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James Sterling using a cannon.

"What's that?"
"Cannon fire! Return fire!
Weatherby Swann and James Norrington[src]

A cannon was a large gunpowder firearm commonly used by ships and forts. This artillery weapon was the main defensive/offensive weapon on ships, although boarding other vessels was also common, as well as on battlefields all over the world.


Pintel and Ragetti behind the cannon

"Haul on the main brace! Make ready the guns!"
Hector Barbossa to the his crew[src]

Primitive cannons date back as early as 200 BC, but battlefield use was first reported on January 28, 1132. The weapon was used during the Hundred Years War, as well as aboard ships as early as 1250. By 1380, cannons mounted on wheels had been deployed.[citation needed]

Once the middle ages ended, cannons became larger and larger and more common than ever before. They made weapons such as siege towers and the like obsolete and castles less important. Forts started featuring cannon batteries as a main defense during the Renaissance.[citation needed] Cannons are defined by their pound rating (the weight of a single solid iron shot fired by that bore of cannon); common types ranged from 42-pounders, 32-pounders, 24-pounders, 18-pounders, 12-pounders, 9-pounders, 8-pounders, 6-pounders, and various smaller calibers.[citation needed]


Jack Sparrow using a cannon to escape HMS Endeavour.

"Ready on the guns!"
Will Turner[src]

Both merchant ships like the Edinburgh Trader as well as pirate ships like the Black Pearl and small Navy ships like the HMS Interceptor carried relatively light 6- and 4-pounders while big warships and forts normally carried much larger guns.

Normally, a cannon was crewed by five men,[1] but in case of a lack of crewmen, they could be handled by a smaller crew of two or three gunners.[2] [3] Normally, the cannons on a ship are located behind gunports on the sides, so the ship can only fire broadsides, but some ships, like the Flying Dutchman, posseses bow or stern chasers which allow them to fire in all directions. For instance, Hector Barbossa waited until the Interceptor was alongside before ordering the crew to fire, as cannons were not accurate enough to hit distant targets. Like most pirates, the Pearl's crew was too disorganized to make good use of them.[4]

Merchant ships used their cannons to combat against pirate attacks, and British Royal Navy and East India Trading Company ships often sunk hostile ships by gunfire. Pirates normally only tried to damage their victims in order to facilitate boarding, as their intention was to pilfer the ships and not to sink them. The same tactic was sometimes used by the Navy and the East India Trading Company.

Manning a Cannon[]

Cannons in the 18th century were muzzle-loaders, meaning they were loaded from the front. First, a pre-measured bag or sack of gunpowder is pushed into the cannon from the front, with a long stick called a ramrod. Then the shot is inserted and rammed down so it rests right in front of the gunpowder. Meanwhile, some loose gunpowder is placed in the touch-hole at the top of the cannon, and is then lit. The powder in the touch-hole, being right above the powder sack inside the gun, ignites the powder, creating a combustive explosion, and propelling the shot forward. After this, the inside of the gun is sponged in case of sparks, and the whole process repeats. It takes professional naval gun crews about 2-5 minutes to reload and fire a cannon, while pirate standards are usually firing a single broadside and then boarding if they are met with resistance.


Young Elizabeth Swann beside a carronade on the Dauntless.

During the 1730s, a new type of cannon was becoming popular, the carronade or simply smasher. This cannon was much thicker, much shorter, and much easier to man. It is operated the same way as a normal long gun, but doesn't need as many crew members. Carronades have very short range, usually the range of a pistol. Carronades generally fired very heavy 32-68 lb shot.



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