This article was prepared during the development of the pirate life simulation game Corsairs Legacy by Ukrainian Mauris studio with the aim of popularizing the marine theme in general and pirate games in particular. You can follow the project news on our website, YouTube channel, and Telegram.
In this article, Kirill Nazarenko talks about the defense of sea fortresses from pirates. 22 forts from the game Sea Dogs: To Each His Own were presented as material for study.
Hello! Today we will talk about forts in the Caribbean Sea and general in European colonies of the 16th-18th centuries. It is clear that when the Europeans got to distant lands or islands, they immediately built fortifications. Initially, these were wooden fortifications that looked like a blockhouse, that is, something like a large hut surrounded by a palisade with an embrasure for shooting. However, in the tropics, these wooden blockhouses were replaced with stone buildings, because wood rots very quickly in the tropics.
Sea Dogs: To Each His Own. Fort of Cartagena
Among the forts presented here, there are several successful, in my opinion, images of forts that are close to their historical counterparts. I especially liked Cartagena. It reminds me of those forts that Spaniards and Portuguese built in the Caribbean or on the coast of Africa at the end of the 15th and in 16th centuries.
First of all, these were small forts, because their garrisons were insignificant, they numbered 20-30 soldiers because the soldiers were very expensive. In Europe itself, most of the fortresses and castles in peacetime had a very small garrison, which directly guarded the castle and maintained order in the surroundings. In the event of a siege, the inhabitants of the surrounding area fled to the castle, they would be armed and could be used for secondary functions. The fortress could be armed with a large garrison: during the fighting, field troops could get there.
If even in Europe there was such a situation, then in the colonies the situation was even worse. Often the garrisons died out from local diseases, it was very difficult to persuade a soldier to serve somewhere at the end of the world, and there was no universal military service in Europe in the 16th-17th centuries.
Therefore, the soldier was recruited, and he had to sign an agreement. Usually, the soldier was a nobleman, mostly a small one, which provided for a certain amount of for this person had. It was hard to “drag” such a person into the colony. Therefore, the early colonial forts were small round, or rectangular towers that could accommodate 20-30 people and were easy to defend.
Still, such towers for Europe were already an outdated technology, because from the end of the 15th century, artillery began to destroy medieval castles very quickly and castles began to evolve rapidly, their walls became much thicker. If in the pre-firearm era the normal thickness of the fortress wall was 1.5-2 meters, then at the end of the 15th century the fortresses thickened to 5-7 meters of solid masonry. Of course, there could be some tricks: hewn stone masonry could only be outside, and inside there could be backfilling of unhewn stone mixed with mortar. But, in any case, the walls become very thick, and just like that, open stone walls exposed to artillery fire become more and more dangerous.
In the colonies, the situation was easier, because there was no good artillery in the colonies, and these forts were armed with small-caliber guns. Often these were just large 25-30mm muskets that were too heavy to carry in the hands, but they were quite good to shoot from behind the walls.
But there could also be short guns of very low quality that fired grapeshot. There may have been a small number of good bronze tools, but they were always very few because they were very expensive. Moreover, there were very few large-caliber guns on ships in the 16th century. Therefore, the besieging representative of the European forces in the colonies could not assemble a large siege group and could not destroy the stone walls, even if they were not covered by earthen embankments.
Sea Dogs: To Each His Own. Fort Havana
In addition to the fort of Cartagena, in my opinion, the fort of Havana is quite pretty. It is a round tower. It can be seen that the motif is beaten here, that initially there was a round tower, and then additional fortifications were built around it. Indeed, forts developed in this way, when fortifications surrounded the courtyard, and towers were built around a small fort. If a city populated by Europeans, mestizos, or Creoles arose in this place, then people could arm themselves in case of an attack and help the fort's garrison defend themselves.
The only thing I don't like about Fort Havana is the presence of very large embrasures in the high tower, so vertically elongated. In general, the embrasures were small. They, of course, had a solution, that is, they did not expand towards the outer part so that a cannon or musket could be pointed, but in any case, they tried to make them smaller.
In principle, such high and narrow embrasures were used as gun embrasures, but then they had to be much narrower, and they had to be placed at the foot of the walls, especially facing the courtyards, and the interior spaces. Because it was convenient to shoot guns from such embrasures.
Such a narrow vertical shape was used because the soldiers lined up in several lines and inside, behind the walls in front of such an embrasure, they placed special wooden stands. The first soldier stood on the floor and laid his gun on the windowsill. Behind him, a soldier, standing on an elevation on top of the first soldier’s head, put his gun into the embrasure. The third soldier put his gun in the upper part of the embrasure, which made it possible to intensify the fire from such high embrasures. For guns, only square, semicircular, or lancet embrasures were used, but not so high. Still, in general, the drawing of Fort Havana is such a successful attempt to depict the development of a classic colonial fort.
Sea Dogs To Each His Own. Fort San Juan
Fort San Juan is a round type of tower, because already later, in the 17th-18th centuries, round towers continued to be built, but they became much larger in diameter, and they represented a real small fort several dozens of meters in diameter. Inside, they, as a rule, did not have continuous ceilings, that is, inside there was a courtyard and some rooms adjacent to the walls. However, the round shape was considered beneficial for several reasons:
— First of all, the round shape made it possible to reduce the defended perimeter.
— The round shape of the walls, especially if they were made of some kind of durable stone, made it possible to better reflect enemy cannonballs due to their convex shape.
Still, the main disadvantage of this form was the spraying of artillery fire. That is, it is clear that the guns were directed in all directions, and it was possible to fire at the same target from a maximum of two, maybe three guns at the same level. If there were 2 levels, then the number of guns doubled.
But it was extremely difficult to concentrate the fire of ten guns on one target. Round towers, even until the middle of the 19th century, continued to be used as an additional fortification, as the last frontier inside the fortress. They still exist somewhere. Here, a turret is also depicted on top, which, on the one hand, plays a decorative role, on the other hand, it can serve as an observation post, and it can also serve as the last refuge of the defenders of this fort.
Sea Dogs: To Each His Own. Fort Santo Domingo
Another rather successful example of a fort is Fort Santo Domingo. This is another round tower surrounded by walls. You can dream up and imagine that at first, they built a small round tower, then they surrounded it with walls, then they built it on, then they added some additional towers.
Still, I don't really like this massive square tower on the right flank of Fort Santo Domingo. It has a very medieval look. It must be said that in the era of firearms, square towers were built only as gate towers, and even then, not everywhere. The con of square towers was the presence of large unfired sectors opposite the corners of this tower. From each wall of the tower, the guns fired in front of them and slightly to the sides, but all the same, “dead” spaces remained opposite the corners. Since the gates were covered in front by additional fortifications, it was possible to take the risk of “dead” sectors, but a free-standing square tower was not typical in the 16th-17th centuries.
Sea Dogs: To Each His Own. Fort Antigua
Some of the forts have a decidedly medieval appearance. For example, Fort Antigua with square towers looks like a medieval fortress, and it is also quite large.
Sea Dogs: To Each His Own. Fort Baster
Fort Baster has a rather strange look. There are solid square towers too, but the truth is that something like a bastion is shown here. The wall facing the sea has several bends or breaks and loopholes. Probably, they tried to depict a bastion here.
However, European fortification in the 16th century already relied entirely on the bastion system. A bastion is a 5-corner ledge at the corner of a wall, designed for flanking fire. In other words, this pentagon has 2 faces — these are 2 sides of the bastion facing the enemy, they are adjoined by 2 flanks (short walls), which are already adjacent to the very wall of the fortress, which is called the “curtain wall”.
The flanks were intended for longitudinal shelling of the curtain. The flanks constantly developed and increased, and more and more, which fired along the main wall of the fortress, cannons were concentrated on them, preventing the enemy from approaching this wall. In addition, these guns fired a little to the side and covered the neighboring bastion, that is, they created a crossfire zone in front of the neighboring bastion. Thus, to take one bastion, one would have to suppress the flanks of two neighboring bastions and only then attack the main bastion. It was long and difficult, it made soldiers lose time, which was exactly what was needed.
Let me remind you that the main task of fortification is to gain time. There are no fortresses that could not be taken. Another thing is that it takes a certain time to capture any fortress. This gives advantages to the defender, who can gather an army elsewhere, organize some kind of respite, accumulate strength, make a maneuver, etc.
Sea Dogs: To Each His Own. Fort Belize
The bastions were of very different shapes. Here is Fort Belize I like more than the previous forts. Here there is a round tower and such petal-like fortifications are attached to it, which are somewhat reminiscent of bastions.
However, what I strongly dislike about all these forts is that they stand on a hill. It would seem that there is such a thing, castles have always stood on the mountain. Yes, of course, medieval castles and even the fortresses of the New Age stood on the mountain, but these were land fortresses.
As for sea fortresses, already in the 17th century, a clear rule was formulated that the most profitable and effective shooting at ships was direct fire along the water’s surface. The cannon is a long-barreled weapon, and it fired on a flat trajectory, so it was most advantageous to shoot directly at the enemy. And when we set up a seaside fortress on a mountain, we would have to shoot at an angle downwards and at the same time adjust the aim all the time.
An enemy ship approaching or moving away from our fortress would very quickly leave the zone of fire of our gun, aimed at a specific point. If we put the gun on the water level, we point it in that direction and shoot. It is not very important for us: the ship approached or departed, naturally in a certain range. Therefore, I would definitely accompany such fortifications on the mountain with a battery that would stand at the water level and be connected to the fortress with some passages, walls, and additional fortifications, which would be logical and quite natural.
Sea Dogs: To Each His Own. Fort Bridgetown
Here in Bridgetown, the fortress was set lower, which is good. The tiled roof looks nice too.
Sea Dogs: To Each His Own. Fort Capsterville
However, for example, Capsterville with these buttresses really looks medieval. It looks beautiful, but this is at best the beginning of the 16th century.
Sea Dogs: To Each His Own. Fort Caracas
Caracas is generally some kind of Constantinople at the time of its capture by the Turks. So here in some places, they went too far with the majesty of the fortifications.
If these were the walls of the city that surrounded it, then it is clear that they should be large enough, vast, monumental. But the forts do not look very appropriate.
Sea Dogs: To Each His Own. Fort Saint-Martin
If we look at Fort Saint-Martin, we will see that the space in front of it is for some reason overgrown with trees. It is clear that before each fortification the trees were necessarily cut down so that they would not interfere with shooting.
Sea Dogs: To Each His Own. Fort Tortuga
Well, if we talk about Tortuga, then this is probably the worst fort of all that is presented here. Its outlines themselves are not bad, but these giant embrasures, reminiscent of modern panoramic windows in towers, are completely useless and should not be drawn like that.
Another thing to be said about the ratio of garrisons and guns. I have already said that there was little artillery in the colonial fortresses, but the situation changed radically in the 18th century because during the Spanish Succession War large squadrons with large numbers of regular troops began to be sent to the colonies.
Therefore, already during the Seven Years' War, the American War of Independence, and especially the Napoleonic Wars, this became the norm. If the colonial power wanted to keep its possessions, it had to modernize its fortifications and count on repelling attacks by regular troops with siege artillery.
In the 18th century, colonial forts were significantly modernized and received relatively modern artillery. In the 17th century, they invented the technology of casting cast-iron tools, which were about 20 times cheaper than bronze tools, although a little heavier. But their cheapness was a final decision. Almost all European ships of the 17th century had only cast-iron guns. Ships with copper guns were rare. It is clear that 99% of the guns in the fortresses were cast iron. If we look at the ratio of garrisons and guns, we will see that there are quite a lot of guns in the fortresses.
But this was normal because the fortresses in Europe served as a dumping ground for old artillery. It was completely normal in the middle of the 19th century to have a 17th-century gun in service with the fortress. When even at the beginning of the First World War they switched to rifled artillery, there were smooth-bore guns in the fortresses, which were intended for close defense and for shooting with grapeshot.
It is clear that in the 17-18 centuries in the fortresses in the Caribbean there could be guns made at the end of the 15th century. These guns were either small-caliber or very short and of poor quality, which could be used as shotguns. Large full-fledged, even cast-iron, guns were a rarity. The number of guns, which ranged from 45 to 204 guns, was normal. Moreover, absolutely everything a little more than a musket was considered a cannon.
Anything that could not be carried on the battlefield was considered artillery. But the garrisons of the fortresses are going wild here. The garrison had more than 2000 people and it was very, very much. In the 17th century, the garrisons of the fortresses of even large cities in the Caribbean were 100-200 soldiers, and several hundred armed inhabitants of this city could join them. But a garrison of even 1,000 men was extremely rare.
Still surprising is the ratio of guns and soldiers in these garrisons. The smallest ratio was 8 and 10 soldiers per gun, in Port Royal, Jamaica, and Port-au-Prince, Hispaniola. The highest ratio is 52 soldiers per gun in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
I would say that the normal ratio would be 3 to 5 people per cannon. 7-8 people per cannon at maximum. 52 people per cannon is a clear overkill. This could only happen if large forces sent from Europe, several battalions of regular troops, were brought into the fortress. Still, this was already relevant for the 18th century for big wars.
In conclusion, I would like to emphasize that, after all, the colonial fortification lagged behind the European one. Wood-and-earth fortifications, which became the norm for Europe in the 18th century, were not used very often. Still, the desire to build a stone wall was strong and it was justified by the fact that stone walls are much more difficult to climb.
In the conditions of the fight against pirates or Indians, these walls fully justified themselves and it was not necessary to build a fortress that could withstand modern large-caliber European artillery. It should also be noted that sieges in the colonial fortresses in the world were very rare. They happened, but mostly in the 18th century. If fortresses were taken in the 16th-17th centuries, then this was done with the help of raids, and quick assaults. Pirates or some other kind of enemy could take the fortress by surprise, so, again, the wide stone walls and narrow gates were quite justified, because they primarily protected from a sudden assault. It was only in the 20th century that colonial fortification fully reached the European level, and fortifications in the colonies and Europe ceased to differ greatly from each other.
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