The author was a naval architect and retired as Deputy Chief Naval Architect. After retirement he wrote a series of outstanding books on naval architecture as it was applied to the development of new warships. This book was produced in 1990, The author died in 2008. The publisher has done a great service by producing this handsome new edition with a fine selection of images, including photographs. An important book, highly recommended.
NAME: Before the Ironclad, Warship Design and Development 1815-1860
AUTHOR: David K Brown
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword, Seaforth
BINDING: hard back
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: wooden walls, sailing warships, maritime warfare, tactics, seamanship, guns, steam power, paddle wheel, screw, propeller, broadside, turret, muzzle loader, breach loader
DESCRIPTION: The author was a naval architect and retired as Deputy Chief Naval Architect. After retirement he wrote a series of outstanding books on naval architecture as it was applied to the development of new warships. This book was produced in 1990, The author died in 2008. The publisher has done a great service by producing this handsome new edition with a fine selection of images, including photographs. An important book, highly recommended.
This particular period was one of the important points in naval architecture. It begins with the continuation of design and construction of wooden warships, little changed in 200 years. Line of battle ships were still mounting around one hundred guns on three decks, the heaviest guns being on the lowest gun deck, and each deck carrying lighter long barrel guns than on the deck below. A small number of slide-mounted short barrel ‘smashers’ were carried on the upper deck for use prior to boarding the enemy.
However, naval architects were already working on the introduction of steam, but still in the familiar wooden sailing warship. The initial challenge was in installing a fired boiler into a vessel that was highly vulnerable to fire and which would still require sail because the early steam engines were often unreliable and consumed fuel rapidly, offering only a very short range. There was also the matter of transferring the power of steam to propulsion. Most early steam boats used two paddle wheels mounted either side amidships. On calm waters, this was very successful and provided great manoeuvrability if the wheels could be driven independently at varying speeds and direction. Unfortunately, they were less successful at sea. The problem was that a pitching ship would have a paddle wheel lifting out of the water as the ship pitched and heeled. That reduced motive power and also applied a force on one side that required correction through steering. The answer was to be the screw, or propeller. It introduced a new challenge because it added drag if stopped and with the vessel travelling under sail. An initial solution was to include a mechanism to raise the screw out of the water and then lower it back when the steam engine was to be engaged.
Knowledge of steel and iron making had been increasing through the Industrial Revolution and was very advanced by 1815. It was then possible to forge and cast large steel and iron components and it offered a way through the constraints of wooden boat building. Nelson’s Victory was at the maximum size that could be reliably built in wood. Steel and iron had no obvious upper limits and, within a hundred years of the period covered in this book, bulk carriers were being designed that would exceed 500,000 tons, and naval aircraft carriers were being designed at more than 60,000 tons. Further growth has been achieved since the 1960s without uncovering any previously unseen constraints on the size of vessel.
Steel was not initially used for the entire structure. Warships used both steel sheets as cladding, and steel frames clad in wood. Cladding steel was used to increase resistance to canon fire. Steel framing was used to produce larger stronger ships than could be achieved with all-wood construction. Gradually, warship design moved towards the all steel ship and this greatly reduced the danger of fire in steam powered vessels. As vessels could now be built in larger sizes, the capacity of bunkers for fuel to supply the steam engines could be increased, more powerful engines allowed larger ships to travel at greater speed, and the need to also carry sail reduced.
As the basic architecture of warships was undergoing revolutionary change, there was also many opportunities to enhance the weapons. By the end of the period covered, the mounting of several guns in a turret or barbet was being adopted and breach loading canon were beginning to replace the muzzle loader that had been king for more than 800 years.
By 1860, the way was clear to design warships that depended entirely on steam-power, carried more powerful weapons that could be trained across wider arcs, and were able to achieve much greater speed on the oceans. It was an exciting period but was perhaps slower than it might have been because it was a period of relative peace.
The author has provided a fascinating and compelling account of this period of development and with great authority. This book is important as a study in the development of naval architecture, but it is also important in providing a clear understanding of how, in half a century, warship design moved so far from the dominant architecture of the previous 200-300 years. In comparing a Great Castle ship of the early 16th Century with a three decker of the 19th Century, basic construction is remarkably similar. The cover price of this fine book may restrict the potential readership but, that aside, this book is easy to read and does not require either great knowledge of naval architecture or great technical knowledge. The many high quality images help greatly in understanding the text for those who may not have strong technical knowledge, and they also provide all of the information to satisfy the enthusiast and professional.