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"Musket Fire from a Moving Boat" Topic

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821 hits since 12 Aug 2017
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Comments or corrections?

Nick Stern Supporting Member of TMP12 Aug 2017 5:26 p.m. PST

I just played a game of The Men Who Would Be Kings (TMWWBK) set in the rivers of Borneo, Royal Navy vs. Malay pirates and Dayaks. Sailors and Marines were being towed up river by a steam launch, so no hands were needed to row. I could have allowed the full unit of twelve to fire as TMWWBK is very loose about members of the same unit blocking LOS, but I decided to rule that only half the unit could fire at a time. Is was partially to allow for the lack of elbow room on a tightly packed ship's boat and also to apply some sort of penalty for firing while in motion. I try to make my decisions based upon historic behavior, but I am stumped to find reference to men firing from a boat in the mid 19th Century with muzzle loading weapons. Does anyone else have examples to cover this? I would like to keep the rules simple in the spirit of TMWWBK.

Personal logo Grelber Supporting Member of TMP12 Aug 2017 8:52 p.m. PST

Don't you have to stand, or at least usually stand, to load a muzzle loader? If so, it would rock the boat; you might want half the lads to remain seated to minimize the rocking.


Personal logo The Virtual Armchair General Sponsoring Member of TMP13 Aug 2017 7:39 a.m. PST

…And remember, movement on water is not just forward or back, but UP and DOWN--which doesn't have to mean a heavy chop--and if standing, now add rocking to the mix, providing further variation from the purely vertical and horizontal.

Of course, the idea of expecting effective musket fire--or any fire under such circumstances--is rather unrealistic, to say the least.

You might indeed allow some number of Dudes in an open boat to fire their muskets, but throw essentially every penalty the rules have to offer at them.

Of course an (almost) universal failing of war game rules is the unstated implication that a bullet that misses a target is wasted. If that was true, musket fire would never inflict enough casualties to decide a battle. Indeed, what is the effect of Volleys is not primarily psychological?

In our game designs, simply being FIRED AT influences the "morale" of the target unit, and never positively!

With that prejudice firmly in the rules, delivering as many shots as possible against an enemy suggests itself whenever possible, and in your specific circumstances of musketeers in boats, their fire would not have to be "accurate" possibly to impact the target.

But generally speaking, there are a number of good reasons NOT to worry about permitting fire from open boats against targets on land. Just get the lads ashore and let them work their mischief there!


spontoon13 Aug 2017 11:40 a.m. PST


No, you don't have to stand to fire a muzzle loader. I can do it lying down, sitting, kneeling, standing, hung in the rigging,… done it many times.

rmaker13 Aug 2017 3:34 p.m. PST

Nick, I believe there was supporting musket fire from the boats during the landings at Louisbourg during the FIW. You might also want to look into the British landings in Egypt (1801) for examples.

Jcfrog Supporting Member of TMP14 Aug 2017 7:27 a.m. PST

Works in flms.😊

Personal logo The Virtual Armchair General Sponsoring Member of TMP14 Aug 2017 8:49 a.m. PST


Please don't think this anything like a personal riposte….

What YOU can do is not the same as what SOLDIERS can do, particularly when organized in units drilled to do everything together, at the same time. Indeed, are you referring to an ACW era rifled-musket (percussion cap), or flintlock? The latter's extra step of pouring powder into the pan would be further room for error and delay.

While you certainly can do what you say--and it's a good trick you've got there!--if it were true for whole sections/companies/battalions, it would have been done pretty much universally. Who would need to develop skirmisher tactics if battalions/brigades could fight and fire prone?

And when facing cavalry, prone is hardly the formation of choice!

Please! Let's remember that whatever 21st Century you or I can do is irrelevant in the Big Picture of history, and to our games, as well.


Royal Marine Supporting Member of TMP14 Aug 2017 9:37 a.m. PST

Is Spontoon really Richard Sharpe? :-) YouTube link

138SquadronRAF Supporting Member of TMP14 Aug 2017 9:59 a.m. PST

I've fired a flintlock whilst sitting, back to a wall and prone.

It can be done. Your rate of fire goes down as it's harder to do but it's not impossible.

138SquadronRAF Supporting Member of TMP14 Aug 2017 10:07 a.m. PST

This is a test of the Sharp video:

YouTube link

Major Bloodnok14 Aug 2017 11:29 a.m. PST

My original 1829 US militia manual(abridged) has instructions on firing and loading kneeling and prone. I doub't it is something that is unique to the US Army and Militia. Now regarding firing from a jolly boat (or one that is slightly browned off), I can see the men on either side of the thwarts firing and loading without hinderance. They might even be straddling the thwarts. Whether they could hit anything is another argument.

HappyHussar15 Aug 2017 8:40 p.m. PST

British Marines fired from Ships of the Line, Frigates, etc all the time on crews when the ships would draw close or grappling/fouling would occur. A not uncommon practice to be sure but you had to be pretty good to hit anything.

Maybe someone can enlighten us as to who their targets were supposed to be? Was it officers or was that still considered "ungentlemanly" at the time by the British military?

Windy Miller16 Aug 2017 5:12 a.m. PST

It was only considered ungentlemanly if officers were shooting at other officers. Nothing to stop the other ranks from blazing away merrily at whoever was in range!

1968billsfan Supporting Member of TMP16 Aug 2017 6:00 a.m. PST

Were they going up or down stream?

Nick Stern Supporting Member of TMP16 Aug 2017 1:38 p.m. PST

Technically upstream, but there was a tidal surge so they were going with the flow.

Le Breton17 Aug 2017 6:00 p.m. PST

When I was in the Navy, my small patrol boat had a pair of .50 caliber machine guns. I could not hit anything with these, even though they were mounted on a sort of stabilizing pintle mount. But the chief of the boat was really good at it. He somehow, maybe due to long experience, seemed to compensate for the movement of the boat even when underway, and could more or less snipe with the machine guns. It never ceased to amaze me how he did it.

Then again, I was (and am) no marksmen of any kind and only qualified on the pistol range because everyone wanted to go home (I found out that it pays to take the qualification test late on Friday afternoon).

While it is true "that whatever [20th or] 21st Century you or I can do is irrelevant in the Big Picture of history, and to our games, as well.", maybe the ability to actually hit something from a moving boat was a individual skill some could learn to do it, others (like me) not so much.

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