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Handgonnes at Towton

Posted: Tue Nov 23, 2010 9:52 am
by Peter C-H
Probably posted elsewhere but this is interesting.

Re: Handgonnes at Towton

Posted: Tue Nov 23, 2010 10:53 am
by guthrie
Yes, but has the usual media spin.
How often did hand guns explode in use?

At least they analysed it at ISIS, thats a particle accelerator, they'll probably have shot neutrons through it, which is why the technical bod is talking about different crystal structure. I'd like to see his results though, knowing a bit about casting I know you can get some variation in the alloy when you do things the old fashioned way.

Re: Handgonnes at Towton

Posted: Tue Nov 23, 2010 12:48 pm
by Marcus Woodhouse
But they did explode all the time, that's why thousands were being used by the middle of the 15th century and why they had relaced the crossbow and warbow by the end of the next. :^)

Re: Handgonnes at Towton

Posted: Tue Nov 23, 2010 12:55 pm
by guthrie
Marcus Woodhouse wrote:But they did explode all the time, that's why thousands were being used by the middle of the 15th century and why they had relaced the crossbow and warbow by the end of the next. :^)

Exactly.

Re: Handgonnes at Towton

Posted: Tue Nov 23, 2010 1:44 pm
by Fox
I'm glad I'm not the only one.

I just want to send him to read the wikipedia entry for Battle of Pavia, 1525; it's not perfect, but it's probably a decent primer.
[I'll let you decided whether "him" needs to be the archeologist or the the journalist].

Re: Handgonnes at Towton

Posted: Tue Nov 23, 2010 7:05 pm
by cloudy-cola-corp
i know this will probably be rips to shreads by people who actualy know what their on about but do you think it is possible that earlier barrles made of cast iron would have been likely to burst because of flaws created by impuritys when it was cast but whould it have been possible that later barrels caue have been forged by a blacksmith out of wrought iron which can have the majority of impuritys worked out and then be treaded with heat and hardend or mabey even being made out of the steel that was starting to be introduced as a metal for armour as it was stronger and also the shot from a gun would have been more effective at puncturing armour unlike a bow which was as much as i hate to say it finding it ever more difficult to kill men in modern armour? just an idea im entitled to an opinion. :)

Re: Handgonnes at Towton

Posted: Tue Nov 23, 2010 7:28 pm
by The Iron Dwarf
How often did hand guns explode in use?

probably only once!

sorry, but had to say it :wink:

and now it is back to those who may know what they are talking about :D

Re: Handgonnes at Towton

Posted: Tue Nov 23, 2010 8:55 pm
by Marcus Woodhouse
They certainly did burst and there are accounts of this happening (especially if a nearby monarch happens to be looking on, or the sultan, or Schilling) just as swords snapped, bows cracked, hand grenades go off, rifles accidental discharge, sparks ignite powder and so on.
This article, and way too many reenactors, make it seem as if it happened ALL the time.
Quite simply, no soldier will use a weapon that he/she believes is more likely to kill him/her then the enemy.
In Vietnam, for example, it meant troops issued with the new M16 swapped it for the tried and tested M14 (or even M1 carbine), in Desert Storm the SA80 which had a somewhat dubious rep at the time, was substituted for older L1's and Sterling's (indeed the special forces of the UK still use just about everything but the L83/85 system).
If handgonnes were only good at scaring horses and blowing up their user we would still be chucking tiny bits of wood at each other and Sgt. Kalashnikov would have designed the "people's revolutionary spearhead".

Re: Handgonnes at Towton

Posted: Tue Nov 23, 2010 8:57 pm
by guthrie
cloudy-cola-corp wrote:i know this will probably be rips to shreads by people who actualy know what their on about but do you think it is possible that earlier barrles made of cast iron would have been likely to burst because of flaws created by impuritys when it was cast but whould it have been possible that later barrels caue have been forged by a blacksmith out of wrought iron which can have the majority of impuritys worked out and then be treaded with heat and hardend or mabey even being made out of the steel that was starting to be introduced as a metal for armour as it was stronger and also the shot from a gun would have been more effective at puncturing armour unlike a bow which was as much as i hate to say it finding it ever more difficult to kill men in modern armour? just an idea im entitled to an opinion. :)

I've not seen any evidence for guns being made of cast iron before the 16th century.
As far as I know, the earliest guns were cast bronze, then by the early 15th century they were making bombards out of hammer welded iron for the powder chamber and hammer welded bars and hoops for the barrel. Impurities are not really so much of an issue, what counts is if they've fouled up the hammer welding and iron manufacture in the first place and there are weak spots or thin areas or suchlike.

Re: Handgonnes at Towton

Posted: Tue Nov 23, 2010 10:23 pm
by CraigofYork
i agree with all of you, i watched the documentery last night and was....a little suprised to say the least - Tim Sutherland seems to be the kind of fellow who would say "ALL medieval guns were used against castles", "All medieval guns were unrelaible and likely to kill the gunner rather than the enemy" , "braveheart was a fantastic film" and "armoured knights had o be winched into the saddle with a crane" - he's currently teaching battlefield archeaology at York uni.....i don't like to poo poo the guy but....he says the lancastrians had the better (higher) ground at Towton - But i was there only two weeks ago and standing on the lancastrian position it's obvious the Yorkist position is the superiour and higher ground....oi vey what can we do - he's the archeaologist...i'm a mere bearded fiend and ne'er do well!

Re: Handgonnes at Towton

Posted: Tue Nov 23, 2010 11:29 pm
by guthrie
The manufacturing of firearms in that period of time was notoriously unreliable, Mr Sutherland said.
He revealed the reason the guns were probably not found intact was that it was not uncommon for the weapon to explode in the user's hands because of metal casting faults.
Experts at the ISIS Research Centre in Oxfordshire, which uses neutron analysis to examine samples in minute detail, said the finds were "unique in Britain".
Mr Sutherland said: "In terms of its rarity, we don't know of any other battlefield where one of these has turned up.
"In terms of the Towton battlefield, it's very important because we're looking at the cusp of the use of archery and the introduction of handguns.
"When we analyse the internal coating, that has the constituent parts of gunpowder.
"It's incredibly important and we still can't believe we've found this."
He added: "We have fragments of handguns that exploded during the Battle of Towton - how rare can you get? It's unbelievable."

I'd like to know his source for unreliable castings in the period. The nearest comparison is with bell casting, and over 2,000 medieval bells survive in England thus showing that they had some idea of how to do it. There are some records of litigation involved in bell casting, when things went wrong, but it doesn't seem like there was a 50% failure rate or whatever. In fact I can think of no survey or data available on the reliability of casting from late medieval times. Mainly because there's so little evidence left, save the artefacts themselves, as I have mentioned previously.
In fact the report is so poor it doesn't even say what material the gun fragments are made from...

Re: Handgonnes at Towton

Posted: Wed Nov 24, 2010 2:56 am
by CraigofYork
would a full cast barrel be cheaper or more expensive to make than the method that uses staves and bands or the rolled barrel? sorry i don't know the technical terms for these construction methods

Re: Handgonnes at Towton

Posted: Wed Nov 24, 2010 10:59 am
by guthrie
If you're after a hand gun, I believe they were all cast. Cannon were, as far as I understand it, cast or made from hoop and stave construction. Biringuccio in the 1530's instructs how to cast cannon out of bronze, meaning field pieces in size, and an accompanying illustration shows a man beside a core mould, which must be around six feet long.

Re: Handgonnes at Towton

Posted: Wed Nov 24, 2010 12:33 pm
by Friesian
guthrie wrote:
The manufacturing of firearms in that period of time was notoriously unreliable, Mr Sutherland said.
He revealed the reason the guns were probably not found intact was that it was not uncommon for the weapon to explode in the user's hands because of metal casting faults.
Experts at the ISIS Research Centre in Oxfordshire, which uses neutron analysis to examine samples in minute detail, said the finds were "unique in Britain".
Mr Sutherland said: "In terms of its rarity, we don't know of any other battlefield where one of these has turned up.
"In terms of the Towton battlefield, it's very important because we're looking at the cusp of the use of archery and the introduction of handguns.
"When we analyse the internal coating, that has the constituent parts of gunpowder.
"It's incredibly important and we still can't believe we've found this."
He added: "We have fragments of handguns that exploded during the Battle of Towton - how rare can you get? It's unbelievable."

I'd like to know his source for unreliable castings in the period. The nearest comparison is with bell casting, and over 2,000 medieval bells survive in England .


Not wanting to drive us off topic , but I never realised that :thumbup:

Re: Handgonnes at Towton

Posted: Wed Nov 24, 2010 12:53 pm
by guthrie
Like a lot of things, it isn't widely known. I read it in someones PhD, I just can't find the specific reference. There were many thousands of tonnes of copper alloy things made in the period, the problem being that most were melted down and recycled into something else. I suspect the same thing happened to broken handguns as well, so that unfortunately, even if we accept the almost certainly wildly overstated tendency of them to explode in use, we're unlikely to find many pieces because someone scavenging the battlefield afterwards will have gone "Shiny metal, I know a bloke who'll buy that off me".

Re: Handgonnes at Towton

Posted: Wed Nov 24, 2010 1:08 pm
by Hobbitstomper
Don’t forget, modern guns can explode to. That is why they are proof fired with a high charge before they can be used. Even after this, they can still kill their operators if misused or not maintained. There is a balance of cost, performance and risk that is easy to get wrong.

I think the quality, consistency and availability of the gunpowder was probably a bigger issue in history than the metalwork. An error in the powder manufacturing process could make even a well made gun explode. This isn’t an issue with modern production and testing methods but it would have been a few hundred years ago.

Re: Handgonnes at Towton

Posted: Wed Nov 24, 2010 2:04 pm
by guthrie
That's a good point, Hobbitstomper. Corned powder is 16th century IIRC?

Re: Handgonnes at Towton

Posted: Wed Nov 24, 2010 3:52 pm
by Vicky
There are some early guns in the West Bohemia Museum, Pilsen. There is at least one which has an exploded barrel.
I'm afraid I'm no expert on guns, so I can't remember the details (or how early it is), but it shouldn't be impossible to find out if anyone cares!

http://www.virtualtravelglobe.com/czech ... ory-i.html

Re: Handgonnes at Towton

Posted: Wed Nov 24, 2010 7:20 pm
by CraigofYork
wowee thats an impresive array of boomsticks!

Re: Handgonnes at Towton

Posted: Wed Nov 24, 2010 9:39 pm
by the real lord duvet
cannon exploded all the time, that's why we let women use them on the battlefield.

Afterall, the crew is then easier to replace than the barrel.

Re: Handgonnes at Towton

Posted: Thu Nov 25, 2010 10:55 pm
by Dave B
guthrie wrote:If you're after a hand gun, I believe they were all cast. Cannon were, as far as I understand it, cast or made from hoop and stave construction. Biringuccio in the 1530's instructs how to cast cannon out of bronze, meaning field pieces in size, and an accompanying illustration shows a man beside a core mould, which must be around six feet long.


Eh, Is that what you meant to say? there are loads of iron handgun barrels rolled from a strip in museums, some are pretty early like the lake constance finds in the berne museum

I think there are a couple of medieval burgundian Cast mortars, though they never caught on

and cast guns could also be plenty bigger than a man. what about the dardanelles gun, it's over 5 meters long and you can crawl down it.

It's a pretty complex picture, complicated by different survival characteristics. Iron guns tent to rot, bronze ones to be found and recycled.

Re: Handgonnes at Towton

Posted: Sun Nov 28, 2010 11:47 pm
by guthrie
Dave B wrote:
guthrie wrote:If you're after a hand gun, I believe they were all cast. Cannon were, as far as I understand it, cast or made from hoop and stave construction. Biringuccio in the 1530's instructs how to cast cannon out of bronze, meaning field pieces in size, and an accompanying illustration shows a man beside a core mould, which must be around six feet long.


Eh, Is that what you meant to say? there are loads of iron handgun barrels rolled from a strip in museums, some are pretty early like the lake constance finds in the berne museum

I think there are a couple of medieval burgundian Cast mortars, though they never caught on

and cast guns could also be plenty bigger than a man. what about the dardanelles gun, it's over 5 meters long and you can crawl down it.

It's a pretty complex picture, complicated by different survival characteristics. Iron guns tent to rot, bronze ones to be found and recycled.

Yup, thats what I meant to say. I've not heard of hand gun barrells rolled from strip iron, some references woyuld be nice, although I can chase up the lake constance finds. Obviously if Burgubndian cast iron mortars never caught on then that rather agrees with me, i believe Burgundy was rather advanced for the period. The Biringuccio reference was solely a suggestion for sizes that were possible, I made no comment about how big they could get. I'll get back to you aboue the Dardanelles gun when I get home and check my library.

Re: Handgonnes at Towton

Posted: Mon Nov 29, 2010 2:58 pm
by Dave B
There is one on display in the armouries in leeds dated to 1420, although it could be earlier, and they have several very similar in the reserve collection. ANdrew Kirkham built me a replica based on one of the reserve collection guns. There is more about them on the excellent royal armouries DVD on the subject, and they reconstructed one a while back using period tools.
There are some useful references in this essay:
http://homepages.ihug.com.au/~dispater/handgonnes.htm
Including the Vedelspang gun, which was the first medieval gun to be investigated in detail.

This is another experimental reproduction, this time of one of the many surviving iron handguns from the hussite wars:
http://www.musketeer.ch/blackpowder/forging.html

I'd agree that Cannon were NEARLY all hoop and stave iron, or cast copper alloy.

However what I've seen of surviving guns suggests to me that handguns were a fair mix of cast copper alloy and wraught iron, and I'd suggest that the relative differences in 'survivability' of copper alloys means that it's hard to put a percentage to that.

Re: Handgonnes at Towton

Posted: Tue Nov 30, 2010 1:04 am
by guthrie
Yes, survivability is definitely important. Thanks for the links, will read up on them later.