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Old Trooper Gunsmiths LLC

SPECIALIZING IN MILITARY FIREARMS.

My Blog

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The tactical employment of early CQB weapons: The blunderbuss

Posted on April 27, 2017 at 3:41 AM
                                   In the age of sail, the age of  iron men and wooden ships, there arose a need for a weapon to clear the tight confines of the lower decks of the fighting ships.  That is where the blunderbuss begins to shine. In retrospect however  the myth and lore surrounding this weapon is quite..... incredible in its own right. 
          Most of you probably  think of the blunderbuss from how they are portrayed in most Disney movies. Slow to load, can throw anything down the barrel . And they were everywhere.  

  Not exactly. 

       The blunderbuss was intended to be a naval close quarters room clearing gun. Much like how shotguns are employed on a modern entry team.  They are part of the larger unit and had their place. 
      Think if you will back to the days of the tall ships. Warefare of the time was not necessarily to kill your enemy, but to gain his territory or his stuff.  And to do that, well,  you have to get close. After the cannon fire had slowed and crippled the enemy vessel the victorious, well almost victorious ship comes alongside. Boarding parties are sent across. As many as possible to capture their "prize" before it can be skuttled  or intentionally sank by its own crew to prevent capture. The first ones across are your "red shirts" so to speak.  Able seamen, gunners, etc were usually the first ones across. They would be armed with pistols, pikes and cutlasses and the occasional musket. Their job is to clear the deck. Take out the sailors remaining on their posts after the cannon fire exchange between the ships. Most of these men had a short life expectancy.
      Second: send in the Marines! Just as they are in this country they had marines on navy ships in the age of sail as well. These sea borne soldiers were skilled in the use of the bayonet.  They mop up what the sailors left and prepared to go below decks. By this time the ship is.... relitively secured. Can not sail a frigate from below decks. But you do not own the ship until you have secured the powder and shot.  And the rudder and other running gear dose not hurt either! So the marines get ready to do what they seem to love: use the bayonet. 
        Cue the "thunder trumpet". Yes, the blunderbuss! Now that the top decks are secured, you need to secure the rest of the ship. The marines kick the door open or throw open a hatch cover, in come two "specialists" (usually sailors) with blunderbusses loaded with shot. One steps right, the other left. Blunderbuss on hip at the ready. BLAM BLAM.... If there is anyone in there, they are not happy. The blunderbuss men step to the rear to reload and the marines and sailors move in to finish or take care of the enemy wounded. Hand cannons reloaded, repeat. Repeat till ship captured. 

        The painfull details and busting a few myths. 

       Most blunderbusses were rather short. Contrary to the Disney portrayal most barreled under two feet. The purpose of the long barrel of a musket is just like a longer barrel on modern firearms. To burn as much powder  or propellant to give more velocity to the projectile to make it fly faster and farther. These weapons were not intended to be used beyond 30 feet. About as big as a ships hold. So a long barrel sort of is unneeded and given its application, would prove to be very unnecessary and quite clumsy. Not exactly what you would want for turkey hunting. Little monster birds are smart and would seldom let you get into blunderbuss range. 
         Why the "trumpet" muzzle?  Well just like a musical instrument the flailed muzzle  not only unintentionally acts as a "loudner" (the opposite of a silencer/suppressor) will throw shot in a wider disposition much like a trumpet dose sound. Almost like the "anti-choke". It also (possibly the original intention) makes it very easy to load. Just simply dump your bag of shot down the barrel. Less need to ram and seat the bullet or shot. Quite a few of them were never made with ramrods  even! 
         "Well you can load it with rocks, glass or anything".... well..... sort of.  You CAN load it with anything. But, as most long range shooters will tell you: consistency is key. Irregular shaped objects fly irregularly. We have actually proven this concept. The first time we took the "shop project" blunderbuss out, we did not bring shot or prepaired ctg.'s loaded our little blunderbuss with handfuls of spent .22 brass at first. Than it became handfuls of steel case 9mm cases. Did I hit anything? Well...... through the smoke, I did see a few of them ripping through the backstop. Also imbedded a few into some nearby trees.... So, yes you can load anything into one.  But will you hit your target? That may be another issue. 

   The decline.  

    Sadly we see very few blunderbusses in percussion cap. I was asked "why"? The answer is not so simple. But it is all part of the infamous "bigger picture". The age of "fighting sail" reached its zenith with the Napoleonic wars. Afterward there were fewer and fewer massed fleet actions. Less ship boarding. More armored ships, better naval guns, longer ranges. By the 1830's the steamship was even taking hold.  But with the type of warfare the blunderbuss was intended for spinning into decline, as did its tools. So, with the more reliable percussion cap ignition replacing the flintlocks in a he 1830's-1850 the "thunder trumpet" was already on its way out. A tool of a method of warfare now past. By the time of the American civil war the revolver had long surpassed the blunderbuss as a more usefull tool for the boarding parties on the rare occasion they bordered a ship instead of sinking it!  
      Now do not get me wrong, my blunderbuss came as a caplock. As a eyebrow less smith who started off in flintlocks with a minor in history, I just could not have that. So, into flintlock it goes! But if I were to build another just to have fun with, would go with the cap ignition. It is a great deal less frustrating! 

Who knows,  may even make a bedside gun if you REALLY HATE whomever may disturb your sleep. 



Old troopers actual, 

Out








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263 Comments

Reply jairjust
11:18 AM on February 12, 2022