Saturday, August 28, 2010

Sometimes History Gets the Better of Me

 When I began miniature wargaming forty years ago I played WWII armor.  I think everybody starts there.  We played with Roco minitanks because they were cheap back then, and later we played with GHQ micro armor.  What was everyone's favorite tank?  The German King Tiger of course.  They were big, nasty, had a wicked 88mm gun and could easily slay T-34's or Shermans.  That there were only 200 plus of them made while thousands of Panzer IV's, Panthers, or the previously mentioned Russian and American vehicles were manufactured in the tens of thousands made little difference.  King Tigers were cool.

Yesterday when I got home from our game, I began to have that nagging King Tiger feeling. In our Wilmington game I'd try to apportion the Confederate guns reasonably, so that there were about 50% rifled guns and 50% smoothbores.  In Fort Anderson there were five total guns.  Of those, one was a 7" double banded Brooke rifle and another was a 6.4"  double banded Brooke Rifle.  Battery Johnston, near the board entry for the Union, also had a 6.4" double banded Brooke Rifle.  The Martello tower had a British 100 pdr Blakely rifle, and Battery Trimble near the opposite entry point for the Yankees had a 30 pdr Parrott rifle.  The Confederate ships also had some rifled artillery.  The rebel ironclad, modeled on the Raleigh, a Richmond inspired ram mounted four 6.4" Brooke Rifles.  The Morgan, according to the Ironclads board game mounted a pair of 7" Brooke double banded rifles.  Silverstone's Warships of the Civil War Navies disagrees and gives the Morgan 7 inch rifle and a 6.4 inch gun.

So, in yesterday's game there were nine Brooke rifles.  Why is this important and what does this have to do with King Tigers?  More than you might think.  Brooke rifles were considered the finest rifled guns of the American Civil War.  They were more accurate and had longer ranges than the Federal Parrotts, and were also less prone to bursting than the numerous Parrotts.  We know the first Brooke rifles were mounted in the Virginia when it fought the Monitor in 1862, and they appeared in the James River flotilla when they fought the Federal fleet on the James River at Trent's Reach in February 1865.  The CSS Atlanta was armed with them (we know because the captured guns are on display the Washington Navy Yard), the Tenessee II was armed with them at Mobile Bay (we know because they are on display in Alabama.)

The problem is, Brooke naval and seacoast guns were scarce as hen's teeth.  The number of Brooke rifled guns was something under 150 tubes.  Brooke rifles were cast and bored at the Tredegar ironworks just outside Richmond, and at the Selma foundry in Alabama.  Though Tredegar cast more than a thousand cannon, less than a hundred were Brooke rifles.  Spencer Tucker in his excellent Arming the Fleet states the Tredegar works cast less than 83 rifles and 16 smoothbores.  Tucker goes on to claim the Selma foundry cast 53 rifles and 18 smoothbores.  Edwin Olmstead in his book Big Guns: Civil War Siege, Seacoast, and Naval Artillery, breaks the quantities down even further:
 6.4" Brooke Rifle

Only four 8-inch rifles were cast at the Tredegar works.
Tredegar produced 26 single banded 7-inch guns, 36 double banded 7 inchers, and three triple banded guns.  Selma produced 54 7-inch tubes, but shipped only 39 due to casting flaws.
Tredegar also produced 35 single and double banded 6.4" rifles, while Selma managed 15 usable 6.4" guns.
Some flawed 6.4" and 7" castings were rebored as 8" smoothbores.

This is a problem for me as a scenario designer.  So many of the vessels in the Ironclads rules call for Brooke rifles, and that just can't be, there weren't enough to go around to all the ships and coastal fortifications that often find their way into our wargames.

Tucker reminds us the Confederates captured the Gosport Naval Yard at Norfolk in 1861.  In addition to the hull of the USS Merrimack and the magnificent drydock needed to convert her to a massive ironclad, rebel forces also captured nearly 1,200 heavy naval guns.  Though some were modern shell guns, including 52 IX- inch Dahlgrens, not one was a rifled gun.  Additional guns and naval stores fell into Confederate hands when they captured Pensacola.  So there was a passel of guns out there, many of them quite modern, but rifles would have to be imported from Great Britain (Blakely's, Whitworths, or Armstrongs) or they'd have to be made.  Tucker relates the Confederates favorite conversion was to bore out a 32pdr and band the breach.  Voila, instant rifle, that is covered and rated in Ironclads.

I've done a bit of a search to determine the gun types present at Fort Sumter during the unsuccessful sea assault in April of 1863.  At that time the fort mounted some forty pieces of artillery.  They can be seen here. Not one Brooke rifle is listed.  The only rifles appearing are rebored 32 pdr and  42 pdr smoothbores, or "James" rifles that fired 64 and 84 pound rifled projectiles.  These appear in the Ironclads rules as the Army rifle. The 42pdr was a standard seacoast weapon which appeared after the War of 1812.
Collection of James Rifles.  32 pdr on field carriage, and 42 pdr on fortress carriage in the background
In any case, it seems to me I'll need to give some thought to redesigning the fortress armament for the Wilmington defenses.  I don't want anyone to leave the game feeling like they'd been King Tigered.


DeanM said...


I'm bummed to have missed the last Truants '10 game; but hopefully, we'll do it again next school break or summer. Very interesting post about the guns and King Tiger analogy. Someday I want to get one of those large-scale remote-controlled tanks - too cool! Dean

Dave S. said...

I'm just glad to see you aren't adding King Tigers to the Confederate forces!

I wish I could make it to some of these games, but it isn't an option right now.

As far as the guns go, you could always give the Confederates the option of choosing some better guns (or mixing up the OOB) at the cost of the total number of guns available. But I'm not sure of the whole situation, so it may be that any choices would be too obvious.