Explosively powered weapons are frequently called gunnery. Small arms are usually called firearms, side arms or infantry arms. In strict military terms, the word gun does not refer to small firearms, but to large artillery pieces like cannon that generally require a crew for their operation.
A general rule of thumb to distinguish between firearms and guns is that firearms are weapons of less than .60 inch caliber (0.6-inch or 15.24-mm bore) and all gauges of shotguns are classed as firearms. Nevertheless, the distinction between small arms and artillery is fairly vague and in common usage the term gun is frequently used to describe firearms. Several modern weapons with the word gun in their names such as shotgun and machinegun have further confused the distinction between firearms and guns. Æ
Types of Guns
After the discovery of black powder, new types of artillery such as cannon, mortars, naval guns, rockets and missiles came into use. There were many different names for these types of arms such as bombard, lombard, basilisk, culverin, pedrero and cannon-of-battery, to name a few. Different groups of names appeared at various times throughout the early history of powder-powered artillery. Some of these terms were used to describe specific types and functions of weapons. In modern times, artillery also includes rockets and missiles. Missile is sometimes used to describe any form of ammunition in flight. The word cannon and most other terms associated with artillery did not have consistent meanings until about the twentieth century. Æ
The term cannon generally refers to large caliber artillery pieces that use explosives as a propellant. Generally, cannon have long barrels in relation to their caliber and are aimed at elevations below 45°.
The terms culverin, cannon-of-battery and pedrero were used around the 16th century, to describe specific types of artillery. Culverins were long guns and the length of their bores were about 30 times its diameter. In this usage, the length can be expressed in calibres, or multiples of the bore’s diameter.
Cannon-of-battery were so named because they were primarily used to pulverize fortress walls. They normally had bores 20-25 calibers long. Pedreros were short, smooth bore guns that used stone ammunition and they had lengths around 8-10 calibers. They were normally used in siege and naval warfare.
There was a preference in siege warfare to cut into the walls of stone fortifications with cannon firing cast iron shot near the bottom of the wall. After this groove was made, stone shot, from either a pedrero or a trebuchet would be fired higher up to crumble the wall. Æ
A mortar is very similar to a cannon in principle. Generally, a mortar is a gun that has a short barrel in relation to its large caliber. In fact, the mortar derived its name from its similarity in appearance, at least in some examples, to the mortars used grinding. The first mortars known to have existed appeared around 1420 AD. Mortars usually launch their projectiles at very high angles, or angles greater than 45 degrees, and frequently have lower muzzle velocities and hence, shorter ranges. They have an advantage at being able to launch a missile over obstacles. There have been many variations on the basic mortar. There was widespread use of very large mortars during the American Civil War. Arms manufacturers have produced mortars in many variations. Æ
Howitzers are an intermediate between the cannon and the mortar, intended for long-range fire while elevated at up to 45°, or simply a cannon used when so elevated. Howitzers were usually made more mobile than cannon. The word comes from the Bohemian for catapult, houfnice, through German. Many of the names of artillery pieces come from earlier mechanical artillery. Æ
A rocket-launcher is a device that is similar to a mortar or cannon, but is usually much more portable. Rocket-launchers aim and fire rocket-powered projectiles. They normally have a longer barrel than a mortar and are much lighter than cannon, especially the wall thickness of the barrel, also known as a launch tube. Rocket launchers are frequently breech-loaded. There are many variations of rocket launches in use today. Some examples are as portable as machine guns while other types are fitted to tanks or aircraft.
Because the projectile has a rocket engine, greater ranges can be achieved and projectile velocities can increase after it leaves the muzzle. In addition, recoil is greatly reduced so that one person can fire this very powerful and lightweight weapon. In some cases, multiple staged rockets power the projectile, producing a softer launch. Rocket launcher projectiles usually carry an explosive charge and armor-piercing ammunition is frequently rocket-powered. The explosive charge of the projectile may also be designed in stages so that the armor piercing effect is greatly enhanced. In this case, the first charge pierces the armor and the second charge detonates moments later, hopefully inside the armor plate. Rocket launchers may be hand-held or fitted to a piece of equipment such as an aircraft or tank.
One of the most well known rocket launchers is the bazooka. Bazookas were developed to launch a new 2.36 inch caliber anti-tank rocket that was developed early in World War II and entered production in 1942. The Bazooka was five feet long and weighed only 13 pounds. It was a breech-loaded configuration with a smooth bore, a feature of most rocket launchers.
One man could operate a bazooka, but usually a second man loaded the weapon before the other aimed and fired it. Bazooka projectiles could attain velocities of over 25,000 feet per second. The bazooka revolutionized anti-tank warfare and it grew to 3.5 inch caliber by the Korean War. The later version could pierce armor plate about eleven inches thick at a range of 500 - 800 yards. The modern rocket launcher that replaced the bazooka is the 66mm rocket launcher. Its rocket is preloaded into a disposable launch tube.
Guns used on land are usually called artillery while guns used on ships are usually called naval guns. In most cases, there are not many major differences between the two and it is unnecessary to study the development of naval guns separately. One of the major differences during the early period of guns was simply that naval guns were equipped with a means of securing them to limit their rolling about. This was frequently in the form of an eye that a rope could be passed through. Gun carriages for naval guns could be a big problem in stormy conditions because if guns began to roll about they could batter and sink a ship. To prevent this, naval guns were secured by ropes. The ropes could then be connected to a counterweight and through the use of a block-and-tackle, recoil could be dissipated. By the time that navies began to build great battleships, guns were usually attached directly to ships. This became possible as gun makers found better ways to deal with recoil in the actual gun itself and ships began to be constructed of metal.
Not long after the introduction of guns, the potential for their adaptation to sea warfare was appreciated. In about 1509, the Venetian Navy equipped a fleet with guns mounted in the galleys of their ships. The oar-powered ships were deployed up the Po River to Ferrara (in present day Italy), where one of the first naval battles using guns ensued.
The guns aboard the Venetian ships were no match for the land-based artillery of the Duke of Ferrara, however, and the Venetian fleet was destroyed. This greatly increased the importance of artillery, but it also gave birth to an erroneous principle that lasted for another 400 years, the principle that naval guns were nearly always at a disadvantage to land-based artillery. This principle greatly affected the strategic and tactical use of naval guns until just before the birth of the great battleships in the 19th century. Some of the results of this were that navies concentrated on weapons for battle between ships and the use of naval forces for attacking land targets and supporting land operations was limited.
In the 1500s, a series of naval battles in the English Channel served to further define the tactical application of naval guns during this period. The British fleet engaged the Spanish Armada in the summer of 1588. The British relied on light guns (7.5 pound shot) with relatively long range in light and maneuverable ships while the Spaniards were equipped with heavy guns (about 17 pound shot) of short range in large, but less agile ships. The British tactics proved to be successful and they were able to inflict severe damage on the Spanish Armada while mostly staying out of range of the Spanish heavy guns. Furthermore, the Spanish guns quickly ran out of ammunition.
These experiences set the course for the application of naval guns up until the development of the great battleship in the late-19th century. In short, naval guns were generally of modest weight with relatively long range. Æ