Chain shot

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French chain shot Boulet rame mg 5230.jpg
French chain shot

In artillery, chain shot is a type of cannon projectile formed of two sub-calibre balls, or half-balls, chained together. Bar shot is similar, but joined by a solid bar. They were used in the age of sailing ships and black powder cannon to shoot masts, or to cut the shrouds and any other rigging of a target ship. [1]


When fired, after leaving the muzzle, the shot's components tumble in the air, and the connecting chain fully extends. In past use, as much as 1.8 m (6 ft) of chain would sweep through the target. However, the tumbling made both bar and chain shot less accurate, so they were used at shorter ranges. [2]

An example of bar shot Bar shot fort nelson.JPG
An example of bar shot
Chain shot salvaged from the Swedish warship Vasa which sank in 1628 Kedjelod - Vasamuseet - 24014.jpg
Chain shot salvaged from the Swedish warship Vasa which sank in 1628

Chain shot was sometimes used on land as an anti-personnel load. It was used by the defenders of Magdeburg in May 1631 as an anti-personnel load, which, according to counselor Otto von Guericke, was one reason for the extreme violence of the victorious attackers. [3] It was also used against Parliamentarians in the first English Civil War, [4] and against Cromwell in Ireland at the siege of Clonmel in 1650, against the 76th Highlanders in India in 1803, [5] by the French against the Dutch at the Battle of Waterloo, [6] and by Union troops at the Battle of Gettysburg in the American Civil War. [7]

The military usefulness of chain shot died out as wooden sail-powered ships were replaced with armored steam ships—first among navies, and then among commercial fleets—which do not have rigging to serve as proper targets for chain-shot. Additionally, the conversion of naval armament from smoothbore, muzzle loaded, black powder cannon to rifled, breech-loaded guns further slowed the production of new chain shot ammunition; the chain would damage barrels (degrading maximum range, and further degrading effective range by degrading accuracy), and the new breech loading guns and their ammunition were meant to be effective against armored vessels as well as wooden sailing vessels.

In modern times, the effect is replicated in shotguns with the use of bolo shells, a pair of slugs connected by a strong wire. They are banned in several jurisdictions, including Florida [8] and Illinois. [9]

A battle between the forces of King Charles VIII of France and the army of the Papal States in the television show The Borgias features cannon using chain-shot [10]

Set in 1812, Patrick O'Brian's popular Aubrey–Maturin series, book 6, The Fortune of War , mentions that the Americans are using bar shot as characters plan for their encounter with USS Constitution and later during the actual naval combat.

In the 2003 Disney feature film Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl , chain-shot is used by the crew of Black Pearl to disable the mast of HMS Interceptor. It is also featured in the sequel Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End to free the mast of Black Pearl when it gets tangled with the mast of Flying Dutchman.

The 2018 pirate video game Sea of Thieves features chain shot as one of several types of cannon ammunition, used to disable the masts of other ships controlled by other players or NPCs.

See also

Related Research Articles

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A cannon is a large-caliber gun classified as a type of artillery, and usually launches a projectile using explosive chemical propellant. In the past, black gunpowder was the primary propellant before the invention of smokeless powder during the late 19th century. Cannon vary in gauge, effective range, mobility, rate of fire, angle of fire and firepower; different forms of cannon combine and balance these attributes in varying degrees, depending on their intended use on the battlefield. The word cannon is derived from several languages, in which the original definition can usually be translated as tube, cane, or reed. In the modern era, the term cannon has fallen into decline, replaced by guns or artillery if not a more specific term such as howitzer or mortar, except for high-caliber automatic weapons firing bigger rounds than machine guns, called autocannons. The word "cannon" can be both singular and plural.

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Tubes and primers are used to ignite the propellant in projectile weapons.

Muzzleloader class of gun which is loaded from the muzzle

A muzzleloader is any firearm into which the projectile and usually the propellant charge is loaded from the muzzle of the gun. This is distinct from the modern designs of breech-loading firearms. The term "muzzleloader" applies to both rifled and smoothbore type muzzleloaders, and may also refer to the marksman who specializes in the shooting of such firearms. The firing methods, paraphernalia and mechanism further divide both categories as do caliber.

Ironclad warship Steam-propelled warship protected by iron or steel armor plates

An ironclad is a steam-propelled warship protected by iron or steel armor plates, which were predominantly constructed from 1859 to the early 1890s. The ironclad was developed as a result of the vulnerability of wooden warships to explosive or incendiary shells. The first ironclad battleship, Gloire, was launched by the French Navy in November 1859. The British Admiralty had been considering armored warships since 1856 and prepared a draft design for an armored corvette in 1857; in early 1859 the Royal Navy started building two iron-hulled armored frigates, and by 1861 had made the decision to move to an all-armored battle fleet. After the first clashes of ironclads took place in 1862 during the American Civil War, it became clear that the ironclad had replaced the unarmored ship of the line as the most powerful warship afloat. This type of ship came to be very successful in the American Civil War.

Breechloader Class of gun

A breechloader is a firearm in which the user loads the ammunition via the rear (breech) end of its barrel, as opposed to a muzzleloader, which loads ammunition via the front (muzzle) end.

Rifled muzzle loader

A rifled muzzle loader (RML) is a type of large artillery piece invented in the mid-19th century. In contrast to smooth bore cannon which preceded it, the rifling of the gun barrel allowed much greater accuracy and penetration as the spin induced to the shell gave it directional stability. Typical guns weighed 18 tonnes with 10-inch-diameter bores, and were installed in forts and ships.

Rifled breech loader

A rifled breech loader (RBL) is an artillery piece which, unlike the smoothbore cannon and rifled muzzle loader (RML) which preceded it, has rifling in the barrel and is loaded from the breech at the rear of the gun.

Dreyse needle gun Type of Bolt action rifle

The Dreyse needle-gun was a military breechloading rifle. It is famous for having been the main infantry weapon of the Prussians, who accepted it for service in 1841 as the "leichtes Perkussionsgewehr Modell 1841"("light percussion rifle Model 1841"), with the name chosen to hide the revolutionary nature of the new weapon. The name "Zündnadelgewehr"/"needle-gun" comes from its needle-like firing pin, which passed through the paper cartridge case to strike a percussion cap at the bullet base. The Dreyse rifle was also the first breech-loading rifle to use the bolt action to open and close the chamber, executed by turning and pulling a bolt handle. It has a rate of fire of about 6 rounds per minute.

Naval artillery

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Springfield model 1873 Type of Breech-loading rifle Single-shot rifle

The Model 1873 "Trapdoor" Springfield was the first standard-issue breech-loading rifle adopted by the United States Army. The gun, in both full-length and carbine versions, was widely used in subsequent battles against the American Indians.

HMS <i>Achilles</i> (1863) Armoured frigate of the Royal Navy

HMS Achilles was an armoured frigate built for the Royal Navy in the 1860s. Upon her completion in 1864 she was assigned to the Channel Fleet. The ship was paid off in 1868 to refit and be re-armed. When she recommissioned in 1869, she was assigned as the guard ship of the Fleet Reserve in the Portland District until 1874. Achilles was refitted and re-armed again in 1874 and became the guard ship of the Liverpool District in 1875. Two years later, she was rejoined the Channel Fleet before going to the Mediterranean in 1878. The ship returned to the Channel Fleet in 1880 and served until she was paid off in 1885.

A muzzle-loading rifle is a muzzle-loaded small arm or artillery piece that has a rifled barrel rather than a smoothbore. The term "rifled muzzle loader" typically is used to describe a type of artillery piece, although it is technically accurate for small arms as well. A shoulder arm is typically just called a "rifle", as almost all small arms were rifled by the time breechloading became prevalent. Muzzle and breechloading artillery served together for several decades, making a clear distinction more important. In the case of artillery, the abbreviation "RML" is often prefixed to the guns designation; a Rifled breech loader would be "RBL", or often just "BL", since smoothbore breechloading artillery is almost nonexistent. A muzzle loading weapon is loaded through the muzzle, or front of the barrel. This is the opposite of a breech-loading weapon or rifled breechloader (RBL), which is loaded from the breech-end of the barrel. The rifling grooves cut on the inside of the barrel cause the projectile to spin rapidly in flight, giving it greater stability and hence range and accuracy than smoothbore guns. Hand held rifles were well-developed by the 1740s. A popularly recognizable form of the "muzzleloader" is the Kentucky Rifle, which was actually developed in Pennsylvania. The American Longrifle evolved from the German "Jäger" rifle.

Naval artillery in the Age of Sail

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Armstrong gun

An Armstrong gun was a uniquely designed type of rifled breech-loading field and heavy gun designed by Sir William Armstrong and manufactured in England beginning in 1855 by the Elswick Ordnance Company and the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich. Such guns involved a built-up gun construction system of a wrought-iron tube surrounded by multiple wrought-iron strengthening coils shrunk over the inner tube to keep it under compression.

The following are terms related to firearms and ammunition topics.

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The de Bange 90 mm cannon was a type of field artillery piece developed in France by Colonel Charles Ragon de Bange in 1877, and adopted by the French Army that same year. It superseded the earlier Reffye cannon (1870/73) and the Lahitolle 95 mm cannon (1875).

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The 68-pounder cannon was an artillery piece designed and used by the British Armed Forces in the mid-19th century. The cannon was a smoothbore muzzle-loading gun manufactured in several weights, the most common being 95 long cwt (4,800 kg), and fired projectiles of 68 lb (31 kg). Colonel William Dundas designed the 112 cwt version in 1841 and it was cast the following year. The most common variant, weighing 95 cwt, dates from 1846. It entered service with the Royal Artillery and the Royal Navy and saw active service with both arms during the Crimean War. Over 2,000 were made and it gained a reputation as the finest smoothbore cannon ever made.

Harpoon cannon

A harpoon cannon is a whaling implement developed in the late 19th century and most used in the 20th century. It would be mounted on the bow of a whale catcher, where it could be easily aimed with a wide field of view at the target. Powered by black powder and later, smokeless powder, it would generally fire a large steel harpoon, either solid steel or fitted with an exploding black powder, or later, penthrite (PETN) grenade.


  1. PD-icon.svg This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain :  Chambers, Ephraim, ed. (1728). Cyclopædia, or an Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences (1st ed.). James and John Knapton, et al.Missing or empty |title= (help)
  2. "Pirate Tech". Modern Marvels . 2006-07-09.
  3. Otto von Guericke: Geschichte der Belagerung, Eroberung und Zerstoerung von Magdeburg, 2. Auflage 1882, S. 16ff.
  4. Anne Sacheverell, Daughters from London, 1643
  5. John Clark Marshman: Abridgment of the History of India, 1873, p. 268
  6. P. Wakker, Aanteekeningen van een Veteraan dato 16 Augustus 1815 (etc.), 1863, p. 14
  7. Robert Tomes, John Laird Wilson, Battles of America by Sea and Land, 1878, p 524
  8. Statutes & Constitution :View Statutes : Online Sunshine
  9. Public Act 92-0423 of the 92nd General Assembly Archived March 13, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  10. The Borgias, season 1, episode 8 - The Art of War.