By the middle 1400's the little popguns that tossed
one- or two-pound pellets had grown into enormous bombards. Dulle
Griete, the giant bombard of Ghent, had a 25-inch caliber and fired a
700-pound granite ball. It was built in 1382. Edinburgh Castle's famous
Mons Meg threw a 19-1/2-inch iron ball some 1,400 yards (a mile is 1,760
yards), or a stone ball twice that far.
The Scottish kings used Meg between 1455 and 1513 to
reduce the castles of rebellious nobles. A baron's castle was easily
knocked to pieces by the prince who owned, or could borrow, a few pieces
of heavy ordnance. The towering walls of the old-time strongholds slowly
gave way to the earthwork-protected Renaissance fortification, which is
typified in the United States by Castillo de San Marcos, in Castillo de
San Marcos National Monument, St. Augustine, Fla.
Some of the most formidable bombards were those of
the Turks, who used exceptionally large cast-bronze guns at the siege of
Constantinople in 1453. One of these monsters weighed 19 tons and hurled
a 600-pound stone seven times a day. It took some 60 oxen and 200 men to
move this piece, and the difficulty of transporting such heavy ordnance
greatly reduced its usefulness. The largest caliber gun on record is the
Great Mortar of Moscow. Built about 1525, it had a bore of 36 inches,
was 18 feet long, and fired a stone projectile weighing a ton. But by
this time the big guns were obsolete, although some of the old Turkish
ordnance survived the centuries to defend Constantinople against a
British squadron in 1807. In that defense a great stone cut the mainmast
of the British flagship, and another crushed through the English ranks
to kill or wound 60 men.
FIGURE 4—EARLY SMALL BOMBARD (1330).
It was made of wrought-iron bars,
bound with hoops.
The ponderosity of the large bombards held them to
level land, where they were laid on rugged mounts of the heaviest wood,
anchored by stakes driven into the ground. A gunner would try to put his
bombard 100 yards from the wall he wanted to batter down. One would
surmise that the gunner, being so close to a castle wall manned by
expert Genoese cross-bowmen, was in a precarious position. He was; but
earthworks or a massive wooden shield arranged like a seesaw over his
gun gave him fair protection. Lowering the front end of the shield made
a barricade behind which he could charge his muzzle loader (see fig.
In those days, and for many decades thereafter,
neither gun crews nor transport were permanent. They had to be hired as
they were needed. Master gunners were usually civilian "artists," not
professional soldiers, and many of them had cannon built for rental to
customers. Artillerists obtained the right to captured metals such as
tools and town bells, and this loot would be cast into guns or ransomed
for cash. The making of guns and gunpowder, the loading of bombs, and
even the serving of cannon were jealously guarded trade secrets. Gunnery
was a closed corporation, and the gunner himself a guildsman. The public
looked upon him as something of a sorcerer in league with the devil, and
a captured artilleryman was apt to be tortured and mutilated. At one
time the Pope saw fit to excommunicate all gunners. Also since these
specialists kept to themselves and did not drink or plunder, their
behavior was ample proof to the good soldier of the old days that
artillerists were hardly human.
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