The Civil War Connections Blog

Armor Piercing Guns… sort of.

Hey everyone, and welcome to the good ol’ blog! (yes, I will be saying that every time.) Today’s tidbit about me is: I fear both spiders and heights, but I’m curiously unafraid of flying! In the last blog post of mine, we discussed the race to build more ironclads. Today, lets us turn our attention away from shipbuilding and towards the enormous cannons that can shoot through those ironclads!

We'd rather shoot this ammo than carry it around!


As the “ironclad” ship design cemented itself as the only prudent combat design among the powerful navies of the world, the issue of cannon armament arose. Since everyone was building ironclads, cannons capable of penetrating thick armor became essential. After all, if you can’t penetrate the armor of the enemy ship, what good are your cannons? And how useful is your navy?

About this useful


The powerful nations of the world therefore turned their attention to inventors who could design cannons and cannon shells of sufficient power to penetrate even the armor of the most powerful ships of the day, like the HMS Warrior. The HMS Warrior had around 4.5 inches of iron armor backed by around 18 inches of wood dampener, and when combined with its oceangoing capabilities, its top speed of 14.5 knots under steam power, and its staggeringly large compliment of heavy cannons, it was arguably the most powerful ship afloat. So when experiments in Washington DC with different cannon shells and the new Dahlgren rifled guns yielded shots that not only penetrated the HMS Warrior’s armor, but went clean through the iron and wood and into the earthen bank behind the target, (article HERE,) attention was most certainly paid. Using a special modified powder charge, an advanced explosive shell and while firing at point blank range (50 yards), the Americans had virtually defeated the most powerful ship on earth.

Thank You, Thank You - I'll be here all week


The British were not idle while the Americans were hard at work developing the anti-armor capabilities of their guns. In possession of a breech-loading rifled cannon called an Armstrong gun, the British were able to create their own combination of powder load, projectile type, and gun caliber. The result was similar to the American achievement: the Armstrong gun, with modified ammunition, could also penetrate 4.5 inches of armor plating, just like the Dahlgren gun (article HERE!) However, like the Dahlgren gun, this achievement was only good for close range engagement. By adding an extra half inch of plate armor the Armstrong gun was made ineffective, and by moving the target further away from the Dahlgren, the same effect was had. Firepower was catching up to defensive power, but could not easily invalidate it at anything other than point blank range. Ironclads would not be made useless anytime soon, but at least it was possible to penetrate their armor, given the proper set of circumstances.

If they get any further apart, they might as well switch back to pea shooters


Tune in next time for a completely different, but still Civil-War-related, blog topic! Thanks for reading!