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Cannon, gun, rifle?

Discussion in 'Artillery' started by Buten42, Sep 1, 2015.

  1. Buten42

    Buten42 Member Patron  

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    Reading a book on the artillery support at Mortain where some pieces are called cannons, some rifles and others guns. Are these terms determined by caliber, function, or something else? Thanks
     
  2. McCabe

    McCabe Active Member

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    Militarily-speaking, guns are direct-fire weapons that shoot straight/flat trajectories, useful for penetrating shots into armor, walls, etc. Cannons shoot indirect trajectories with lower muzzle velocities (mortars, howitzers, etc.). Rifles, I imagine, refer to recoilless rifles... which would be guns.
     
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  3. A-58

    A-58 Cool Dude

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    Maybe some of the pieces belonged to the division's cannon company.
     
  4. Pacifist

    Pacifist Active Member

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    Is the book using these terms as part of a narrative or as a picture/technical drawing? As due to the ever changing nature of technology and language a narrative might use different but broadly used terms so that the author doesn't simply repeat himself 100's of times.

    If you could present examples of how each term is used and describing what type of field piece.
     
  5. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    Rifle originally meant that there were grooves in the barrel as opposed to a smooth bore. Gun can mean any fire arm or artillery in general or as noted above a direct fire weapon. Cannon often meant anything over a certain bore diameter (20mm or so in most cases) so it covers guns, howitzers, and mortars. Not all authors are consistent or precise in their use of terminology though.
     
  6. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

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    He may be talking about the Robert Weiss book, Fire Mission. Weiss and a couple of companies (the "Lost Battalion") were holding out on hill 314 calling in fire missions from American 105 and 155's while the Germans were trying to clear the hill with their own artillery and mortar fire. They then brought up 75's and 88's and began direct firing at the rocky outcrops trying to clear the observer they knew was on the hill. Weiss was the observer and of course an artillerymen, and talks about the effects and stratagems they used to protect themselves from falling and direct fire.
     
  7. Buten42

    Buten42 Member Patron  

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    KB, the book is "Saving the Breakout" by Alwyn Featherston--I believe the best detailed account of this action I've read.
    I'll show a couple examples--" he found one of his companies 57mm guns". I can't locate a direct quote but he talks about a short barrel 57 mm of the cannon company and the 37mm cannons . I'll try to locate the reference to the rifles and post it, but they are all references to artillery . I believe McCabe generally got it right, and as stated, the authors try not to be repetitive and use the terms a little loosely.

    Off the subject and in the wrong thread, but for the 30th Infantry followers, this book is excellent.
     
  8. gtblackwell

    gtblackwell Well-Known Member Patron  

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    A field day for semantics. Was not their a military jingle " This is your rifle that is your gun......or something like that. Early firearms included hand cannons and the term is applied to Casul 451's today ! Gun seems to be generic, From May West saying do you have a gun or are you just glad to see me ..... to saying the Yamato had 18" guns. M4's have 75 0r 76mm guns . Usually , or nowadays, guns refer, as has been mentioned, to low trajectory devices, no gun has a flat or straight trajectory as the terms are incompatible. I agree, most folks start calling guns cannon at 20mm , I always have but cannot remember why. So you could say the Yamato has 18" cannon and be correct.. Even a high trajectory howitzer is a gun, just a variant but one should use howitzer if they are discussing that specific type of gun. . Rifle still means to me a shoulder mounted small caliber gun but it is sometimes expanded to fit any rifled gun. For example in the US Civil War a Confederate designed a rifled cannon, 6.4 to 8 inches ., that was referred to as a Brooke's Rifle, many cannon of the day being smoothbore. Can anyone think of a modern cannon referred to as a rifle ? Rifle, as mentioned, is the term applied to a barrel but confusion is caused because some measure groove to groove and some land to land so in WW2 a 3", 75mm, 76mm and 77mm are all quite close in diameter and I love the Brits for using the term 2 pounder, 6 pounder, 17, 25, to describe cannon size. They gave us feet and inches then abandoned us !!! Nice guys, getting even for the Revolution ?? The Donald has successfully invaded Eastern Scotland for one of his developments, so there !.....To make this relevant to newcomers the good old American 38 Special is called that as it is measured grove to grove and the identical diameter .357 magnum is measured land to land..

    BTW, where did things like 37mm and 23 mm come from as well as the infamous 88 or Russian 128 come from.. Easier if they were 40, 25, 90 and and 130, respectively. Are they differences in measurement ? Of course a German 90 does not sound as sinister as a Nazi 88 ! Is is true that 95% of German cannons were 88's ? :):

    I will end this foolishness with a true story that is pertinent to the OP's inquiry. I grew up in Alabama's blackbelt, an agricultural area name for it's rich soil. I had often heard there was a Brooke's Rifle in a cemetery in Gainesville , Alabama, about 2 hours away. I knew what it was from being a student of the war. In 1956 I drove over to look for it and sure enough there it was laying on the ground near a monument to Nathan Bedford Forrest in that tiny little town. It ovelooked the Tombigbee River and it was to defend the river against gunboats. A Union raiding party burned the carriage droping 15,000 pound of barrel onto the ground.

    I mentioned at school one day that I had seen a Brooke's Rifle laying on the ground in Gainesville Cemetery and two of my less informed friends drove over thinking it was a Confederate musket as I had called it a rifle.
    They returned all ticked off because I had not told them it was a cannon !! They said they could not budge it!. It is now in Selma, where it was made and the lathe that bored it's rifling is on Auburn University's campus, a mile from my house. So terminology does matter !

    Gaines, still in Alabama.

    PS, in 1963 I found another Brooke's in a farmer's field also overlooking the same river, about 75 miles south, near Jackson, Al. Do not know of it's whereabouts now.
     
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  9. Buten42

    Buten42 Member Patron  

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    Great essay. Being not a gun ( firearm) person I always wondered why they could use .38 special shells in a .357.
     
  10. Dave55

    Dave55 Member

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    Hey, don't forget the Tsar's 3 line (3 L) rifle, or the 7.62x54 as we call it post revolution :)
     
  11. Otto

    Otto Gearing up. Staff Member WW2|ORG Editor

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    Semantics indeed. Good thorough post from Gaines. I'll only add that each nation, period, military branch has it's own eccentricities with respect to gun/rifle/cannon terminology. During the Great Patriotic was the USSR often referred to artillery as barrels or the like, which would include mortars. Other armies tended to separate artillery and mortars in their orbat, but the Soviets would report one number combining the two. These weapons are somewhat similar, but In they server an entirely different function and have completely different range and firepower effects on the battlefield.

    The .357 Magnum was originally made from the .38 Special, adding much more charge to the cartridge. To prevent unsuspecting shooters from putting the much more powerful .357 in their .38 weapons the cartridge was extended a bit (1/8th of an inch longer if I recall correctly) so as not to allow loading of a .357 into a weapon chambered for .38 Special. So as result the .38 Special and the .357 Magnum fire bullets of the same diameter, but the Magnum uses a heavier powder charge, with a slightly longer case. The longer .357 chamber can therefore accommodate the shorter .38, but not the reverse.

    As to why the two cartridges use differing number designations ".38" refers to the approximate diameter of the full case in inches, while ".357" refers to .357 inches (of bullet diameter).

    Incidentally the .357 Magnum, the .38 Special, the 380 Auto (also called the 9mm short), and the very common 9mm Parabellum cartridges all shoot the same diameter bullet. There is obviously a big difference in the overall cartridge length and some difference in the bullet length. Most people find it counter intuitive that the relatively short 9mm produces much faster projectile than the .38 Special despite the .38's greater cartridge length. The reason for this is that the charge in a cartridge has more to do with the weapon's ability to withstand the pressure of the charge rather than the amount of powder in the cartridge or size of the cartridge itself. The 9mm has more powder squeezed into it, and a 9mm weapon is designed to withstand the accompanying pressures, which translate into a bullet traveling with more speed.
     
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  12. Poppy

    Poppy grasshopper Patron  

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    The devil is in the details. Makes for good reading.
    Is a "Saturday Night Special" a snubb nosed .38?...if not, what makes a Saturday night special?

    wait for it...
     
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  13. Otto

    Otto Gearing up. Staff Member WW2|ORG Editor

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    A Saturday Night Special is any cheap pistol, and "pistol" can mean pretty much whatever (or whoever) you like.
     
  14. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    Somewhat arbitrary IMO. The required mounts start getting heavy enough at that point that it may be considered artillery. Worth noteing that the Gatling guns were treated as artillery during thier time in service.

    Allong with the 3" ordinance rifle, the various Parrot rifles (those were Union), the Whitworth rifle was confederate I believe and a number of British imported rifles were used by both sides.

    The potential for even greater confusion exist now as some "rifled" barrels don't have grooves but are twisted polygons.

    Along similar lines a buddy and I were touring ACW battlefields. Now he was well versed in ACW artillery to the point where he served on a reinactment gun crew (Union they had a couple of 3" ordinance rifles). At one point he pointed out a 12lb Napolean "smooth bore" when we took a close look at it it was rifled! Aparently (post war ?) a fair number were modified in that manner. On another field he leaned up against a gun and almost fell over when it shifted on him. Turned out it was a rather nice plastic replica that must of weighed in at well under 100lbs instead of a good many times that.
     
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  15. USMCPrice

    USMCPrice Idiot at Large

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    The definitions change as the weapons they refer to change, many overlap. They also vary from service to service and nation to nation.


    The 12lb Napoleon's actual designation was 12lb model 1857 gun-howitzer. In the ACW, rifles tended to be iron, guns and howitzers bronze. For ACW purposes, rifles were rifled flat trajectory weapons, guns were flat/relatively flat trajectory weapons and howitzers were high trajectory, comparatively short barreled weapons that used a smaller propellant charge than rifles or guns for the same caliber round. All three types were referred to as cannon, but mortars were referred to as mortars. All were referred to as pieces.
    In modern terms howitzers still are higher trajectory pieces with comparatively shorter barrels and smaller propellant charges than rifles/guns. Guns can generally refer to rifles or howitzers, though the predominant more specific usage is rifles=guns. Rifles are always rifled and tend to have longer barrels and larger propellant charges. Again both rifles and howitzers can and are referred to as cannon. For example, in WWII and Korea the US fielded the 155mm M1/M2 "Long Tom" field gun, it had a bore of 155mm and a caliber of L/45. They also fielded the M1 155mm howitzer (later redesignated M114). It was 155mm with a caliber of L/23. Both were called cannon. A common term amoung artillerists is "tubes" which can include rifles/guns, howitzers and mortars. You can discern the most common US military usages of the term if you look at self-propelled mounts such as M3 GMC (Gun Motor Carriage) which mounted the 75mm M1897A4 75 mm gun (a rifled piece) whereas the M8 75mm HMC (Howitzer Motor Carriage) mounted a 75mm M2 or M3 howitzer, on a Stuart tank chassis.
    Now today we have the M1 Abrams, the original mounted a,105 mm L/52 Royal Ordnance L7 gun, a rifled piece. The M1A1 mounted a, 120 mm L/44 M256A1 smoothbore gun. Both tanks main weapons can be referred to as guns, the M1's as a rifle or rifled gun, the M1A1's as a gun or smoothbore gun, both can be referred to in general as a cannon.
    Hope this helps to clarify, but I'm afraid I just muddied the waters more. If I haven't managed to yet I need to mention that modern howitzers are mostly rifled, most mortars are smoothbore, but the 120mm mortar for one example is rifled.
     
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  16. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

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    He got a lot of stuff wrong in that book! He repeats a lot of myths that have been disproven by other writers, he gets much of the German formations and order of battle wrong and he concentrates too much on some things that are not very important and completely ignores other things that were crucial. It's a good read, but it's not good history.
     
  17. gtblackwell

    gtblackwell Well-Known Member Patron  

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    What did Shakespeare say, "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." So a gun by any other name can kill you ? Actually Mr. Price, your post made great sense to my old convoluted mind....Truly ! It never occurred to me that a modern mortar would be rifled. But a bit of spin certainly would seem to help. Ib guess opop out fins could be used too.

    I was looking at a 120mm rifled British Challenger in pictures and was reminded of the od Martin Micro groove barrels. That British 120 has LOTS of grooves. I assume, maybe hope, that it is a liner.
     

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