling system," the bore of the piece being in the form of a hexagon. The Whitworth gun is made of hardened steel, with the centre piece reinforced by steel hoops placed and adjusted cold with the hydraulic press. In addition to the large calibre guns and many projectiles, Mr Whitworth also sent a field piece. Sir W. Armstrong and Mr. Whitworth would undertake to supply the whole world with guns, and, of all the astonishments which the industry of England gives us, one of the most singular, to be sure, is to see those private arsenals, to which the English Government gives no subsidy, and which, even without the orders of the Royal Artillery, find in the purchases of foreign countries a sufficient supply to ensure their prosperity.
In spite of all the resources offered by private industry, the English government, after the experience of the Crimean War and the Indian War, wanted to have under its direct control a model establishment which would ensure all the needs of the service and constantly advance the manufacture.
To this end the Woolwich Dockyard, situated in the county of Kent, between London and the sea, on the banks of the Thames, has been completely transformed during the last few years, and has become the largest establishment in the world for the manufacture of war material. Woolwich, in fact, constantly employs, at any one time, from eight to ten thousand workmen, divided into three large divisions completely distinct from each other - the royal gun factories - the royal carriage department - the royal laboratory department. It is in the gun factory that the new guns adopted by the Artillery Committee, under the name of Woolwich guns, are now made, of which our drawing, representing the pavilion of the English exhibition specially assigned to the products of the State, which is tending more and more, by a modification of English habits worthy of note, to replace the system of contracts, gives several specimens. Here also are established the carriages and wagons of war, for it is not enough to have guns, they must be mounted, it is also necessary to establish that great quantity of carriages of various forms necessary to an army in the field, and the royal carriage department, with its twenty-five steam engines and its two thousand two hundred employees, is sufficient for all needs.
The Royal Laboratory Department of Woolwich Arsenal has brought together in a mahogany and glass case, so elegant as to seem designed to display the wonders of jewellery, the whole series of its destructive products, which astonish and surprise by the perfection and coquetry of their manufacture, if such an expression were permitted, and the good taste with which they are arranged. The women themselves find great pleasure in contemplating these machines of death at rest; They are there arranged in order, on one side, those intended for the army, on the other, the projectiles used by the navy, from the machine-made barrels, intended to contain gunpowder, to the cartridges of various models, to the ammunition of all kinds and forms, ammunition for rockets (Rokets), ball boxes, cylindrical shells, Schrapnel, which in bursting spread a shower of bullets, projectiles made of Palliser cast iron, a particular quality of cast iron, named after the inventor, to which the shape is given in cast iron moulds instead of sand moulds, by employing the process known to the trade as shell casting, which, by the more rapid cooling of the cast iron in contact with the walls of the mould, whitens it and gives it, when it solidifies, a hardness almost equal to that of steel, illuminating shell, which, by opening in the air, develops a parachute supporting the flaming materials and spreads a bright light over the works of the enemy Many other inventions still, segmented shells, rifled spheres, and a thousand new means of destroying each other for which the inventors all claim the first rank. It is certain that perfection has become great. We know how to calculate, with mathematical precision, the duration of the ignition of the fuse, and how to make the shell filled with bullets, perfected by Colonel Boxer, fall at will in front of the front of a troop which is decimated by the grapeshot escaping with the fragments. The projectiles are now equipped with a double fuse, percussion and time. If by some accident the time fuse has not burst at the right moment, the percussion fuse breaks on hitting the ground, and the effect is not lost. - Colonel Boxer, Superintendent of the Woolwich Arsenal Laboratory, Sir W. Armstrong, Messrs. Freeth, Mr. Petermann, have obtained very remarkable results, and special men will find valuable lessons in the careful examination of these products.
Nearby is a gabion with those barrels open at both ends, which are quickly filled with earth, in defence work, to take shelter from bullets. Instead of tree branches and wicker racks, it is made of zinc ribbons that are wound and braided around the sticks. A ship can thus carry in advance, and without losing space on board, the complete equipment of the siege. The weapons in use in the English army, made with machine tools, some of which are exhibited, the collection of uniforms which are no longer required from private industry, but are now made directly by the State, with great economy, the escutcheons containing the equipment of each corps, artillery, rifles, grenadiers, cipayes, higlanders, etc., and those great trophies of arms, which were made by the British army, and these great trophies of arms and flags, where the blades of sabres form the laurel leaves, and the hounds, the cipher of the queen, enliven the wooden walls of this pavilion, dedicated to the works destined to protect and defend the marvels of industry which surround it. Not far from the columns laden with the tools used by the workmen of the various professions attached to the service of the army, and near the ambulance cars and surgical appliances of Evans and Stevens, is also a large plate of armour for an earthen fortification, hammered by the balls of Armstrong's guns, from seven to ten inches in diameter, each shot of which was fired at a distance varying from three hundred and sixty-nine to four hundred and twenty-five yards. This plate, sent by Messrs. Brown and Co. of Sheffield, is one of the objects which most strikes visitors, strangers to the movement imparted to the material of war, and to the means of destruction by the progress of modern knowledge. To all these inventions science itself opposes new inventions. To resist the power of the projectiles of those Woolwich guns intended for land batteries, twelve English inches in diameter and twenty-three tons in weight, and those of the navy of twelve tons and nine inches, the sight of which alone inspires respectful apprehension, more resistant metals are found every day, and, when engineers believe themselves assured of the result, the artillerymen go back to work, and break their protective plates. Each one struggles in this way until the hour of combat, when success, which represents the peace, rest and well-being of a whole people, will belong to the one who, equipped with good material, will have the most composure and moral value. May God preserve us for a long time to come from these cruel trials; but if they should come, let us face them with confidence, they are less formidable than the sight of these engines of destruction would lead one to suppose. Many in the serious practice of warfare would give mediocre results, and would be quite as useless as those gigantic bombs, weighing 1150 kilograms, placed on each side of the entrance to the pavilion, which should be thrown by a mortar of fifty-two tons with a charge of three hundred and seventeen kilograms of powder. After all, it will always be men who will have to operate these Leviathans; iron can be made bigger, but the worker does not change, only his moral value changes, and he is destined to play a greater role every day in the new wars. This is the most curious of the lessons to be learned from these singular contests of the works of destruction. The first condition of success now consists in the intellectual and moral development of the people. The human body is powerless before the prodigious force obtained from matter; the soul alone can triumph over it.
©L'Exposition Universelle de 1867 Illustrée