# How to counter magical airforce with civil war level technology [closed]

An engineer finds himself in a fantasy world. Through a series of events he ends up leaving rebellion against the noble mage class. Because of his understanding of technology he is been able to raise the peasant class up to around America's Civil War level at least as far as weapons technology.

The problem is the enemy Air Force. The mage class can summon these magical griffins that they can use as mobile air platforms that they can launch fireballs from.

Is there a way to counter this magical Air Force with Civil War level weapons?

Fireball range is line of sight.

• Gatling gun, maybe? Jun 28 at 17:20
• What range do your fireballs have? It is impossible to answer your question without details like that .. should VTC if details aren't added I think? .. [Google's] civil war rifles had a range of 300 yards or so apparently so if your fireballs don't have a longer range than that your wizards are toast. Jun 28 at 18:41
• Mages gotta sleep sometime. And they can be poisoned, inveigled, bribed, deceived, framed, etc. while awake. Just a matter of budgeting for it. Jun 28 at 19:08
• @BryanMcClure Line of sight doesn't really mean anything : I can spot a whole army from a few kilometers, but I won't see a camouflaged guy lying down at 50 m away. Plushy plus, most fireballs have area-of-effect, so you could just carpetbomb without seeing accurately one guy. If you want to have more than catch-all answers, here's what you'll need : Fireball optimal range (in m or ft), rough area of effect, number of casts (if very limited), griffin size+max height+speed, and very important battle terrain (desert, forest...). Ideally we should know if peasants are outnumbering mages or not. Jun 28 at 19:31
• How much time does that engineer have to set up an entire industry before the rebellion starts? Knowing how to produce weapons and mass-producing enough to provision an army are quite different things.
– towr
Jun 29 at 9:50

The American Civil War had effective cannons and (towards the end) repeating rifles. The Revolutionary War might have more problems but civil war technology should be sufficient to counter griffins unless they can fly quite high. Practically speaking, I should think that a wizard flinging fireballs effectively would want to be no higher than a couple of hundred meters. Otherwise he's going to need some optical assistance for his targeting (although, being a wizard, maybe he does have that) and a couple of hundred meters would be well within civil war cannon range for things like cannister shot. It's worth noting that civil war rifles would not be much good against a target 200 yards in the air but the cannons would work. Smoothbore cannons had a range of about a mile -- I'm not sure what that translates to when firing "up" but I would think a few hundred yards would be fine. I'd expect rapid innovation of upward aiming cannister shot from cannons and mortars, and perhaps even explosive rockets.

If the wizard can cruise around at 10,000 feet and fling fireballs effectively then he can probably do so with impunity. Nothing in the CW era would have that kind of range and they would have to develop some alternative strategies to mitigate the damage since they can't fight against it directly (only fight at night, or only in very rough terrain or forests where the wizards can't see them and there is lots of cover around, etc).

• Mostly I like this answer, but many Civil War Era riffles had effective ranges in excess of 1000 yards. Not that you could target an individual gryphon at this range, but a block of riffle men firing into a formation of gryphons and you are bound to score a few hits. Jun 28 at 21:06
• @Nosajimiki - Yeah I was trying to look into that more as I did the post but the "common" rifle seemed to be said to be effective out to about 150 yards for smoothbores or 300 for rifled minis, with officers believing it was completely wasteful to do a volley at 400 yards (or even 200, for the smoothbore muskets, common at the start of the war). But I do recall reading about hexagonal barrel sniper rifles having a very high effective range. Not sure why they weren't more common. Volume of fire vs rate and range, maybe. Or expense. Jun 28 at 21:38
• you vastly overestimate the reach of any guns: the airspace won't be defended beyond the 2 miles height over the ground at all, and not efficiently above about 1.5 miles - and that is assuming 12-pounder Whitworth breechloading rifles. Infantry rifles would fail at above a couple hundred feet (not yards!). The wizard just needs to cruise at a mere 2 miles. And the eyes are good enough to see individual tentes at that height. Give them binoculars and they blow away individual troops. Jun 29 at 8:51
• In addition to what Trish has said, you vastly overestimate the accuracy of cannons against highly mobile targets. WWII saw vastly more powerful, advanced antiaircraft cannons firing tens of thousands of shells per damaged plane. You spot a griffin, aim the 2 ton cannon at it, lit the fuse, by the time the powder explodes the griffin is already a hundred meters away. By the time the bullets make it to the adequate height it's 200 hundred meters. Assuming a slow griffin. Jun 29 at 11:23
• @JamieB There is a difference between target accurate and effective ranges. Target accurate range is considered how far away a skilled marksman can hit a human target. A 150m target accuracy means the bullet is allowed to randomly drift 0.1566°, but a gryphon is a much larger target. If we assume a 2 m long profile along the short axis, then a trained marksmen could hit a gryphon with the same riffle at 750m: which is still inside the 1100m effective range. Jun 29 at 19:51

Ironclads, fully metal armored gunships, were in use in the civil war era - making use of these to shut down the mages trade, block their supply lines, and so forth. They are designed to survive explosive shell hits, so a fireball should just glance off the armor.

If the mages want to remove the blockade, they can either attack at close range, where they might be able to skip a fireball through a gun turret hole, but can also be shot, or they can try and swarm with soldiers,who should be massacred fairly easily

The next innovation is, of course, to put thinner versions of the metal plates used in iron clads on the back of a cart - these can be pretty thin, a fireball's main properties are setting things on fire, not exploding, after all - can't do that to metal armor. Stick a Gatling gun or light artillery piece out the sides, and you have little mobile fortresses. It'd be a stretch to call them tanks, but they're ideal for holding out against flying, fireballing opponents. Again, use these to cut trade and supplies from reaching the mages

• You don't attack the ironclad. You attack its supply depot and the wagon trains to it. Jun 29 at 8:55
• Oh, of course - but it turns this into a battle of logistics. It's very messy, but the peasant uprising that produces the food might be better equipped to hold out in this kind of warfare than the mages. You could certainly deny them port cities, trade, etc. I guess it then comes down to the question of is the mage's magic innate, or does it need resources? You could see how a gryphon summoning spell might need components, and that some of those might need to be imported
– lupe
Jun 29 at 17:01

A simple question can determine the answer: what is the range and velocity of the air-launched fireballs?

If they are fast and long range, such that they can be launched from high altitude, then there's not a whole lot you can do.

If, on the other hand, they eventually fizzle out or dissipate if it takes too long to get to a target which means the griffin has to come in relatively low and slow in order for the bombardment to work, say within 200 meters, then may I introduce you to canister shot. Essentially, you take a regular cannon and turn it into a massive shotgun. During the US Civil War, there are accounts of units being hit by canister or double canister at close range, such as at Pickett's Charge, where the unit literally disintegrated; the only thing left were a few recognizable body parts.

Have a bunch of cannons pointing upward, and flying mages, if they have to get relatively close for their fireballs to work, turn into chunky salsa and fine red mist. At longer ranges, intercepting a few chunks of metal might not turn you into a cloud, but they'll ruin your day.

# A concrete defense:

Portland cement was invented in 1824, leading to the modern age of concrete production. Depending on how your fireballs work, they may be almost worthless against a fire-proof structure. If they are primarily flame and heat, a concrete structure might be almost invincible. Even with blast effects, a concrete fortification with metal shutters would be nearly impervious. Only if your fireballs mimic cannons and create high-velocity mass will fireballs stand a chance against a well-constructed defense.

Also, don't rule out the humble industrially-produced brick. Easy to make and transport, it would very likely be extremely effective against the much less forceful effects of mere fireballs. Huge fortresses could be built at every city and harbor. It isn't as hard as stone, but its just as fire-resistant.

Such massive defenses were actually quite common in this period. The reduction in effectiveness of fireballs versus cannon balls means that strongly fortified defenses would play a critical role in dealing with such highly mobile forces. I'm guessing castles would be quite common in warfare on this world for this very reason. But the relative speed of building and cheapness of concrete and brick means you can have "castles" at many points, and protect vulnerable strategic locations with ease.

# I Can't See!

Effective smoke screens could be generated by many noxious materials involved in the industrial revolution. Since your fireballs require sight, even burning vegetation could generate significant smoke screens. Plus, guns of this period were famous for generating blinding clouds of smoke that prevented generals and soldiers alike from seeing what was happening.

# Fire Proof:

People have known about asbestos for thousands of years. It is a mined product that was relatively uncommon but well known. Industrial-scale mining would be likely as people would value the fire-resistant properties of the material for numerous applications. Curtains in theaters were sometimes made of asbestos due to concerns about fires in theaters (sometimes quite disastrous events in the period).

Suits of warriors could be made of asbestos or covered in asbestos outer linings. masks and filters could be developed that protect the skin from the flashes of flames coming from fireballs. But even the industrial production of somewhat fire-resistant leather would protect men. Wet wool was even used extensively by fire fighters of the period to protect from heat and flame.

Somewhat effective respirators for dealing with smoke and flame were developed by 1824, and these could be part of a warrior's gear. Your soldiers might start to look more like WW1 troops in gas masks, but they would be surprisingly well protected from short-lived and non-adhering flames like those from naptha or similar materials.

# Take a shot:

Combine the concrete castles with some mortars for launching fused explosive shells up into the air, and your mages are reduced to lobbing fireballs off at huge distances blindly and hoping to hit something. Mortars were designed to lob shells at high angles and to range thousands of feet. Fuses in this period weren't proximity fused, but the speeds of the "aircraft" are much lower and the ranges shorter. The only thing holding back the invention of the civil war anti-aircraft gun was the relative lack of aircraft (balloons were relatively uncommon, and attempts to shoot them down generally improvised).

The civil war saw fairly respectable sniper rifles with decent range and accuracy. Concealed snipers with long ranged guns could operate outside the normal ranks of the army (especially in elevated positions) to make any mage think twice about getting close enough to accurately target your troops. concealed clusters of snipers operating in teams could snipe at mages, draw them in to try and locate the tiny, concealed targets, and then ambush the mages with a fusillade of fire from the local equivalent of the Whitworth rifle.

• Blast the smoke sources - that's how they did couter battery fire. Jun 29 at 8:56

# There is no effective air defense possible!

As long as the mages can use the line of sight, they can outfly any ground gun of the civil war era. They just fly above the cannon reach and are impervious to small arms. But what is the cannon reach?

## maximum air defense hight

Well, the various field artillery pieces shoot between 1000 and 2800 yards at $$\theta=5°$$ elevation with muzzle velocities of 1000 to 1500 feet a second. Its velocity downrange will stay persistent, and its velocity up gets reduced by the acceleration downwards from earth attraction, this drawing an arc. All we need now is the muzzle velocity and we can calculate the shooting height technically we don't even need the downrange reach! So, let's plot the time it takes to get to the highest point. $$0=v_{0}\sin\theta-g*t$$ $$v_h=v_0\sin\theta$$ $$t=\frac {v_h}{g}$$ Injecting the fastest shooting gun there, the 12 pounder Whithworth at 5° with $$v_0=\pu{475.2 m/s}$$ and $$g=\pu{9.81 m/s²}$$, we get a time of $$t=\pu{4.22 s}$$ until its apex - which we can plug into the location formula for the shot. also, just for the test, let's plug the 5° where we know that it should be about $$y=\frac {v_h^2} {2g}=\pu{87.42 m}$$ But it also points to a different problem: that gun should in theory have a range of 11.5 kilometers at that elevation, but it only has a reach of about 2.5 kilometers... where is the rest of the energy going?! Wind resistance. We completely ignored wind resistance! So let's fix the formula, add drag coefficient $$C=0.47$$ (even though that is for a sphere and the projectile is more complex shaped) and a diameter of 2.75 inch or about $$d=\pu{70 mm}$$, air density $$\rho=\pu{1.225 kg/m³}$$, mass $$m=\pu{5.4 kg}$$ and thus $$r=\pu{0.035 m}$$. $$a_{drag}=\frac 1 m C \rho r² v²=\pu{0.00013061 m}\times v(t)²$$

This can be plotted! Let's see... $$y=v_0\sin\theta t- \frac 1 2 (g+a_{drag}) t²$$ $$x=v_0\cos\theta t- \frac 1 2 (a_{drag}) t²$$

Now... with a bit of oversimplification (pinning the speed for the drag calculation) our flight times are different. For $$\theta=5°$$ the projectile only get 65 meters above the battle and impacts after 6.7 seconds. It also gives us a reach of 3114 meters, which is the actual range while the 2.5 kilometers is the effective range - as in, you shoot at targets at that range because you want to hit about chest-high.

Now, let's turn that gun to 35° (the maximum the gun allows) and shoot... the projectile reaches its apex after about 10.15 seconds at 1400 meters off the ground. Or almost a mile.

If our engineer invents a mounting that allows shooting straight up, then the gun even can reach a height of about 2800 meters, close to two miles in height - with a flight time of 12 seconds to that point.

## only low air defense...

Our mages can fly their griffons everywhere there is enough air to breath. That is anywhere below 26000 feet or 8 kilometers. The guns available only can deny the lower 2 miles to the mages and even that very ineffectively. So effectively the mages just fly at 2.5 kilometers high without any chance to hit them at all - and they just need to have either a very basic telescope to hit targets effectively, or just use indiscriminate bombardment of anything that looks like an encampment. But what can you see from that height?

If you fly 4 kilometers like the Italians over Ethiopia. They basically would see the world below in about 1:16000, so to be about 1 millimeter to them, the feature on the ground would be 16 meters wide - or about the size of a building. That's enough to barely make out an encampment while using a 4 times magnification optic allows spotting single vehicles.

Though the mages fly at about half the height, so they spot at double the resolution. They can see single tents easily, vehicles become visible with a 2 times magnification and at 4 times they can see the artillery pieces pretty clearly.

Now comes the nail in the coffin: flight time of the projectile. Assume the mage comes into the range of two kilometers because they want to snipe artillery. The gun fires. The flash of the gun gives away the position, the mage does literally nothing. The projectile reaches the spot the mage was expected to be at a crawling pace (it slows, remember?) and almost against its armor. Annoyed, the griffon smacks the solid slug projectile down towards the gun. It starts hurtling down and impacts directly next to the gun, killing the crew and gun. Or the mage does a tiny turn and the projectile misses by a dozen meters or three. And they can hurl a fireball down the same moment they see the flash and still be safe.

You see, effective air defense is impossible with just that range and reaches of civil war ground guns unless you take to the air yourself. Cannister shot and explosive shells just wouldn't even get close to the height that the 12-pounder Whitworth can reach! Basically, any mage flying above about one mile is impervious to any air defense you could muster with that technology - and those very low flying mages can see individual vehicles clearly by eyesight!

Assuming the Griffons aren't invincible one way would be to use some type of whaling harpoon gun with a strong rope attached to the opposite side of the tip to injure and possibly drag down the griffons therefore knocking of the mages.

You could also use a cannon to shoot down the Griffons. According to Wikipedia:(https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Field_artillery_in_the_American_Civil_War) a 24-pounder Howitzer would have a range of 1,322 yards. so if the Griffons are not outside of that range, you should be able to shoot them down with relative ease unless the mages have a defense that can block an 18.4 pound cannon ball going at 1,060 yards per second.

• How accurate were these canons? Could they hit a movie object in the air? Jun 28 at 19:05
• Remarkably accurate if you had the time and tables to calculate powder and angles. Decent if you at least had good ranging and an experienced crew. You would be hard pressed to find a canon that would traverse more than 45 degrees in elevation though. Not that one couldn’t be purposely built to do so, but it was never the intent to hit airborne targets back then. Mortars could, but those could take minutes to lay; not great for moving targets unless they’re the size of a boat. You would also need specialty tables and a means of estimating altitude and range in open air.
– unin
Jun 29 at 0:16
• range downrange is not range upwards - 12 pound Whithwordh can effectively shoot 9 kilometers downrange, but the energy would just propell it up to 2.8 kilometers upwards if you could aim up to 90° - at which point there is no energy left in the projectile. MAximum traverse is by the way 35 on that gun. Jun 29 at 8:49

Chain shot and bar shot come to mind. Maybe some form of flak if you have access to reliable fuses. That or pull an Anton Dilger and try to infect all the griffins with Anthrax or Glanders while they are still in their stables. If chemical weapons are on the table, chlorine gas could be produced from civil war era reagents.

• much too little range on all counts - you are dealing with air-powers. Airpowers were the gamechanger of war. Jun 29 at 8:57
• @Trish the range of a magic fireball was not specified. The range of chain and bar shot is irrelevant unless we know the effective range of their targets or their flight envelope for that matter. as has been stated in other answers, if the airpower can bombard from 10,000 feet, no civil war tech can stop them, but if they have to descend low for a strafing attack or hover for some sort of time intensive casting requirement
– unin
Jun 29 at 14:30

Rocket Artillery based on the Mysorean rockets active mainly in the 1780s and 1790s. While very Inaccurate and used for ground targets, Theoretically You could shoot these into the air filled with shrapnel to act as a flak type weapon. I could imagine they would act as shrapnel filled fireworks That explode at a certain height causing a wide area explosion in the air, The reason to make them flak like is to counter the inaccuracy.

• Please look up the flight height and you will see, that that doesn't even give a one kilometer kill-zone, which the griffons easily could outfly (they have air till about 8 km height) Jun 29 at 11:20
• @Trish I cant think of any civil war era firing methods that would reach 8 km, I know the 1853 Enfield Rifle was one of the best for its time and that has an effective range of about 0.82 km. So only low range air defence is feasible as you have stated in your answer Jun 29 at 14:45
• That's horizontal range. The same rifle fired upwards has much less range. As I calculated above, the fastest shooting gun they had would at best reach about 2400 meters height... with a comparably tiny projectile. Jun 29 at 14:58