British Artillery Equipment
During the 1730s, John Armstrong, Surveyor-General of the Ordnance (1722–1742) designed 3 ranges of ordnance. Here, Armstrong specified the basic construction principles for a heavy, medium, and light range of guns. This 1736 Regulation resulted in a wide range of different pieces. In reality, it appears to have been employed as no more then a loose guide line. There was a complete redesign in 1743 and 1744, a partial redesign in 1753. Standardization of British ordnance was much less extensive than the one which was taking place in Austria during the same period.
For the years 1743, 1764, and 1766, there are excellent source materials relating to the types and characteristics of Britain's artillery — including surviving notebooks and writings of young officers in training. These were prepared under the umbrella of the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich Warren, home to the Royal Artillery and the Royal Military Academy (established 1741). Although working closely with the British Army, the Royal Artillery was an independent arm with a separate budget and administration. The Royal Artillery was one of the divisions of the Board of Ordnance which also supervised the training of military engineers. The Royal Corps of Engineers had not been formed yet. At this time, the Royal Military Academy's focus was on military ordnance and engineering. The training was heavy in mathematics and the sciences; the duration of the training could extend some three years. With very few exceptions, the Royal Military Academy did not educate Army officers. Taken together, the 1743 and 1764 documents bookend the British ordnance used during the Sevens Years' War. The most comprehensive representation of the physicality of the ordnance is found in McConnell (1998), but this work does not delve deeply into use. Hughes (1969) offers a broad view of both the physicality and use in a beautifully done and oversized volume. The Artilleriʃt's Companion by T. Fortune (1778) is an invaluable reference as the information presented best dates to around 1760, forward by Adrian Caruana. It is believed that Fortune was a non-commissioned officer who served in the Royal Artillery starting in the 1740s. This volume also includes numerous blank returns (standard paperwork) for many aspects and routines within the Royal Artillery that are absent from Adye's 1801 well-known work — The Little Bombardier, and Pocket Gunner (with numerous subsequent editions). The Artilleriʃt's Companion was "found" buried in the Royal Artillery Institution Library in the late 1980s. It was available to McConnell (1988), but not Hughes (1969).
Although the British Army and Navy adopted very different gun patterns, Britain was careful to have their services use the same ammunition stores. In comparison, the French Navy adopted the 18-pounder, while the French Army fielded the 16-pounder. In fortifications, particularly those overseas, naval guns were often placed, not dedicated garrison guns. This reality offered no problem to the British Army or the Board of Ordnance.
To limit the power of the standing British Army, the Army was responsible for the officers and men, but it did not control the weapons or arms. The artillery and small arms, including muskets, were under the separate authority and keep of the Board of Ordnance. Small arms would be issued to each of the regiments as routine, but special oversight was paid to artillery and all ammunition stores. For each campaign, the Board of Ordnance would assign independent paymasters and ordnance clerks that would accompany the moving columns. These clerks were responsible for the ammunition and gunpowder stores. Ordnance clerks would routinely develop detailed inventories of even the most mundane things, examine stores, sift damp gunpowder, and confirm shot size. These clerks were civilians. Until 1757, most military engineers assigned to campaigns were civilians without officer rank — professional men trained at the Royal Military Academy. Tradesmen necessary to maintain the ordnance in the field were also under the authority of the Board of Ordnance. Any specialized equipment, including ammunition wagons, were under the province of the Board of Ordnance, but the horses needed to move those wagons were the responsibility of the Army, Deputy Quartermaster General. In North America, the Board of Ordnance was quartered in Boston. All expenses incurred were carefully reported by the clerks and monitored in London. A negative consequence of this arrangement was the lack of training with live ammunition. In peacetime, the typical British soldier may fire only a handful of rounds per year; the regiments were simply not assigned enough gunpowder by the Board of Ordnance to allocate to more live firing. The intricacies and logistics associated with a British campaign are best examined in Cubbison (2015).
Adrian Caruana repeatedly warns in his writings that British ordnance and artillery tables had an extraordinarily long life (see Fortune 1778). What appears to be a table current to the year of publication may in reality be decades old. It is often difficult to identify the true date of the work or when it was first published or schooled. This is true for several of the tables presented in our articles on the British Artillery.
If well maintained, ordnance pieces could remain in service for more than 100 years, but this was a rare occurrence. Older bronze guns were decidedly rare. Bronze (brass) was a valuable commodity and any older guns would be melted down and recast into a new pattern or into a new use. However, iron guns could not be recast into a new pattern and the guns would accumulate in inventories. British colonies would routinely hold onto any guns that could be acquired, but then fail to maintain the guns. Lacking maintenance, iron guns rusted and were subject to bursting, but a rusted gun was better than no gun at all. The result of these circumstances was a broad mix of guns in the overall inventory, most being of the more recent patterns, but some guns dating to the late 1600s and early 1700s. The regular British Army wanted nothing to do with colonial artillery stores.
The information on ordnance from the early 1700s is scant. During the Second World War, many of the records and archives of the Royal Arsenal were lost in the bombings. Unfortunately, no copy of the 1716 Regulations (Albert Borgard) seems to have survived and any secondary information is decidedly rare. These 1716 Regulations were the first attempt to truly organize the production of British ordnance and their loss leaves a deep hole in our understanding. Much of the information we have about the 1716 Regulations is gleaned from drawings, but no real written account is known.
There was no horse artillery in the British army of this era.
In the 1750s, British field cannon (guns) were manufactured as 24-,12-, 9-, 6-, 4-, 3-, and 1.5 pounders (pdrs), the reference is to the nominal weight of the shot. Siege artillery consisted mainly of 24-pdr guns but heavy brass 12-pdr guns were also used. The British did not standardize gun lengths anywhere near to the degree the French or Austrians did.
The 42- and 32-pdrs were naval guns that were also positioned in important fortifications such as Gibraltar. At the Sieges of Louisbourg (1758) and Québec (1759), the British Navy off-loaded both 32-pdrs and their gun crews for use in the operations. In the first half 1700s, the British Navy replaced their iron 18-pdrs with 24-pdrs. In the mid-1700s, the 18-pdr was not utilized by the British Army, but it remained in the naval inventory as an uncommon iron gun. In the second half of the 18th century, the 18-pdr would again be adopted by both the British Army and Navy (new frigate designs).
British howitzers were manufactured as 10-, 8-, 5 1/2-inch, and 4 2/5-inch. They could use the same shells as the corresponding mortars.
British mortars were manufactured as 13-, 10-, 8-, 5 1/2-inch (royal - brass only), and 4 2/5-inch (coehorn - brass only). They could use the same shells as the howitzers.
With all things being equal, the longer the barrel length of a cannon, the higher the muzzle velocity and the greater the range; however, one quickly reaches a point where there is no benefit gained or there is a loss in range caused by the shot tumbling within the barrel. Within reason, the smaller the windage (the difference between the barrel diameter and the shot size), the greater the muzzle velocity and the greater the range.
Considerable effort was taken by most countries in matching the manufacturing quality of their cannon to that of their shot. The more precise and consistent the manufacturing of both the cannon and the shot, the smaller the windage that could be allowed. As such, each nation had its own standards. With some very minor variation between countries, gunpowder is a mixture of saltpeter (potassium nitrate), sulfur, and charcoal (≈ 75%, 10%, and 15%, respectively). The quality, uniformity, and fineness of the gunpowder were also factors with the British having among the best gunpowder manufacturing capabilities, using high-quality saltpeter derived from their overseas colonies, particularly India via the East India Company (Lavery 1987, Page 134; McConnell 1988, Page 274). Changes in how the charcoal was manufactured resulted in the production of the much more powerful "cylindrical" gunpowders of the Napoleonic Era, but the British were incrementally improving the quality of their gunpowder throughout the 18th century. Uniformity in grain size was particularly important as it allowed the powder to spark at the same instance. Muskets benefited with the use of a finer powder, but coarser powders were favored in larger guns. However, there was no guarantee that even British gunpowder would be of the highest quality; ensuring proper dry storage was a constant problem, particularly under damp conditions or in underground magazines. Gunpowder inventories and assessments of ship stores routinely suggested that the gunpowder was too damp to fully spark or spark simultaneously. With care, gunpowder stores could re-sifted, restoring at least some of the quality. At this time, the Board of Ordnance was not yet producing their own gunpowder or preparing the necessary charcoal. This would come at the very beginning of the 19th Century.
Gunners would vary charge weights based on intention, convenience, caution, or the simple desire to conserve powder stores. Even against structures, slower moving shot can be more destructive than faster moving shot; the damage depends on the materials, thicknesses involved, and the path of the shot. In the early stages of a siege, defensive fire might use only 1/6 the weight. Flat ricochet fire used less than a full charge. Since the 1720s, the maximum service charge was incrementally dropping, so the points when it "reached" 1/2 the weight and then 1/3 the weight is somewhat muddled. During the first half of the 18th century, this rule was also tied to gun size and caliber. In 1750, the maximum service powder charge for a heavy or medium gun would be between 2/5 and 2/3 the weight of the shot (40- 66%; Lavery 1989, Page 22). The larger iron guns used the lower charge of 2/5 the weight of the shot, 32- and 24-pounders. Iron 18-pounders would have a maximum service charge of 1/2 the weight of the shot. Some iron 9-pounders were rated at 2/3 of the shot weight. In a very broad generalization with expected exceptions (1750s), British heavy and medium cannon had a maximum service charge of 1/2 the weight of the shot, light guns 1/3 or 1/4 the weight of the shot. This last statement is more in line with McConnell than Lavery. Proof charges would be much greater. As gunpowder formulations increased in quality during the 18th century and the windage tolerances decreased, the full charge ratio was progressively reduced to avoid overcharging and bursting the gun. By the end of the Seven Years' War, the maximum service charge on all British heavy and medium guns had been reduced to 1/3 the weight of the shot — Board of Ordnance Regulations of 1764 (Muller 1768; McConnell 1998, Pages 281, 392 - 412; Caruana 1992, Page vi). Significantly, this change occurred before the development of the more powerful cylindrical gunpowders in the 1780s ― a clear recognition of the understrength barrels of most British guns, particularly any pre-1743 patterns. The French adopted the 1/3 maximum service charge in 1739 (Persy 1832, Page 13). Before this, the full charge was 2/3 the weight of the shot (Persy 1832, Page 20). This reduction of the maximum service charge, coupled with the adoption of solid casting, was central to increasing the quality and performance of the British ordnance.
British Artillery Ammunition 1780 is an authoritative and accessible work (Caruana, 1979). The most common ammunition was round shot, solid iron spheres. The controlling factor here was the diameter of the shot, not its weight — different ores and manufacturing methods yielded slight differences in metal density. Maximum and minimum diameters for each shot size were established and all shot would be measured against a pair of circular gauges, the high and low gauges. Shot could be decades old or show signs of rust and corrosion, but the gauges allowed quick verification even on campaign or on ship. Solid shot was cast, then reheated and forged over to reduce irregularities.
Canister shot (case shot) was an anti-personnel projectile. It was the next most common ammunition; tin or tinned iron canisters containing small shot packed in sawdust. Sea service and land service used different sizes and numbers of shot. The number and size of the shot varied ― a 6-pdr would have some 56 shot per case; a 24-pdr having some 85 shot per case; and a 32-pdr some 72 shot per case (land service). As the canister was tinned on the outside, it could be used with brass or iron pieces, guns or howitzers. There is some evidence that canisters were sometimes made out of copper.
Note: in comparison, the Brown Bess Infantry Musket fired a lead bullet of 0.69 inches in diameter. Derived from Carauna (1979, Page 15). Diameter calculations per this author.
|8-in||5 ½-in||4 2/5-in|
Note: derived from Caruana (1979, Page 15). Diameter calculations per this author.
Grapeshot was similar, but with larger balls. It was an arrangement of 9 larger iron shot set around a wooden spindle that was attached to a round wooden base of a specified diameter. It was then placed in a bag and tied in a specific pattern to secure the shot to the spindle. Iron ordnance, cannon and howitzers, could fire grapeshot. Because of the large shot size, grapeshot was not used with brass cannon for fear of damaging the barrel, but it could be used in the much shorter brass howitzers.
Note: grape shot not used with brass cannon. Derived from Caruana (1979, Page 18). Diameter calculations per this author.
Although round shot was the most common shot, naval ammunition stores also included a wide array of specialized shot designed to remove rigging and sails ― e.g., bar shot, chain shot, and link shot (see Henry and Delf 2004, Page 32).
Both the army and navy could use either grapeshot or canister shot; navy ammunition stores strongly favored grapeshot while army stores favored canister shot. Maximum range was limited to no more than 300 yards for small bore guns and field artillery, 500 yards for larger bore guns. Packaged shot was much more effective at ranges under 200 yards.
Field cannon used fixed ammunition. Here, the shot and a flannel bag containing the powder charge were attached to a wooden base by tin straps. The fixed ammunition was then placed in ammunition boxes for quick access and quick loading. Heavier guns, including any siege battery and garrison pieces, did not use fixed ammunition. The shot and powder were loaded separately. Based on intent, the gunner or officer in charge could determine what the gunpowder charge would be for the shot.
Shells are described in the articles on mortars and howitzers.
No information available yet
Brass/Bronze and Iron Barrels
Gun casting was a slow and tedious process as the mold itself was destroyed with each casting ― one casting attempt per mold (Hughes 1969, Page 26; Lavery 1987, Page 80; and Henry and Delf 2002, Page 9). Because of the variation generated using single molds, guns of the same pattern often varied in weight by several hundred pounds. The gun weights given here likely represent a "typical" gun for that pattern, but they do relate to a specific single gun. The full description for a gun would include dozens of precise measurements relating to the dimensions of the gun, but weights are often absent from these records. Artillery could be fashioned in brass or iron. Here, brass is really a reference to bronze, an alloy of copper and tin. True brass is an alloy of copper and zinc. With bronze, the percent of copper and tin would be varied based on need. Compared to cannon, bronze church bells would have a much higher percentage of tin in the metal and a lower specific gravity. At the time, gunmetal bronze was typically 90% copper and 10% tin with a trace of other metals. Today, the term gunmetal implies the addition of zinc (2-4%), but this is not the case in the 18th Century. Muller (1768, Page 3) lists the specific gravities for various metals: copper (9000), tin (7320), gunmetal bronze (8784), cast brass (8000), and cast iron (7425). A volume of gunmetal bronze is about 18% heavier than the same volume of cast iron, but bronze is more elastic. Metallurgical analysis demonstrates that the brass ordnance being cast at the time was "true" bronze only having traces of a zinc fraction and not "modern" gunmetal or red bronze (Meide 2002, Page 31 and McConnell 1988, Page 16). Both iron and bronze had merits as it regards ordnance, but each presented problems in terms of manufacture and performance.
Although bronze weighs more than iron, the volume of metal used in the manufacture of a brass (bronze) gun was significantly less than with a comparable iron gun. Simply put and maintaining the same bore diameter, the barrel walls and breech could be made thinner on a brass gun.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, brass (bronze) guns were highly favored because it was very difficult to cast iron into large gun molds without segments of the iron pour cooling before the full pour could be completed. Poured steels were too brittle for gun manufacture. Importantly, there were regional differences in the quality of iron ores in Britain with some finished metals being more brittle. In the mid-18th century, much of the iron ordnance manufacture was moved to Scotland from southeast England. This required many changes in gun manufacturing as the local ores were more difficult to deal with and innately more brittle (Caruana 1989, Page 13). The obvious shortcoming of iron guns was that they rusted, whereas brass guns did not. Both guns could burst, but the busting was "controlled" in brass guns. Iron guns were much more prone to catastrophic failure. Yet when needed, iron guns could be fired at higher rates than brass guns and at higher charges (greater range). If excessively heated, brass guns tended to lose strength and the barrels would "droop". To safeguard the gun crews from catastrophic failures, the barrel walls and reinforcements were thicker on iron pieces than the corresponding brass pieces with this added metal explaining why the lighter density cast-iron guns weighed more than the brass pieces of the same length and caliber. Traditionally, brass guns were at least 5-20% lighter in weight than the corresponding iron guns of the same bore and length. As such, they were strongly favored on the upper decks of ships, but the monetary cost was too great and the idea was abandoned in the late 1600s (Lavery 1987, Page 87). Brass mortars of the same length were even lighter in comparison, weighing some 40-50% less than iron. The "extra" iron was used to thicken the walls, allowing higher charges. When compared to brass of the same length, the maximum range of iron 10-inch and 13-inch mortars doubled, but at the cost of doubling the weight (Hughes 1969, Page 37). Even though the iron 8-inch mortar weighed nearly twice as much as the brass mortar, iron 8-inch mortars had a maximum range of 1,700 yards, only 100 yards longer than for a brass 8-inch mortar, suggesting the reinforcements were insufficient to further extend the range.
Brass cannon would use round shot or canister shot (tin or rarely copper cans filled with small iron shot), but not grapeshot. The bores of brass cannon would be heavily damaged by the larger grapeshot, precluding its use. The shorter barrels of brass howitzers would allow the use of grapeshot (Pargellis 1936, Page 480).
Due to the cost of the ores involved, brass (bronze) guns were many times more expensive to produce. Muller (1768, Page 53) states for the cost of a single set of brass guns, nine sets of iron guns could be manufactured, but these iron gun sets appear to be of shorter barrel lengths. In the end, the keen desire for brass guns was mitigated by the expense. For warships in the 17th century, the cost of brass guns might be a full third of the entire cost to build a large warship. By 1700, only the very largest warships were fitted with brass guns (Lavery 1987, Page 87). To supply brass guns to the very largest ships, any brass guns that could be found on smaller vessels or in land service were transferred. Muller (1768) was a keen proponent of iron over brass both because of manufacturing costs and several elements related to gun performance, particularly overheating under rapid and continuous use. Muller further maintained that brass guns performed poorly in the actual forcing of a breach. Period warships had an expected lifetime of maybe 15-years before the ship needed to be retired, so if well maintained, iron guns were not necessarily a poor match in this regard; if needed, these guns could easily be replaced. Under long-term garrison duties, especially in colonial use, neglected iron guns were problematic.
Muller's views on the merits of iron guns were not universal and often rejected. Often his "new" pieces were never actually put into service; "proposed" would have been the better word. In this regard, care is needed when referencing Muller's writings.
Carriages can be classified into two board categories — garrison and traveling. The lightest carriages were the standing garrison carriages (naval truck carriages). In Adye (1801, Page 58), the weights of garrison carriages for 32-, 12-, and 6-pounders are listed as 1,012, 672, and 308 pounds, respectively. These weights seem in error. For the revised edition (Adye 1813, Page 92), these same garrison carriages are listed as 1,710, 1,320, and 1,040 pounds, respectively. Traveling carriages weighed considerably more. There were two types of traveling carriages ― siege and field; these can be referenced as heavy and light traveling carriages, but these light carriages were not inherently light, just in comparison with bulky siege carriages. With traveling carriages, the carriages needed considerable iron reinforcement to withstand both the stress of firing and the movement across rough ground. Carriage weights varied depending on the size of the gun, a light 24-pounder would have a traveling carriage of some 2,600 pounds, scaling down to a light 6-pounder with a carriage of some 750 pounds. Especially as it regards small bore guns, the carriage weight could easily exceed that of the barrel. For the light and medium 12-pdrs (1800), the "weight in action" would be about 2,770 lbs. and 3,810 lbs., respectively (Hughes 1969, Page 73). Very representative of the Seven Years' War, the "weight in action" for a light 6-pdr would be about 1,340 pounds, more than twice the weight of the barrel itself ― 590 pounds (Caruana 1977).
By the 1750s, the British army gun carriages were equipped with elevating screws.
During the Seven Years' War, the British gun carriages were all double-bracketed carriages.
Gun carriages and the bodies of other artillery vehicles in Britain were made of oak, but the wheels were a cocktail: the hubs were of elm, the spokes of oak and the felloes of the rim were of ash, for the greater flexibility of that wood. Most wheels were standardized at 4 feet 2 inches in diameter.
All carriages were painted a bluish grey lead colour with ironwork painted black. The carriages of the smaller field guns carried ammunition boxes on each side of the trail or between the brackets.
Mortar beds consisted of a solid block of wood. The bed and its construction had to withstand the shock and recoil on firing. As such, these beds could be quite heavy. The barrel and beds of the larger mortars would be transported separately and then reassembled were needed.
The carriages of guns used in forts were very similar to naval carriages.
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Adye, Ralph Willet. 1802. The Bombardier and Pocket Gunner. Printed for T. Egerton, Military Library, Whitehall. By W. Blackader, Took's Court, London. Online.
Caruana, Adrain. 1979. British Artillery Ammunition, 1780. Museum Restoration Service. Bloomfield, Ontario.
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Dawson, Dawson and Summerfield. 2007. Napoleonic Artillery, Crowood Press.
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Fortune, T. 1778. The Artilleriʃt's Companion, containing the Diʃcipline, Returns, Pay, Proviʃion, &c. of the Corps, in Field, in Forts, at Sea, &c. Forward by Adrian Caruana. Museum Restoration Service, 1992. Bloomfield, Ontario.
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Digby Smith for the initial version of this article
Ibrahim90 for the information on the various models of howitzers
Ken Dunne and Christian Rogge for the global overhaul of the article in 2021