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19th Century Metal Storm

General information on Military History.
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Holger Danske
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19th Century Metal Storm

#1 Post by Holger Danske »

Andreas Anthon Frederik Schumacher
The espingol's inventor, Andreas Anthon Frederik Schumacher, was a young Danish army engineer officer at the time English army artillery bombarded Copenhagen in 1807. In its attack on Copenhagen, English army artillery employed "Congreve" rockets, named after their inventor, for only the second occasion in a military campaign. Young Schumacher was very impressed by this powerful and innovative weapon, and thought the Danish army should employ rocket ordnance as well.
Schumacher possessed inventive talent and already, by 1809, he had developed a rocket similar to Congreve's. Denmark's King Frederick VI, with his abiding personal interest in Danish military matters, was greatly interested in Schumacher's rocket experiments, and decided to authorize the adoption of Schumacher's rockets and the formation of rocket units in the Danish army to employ them.


The Rocket Corps
In 1816, the Danish Rocket Corps was formed and Schumacher was appointed as its commander. The corps was the darling of the King and obtained significant funding, so that Schumacher could continue to pursue his experimentation with this new weapon system. However, like the erratic performance of the Congreve rocket, Schumacher's rockets were unsuccessful as precision weapons and were only useful for "area" fire. In particular, in windy conditions, one never knew where the rockets would go.

The activities of Denmark's rocket corps were kept as secret as possible, so as to preserve the element of tactical surprise of the weapons developed by the corps, should these innovative weapons ever be employed operationally against an enemy. To ensure secrecy, Danish army officers had to swear an oath of silence to be admitted to the rocket corps.

The Espingol
During the disappointing Danish rocket experiments, Schumacher invented an entirely new weapon, the "espingol." An espingol consisted of one or more main gun barrels. Smaller-diameter gun barrels, loaded with between 16 to 32 bullets, were inserted, like a modern magazine clip, into the larger diameter main barrels.

For ammunition lead bullets were used. The powder loading of the outermost bullet was ignited by a fuse. The powder loading of the next bullet was ignited, when the first bullet was discharged. The bullets discharged at intervals of two seconds. When all bullets in a barrel were discharged, the empty inner barrel was extracted and replaced by a new, fully loaded barrel, just as one removes a magazine clip form modern automatic infantry weapons. The effective firing range of the espingol was about 200 meters.

The espingol provided superior firepower compared to contemporary Danish infantry weapons. However, the espingol's high rate of fire had the predictable drawback that the resulting volume of gun smoke obscured targets in the immediate vicinity, which made aiming the espingol difficult. The demanding task of loading the inner gun barrels had to be performed by specialists prior to going into combat, complicating ammunition logistics. Some times the barrels bursted because bullets got stock, when they did not ignite.

Two types of espingol were developed. The "divisionsespingol" consisted of just one main gun barrel, into which the inserted inner barrel could be loaded with between 16 to 32 bullets. The "kolonneespingol" consisted of three main gun barrels, into which the inserted inner gun barrels were loaded with 16 bullets each. The gun barrels of the "kolonneespingol" could be discharged individually or simultaneously. Normally the espingol was mounted on wheels.

The Rocket Corps is Absorbed by the Artillery
During the 1820s and the 1830s, Denmark's rocket corps was considered an elite unit. Discipline was strict and troublemakers were immediately replaced by other soldiers. However, in 1834, new models of field cannon were introduced in the Danish artillery, i.e., the "Fibiger" system of 1834, which included cannon of between 3 pdr. and 84 pdr. in caliber, and this new artillery began to eclipse the interest in Schumacher's innovative new weapons in the eyes of Danish military planners.

The new "Fibiger" system of Danish field artillery greatly improved the firepower and accuracy of Danish field artillery and correspondingly diminished interest in continuing the development of espingols which, however, were more of an infantry support than a field artillery weapon.

In 1842, a comprehensive army reform took place, simplifying the Danish army organization which then consisted of numerous specialized regiments. The rocket corps was absorbed by the army artillery. It was decided that rocket production should be terminated and espingol production should be suspended. This meant that officers in the rocket corps became artillery officers, and that no training in the operational employment of espingols took place in the following years. Development of effective tactical doctrine for the employment of espingols in appropriate combat roles must have correspondingly suffered.

The Espingols at War
When civil war broke out in the predominately German populated Duchies of Slesvig-Holstein, against the Kingdom of Denmark, the espingols manufactured before 1842 still remained in the inventory of Danish arsenals. Therefore, a battery equipped with 12 "divisionsespingols" and 4 "kolonneespingols" was prepared and deployed for the campaign against the Slesvig-Holstein rebels. The former Commander of Denmark's rocket corps, Major Meincke, was drafted to command the battery.

The espingol made its combat debut in the action at Sundeved on May 28, 1848, when the espingols were able to engage enemy troops at close range. However, when the Danish troops advanced beyond the range of the espingols sited at the Danish infantry's initial line of engagement, the cumbersome espingols lacked the mobility to immediately accompany the advancing Danish infantry units and thus provide them with constant close support, particularly in the difficult terrain over which the action was fought.

The espingols fired 1024 shots during the action. For the remainder of the Slesvig-Holstein revolt, espingols proved useful as a defensive weapon for close infantry support, where it proved effective when properly sited to effectively engage attacking enemy infantry columns. In the battle of Fredericia on July 6, 1849 both espingols and Schumacher's old rockets were both employed in action.

Development of the Espingol
Between July 1849 and July 1850 there was a ceasefire, because of negotiations where many of the great powers participated and where Prussia was persuaded to withdraw from the war. During the ceasefire different attempts were made to improve the espingol in various ways. The barrels were rifled and experiments with a more modern bullet was conducted. This increased the firing range of the divisionsespingol to 500 meters and of the kolonneespingol to 400 meters.

In 1850, War Commissioner N. J. Löbnitz invented the organ espingol. This consisted of twenty gun barrels, each loaded with 15 bullets, which could be discharged either simultaneously or one by one. Löbnitz also invented the espingol musket loaded with 10 bullets. Neither the organ espingol nor the espingol musket were used in the last campaign of the war.


Slesvig-Holstein did not accept the status quo peace agreement, which was reached during the negotiations and faced the Danish army alone. The espingols was not used at the battle of Isted the 25 of July 1850. For the remainder of the war the Danish army held the Dannevirke position and numourous espingols were distributed along front line.

When the Slesvig-Holstein army assaulted the advanced position of Fredriksstad on 4th of October 1850 ten divisionespingols and two kollonneespingols with 50 loaded long barrels and 100 loaded small barrels were available for the defenders.

The espingols defending Fredriksstad was nailed to the parapet of the Danish fortifications and did not carry wheels. One of the unsuccesful Slesvig-Holstein attacks were repulsed by two espingols.

However, the minor local defensive successes of the espingols were insignificant compared to the overall, distinguished performance of Denmark's regular field artillery throughout the war. In many battles the Danish field artillery were at the right place at the right time at critical or decisive stages of the battles.

Internationally, there was some interest in the espingol, and in 1855 an espingol battery was provided to the Tsar of Russia as a gift; in theory, this battery could conceivably have been employed during the Crimean War. Still, many Danish army officers and clerks in the Danish war ministry doubted the continued usefulness of the espingol and, therefore, little was done to explore what advantages the espingol could offer the Danish army in case of war. Presumably, this also probably meant that the development of suitable tactical doctrine for the most effective combat employment of the espingol was similarly neglected, and that its most suitable combat role was not properly investigated in tactical exercises.

The War of 1864
In spite of the risky foreign policy being pursued by Denmark national liberal government, and the urgency of the situation, little money was spent in improving Danish defense capabilities. The Danish government wanted to integrate the predominately Danish-speaking Duchy of Slesvig into the Kingdom of Denmark, but this was bound to provoke a confrontation with Prussia. In late 1863, the Danish government belatedly realized that war was imminent and that the Danish military should be put on a war footing in the greatest haste.

In this atmosphere of hasty defensive preparations to meet possible German aggression, War Commissioner N. J. Löbnitz was ordered to manufacture organ espingols. The veteran espingol commander Major Meinke was placed in charge of Denmark's division- and kolonneespingols, which were being mobilized for combat deployment. On February 1, 1864, Prussian and Austrian armies declared war and crossed the frontier of the Duchy of Slesvig-Holstein, and Denmark found herself at war.

Espingols took no part in the Danish defense of the advanced field positions at the historic Dannevirke, which the Danish army vacated on February 5th, just four days after the German invasion. In march 1864 the Danish espingol equipment consisted of 36 divisionsespingols with 344 barrels loaded with twenty bullets and 12 kolonneespingols with 90 barrels also loaded with 20 bullets. One espingol battery was supposed to have taken part in the action of Vejle the 8 of March, but did not arrive in time. After the action of Vejle most of the espingols were transferred to Dybbøl. As 14 years earlier at Fredriksstad most of them were nailed parapet.

The Danes also tried to make use of War Commissioner N. J. Löbnitz' inventions from 1850 the organ espingol and the espingol musket. On April 7, 1864, Major Ulstrup of the Danish artillery tested both the organ espingol and the musket espingol on the island of Als, to the rear of the Danish field works at Dybbøl. Major Ulstrup was impressed with the results of the field tests of the espingols, and recommended that organ espingols be employed to reinforce the Danish infantry defending the Dybbøl earthworks, which was being intensely shelled by Prussian heavy artillery, and every one knew that a Prussian assault was imminent.

Therefore, on July 10th, four organ espingols and the espingol musket were distributed among different defending Danish infantry units in the outlying trenches in front of the Dybbøl fortifications. Little is known about the actual performance of the espingol during the successful Prussian assault on Dybbøl on April 18th, but one Danish officer, who was captured by the enemy, observed one of the organ espingols inflicting heavy losses on a Prussian assault column. Some of the many division- and kolonneespingols must have fired as well, but again it remains unclear to what extend the Danish infantry were able to use them. It was probably a bad idea to place them on the parapet, because this made their crews vulnerable to enemy artillery and infantry fire.

The Espingol Abandoned
A series of organ espingols was manufactured during the balance of the war, but by the time they were ready for operational employment at the front, the war was already over. In 1876, the Danish army decided to discontinue the use of the espingol as a weapon. By this time the Danish infantry had been equipped with breech loading rifles, which had earlier given the Prussian infantry such a tactical advantage during the War of 1864.

Could more astute tactical employment of the espingol at Dybbøl enhanced or protracted Dybbøl's defense, thereby decisively affecting the issue of the War of 1864? In order to change the espingol failure of 1864 into a success the Danes should have put much more effort into exploring the potential of the Löbnitz' espingol inventions instead of merely conducting some "last minute" tests.

The author of one of the few Danish writings on the espingol, Jens Johansen, suggests that the divisionsespingols and kolonneespingols could have had a better impact, if they had been placed at less visible positions at the Dybbøl front and had not been uncovered until the attack, where could have been an unpleasant surprise for the prussian infantry colomns. However, the organ espingol was essentially an infantry support weapon, and as such was outranged and overpowered by the heavy Prussian artillery in front of Dybbøl. Therefore, the espingols would probably not have been decisive in ultimately averting the ultimate fate of Dybbøl.

The Danes really had no effective answer to the decisive effect of the longer-ranged and more powerful Prussian field artillery, which was relentlessly and systematically crushing Danish military capacity, including morale, before Dybbøl.

Under the cover of their longer-ranged heavy artillery, the Prussian infantry could, with near impunity, steadily move their siege trenches closer to Dybbøl, for the final storming rush to overcome final Danish resistance.

It also appears that the prevailing tactical doctrine of the Danish infantry had not developed effective tactical concepts of counterattacking the approaching Prussian parallels but, in retrospect, the wisdom of employing costly infantry counterattacks against the besieging Prussians appears questionable at best.

It is an espingol!
This was the reaction when Danish officers of the infantry combat training school at Oksbøl was told about metal storm - a new type of firearm invented in Australia. The metal storm concept have several similarities with the espingol. Loading the weapon follows the same principle as the espingol. A barrel of preloaded bullets is inserted into the weapon. The bullets are ignited electronically and has a very impressive firing rate. If the calculations of Australian inventor Mark O'Dwyer are correct metal storm can achieve a firing rate at 1/25 of a second for each bullet.

When several barrels are put together Metal Storm would be able to fire at a rate in excess of a million rounds a minute. However sceptics raise the same questions as was raised by Danish army officers, when they were introduced to the espingol in the nineteenth century. The difficult loading of whole barrels seems to be risky in a combat situation and to many infantry officers it seems like a waste of ammunition always to empty a whole barrel on a target. Traditional mechanical firearms seems more flexible than metal storm.

So like in the case of the espingol the inventors of metal storm will have to make thourough investigations into the nature of the weapon. One useful application could be anti-missile defence because metal storm fires fast enough to intercept incoming missiles. Another useful purpose could be minesweeping. One could bear in mind what great hopes the Danish rocket corps had of the espingols in the 1830'ties: "The espingols are so terrible weapons, that people ignorant of them, cannot grasp it. It will have an incredible impact on land warfare in the open as well as in fortified positions and on landing operations".

8) :yeah:
"Sir! We are surrounded! - Excellent! Now we can attack in any direction!"

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American Civil War Metal Storm

#2 Post by Praetorian »

The American Civil War produced numerous technological advances, one of which was the use of grapeshot and canister on a much more focused scale than had ever been used before. Although the ammunition had been invented many years before, the shotgun effect of coordinated fire delivered at advancing ranks was devastating.

Although of course this does not compare with current metal storm technology, for the 19th century, it accounted for a good chunk of American manpower.

Any review of the last moments of Pickett's charge at Bloody Angle at Gettysburg will provide the reader an appreciation of how that firing combined artillery equipped with those charges had a debilitating effect on the Confederate legions.

Of course the British tried to use coordinated fire of grapeshot and canister at Waterloo much earlier in the century, and although they wiped out appreciable numbers of the Grande Armee, the coordination was difficult to achieve because of the lack of communication and fog of the battlefield.

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