Being a treatise on VSF and Mars, and on 19th Century colonial warfare in general

(with a nod towards Messrs Gilbert and Sullivan, lest I take myself too seriously)

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Technology - Infantry Firearms

The relative paucity of refined metals on Mars means that rulers are reluctant to hand large lumps of very valuable metal to their troops in the form of weapons.  Wherever possible the amount of metal has been reduced over the millennia to a point where only the bare minimum is carried by your average ranker.

The standard infantry weapon is a wooden-barrelled smoothbore firearm.  Metal gun barrels and rifling are certainly known and are even made on Mars, but these tend to be for the wealthy or for select guard troops.  For the common ranker, metal barrels have been replaced by a specially-bred form of wood, known locally as “Jee-oo”, whose lattice-like structure can resist rapid deformation in a manner analogous to modern kevlar.  This makes them suitable for use as gun barrels once dried and treated.  The breech-end of the barrel is secured within a metal block and trigger mechanism – the only significant lump of metal in the firearm - with a light wooden stock and fore stock.  

The standard ammunition round is a ceramic slug and sabot together with the smokeless propellant and ignition all wrapped in a sealed waxed package.  The ceramic slugs can take a variety of forms.  The most common has a square cross section, is slightly tapered towards the tip and has a quarter twist along its length.  This tapering and twist provides an element of aerodynamic form and spin to the round, and so these smoothbores have a decent range compared with Earthly ones.   The sabot also allows the manufacture of shotgun-style rounds for use at close range, without excessive wear and tear on the barrel.  

The loading process is relatively quick: a first pass down the barrel with a ramrod to clear the worst of any residue, followed by the sealed round being forced down until seated against the firing block.  The waxing of the round ensures an element of lubrication and also better sealing within the barrel, while the base of the sabot expands upon the ignition of the propellant to reduce windage.  The weapon is cocked manually by pulling back a hammer which is then released by the pull of the trigger.  The hammer drives the platinum-coated firing pin (actually a cone) forward, sealing the block and piercing the base of the round.  There the cone acts as a catalyst causing the two dry chemicals to flare, igniting the propellant and driving the sabot along the barrel.  The force of the ignition returns the firing cone back into the breech and the hammer into a “safe” position (so that the loading process will not result in firing). 

These muskets do have a number of drawbacks.  They foul quite easily, and can suffer from splitting at inopportune times.  They are therefore replaced at regular intervals – quite a simple process if you still retain both hands - and this can even take place in the field.  The propellant used is smokeless, but there is always some visible discharge from the weapon, with the combustion of the packaging, sabots flying around, and so on.  Finally, Jee-oo barrels are not a suitable fixing for a bayonet, and neither does it make a good club, so troops are reliant on a sidearm (sword or axe) for melee. 

A proportion of infantry in a unit (typically a quarter) comprise teams armed with a long-barrel musket (referred to as jingals by Earthmen).  

Jingals are essentially Jee-oo muskets with longer and larger barrels (up 2.5m long, with a bore of as much as 5cm in some cases).   The loading teams carry a variety of rounds depending on need and availability.  Most will be solid slug rounds which are effective at 800 yards.   Others are a form of cannister which can be devastating are close range. Each weapon requires a crew of four – one to carry and fire, one to carry a spare barrel plus a bipod rest, and two loaders.  This weapon is especially effective against Giant Martian troops and mounts, but also as a siege weapon and as light artillery in the field. 

1 comment:

ColKillgore said...

The rifle sounds interesting and adds a good measure of character to the martian weapon.