A Complete Guide To The Armstrong Gun

Key Point: The Armstrong gun, developed by Sir William Armstrong in the mid-19th century, was a type of rifled breech-loading artillery piece. These guns were notable for their rifled barrels and breech-loading mechanism.

In this article, we will be covering the Armstrong gun. What was it, how powerful was it and all in all how effective was it really? So, by the time you finish this article, you will know all there is to know about this wonderful piece of cannon technology.

So, let’s get started, with a short introduction…

What Is The Armstrong Gun?

An Armstrong gun was a type of rifled artillery piece developed in the 19th century by Sir William Armstrong. It featured a spiral-grooved rifled barrel, which allowed for increased accuracy and range compared to smoothbore cannons. The gun was made of wrought iron or steel and was breech-loading which enabled quicker reloading.

Armstrong gun

That was the short introduction. Now, let’s continue exploring this piece of cannon history by learning about its origin a little bit.

Origin Of The Armstrong Gun

The Armstrong gun was developed by a British engineer named Sir William Armstrong in the mid-19th century. He was quite the innovator! He came up with the artillery gun that had spiral grooves on the inside of the barrel.

This clever design added spin to the projectile when it was fired, making it more accurate and able to reach greater distances. Which armies of the world naturally found quite useful.

Now, let’s turn our attention to what the gun actually looked like.

Description Of The Armstrong Gun

The Armstrong Gun was a large-caliber, rifled muzzle-loading artillery piece. It came in various sizes, but typically, it featured a distinctive wrought-iron barrel with a trunnion hoop for mounting. These guns were known for their innovative construction, combining wrought iron with a built-in rifling system. This not only made the gun lighter but also increased its accuracy and range.

The dimensions of the Armstrong gun varied based on different models and calibers. These artillery guns had lengths ranging from 9 to 11 meters (30 to 36 feet). They were quite heavy, with some variants weighing over 20 tons. Bore diameters ranged from around 150 mm (6 inches) to over 400 mm (16 inches). The impressive size and weight of the Armstrong gun contributed to its firepower and extended range, making it a significant advancement in artillery technology during the 19th century.

But, what did these big guns fire? Let’s see …

Caliber And Projectiles

Speaking of projectiles, the Armstrong Gun fired a variety of ammunition, including shells, shrapnel, and solid shot. The caliber of these projectiles also varied, with the gun accommodating different sizes based on the specific requirements of the engagement. The gun’s rifled barrel imparted a spin to the projectiles, increasing their stability and enabling longer and more accurate shots.

The Armstrong Gun could also use explosive shells. These had a significant impact on the effectiveness of artillery fire.

The shells could explode upon impact, causing damage to fortifications, enemy troops, and equipment. The gun’s ability to fire different types of projectiles gave it versatility on the battlefield, adapting to different combat situations.

Let’s see what kind of combat situations this gun found itself in.

Where The Armstrong Gun Was Used

Now let’s consider where the Armstrong Gun was used and the effects it had on the course of events. The gun saw extensive deployment during the late 19th century in conflicts such as the Crimean War, the American Civil War, and various colonial expeditions of the British Empire.

Its deployment in these conflicts played a pivotal role in changing the dynamics of warfare.

In the Crimean War, for example, the Armstrong Gun proved its worth during the Siege of Sevastopol (1854-1855). Its superior range and accuracy allowed British forces to bombard the Russian defenses from a safer distance. Thus reducing their vulnerability to counterfire. The rifling I spoke of earlier played a huge part in the increased range of the gun.

But on the other side of the Atlantic …

The Armstrong Gun also made a significant impact during the American Civil War. Union forces employed these guns in several key battles, including the Siege of Petersburg and the Battle of Gettysburg. The gun’s range and accuracy allowed Union artillery to support infantry movements and inflict heavy casualties on Confederate troops, influencing the outcome of these engagements.

Since it was so powerful, then why did it disappear from use? Let’s see …

Decline Of The Armstrong Gun

To tie everything together, let’s explore the disadvantages of the Armstrong Gun and how they contributed to its eventual decline.

Despite its innovations, the Armstrong Gun had limitations. A notable disadvantage was the complexity of its design and manufacturing process, which made it expensive to produce. This limited its widespread adoption and use by other nations.

And, the wrought-iron construction of the Armstrong Gun made it vulnerable to wear and tear. Extended firing could lead to structural weaknesses and reduced accuracy. The gun’s relatively slow reloading process compared to later breech-loading artillery also posed a disadvantage, as it restricted the rate of fire during intense battles.

So, what came after the Armstrong gun? Let’s see …

The Successor To The Armstrong Gun

As the 19th century progressed, technological advancements led to the development of more efficient artillery systems. One notable successor to the Armstrong Gun was the breech-loading rifled artillery.

Breech-loading cannons, such as the Krupp guns, gained popularity due to their improved reloading mechanism. Unlike the muzzle-loading Armstrong Gun, breech-loading cannons allowed for faster and easier reloading, enhancing the rate of fire on the battlefield. These new artillery systems utilized separate cartridges for the propellant and projectile, simplifying the loading process.

Furthermore, the introduction of smokeless powder and improved manufacturing techniques allowed for the production of even more powerful and accurate artillery. Steel barrels replaced the wrought-iron construction, providing increased strength and durability. These advancements significantly influenced the development of modern artillery and its role in warfare.

In Conclusion

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I hope you learned a thing or two. And I hope to see you at my article on the Dulle Griet cannon, which you can visit here.

Take care!


Holmes, Richard. The World Atlas of Warfare: Military Innovations that Changed the Course of History. Dorling Kindersley, 2002.