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Artillery Through the Ages

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Artillery Through the Ages
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Author(s): Albert Manucy
Date Published: 2011/09
Page Count: 124
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-674-9
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-673-2

From thrown rock to artillery shell

Albert Manucy’s book examines the history of artillery from the earliest times to the late nineteenth century and describes how missiles were employed in conflicts prior to the Great War period. Every type of projectile throwing machine is considered from the earliest Ballista and Trebuchet to sophisticated ship-board naval guns and those designed for the fortified emplacements of coastal defences which were employed well into the twentieth century. Manucy not only describes the weapons but gives interesting insights into their performance and capabilities. He goes on to examine the use of gunpowder from its development to its employment in weaponry and describes many solid shot weapons and their respective specifications. The development of projectiles themselves is discussed—and their many varieties are detailed, including early rockets—as well as the tools employed by the gunners who fired the guns and employed the ammunition. This most engrossing book concludes with instruction on the practise of gunnery with explanations of the process of firing various weapons and includes many diagrams, charts of weapons and projectiles and line illustrations of gun crews demonstrating the sequence of firing. An excellent overview of the subject.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.

After 1470 the art of casting greatly improved in Europe. Lighter cannon began to replace the bombards. Throughout the 1500’s improvement was mainly toward lightening the enormous weights of guns and projectiles, as well as finding better ways to move the artillery. Thus, by 1556 Emperor Ferdinand was able to march against the Turks with 57 heavy and 127 light pieces of ordnance.<br>
At the beginning of the 1400’s cast-iron balls had made an appearance. The greater efficiency of the iron ball, together with an improvement in gunpowder, further encouraged the building of smaller and stronger guns. Before 1500 the siege gun had been the predominant piece. Now forged-iron cannon for field, garrison, and naval service—and later, cast-iron pieces—were steadily developed along with cast-bronze guns, some of which were beautifully ornamented with Renaissance workmanship. The casting of trunnions on the gun made elevation and transportation easier, and the cumbrous beds of the early days gave way to crude artillery carriages with trails and wheels. The French invented the limber and about 1550 took a sizable forward step by standardizing the calibres of their artillery.<br>
Meanwhile, the first cannon had come to the New World with Columbus. As the Pinta’s lookout sighted land on the early morn of October 12, 1492, the firing of a lombard carried the news over the moonlit waters to the flagship Santa María. Within the next century, not only the galleons, but numerous fortifications on the Spanish Main were armed with guns, thundering at the freebooters who disputed Spain’s ownership of American treasure. Sometimes the adventurers seized cannon as prizes, as did Drake in 1586 when he made off with 14 bronze guns from St. Augustine’s little wooden fort of San Juan de Pinos.<br>
Drake’s loot no doubt included the ordnance of a 1578 list, which gives a fair idea of the armament for an important frontier fortification: three reinforced cannon, three demiculverins, two sakers (one broken), a demisaker and a falcon, all properly mounted on elevated platforms in the fort to cover every approach. Most of them were highly ornamented pieces founded between 1546 and 1555. The reinforced cannon, for instance, which seem to have been cast from the same mould, each bore the figure of a savage hefting a club in one hand and grasping a coin in the other. On a demiculverin, a bronze mermaid held a turtle, and the other guns were decorated with arms, escutcheons, the founder’s name, and so on.<br>
In the English colonies during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, lighter pieces seem to have been the more prevalent; there is no record of any “cannon.” (In those days, “cannon” were a special class.) Culverins are mentioned occasionally and demiculverins rather frequently, but most common were the falconets, falcons, minions, and sakers. At Fort Raleigh, Jamestown, Plymouth, and some other settlements the breech-loading half-pounder perrier or “Patterero” mounted on a swivel was also in use. (See frontispiece.)<br>
It was during the sixteenth century that the science of ballistics had its beginning. In 1537, Niccolo Tartaglia published the first scientific treatise on gunnery. Principles of construction were tried and sometimes abandoned, only to reappear for successful application in later centuries. Breech-loading guns, for instance, had already been invented. They were unsatisfactory because the breech could not be sealed against escape of the powder gases, and the crude, chambered breechblocks, jammed against the bore with a wedge, often cracked under the shock of firing. Neither is spiral rifling new. It appeared in a few guns during the 1500’s.<br>
Mobile artillery came on the field with the cart guns of John Zizka during the Hussite Wars of Bohemia (1419-24). Using light guns, hauled by the best of horses instead of the usual oxen, the French further improved field artillery, and manoeuvrable French guns proved to be an excellent means for breaking up heavy masses of pikemen in the Italian campaigns of the early 1500’s. The Germans under Maximilian I, however, took the armament leadership away from the French with guns that ranged 1,500 yards and with men who had earned the reputation of being the best gunners in Europe.