Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 58.djvu/501

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493
HIGH EXPLOSIVES.

THROWING A HIGH EXPLOSIVE FROM POWDER GUNS.
By HUDSON MAXIM.

THERE is now at Sandy Hook a battery of pneumatic torpedo guns, and another at the port of San Francisco, the largest of which have a caliber of fifteen inches and are capable of throwing a maximum charge of 500 pounds of nitro-gelatin about a mile. Even to attain this range, it is necessary to fire at a very high angle. The projectile has no power whatever of penetration, being only a thin casing, about an eighth of an inch thick.

The purpose of these guns was to drop dynamite upon the deck of war vessels, or into the water to explode near them. These batteries are necessarily provided with a large plant of engines, boilers and air compressors, which, together with the long and cumbersome pneumatic guns and mountings, present unusual difficulties in their protection from the fire of an enemy, while the range is so short that a modern battleship could approach within what, for it, would be a comparatively short range, and destroy the entire outfit, without in turn being in the least exposed to the fire of the pneumatic tubes. Even should a battleship, in order to enter the Channel, be obliged to pass within range of the pneumatic guns, it would be by mere chance that one of the torpedo bombs could be dropped anywhere near it.

We will grant, however, that should these guns score a hit, with 500 pounds of nitro-gelatin, the stanchest battleship would have cause to tremble, especially should the bomb drop into the water and explode near the unprotected hull.

The pneumatic gun owes its existence to a misconception of the nature and possibilities of high explosives and of the requirements of a system for their successful projection from ordnance. Congress appropriated the money for the construction of the pneumatic batteries now in service from the same misapprehension of their utility. The 'Vesuvius,' with its pneumatic guns, was also the child of error. The shots fired by her at the fortifications of Santiago resulted in nothing more serious than the production of loud reports, which possibly frightened the enemy. Her projectiles had no power of penetration, and, therefore, were useless against fortifications.

It must be borne in mind, however, that the modern powder gun, with its small caliber and ponderous weight, throwing a heavy steel projectile, with but a small bursting charge of black powder, or with