Naval Cannon Types

Early breech-loaded

This first naval cannons were breech-loaded and made of wrought iron. These primitive guns were tied to their carriages with rope, and they had limited range and performance. Sometimes round stones were used as cannon balls, but later on, during the 16th century, iron cannon balls became standard.

Twelve wrought iron guns in their carriages are still laying untouched on the wrecksite of the 16th century Unidentified Kravel off Stockholm. According to archaeologist Jon Adams, this is the world's largest collection.

breech-loaded wrought iron gun from the Mary Rose (1545)

breech-loaded bronze gun from the Mukran wreck (1565)


From the 16th century, cast bronze guns became common. First they were breech-loaded, later muzzle-loaded. The bronze guns were so expensive that they were the first objects to be salvaged from sunken ships, and already in the 17th century, diving bells were used for such salvage. In the 18th century, the production switched to the cheaper iron guns. Also in the 18th century, rifled barrels were introduced, improving range and precision.

muzzle-loaded French bronze culverin (c 1520), Azores

bronze gun from unidentified kravel (c 1520), Swedish east coast

second bronze gun from unidentified kravel (c 1520)

muzzles of both bronze guns from unidentified kravel (c 1520)

one of the remaining cannons

bronze gun from the Vasa (1628)

archaeologists Jonas Ferenius and Bo Wingren investigating a Vasa gun carriage

gun from the La Salle wreck

bronze gun from La Belle (1686)

Gustav Adolf

iron gun from Gustav Adolf, sunken in Finland in 1788

gun carriage of Hedvig Elisabeth Charlotta (1790)


Modern breech-loaded

In the mid-19th century, rifled breach-loaded guns were introduced. An early example was HMS Warrior (1860), carrying ten 110 pounder guns. Around the same time, old-fashioned cannon balls were replaced by more modern-looking projectiles.

Per Åkesson, November 1999

Related texts


Link in Swedish / Norwegian

Images courtesy Mary Rose Trust, the Vasa Museum, Texas Historical Commission, Paulo Monteiro, Baltic Memorial Society, Maritime Museum of Finland. Carvel gun photos by the Swedish Police. Page rev jul '12

To Main Page Back to Nordic Underwater Archaeology

<bgsound src="../pic/ljud/gun4.wav">