Horry

[Tutorial] Cannons

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This tutorial has been sitting on my computer for ages and I only now decided to finish it and along with another project, end my micro-dark age. It’s about a piece of equipment almost as important as the ship itself: the European cannon. Please notice that while I do know a good deal about Asian Cannon and early Asian rockets I will not cover them in this tutorial!

PART I – basics, material and history

Cannon (from lat. Canna - “reed”) are projectile-launching weapons that were first used in the Far East and came into use in Europe during the High Middle Ages. It was the first gunpowder weapon on battlefields to be used at a large scale with effectiveness above that of a psychological impact.

Although Cannon greatly varied over time and purpose in shape, composition, material, carriage and performance they still shared very distinctive features over hundreds of years.

Cannon are always tubes made of metal that are mounted on a carriage (“Lafette”) and are almost always loaded via the muzzle. A gunpowder charge will be embedded between the thickest part of the cannon (the reinforce) and a cannonball. It is ignited by a fuse or a mechanism that is accessible via a small vent.

The standard projectiles of cannon first were made out of stone, later metal. It quickly became common to classify cannon according to the type of projectile they could fire rather than the appearance of the actual cannon itself. A 12 pounder (a cannon capable of firing cannonballs that weighed 12 pounds) could look completely different in comparison to another 12 pounder just because one of them was being used on a ship and the other one on the field.

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Cannon came into use in Europe around the late 13th and early 14th century. The first major war to feature effective Cannon made of iron was the Hundred Year War. Most cannon, however, were being made from bronze at the time as this was a much more durable and reliable metal. With the propagation of improved cast iron (especially in England) in the late 15th century the European cannon got yet another material improvement and by the late 18th century almost all cannon were made from cast iron.

European vessels were being equipped with cannon from at least 1330. However, designated battleships with sails came not into use until the early 16th century when the English Navy started constructing men-of-war specifically built for carrying large amounts of cannon. The first recorded purposely built gun deck was built around 1500. Until this time it was much more common to refit merchant ships like carracks, cogs, galleys and caravels into war ships if the need arose.

Around the middle of the 16th century most European armies began standardizing their cannon size according to the aforementioned weight of the projectiles. Improvements in the gunpowder used and the quality of the structure of the bore allowed for smaller cannon that were actually mobile and allowed for much quicker advancing armies that could still fire over great distances.

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This development of siege possibilities also greatly changed the methods employed to construct fortifications (see the development of fortifications in this tutorial).

While details such as transportation (limbers), aiming (trunnions) or better projectiles (cast iron projectiles) continued to increase the effectiveness of cannon they remained largely the same during the next few hundred years with the only notable exception being the mortar – a cannon designed to fire projectiles over large distances and send them across fortifications.

Major change to the cannon was brought by the massive development of men-of-war in the 18th and the 19th century. The introduction of the carronade in the late 18th century supported quicker and more manoeuvrable ships: smaller, lighter Cannon being able to deliver 32 pound ordnance on short range that was able to virtually pulverize the hull of an enemy ship. Gunlocks drastically improved the speed, safety and accuracy of quickly loaded, hot cannon. In addition to improved accuracy and firing rates, new ordnance types (shrapnel shots and reliable explosive shots) brought new elements into field- and sea battle.

The introduction of steel-Cannon in the mid-19th century made way for the demise of the classic cannon: although still being used until the early 20th century the cannon would eventually be replaced by steel-made field artillery and recoilless guns.

PART II types and calibres

This part of the tutorial will focus on cannon that were in use after the ordnance classification system had been well established. While a lot of basic cannon types will be described keep in mind that there have been well over 70 types of cannon in Europe alone and hundreds of specialized cannon series.

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Sakers - 4–7 pounders

Sakers were relatively light cannon used en masse during the 16th century. Made from bronze they were designed for long range attacks against moving armies or fortifications. The early models still used stone ammunition but all later versions used the more modern iron ammunition. Sakers were very heavy and relied on a stable and heavy carriage due to the immense recoil the large gunpowder charge caused – thus they were used from fixed positions and were not moved during a battle.

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Culverins – 14-20 pounders

Also used on sailing ships (merchant ships, men of war)

Culverins were used from the middle to late 15th century until the early 17th century. They were made from bronze and featured a very long and thin bore (up to 5 meters) that could fire very different types of cannon balls. It was one of the first cannon to be successfully mass-produced and was able to fire cannon balls made from iron. A culverin was operated by between three and five gunners and was normally being transported on the mobile carriage with or without a limber.

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Mortars – 82 – 180 pounders

Also used on sailing ships (bomb ketches)

Mortars were used from the middle 15h century till the end of cannon. They featured a very short and large bore that looked more like a bowl than a barrel. Mortars had a high trajectory allowing for large range and the possibility to attack an enemy behind a fortification. The low velocity of the projectile also allowed for explosive rounds to be used. A mortar could be operated by two to four gunners and was very immobile due to the immense weight of cannon and ammunition.

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Full cannon – 42 pounders

Also used on sailing ships (ships of the line)

Full cannon were used during the 17th century and were normally made from cast iron. If they were to be used on a ship the preferred material was bronze in order to keep the weight lower. They were designed to take down heavy fortifications and to engage slowly moving targets at long range. On ships they were used on the top battery deck as the back bone of close range broadside attacks. Full cannon were immobile on the field and considered to be impractical due to large gunner crews of 5 to 9.

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Demi cannon – 32 pounders

Also used on sailing ships (ships of the line, frigates)

Demi cannon were used in the 17th century as a semi-accurate and close range cannon that was usually made from cast iron. The cannon required a gunner crew of at least 4 persons and would normally be used to attack advancing armies with regular shots and grapeshot attacks. Demi cannon were largely immobile due to their weight.

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Minions – 5 pounders

Also used on sailing ships (all types of ships)

Minions were the weapon of choice for close range anti-personnel attacks in the field and on ships. The small cannon was used from the 15th century till the early 18th century and could be seen as a “big brother” of the swivel gun. Minions could be carried by mobile carriage or by the gunner crew that could be 1 to 3 people. Minions were considered to be highly mobile weapons that could easily be used to defend advancing points during a battle.

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Howitzer cannon – 12-24 pounders

Howitzers were a hybrid between regular cannon and mortars, being used from the late 17th century till the end of the age of sail. The Howitzer was mobile and could be quickly adjusted to various angles, making it a somewhat inaccurate but fast and flexible siege weapon. The Howitzer could fire a great variety of different ammunition, making it efficient in use against fortifications and army formations. A Howitzer was being operated by a gunner crew of three to 6 persons, depending on the size and the purpose of the Howitzer. Howitzers were mobile but larger versions could be difficult to move during a battle.

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Carronade – 6-42 pounders

Mainly used on sailing ships (all types of men of war)

The carronade was an immensely popular naval cannon presenting the complete range of cannon sizes. A short bore and a smaller charge chamber would fire a low velocity cannon ball with a short effective range. The low speed would damage the hull of the enemy and the deck behind it much more than high velocity ammunition. The carronade was being used from the late 18th to the late 19th century. While the short range did only allow for passing fights the high speed of the reloading process, the devastating damage and the small amount of gunners (2 to three) needed made it a perfect cannon for fast ships or ships of the line.

PART III carriages, casemates and additional equipment

As diverse as the cannon types were as diverse was the equipment used with them. Carriages featured large or small wheels, four or two wheels and very often no wheels at all. They would normally be transported with or on limbers that was also used to carry ammunition, cleaning equipment, aiming aids and so on.

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A single Culverin with equipment could need up to 4 horses to be transported.

Many cannon featured different styles of trunnions that could be used to change the firing angle by adjusting the height of the muzzle.

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Cannon were also used in fortifications. They were often positioned on the top or within casemates. These cannon could feature very innovative carriages that were designed specifically to be able to quickly adjust the firing angle in order to compensate for the inability to move the cannon.

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Thank you for reading all the way down here! No go enjoy the lxf-file on cannon in LDD!

Edited by Horry

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Hi - this is excellent - love a well researched, well written piece. Based on a trip to Copenhagen's Armoury, the 6 pound cannon typically used in the 1800s was actually quite small - the type I saw was an English gun (presumably) captured by the Danes. Only 5 feet long, maybe. The 12 pounder maybe 6ft, but much more substantial. Interestingly, I note that the 4 pound guns on HMS Sophie (a small 14 gun brig, Jack Aubrey's first command in the Aubrey/Maturin series) were described as being 6 ft long. Maybe the barrels I saw were for field pieces, though how a field piece would have come into Danish possession I don't know... Anyway, what I'm driving at here is that it seems by earliy(ish) 1800s smooth-bore cannon design had come to an apex - lots of conflict forced designers to make 'em as small as possible. I say again, the 'regular' lego cannons are huge!

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Thank you very much for the kind replies and the blogging pirate_blush.gif

By the way, this tutorial is now finished! I would appreciate crisp feedback!

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I enjoyed reading this so much I found myself wishing it was longer.

One quick note, the Lego Cannons might be too big, BUT you also have to remember and keep in mind 1) it is Lego, so it has to fit 1x1 round bricks 2) minifigs are not the right width/ height and makes everything else hard to make the right size.

As for helpful input to the above, I notice in the below picture you say, "first major war involving battle", I think you mean to say "first major war involving cannon"?

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EDIT: Picture has been fixed, removed the Flickr notice.

Again thank you for the interesting read. I like your Lego created examples, it brings the discussion to life. pirate_satisfied.gif

AB.

Edited by Admiral Blockbeard

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Thank you very much for the kind replies and the blogging :pir-blush:

By the way, this tutorial is now finished! [...]

On that images you posted some details are a bit hard to distinguish :pir-sceptic: . Having a zoomable and rotatable digital model would allow to recognise all the subtle details more easily. Since those images seem to be made digitally, would you mind to share the LXF or LDRAW files as a digital template?

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I enjoyed reading this so much I found myself wishing it was longer.

One quick note, the Lego Cannons might be too big, BUT you also have to remember and keep in mind 1) it is Lego, so it has to fit 1x1 round bricks 2) minifigs are not the right width/ height and makes everything else hard to make the right size.

As for helpful input to the above, I notice in the below picture you say, "first major war involving battle", I think you mean to say "first major war involving cannon"?

Thank you very much! If there are other aspects on the topic you would deem making sense in this tutorial I can always expand. I fixed the error in the diagram, thanks for the find!

And yes, the cannon are a bit large on some accounts. I stopped trying to scale them up to minifig-format some time ago as it drove me nuts - My final design focus was on the size of the cannon in correlation to each other.

On that images you posted some details are a bit hard to distinguish :pir-sceptic: . Having a zoomable and rotatable digital model would allow to recognise all the subtle details more easily. Since those images seem to be made digitally, would you mind to share the LXF or LDRAW files as a digital template?

That's something I wanted to do anyway, thanks for the reminder! It can now be downloaded from the link at the bottom of the tutorial, have fun!

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[...] It can now be downloaded from the link at the bottom of the tutorial, have fun!

Thanks. However, the link you used contains a session ID and thus results in a "Page not found" message when attempting to download it. Better link to http://rocksandshoal....com/tutorials/ : Downloads from there seems to work.

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contains a session ID and thus results in a "Page not found" message when attempting to download it.

Argh! This is what happens when you edit websites on the run. Thanks for noticing, I will correct that!

This is really helpful!

Great - if you have more for us, bring it on!

Thank you! You can find my other tutorials in my signature - if you got other themes in mind - shoot!

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What a wonderful tutorial this is! I had a great deal of pleasure reading it, thank you!

Perhaps you can find something of interest here: http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/ship/sail-armament.htm . There is various information of interest and perhaps the table with the lengths of the various guns can be useful to any historical-accurate builder.

Edited by Frank Brick Wright

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Very cool! I plan to use these in my current mod of 10210. (Just the mortar and a 9-pounder).

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