Naval Guns (1400 to 1650) - Things that make you go Boom



naval artillery has a long

if someone interrupted history in the

next few weeks we're going to look at

the rise and fall of ancient naval

artillery but for the minute we're going

to start to look at the heavy guns that

would characterize a good half

millennium of human naval combat the

spread of gunpowder weapons across the

world was gradual as starting out in

eastern Asia almost certainly in China

and then spreading south into the

western Pacific region and then south

west and west into India and then on

into what was then Persia and the Middle

East by the 1300s a gunpowder firearms

had spread to Europe and were being used

in a variety of battlefield and siege

conditions to batter down walls scare

horses and somewhat decisively bypass

Armour many of these early guns did not

fire what we would think of as

cannonballs the largest would fire a

large round shot usually made of stone

but smaller ones would fire either and

like an early form of shotgun or else

would project gigantic arrows and

sometimes with an inventive variety of

payloads attached to the head

there were also a number of major issues

with these early guns indeed a number of

the earliest handheld firearms deployed

to medieval battlefields resembled

nothing less than what we today would

think of us as a scaled-down cannon

attached to the other end a very long

stick this was because guns could be

made of bronze which was hideously

expensive and due to the ductile nature

of the material also had a limited

lifespan before work hardening caused by

the blasts made them dangerous and

they'd have to be scrapped all guns

could be made of iron now whereas a

bronze gun required a single intensive

casting along with a bit finishing an

iron gun was much cheaper and was often

built with knowledge adapted from barrel

making hence gun barrel unfortunately

iron guns also had a very distressing

habit of actively distributing

themselves and their crews across the

surrounding landscape on a worryingly

frequent basis unless they were so

heavily built that you might as well

have gone with the expense of a bronze

gun anyway and they were also remarkably

non-discriminatory in the people that

they killed several kings lost their

lives when their favorite guns just

decided that they were going to fire

themselves all over the place instead of

their projectile large-scale iron

working had not quite reached the level

of quality control necessary for the

reliable mass production of iron cannon

at anything approaching an industrial


now when it came to taking something

that involved fire explosives random

explosions and extremely heavy loads

aboard ships made of wood canvas and tar

most captains were understandably

reluctant but a few intrepid individuals

were determined to discover new and

interesting ways to disassemble their

enemies and within a few decades of

their appearance

gunpowder artillery began to show up

aboard various warships in small numbers

in Western Europe the first use of guns

aboard ships appears to have been

amongst an English fleet near the start

of the Hundred Years War although it

seems to have been more a novelty than a

widespread practice and it's unclear if

this was a deliberate attempt to create

a ship that was armed with guns or

simply a practical use of guns that the

ship was already carrying anyway for use

in a land campaign and those aboard had

simply decided to use them for deterrent

value or possibly some form of practical

engagement value the ship was also

notably carrying a single handheld

firearm back over in Asia things had

become a little bit more organized with

standardized guns in relatively large

quantities being used by the end of the

14th century and there were however a

number of further limits to the use of

naval guns at this time the ships

themselves were generally quite small

and at least in Europe mostly Klinker

builds this meant they couldn't support

many or especially heavy guns to start

with apart from anything else the holes

would begin to warp and cutting gun

ports could seriously compromised the

ship structure and survivability in high

seas finally and as a result of the

above the decks of the ships were

generally not strong enough to support

large numbers of heavy point loads thus

these initial guns had very limited

locations on a typical ship where they

could be deployed and would have to be

of a relatively light nature at least

compared to what was eventually to come

there were now two advances that began

to see the more widespread use of cannon

on the Klinker built ships of older

design the strongest points were in the

bow and stern where there was a greater

concentration of strong timbers and less

movement of the hull in these vessels

reinforced platforms could be

constructed over relatively small areas

that allowed for the installation of a

single large heavy gun or a few small

weapons on the relevant platform and

these were generally used for Shore

bombardment due to their normally fixed

nature and slow rate of fire although a

few installations had a small degree of

movement allowing them to adjust to

their horizontal aim without having to

change the course of the ship itself due

to the nature of the ship construction

in the areas where these kinds of ships

most often galleys were employed a lucky

hit from a shot with one of these guns

could see a similar type of ship fly

apart into planking and match wood with

a single well-placed hit but the greater

advancement was the development and

spread of carville built ships these

were larger more rigid and significantly

structurally stronger than the older

designs as such they were often also

largely or purely sail powered which

freed up the substantial internal volume

and whole area for away from oars for

other purposes such as guns even so the

primary method of ship-to-ship combat

remained at the boarding action with

heavy guns still mostly mounted on the

more difficult to maneuver to wheel gun

carriages that were effectively

unchanged from their land-based

counterparts relying more on friction

than anything else to prevent unwanted

movement around the ship and hence they

were relatively difficult to move around

at the best of times

reloading was a deeply complex process

that could in some cases involve sending

people on ropes climbing down outside

the ship in order to reload more common

were smaller single or two-man weapons

that we usually mounted to the ship's

sides or in a crow's nest these had

limited anti-shipping potential but were

good at taking out men and between them

the objective was to disorganize and

diminish the enemy crew prior to a

boarding attempt

in defense against the same kind of

action the for and after castles of the

developing galleons would also often

mount guns that faced back or forwards

across their own decks to provide a

crossfire against enemy boarders who

would often be resisted from these more

fortified areas of the ship the forward

after castles would also contain a

smattering of these lighter guns on the

broad sides and ahead and aft in order

to unleash volleys anti-personnel fire

from the vantage points that they

provided most ships of this period also

had a relatively short length to beam

ratio which limited broadside space but

also made them relatively agile and so

guns were generally distributed all

around the ship with no particularly

emphasis on a given facing since a ship

may both find itself attacking or

defending from almost any angle and

could usually turn to present a new face

in relatively short order galleys of

course were a completely different


with that said naval technology

continued to advance and a couple of key

breakthroughs appeared during the latter

part of the fifteenth and into the early

sixteenth century these were the naval

gun carriage a mounting that used for

small wheels instead of two large ones

at a friction brace this made guns much

easier to move around but necessitated a

complex rope and pulley system to both

restrain them when they fired and then

wheel them back out into a ready firing

position and also to prevent them moving

around on in unwanted directions whilst

the ship was underway this in turn meant

that reloading from inside the ship was

far easier and faster in the case of

muzzle loading varieties as well as

allowing the guns to be much more easily

adjusted for aim in battle situations

just as important was a system of

reinforcements for the decks of the


this allowed the carriage of not only

more but also heavier guns and also

allowed them these heavier weapons to be

carried a higher in the ship which made

both multiple gun decks and heavy

broadsides possible this particular

advancement is usually credited to the

Portuguese in the latter part of the

15th century as Portugal was a

major player on the oceanic naval stage

at this time the guns themselves also

consisted of two major types beyond the

iron and bronze divide and the size

variations which we'll discuss later

most iron guns built up in sections as

described previously were relatively

primitive breech loaders but there were

also muzzle loaders the new gun carriage

system made the reloading of these more

accurate and stronger muzzle loading

weapons a lot easier the increased

accuracy was partly down to the fact

that early breech loaders were not know

her being entirely properly sealed and

thus the force of the shot was somewhat

variable additionally the difference in

size between shot and barrel could see

what was by now normally a spherical

shot made of iron or stone and bounced

around on its way out of the gun the

more precise casting of bronze muzzle

loaders would reduce these problems

quite considerably with this spread of

practical naval gun batteries corpse of

Naval Gunners would now start to show up

as a standard profession aboard ship as

opposed to the small cadres of

specialists brought in at great expense

and supplemented by larger numbers of

relatively inexpert general crew that

had been the practice before still these

advances in technology and tactics were

not reflected universally in the

Mediterranean the galley with fore and

aft guns would evolve into the galley s

a strange hybrid that was somewhat akin

to a lower profile and elongated galleon

with a galley like a bank of oars with

their lower center of mass they could

concentrate large numbers of heavy guns

in therefore and after castles as well

as broadside guns above the ore deck as

well as having a full rig of sail this

allowed them to retain the wind

independent movement of a galley as well

as having many of the advantages at

least in theory of a sail powered larger

vessel like a galleon they indeed would

prove devastatingly effective in combat

in the mediterranean environment against

the fleet's of more conventional galleys

as their strong construction and large

size made the

daunting prospects at the best of times

and their heavy gun batteries were able

to lay waste to anything smaller than

them that happened to come into range in

this theater the great galleons that

cogs and hulks and round ships had

evolved into by way of the carrick in

the oceanic environments of western

europe were somewhat out of place their

dependence on sale in a highly variable

and often calm mediterranean environment

would see them without propulsion as

often as not which was something of a

disadvantage in battle and even when

they were able to get moving the lighter

galleys another local sail powered craft

could often just run rings around them

but at the same time they were an even

more formidable formidable obstacle than

a galius their high sides and large

dimensions making them almost

unassailable as they often would drift

somewhat bemused through conflicts where

they could devastate an enemy fleet that

strayed a bit too close but could also

be relatively easily avoided and

sometimes surrounded by smarter crews in

swifter ships that said boarding was

still a major factor in at this kind of

warfare partly as a result of operating

in both the Mediterranean and the

Atlantic and also due to the inertia

that often comes from being the top Navy

and the Spanish took galleons to the

extreme every oceanic European power

built bigger and more powerful ships

with the mary-rose the great Harry the

great Michael San quelled Baptista all

Devon Lubeck and so on exemplifying this

but it would be Spain in the ascendancy

on the back of wealth plundered from the

Inca and Aztec empires and the

surrounding regions that would extend

this to the final form of the great

broadside and then board galleon concept

with ships like the San martín San Juan

gran green in Westar Senora del Rosario

Dragan zona Trinidad val/val in Sara and

Santa Ana all either built in or for

Spain or else requisitioned from vassals

these ships would all be present in the

famous Spanish Armada and

exceeded a thousand tons displacement

making them absolutely huge ships for

their time whilst other powers would

generally try to keep up necessity is

the mother of invention and a number of

navies found themselves going in other

directions the Dutch for instance simply

couldn't build such massive vessels they

possess the technical capability and

indeed the seamen ship but the ships

themselves were their towering castles

heavy gun payloads and are thus deep

drafts simply were unusable in the

shallow Dutch waters the english are

vastly economically out competed by a

nation that could bring in treasure

ships so full of gold and silver that

they sometimes would use the silver to

literally replace other ballast on their

yearly voyages were like was forced to

look elsewhere and so in both of these

countries and others a smaller and

faster vessel began to develop the

so-called race built a galleon which

also traces its origins back to vaguely

legitimate but mostly piratical activity

undertaken by independent sailors from

these nations who wanted a share of

spain's pickings this type of ship would

cut down the for and after castle and

reduce the numbers of troops present

instead increasing the number of guns

and gunners employing considerably more

heavy guns on the four-wheeled gun

carriages starting a trend towards gun

power being the primary deciding factor

in naval engagements to be clear this

was a far cry from later line of battle

tactics although some engagements by the

time of the Armada had already seen the

early use of these methods the method of

fire at this time generally was to give

a broadside and then wheel to fire the

forward guns than the other broadside

and then the stern guns Menace off a

carousel fashion in theory by the time a

ship came around again the first

broadside would have reloaded and the

objective was ultimately still to board

the enemy in most cases but by using the

ship's lower profile and greater agility

to keep the range open the greater

firepower would hopefully batter the

me ship and crew down to the point that

the small but fresh boarding parties on

the race built ship would have a

relatively easy job in overwhelming any

survivors it should also be borne in

mind that whilst these could be

described as heavy guns relative to the

anti-personnel weapons found in

relatively large numbers on earlier

ships they mostly still were not the

kind of heavy guns that you might expect

in a classic age of sail vessel there

was also the fact that due to the

aforementioned widespread nature of

anti-personnel guns just listening a

number of guns can be misleading in this

kind of time period especially if

someone who's more familiar with age of

sail warships for example the great

Harry or Henry Grass Adyar at various

times was recorded as carrying well over

a hundred and fifty guns a number that

wouldn't be matched in first-rate


until pretty much the middle of the

nineteenth century if at all however

these were not 150 anti-ship cannon they

were in large part small one and two man

anti-personnel weapons very few of those

guns would qualify as anti-ship weapons

in any way shape or form

whilst the Spanish Armada incident

certainly seemed to vindicate the

concept it was not the immediate

downfall of the galleon there is

sometimes portrayed the English fleet

was not able to decisively defeat the

Spanish with guns alone they certainly

did heavy damage and they're voided

defeat themselves but it was a

combination of a weather a lack of vital

equipment due to the response to a fire

ship attack and the damage done by the

guns that cumulatively would finish off

the Armada the later loss of the revenge

which was Drake's flagship at the time

of the Armada battle itself although its

loss happened under a different command

as well as other encounters emphasized

that these ships still had their limits

in no small part due to the more

numerous guns aboard these ships still

being as we said relatively lightweight

if somewhat anti-ship devices it would

need another major war or series of Wars

the anglo-dutch Wars to really embed a

line of battle tactics as the standard

and major deciding factor in naval

combat and this needed a change in

design from the relatively beamy ships

of previous entries to something still

longer this of course meant

proportionally more side compared to bow

and stern area which in turn meant more

space for broadside guns and also made

ships less agile thus requiring the

protection of their fellows in action to

prevent them from being raked and hence

necessitating the development of

squadron line tactics but in all this

guns had also proliferated in size type

and role by the time the prototypical

first rate HMS sovereign of the seas are

finally rolled around

she was stuffed with almost every kind

of gun imaginable to gunsmiths of the

past couple of hundred years now to give

you just some idea of how varied

shipboard guns at this time could be

let's just say Schiphol guns of the

period included but were not limited to

the following and cannon and

water siege cannon seed water rippled

ribald a Quinn Rabbinate or robinette

Robin serpentine Alcon balconette minion

demi Seca Seca Demi cauldron culverin

culverin bastard demi cannon cannon

bastard cannon cannon serpentine cannon

a royal header arrow swivel gun bombard

and basilisk there are also a number of

qualifiers two gun types again including

but not limited to cut fortified and

drake and that was just english guns the

spanish french and basically anyone else

with any kind of major interest in sea

power had their own systems for

designation and could divide up the

categories that were given just now even

further and all of these guns had

different uses from small anti-personnel

weapons through two massive smashing

weapons to long-range high-velocity guns

that were designed for accuracy now I'll

briefly discuss some of the major types

so this will help draw a line under this

era of naval guns before we will move on

in the next video to the age of sail

proper the first thing that you will

have noted in there is that cannon is

not the catch-all term that it would

become in later times it was merely one

of many types of naval gun so the

qualifiers first a cut was a gun that

was shortened or its bore and shot

weight compared to the average gun like

the sawn-off shotgun of the naval

firearms world a fortified gun was like

the cut somewhat short for its overall

war but this type of weapon was created

by making the gun disproportionately

more substantial than average as

compared to the cut which was well a cut

add-on weapon and then you have the

Drake which was a gun that was made

lighter than average for its size

usually with somewhat thinner walls the

drake in particular was notable as it

meant that you could carry either larger

guns or more

guns than the ship the in question could

typically carry which was something that

would see a bit of a resurgence in the

19th century a US Navy ship of the line

now as for the guns themselves in

ascending order of size approximately

let's have a look at some of these the

serpentine was a small relative of the

culverin it was a high end weapon but it

was designed for anti-personnel use due

to its relatively small size the Falcon

was a slightly larger anti-personnel and

small boat weapon it was just about

large enough to fire a grape shot as

opposed to a single single shot

generally speaking it had a similar

relationship to the cannon as the

serpentine it did to the culverin thus

making it an iron gun as opposed to the

serpentine which was generally a bronze


there was the Falcon ette which was just

a smaller version of the Falcon and then

we had the minion now with a shot weight

of around five pounds this was the

smallest gun that up until the Armada

era was regarded as being a useful

anti-ship weapon a great many guns that

were carried on smaller and faster ships

would be minions with Falcons or Falcons

being used to cover the anti-personnel

role the deme Saker was roughly

equivalent to the minion where the

minion was the iron gun and the demi

Seca was the bronze weapon the Saker was

a medium weight version of the culverin

it fired a slightly heavier shot than

the minion with a reasonably larger

powder charge which gave it

significantly more striking power and

range then you have the Demi culverin

this was a scaled-down culverin that sat

between a seka

and a full-size culverin the Culver in

itself was a long barrel high-velocity

weapon regarded as a first class gun and

he preferred if someone expensive

armament for large ships due to their

longer range and superior accuracy

they were almost indelibly bound cast in

during at the medieval period then you

have the amusingly named culverin

bastard and boy is that gonna get this

video d monetized if I have to say that

enough times a hybrid weapon that was

more of the weight and size class of a

demi culverin but would fire a much

heavier shot with a minimally increased

powder charge because of this mix of

near culverin shot and near Demi

culverin powder it attracted the name as

it was an unholy crossbreed of the two

but it allowed you to fire a relatively

heavy all were on a relatively smaller

platform as compared to a full culverin

then you have avid ME cannon like the

Demi cauldron this sat between Annie

Cannon and in this particular cases and

mostly iron gun the minion although due

to the starting point of the cannon as a

gun with a relatively heavy shot weight

even a demi cannon would often fire a

shot that was heavier than that of a

full-sized culverin although with

considerably less accuracy and range

the cannon was a general-purpose gun

usually made of iron and regarded as

something of a common or second-class

weapon compared to the culverin it was

designed to fire a relatively large shot

using a medium to low charge of powder

in large part due to the recognition of

the limitations on iron guns of the

period ironically enough relative to the

culverin the cannon occupied the slot

the in many ways that the Karen aid

would later come to occupy in relation

to what would commonly be called ships

cannon in the classic age of sail the

bastard cannon much like the culverin

bastard was a hybrid of the demi cannon

and cannon on long pretty much the same


the Canon serpentine was an attempt to

blend the cheapness and heavy shot of a

cannon with the longer barrel of a

culverin without the increased thickness

it had a slender appearance and hence

the name and would normally be the gun

you wanted to stay as far away from as

possible since he packed a fair amount

of powder and very large shot into a

fairly large bore but was made of iron

as opposed to bronze then you had the

cannon royal or cannon Royale this was

the largest gun that you might

reasonably expect to find afloat it

fired an extremely large and heavy shot

that was not particularly manageable for

this reason it wasn't very common and

more often it would be found as a

forward fixed gun for sieges or perhaps

a prestige piece that actually had

relatively little practical value as

this type of gun was more often found in

siege trains on land the pedrera was a

relatively large gun that sat between

culver ins and cannons in terms of pore

size but was specifically noted as

primarily intended to throw stone shot

and thus it could be made considerably

lighter compared to a culverin or cannon

for its bore size due to the fact that

stone shot weighed considerably less

than an iron ball of the same size most

accounts that relate to prod raros

either note the extreme bravery or

recklessness of somebody who tried to

fire a Potrero using a much heavier iron

shot or else were just plastered with

warning saying never never ever do that

so it was in fact possible to have a cut

demi culverin drake that would indicate

a lighter weight version of the culverin

firing an eight to nine pound shot that

had been cut down to have a shorter

barrel now as indicated previously and

you might appreciate somewhat more from

that listing there were two lines of

guns more expensive high-quality longer

range weapons generally made a bronze

which were the co-variants acres and

serpentines and the cheaper slightly

more prone to explosion but much more

easily accessible weapons made from iron

that nonetheless could fire considerably

heavier shot at the upper end of things

these being the cannons minions and

falcons along with their derivatives now

of course gun shot and charge weights in

any list are only approximations

especially in this period when

standardization very much was not a

thing and not only did different nations

use different rating systems but even

guns listed as a given type it might

vary considerably in the three weight

categories you might find the odd iron

culverin or bronze cannon they're as

around as well and that's before we got

into subdivision systems where you might

find anything from half a dozen to two

dozen further variances on what exactly

constituted a cannon or a culverin

despite the limitations of iron the iron

guns were typically less massive for

their bore than the bronze guns which

was compensated for by considerably

smaller charges in proportion to shop

way to thus giving a greater margin of

safety which reflected issues with iron

construction for their guns at at the


as weird and wonderful as that system

was there were two major flaws one being

the labyrinthine nature of the various

national rating systems resulted in

dozens of different powder charges and

shop weights as well as shot sizes being

needed for every single ship that

carried more than a couple of dozen guns

and getting it mixed up could be

absolutely disastrous as mentioned an

iron ball in a pedrera could easily

cause the gun to explode on ignition of

the powder a cannons charge in a

culverin would result in the ball not

really traveling far enough or with

enough energy to reach an enemy ship or

do any real damage if it's somehow made

it whereas a cauldrons charge in a demi

cannon would create a gigantic iron pipe

bomb and trying to cram a sakers ball

into the similar sized but slightly

different Falcon would simply result in

an inability to load the gun which

wasn't particularly helpful in battle

so as a result has the 17th century drew

on and large fleets of dedicated

warships and line of battle tactics

began to standardize so too with the

guns to a certain degree this was helped

by the change to the a primarily gun

based approach to battles and many of

the small pieces that would sit halfway

between anti-personnel and anti-ship

weapons were no longer required

additionally the reliability of

ironworking for the production of naval

guns was constantly improving and so

larger numbers of relatively

standardized iron weapons that probably

wouldn't explode and could begin to

approach the performance of bronze guns

began to appear bronze itself also

became ever more expensive but it would

persist for the largest guns which were

both the most prestigious and the most

dangerous and these would be installed

on flag ships and the like where their

additional power was appreciated and

their costs somewhat justified further

the various terms for guns began to die

out with the term cannon and gradually

coming to apply to most naval guns

albeit that the simple gun was just as

common the irony of this was that over

time the 42 pounder which was the most

common shot wait for a cannon in the

medieval classification would eventually

die out as 42-pound shot was just a bit

too heavy for easy management in a

Seaway in battle in a ship of the period

the 32 to 36 pounders that would form

the general heavy gun armament in a

typical engagement in a classic age of

sail ship of the line battle would

actually in this period have been

defined as demi cannon but all that was

for the future but now we'll wrap up

here having taken a journey from the

first guns aboard ships to the dawn of

the line of battle era

the series will continue later this year

and with three further sections guns of

the age of sail guns of the age of steam

and iron and finally guns of the age of


sit for this video thanks for watching

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