Cannon and Carronades
The term CANNON describes the large, smooth-bored, muzzle-loading guns
used before the advent of breech-loading, rifled guns firing shells.
In the 16th century the "Great Guns" were classified according to size with
such names as:- Cannon royal, Cannon, Demi cannon, Culverin, Demi-Culverin,
Falcon, Falconer, Minion, etc. but by the 18th century they were classified by
the weight of the round shot that they fired. Thus the demi cannon was described
as a 32-pounder. Smaller guns were 18-pounders (culverin), 12-pounders, 9
pounders and 6-pounders. The gun barrel is mounted on a wheeled carriage, as
shown in the drawing, balanced on two trunions, the short metal projections on
either side of the barrel, the invention of some unknown Dutchman. The angle of
elevation could be altered by moving a wooden wedge under the rear end of the
The early big guns were built up from strips of wrought iron, heated until
they glowed yellow,and then hammered to weld them together to form the barrel.
Rings of iron were forced over the barrel to reinforce it. Smaller guns were
cast in brass or bronze, using techniques used for centuries to produce statues.
In the 16th century the Dutch developed cast-iron cannon and the technique was
imported into England where the first iron cannon was cast in 1543.
Gun Drill Video (from the US Navy USS Constitution site)
Various kinds of shot were fired from cannon
THE ROUND SHOT, in early times made from dressed stone, but by the 17th
century from iron, was the most accurate projectile that could be fired and
was used to batter the wooden hulls of opposing ships.
CHAIN SHOT. Two small round shot linked by a length of chain. This was
used to slash through the rigging and sails of an enemy ship so that it could
no longer manoeuvre. Because the projectile was a good deal smaller than the
bore of the gun, chain shot was inaccurate and only used af close ranges.
CANISTER or CASE SHOT. 12 or so small round shot in a metal can, which
broke up when fired scattering the shot over the deck of an enemy ship.
GRAPE SHOT. The small balls were contained in a canvas bag. Both the last
two kinds of shot were anti-personnel weapons, designed to kill and maim the
men on the deck of an enemy ship.
THE CARRONADE was a short gun developed by the Carron Company, a Scottish
ironworks, in 1778. Known as a "Smasher" it was half the weight of an equivalent
long gun, but could throw a heavy ball over a limited distance. Because of
irregularities in the size of cannon balls and the difficulty of boring out gun
barrels there was usually a considerable gap between the ball and the bore -
often as much as a quarter of an inch - with a consequent loss of efficiency.
This gap was known as the "windage". The manufacturing practices introduced by
the Cannon Company reduced the windage considerably. The carronade was mounted
on a sliding carriage with ropes to restrain the recoil. Lack of range against
an opponent who could keep well clear and still use his long guns, led to its
BLACK POWDER or GUNPOWDER consists of a mixture of saltpetre, sulfer and
charcoal, originally in equal proportions by weight, but later approximately
75:15:10. The earliest gunpowder was simply a fine powder produced by grinding
the three components together and was known as serpentine. It was dangerous to
handle and frequently had to be remixed before use. Later on powder was mixed
with water, sometimes plus wine and other liquids, pushed though a screen and
allowed to dry as small pellets.
An 18 pounder long gun with a charge of 5lb of powder was capable of
penetrating nearly 2 feet six inches into oak at a range of 400 yds. and over 1
foot at 1000 yds.
Gunpowder produced vast amounts of thick smoke which rapidly obscured the
area of any naval battle. A thick coating was also formed inside the barrel of
the gun which had to be scraped out.
To prepare a gun for firing a charge of gunpowder in a cloth bag is pushed
down the barrel by a ram-rod and followed by the round shot. This is held in
place by a wad. The gunner pushes a spike down the "touch-hole" on the top near
the rear end of the barrel to break the powder bag and pours a little fine
powder down the hole. The gun is then run out through the gunport by the ropes
attached to the carriage. In earlier times the gunner would have fired by
lighting the powder in the touch hole with a "slow match", a glowing piece of
material, but later a flintlock as on a pistol or musket was used to produce a
spark to fire the charge. When the gun fired it recoiled violently back into the
ship, restrained by the `breeching ropes` attached to the carriage. The bore was
swabbed out with water to remove any glowing pieces of residue, and the process
The gun`s crew for the great guns consisted of six men,
1. The Captain of the Gun.
2. The Second Captain.
4. The Sponger.
5. The Assistant Loader.
6. The Assistant Sponger.
Up to nine more men, depending on the size of the gun, were required to man
the breeching ropes, which checked the recoil, and to man the tackles for
running out and training. They also performed the duties of firemen.
Total Diameter Powder with 5deg. on Ship's .
Nature of Gun. Length of Shot Weight Charge Elevation Carriage
Ft. In. In. Cwts. Lbs. Yards. Ft
42 Pdr 9 6 6.7 67 14 1,940 -
32 Pdr 9 6 6.1 55.5 10.5 2,080 11
24 Pdr 9 6 5.6 50.0 8 1,800 11
24 Pdr 6 6 5.6 33.0 6 1,550 10.5
l8 Pdr 9 0 5.1 42.0 6 1,800 -
l2 Pdr 8 6 4.4 34.0 4 1,580 -
9 Pdr 8 6 4.0 31.5 3 1,620 -
68 Pdr. Carronade 4 1 7.9 36.0 5.5 1,280 -
42 Pdr. Carronade 4 4 6.7 22.2 3.5 1,170 -
32 Pdr. Carronade 4 0 6.1 17.1 2.625 1,087 -
24 Pdr. Carronade 3 0 5.6 11.5 2 1,050 -
18 Pdr. Carronade 2 4 5.1 8.5 1.5 1,000 -
l2 Pdr. Carronade 2 2 4.4 5.9 1 870 -
Cwt = Hundredweight = 112 lb.
Rating of Warships
Ships were classified or rated according to the number of cannon they
carried, carronades were never included in the number, although rated ships
could carry up to twelve 24 or 32-pounders.
All rated ships (1st to 6th) were commanded by a POST CAPTAIN. Sloops,
bombs, fire ships and ships armed en flute, that is a rated warship with
some or all of its guns removed and used as a transport ship, were commanded by
COMMANDERS. Smaller vessels like schooners and cutters were commanded by
LIEUTENANTS. Sometimes a MASTER or a MIDSHIPMAN would command a very small
vessel or a sloop used to carry stores. A LIEUTENANT, a MIDSHIPMAN or a MASTER`S
MATE could be put in temporary command of a captured prize.
SHIPS-OF-THE-LINE were those which were powerful enough to take their place
in the line of battle. That is, a 3rd Rate or larger which carried guns on two
or more decks. The rated ships smaller than this were known as FRIGATES and
carried all their guns on a single upper deck.
100 guns or more
875 to 850 men *
98 to 90 guns
750 to 700 men
80 to 64
650 to 500
60 to 50
420 to 320
40 to 32
300 to 200
28 to 20
200 to 140
18 to 16
125 to 90
Gun-Brigs & Cutters
14 to 6
5 to 25
* This number was increased by 25 when used as an Admiral`s flagship, by 20
with a Vice Admiral and 15 with a Rear-Admiral.