Page:EB1911 - Volume 02.djvu/619

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
579
ARMOUR PLATES

severe battering, and occasionally outmatched by the attacking projectiles, developed no visible crack. It is chiefly remarkable for the fact that it was cast and not forged. As is evident from the fringing around the hole made by the 6-in. A.P. shell, the shield was not face-hardened. A more highly developed form of the gun-shield is to be found in the armoured cupola, which has been employed to a very considerable extent in permanent fortifications, and whose use is still strongly advocated by continental European military engineers. The majority of the cupolas to be found in continental forts are not, however, of very recent date, those erected in 1894 at Molsheim near Strassburg being comparatively modern instances. Any cupolas constructed nowadays would be of steel, either forged or cast, and would probably be face-hardened, but a large number of those extant are of compound or even of iron armour. Many of those on sea-fronts are made of chilled cast iron. Such armour, which was introduced by Gruson of Magdeburg in 1868, is extremely hard, and cannot be perforated, but must be destroyed by fracture. It is thus the antithesis of wrought iron, which, when of good quality, does not break up under the impact of the shot but yields by perforation. Armour of the Gruson type is well adapted for curved surfaces such as cupolas, which on account of their shape are scarcely liable to receive a direct hit, except at distant ranges, and its extreme hardness would greatly assist it to throw off shot striking obliquely, which have naturally a tendency to glance. Chilled iron, on account of its liability to break up when subjected to a continuous bombardment by the armour-piercing steel projectiles of guns of even medium calibre, was usually considered unsuitable for employment in inland forts, where wrought iron, mild steel or compound armour was preferred. On the other hand, as pointed out by the late Captain C. Orde Browne, R.A., it was admirably adapted to resist the few rounds that the heavy guns of battleships might be expected to deliver during an attack of comparatively limited duration.

Chilled iron was never employed for naval purposes, and warship armour continued to be made exclusively of wrought iron until 1876 when steel was introduced by Schneider. In an important trial at Spezzia in that year the superiority in resisting power of steel to wrought iron was conclusively proved, but, on the other hand, steel showed a great tendency to through-cracking, a defect which led Messrs Cammell of Sheffield in 1877 to introduce compound armour consisting of a steel surface in intimate union with a wrought-iron foundation plate. In Cammell plates, which were made by the Wilson process, the steel face was formed by running molten steel on to a white-hot foundation plate of iron, while in the compound plates, made by Messrs John Brown & Co. according to the patent of J. D. Ellis, a thin steel surface plate was cemented on to the wrought-iron foundation by running in molten steel between. Compound armour possessed the advantages of a harder face than was then possible in a homogeneous steel plate, while, on the other hand, the back was softer and less liable to crack. Its weak point was the liability of the surface plate to crack through under fire and become detached from its iron backing. The manufacture of steel, however, continued to improve, so that in 1890 we find steel plates being made which were comparatively free from liability to through-cracking, while their power to resist perforation was somewhat greater than that of the best compound. The difference, however, was at no time very marked, and between 1880 and 1890 the resistance to perforation of either steel or compound as compared with wrought iron may be taken as about 1.3 to 1.

Compound armour required to be well backed to bring out its best qualities, and there is a case on record in 1883 when a 12-in. Cammell plate weighing 10½ tons, backed by granite, stopped a 16-in. Palliser shot with a striking energy of nearly 30,000 foot tons and a calculated perforation of 25 inches of wrought iron. As steel improved, efforts were made to impart an even greater hardness to the actual surface or skin of compound armour, and, with this object in view, Captain T. J. Tresidder, C.M.G., patented in 1887 a method of chilling the heated surface of a plate by means of jets of water under pressure. By this method it was found possible to obtain a degree of hardness which was prevented in ordinary plunging by the formation of a layer of steam between the water and the heated surface of the plate. Compound plates face-hardened on this system gave excellent results, and forged-steel armour-piercing projectiles were in some cases broken up on their surfaces as if they had been merely chilled iron. Attempts were also made to increase the toughness of the back by the substitution of mild nickel steel for wrought iron. The inherent defect of compound armour, however—its want of homogeneity,—remained, and in the year 1891 H. A. Harvey of Newark, N.J., introduced a process whereby an all steel plate could be face-hardened in such a way that the advantages of the compound principle were obtained in a homogeneous plate. The process in question consisted in carburizing or cementing the surface of a steel plate by keeping it for a fortnight or so at a high temperature in contact with finely divided charcoal, so that the heated surface absorbed a certain amount of carbon, which penetrated to a considerable depth, thus causing a difference in chemical composition between the front and back of the plate. After it had been left a sufficient time in the cementation furnace, the plate was withdrawn and allowed to cool slowly until it reached a dull red heat, when it was suddenly chilled by the application of water, but by a less perfect method than that employed by Tresidder. Steel plates treated by the Harvey and Tresidder processes, which shortly became combined, possessed about twice the resisting power of wrought iron. The figure of merit, or resistance to penetration as compared with wrought iron, varied with the thickness of the plate, being rather more than 2 with plates from 6 to 8 in. thick and rather less for the thicker plates. In 1889 Schneider introduced the use of nickel in steel for armour plates, and in 1891 or 1892 the St Chamond works employed a nickel steel to which was added a small percentage of chromium.

All modern armour contains nickel in percentages varying from 3 to 5, and from 1.0 to 2.0% of chromium is also employed as a general rule. Nickel in the above quantities adds greatly to the toughness as well as to the hardness of steel, while chromium enables it to absorb carbon to a greater depth during cementation, and increases its susceptibility to tempering, besides conducing to a tough fibrous condition in the body of a plate. Alloy steels of this nature appear to be very susceptible to thermal treatment, by suitable variation of which, with or without oil quenching, the physical condition of the same steel may be made to vary to an extraordinary extent, a peculiarity which is turned to good account in the manufacture of the modern armour plate.

The principal modern process is that introduced by Krupp in 1893. Although it is stated that a few firms both in Great Britain and in other countries use special processes of their own, it is probable that they differ only in detail from the Krupp process, which has been adopted by the great majority of makers. Krupp plates are made of nickel-chrome steel and undergo a special heat treatment during manufacture which is briefly described below. They can either be cemented or, as was usual in England until about 1902 in the case of the thinner plates (4 in. and under) and those used for curved structures such as casemates, non-cemented. They are in either case face-hardened by chilling. Messrs Krupp have, however, cemented plates of 3 in. and upward since 1895. Although the full process is now applied to plates of as little as 2 in. in thickness, there is some difference of opinion between manufacturers as to the value of cementing these very thin plates. The simple Harvey process is still employed to some extent in the case of plates between 5 and 3 in. in thickness, and excellent results are also stated to have been obtained with plates from 2 to 4 in. in thickness, manufactured from a special steel by the process patented by M. Charpy of the St Jacques steel works at Montluçon. A Krupp cemented (K.C.) plate is not perhaps harder as regards surface than a good Harveyed plate, but the depth of hard face is greater, and the plate is very much tougher in the back, a quality which is of particular importance in the thicker plates. The figure of merit varies, as in Harveyed plates, with the thickness of the armour, being about 2.7 in the case of good 6-in. plates