Fortification Friday: Wheeler vs. Mahan, comparing barbettes

Last week, I compared Junius B. Wheeler’s post-war field fortification instructions to the pre-war writings of Dennis H. Mahan, specific to the classes of interior arrangements.  The take away there was Wheeler giving the classification more thought and refinement, which no doubt was based on wartime experience.  More of that experience worked into Wheeler’s instructions as the lesson went into specifics about each class.

The first of those classes was on the parapet.  Mahan, of course, narrowed the definition to just that of the batteries.  Wheeler, on the other hand, asked the cadets to consider all type of firepower used in defense of the works:

Defense. – The work may be defended by musketry alone, or it may be defended by artillery combined with musketry.

The arrangements of the parapet for musketry are completed when the banquette and the revetment of the interior slope are finished.

The work, in this condition, does not admit of the use of artillery.  Some additional arrangements must be provided, if artillery is to be employed. The fire of artillery is either over the parapet or through it…..

And with that, Wheeler’s path merged back with that of Mahan leading into the discussion of barbette and embrasure batteries.  Last August when discussion the construction of barbettes, I briefly compared Wheeler’s instructions with Mahan’s.  Wheeler opted for a “least common denominator” planning factors.  Otherwise, the process was generally the same.  I would say that Wheeler’s instructions are easier for me (schooled in the 20th century) to follow. But that’s always a subjective measure.  Still, to be direct with the comparison, here are Mahan’s planning factors, for field guns:

  • Mound of earth 2 feet 9 inches high.
  • Spacing along parapet – 16 ½ to 18 feet of length.
  • Depth of 24 feet (atop the tread of the banquette).
  • Ramp behind the mound at least 10 feet wide, sloped at 1:6 ratio.

And here are Wheeler’s (again for field guns):

  • Mound of earth 2 feet 9 inches high (which Wheeler said was optional)
  • Spacing along parapet – 16 ½ to 18 feet of length.
  • Mound depth of 20 feet (this could include a platform built just for the cannon).
  • Mound width of 10 to 15 feet (again, this could be the platform built for the cannon)
  • Ramp behind the mound at least 9 feet wide, sloped at 1:6 ratio.

Wheeler offered this illustration to support the instructions:

WheelerFig36

I’m not too concerned with the variation in the dimensions.  If we really need a “culprit” to point towards, I would mention that Mahan was writing at a time when Alfred Mordecai had just introduced revised carriages for field artillery.  But we would be quibbling over the difference in inches within the “instructed” dimensions for something being built out in the field where general measurements would be the rule.  I think Wheeler was just giving us a least common denominator response.

However, since Wheeler gives us a detailed diagram, let us give his instructions a close look.  He set the major line A-B as the interior crest of the parapet.  Eleven inches back of that is line a-b (lower case), where the mound (platform for me) touched the parapet.  The width of the mound’s surface was then set across the line a-b, which is specified as 15 feet in the diagram.  From there perpendiculars extend back twenty feet (a-c and b-d).  That gives us a fifteen by twenty foot surface of the mound (again, I prefer to call this the platform) on which the gun can be worked, allowing for recoil.  From there, Wheeler specified the earth set on the natural slope to support what I call the platform.

As for the ramp, the setup remained the same, though one foot narrower, as that prescribed by Mahan.  Note that Wheeler left the rest of the banquette as configured for musketry, meaning shallow depth.

What we don’t see described here is a battery configured with several guns in barbette along the parapet.  While that could be done, if the need arose, Wheeler agreed with Mahan that barbettes were more likely to be used on the salients.  However, while Mahan gave us very detailed instructions for the construction of such barbettes, Wheeler made short work of this.  After describing the need (and particulars of) the pan-coupé, he waved his hand through the rest:

The construction of the plan differs from the one described only in the form of the supper surface.  In this case, the upper surface is pentagonal in form, care being taken to make it large enough to allow the gun to be fired over the faces of the salient, as well as along the capital.

He even recycled Mahan’s diagram:

WheelerFig37

From there, Wheeler simply added that more guns could be added along the sides of the salient… avoiding the lengthy instructions given by Mahan in that regard.   Sort of leaves me thinking Wheeler didn’t like barbettes.

Well the alternative, as we have seen, for guns in barbette are those firing through embasures.  We’ll discuss Wheeler’s notions about those next week.

(Citations from Junius B. Wheeler, The Elements of Field Fortifications, New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1882, pages 115-20.)

 

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