Renaissance Cannons: Mysterious and Misunderstood

It appears that 15th, 16th century cannons were conceptually superior to the ones used in the wars predating approximately 1840s. The name of the game here is stagnation and degradation. I guess, not all cannons were created equal, and some were better than others. Pseudo-historians, what happened to linear improvements resulting from research, development and practice? How come 450 years of warfare between approximately 1400 and 1850 produced no improvements to cannons? As a matter of fact, the cannons appear to have gotten less advanced. While I do think that some of the older cannons were not really cannons, and that some of the US Civil War weapons raise a few questions, this article is about a totally different issue: what happened to the progress?

1812 Cannon Example
They sure used the same barrel loading type in the US Civil War, I am not gonna go beyond 1812 with my examples. I think it is sufficient to satisfy the time gap, and I do not want to spend time digging through 1830s-40s wars.

1812 cannon.jpg

I will use the below Civil War related video though. It pertains to 1860s, and is supposed to demonstrate what a pain the butt it was to load a cannon as late as 1860s. They say it took a gun crew of six to load and fire.

For comparison, check out the loading of this 15th century cannon replica. This is how they loaded ~400 years prior to the above example.

A breechloader describes a firearm in which the cartridge or shell is inserted or loaded into a chamber integral to the rear portion of a barrel. The main advantage of breech-loading is a reduction in reloading time; it is much quicker to load the projectile and the charge into the breech of a gun or cannon than to try to force them down a long tube, especially when the bullet fit is tight and the tube has spiral ridges from rifling. In field artillery, the advantages were similar: the crew no longer had to force powder and shot down a long barrel with rammers, and the shot could now tightly fit the bore (increasing accuracy greatly) without being impossible to ram home with a fouled barrel. It also allows turrets and emplacements to be smaller (since breech loaded guns do not need to be retracted for loading).

Early Breechloaders
The very first cannons of the Middle Ages were breech loaded, with gunpowder and shot contained in pots dropped at the back of the barrel, but the poor seals made them dangerous, and they wore quickly and could not be scaled to larger weapons. Until the 19th century, only muzzle-loaders were used.

old_guns_1.jpg old_guns_2.jpg old_guns_3.jpg

Historical BS
I was generous starting my developmental time gap count with 1400s. As we can see, TPTB has 1300s. I do not believe in 1300s for multiple reasons, so they can have 1400s if they want. Anyways, I call BS on the below lack of development. This is not how progress works. Let's see what the narrative tells us.
  • Breech-loading swivel guns were developed surprisingly early, and were used from 1336 onward. They consisted of a small breech-loading cannon equipped with a swivel for easy rotation, and which could be loaded by inserting a mug-shaped chamber already filled with powder and projectiles.
    • As the loading was made in advance and separately, breech-loading swivel guns were quick-firing guns for their time.
  • Note: Although breech-loading firearms were developed as far back as the late 14th century in Burgundy, breech-loading became more successful with improvements in precision engineering and machining in the 19th century (see Dreyse needle gun).
  • The main challenge for developers of breech-loading firearms was sealing the breech. This was eventually solved for smaller firearms by the development of the self-contained metallic cartridge.
    • KD: Metallic cartridges will be revisited.
  • For firearms too large to use cartridges, the problem was solved by the development of the interrupted screw.
    • KD: This interrupted screw we will come back to.
  • Breech-loading swivel guns were invented in the 14th century.
    • The breech-loading swivel gun had a high rate of fire, and was especially effective in anti-personnel roles.
    • KD: LOL, they said "anti-personnel", like they had tanks to worry about back then. We are not gonna mention that we used muzzle-loading rifles in the 19th century. This is a cannon article after all.
Winner of the BS competition:
  • Around 1500, Europeans learnt how to cast iron, and shifted their cannon productions to one-piece iron muzzle-loaders. China started to adopt European breech-loading swivel guns from 1500 onward, limiting at the same time the production of their own muzzle-loaders, because of the high effectiveness of the breech-loading swivel gun as an anti-personnel gun, which to them was more interesting than the sheer power of a cannonball.
KD: Essentially the narrative tells us, that some time in the 14th century artillery masters invented breech loading weapons. They were super fast to reload, and were effective in warfare, but... They could not properly seal them, for which two solutions were found:
Check this stuff out: Steel rifled breech-loading swivel guns are known which were manufactured by the United States towards the end of the 19th century, and used in colonial theaters such as in Madagascar.

United States 30mm 1890 steel rifled breech-loading swivel gun.

Generous 300 (probably 500 in reality) years of technological stagnation should be inserted in here. Rather bizarre for the items being in constant use, don't you think?

From 1594 book






Source + larger image + other images



17th Century


The first attempts at increasing the range and precision of ordnance by rifling the bore, and thereby giving the shot a rotation vertical to the line of propulsion, date from the 17th century. There is a small rifled gun at Munich, manufactured in Nuremberg in 1694; it has eight grooves and a bore of about two inches diameter. During the whole of the 18th century, experiments were made, both in Germany and in England, with rifled cannon, some of them breech-loading. Though the calibers were small, the results obtained were very satisfactory; the English two-pounders in 1776, at a range of 1,300 yards, gave a lateral deflection of two feet only - a degree of precision which no other gun at the time was capable of approaching. In the same year, these rifled cannon were for the first time used for projecting oblong shot.
  • These experiments, however, remained for a long while without any practical results. The current of military opinion at that time altogether went against rifled arms.
  • On Rifled Cannon - Engels
  • One more time: Though the calibers were small, the results obtained were very satisfactory; the English two-pounders in 1776, at a range of 1,300 yards, gave a lateral deflection of two feet only - a degree of precision which no other gun at the time was capable of approaching. In the same year, these rifled cannon were for the first time used for projecting oblong shot.
    • Why would military care about accuracy and range, right?
And this here, as far as I understand, is a rifled cannon made in 1615. At least this is the way I understand it. Whoever speaks Russian, please help out.

Metallic Cartridges
Most early all-metal cartridges were of the pinfire and rimfire types. The first pinfire metallic cartridge metallic cartridge was invented by Jean Samuel Pauly in the first decades of the 19th century. However, it bore little resemblance to the modern rimfire and centerfire cartridges which would be invented in the mid- to late-19th century.
  • KD: I did not look for medieval primers, but as far as metallic cartridges go... they probably need to update the narrative. These do not function the exact same way today's do, but... these are metallic cartridges. There is nothing wrong with serving as a projectile as well, is there?
  • Pretty sure additional research would produce more information on the metallic cartridges.
Same 1594 book
...this is no paper...

The extremely fine and perfectly preserved Vienna breech loading wheel-lock pistol, ca. 1540. The bolt action breech loading systems have been employed with wheel-locks at least from 1540.



Interesting that the below 19th century pub was already providing the disinfo. Whether they simply did not know that these sectional cartridges were 200 years older than they though, or chose to misrepresent is irrelevant. Their way out was "in England"...



Wahrendorff Breech
In 1837 Martin von Wahrendorff patented a design for a breech-loader with a cylindrical breech plug secured by a horizontal wedge; it was adopted by Sweden in 1854. Independently, Giovanni Cavalli first proposed a breech-loader gun in 1832 to the Sardinian Army, and first tested such a gun in 1845.

Wahrendorff breech.jpg

This here is 1594 breech lock with no patent that we know of.


Screw Breech
Advances in metallurgy in the industrial era allowed for the construction of rifled breech-loading guns that could fire at a much greater muzzle velocity. After the British artillery was shown up in the Crimean War as having barely changed since the Napoleonic Wars the industrialist William Armstrong was awarded a contract by the government to design a new piece of artillery. Production started in 1855.
  • A screw breech is believed to have been invented in 1845.
  • "Armstrong screw" breech involved loading the shell and gunpowder propellant charge in a cloth bag through the hollow breech screw, lowering a heavy block into a slot behind the powder chamber and screwing the breech screw tightly against the block to lock it in place.
  • Rifled breech loader - Wikipedia
  • Interrupted screw - Wikipedia
Armstrong screw.jpg

If you remember from the beginning of this article, TPTB position was as follows:
  • The main challenge for developers of breech-loading firearms was sealing the breech.
  • For firearms too large to use cartridges, the problem was solved by the development of the interrupted screw.
In other words, up until 1845 it was, allegedly, impossible to seal the breech. Let us see if that was the case.
  • How many breech sealing techniques did they need to invents back in the day for our historians to notice that something is not right with their narrative?
  • How come it took at least 250 years to go from what we see below, to the "patented" inventions we see above?

Same 1594 book

Just like I said, there is a lot to research. Internet images pertaining to the early cannons provide some interesting results. They clearly knew how to seal the breech in the image below. Quite a cannonball this dude is loading into his cannon, right?


And while I'd love to see the source book of the above image, we have the below info published in the end of the 19th century. It probably has a little clue of where to look for the source of the above image.



Strange Stuff
As far as I understand, during the US Civil War, the Confederate Army was using some weird weapons. Of course, they all have their proper inventors. We can not go without those, but the fact remains. Reading between the lines, it appears that not everything was straight forward there.

Additionally, some of the cannons could be something other than cannons. In other words some older tech was either misused, or adopted for a different purpose.

The Confederate Revolving Cannon

The confederate revolving cannon was a cannon used in the American civil war (1861-1865) , designed by Henry Clay Pate for the confederate states army. The main idea was to increase the fire rate of the cannon. So Henry Clay Pate came with the idea of a revolving cannon. It's not so bizarre but the idea and its innovating design made it a unique weapon. This weapon was basically a revolving pistol in a larger scale. It could held and fire five rounds before being reloaded again.

Alia Mirabilis Machina
This peculiar "elbow-cannon" was designed by the Italian engineer Roberto Valturio in the 15th century AD. This drawing is from Valturio's military treatise called "De re Militari". Valturio names this bizarre cannon as "ALIA MIRABILIS MACHINA" and it's one of the infernal machines that he designed. The cannon ball of this weapon was a bomb made from two hemispheres. In the same book he had also designed another strange weapon which was a large dragon shaped chariot which bore cannons. It's uncertain though if these weapons like the elbow-gun were created or if it were product of Valturio's imagination. The shape of this cannon is so unusual that it's hard for someone to imagine that such weapon could had ever existed. My only guess is , if this cannon really existed, that it would have been used in the battlefield probably as a mortar, although it seems to me highly impossible.



Medieval Hand Cannon comment...


Non-Sense like this...

Cannon Carriages
This has to be the weakest point in the PTP narrative. As far as I understand, there is not a single 15th, 16th century cannon carriage matching the quality of the actual cannons. Not only do we appear to have no surviving 15th, 16th century carriages (I did not find any), we also can question the authenticity of the carriages presented in the list of the older books below. At least this is my belief.






I have hard time seeing somebody technologically advanced enough to produce cannons like the ones below, and simultaneously incapable to produce matching quality carriages for them.


This here is probably the only matching cannon stand but... I do not even know what it is. TPTB tells us it's a mortar.

ancient cannon_1.jpg

how those cannons were made...
This plate illustrates the busy interior of a cannon foundry. In the foreground on the right, a man is seated working on a set of cannons and looking out of the image towards the viewer. To the left another man chisels the top to a cannon and in the centre of the image two men work on the back of a cannon.
...circa 1580-1605...


Book Sources:


KD Opinion: Obviously I do not know, but I think we have two possible scenarios:
  1. We somehow inherited someone else's stuff. Some of those beauties were cannons, and some were not.
  2. Imagine our civilization loosing electricity forever (due to some catastrophic event). Cities are destroyed, nations are dead, industries are no more... Add to it inability to produce gasoline, or any other type of fuel we used to know. People start fighting for food, go into what we call "stone age", and then slowly start to recover. Years pass, and in the process they begin to re-use things which originally had a different purpose.
One way or the other, our current artillery related narrative makes little to no sense. Hopefully with time, the community is able to figure things out.

P.S. And this here is just a thought I'm entertaining. I'm a firm believer that we do not really understand the original power of the actual "antediluvian" cannons. Yup, I do think the earliest models could be from the other side. Not sure how feasible this would be, but who knows?


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