Ask BigJules: The Big Guns
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P J Duncan emailed:
‘I have a question concerning the big guns on navy ships in Kydd’s day. There seems to be any number of different ones. Can you explain which were used on what type of ship and what is the difference between a carronade and a cannon.’
Thanks for the question, P J.
Basically, the classification of the big guns came from the weight of the solid round shot (cannon ball) fired – 42 pounder, 32, 24, 12, 9 and 6 pdr. (Ashore the standard army cannon was only a 6 pdr.)
HMS Victory’s armament at Trafalgar was 30 x 32 pdrs, 28 x 24 pdrs, 44 x 12 pdrs, 2 carronades.
The 24 and 32 pdr were the standard gun in ships of the line; they were never found in frigates.
Frigates carried 12 or 18 pounders and smaller, plus carronades. Sloops and smaller ships had 9 pounders and 6 pounders with their carronades.
Carronades were game changers – they could fire up to 68 pound shot but could be carried on small ships and even boats. A carronade was a short lightweight gun that fired a heavy shot at a low velocity over a short range. Unlike a cannon, it was mounted on a carriage fitted with a sliding block to take recoil. They could be reloaded very quickly. Because of its destructive power at short range the carronade was known as the ‘smasher’ by Jack Tar. The name carronade comes from the Carron Iron Company in Scotland, where the gun was originally developed. It was first introduced into the Royal Navy in 1779.
So successful were they that several ships were fitted only with carronades, no long guns, notably the Glatton, which commanded by William Bligh of Bounty fame, fought heroically at Copenhagen under Nelson.