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"Grapeshot - naval warfare only?" Topic

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552 hits since 26 Feb 2017
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Comments or corrections?

redcoat Inactive Member26 Feb 2017 5:38 a.m. PST

Hi all,

Would it be right to say that grapeshot tended to be an ammunition type used almost exclusively in naval warfare, whereas (smaller-calibre) canister/case shot was the equivalent used in land warfare?

My understanding is that grape comprised bundles of iron balls smaller than a three-pound roundshot, but much larger than musket balls; whereas canister/case generally comprised a 'tin' of musket balls?

If so, Napoleon's 'whiff of grapeshot' during the 1795 Vendemiaire rising in Paris should perhaps more correctly have been called the 'whiff of canister/caseshot'?

Cheers all!

79thPA Supporting Member of TMP26 Feb 2017 5:54 a.m. PST

Grape and canister seem to have been use interchangeably as representative of an anti-personnel round. Canister was in a tin, and pieces generally had both light and heavy canister. Grape was a smaller and heavier number of shot wrapped in a canvas or burlap bag. I read that the British called what we would call canister rounds "tinned grape" in the 1700s to denote that it was a fixed projectile as opposed to projectiles wrapped in a bag. That's my non-expert take on the matter.

Ed Mohrmann Supporting Member of TMP26 Feb 2017 6:36 a.m. PST

The American Artillerist's Companion published in
1813 shows in Vol III, plate 25 caisson loads as

12 'large cannister' shot and 8 'small' cannister
shot, 46 'fixed' shot (round shot). This was for a
12 pounder.

The 8 pounder caisson shows 10 'large' and 20 'small'
cannister shot.

The 4 pounder caisson shows 26 'large' and 24 'small'
cannister shot.

However, the howitzer caisson shows 3 'great grape'
shot rounds, using the same symbols as for the 'large'
cannister loads in the 4, 8 and 12 pounder loads.

I may be incorrect, but the conclusion I draw is that
the terms 'grape' and 'cannister' may have at some
point referred to different methods of manufacture
('grape' being large projectiles mounted between wooden
disks and secured with a central rod, while 'cannister'
were serge bags or tins loaded with musket caliber
rounds) but as time went on came to refer to the size
of the projectiles more than how they were affixed as

This is somewhat borne out by reading in the same work
as to how different rounds were manufactured.

Gunfreak Supporting Member of TMP26 Feb 2017 6:44 a.m. PST

I think grape traces it's roots back to the 17th century. When it was just grape shot. Later the smaller canister became common. Yet the words where used interchangeably. It's not uncommon for military men to simply use the words others use or being taught the wrong words. So while there might be technical diffences. For many canisters and grape was the same thing. Also it's possible there wasn't any diffence in some languages but in others.

Then add English translations of those languages and you got a quagmire.

These are just my highly subjective options based on reading here and there and it's quite possible I'm very wrong.

Mako11 Inactive Member26 Feb 2017 8:39 a.m. PST

Canister and/or its modern-day derivative was used by M551s in Vietnam.

It was devastating against enemy troops at close range.

attilathepun4726 Feb 2017 12:40 p.m. PST

Usage of military terminology in the Napoleonic era was generally far less precise than at present. You commonly find references to "grape" or "grapeshot" in contemporary British and American accounts of land battles, but there is precious little to support the idea that any true grapeshot (bagged assemblages of relatively large iron shot) was included in the standard field artillery ammunition supply. It may or may not be a different matter for big fortress guns, especially those of seacoast forts designed to fight ships. Most probably the use of the term "grape" in period accounts of field battles merely represents the careless continuation of old terminology, from before the general adoption of case or canister rounds, and more especially for the heavy case, which had a smaller number of larger balls than light case. Heavy case might have been looked on as the functional equivalent of true grape. However, by the Napoleonic era, we can only strictly speak with confidence of the use of actual grape shot in a naval context.

Supercilius Maximus In the TMP Dawghouse26 Feb 2017 11:44 p.m. PST

I've never come across canister used in a naval context; I've come across grape and canister used in a land context.

Daniel S27 Feb 2017 3:42 p.m. PST

At least here in the Baltic area canister was used in naval combat at least early as the 16th Century and wood cannister shot have been recovered from a number of shipwrecks such as the "Riddarholm ship" (1520's ship found in the medieval harbour of Stockholm) and "Kronan" (late 17th Century Swedish ship of the line). Looking at the Swedish practice cannister was prefered for naval and fortress use while grapeshot was used by the army in the field as it withstood the long marchers on poor roads much better. Grapeshot was also considered to have better ballistic performance and therefore more usefull in field battles.

vtsaogames27 Feb 2017 5:35 p.m. PST

There are folks on TMP who swear that grapeshot is only naval ammo. But plenty of 19th century military men talked of canister and grape, even gunners. One assumes they were talking about heavy canister as grapeshot.

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