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Steampunk Days In-More primary source reprints

Since not everyone wants to play outside all the time I’m going to review some things to do inside. These will showcase books and movies. I’ll start off reviewing some items from D,P & G publications. If you look through the archives you’ll find that I have reviewed some of their high end publications. This time I’ll be reviewing some of their more affordable products.

DP &G Publications was nice enough to send me three of their Technical Publications for review. This series of small booklets are reprints from various service journals originally published in the 19th and 20th century. The three titles they sent all deal with coastal artillery. Each of these booklets is a facsimile reprint of the original article. These appear to have originally been articles that went with lectures at the various service institutes. The books are physically digest size. The text from the original documents has been enlarged between 10 and 20%. Even with that the text is small and a bit difficult to read (especially for those of us getting older who don’t have the eyesight we once did) but is certainly a great improvement over the original. As usual with the DP and G products the reproduced plates are very nice. They have often been greatly enlarged from the originals. Costs vary between five pounds and fifteen, plus shipping. The cost might seem a bit high for non glossy reprints but the material is generally unavailable elsewhere and if the subjects are of interest to the researcher the works are well worth the price. The original journals are available at some research libraries and occasionally originals go on sale. When they do the prices for original articles (which of course have not been enlarged) are generally far more than the costs of the reprints. The topics are wide ranging indeed and cover a period nearly 100 years. The series which now runs to almost 250 titles include artillery, coast defense, military engineering subjects and more. The good thing about how these are printed and marketed is that since they are individual articles an enthusiast need only purchases titles in which they are interested and doesn’t pay for ones they don’t need. Again, although these might seem a bit steep compared to other larger print run booklets they provide extremely valuable primary source period information at reasonable “bite size” prices. If the topic is of interest to a researcher picking these up is a great way to get the data without breaking the bank. They can be bought over a period of time as resources allow.

The first is a reprint of Major Dalton’s article “Coast Defense by means of Curved Fire” from The Royal artillery Institute in 1889. Dalton references Major Ordonez of the Spanish Artillery’s original article from 1888. The use of “curved” or more familiarly high angle fire was a major topic at the time. This will be a subject well known to those familiar with U.S. coastal artillery of the period. It is interesting to see the thoughts of other services, in this case the British and Spanish ones. The merits of high angle fire against capital ships were hotly debated during this period and many nations made some investment is howitzers or mortars. Others, such as Great Britain built a few batteries and went back to conventional guns. This paper is from a critical period when it wasn’t obvious which type of weapon system would be most effective. The arguments by the Spanish officer are similar to ones used in the U.S. Army. The system under discussion also includes smaller weapons, mortars of around 6 inch caliber, as well as the larger weapons favored by the U.S. and in those few batteries actually built for Imperial batteries. Detailed drawings of many of these weapons are included with statistics including costs. This is a very useful period document, especially for those of us with an interest in high angle fire, and more so as it differs from the more widely known American system.

The second booklet is from the Royal United Service Institution in 1893 by Col Richardson RA. This covers the then neglected subject of effective practice for batteries in British service. The writer discusses the doldrums that had held coastal defense for a long period in the Empire. He then writes about the need for change due to the advances in technology. He then expressed his opinions on a system of target practice to use the newest technology to best effect. This includes new targets and scoring systems, as well as command and control for the various fortress elements. It has a number of illustrations of targets and even a large fold out showing the various battery elements on parade. The document has a series of notes from other concerned officers. This leads to some very interesting insights in the social and technical position of coast defense in British service at the time, as well as ideas for technical and tactical growth of coast artillery in the near term.

The third book is Lt Col Walford’s article on The Tactics of Coast Defense as written in 1889 for the Royal United Service Institution. This article discusses the interaction between all elements of coast defense, heavy light and field guns, mines, torpedoes, range finding and electric lights. The meat of the document deals with command and control issues, organization and other details of the defense. The author concentrates on allowing individual element commanders to fight their commands using “Commander’s intent” as their primary controlling principal. The interplay between the various tactical elements is critical to the success of a defended location.