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Author Topic: Cannons in late medieval warfare?  (Read 1985 times)

Offline Charlie_

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Cannons in late medieval warfare?
« on: August 13, 2016, 05:05:52 PM »
I was wondering if anyone here as any thoughts / knowledge in the role of field artillery in late medieval warfare, in particular how effective (if at all) they really were.

Whenever I read mentions of field artillery, I never actually hear about them having that much of an impact on the battlefield. Note that I am specifically taking about the lighter guns used on the battlefield, not the heavier siege guns.

Were they widely used? Reliable or not? Able to inflict large amounts of casualties, or no more than a few handgunners would? Did their long range give them a notable advantage? Was it more of psychological advantage? Or was it more just a case of the commanders wanting the latest shiny technology?

I should also say that I'm not very knowledgeable on warfare of the 17th century onwards, where field artillery took a much larger role on the battlefield, so perhaps anyone with knowledge of later eras could inform a humble medievalist on the general logistics and effectiveness of big guns!

It seems from what I've read (and admittedly that doesn't extend much beyond Osprey books) that armies of the 15th century often featured artillery, but apart from sieges I don't really see much evidence of them being that important in battle.

The reason I really want to know is because I'm writing my own wargame rules, and don't really know how effective they should be.

Offline Bergil

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Re: Cannons in late medieval warfare?
« Reply #1 on: August 13, 2016, 05:20:05 PM »
my most in-depth look at medieval artillery was on wikipedia so probably best to take whatever knowledge I gleemed from that with a bit of salt.

There's obviously the early use of a small hand held cannon by the Chinese but other than that I think battlefield use started to see small swivel type cannons employed. What one might call a deck sweeper on a ship or something like that. But that was only really one country which I think was in Eastern Europe. Other than that cannons were pretty much just siege weapons.

Hope that helps!

Happy for wikipedia to be proven wrong.

Offline Patrice

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Re: Cannons in late medieval warfare?
« Reply #2 on: August 13, 2016, 06:49:24 PM »
Hanguns, and large siege "bombardes", appear in Western Europe in the mid-14th century.

Field artillery ("couleuvrines") appear from the mid-15th century onwards, and were effective in some cases. The French artillery seems to have been rather effective at Castillon 1453; and after the takeover of Burgundian armouries by the French after 1477, France almost became a superpower in the late 15th/early 16th century.

Late 15th century artillery was effective, perhaps not by the real number of casualties inflicted, but by its effect on troops deployment on the battlefield: it could fire at more distance than any other weapon.

At Saint-Aubin-du-Cormier 1488 (the last medieval big battle fought by a Breton army vs a French army) the French artillery fire caused a mercenary unit in the Breton line of battle to become uneasy; this unit moved aside. It opened a gap in the line, where the heavy French cavalry (gendarmes) did charge.

...And this battle is the reason why Brittany now is a part of France...
:'( ...so it's an answer to your question... ::)

Offline MamlukRaider

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Re: Cannons in late medieval warfare?
« Reply #3 on: August 13, 2016, 06:53:44 PM »
Nice question I know that the English used gunpowder artillery at Crecy in 1346, the Jin dynasty deployed handcannons against the Mongols and the Sung during the 13th century which is medieval. If you are focusing on Europe then the Hundred Years' War from Crecy onwards is a good starting point, Hussite Wars saw use of cannon wagons and peasant handgunners against Knights. I'm sure the Italians used cannons during the conditerre and they would of caused panic for infantry especially.  ;D

Offline Charlie_

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Re: Cannons in late medieval warfare?
« Reply #4 on: August 13, 2016, 07:48:27 PM »
I suspect that the proportion of casualties caused was comparatively minor (when compared to casualties caused by other, quicker firing and more accurate) missile weapons such as bows, and also hand-to-hand combat. My feelings are that they were much more likely to be a morale weapon. In our 21st century we are used to artificial sounds but to medieval sensibilities it would have been quite literally awesome and terrifying. Not to mention the concussion of the actual blast.

Good point, and one I had considered. For wargame rules, something like they could cause a unit to take a morale test or flee. But when should they have to test, do you think? On taking a certain % of casualties? On taking ANY casualties? On simply be in close proximity?

Quote
Used at close range, mind you, with the barrel filled up with stones, metal scraps, and other odds and ends, then the damage they could cause would have been significant.

Yes, that's surely a worthwhile use for them. In wargame rules terms, I think I'll just say they can be treated as X number of handguns at close range.

Quote
As for reliability - the Scottish king, James II, was killed by an exploding cannon at Roxburgh...

Ha, I didn't know that!  o_o

At Saint-Aubin-du-Cormier 1488 (the last medieval big battle fought by a Breton army vs a French army) the French artillery fire caused a mercenary unit in the Breton line of battle to become uneasy; this unit moved aside. It opened a gap in the line, where the heavy French cavalry (gendarmes) did charge.

Interesting. That's something I had considered whilst brainstorming rules - having artillery directed at a certain point on the battlefield could cause the enemy to avoid that point, which could make the guns worth taking even if they never cause any casualties!


More on my rules system.... It's akin to Warhammer Ancients in terms of scale and basing - it is for individually based (20mm square) models formed up into units, both close formation (ranks and files) and open formation (1" apart).
The WAB rules for cannons actually worked quite nicely I thought, but they are not the route I want to go down (guessing ranges, bouncing cannon balls, needing unqiue dice, etc).
I'm thinking if a unit is hit by a cannonball, it should take a certain number of automatic casualties. You shouldn't survive a cannonball to the face, but at the same time one cannonball is going to kill that many people on its own. So something like D6 auto kills to an infantry unit in close formation (up to a maximum of the number of ranks), D3 (or D3-1) for a unit in open formation. So several cannons firing straight into a mass of ranked up infantry is gonna cause some damage, but one cannon firing against some light skirmishing infantry isn't really go do anything noteworthy.
I'd like some sort of random factor so that a shot can miss and hit the wrong target. Rather than guessing ranges like in WAB, I'm thinking the player just nominates any point he has line of sight to (hopefully the centre of a big unit) and rolls one dice, consults a chart... Results range from a simple misfire (nothing happens) to a direct hit, with results in between involve scattering, overshooting or undershooting a random distance. If the shot lands on any unit (regardless of where in the unit it lands), that unit takes the randomly determined number of casualties as described above.
Here's the thing - the player must choose one point to aim for at the start, and whether the first shot lands dead on or scatters randomly, the point it actually lands is where the crew have the gun set up for. It takes a turn to re-align to a new target, or adjust to try and hit the originally intended point again. So that means... If the first shot scatters randomly and lands NOT where player originally intended, they can continue to fire at that point without re-aligning towards the actual point of contact.
So once the first shot(s) are fired, it will be clear to both players where the cannonballs are landing, and whether they are accurate or not (ie how good the gunners are) is effectively random. Following that, one player might be avoiding a certain part of the battlefield, or the other player might be wasting time realigning his guns and berating his gunners to do it properly. Either way it should effect the battle, but the effect won't rely on huge swathes of casualties.

Offline levied troop

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Re: Cannons in late medieval warfare?
« Reply #5 on: August 14, 2016, 07:02:00 AM »
I'm treading on Stuart's field of expertise here, but Cruickshank's 'Henry VIII and the Invasion of France' notes 4 main types of gun, 3 of which are concerned with siege work but the 4th type was used for anti-personnel work in the field, most commonly the organ gun.  Cruickshank's says that there were more of this type of weapon than all the types of siege cannon and that there were 40 organ guns in each of the three wards of the English army.  This strikes me as a higher number than I'd expected for 1513 and suggests that these weapons were becoming quite common. Recent  excavations at Bosworth (1485) have shown a high proportion of artillery balls fired, which also suggests a more common usage.

Henry VIII is also noted as aiming siege cannon personally in 1513 so he might have shared the fate of James II.  Perhaps a rule placing the senior commander close to the artillery park with a random chance of sudden death by BANG! might be required?  :)
The League of Gentlemen Anti Alchemists
(We Turn Gold into Lead)

Offline Arlequín

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Re: Cannons in late medieval warfare?
« Reply #6 on: August 14, 2016, 09:47:19 AM »
If it's of any help, the cannon balls recovered at Bosworth seem to identify ten different pieces (obviously there may be more shot out there, or some may have been ploughed up and removed over the centuries), ranging from 30mm to 94mm. Possibly the 30mm ones might have belonged to 'organ guns' or 'ribaudequins' as they were known.

The weapons may have been less accurate and somewhat shorter ranged (metallurgic and powder tech was somewhat primitive), but the effect by size of shot would be somewhat different on whatever it hit than 19th Century round shot would. Lead is denser than iron, so a lead ball of 93mm diameter weighs about 9 lbs, despite being the same dimensions as a Napoleonic 6 pdr (cast iron) shot. Even the small 30mm balls would weigh in around 1.5 lbs.

While some of the shot were solid lead, most were composites, with either an iron cube, chunks of flint, or a large pebble within them; I would presume so as to make them lighter. I imagine that with the flint ones especially, this might cause some 'wobble' in flight to say the least. Certainly when the shot hit hard ground for the first time it would have been quite deformed and would likely not have bounced in a wholly straight line. Presumably the ones found at Bosworth hit soft ground and were buried as a result.   

As far as noise goes, if that was a factor then it is likely to affect your own troops more; the enemy were after all some 500m away at least. I have to admit that the 'crack' cannon produce, even behind them some 30 feet or so, has made me 'jump' in the past, even though I have been expecting it.

Offline mrtn

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Re: Cannons in late medieval warfare?
« Reply #7 on: August 15, 2016, 09:45:32 AM »
While some of the shot were solid lead, most were composites, with either an iron cube, chunks of flint, or a large pebble within them; I would presume so as to make them lighter.

I would presume it's just to save on lead. "Oh, did that make the shot go wobbly? We had no idea!"

Offline Arlequín

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Re: Cannons in late medieval warfare?
« Reply #8 on: August 15, 2016, 10:28:55 AM »
Certainly with 'windage' between barrel and shot, the instability of the shot itself pales somewhat... so yes, sighs of relief all round that the thing didn't blow up when they fired it and when your target is a mass of men, a few feet in any direction is not really an issue.

 :)

 

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