After the Chinese worked out the basics of gunpowder, they began to experiment with how to use it on the battlefield. As such, during the Song Dynasty people invented basic bombs, rockets and firearms for use in combat. Eventually someone decided that their firelance was a good idea, but it could become an even better idea by making it even bigger. Thus were born the first cannons. By an odd quirk of fate this design process apparently happened in reverse in Europe when gunpowder got around to them, with cannons being built first which were then scaled down into man portable handgonnes/hand-cannons.
Not to be confused with canon, though they do share the same word root which refers to a tube/pipe.
Cannons in Warfare
The history of the cannon is written in blood-- in its first chapters often the blood of their users along with their targets. The first generations of cannons were crude affairs made by people with rudimentary metallurgy working things out by trial and error, with error often ending with the poor sods manning the gun getting a face full of iron shards, if not vaporized by the blast outright. This was made all the worse by the crude gunpowder available at the time and mishandling by inexperienced crews. In this initial period history Cannons were used for two purposes: small wall mounted defensive weapons in fortifications and large siege weapons to get through city walls. While they were powerful, cannons were simply too inaccurate in the early times, which was especially true for the heavier offensive guns. The big siege guns would usually be carted into a fixed location and be set there. Even if nothing went wrong they could only get off a couple shots an hour. Early cannons fired a variety of shot from spears to rough rocks, though eventually cast iron balls became the most common as things progressed.
Eventually the art of cannon making improved as time went on and things became more reliable as gunmakers and gun crews got more experienced in handling their weapons (partially as the stupid ones got their jimmies blown off) and tried and true designs were replicated. As this happened, it prompted a change in fortification design. Tall and comparatively thin walls with high towers might be imposing and good at fending off attempts to scale them with ladders and siege towers, but they could not take that many salvos from a besieging enemy. Walls instead became shorter and thicker, reinforced with heavy earth ramparts to absorb the shock of cannonballs, with pointed battlements better suited for mounting defensive cannon and bouncing shells.
An even bigger development was the matter of cannons at sea. Though some people tried using catapults, ballistas, and the occasional flamethrower (until the Byzantines forgot how they worked thanks to Emperors keeping the recipe and well...a coup and a couple of dead folks later, no one remembered where they put it.) as ship-mounted weapons, naval battles were up until this point settled by ramming or boarding actions. By the late 1400s potential of naval guns soon became obvious, damaging or destroying the wooden enemy ships outright, and navies began adapting their ship designs to carry guns. In 1571 the naval forces of the Holy League faced off against those of the Ottoman Empire off the coast of Greece at Lepanto. Though the Ottomans had a slight numerical advantage in terms of galleys and soldiers, the Christians had more that twice as many cannons as well as better trained gun crews which could get off two shots for every volley the Ottomans could which was a big factor in the crushing defeat that the Ottomans suffered that day. Even so, the days of the galley were done and the age of sail had begun. Purely sail driven warships might not have the short range speed advantage or the shallow water maneuverability of a Galley, but where a galley would have ranks of rowers manning oars and a five or so frontal cannons a sailing ship would have a broadside with dozens of cannon.
From about 1400 to 1800 there were two main materials used to make cannons: Bronze and Iron. Bronze was an easier material to cast guns out of and it had a fair bit of give to it. In Europe the fact that there was a long tradition of making church bells and bronze statues meant that developing a bronze gun industry was fairly easy. Additionally, unlike Iron, Bronze takes much less energy to recast, so it was much easier to smelt down a worn gun (or statues or church bells) into a cannon. (Next time you're in Europe, take a shot every time you find a church-bell older than 200 years. It sucks as a drinking game, since you won't end up drunk at the end.) Bronze guns are also lighter than Iron guns of a similar size, making Bronze more mobile on the battlefield. Furthermore Bronze has some give to it, which means you have some warning if the gun is going to blow up. When an Iron gun is about to blow up, it doesn't give any warning when it's no longer safe, but a Bronze one will bulge first letting you know when you're starting to push your luck.
The problem was that copper and tin were fairly rare and in short supply and the cannon makers were not the only ones who wanted the stuff, so the number of Bronze guns you could make was limited. Iron, by contrast was more common and harder. That said, it took more fuel to smelt, it was much harder to melt and reforge, it took different and less-common craftsmen (since you couldn't just conscript the various bell-makers in your given nation), and if you didn't have a good metallurgist you would end up making a brittle gun that was liable to explode in your face. However an Iron IS the stronger material thanks to it's hardness, thus an Iron gun will last longer than a Bronze one (which it has to since you can't melt back down as easily). It's just easier to make a big thing like a cannon out of Bronze than Iron. As a general rule, Iron became more and more common as time went on and with it the need for artillery increased and metallurgy improved (in particular the use of coke instead of charcoal and the development of puddling was a big deal in the history of cannon making). It was only around the late 1600s that it became expected that a cannon foundry would produce more working guns than failures that burst in test firings.
When it came to making your cannon your best option was Casting, be it cannons or models of cannons, the process is pretty much the same (and the best).
Of course Iron and Bronze were not the only things we made cannons out of. In a pinch or on the cheap, you could use wood to make a cannon, but wooden guns need much thicker walls than a metal one, limiting the size and weight of your shot and how much powder you can use. Another material experimented with was copper bound with leather, first toyed with by Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden against Poland. They were... less than successful, and replaced with 3-pound bronze guns.
You might ask why Gustavus decided to make a cannon out of leather in the first place? The answer is that as time went on and cannons became quicker firing and more accurate, people began wondering about other uses for cannons besides blasting apart castles and ships. Armies back then formed up their infantry into large, blocky formations of arquebusiers (men armed with pre-musket guns), halberdmen, swordsmen and pikemen. Against such foes, the old and massive castle-crackers were overkill. Beyond that they were still slow-firing and a massive pain in the butt to move around. What was needed against those targets were smaller, lighter, (a cannon that can shoot a 3 pound ball is still very heavy, though much lighter than one that shoots a 12 pound ball which is why Gustavus tried leather to make a light gun) guns that could quickly be moved into position, loaded and fired. Thus, bit by bit Gustavus developed the idea of Field Artillery for antipersonnel use and would end up attaching 12 or so field guns to each of his brigades (a military unit he himself invented) to support his infantry. This made Gustavus army devastatingly effective against the Catholic forces in the 30 years war. Just not with the leather cannons.
In any case by 1700 it was made clear that field artillery was a critical part of any army on the march. This development also meant that armies began to shift their tactics away from blockish formations but to long firing lines. You see, you can aim a cannon ball so that when it reaches the ground it bounces off of it in front of the formation so that it would fly though a block formation of thirty or more pikemen and musketeers at hip level, killing and maiming until it went out the other side. This was called the grazeing shot and warhammer fantasy players are likely well aware of how effective this could be on thick blocks of troops. The same would apply to a three man thick line of soldiers, though with only a tenth the casualties.
As technology got better, shells started to become more common. A cannon ball can only kill people it hits, but a shell can spray shrapnel and lethal pressure waves over a much wider area. This made direct fire much less effective since a cannon needed to have a high muzzle velocity, meaning the shell had to leave the barrel going very fast. So to make a explosive shell for a cannon the designs had to balance explosive payload with the thickness of the shell walls so it could survive being shot. Additionally because the destructive power of the shell was now disconnected with it's speed, meaning a faster shell did not do more damage, cannons were phased out of use and armies switched to howitzers as the dominant form of artillery. Because Howitzers get their range from the angle of their shot rather than muzzle velocity they can shoot shells with more explosive (or other fragile materials like gas) than a cannon can. Additionally Howitzers don't need direct line of sight to hit a target meaning you can now lob shells behind the lee of hills while your safely entrenched behind the lines, and on top of everything else they have longer ranges due to their higher firing arc. Unlike cannons however, hitting anything was more difficult since you are often firing blind at the target and it is impossible to aim directly. Yes, you can use math to put your shell in an area near the a target, but aiming a shell you've just lobbed almost two miles into the air and three miles forward of you to land directly on anything smaller than a castle is pretty much impossible, but of course if you have a HE shell you're more likely to damage the target even if you're off target a bit. Which is why in world war one they used weeks of saturating bombardments to try and destroy fortifications. Though it often did not work, 1,738,000 shells were fired at the German lines before the battle of the Somme and enough Germans were left alive to kill 26,000 of the attacking British (Empire) and French on the first day. What was needed was a way to get a cannon in place to hit a target directly and allow the accurate destruction of fortifications. . . which lead of course to the invention of the tank and the modern infantry mortar to allow much closer range accurate fire support.
That pretty much leads us to today: though the propellent for modern artillery changes, tactics for Howitzers still have traces of the first world war in them. More and more however gun Artillery are getting a bit out classed. Not as accurate, hard to deploy, with far less range than a plane with a smart bomb and without the ability to barrage a target as hard as rocket systems. Howitzers however still have a role, in video games terms they are the DPM, they don't hit as hard as other weapons, but they can fire for much, much longer. Additionally howitzer shells and guns tubes are very cheap compared to planes with bombs or Multiple rocket launching systems. Cannons remain common and widely in use, but only for tanks at this point. Modern cannons are built to destroy other tanks and leave anti infantry work to their machine guns, and a select amount of special shells like canister or high explosive, but thanks to the cannons higher muzzle velocity, they tend to have HE shells that are much less effective than howitzer shells. Mortars remain very common and are a effective weapon for supporting infantry at close ranges. Their much smaller shell size means it's safer to use them, thanks to their smaller blast radius and their light weight means that you can carry them to where you need them easier.
Between Cannons and Small arms, cannons are the ones more likely to be replaced with a high tech system like a laser or rail gun. The reason the US navy have done rail gun research is only battleships really have the ability to carry the power generators needed to get them to work. However, much like regular firearms, these projects have yet to provide a system that can compete with the power of a chemical reaction since you don't need to "power" them in the same way you do a laser.
Cannons in Fantasy
Fantasy writers are a bit more accommodating to cannons than firearms: in part because they became more practical earlier on. Also they were crew served devices ill suited to use of a single warrior (unless he/she had fantastic powers to begin with) and cannons are the go to solution when someone says "thrilling non modern naval action". Even so there is some reticence about their use as it implies that sooner or latter someone is going to figure "Hey, why don't we take these things and scale them down?".
Many cannons in fantasy settings have some fancypants adornment with bores made into the mouths of roaring lions, dragons and similar and they are rarely even primitive breech loaders. Fantasy authors also have dislike of making their guns out of Bronze since we like the idea of a big black iron gun. Cannons also tend to exist in isolation, you don't see mortars or howitzers for example . Cannons also tend to be somewhat underpowered (compared to their real life counterparts) in settings where they have to coexist with monsters. To put another way, if a cannon can knock a castle down from 490m away, then I don't care how big your dragon is, one direct hit and it will be down for the count. Mind you, getting that direct hit is going to be a bitch and a half and they are not the easier things to lug around.
Types of cannons
Note: for easy of use only list black powder weapons so we don't talk about every gun that ever existed.
- Cannons/Howitzers/Mortars: The difference between these weapons is in how their projectiles are fired. Cannon projectiles follow fairly flat trajectory, Mortars are fired in high steep arcs that drop the round directly onto the targets head, while Howitzers are between the two firing upward but not as steeply as a mortar. These types of artillery are among the few still in use today, with mortars relegated as a portable infantry support weapon, cannons being mounted primarily on armored vehicles, and only howtizers still being used as static weapons.
- Quaker "Gun": Named after the Quakers, a group of christian pacifists, and alternatively called "Dummy Guns". A Quaker gun is a gun mock-up (typically made of wood), made to look like real guns from a distance in order to deceive enemies you were more threatening than you actually were. Quaker guns found several instances of success throughout the ages and has negated battles that would have otherwise been an easy victory for the opposing side who didn't realize the guns they were scouting were fakes. These were particularly popular in the US civil war and were reported to have been used until WW2 by both the Allies and Axis powers. Advances in modern reconnaissance technology has largely rendered dummy guns ineffective, except in conflicts where the combatants both have low levels of technology.
- Disappearing gun: Guns have recoil; a Disappearing gun uses the recoil to "blow" itself out of the line of fire after it shoots allowing safer reloading and harder counter battery fire on the now out of view gun. Later versions were mounted on retractable platforms for the same effect.
- Bombard: An early cannon, a Bombard is a big iron wide bore cannon that fired massive stone balls at castle walls in order to break them down. Unlike later cannons bombards don't tend to have carriages and have to be fixed in place wooden frames, though a few bombards did have wheels.
- Culverins: 15th and 16th century cannon that fired a ball weighing between 20 and 14 pounds. Used a slow match fuse.
- Hongyipao: The name literally translates to ""red barbarian cannon" and was introduced to Korea and china by the Portuguese, however in most regards it was pretty much just a Culverin.
- Chongtong: Not "really" cannons but this entry was here before the rocket page existed and these were fired out of a cannon. The Congtong was a Korean cannon, or rather, cannons since there was more than one type. The four types were the "Cheonja", "Jija", "Hyeonja", and "Hwangja", the names being roughly equivalent to Cannons A, B, C, and D. The Cheonja was the largest with a 130mm bore able to fire 30 pound rocket out to just over a kilometer. The other three types were pretty much the same, only shrunk down, the Jija had 100mm bore, the Hyeonja, 80mm while the Hwangja was very similar to a European hand cannon. (Wait a minute, barreled weapons that fire self propelled rockets... Why does that sounds familiar?)
- Saker: A smaller version of the Culverin from the 16th century that fired a five pound ball.
- Minion : Minion is the french word for "cute" and it most certainty was. A 17th century version of the Saker it too fired a five pound ball. Used on ships as a weapon to repel boarding parties.
- Demi-cannon: An 18th century cannon that fired a ball less than 42 pounds, while being bigger than the saker. Replaced full cannons in the British navy due to them being too unwieldy. First rate ships (Google it if you're curious what it is, but all you need to know now is that we're talking a big ass ship), mounted 100 such cannons in 50 gun broadsides.
- Falconet: A light cannon that fired a one pound ball. Though invented for land use, it was common on ships and both the Americans and British used them in the revolutionary war. A breech loading version was invented in the 1620's
- Carronade: The mathematical formula to determine how hard something hits with how much force is mass times acceleration. So to get a cannon ball to hit harder you have two options: shoot it faster, or make it bigger. The carronade takes the second option. The carronade was invented by the British navy and they are short, almost sawed off, cannons that fired reduce powder charges, but with a much bigger ball, while the cannon itself was lighter due to being shorter. They had a much reduced range, but god help you if you got broadsided by a ship with a whole side of these.
- Canon obusier de 12/Napoleon: A French gun that revolutionized gunnery when it was invented in 1853. It was portable, yet able to destroy fortifications almost a mile away. Used by the French and both Americas in their civil war and were the last bronze cannons used in an American army.
- Parrott rifle: A US civil war cannon, the Parrott rifle was, well, rifled. What made the Parrott special was that is used iron, not steel, to forge it but had a additional band of iron applied to the breech of the gun to strengthen it. Nevertheless, they had a distressing tendency to burst.
- Hook Gun: Or Hakenbuechse, an oversized musket, that was always classified as an artillery piece, this weapon was popular in 16-18 century Eastern Europe and was usually used either in sieges or as a proto-sniper rifle.
- Abus Gun: An Ottoman artillery piece, similar to a Hook Gun, the Abus gun was small, but still hard to move about and was fired from a tripod and shot a roughly 5 pound cannon ball.
- Basilisk: A medieval big, big gun, the basilisk was a bronze cannon that was ten feet long, weighted up to 4 thousand pounds, had a five inch or 130mm bore (the M1 Abrams today is armed with a 120mm cannon) and fired a ball up to 160 pounds in weight. The basilisk was too big however, and it was phased out in favor of lighter more maneuverable guns.
- Swivel gun: Essentially small cannons on stick, swivel guns were mostly used on ships and were mounted on the decks. While ineffective against all but the smallest boats, against boarding parties they could be very effective. Thanks to their small size, swivel guns were the first breech loading weapons, with such versions existing by the 16th century.
- Pierrier à boîte: A french breech loading swivel gun made of Wrought iron. The Pierrier à boîte breech, though allowing it to fire more rapidly than other guns, still had issues and had a tendency to leak leading to a loss of power and additional danger to the gunners.
- Lantaka: A (usually) bronze swivel gun developed by the Philippine Moros, firing a half-pound ball or charge of grapeshot. Mounted on the fronts of boats and on the walls of earthwork forts. Saw much use against the Spanish conquistadors, but was defeated by the howitzers and mortars brought by the American infantry.
- Double barreled cannon: An idea that sounds good on the drawing does not always means good in real life. Case in point, US Confederacy double barreled cannon. The idea was to load the guns with chain shot, two cannonballs connected by a chain, and then fire both barrels at the same time, so that the twin cannon balls would fly in such a way that not only would each ball kill the enemy, the chain between the ball would as well. The problem was in step two of the plan, getting both barrels to fire at the same time. To put it simply, it could not. It was tested three times. The first time the balls flew off target and tore up a corn field before the chain broke. The second time it missed again and tore holes in a nearby pine forest "like mowing machine" a witness said. Third time it was fired, the chain broke apart instantly and one ball flew off hitting a chimney, and the other killed a cow. The over optimistic inventor considered these tests a success. That the gun was lost for over ten years and found under a pile of rock speaks to how much the confederates thought of the thing.
- Krupp Gun: Krupp is an old German company that has been making guns and working iron for centuries, but it really made its name known in the mid 19th century when it worked out a system to load a cannon from the rear. The idea of loading a cannon from the breech rather than cramming everything down the muzzle had been toyed around with before, but there had been problems which prevented it from being fully practical. In 1859, Krupp solved these problems by introducing a sliding block system on an all cast steel cannon able to fire explosive shells. Long story short, there was a block in the back of the cannon which could be fastened into place and unfastened and slid out of the way to load it. These guns let Otto von Bismarck unite Germany under his banner and let him beat the muzzle loader using French in the Franco-Prussian War despite the French having better rifles, airships, and primitive machine guns.
- System De Bange: Yes that's it's real name. Essentially a very efficient breech loading system. After the Germans beat them with Breech Loading Cannons, the French wanted their own such guns if those Germans came back. The solution they settled on was to make a cannon with a steel plug which screwed into the back, but with the screw's thread being removed on two quarters of the length of the plug/bore so it could be secured and opened by rotating it 90 degrees with a washer of asbestos to get a good solid seal. The system worked very well and (with a few tweaks) is still in use today.
- Armstrong gun: The Armstrong gun is, like the Bange and Krupp guns, a breech loader. What makes it special was that it was a "built up gun" which means if you cut a Armstrong gun in half, you see that it was built up in layers, an inner barrel made out of a wrought iron or mild steel, surrounded with more wrought iron coils that were shrunk to keep the tube compressed. Though common use for the big guns of the time period's dreadnoughts, it was not as common for smaller pieces. Armstong used a screw breech, so to load the gun you had to open it like the door on a ship by spinning a wheel to unscrew it. Armstrong guns were made in a wide range of calibers, from 6 pound horse guns to 110 naval artillery. Used widely by the British in their colonial wars and Japan in the Boshin War. The most famous Armstrong guns are the 100-ton guns used to defend Malta, capable of obliterating ships that are barely visible over the horizon.
- Autocannon: Essentially an automatically loading gun that is too small to be considered a field gun (i.e. between 20-40mm). Designed for light weight mobile vehicles such as Aircraft and Armored Vehicles that are expected to take on targets either indirectly or of equal (or less) ability. The Autocannon came into it's heyday during the second World War. They commonly come in two flavors. Revolver and Rotary Cannons. With the former having a slightly lower of rate of fire but are less expensive, takes up less space and have a faster spin up time. Chain cannons and their issues are best left aside. The most common Autocannon is the Bofors 40. Just about every country that was involved in World War 2 and the Cold War had their own version of it. At the 40mm size (the bare minimum for artillery) Sabots, HESH and HEAT rounds can damage the armor of Main Battle Tanks and Warships. With a fire rate of 330 rounds per minute.
Noncannon guns worth mentioning
There have been numerous inventions in the history of firearms that use a cannon's limbers and caissons to mount a weapon that was not quite cannon, and was often used in a way most cannons were not. What they all had in common was that they were all "artillery" in the sense that they were static, mounted firearms that could fuck up enemies in ways that infantry-portable firearms could not, much like your average cannon.
- Da Vinci Cannons: included in this section because, as far as we know, they were never actually built or used in battle. If they were ever used, we have no record of them, and you’d think it would be a big deal if they were successful. The famous inventor Leonardo understood the emerging importance of cannons, and sought to improve on its design. He had an early version of breech-loaders, but like a true mad scientist, that was just the beginning. Not only did he design a triple-barreled cannon, steam-powered cannons, and his own version of the Ottoman Bombard, but also a 33-barreled cannon that had three rows of 11 small-caliber barrels set on a rotating axle, and each row would be fired in volley by rotating the row into firing position. Clearly a man ahead of his time.
- Ribauldequin: Don't ask us how to say it (Ri-bow-de-kin, pretty much like it's written. Just ignore the 'l'). A simpler name is “Organ gun,” because the gun barrel arrangement looks like a pipe organ. The Ribauldequin is troubling to list as a "cannon", since it has a number of small barrels rather than one big one. Rather than a cannon, thinking of it as a bunch of guns on a cannon carriage may be more accurate. Of course, the downside to being able to fire a bunch of guns at once is that, in the age of muzzle-loaders, you had to take even longer to reload it. And compared to having a bunch of guys individually aiming an loading a single barrel, you had maybe one or two guys doing all the loading. Still, if you could take the enemy out in a single volley, or at least create an opening for the rest of your guys, it could be an efffective force-multiplier and morale weapon. After all, it wasn’t called the “infernal machine” for nothing.
- Mitrailleuse: French for "grapeshot" (though thanks to this weapon the word now means machine gun in general) was a weapon that looked like a cannon, only instead of one big hole in the muzzle it had 25 13mm barrels. However, like many such rapid fire weapons, despite working fine, the Mitrailleuse was used and treated like a cannon, not a close support machine gun, and as such it's use in the Franco-Prussian War was less than stellar.
- Gatling Gun: More or less a contemporary of the Maxim Machine Gun, seeing deployment two decades earlier. It is named after a guy who created this pretty cool weapon during the American civil war. It is a heavy weapon firing repeating barrage of bullets on the field. It has a multiple barrel which each barrel takes its turn to fire everytime they rotate in a cylinder fashion. This configuration allowed higher rates of fire to be achieved without the barrel overheating and the basic weapon would eventually be coupled with a motor to allow for so high a rate of fire that each of the guns "dakkas" blur into each other to become one long "BZZZZZZZZZZZZ". The earliest gatling gun however required a person to crank it like a pepper grinder, so it's not like it can be fired automatically by some sandwich eating Russian. It was mounted on a cannon's two wheel cart, or Caisson, that generally required horses to move it over long distance. When first invented, the Gatling gun had some teething issues due to the paper cartridges of the day, but once metal ones were invented the Gatling gun quickly hit its stride. Notable for its use in Zulu and the Boshin war, slaughtering those
pre-historical savagesunlucky per-industrial indigenous like no tomorrow. Electric versions of the gating gun existed before their widespread use in aircraft, but at the time, only naval warships were able to have portable electric generators, limiting their use. While modern machine gun mechanisms have largely replaced the Gatling gun as a main weapon, the Gatling design is still used for weapons that require a very high rate of fire, particularly aircraft.
- Puckle Gun: Possibly the earliest repeating revolver; invented in 1718, before the gatling gun mentioned above. Just like the Gatling gun, it required a person to crank it like a pepper grinder. It was desired for use by the Christians to slaughter the false believers like the Muslim Turks and it had a choice of round bullets for use against fellow Christians and square bullets that were considered to be more damaging. The Puckle gun however was unpopular because of its some what finicky flint lock and other mechanical issues, since it was revolver made 100 years before colt made his first revolver in a calibre over three times bigger. The technology to allow this sort of weapon was not there yet, which made its feasibility even worse when you allow religious fucktards to overcomplicate military logistics by demanding two different ammunitions which have absolutely no difference, unlike Bolter shell variations.
- Dynamite gun: In the early days of high explosives, there were no explosives stable enough to be fired from a gun without blowing up, and high explosives were far more powerful than low explosives like gunpowder. Hence, the Dynamite gun, the most steam punk weapon ever deployed. Dynamite guns worked like a big air gun, only instead of a BB they fired a shell full of Dynamite or other high explosives and instead of air they used compressed steam if on a ship, or smokeless powder used to indirectly propel a gas into the barrel to launch the shell.
- Maxim gun The first successful weapon that can be considered a machine gun and one of the earliest recoil operated weapons. As such the origins of the autocannon can be easily traced back to the Maxim. When it was scaled up for larger calibers. QF 1-pounder pompoms(37mm) and the QF 2-pounders(40mm) were adopted by nations as soon as they were aware of them or had been on the receiving end, essentially converting the machine gun design into auto cannons. The QF 1 started out as a field gun before it was used on warships as an anti aircraft weapon, Just like the Gatling gun years earlier. The Maxim along with it's descendants made field charges and line combat impossible, ushering in the era of trench warfare, with only mall ninjas and other idiots lamenting the loss of those tactics.
Types of cannon ammunition
- Round Shot: the first type of cannon ammo, Round shot is, as the name suggests, a round ball made of either stone or later iron. Don't knock a Stone Cannon ball because on impact they have a tendency shatter producing shrapnel. Round shot was best used against fortifications and infantry in the open. When firing at infantry the ideal use of round shot was to fire just in front of the infantry and let the ball bounce up and through the formation like a bowling ball from hell. This is replicated in cannon mechanics in Warhammer fantasy. This is also one of the reasons why armies stopped fighting in deep formations and switched to lines.
- Hot Shot: Against wooden ships that were full of black powder and other flammables, often the best solution is to light them on fire. As such an attempt to do this was to take an iron cannon ball, and heat it up so that it glowed red and then fire it. . .carefully. As you can imagine sticking a red hot cannon ball down the barrel of an iron tube full of explosive was careful work in order to pull it off they had to put a plug of wet clay between the ball and the powder. This is word is the modern origin for the term "Hot Shot" as some one who is renowned for their skill and courage- like the people who could load said red hot cannonballs without blowing themselves up in the process.
- Chain shot: used mostly at sea, Chain shot was either two small cannon balls linked with chain, or one single cannon ball that broke into two halves connected by a chain after firing. Chain shot covered a larger area and was used to target the rigging of enemy ships (though as the tv series 'The Borgias' shows, it could also be quite useful in mowing down infantry). As steamships become more common however, chain shot became less and less useful.
- Canister shot: Canisters shot is a collection of small iron musket balls, that was jammed down the barrel in a tin can. Upon firing it turned the cannon into a massive shotgun, spraying the area in front of it with hundreds of musket ball; in a day and age where fighting was done shoulder to shoulder, Canister shot was lethal. Grape shot was similar but used bigger balls and was loaded in a bag, not a can (supposedly the bulges the balls made in the bag looked like a bunch of grapes, hence the name) and was more common on ships since it could better punch though wooden hulls. A cannon loaded with canister shot could and has stopped an infantry charge dead in its tracks. Canister rounds were made all the way to the modern age, and in many cases are still used for clearing out infantry at close range, but only with special tank cannons. For the same reason shotguns are smoothbore, rifled cannons have problems with canister shot since the grooves impart spin on the balls. However, the use of smoothbore cannons in modern anti-tank guns, canister shot is now a more viable weapon. Artillery-style canister shot, however, fell out of fashion even in the days of smoothbore field artillery in favor of...
- Shrapnel rounds: You know how a person invents a thing and get his name attached to the invention so completely that if you tried to use it today as a name it just sounds strange? Well Henry Shrapnel was so successful with his invention that all types of flying debris now has his name. Shrapnel rounds were invented in 1784, and they're basically canister shot, with a fuse so that the shell explodes in mid air rather then only at the muzzle of the gun almost tripling the range of the anti personal round. Round shot for use against infantry became a thing of the past. Shrapnel rounds were used all the way up to the modern age and some countries still make Shrapnel rounds for their tanks.
- Shells: A bullet that's hollow and has stuff in it. Typically explosives but chemical payloads are also known. While Shells have been known to exist ever since the 14th century, it was not until the modern day when accurate fuses came about that Shells became more common then solid shot. Shells come in a wide variety of munition types, but the most common versions are High Explosive, Armor-Piercing, High-Explosive Anti-Tank (combines HE with a shaped charge), and even guided shells.
- Carcass shot: No, not something a necromancer with a cannon would use. Carcass shot was a high flammable material with an iron shell around it and some vents to spray the chemical after firing. it was called Carcass shot because, supposedly, the shot looked like a human Carcass thanks to the holes. Carcass shot was used mostly out of lower velocity mortars and Howitzers and was one of the first chemical weapons to be used. It was especially useful at night as the glow allowed it to be used to spot for the gun.
- Junk: Obviously if you're out of proper ammunition you could just shove anything you want down the barrel and hope it works. Supposedly a Uruguayan ship fired stale cheese out one of their cannons and shattered the mast of a Brazilian ship. Blunderbusses and similar man-portable weapons could also be loaded with scrap when nothing better was available. Contrarily to the common portrayal, however, the practice was discouraged as it would quickly wear the barrel of the weapon out and render it unusable.
- High Velocity Armor Piercing (HVAP): Also known as Armor-Piercing Composite Rigid (APCR) if you're a Brit or 'Hartkern' (hard core) if you're German. When World War 2 and its bigger and bigger tanks that could shrug off the fire from small calibre cannons came along, all nations were faced with the same problem of stopping those monsters. Without going into the physics of it, there were three solutions to the problem. First, the time-honored one of bringing a bigger gun, but that was often impossible. Second, lengthen the barrel of the gun so the gases can impart more energy to the projectile, but again this was limited in its execution. Third, make the projectile itself out of heavier, tougher material. That's HVAP/APCR/Hartkern. Same overall shell size, but the weight of the projectile is 'concentrated' in a smaller core made out of tungsten fitted with a lightweight aerodynamic cap that will do more damage than a larger, softer shot.
- Sabot (Old): Sabots (french for clogshoe and pronounced like "Sah-bo") were used in the 19th century with weapons like the Paixhans gun, one of the first naval guns designed to fire an explosive shell. A sabot is a container made of a light material that fits the barrel and contains the actual munition but falls away after leaving the barrel, leaving just the sub munition to fly toward the target. It was used to center the projectile and trap the gases of the explosion behind it, allowing to fire a shell smaller then the diameter of the gun (shooting a 20mm shell out of a 40mm cannon for example) and also back in the days to prevent a catastrophic explosion of the shell along with the powder. Advances in metallurgy and the invention of the driving band (and the generalized use of copper casings for smaller weapons) have made such sabots obsolete. Buuuuut...
- Sabot (Modern): Remember the HVAP above, where we said 'core made out of hard material to deal more damage'? Well the modern sabot rounds take this one level further. A small, very heavy projectile is encased in a much bigger shell casing, and the whole casing is discarded the moment it exits the barrel leaving only the core to fly toward the target. This allows the small core to be fired from a substantially large-bore gun, giving it a lot of kinetic energy while avoiding the poor ballistics of such a large shot. This has led to modern main battle tanks being armed with a 120mm cannon while shooting what basically amounts to a ballista bolt made of depleted uranium or Tungsten at one another. Sabots are frequently used for armor-penetrating rounds that would be far too heavy to fire at full-size.
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