Artillery Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Broadly defined, the term “artillery” refers to machines designed to propel missiles or projectiles of any kind.

Nature and Use

Broadly defined, the term “artillery” refers to machines designed to propel missiles or Projectilesprojectiles of any kind. Since the Middle Ages, however, the term has described crew-served weapons using the combustion of a propellant charge to propel a projectile toward an enemy at ranges greater than those attainable with small arms. Artillery weapons are traditionally divided into categories based on their use in battle. Hence, naval artillery is deployed on ships, coastal artillery includes all guns designed for defending coastlines, and field artillery is utilized on land for support of battlefield operations. Within each of these categories are specific classes of weapons. The most common classes include Guns;artillery classificationguns, referring to artillery firing along a flat trajectory; Howitzers;artillery classificationhowitzers, describing weapons firing along an angled trajectory between that of a gun and mortar; and Mortars;artillery classificationmortars, referring to weapons firing at very high angles over relatively short distances. At one time armies also utilized siege Siege artilleryartillery, designed to batter down city walls; garrison Garrison artilleryartillery, used to protect fixed installations; and various versions of horse Horse artilleryartillery. These types of weapons have been replaced in the modern era by Antitank weaponsAntiaircraft weaponsAtomic artilleryantitank, antiaircraft, atomic, and self-propelled Self-propelled artillery[self propelled]artillery. The first two terms are self-explanatory, the third refers to artillery firing atomic warheads, and the fourth describes artillery fitted to motorized–usually tracked and armored–carriages capable of independent movement. In contrast, non-self-propelled Non-self-propelled artillery[Nonself propelled artillery]artillery is moved by vehicles and usually called towed artillery. Finally, artillery can be separated into tube (or cannon) and rocket artillery. The former utilizes a tube and pressure projection to drive a missile forward, while the latter uses jet propulsion to drive a warhead toward a target.Artillery;modernArtillery;modern

On the battlefield, artillery is used to provide either direct (when the target can be seen) or indirect (when the target is not visible to the firing weapon) fire against enemy troops, vehicles, or installations. Artillery may also be used for general bombardment, the interdiction of supply routes, illumination via flares and other pyrotechnic devices, the screening of friendly forces via smoke rounds, the delivery of atomic warheads, and defense against enemy air attack. At sea or in a coastal defense role, specialized artillery serves to destroy enemy ships or aircraft and to bombard land targets. Artillery units use a wide variety of specialized ordnance, including antipersonnel, antiarmor, nuclear, chemical, high-explosive, and proximity fuse.

DevelopmentField Artillery

Although Field artilleryArtillery;fieldmodern artillery dates to the Battle of Crécy (1346), most armies before 1500 used their guns in sieges rather than on the battlefield. Great Bombardsbombards battered down the walls of Constantinople in 1453, for example, and the French successfully used artillery to conduct sieges during the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453).

However, the promise of battlefield artillery could hardly be denied. CannonsCannon already positioned for sieges proved crucial to French victories over the English at Formigny Formigny, Battle of (1450)(1450) and Castillon Castillon, Battle of (1453)(1453). Hussite leader Jan Žižka, JanŽižka, Jan[Zizka, Jan]Žižka (c. 1376-1424) successfully used artillery carried on wagons during the Hussite Wars Hussite Wars (1419-1434)(1419-1434). The most prescient demonstration of field artillery was by French king Charles Charles VIIICharles VIII (king of France)[Charles 08]VIII (r. 1483-1498), who brilliantly used lightweight bronze artillery in campaigns against Italy in the 1490’s and in a dramatic victory over the Spanish at Ravenna Ravenna, Battle of (1512)(1512).

These victories stimulated considerable innovation in ordnance, and throughout the 1500’s experts tinkered with a wide variety of ammunition. Most cannon fired solid cast-iron round Round shotshot, or solid iron balls; Bombs;cannonbombs, iron shells filled with explosive gunpowder; Canister shotcanisters, cans filled with small projectiles; and grape Grape shotshot, a cluster of iron balls. The ordnance used depended on the target. Solid Solid shotshot proved effective at long range and against fortifications, bombs were valuable against troops and horses in the open, and canister and grape shot were deadly at close range. Unfortunately, ammunition remained severely limited in most armies, and explosives were unreliable. Worse, the diverse experimentation of inventors created so many different types of guns and ammunition that consistent supply in many armies became almost impossible.

Artillery took a great leap forward in 1537, when Italian mathematician Niccolò Fontana Tartaglia, Niccolò FontanaTartaglia, Niccolò FontanaTartaglia (1500-1557) published the first scientific treatise on gunnery. Tartaglia’s pioneering work discussed the basic principles of Ballisticsballistics, proving that guns reached their greatest range when fired at an angle of 45 degrees and that all trajectories are curved. Tartaglia also developed the first gunner’s quadrant and laid the foundation for the systematic scientific study of artillery. When Spanish scholars built upon Tartaglia’s work in the 1590’s and computed the first firing Firing tablestables, artillery moved into a new age.

It was an age characterized by arms races between designers of guns and fortifications and between leaders seeking ways to use field artillery more effectively. Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian Maximilian IMaximilian I (Holy Roman Emperor)[Maximilian 01]I (1459-1519) classified artillery in the 1490’s as either siege or field and ordered the general use of iron shot by his gunners to simplify logistics. He also increased the amount of training his gunners received and placed his artillery men in a separate branch of the army to enhance their prestige. These efforts were followed by Holy Roman Emperor Charles Charles VCharles V (Holy Roman Emperor)[Charles 05]V (1500-1558) and King Henry Henry IIHenry II (king of France)[Henry 02]II (1519-1559) of France, who also standardized their artillery. The two rulers instituted, between them, a system of classification and battlefield use that lasted in Europe for almost three hundred years. The system defined three basic types of artillery pieces: long-barreled, thick-walled pieces designed for accuracy and long range, called Culverinsculverin; lighter, shorter-barreled pieces that sacrificed range and accuracy to fire heavier projectiles shorter distances, called Cannons;artillery classificationcannon; and short-barreled, thin-walled weapons firing very heavy projectiles at high angles called Pedreros (early mortars)pedrero. The names of these weapons varied among nations, but the fundamental system of organization endured into the modern era, in which culverin are known as guns, cannons are known as howitzers, and the early pedrero are known as mortars. Most armies followed this system, reducing the number of calibers and standardizing ammunition and generally abandoning experiments with dangerous breech-loading Breech-loading weapons[Breech loading weapons];artillery artillery that loaded from the rear. Breechloaders had a tendency to explode when gases leaked from the breech during firing, a problem known as obturation. They became commonplace only in the nineteenth century, after technological advances had allowed gunners to seal breeches consistently.

Another quantum leap in artillery organization took place in the early 1600’s, when King Gustavus II Gustavus II AdolphusGustavus II Adolphus (king of Sweden)[Gustavus 02]Adolphus of Sweden (1594-1632) established the foundations of modern field artillery. Adolphus ordered the development of a small, truly mobile leatherbound gun; made all gunners into soldiers subject to army discipline; and abandoned the widespread practice of hiring unreliable civilian gun crews. The king organized his new guns into regiments and assigned his artillery specific battlefield roles based on the weight of the projectile they fired: 24-pounders were for siege work, 12-pounders for field artillery, and 4-pounders for assignment to individual regiments. Later, Adolphus added 9-pound guns and organized them into batteries of five to ten guns behind his infantry. These changes were revolutionary. Adolphus used artillery en masse, rather than piecemeal, concentrating firepower at the decisive place on the battlefield. He was the first to allow artillery and infantry to fight together as interdependent supporting arms. Previously, artillery units had typically been placed in front of infantry, because the guns were unreliable and could not fire safely over the heads of friendly forces. Once battle was joined these guns were usually overrun by the general engagement and could not be fired again. In contrast, Adolphus’s system allowed the guns to be fired continuously and to move from point to point as needed. Adolphus’s army also pioneered the use of cartridge Cartridgesammunition, which consisted of properly measured bags of gunpowder bound to different types of projectiles. Cartridge ammunition made loading much faster and also increased the consistency of shot, because powder loads were measured out in advance instead of being thrown into guns in the heat of battle. Adolphus used these innovations to smash the Catholic League at the Battle of Breitenfeld in Breitenfeld, Battle of (1631)1631. Other nations quickly moved to duplicate his powerful, mobile artillery.

Louis Louis XIVLouis XIV (king of France)[Louis 14]XIV (1638-1715) of France further advanced the nature and use of artillery when he organized the first permanent artillery regiment in 1671 and established a school of artillery in 1690. At his direction, French Engineers;Frenchengineers perfected an elevating screw that simplified the process of raising and lowering barrels and developed a system of ropes, known as a Prolonge (ropes for pulling artillery)prolonge, for pulling gun carriages. Most important, they refined the elongated priming tube, which was filled with powder and inserted into the touchhole of an artillery piece in order to ignite the charge inside the breech. Priming Priming tubes tubes made the process of firing both safer and more reliable and allowed gunners to reload faster than ever before.

These advances spurred even more improvements in artillery. In the 1690’s the Dutch fielded the first true howitzers, and Swiss inventor Jean de Jean de MaritzJean de MaritzMaritz (1680-1743) revolutionized cannon production in 1740 by casting them as solid pieces and then drilling out the bore. This proved far more precise than casting cannon around a hollow centerpiece, and it soon became standard practice throughout Europe. In England, Benjamin Robins, BenjaminRobins, BenjaminRobins (1707-1751) published New Principles of Gunnery in 1742, proving the value of elongated projectiles and rifled barrels and refining ballistic principles.

This explosion of new ideas and technology encouraged battlefield innovation, and Frederick the Great of Frederick II, the GreatFrederick II, the Great (king of Prussia)[Frederick 02]Prussia (1712-1786) introduced the first horse artillery Horse artilleryunits in 1759. Gunners in these units rode the horses that pulled their gun carriages, and Frederick separated them from foot artillery formations, in which the gunners walked alongside their pieces. Horse artillery proved much faster than foot artillery and gave gunners the chance to stay abreast of advancing infantry and cavalry formations. They proved crucial to Prussian military successes in the mid-eighteenth century.

In France, Inspector General of Artillery Jean-Baptiste Vacquette de Gribeauval, Jean-Baptiste Vacquette deGribeauval, Jean-Baptiste Vacquette deGribeauval (1715-1789) designated artillery as field, siege, garrison, or coastal, and standardized all cartridges, limbers, ammunition chests, and tools. He then divided artillery pieces into battalion, brigade, and army guns; decreased their weight by as much as 50 percent; and began harnessing horses in pairs to move artillery more quickly. Gribeauval also introduced a calibrated rear sight and a graduated tangent Sights (aiming devices)sight to improve aiming, and he refined the manufacture of cannon and ammunition to reduce Windagewindage, or the space between ammunition and the walls of a cannon through which explosive gases can escape, by one-half. Gribeauval’s modifications greatly increased the range and power of French guns, and when combined with reorganized gun crews and additional training upon its complete adoption in 1776, his system made French artillery the finest in Europe.

Chevalier Jean Du Du Teil, JeanDu Teil, Jean[Duteil]Teil (1738-1820) developed a theory for the employment of these weapons, which he articulated in his De l’usage de l’artillerie nouvelle dans la guerre de campagne connoissance néccessaire aux officiers destinés a commander toutes les armes (1778). Du Teil argued for the massed employment of mobile artillery on the battlefield and advocated the use of artillery to open breaches in enemy lines at close range. He also suggested the avoidance of counterbattery fire, because it held little hope of disabling enemy guns. These tactics were used with distinction by French emperor Napoleon I (Bonaparte)[Napoleon 01];tactics Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821), who massed artillery in grand batteries with great effect over the course of his career. Perhaps the finest example of Napoleon’s use of mobile artillery came at the Battle of Friedland in Friedland, Battle of (1807) 1807, in which aggressive French gunners pushed to within 60 yards of the Russian lines to support cavalry and infantry attacks.

Across the Channel, Englishman John Muller, JohnMuller, JohnMuller (1699-1784) called for lighter British field pieces in his A Treatise of Artillery (1757). Sir William Congreve, WilliamCongreve, William Congreve, another Englishman, developed the famous block trail Gun carriages carriage in 1792. A single piece of wood with a center of gravity moved forward and a handspike at the rear, Congreve’s carriage dramatically improved artillery mobility. Congreve also designed an accompanying limber and ammunition wagon, which seated gunners and, when joined with the new carriage, increased the speed of artillery movement. Henry Shrapnel, HenryShrapnel, Henry Shrapnel’s (1761-1842) spherical shell filled with lead bullets and surrounded by explosives increased the effectiveness of artillery systems. Shrapnel’s invention allowed artillery units to fire antipersonnel rounds at long range against troops in the open. The charges exploded in the air, showering troops with lead bullets, or shrapnel, as they came to be called. All of these changes made the standard smoothbore black powder cannon, with a bronze barrel and a range of between 500 and 1,000 yards, more important than ever on the nineteenth century battlefield.

That importance was threatened by the growing prominence of rifled infantry weapons in the early 1800’s. RiflingRifling, or spiral grooves cut into the bore of a weapon, dramatically increased range. Although it made reloading more difficult, it also allowed infantry units greater range than did artillery and ultimately made smoothbore cannon obsolete. To compete, an Italian developed the first practical rifled, Breech-loading weapons[Breech loading weapons];cannonsbreech-loading cannon in 1846. Loading at the breech, or rear, of the cannon took less time than loading at the muzzle, and rifling allowed artillery to once again outreach infantry weapons. By the 1860’s modern armies had incorporated rifled artillery with ranges of up to 4,000 yards, dramatically expanding the battlefield and making infantry assaults in the open practically impossible.

Most armies, however, were slow to adopt rifled artillery and infantry weapons on a large scale, and smoothbore Smoothbore weaponsweapons dominated the inventories of European and American armies well into the nineteenth century. This resistance to change stemmed from the fact that rifled Rifled weapons;vs. smoothbore weapons[smoothbore]weapons took longer to load and required more training to operate, and from a stubborn attachment to tradition among officers who did not understand how the greater range of rifled weapons demanded fundamental changes in battlefield tactics.

That understanding finally came after the Franco-Prussian War Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871)[Franco Prussian War](1870-1871), in which Prussian forces equipped with rifled steel breech-loading artillery decisively defeated the French. This new artillery, manufactured by the legendary arms maker Alfred Krupp, AlfredKrupp, AlfredKrupp (1812-1887), utilized steel and advanced gun design to produce weapons with range far greater than that of any others in the world. Its pivotal role in the Franco-Prussian War forced other nations to play catch-up, and by the 1890’s Krupp’s steel breechloaders were the dominant artillery weapons worldwide.

These new guns fired extremely heavy shells, demanding more research into the problem of Recoilrecoil, the rearward movement of guns caused by their firing. Scientists experimented with hydraulic cylinders attached to gun barrels to reduce recoil on field artillery but with mixed results. Trail spades and brakes were still required on field guns to keep them from moving too far out of position when fired, until the French developed the revolutionary M-1897 75-millimeter field M-1897 75-millimeter field gun[M 1897]gun in the 1890’s. The French Seventy-five (French field gun)[Seventy five]“Seventy-five” had a long recoil cylinder capable of reducing recoil to a fraction of its former strength and could fire thirty rounds a minute to a maximum range of 8,000 yards. It represented a quantum leap in artillery technology, driven by the shame of French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War.

Other late nineteenth century improvements in artillery included the development of smokeless powder, high explosive rounds, better fuses, and, by the 1890’s, the widespread use of metallic cartridges for ammunition. Each invention represented an enormous leap forward in destructive power and range for artillery weapons, and armies struggled to develop new ways to utilize them. Most organized their big guns into a separate artillery branch and placed them at the disposal of division- or corps-level commanders, because the great range of artillery prohibited its use too close to the battlefield. That distance, however, required gunners to learn how to use artillery in an indirect role, supporting units by firing at targets they could not see, and the limited communication technology of the period made such a role difficult at best.

Karl G. Guk, Karl G.Guk, Karl G.Guk (1846-1910) of Russia laid the foundation for effective indirect artillery fire in 1882, calling for forward observers equipped with compasses and utilizing aiming points to direct artillery fire, and gunners soon abandoned the idea of independent aiming and fired at targets as a battery to maximize their chances of hitting a target. Ironically, Guk’s own army suffered the first effective battlefield use of indirect Indirect fireaiming when Japanese forces destroyed Russian artillery with counterbattery fire during the Russo-Japanese War Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905)[Russo Japanese War](1904-1905).

These events set the stage for World War I World War I (1914-1918)[World War 01];artillery’s role(1914-1918), in which artillery played a decisive role in almost every theater of operation. Commanders desperate to break the stalemate of trench Trench warfare;World War I[World War 01]warfare ordered long, sustained bombardments of enemy positions, using larger and larger guns and more powerful ordnance. Field commanders pioneered the use of aircraft as observation platforms for indirect fire and used sound and flash ranging to spot enemy batteries at long range. Because observers could not always see enemy positions or contact friendly artillery, they developed rolling barrages that moved fire forward in front of advancing infantry on a preset timetable. Some units also practiced unobserved firing, using their guns to hit areas in which enemy activity was suspected, and predicted fire, in which units aimed without spotting rounds and unleashed surprise barrages on enemy positions. During World War I artillery units used poison gas shells on a large scale, began using vehicles and railway cars instead of horses to move their heavy guns, and experimented with the first self-propelled artillery.

During the interwar years refinement of the Radioradio finally allowed forward observers to call in accurate indirect fire at great range. In the United States these efforts culminated in the development of the Fire Direction Fire Direction CenterCenter (FDC) during the 1930’s. A centralized command post connecting multiple batteries, the FDC could by 1941 mass four battalions of artillery on one target within five minutes. This ability to quickly mass artillery fire against various targets gave the United States a tremendous advantage on the battlefield and served as a model that other countries quickly sought to emulate.

In World War World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];artilleryII (1941-1945), artillery again proved decisive, accounting for more casualties than any other family of weapons. Combatants used thousands of guns, towing them with horses and moving others with vehicles or on self-propelled carriages. These guns grew progressively in size and destructive power. The Germans, for example, developed an 88-millimeter gun that served throughout the war as an antiaircraft, antitank, and artillery weapon. The British fielded their famous 25-pounder, which fired a 3.45-inch projectile 13,000 yards, and the United States developed a towed and self-propelled version of the 155-millimeter gun and howitzer. To observe fire from these new weapons, armies added aircraft to artillery units and promoted widespread use of the radio, allowing close battlefield support for ground forces. Artillery units also diversified, as the threat from enemy tanks and aircraft demanded specialized weapons to defeat them. Antitank artillery units fired hollow charges or discarding sabot rounds through tapered barrels to destroy tanks with high velocity rounds. Some armies even fielded self-propelled antitank guns called tank destroyers or guns as large as 240 millimeters, called assault guns, for close support of infantry. These guns were joined by antiaircraft artillery designed to defend against enemy air attack. A revolutionary new technology in this field was the variable time (VT) Variable time fusefuse, which was fielded by the United States in 1941. The VT fuse allowed gunners to detonate rounds at a preset range, throwing shrapnel in the path of enemy aircraft rather than hitting them directly. It was especially important in defending U.S. ships against Japanese air attack in the Pacific.

After World War II, artillery units struggled to adjust to the nuclear age. Tactical nuclear Nuclear weapons and warfare;artilleryartillery became a reality in 1953, when the United States fired an atomic warhead from a 280-millimeter gun named Atomic Atomic AnnieAnnie in Nevada. The United States eventually fielded Atomic bombatomic warheads for 155-millimeter howitzers as well, and the Soviet Union quickly followed suit.

The Krupp arms manufacturing company’s exhibit of a massive cannon at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

(Library of Congress)

Within conventional artillery, the United States found that during the Korean War Korean War (1950-1953)(1950-1953) many units were handicapped by guns that could not traverse 360 degrees. By the 1960’s the United United States;artilleryStates had developed a new family of self-propelled guns. These new guns, with fully enclosed crew shelters, could fully traverse and elevate to 75 degrees. In response, the Soviet Soviet Union;artilleryUnion also revamped its artillery, fielding a 203-millimeter field gun with a 31,900-yard range, a 152-millimeter field howitzer, and new self-propelled guns.

The United States also found a need for lighter pieces that could be carried by aircraft to support airborne and air mobile forces. In the 1950’s it therefore developed a 75-millimeter pack howitzer and 105-millimeter and 155-millimeter towed howitzers suitable for air transport. These guns were used with great effect during direct American involvement in the Vietnam Vietnam War (1961-1975)War from 1965 to 1973, when they were often repositioned with helicopters.

As the Vietnam conflict ended, the 1973 Israeli-Arab October Yom Kippur War (1973)War saw the first widespread use of remotely piloted Remotely piloted vehiclesvehicles (RPVs) for battlefield observation and artillery spotting, and spurred yet another outburst of technological innovation. Advanced armies had already experimented with ordnance that separated into a greater number of individual Warheadswarheads called Submunitionssubmunitions and with rocket-assisted warheads that gave traditional artillery greater range. During the 1970’s they also moved into the realm of laser-guided Laser-guided missiles[Laser guided missiles]projectiles when the United States fielded the Copperhead (guided weapons system)Copperhead 155-millimeter cannon-launched guided weapons system. The Copperhead gave the United States unprecedented targeting accuracy and paved the way for the development of “fire-and-forget” artillery shells in the 1980’s. These “smart” Smart weapons;munitionsmunitions carried onboard target-seeking sensors that allowed individual warheads to seek out and destroy enemy tanks, a capability desperately needed by outnumbered U.S. forces in Europe. From the 1960’s onward the United States also pioneered the use of Radar;counterbattery artillery fireradar for counterbattery artillery fire and developed the means to detect the exact location of enemy artillery by computing the trajectory of their shells backward to the point of origin.

All of these advances, along with the use of next-generation RPVs and sophisticated fire-controlComputers;fire-controlcomputers, were validated during the Gulf War Gulf War (1990-1991)(1990-1991). In this conflict United States;Gulf WarU.S. artillery units devastated Iraq;Gulf WarIraqi positions with advanced and traditional munitions that fired with unprecedented accuracy and played a key role in keeping Allied casualties low, speeding coalition forces to victory.

As armies evolve into the twenty-first century, artillery promises to play a vital role on conventional battlefields, with computers and advanced ordnance producing faster rates of fire over greater ranges with astonishing accuracy. Like their counterparts in centuries past, however, the artillery of the future will have to balance performance with speed of movement, lest it find itself unable to deploy to trouble spots around the world in a timely manner.

Coastal Artillery

From Coastal artilleryArtillery;coastaltheir inception Cannons;coastal defensecannons have been used to defend coastal installations against naval attack. The English, for example, placed guns in Dover as a protection against the French in 1370, and Henry VIII (1491-1547) ordered fortifications and coastal guns positioned in all major English coastal towns from 1538 onward. These coastal guns generally evolved in tandem with field artillery, with the important exception of their size. Because coastal guns were not required to move, they were designed to be the largest and most technically advanced artillery weapons in the world. Guns;coastal defenseGuns as large as seventeen tons protected the Dardanelles from attack as early as the 1400’s, and around the world coastal guns ranged from standard sizes to leviathans that would be impossible to deploy on land or aboard ship.

A gun crew of the Sixty-fourth Artillery Battalion, Twenty-fifth Infantry Division, fires a 105-millimeter howitzer on North Korean positions in 1950.

(Army Times Publishing Co.)

By the nineteenth century, most advanced countries boasted coastal fortifications equipped with these cannons in brick and stone emplacements. The United States joined in this effort by building twenty-four forts equipped with more than 750 guns along the Atlantic coast between 1806 and 1811. By the late 1800’s, breech-loading guns were dominant, with guns placed in disappearing barbette carriages and hidden behind or beneath concrete walls.

World War World War I (1914-1918)[World War 01];coastal defenseI prompted yet another burst of coastal gun emplacements, with guns as large as 12, 14, and 16 inches finding their way into the arsenals of the world’s armies and navies. These large guns were necessary to defeat heavily armored warships, and designers went to great lengths to find ways to minimize their great recoil and to develop mountings to support their enormous weight. Others extended the range of these large guns by using longer barrels and experimented with rail-mounted guns that moved from one coastal position to another. In the long run these guns proved expensive and far less effective than ship-mounted artillery, and their vulnerability to air attack led most nations to abandon them after World War II.

Naval Artillery

At Naval power;artilleryArtillery;navalsea cannons had, by the mid-1400’s, become vital weapons in the navies of the world. Like their cousins in coastal artillery, shipboard Cannons;navalcannons developed roughly in parallel with guns on land. The one exception to this rule was the gun carriage. Early cannons were attached to the ship itself, but by the 1500’s designers introduced wheels to carriages that supported guns and allowed sailors to move them. These truck carriages were held in place by breeching ropes that constrained the cannon but still allowed recoil to move them backward. They therefore spared the hull of the ship the full force of recoil and presented gunners with a means to maneuver the gun back into position for firing. This simple technology prevailed until well into the nineteenth century and helped smoothbore muzzle-loading cannon to dominate naval warfare for three centuries.

These cannon were arranged along the gun decks on both sides of sailing ships and fired through ports in the side of the hull, which could be closed in inclement weather. Naval architects designed several classes of Ships and shipbuilding;cannonsships to carry cannon, from small and fast frigates to enormous ships of the line, which boasted as many as one hundred or more guns. These ships generally fired standard artillery rounds and sought to deliver them simultaneously in great broadsides, when all guns on one side of a ship fired at the same target. Although ordnance changed relatively little prior to the 1850’s, the Scottish did introduce a specially designed carronade in 1778, which sacrificed range to fire a large-caliber round from a light gun. The British Royal Navy adopted the Carronadeacarronade for close-quarter action in the late 1700’s, and many other nations quickly followed suit.

The relative stasis in naval gun design was shattered in 1858, when the French launched La Gloire (first ironclad ship) La Gloire, the world’s first ironclad warship. The British responded by building their own armored warship, the HMS Warrior, HMS Warrior. In the 1860’s they proved that armor-piercing shells fired at high velocity were far superior in defeating armor to much heavier solid shot traveling at slower speeds. This discovery induced navies around the world to adopt spherical shells tipped with metal, known as armor-piercing rounds, and the days of round shot were finally over.

Naval designers then had to decide where to place their armor-piercing guns and how best to protect them with armor plate. Some chose to place their guns at either the front or rear of their ships, while others adopted the Sponsonssponson, a semicircular platform that allowed guns a 180-degree traverse both fore and aft. The ultimate solution came when designers produced revolving Turrets;revolving navalturrets that allowed guns to fire in almost any direction. These turrets, first deployed on the Danish Rolf Kraki (ship) Rolf Kraki in 1861, freed ships from linear tactics and allowed attacks from a variety of directions. When coupled with steam power, which freed ships from reliance upon the wind, they completely revolutionized naval warfare.

By 1874 the English were deploying ships with 12.5-inch muzzle-loaders in turrets weighing as much as 750 tons, and the growing size of turrets required hydraulic and mechanical power to rotate them. As breech-loading guns became dominant in the late 1800’s, designers sank turrets down into the hulls of ships and used compressed air and water to cleanse gun barrels, interlocking doors to separate ammunition storage from firing compartments, and pressurization to reduce the risk of accidental explosion. They also developed machines to take over the process of loading ammunition, and by World War I Battleshipsbattleships carrying guns as large as 15 inches were recognized as the dominant weapons of their era.

These ships required sophisticated targeting systems to account for the great range of their guns, as well as for their own movement and the movement of their targets. Naval designers therefore placed fire-control centers high up in the masts and control towers of ships to allow a good view of targets and gave these centers control over the firing of guns in all turrets. During and after World War I these fire-control centers were aided by observation aircraft and fired at such great range that they had to account for the curvature of the earth in their firing computations.

During World War II battleships reached their zenith, when the United States and Japan utilized ships with guns as large as 16 and 18 inches, respectively. Rather than playing a primary role in the naval battles of the era, however, these great ships were eclipsed by aircraft as the dominant weapon on the high seas. They served primarily as antiaircraft and shore bombardment platforms and were retired after the war as aircraft and guided missiles replaced them. Although U.S. battleships were brought out of retirement so their great guns could bombard distant land targets during the Korean War Korean War (1950-1953);battleships(1950-1953), the Vietnam War Vietnam War (1961-1975);battleships(1961-1975), and the Gulf War Gulf War (1990-1991);battleships(1990-1991), as of 2000 there were no battleships in the active inventory of any world navy. Ships that continue to mount heavy guns generally do so as a means of self-defense against small ships or aircraft, and the guns are usually no larger than 5 inches. They are, however, guided by radar and boast extremely fast rates of fire, seemingly indicating that naval artillery will endure well into the twenty-first century.Artillery;modern

Books and Articles
  • Bailey, Jonathan B. A. Firepower and Field Artillery. 2d ed. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 2004.
  • Dastrup, Boyd L. The Field Artillery: History and Sourcebook. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994.
  • Halberstadt, Hans. The World’s Great Artillery: From the Middle Ages to the Present Day. Rochester, Kent, England: Grange, 2002.
  • Hazlett, James C., Edwin Olmstead, and M. Hume Parks. Field Artillery Weapons of the Civil War. 2d ed. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1988. Reprint. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004.
  • Hogg, Ian V. Anti-Aircraft Artillery. Marlborough, England: Crowood, 2002.
  • _______. Artillery 2000. London: Arms and Armour, 1990.
  • _______. Twentieth-Century Artillery. New York: Sterling, 2000.
  • Kinard, Jeff. Artillery: An Illustrated History of Its Impact. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, 2007.
  • McKenney, Janice E. The Organizational History of Field Artillery, 1775-2003. Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, United States Army, 2007.
  • Mehl, Hans. Naval Guns: Five Hundred Years of Ship and Coastal Artillery. Translated by Keith Thomas. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 2002.
  • Norris, John. An Illustrated History of Artillery. Stroud, Gloucestershire, England: Sutton, 2001.
  • Rogers, H. C. B. A History of Artillery. Secaucus, N.J.: Citadel Press, 1975.
Films and Other Media
  • Artillery: Arms in Action. Documentary. A&E Home Video, 2000.
  • Weapons at War: Artillery. Documentary. History Channel, 2001.

Swords, Daggers, and Bayonets

Pole Arms

Gunpowder and Explosives

Small Arms and Machine Guns

Tanks and Armored Vehicles

Aircraft, Bombs, and Guidance Systems

Rockets, Missiles, and Nuclear Weapons

Chemical and Biological Weapons

Categories: History Content