HL Deb 25 April 1873 vol 215 cc965-8

according to Notice, rose to ask a Question of Her Majesty's Government relative to the late improvements in foreign breech-loading guns. No doubt their Lordships were aware that great changes and improvements had been effected within the last two or three years both in field pieces and great guns, and it was therefore the more necessary that we should keep a look-out for what was being done by other nations—more particularly as some of them appeared to be adopting a system which we had given up and discarded—namely, the breech-loading plan. We were the first to take up the system of breech-loading artillery, and we gave it up after what he did not consider a sufficiently long trial. It was odd that other nations should be adopting it after, of course, having considered the reasons which had induced us to give it up. No doubt they adopted it because they were of opinion that it afforded much greater facility for loading, and consequently gave a greater quickness of fire, and that the men who served breech-loading guns could be perfectly out of rifle shot. He admitted that a system which would answer very well for field guns would not necessarily answer for guns of 25, 30, or 40 tons—that was his opinion; but we ought not to omit paying due attention to the fact that guns of 35, 40, and, he was told, 50 tons were being manufactured by other nations on the breech-loading principle. Ever since armour-plating was brought into use for ships and forts there had been a constant race going on between plates and guns. We had been building guns of 12, 18, and 25 tons, until at last we turned out what was regarded by us to be a wonder of the world—this was "the Woolwich Infant," which was manufactured about three years ago—at which time it was supposed to be the most powerful gun that any country possessed—but judging from what he saw in the newspapers it was exceeded by something manufactured elsewhere. The only 35-ton guns we had for sea service—and he believed they were four in number—were on board the Devastation, which for her armament entirely depended on those guns. In his opinion, and that of several naval officers and artillery officers whose opinion was entitled to respect, the plan of rifling now in practice with us was not the best one. Foreign nations were adopting a different plan. In our large guns the shot was rotated by a small stud, which was not more than half an inch in diameter. Now in a 35-ton gun throwing a shot of 700 1b., and fired with 110 1b. of powder, such a stud could not last very long. The French were said to be manufacturing a gun which was to be an improvement on our 35-ton gun, which it had been supposed nothing could beat. The new French gun was said to have a 12½-inch bore, which was half an inch greater than ours; it weighed a ton less than ours—34 tons, instead of 35 tons—and it threw a shot of 850 1b. fired with 137 1b. of powder. The result was an initial velocity and a range much exceeding ours. As to rifling, while he did not believe Captain Scott's plan was perfect, he did believe it was much superior to that in use for our guns. As to the length and weight of guns there was no limit on these points as far as artillery on shore was concerned; but in the naval service length was of much importance, because the longer the gun the larger the turret required. He hoped to hear from the noble Marquess the Under Secretary for War that Her Majesty's Government were alive to the importance of what was being done by other nations in respect to improvements in artillery.


said, he had no doubt that in placing his own opinion on record the noble and gallant Earl had attained one of the objects which had induced him to make the inquiry which he had just addressed to the Government because he gathered from his concluding words that his purpose in asking these questions was simply to obtain an assurance that the War Department was exercising due vigilance with regard to the experiments of continental artillerists, and was prepared to profit by the experience of other countries. In reply he could assure the noble and gallant Earl that the Department had not only very ample but very accurate information as to the progress of the science of artillery by other nations; but, as the noble and gallant Earl must no doubt be aware, a considerable portion of the information obtained on such subjects for the use of the Government was such as it was customary to treat as confidential, and therefore he would not expect him to depart from usage by entering into details as to the information to which his question had reference. As to the technical matters discussed by the noble and gallant Earl, he hoped he would excuse him from following him over that ground, and allow him to express his opinion that questions of that kind were better relegated to the responsible Department of the Government than dealt with by discussion in either of the Houses of Par- liament. He should not, however, like it to be supposed that experiments recently made had led to any mistrust of or dissatisfaction with the guns now in use in our service. On the contrary, he was in a position to say that not only in the opinion of the highest English authorities, but also in that of distinguished foreign officers of artillery, both our field-guns and our heavy guns were eminently satisfactory. He might add that there was no well-grounded apprehension of our being left behind in any competition with foreign artillery. He believed that we were able to make larger forgings of metal than any other country. We had recently erected at Woolwich a steam-hammer, the power of which was in excess of that possessed by any other nation. Then, in the article of powder, we could hold our own. For every type of gun, as he understood, there was a particular kind of powder. He was informed that to the particular kind of powder with which the gun was fired some of the results alluded to by the noble and gallant Earl were to be attributed, and that we were able to make powder of any kind as well as any other nation. Again, we enjoyed another great advantage—namely, that in no other country were experiments conducted on so large and complete a scale as in England. He was happy to say that recently an officer accredited by the War Department had been allowed to be present at a series of experiments in France, and that he had been very courteously received by the French Government. If the noble and gallant Earl required for his own satisfaction any further information which it was in the power of the War Department to give him, the Department would be happy to communicate it to one so able and experienced in matters relating to ships and guns.


was understood to say he doubted that we could turn out any gun equal to Krupp's gun manufactory at Essen.


said, that two years ago the Superintendent of the Woolwich factory said he was prepared to make a 60-ton gun if the Government required it. He believed that at the present moment the Superintendent would be prepared to undertake the manufacture of one of 100 tons.

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