Why Round Shots are ... Round

Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
7,059
#31
The arrows were exclusively fired out of muzzleloaders (I said the breechloaders were light antipersonnel artillery, very different from these heavier guns). The main muzzleloaders were equivalent in bore to European 14-pdr culverin, 9-pdr demiculverin, and 5-pdr saker. Also although these arrows did sometimes have incendiary materials attached, it was not their main purpose.
Compares to an 18 pounder, or 24 pounder guns, they are relatively small.

Sharp-pointed projectiles have greater piercing capacity, which apparently made them more effective than the roundshot the Koreans already had since they were used a lot, at least in naval contexts where these were mostly used, despite the greater amount of energy and resources put into manufacturing them.
But European navies of the world did not use them, and greater penetration does not mean they cause more or as much damage. A dum-dum pistol round will cause more damage than a standard pistol bullet, although it has less penetrate in ability. The needle point object will punch a whole deeper, true. Butnthd damage of a round ball can be greater, sending up more flying splinters which can injured or even kill.sailors. There seems documentary evidence for such "splinter" related injuries, and the movie Master and Commander shows a character losing limb to such an injury. Test with lighter weight csnnonz of an equivalent to a 6 pounder did not produce such injuries, so the damage was possibly restricted to just the bigger cannons.

Round ball can be used for chain shots, which can be effective at demasting ships. It would be very difficult to aim a needle projectile with the accuracy needed to demast a ship, and it covers a wider area than needle projectile, making it more effective anti personnel shot.

Needle projectiles have their advantages , but their lack of use in other places indicate they had their disadvantages as well. You don't see them used in India, or by the Ottomans, as well as the Europeans. The extra range is a significant advantage, allowing you to engage the enemy while out of range of range of their guns. But storage of the ammunition is bulkier, and cost more, and these drawbacks probably is why most navies did not adopt the needle shaled projectiles.
I
 

Haakbus

Ad Honorem
Aug 2013
3,534
United States
#32
Compares to an 18 pounder, or 24 pounder guns, they are relatively small.
I never denied that. The larger ones IIRC were pretty bulky to maneuver and transport so the smaller ones were more popular except in sieges and fortifications. One of the most popular European pieces was the demiculverin which was generally an 8-10 pounder.

But European navies of the world did not use them, and greater penetration does not mean they cause more or as much damage. A dum-dum pistol round will cause more damage than a standard pistol bullet, although it has less penetrate in ability. The needle point object will punch a whole deeper, true. Butnthd damage of a round ball can be greater, sending up more flying splinters which can injured or even kill.sailors. There seems documentary evidence for such "splinter" related injuries, and the movie Master and Commander shows a character losing limb to such an injury. Test with lighter weight csnnonz of an equivalent to a 6 pounder did not produce such injuries, so the damage was possibly restricted to just the bigger cannons.
I see a lot made of the splinters, which certainly were a useful feature, but you act like they were a crucial part of the projectile's effectiveness? Even then, we don't really whether they created splinters.

Round ball can be used for chain shots, which can be effective at demasting ships. It would be very difficult to aim a needle projectile with the accuracy needed to demast a ship, and it covers a wider area than needle projectile, making it more effective anti personnel shot.
Which is why they also used incendiary arrows and rockets, as well as grapeshot and roundshot.

Needle projectiles have their advantages , but their lack of use in other places indicate they had their disadvantages as well. You don't see them used in India, or by the Ottomans, as well as the Europeans. The extra range is a significant advantage, allowing you to engage the enemy while out of range of range of their guns. But storage of the ammunition is bulkier, and cost more, and these drawbacks probably is why most navies did not adopt the needle shaled projectiles.
I
Yes, the main disadvantages were storage, manufacture, and the fact they weren't very versatile due to being somewhat specialized. Also early guns in Europe were mostly used on land, and the arrows ("springels") were primarily useful against ships which caused them die out and not develop like in Korea where naval artillery played a major role in firearms development since the 1370s.
 
Last edited:
Apr 2018
267
USA
#33
I'm still thinking that the key factor here mostly has to do with muzzle velocity. In general, gun arrows tended to be shot at much lower velocities than round balls started to be, and even if we tried to compare projectiles with the same mass, say a 6 pound round projectile with a 6 pound iron arrow, it would still be really tricky to design an elongated arrow with fins that could survive and fly straight when subjected to the same super-sonic initial forces that the round ball could be.

Raw penetration wasn't everything. One of the other big qualities that early modern military theorists and artilleryists tended to be looking out for was a weapon's "point blank range", or roughly the distance that you could just point the sights directly at the target without having to worry too much about the exact distance. For this reason around the late 15th and the early 16th century when the matchlock mechanism starts being perfected you start to see quite a lot of fairly low-caliber guns being preferred both for military and sporting purposes.

In the 1530s Italian mathematician Niccolao Tartaglia described the differences between an arquebus which fired a 1 ounce ball and an arquebus which fired only a 0.5 ounce ball but had a much longer barrel relative to it's bore size which he called a "schioppo". As he explained it the 1-ounce arquebus could typically pierce further into a material, but the 0.5-ounce bullet could fire at a much higher velocity and would travel much further in a straight(-ish) line: "400 paces" vs only "300 paces". He does add though that if the "schioppo" were scaled up to fire a 1 ounce bullet then it would shoot further and pierce better than either weapon. This was presumably the kind of thinking that eventually lead to the popularity of large-bore muskets with super long barrels which needed to be supported by a rest when firing.

On a related note this is also seems to have been part of the reason that stone shots fired by artillery seem to have remained popular for so long. As Tartaglia explains it, when fired in a straight line out of the same cannon a stone cannonball would usually travel farther than an iron one, though if the cannon was aimed high into the air then the iron cannonball would travel farther overall.
 

Haakbus

Ad Honorem
Aug 2013
3,534
United States
#34
I'm still thinking that the key factor here mostly has to do with muzzle velocity. In general, gun arrows tended to be shot at much lower velocities than round balls started to be, and even if we tried to compare projectiles with the same mass, say a 6 pound round projectile with a 6 pound iron arrow, it would still be really tricky to design an elongated arrow with fins that could survive and fly straight when subjected to the same super-sonic initial forces that the round ball could be.
The arrows had metal caps on the rear as well as the paper wadding and wooden block I mentioned. I've seen a very short video clip (can't seem to find it) of tests done I believe in the 90s and the arrow was barely wobbling if at all.

Raw penetration wasn't everything. One of the other big qualities that early modern military theorists and artilleryists tended to be looking out for was a weapon's "point blank range", or roughly the distance that you could just point the sights directly at the target without having to worry too much about the exact distance. For this reason around the late 15th and the early 16th century when the matchlock mechanism starts being perfected you start to see quite a lot of fairly low-caliber guns being preferred both for military and sporting purposes.
Yeah they were slow projectiles so for a given range they had to be fired at a higher angle. However, they were mostly used in naval combat where the range is pretty much no more than 200-300 yards. I've done rough calculations on the trajectories of these arrows, and at that range the gun had to be elevated a little bit but not very much.

In the 1530s Italian mathematician Niccolao Tartaglia described the differences between an arquebus which fired a 1 ounce ball and an arquebus which fired only a 0.5 ounce ball but had a much longer barrel relative to it's bore size which he called a "schioppo". As he explained it the 1-ounce arquebus could typically pierce further into a material, but the 0.5-ounce bullet could fire at a much higher velocity and would travel much further in a straight(-ish) line: "400 paces" vs only "300 paces". He does add though that if the "schioppo" were scaled up to fire a 1 ounce bullet then it would shoot further and pierce better than either weapon. This was presumably the kind of thinking that eventually lead to the popularity of large-bore muskets with super long barrels which needed to be supported by a rest when firing.

On a related note this is also seems to have been part of the reason that stone shots fired by artillery seem to have remained popular for so long. As Tartaglia explains it, when fired in a straight line out of the same cannon a stone cannonball would usually travel farther than an iron one, though if the cannon was aimed high into the air then the iron cannonball would travel farther overall.
Yeah a longer barrel is important for smaller guns (and to an extent for cannons) since there is more of a confined space for the pressure of the burning to be exerted on the projectile.