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Old 20th January 2011, 08:57 PM   #1
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Default The influence of preliminary period in handgonne shooting

I have noticed since long ago that many 15th century iconographic sources, which contain images of handgonners using hand firearms, bear a very interesting peculiarity. Such peculiarity of the matter is that often a handgonners is shown at the moment of firing a shot and at the same time holding a handgonne with two hands (Fig. 1-10). At first sight it looks paradoxical, so far as it would seem as if at the moment of shot with one hand the handgonner had to hold the slow match or a piece of smoldered tinder being placed close to the touch hole. However, the feeling of paradox is caused by the fact that many of us when operating Muzzleloading firearms, have dealt with up-to-date black powder, which secures a very short preliminary period at shooting (Internal ballistics assumes the time from beginning of the charge burning till the beginning of the bullet’s move as a preliminary period).However, we must not forget, that the so called ‘serpentine powder’ was used in the 15th century. That is, a non-granulated gunpowder, representing in itself the fine powder which is a mix of saltpeter, sulphur and coal. It should be noted that such powder has a considerably longer preliminary period than the up-to-date black powder. Besides, it transfers ignition to the charge along the touch hole considerably longer. According to all above-said we may come to conclusion, that there is not at all any paradox in fact. Nothing less, than the handgonner after having placed the slow match or a piece of smoldered tinder close to the touch hole and ignition of powder in it, managed to remove his hand off the touch hole and get a better grip on the weapon with two hands. But what is more, my experiments have shown that during time of powder burning-out in touch hole plus the time of preliminary period duration, one may not only grip the weapon with two hands, but manage to aim reliably enough.
And what makes me feel good is that besides of experimental proof of this hypothesis, a single one of the unique images of the 15th century luckily has been preserved (Siege of Arras, Monstrele chronicles (end of the 15th century) Fig. 11). We can see 4 handgonners in the picture. All of them hold firearms of the same model. Three handgonners are shown right in the moment of firing, and holding the firearms with two hands at that. But again we do not see the ignition moment. The most important thing is that the fourth handgonner (Fig. 11A) holds the firearms in an unfit for aiming and shooting position at the same time carries out powder ignition in the touch hole. It means only one thing that this image quite clearly states as follows: the handgonner has enough time after ignition to place the firearms in a position fit to aim before the shot has been fired. By the way, I consider that such effect is just a reason of absence of the serpentine (fr. Clef) total prevalence on the hand firearms in the 15th century en spite of its simplicity and the fact that this device appeared in 1411 at least, and one of the miniatures available in Viennese Library kriegsbuch is the evidence for such fact. Its availability simply had not any significant sense whatsoever. With such effect is linked one more interesting peculiarity to my opinion,. Namely, «disproportionately» wide touch holes of the 15th century hand firearms. Michael, I remember You expressed perplexity as regards big width of the 15th century barrels’ touch holes. For instance, one handgonne available in a private collection, while having a 12 mm. «childish» caliber has a 4 mm. touch hole width. Your perplexity is fair enough, and I conclude from what you say that such wide touch holes influence on the compression badly. However, I am under the impression, that the touch holes were made as such, minding something behind that. The fact is that my experiments with touch holes of different width showed: more wide the touch hole was the longer preliminary period was. I believe that wide touch holes were made deliberately in order to enlarge delay from the ignition moment till the moment of firing a shot with the purpose to get much time for putting the firearm into natural position for the shot and aiming. Apart illustrations, please find attached my tests video recording. My first four videos show firing effected under stylization (geometric parameters are being ignored) handgonne from Tabor (about 1420-30). Calibre is 17 mm (does not accord with the original), touch hole diameter is З mm, bullet weight is 22 g., wads’ weight is 1.2 g., charge weight is 8 g. Average time of inoculating burnout powder made 2,51 s., average preliminary period made 0,95 s., average full delay time made 3,46 s.:

The fifth video recording shows shooting fired from an replica of the barrel from Michael’s collection (about 1460). Calibre is 16 mm, touch hole diameter is З mm, bullet weight is 22 g., wads’ weight is 1.2 g., charge weight is 8 g.
Time of inoculating burnout powder made 1,84 s., preliminary period made 1,2 s., average full delay time made 3,04 s.:

Screenshots (Fig. 12-13) got something similar to how handgonner were shown in the 15th century book miniatures.

(tags: handgonne, bössor, faustrohr, coulevrine, schiopetto, ручница )
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Last edited by fernando; 16th September 2017 at 04:49 PM. Reason: Correction requested by member
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Old 22nd January 2011, 09:49 PM   #2
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My English is too bad. That is why i have made mistake. I have written "pre-corned powder" but it would be better to call not granulated powder as Serpentine powder (I mean dry mix). Sorry i don't know all English terminology

Last edited by Spiridonov; 22nd January 2011 at 10:02 PM.
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Old 26th January 2011, 05:46 PM   #3
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Hi Alexander,

This indeed is very demanding and brilliant scientific research work proven by many firing tests carried out by one of the cleverest members of our forum who has gone deepest into search - which of yourse is you, my friend!

You finally have managed to explain the phenomenon why so many handgonners shown in period artwork are depicted right at the moment of aiming (and sometimes firing) their gonnes without a lock mechannism, and nonetheless holding them firmly with both hands. At the same time the honor of discovering the actual practical reason of the often unusually wide Gothic touch holes is due to you: ignition delay when using the fine meal powder of old!

In the first image below, a detail from a Nuremberg painting of Die Schlacht im Walde (The Battle in the Woods), 1502, shows such a handgonner - and please note the white smoke curling up from the touch hole immediately before the shot rings out although no piece of tinder can be seen anymore!

We should not forget, however, that touch holes wide enough to be filled with that much priming meal to delay the shot long enough to grasp the smoldering gun and aim it with both hands only seem to have appeared during the 15th c. Late 14th and early 15th c. handgonnes were still equipped with quite small touch holes and therefore seemingly required two men: one to aim and the other the ignite the gun (see last picture below of 1437) - Richt- und Feuerschütze.

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Old 27th January 2011, 05:23 AM   #4
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Great work. Though I do not collect fireams myself, I found your post very enlightening.

Nidhin Olikara,
Shimoga, India
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