Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Pirate Weapons

I see a lot of mis-information on the Internet about the weapons pirates used. Several sites confidently say that they preferred the blunderbuss and had little use for the musket.

The blunderbuss is a short-barreled shotgun, The bell-like muzzle makes reloading faster. Without that, you would have to get out a funnel or risk losing some of your shot. The bell does not affect the spread of the shot. The short barrel does that and the bell is flared out further than the shot spreads.

A blunderbuss was a short-range weapon only. You can't aim it very well because of the bell and the shot loses momentum due to air resistance much faster than a musket ball would. You used these to fire at an individual or, even better, a group at point blank range. This was most useful when you were about to board a ship or were about to be boarded.

But, not all pirate combat was boarding. Until you were alongside an opponent you needed something with a longer range than a blunderbuss. That's where the musket came in. You could shoot the opposing crew at distances up to 150 yards (although at that range you were trusting to luck to hit anything).

There are accounts of pirates taking on large ships, using nothing but muskets and dug-out canoes. And winning.

During Morgan's time, most of the big raids were land assaults. These would approximate regular military combat where shotguns were never used. There is little justification for anything but muskets here.

I will note that rifles were known and could be useful but most rifles were expensive sporting weapons. Military commanders preferred rate of fire to accuracy of fire (soldiers seldom aim anyway).

On a related note, I was looking at boarding axes over the weekend. I saw two extremes. One was basically a light tomahawk with a delicate handle and a spike on the reverse side. The other was fairly massive - two feet long with a handle that could be used one-handed or two-handed.

I see the first style pictured pretty often on pirate sites. These aren't always as small as the one I saw but they are one-handed weapons. On the other hand, period woodcuts show a much more formidable weapon. Based on that, I went with the two foot one.

I was gratified later in the weekend to see some justification. We went to see Pirates III (again) and I noticed a couple of axes similar to the one I bought. While this is not the most accurate movie possible, they did a lot of research on their weapons. I would not use this as justification but it shows that someone else reached the same conclusion that I did.

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