Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 91.djvu/260

This page needs to be proofread.


��Popular Science Monthly

��muzzle of his gun is elevated, depressed or turned laterally by an electric motor through gearing.

The spar deck of the Constitution car- ries twenty-two thirty-two-pound carro- nades, the muzzles of which project through square ports. The cannons are mounted upon massive wooden carriages running on chunky iron wheels. The re- coil carried the cannon back to a point determined by the length of a heavy hawser or rope. For reloading, the pins were removed from the loops in the ends of the rope and the gun carriage rolled back nearly to the center line of the deck. The policy of discharging alternate broadsides was to enable the gun crews to reload while the ship was turning.

Contrasts in Actual Construction

Aside from the vastly different methods of placing the guns, perhaps the most striking contrast between the naval archi- tecture of a century ago and that of to- day is seen in the actual structure of the hull and superstructures. The warship of today has not a piece of wood visible, with the possible exception of the deck, which is wood over a steel foundation. Stripped for action, the modern fighting craft presents a positively naked appear- ance with every movable object cast over- board or stowed away. The Constitution, on the other hand, presents a bewildering array of rigging and spars, and she is wholly constructed of wood. A single modern shell exploding under or on her deck would do as much damage, probably, as an entire broadside from a ship similar to the Guerierre. This vast change in the design is, of course, due in large measure to the introduction of steam as a means of propulsion. Following this the all- steel hull was introduced.

The gun deck of the Constitution stirs the imagination perhaps still more than does the spar deck. Topped by a low ceiling which makes one want to stoop as he walks, this deck savors of a prison dungeon. Glancing at the row of long twenty-four-pounders, thirty in number, one can readily picture the smoke-filled atmosphere, the terrible din, the sweat- ing, half-naked figures straining to reload the clumsy pieces of ordnance, and ever and anon a shot crashing through the futile wooden wall sending splinters in all directions. Stepping from the gun deck and the turrets of the Rhode Island

��to this old-time chamber of horrors, the visitor cannot fail to wonder how in her famous engagement the Constitution suf- fered a loss of but seven killed and seven wounded out of a crew of four hundred and fifty-six officers and men. Perhaps the answer is found in the inaccuracy of the guns and poor marksmanship of the gunners; more likely, however, it is due to the fact that the explosive shell had not then been invented. Aside from the splinters, a twenty-four-pound shot through the hull stood little chance of doing really great damage unless it struck a mast, a gunner or the gun carriage itself.

The guns of the Constitution's day had an effective range of possibly a mile, although history tells us that the real execution was done at ranges of from one to three hundred yards. Think of the engagements of the present European war, wherein naval duels are fought at ten miles' range and where the opposing ship is actu- ally out of sight from the gun deck and barely visible from the fighting tops! Think of guns aimed with the aid of mathe- matics! What marvelous strides science has made in times of peace and in the short space of a hundred years!

As an interesting comparison of the guns of to-day with those of 1812, we may call attention to the fact that while the total broadside discharge of the Constitution's battery would amount to six hundred and eighty-four pounds of metal, a single projectile from one of our coast defense mortars weighs half a ton.

Comparison of Projectile Force

Even more striking is the fact that the projectile from a modern fourteen- inch piece of ordnance such as that carried by the super-dreadnoughts, weighs prac- tically as much as one of the big guns of the Constitution; in other words, instead of hurling a small ball of iron at its enemy the modern fighter of the seas could actually throw one of the Constitution's cannons itself at the opponent were the cannon of suitable shape and form. And, further- more, the explosive charge in the projectile would be greater by far in power than the entire charge used to fire the old cannon. This means that the modern engine of destruction actually takes a mass of steel equal in weight to the old gun, loaded with high explosive, and lands this entire mass on the deck or inside the hull of the enemy's ship, where it explodes.

�� �