Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Black Powder & Howitzers

Before the post, a thank you. Following a recent comment famine, the last 12 hours has seen a record 7 comments and 3 new followers. Well, 6 comments really as Steve Johnson posted the same comment twice. I think he realised I was feeling lonely. So thanks to all who posted and those who became followers. I hereby promise to leave more comments on other people's blogs.

To keep the party atmosphere going, I have added the proper 'Follower' widget so all followers get their logo at the top of the page. And to celebrate, what better than another post?

Howitzers in Black Powder
The photo shows a couple of howitzers recently acquired from (you guessed it) the RSM95 range. Austria to the left, Prussia to the right.

Checking the howitzer rules in BP I found that they make howitzers handy things to have, but the rules also have some misconceptions about the capabilities of these weapons. The basic mistake seems to be that howitzers are lumped in with the very different mortars. Viz:

1. All mortars and howitzers have a minimum range of 6"... This is simply allowing the room for the shell to reach the top of its trajectory before falling upon the target. (p.81).
Reasonable for mortars but quite incorrect for howitzers. These were perfectly capable of firing on a flat trajectory (sometimes using their shells for ricochet fire just like cannonballs) and were furthermore very effective users of grape or canister. So it is appropriate to use the same rules for fire within 6" (i.e. short range) as for ordinary guns.

2. Ranges have been fixed at somewhat less than equivalent cannons... (p.81).
I have found no real evidence for this. For example, in the SYW period the ranges of the Austrian 6pdr gun and 7pdr howitzer are comparable. So my smoothbore field howitzers get a range of 48".

3. Enfilade Fire... [not allowed to] cannons firing overhead at a target, or howitzers or mortars that lob their shots upon their target. (p.55).
For overhead fire in general or mortars, quite right. But again, howitzers were capable of (and commonly used) low trajectory fire, including canister. Either allow enfilade fire for howitzers as normal, or allow it for howitzers firing at up to half (or 'medium') range.

4. As mortars/howitzers have an explosive or incendiary shell, they inflict the same amount of damage regardless of range. These weapons therefore have the same number of attacks at all ranges as shown in their profile. This is normally 2 for a smoothbore field howitzer. (p.81)
A sensible seeming rule, but I can't find any 'profile' for howitzers in the rules. The only stats example that has howitzers (p.169) keeps standard gun stats of 3-2-1. I presume the above rule means that BP would give pure howitzers stats of 0-2-2, whilst my comments under 1 above would mean you should really use 3-2-2. However, this raises the question of why all guns in a SYW army weren't howitzers, if they were so effective. Well, Frederick II for one was pretty keen on them, but the point remains. Therefore it might be better to leave howitzer stats at 3-2-1, reasoning that it was much more difficult to hit at long range and that therefore casualties caused at long range would be less, as with guns but for slightly different reasons.

I am pretty confident that the above objections are watertight, but as always comments are not only welcomed, they are positively encouraged.

Thanks again to all readers.


Bluebear Jeff said...

Once you've purchased the rules, they are yours to modify for your own use . . . and I believe that BP actually encourages this.

Your arguments make sense to me. The only thing to be careful of is to be sure that your opponents know your changes ahead of time. But, that being the case, I'd say that your changes make perfect sense.

-- Jeff

Anonymous said...

These changes seem reasonable to me, Keith. The authors of BP don't claim to know everything and they encourage people to fiddle with the rules to suit. I'll be doing the same for the Anglo-Zulu War.

Steve J. said...

All reasonable to me Keith. One of the very nice things about BP is that it does encourage players to tweak the rules to suit specific periods, actions etc.

And I hope this doesn't get posted twice!

Andy McMaster said...

Now following!

What are the RSM codes for the shirt sleeve gunners? Rich sent me a couple of 8 and 12lb'ers bit I still need crews and want some more informal chaps!

All the best


Keith Flint said...

Andy, I believe they are S5-022, 'Prussian Gunner in Waistcoat'. From my catalogue, only the French and Prussians have specific artillery figures, so generally I just ask Rich to supply me with a mix suitable for Austria or Prussia. I guess the French figures are the ones suitable for Austria.

Keith Flint said...

My mistake Andy, there are English and Russian gunner figures as well.

Andy McMaster said...

Thanks for that Keith, I shall put in an order soon.


Anonymous said...

A couple of things re why all guns aren't howitzers. First cost of ammunition. There's not much point in going to the extra expense of making exploding shells if your gunners end up using them as round shot. 2nd is the question of muzzle energy using round shot or canister. The light, short, large-bore barrels can neither take such a large charge nor deliver the same muzzle velocity with the same charge as a standard gun reducing effectiveness in the low angle mode. Frederick was keen on using howitzers to reach enemy troops in dead ground where your aim is speculative anyway but at ranges of say 800-1000m with clear line of sight long guns using roundshot are probably more effective being more accurate and retaining more energy. As this is the sort of conditions under which gunners ideally want to be operating and damaging the enemy, this could explain the balance in favour of long guns.

Keith Flint said...

Good points. And of course the simple unreliability of howitzer shells was, i think, a major point. It was hard to get them to explode where you wanted them to, even if your gunners had the skills required. Rules need to reflect this in some way.