Friday, 4 May 2012

The British Browning Bess

This flintlock musket was used in the British Army from 1722-1838 and was used in all theatres of war throughout the British Empire. There were many versions of the Bess, as it was known, including the Long land Pattern, Short Land Pattern, India Pattern, New Land Pattern Musket, Sea Service Musket and many others.

The Long Land Pattern musket, a .75 caliber flintlock musket was the standard fire arms of the British Empire’s land forces from 1722-1838 before they were superseded by a percussion cap smoothbore musket.

Officially termed King’s Arm or Land Pattern musket, the origins of the nickname Brown Bess is not clear but it first showed up in 1785.

The earliest models had all iron fittings but these were replaced by brass in models built after 1736. The ramrods were first made of wood but were then replaced with iron ones, although guns with wooden ramrods were still issued to troops on American service until 1765 and later on to the loyalist units in the American Revolution.
Stress-bearing parts of the Brown Bess, such as the barrel, lockwork and sling-swivels, were customarily made of iron, while other furniture pieces such as the butt plate, trigger guard and ramrod pipe were found in both iron and brass. The stock was made out of Walnut. The musket weighed about 10 pounds (4.5 kg) and it could be fitted with a 17 inches (430 mm) triangular cross-section bayonet. The weapon had no sights, although the bayonet lug on the barrel may have been used as one. The Infantrymen would point the musket in the direction of the enemy and fire.

The accuracy of the Brown Bess was not too bad, as with most muskets. The range was about 175 yards (160 m) but it was really often fired on mass at 50 yards (46 m) to inflict the greatest damage upon the enemy. The combination of large calibre of the lead ball and the heavy weight of its iron construction contributed to its low effective range. Military tactics of this time stressed mass volleys and massed bayonet charges, instead of individual marksmanship. The lead ball could inflict a great deal of damage when it hit and the great length of the weapon allowed longer reach in hand to hand combat.

Of all the versions made, the India pattern was supposed to be the most accurate with an effective range of 175 yards and with a 75-95% accuracy. As used by the British regiments of the Napoleonic Era, the weapons were quite reliable. A trained solider would take about 43 seconds to fire off three shots but in battle they were expected to fire 3-4 shots a minute. An inexperienced recruit perhaps two shots a minute. The weapon also had a thicker barrel than most contemporary firearms which reduced its chances of blowing up due to powder overload.   

The standard military loading procedure for a Brown Bess from a paper cartridge, which included lead ball and gun powder is as follows.

  1. Tear cartridge with teeth and prime the pan directly from the cartridge.
  2. Stand the musket and pour the rest of the powder down the barrel.
  3. Reverse the cartridge and use the ramrod to seat ball and paper cartridge into the barrel.
  4. Cock the musket, present and fire.