The Cannon as we know it was an invention developed in Europe in 1313 by Berthold Schwarz (a German monk), three centuries after the invention of gunpowder by the Chinese. Later, a certain Bonaparte would have the audacity to use the cannon as a mobile support force for infantry attacks and make it one of his centerpieces in his conquest of Europe.
The invention of the cannon
The earliest cannons used powder charges to shoot stone or metal balls. Until the 19th century, they were smooth metal tubes loaded by the breech (14th-15th centuries), then by the mouth, pointed manually !; the recoil was absorbed by the rear movement of the lookout. Modern barrels, loaded by the breech (at the rear of the barrel), consist of a rifled forged steel tube, that is, having helical grooves to give the projectile a rotary motion which improves precision and reach. The mount is equipped with recoil absorption and return to firing position mechanisms. Elevation and movement devices allow manual or electrical, or sometimes fully automatic, aiming, with location and tracking of targets by radar.
Ammunition includes high explosive shells, anti-tank shells, smoke, illuminator or signal shells, shells containing chemical agents and nuclear-headed shells. Cannons can also fire projectiles carrying propaganda brochures or providing life-saving medicine to isolated troops. Other ammunition is used to drop anti-tank or anti-personnel mine carpets.
On the battlefield
In the 18th century, the French engineer Gribeauval developed a complete system of mobile and powerful artillery, produced in standardized series (1765), which greatly contributed to the victories of the Revolution and the Empire. Artillery, "queen of battles", then took a prominent place in the armies. Operated in batteries of several guns, it was used to destroy enemy attack formations or to disorganize the enemy's defense before attacking.
Until the 19th century, the barrel changed little, despite some efforts to improve the range, precision and destructive effect of this weapon. The black powder limits the improvements because it clogs the mechanisms. In 1884, the French chemist Paul Vieille developed smokeless powder. It is the beginning of a new era in the history of weaponry and warfare: the thick smoke which covered the battlefield has almost disappeared. In addition, the use of explosives based on picric acid in the loading of shells increases their efficiency tenfold. At the end of the 19th century, French artillerymen developed the 75 mm field gun, the first to fire quickly, and solved the problem of recoil during the explosion of the propellant charge using a hydropneumatic brake.
During World War I, devastating artillery fire barred each side from maneuvering, forcing a trench warfare. The solution was the tank, first called the assault gun (1917). The Second World War saw the return to maneuver, involving thousands of tanks and personnel carriers. However, artillery played a decisive role, especially on the Russian front.
-Des Cannons et des Hommes - A History of French Artillery. Lavauzelle, 2011.
- The 1001 inventions that changed the world of Jack Challoner. Flammarion, 2010.