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 Heated Shot aboard ship 
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Heated Shot aboard ship

I thought that maybe this topic deserved its own thread. Some comments were made recently during the discussion of "Six Frigates" by Ian W. Toll concerning the U.S. Navy. Click Here to refresh your memory of that discussion.

In the biography of Captain Charles Stewart [U.S.N.] that I am reading titled "A Call to the Sea" by Claude G. Berube & John A. Rodgaard, it appears that Stewart developed a special furnace to heat shot aboard ship.

Excerpt follows, from pages 73-74:

His [Stewart's] preparations [to get the USS "Constitution" ready for sea] were thorough and again innovative. An example of this can be seen in his correspondence to the [U.S.] Navy secretary [William Jones], dated 5 December 1813

I have constructed a portable sheet iron furnace for heating red hot shot of the following dimensions which would answer as well for land service as sea service. . . . The construction of the pipe is such as it gives it a great draught. From its dimensions you can readily conceive it occupies little room, and is calculated to set to the back of our Galley where it interferes with nothing -- My purpose is only to use it against the enemy's ships of such force as would render our safety precarious, (if we cannot otherwise escape) by bringing them under our stern battery and firing red hot shot in their hull. They [Stewart's furnaces] are not very expensive and all our frigates having them, the use of which might facilitate then escape from a superior force by the contusion they would be thrown into if not the destruction of am enemy that is not disposed to contend with us on fair and equal terms.

The importance of Stewart's invention lay not in that it represented something new, for red-hot shot had been used in the past, but that he considered it a tool of last resort, a tool to be used to preserve one of the nation's preciously few frigates.

Excerpt ends.

The underline in the last sentence is mine. It appears that heated shot had been used earlier and I'm still looking for examples. There is nothing in the book so far [not done reading it yet] to indicate that other ships were fitted with Stewart's furnace or anything thing to indicate that it was actually used. As Stewart and the authors note, it would be a weapon of last resort and nothing in the history of the "Constitution" has it in dire straits.

Don


Mon Apr 23, 2007 10:31 pm
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I don't know if this is of any use for you...Hot shot was used in 1781 at Yorktown by the French when they sunk HMS Charon (though I doubt that it was by using Stewart's invention)

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Wed Apr 25, 2007 10:11 pm
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Sheila wrote:
I don't know if this is of any use for you...Hot shot was used in 1781 at Yorktown by the French when they sunk HMS Charon (though I doubt that it was by using Stewart's invention)

Sheila, I guess I should have been clearer in what I am searching for. I can find examples of heated shot being fired "from land-based guns" like those from a French battery that sunk the Charon, but I am searching for examples of heated shot being fired "from a ship". Since heating shot was difficult and dangerous even ashore, it was not a normal tactic during a ship-to-ship battle. From what I have read, and from the comments posted here by others, this "might" have happened (and probably was at least tried) but I cannot find a specific example of it. The closest I have come is finding that the very inventive Captain Charles Stewart developed a special furnace to heat shot aboard ship but there is no record of the USS Constitution ever firing such.

If you run across any such reports, please post the info here.

Thank you, Don


Wed Apr 25, 2007 10:36 pm
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I realize this is from a later time period and on a different type of ship (steam), but perhaps it will help anyone, who is interested, find more information.

"The steam-vessel [the Karteria, Greek Navy] commanded by that officer [Frank Abney Hastings] was the first vessel from which red hot shot have been habitually used at sea. Now, it is clear to every body, that the operation of heating a sixty-eight pound shot, and firing a number of loaded shells from a vessel, must be an operation of such delicacy and danger....Yet Captain Hastings, in a memoir on the subject, mentions, that during little more than a year's service, he fired 18,000 shells and a considerable number of hot shot, and burned seven Turkish vessels, without a single accident on board his own ship."

From The Hellenic Kingdom and the Greek Nation (1836) by George Finlay.

The memoir mentioned in the text above is Memoir on the Use of Shells, Hot Shot, and Carcass Shells from Ship Artillery (1828).

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Thu Sep 13, 2007 5:07 am
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Don,

I know that you are aware of the report that the British frigate Confiance fired on the Saratoga with heated shot on Lake Champlain in 1814, which seems to have been debunked on another list.

William James states that the French used heated shot in the battle of the Glorious 1st of June, 1794, and in particular that the Scipion's furnaces were knocked down and "the hot shot in them scattered about the deck, to the great danger of setting fire to the ship" (Naval History, 1826 edition, p240). See here, and also referring to the Trajan or the Eole firing at the Leviathan and hitting the America: here.

Much later, in 1858, there are instructions on the use of red hot shot on board both steamships and sailing ships here.

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Tony


Thu Sep 13, 2007 1:51 pm
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Quote:
The steam-vessel [the Karteria, Greek Navy] commanded by that officer [Frank Abney Hastings] was the first vessel from which red hot shot have been habitually used at sea.

and was of course sent to Greece by Thomas Cochrane, for whom red hot shot was really rather a tame weapon.

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Thu Sep 13, 2007 2:17 pm
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Tony wrote:
Don,

I know that you are aware of the report that the British frigate Confiance fired on the Saratoga with heated shot on Lake Champlain in 1814, which seems to have been debunked on another list.

William James states that the French used heated shot in the battle of the Glorious 1st of June, 1794, and in particular that the Scipion's furnaces were knocked down and "the hot shot in them scattered about the deck, to the great danger of setting fire to the ship" (Naval History, 1826 edition, p240). See here, and also referring to the Trajan or the Eole firing at the Leviathan and hitting the America: here.

Much later, in 1858, there are instructions on the use of red hot shot on board both steamships and sailing ships here.

Tony, yes, I have been following the discussion on the other list (of which you made an excellent summary here, thanks).

Since, so far, no one has come forward with primary source material showing that the Royal Navy (or the US Navy for that matter) used red-hot shot aboard ship in any action of the era, I still suspect that every nation had someone experimenting with the procedure. Obviously, Charles Stewart for the US was one such individual. As noted by Susan, red-hot shot was eventually used by the Greeks in a slightly later period but when did experimenting begin?. The British were very inventive about all technological aspects of their ships including armaments. If William James’ accounts of French ships using hot-shot as early as the Glorious First of June are true, would not the British have at least have had someone looking into creating a safe procedure for sea use? I suspect that they did, but it would take a lot of time reading through dusty Admiralty records to find any proof. I suspect the details, including the failures, would be interesting reading.

Of course, experimenting does not equal using.

As Stewart noted, he felt that red-hot shot would be only a last resort option. Since the French were so unsuccessful at sea and the Royal Navy so successful, does this explain the use by the French? Desperation? The British certainly had no need to use such a dangerous (to themselves) method when they had other, safer means to accomplish their mission.

I know that I, for one, would be very nervous for my own safety aboard any 18th century vessel that attempted to fire red-hot shot!

Don


Fri Sep 14, 2007 4:44 pm
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Reading Oliver Warner's "Life and Letters of Lord Collingwood", I have just come across another mention of the use of heated shot in the battle of the Glorious First of June. Writing to his father in law on 5 June, just after the battle, Collingwood says "Four of their ships were provided with furnaces for red-hot shot, one of which stuck in the Royal Sovereign, but I have not heard that they did any mischief in any part of the fleet by them."

I have also come across a mention in a review of "The Glorious First of June 1794: a Naval Battle and Its Aftermath", edited by Michael Duffy And Roger Morriss: "The accounts given include some not previously published narratives by officers and men of their battle experiences including the incident of the Lieutenant who scooped up a red-hot shot in his speaking trumpet and then threw it overboard."

Also in the "Memoirs of the Rise and Progress of the Royal Navy" by Charles Derrick, published in 1806, he says of the battle: "This being the first general engagement of this war, and the enemy having taken several new measures, previous to their Fleet's sailing, in order, as they vainly presumed, to ensure a successful issue..." and lists the measures as: "One or more members of the National Convention were on board the fleet, and red-hot shot were discharged: and it was reported at the time, that Guillotines were also carried in some of the ships." (note the first two are stated to have occurred, and the third merely to have been reported!)

Derrick also says of Trafalgar: "... the enemy again fired red-hot shot from several of their ships, some of which were lodged in the Colossus". However, the book was published early in 1806, and the dedication to Lord Barham is dated 22 Nov 1805, so he was writing at a time when detail was thin and rumour no doubt rife!

timoneer wrote:
Since the French were so unsuccessful at sea and the Royal Navy so successful, does this explain the use by the French? Desperation?

No, I don't think it was desperation. I think 1794 is perhaps too early to talk of the French as "so unsuccessful at sea" and the British as "so successful". In the lead up to the Glorious First of June, we see in Susan's thread:that Howe was suffering public ridicule for staying too much in port. In the previous war, the American Revolutionary War, the two navies had been fairly evenly matched, with several indecisive actions, and the British losing several islands in the West Indies. The situation was only recovered by Rodney's success in capitalising on a specific mistake of De Grasse at the Battle of the Saintes. The British then had great respect for French seamanship.

The Glorious First of June was a hard fought battle, and Collingwood considered that the French had fought well. Several British captains, however, entered into the battle less than wholeheartedly and as a result did not receive gold medals. The two opposing admirals had different objectives, the main priority of the French admiral, Villaret-Joyeuse, being to see the incoming grain convoy safely into port. The French were successful in protecting the convoy and strategically therefore, the battle was a success for the French.

Before the battle, The French did have good reason to be concerned. The revolution had caused chaos in the Navy, with many officers exiled, if not executed, and there was good reason to doubt the loyalty of others. However, the Brest fleet was well prepared. Rodger, in "The Command of the Ocean" says that two Government delegates had taken over the town and the fleet and "With ruthless energy and frequent executions, they brought the fleet into order and discipline, if not complete efficiency. It sailed... accompanied by Jean-Bon St Andre [one of the delegates], with a determination to fight, and a confidence in the inevitable victory of Republican virtue, which the Royal Navy had not encountered in the French before."

I think the answer is more to do with the laws or conventions of war at that time. War was supposed to be fought in a "civilised" manner, the object being to make your enemies surrender, and not to massacre them. To set fire to an enemy ship in open sea would deprive the ship of the opportunity to surrender, and would result in catastropic loss of life. In 1801 George Frederic de Martens produced a new edition of "A Précis Of The Laws Of The Modern Nations Of Europe Based On Treaties And On Custom" to take account of the changes caused by the wars of the Revolution. (see here) On weapons, he says "the civilised Powers of Europe have recognised it as absolutely contrary to the rules of war to use methods... which would needlessly increase the number of sufferers." In his notes on specific examples he says: "For naval combats the use of boulets de bras, cercles poissés or chain shot has sometimes been excepted by convention; the question has even been raised as to whether it is permissible to make use of heated shot; but it is only between ships that doubts can be raised in this regard."

I have found an example of attitudes in Britain in a review of Derrick's book in "The Anti-Jacobin Review and Magazine; Monthly Political and Literary Censor": "A fact is mentioned by Mr. Derrick, which we had heard before, but the truth of which had been doubted, namely, that in the action with Lord Howe, at the beginning of last war, and in that off Trafalgar, the French used red hot balls. We do not profess to he very conversant with the laws and customs of warfare; but, we should think, that a determination to sink every ship that fired red hot shot, would be not only wise, but humane."

Another example is the correspondence of Lord de Saumarez with the Spanish Commander in Chief, following his victory in July 1801 when the Real Carlos and San Hermenegildo caught fire and exploded: "Having been informed that reports were circulated in Spain, ascribing the destruction of the two first-rates, Real Carlos and San Hermenegildo, in the engagement of the 12th July last, to red-hot balls from his Majesty's ships under my command, I take this present opportunity to contradict, in the most positive and formal manner, a report so injurious to the characteristic humanity of the British nation, and to assure your Excellency that nothing was more void of truth. This I request you will be pleased to signify in the most public way possible. To assuage, as far as lay in my power, the miseries that must necessarily result from a state of warfare, has ever been my strenuous endeavour..." He was gratified by the Spanish reply: "ESTEEMED SIR, The reports which have been current, that the burning of the two royal ships, on the nights of the 12th and 13th, arose from the use of red-hot balls, which were fired at them, have existed only among the ignorant public, and have not received credit from any persons of condition, who well know the manner of combating of the British navy. At the same time they give the greatest credit to the assertion of your Excellency that nothing could be more foreign from the truth, and the characteristic humanity of the British nation..."

The French Revolution was self evidently a change in attitude to many things. Perhaps the "Laws" of war were one of them. But perhaps it was a change of attitude only in the two Government delegates in Brest at that particular time.

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Sat Oct 20, 2007 9:28 am
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Tony wrote:
I have also come across a mention in a review of "The Glorious First of June 1794: a Naval Battle and Its Aftermath", edited by Michael Duffy And Roger Morriss: "The accounts given include some not previously published narratives by officers and men of their battle experiences including the incident of the Lieutenant who scooped up a red-hot shot in his speaking trumpet and then threw it overboard."
This, and the other citations you listed, seem pretty conclusive that the French were actively using red-hot shot, at least from 1794. Terrific info.

Tony wrote:
No, I don't think it was desperation [that the French were using red-hot shot]. I think 1794 is perhaps too early to talk of the French as "so unsuccessful at sea" and the British as "so successful".
Your argument is pretty strong that that it was more a difference in the manner that the French viewed warfare rather than desperation. I think from the info in your post that you are correct. BTW, I have always been fascinated with the oxymoron of "civilized warfare" a term which has certainly "evolved" over time.


On the reports of the British Navy using red-hot shot at the Battle of Algeciras:
Tony wrote:
Another example is the correspondence of Lord de Saumarez with the Spanish Commander in Chief, following his victory in July 1801 when the Real Carlos and San Hermenegildo caught fire and exploded:
I can certainly understand certain Spanish sources speculating on the possibility of the RN using red-hot shot rather than the actual fact of the two Spanish ships losing track of HMS Superb and firing on each other. The fact that Saumarez felt compelled to deny the reports is a very strong argument and it is wonderful that the Spanish discounted this false report officially.

Don


Sun Oct 21, 2007 1:09 am
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Throughout the Wars the French were prepared to carry and use combustibles much more readily than the British. The latter believed that such weapons posed a greater danger to the user than to the recipient and the losses on both sides during the Wars seem to confirm the validity of this view.

I wonder how strongly this apparent prejudice against Red Hot Shot was held in reality and why should RHS be singled out – grenadoes were in common use in sea engagements and carcases and shells were not unknown but none of these seems to have attracted the obliquity that is said to have applied to RHS (but only between ships).

The journal of Midshipman Parker of the ORION covering the Glorious First of June relates the story of a red hot shot rolling about the deck and being thrown overboard by means of Lieutenant Mears’ speaker-trumpet. However, Parker does not criticize the French for using RHS.

The logs of the British ships in the battles make no mention of RHS, so perhaps did not consider it a remarkable occurrence. The Glorious first of June were hard-fought battles and other things were complained of: e.g. a BRUNSWICK officer’s Journal - “They called to us when they had struck and displayed English colours, but we could not lend them assistance, nor after the villainous manner they fired did any of them deserve quarter. Their langridge was raw ore and their sulphur pots scalded our people so very miserably that they wished for death to end their agony”. Instances occurred of French ships resuming firing after striking their flags, regarded as a major sin.

Red Hot Shot seems to have been but a peccadillo.

.


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From Letters Written in France to a Friend in London, Between the Month of November 1794, and the Month of May 1795 by Watkin Tench, who was a marine officer on Alexander, the following written about their first few days of captivity on the French ship Marat:

"I have forgotten to mention before, that on the day of our being brought on board the Marat, we were shown their furnace (which is the oven) for heating shot. It is well contrived, and the balls, by means of a pair of bellows, would soon be made red-hot.... The motion of a ship at sea must, I apprehend, not only cause its effect to be very precarious, but its use very dangerous. Be this as it may, every thing here was prepared, the faggots were laid, and the shot were placed between them.... All their ships of war, they told us, were provided with similar furnaces."

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susan


Sat Oct 27, 2007 9:22 pm
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One leading officer of the French Navy, Jurien de la Graviere, stated that “the greatest evil of using red-hot shot was not the danger to the ship using them; it was the loss of precious time, as the interval between the shots was usually six or eight minutes”. For an 18pdr (French) the interval between discharges of red-hot shot was 5 minutes and 30 minutes were required to heat the shot. For a 36pdr (French) the figures were 8 minutes and 50 minutes.


Sun Oct 28, 2007 3:09 am
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IONIA wrote:
One leading officer of the French Navy, Jurien de la Graviere, stated that “the greatest evil of using red-hot shot was not the danger to the ship using them; it was the loss of precious time, as the interval between the shots was usually six or eight minutes”. For an 18pdr (French) the interval between discharges of red-hot shot was 5 minutes and 30 minutes were required to heat the shot. For a 36pdr (French) the figures were 8 minutes and 50 minutes.
Ionia, two questions come to mind. First, where did you find this information? Sounds like a good place for more details. Secondly, would the gun be completely idle while waiting for more heated shot or could it be firing normal shot in the meantime?

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The source is "Sketches of the Last Naval War" being a translation from the French of E. Jurien de la Graviere by The Hon. Captain Plunkett RN. London, 1848.

The whole tenor of de la Graviere's remarks is that they did not fire cold shot between rounds of hot shot. The question is, why not? It is a question that I am unable to answer.

Susan has earlier mentioned Frank Abney Hastings and the KARTERIA. The following is from a Memoir of him in Blackwoods Magazine:

"The hot shot were heated in the engine fires, and were brought on deck by two men in a machine resembling a double coal-box, which was easily tilted up at the muzzle of the gun to be loaded. Hastings fired about eighteen thousand shells from the Karteria in the years 1826 and 1827, with a miscellaneous crew composed of Englishmen, Swedes, and Greeks, and never had a single accident from explosion. As a very small number of hot shot can be heated at once, and as an iron ball of eight inches diameter loses its spherical form if kept for any length of time red hot, this projectile could only be used in particular circumstances. It happened more than once on board the Karteria, that shot which had remained for some time in the engine- fires, had so lost their form as not to enter the muzzle of the guns. With regard to the great danger which is supposed to attend the use of hot shot on board ships, Hastings thus states his opinion in a " Memoir on the use of Shells, Hot Shot, and Carcass Shells, from ship artillery : " * " I have continually used hot shot with perfect safety ; my people having become so familiar with them, that they employ them with as little apprehension as if using cold shot."


Sun Oct 28, 2007 6:39 am
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IONIA wrote:
The source is "Sketches of the Last Naval War" being a translation from the French of E. Jurien de la Graviere by The Hon. Captain Plunkett RN. London, 1848.

The whole tenor of de la Graviere's remarks is that they did not fire cold shot between rounds of hot shot. The question is, why not? It is a question that I am unable to answer.

Susan has earlier mentioned Frank Abney Hastings and the KARTERIA. The following is from a Memoir of him in Blackwoods Magazine:...

Thanks, Ionia. Since Graviere lived from 1812-1892. his comments probably are from the same time period of the "Karteria" (1820's) or even in the Crimean War period. If the time needed in the earlier Napoleonic War was the same or even longer, I wonder how a captain would get around the down-time between heated shot arriving at the gun? I agree that the citation seems to indicate that.

I guess one solution would be to restrict the use of heated shot to only a certain number of a ship's guns, thus maintaining a reasonable level of metal going toward the enemy from the remaining guns. This assumes that a gun firing red-hot shot could not fire cold shot in between. I fail to understand why this would be so, but I am far from an expert of such period cannon. I have read information that states that heated shot sometimes lost it's spherical shape and (pure guess only) the gun might have had an oversized bore and therefore be dedicated to heated shot. I would love to learn more about this.

Don


Mon Oct 29, 2007 12:51 am
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