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THE NOISE OF THE GUNS?
Galloglas
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Here's something where member's own research and technical knowledge can help us towards a better understanding.

Many of us might have wondered how it was that Evelyn Wood could record in his autobiography having heard guns being fired during the evening of 22nd January whilst camped near Bemba's Kop; thought at the time to be at Isandlwana. Logically, this would appear to coincide with the action to seize Black's Koppie and the south saddle.

The light calibre of the 7 Pdr RML, there being only four guns, and the sheer distance suggest to us that 'rationally' this was fairly unlikely. Or was it?

I was last weekend re-reading Ludovic Kennedy's autobiography, "On my Way to the Club" (Collins 1989), which contains this interesting reference to his journalism, which I will reproduce here in full:

"I had two or three assignments from the Sunday Times. One was to describe an atomic bomb test explosion in the Nevada desert. I stayed the night before in Las Vegas, and in the morning was taken to an observation post nine thousand feet up in the mountains where there were pine trees and snow. The bomb bomb exploded forty miles away, a stab of red light low down in the desert, then the familiar mushroom cloud, beginning just above ground level: this led us to question whether the explosion had taken place underground, which the official in charge would neither confirm or deny. To me the oddest thing about the explosion was that there was no noise. The official explained this by saying that some sound waves travelled direct into the ozonosphere (sic) and by reflection hit the earth many miles away from their course. He said that after previous tests, windows in Las Vegas had been broken but those in Indian Springs which was much nearer the explosion had stayed intact. The same phenomenon, he said, had occurred at Queen Victoria's funeral when the minute-guns at Windsor were heard one hundred miles away."

Any other ideas?

G
Neil Aspinshaw


Joined: 05 Sep 2005
Posts: 289
Location: Loughborough
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Galloglas

Interesting. I read the same and questioned it, OK if it was in flat country, but as the Nqutu range would blank out any possibility of that its unlikely.

The biggest man made explosion prior to the A-Bomb was at RAF Fauld, near Uttoxeter, when the ammo dump in the gypsum mine went up in 1944, the explosion tore a crater a mile long and half a mile wide (still can be seen on google earth), the blast was heard in Coventry, 38 miles away. Wood though must have been in excess of that, for a 7pdr shell?.

I suppose if the shell was shrapnel, hence air burst the effect would be like a rocketin the distance on bonfire night so the sound would travel.

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The Scorer


Joined: 27 Nov 2006
Posts: 322
Location: Newport
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Isn't it said that the artillery barrage prior the the First Day of the Somme in 1916 was heard in London? Does anyone know far away that is?

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Peter Ewart


Joined: 31 Aug 2005
Posts: 1797
Location: Near Canterbury, Kent, England.
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The distance from the vicinity of Bemba's Kop to Isandlwana seems to be about 45 miles as the crow flies (someone check my figures - I've done a very hurried calculation from the map on Morris's endpaper and those near the end of Knight & Castle's Then & Now). From memory, I think David Rattray quoted 60 miles in his DotDM tapes.

It seems quite a distance for the sound of a few bangs from a 7 pdr to travel, except that at night, of course, it always seems more feasible (the scientific basis for which eludes me). The distance from the Somme theatre (taking, say, Albert as a central point for the bombardment of late June 1916) to London is around 130 miles or so as the crow flies, and approaching 100 miles to those parts of Sussex & Kent from where various unimpeachable accounts described hearing the sound from the Somme that week. (The northern extremity of the attack of 1 July, where the June barrage had been just as heavy - around Gommecourt, say - would lessen this distance by around a dozen miles). Still a very long way, but the difference between the sound from a 7 pdr and that 1916 barrage (biggest man-made noise in history, was it?) doesn't bear thinking about.

Is it possible that a sound from a 7 pdr can travel 45 miles, but a noise many thousands of times louder only travels a bit more than twice that distance? A bit of a puzzle, isn't it? (Or it is for this non-scientist, anyway!) Which makes us question the statement from Wood. No reason, I suppose, for him to make up that conversation, but then again it would certainly appear he made up plenty of the rest of his AZW memoirs.

Peter
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Sawubona


Joined: 09 Nov 2005
Posts: 1179
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No physicist here, but some thoughts. Certainly many members of this site are familiar with the "Whispering Gallery" in St. Paul's in London, where a quiet whisper can be heard distinctly and understood clearly some 120 feet away-- And that's by no means the most dramatic example of such acoustic phenomena. Perhaps the hills of that area of Zululand extended the range of the sound rather than shortened it.

I should explore the available information further before leaping in with both feet as I'm about to, but I've repeatedly heard that the loudest "single", man-made noise before that of the first A-bomb occurred in Portsmouth, NH in 1905, when some 90,000 pounds of dynamite was used to "remove" a natural rock shipping hazard in the harbor named "Henderson Point". Maybe the key word is the "single"? Or "intentional"?

When Krakatoa went up, the explosion was heard distinctly in Perth over 1500 miles away and reported as far away as 3000 miles. Okay, the scale of that cataclysm is a bit larger than firing a 7 pd cannon (the Krakatoa explosion has been estimated to have been the equivalent of some 200 megatons of TNT), but the fact remains that sounds, both loud and not so loud, can travel a long, long way under the right conditions.
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Galloglas
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How sad it is that none of us will get the opportunity to fire a 7 Pdr RML in the Whispering Gallery of St Pauls, despite every reasonable expectation of being able to manhandle one up there. If only!

However, I digress.

There is a surviving example of a 7 Pdr RML, with 'Kaffrarian' carriage, in the gun sheds at the Saxowold Museum in Johannesburg. What's intriguing is how very small the comon shell and shrapnel projectiles are; barely the size of an average adult's clenched palm.

There are no in-service guns of similar technical parameters and the last significant operations in which mountain guns were used by the British Army was the WW2 Italian campaign. So, quite how loud the crack of the gun and the burst of its shells actually were is now very much open to debate. That said, it might be reasonable to think of its ('3 inch') shell as sounding similar to the ground burst of 81mm Mortar HE, which can be quite noisy if several coincide.

G
Sawubona


Joined: 09 Nov 2005
Posts: 1179
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Wink Getting it up to the Whispering Gallery would be the least of the snafus for this experiment! It would take someone pretty clever to come up with a plausible explanation to Security (I assume there's Security there) as to the contents of several rather large and obviously weighty backpacks, camera cases and handbags. Hmnm, a screw gun on the other hand...

Anyone know any of the people at the BBC who do those AZW documentaries with the "hands on" tests of theories?
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rich


Joined: 01 May 2008
Posts: 897
Location: Long Island NY USA
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hmmm..maybe we can haul a cannon like the original one to the '"sound of the guns" at Isandhlwana and have everything set up at the time Wood heard whatever he heard? Of course, exact conditions probably couldn't be had but it could be approximated. Note: I'd think the fellow who supposedly "hears' the guns also to be the same age as Wood. You don't want a 20 year old's or 75 year old's "hearing!

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John Young


Joined: 30 Aug 2005
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Location: Lower Sheering, Essex
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Rich,

You would need four 7lb'ers to recreate the effect. Two sections of two guns firing at the same time.

Anyone know the wind speed and direction that night?

John Y.
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Sawubona


Joined: 09 Nov 2005
Posts: 1179
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It seems to me that the question isn't did Wood hear the guns or even could Wood have heard the guns, but rather can the sound of a 7lb'er (or four of them even) be heard in that place under any weather conditions. Just keep firing one (or more) off under a wide range of temperatures, cloud layers, and so forth until you hear them or run out of powder. Better still, do it with a recording and suitable amplifiers. All that would probably cost a small fortune and take a long long time, but it could be done. Unless you were either committed, arrested or possibly even assagaied by Pat at the Lodge.
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Galloglas
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Somebody far more technical than me needs to comment upon whether the "ozonosphere" explanation recorded by Ludovic Kennedy is scientifically sound.

If we make any favourable assumptions over there being little ambient noise at the listening end (apparently somewhere near Bemba's Kop) that might partly explain it. But, why the conviction that it was guns being fired and not some other explanation - like thunder?

G
rich


Joined: 01 May 2008
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Location: Long Island NY USA
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You know I'd think one should make the assumption that Wood did indeed hear firing from what he thought were guns. It's very probable that that's what he heard. But only empirical investigation could place it into the possible or not possible. The only problems of course are all the variables such as what John noted plus many others that would be needed. And then there's the factor of the psychological which alos plays a part in "hearing" things.

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Paul Bryant-Quinn


Joined: 14 Oct 2007
Posts: 538
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The French writer François-René de Chateaubriand claimed that he heard the cannon of the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 from Ghent (120-25 kms away?)

A considerably bigger cannonade, of course ...


Last edited by Paul Bryant-Quinn on Mon Aug 09, 2010 1:20 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Galloglas
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The whole point of the original post is whether there is a systematic scientific explanation along the lines of this supposed 'ozonosphere effect', or not.


Decent old buffer theories we already have enough of, I moot.

G
Galloglas
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Sorry Paul, twas Rich I was replying to..
G
THE NOISE OF THE GUNS?
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