The History of English Sea Ordnance

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    Colin H

      I was rather pleased to obtain the two extant volumes of the above work by Adrian B. Caruana, albeit at surprising expense. I am still pleased but after reading the rather savage revue by David Lyon in the MM, somewhat dispirited.
      I assume that both the author and his critic knew their subject because of their respective interests and occupations. I understand that David Lyon could be rather acerbic but that is no reason to doubt his integrity.
      After the passage of time and a possible re-assessment I wonder if anyone could assure me that I haven’t “bought a lemon” and the books are a useful and possibly reliable source of reference?
      Colin Hartwright


        The History of Sea Ordnance 1523-1875 (two vols, Rotherfield 1994-97) by Adrian Caruana, is regarded by many naval ordnance specialists as a very useful reference tool, although Professor Nicholas Rodger is somewhat ambivalent:
        “An important work of great antiquarian erudition and practical knowledge, but unreliable in detail and largely devoid of historical analysis.”
        (Rodger, The Command of the Ocean, bibliography)

        I have not read David Lyon’s review in MM, so cannot comment on that, but my feeling is that Caruana filled a gap with his two volumes which general naval historians will find more than sufficient. Caruana’s original publisher, Jean Boudriot, is himself a distinguished naval historian and author of well-researched technical books, and that imprimatur alone would give me confidence in Caruana’s volumes.
        Naval ordnance specialists will no doubt find lacunae for which some of them can themselves provide answers. As to Rodger’s “historical analysis”, as an historian myself I don’t feel that every technical reference book has to provide me with an analytical viewpoint when what I need is a guide to the specialist field.
        My own recent students have referred to Caruana, amongst others, in their analyses of Tudor and Georgian naval gunnery and I am happy to accept their citations.
        I am told by naval artefacts and antiquaria dealers that Caruana is a good investment with growth potential. More than that though, I think the correspondent has acquired a useful set of reference tools which should give him pleasure and information; any flaws will be minor and probably self-evident to the well-read student of our field, which is about as much as one can hope for in any book on our wide and deep subject.
        Justin Reay

        Chris Donnithorne

          It might be helpful to put the reviews of The History of English Sea Ordnance in context. The author was a man of great integrity and immense knowledge of his subject, and the review by Lyon was taken by some to be a quite unacceptable and unwarranted personal attack.
          Adrian Caruana was an experienced professional gunner and, in life, forthright. While being almost obsessively thorough in his research, he was also the only man of his time who routinely fired early ordnance with a full service charge. From this unparalleled position of theoretical and practical knowledge, it was almost inevitable that there should be some conflict with historians whom he felt had reached questionable conclusions.
          For interest, the third volume was completed before his untimely death, and there were plans to publish but I am uncertain of progress, and the author also planned an accompanying ‘data’ volume.
          Chris Donnithorne

          Frank Scott

            It is worth reading not merely the initial review in Mariner’s Mirror vol 83 issue 3, pages 354-356, but the follow up correspondence in MM 84:1 pp98-102. Both the reviewer and the author are long dead, but the issue can be used as an interesting case study on book reviewing.
            Frank Scott

            Brian D. H

              I have recently acquired a copy of an experimental method of mounting early C19th ships’ guns that is entirely new to me. It is noted as an attempt to improve the gunnery of the British Fleet. Can anyone advise as to the proved integrity of the method and any subsequent implementation on regular vessels?
              Details: Commander Marshall’s new mode of Mounting and Working Ship’s Guns : the Results of Official Experiments
              Dedicated to Lord Viscount Melville.
              published: John Murray, Albermarle St. London,


                I have read the recent Forum discussion on Caruana’s work with interest. I already own Peter Padfield’s Guns at sea (London 1973, New York 1974), Andrew Gordon’s Rules of the Game: Jutland and British Naval Command (London 1996 and 2000), and John Brooks’ Dreadnought Gunnery and the Battle of Jutland: the question of fire control (London 2005). My decison to refrain from purchasing Caruana’s work is purely based on price.
                I am interested in naval guns, their method of operation and their effect on tactics covering the period 1750-1945. Bearing that in mind would any members be able to advise on both the ‘hardware’ and/or its usage?

                Colin H

                  You should find British Naval Armaments ed. Robert D. Smith of interest. Obtainable from The Royal Armouries on-line shop and reasonably priced. (A conference proceedings, it is has contributions from both D.J.Lyon and Adrian Caruana)

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