Naval Gunnery and disaster of 1628

For quite some time I have tried to find a good example for couple of friends to explain what kind of damage solid cannon ball does when fired against wooden ship of solid construction. Now I have found excellent sample at most excellent Vasa Museet, in Stockholm. There are of course cross section of the result, but also video of the shot – which highlights just how bad the splintering it really is.

It seems to be rather complicated to explain the grounds why certain aspects of naval gunnery in early days were as they were and why some rulesets get it just plain wrong. Material from Vasa Museet is extremely useful in that regard. After seeing the video recording, importance of crew morale becomes evident. No surprise that morale wavered much before significant structural damage were sustained during age of sail.

Vasa - 2

Entry wound. Two round shots were shot through the planking.

Vasa - 3

Exit wound. Notice the area of splinters, small and larger. Consider that after even slightly longer action, the planking would fracture considerably, and every further shot would cause increasing amount of splintering.

Vasa - 1

Cross section from the entry/exit wounds after the shot. Shows the hull construction and the penetration power that the shots have carried.


As it is rather well known, 10 August 1628 disaster fell upon Swedish naval ambitions.  Build to be strong vessel, and carry all of Swedes imperial prestige, foundations of Vasa were questionable. The dangerous instability was not such a surprise as believed. Tests committed by crew of around 30 men running from side to side showed that Vasa was indeed what was feared. It was the poor project management combined with overambitious direction and fast schedule that doomed the ship. At 64 guns, she would have been powerful indeed, but transitional period emphasized both, heavy board side and tall castles to aid boarding battles. Vasa’s fate was to sink after sailing of 1,3km, never seeing any action, or in fact, fire a shot. Considering that during the age only few could swim, only 30 hands of her crew were lost. Her sister ship Applet was 1m wider adding to the stability and she proved to be functional design. Vasa’s wreck was located in the 1950s and she was finally salvaged in 1961.


Below some eye candy of the Vasa reconstruction work. Indeed it is a mighty sight.

Vasa - 8Vasa - 5Vasa - 4Vasa - 7Vasa - 6

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This entry was posted in Ancient warfare, Locations, Naval engagements, Signal Close Action and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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