Fixed Ammunition
for Cannon

In early days, due partly to the roughly made balls, wads were very important as a means of confining the powder and increasing its efficiency. Wads could be made of almost any suitable material at hand, but perhaps straw or hay ones were most common. The hay was first twisted into a 1-inch rope, then a length of the rope was folded together several times and finally rolled up into a short cylinder, a little larger than the bore. After the handier sabots came into use, however, wads were needed only to keep the ball from rolling out when the muzzle was down, or for hot shot firing.

Gunners early began to consolidate ammunition for easier and quicker loading. For instance, after the powder charge was placed in a bag, the next logical step was to attach the wad and the cannonball to it, so that loading could be made in one simple operation—pushing the single round into the bore (fig. 48). Toward that end, the sabot or "shoe" (fig. 41) took the place of the wad. The sabot was a wooden disk about the same diameter as the shot. It was secured to the ball with a pair of metal straps to make "semi-fixed" ammunition; then, if the neck of the powder bag were tied around the sabot, the result was one cartridge, containing powder, sabot, and ball, called "fixed" ammunition. Fixed ammunition was usual for the lighter field pieces by the end of the 1700's, while the bigger guns used "semi-fixed."

In transportation, cartridges were protected by cylinders and caps of strong paper. Sabots were sometimes made of paper, too, or of compressed wood chips, to eliminate the danger of a heavy, unbroken sabot falling amongst friendly troops. A big mortar sabot was a lethal projectile in itself!


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