Swivel Cannon

A swivel gun is a small cannon, mounted on a swiveling stand or fork which allows a very wide arc of movement. Such weapons were used principally aboard sailing ships during the age of sail, serving as short-range anti-personnel ordnance. They were not ship-sinking weapons, due to their small caliber and short range, but could do considerable damage to anyone caught in their line of fire.

Swivel guns are among the smallest types of cannon, typically measuring less than 1 m (3 ft) in length and with a bore diameter of up to 3.5 cm (1 in). They can fire a variety of ammunition but were generally used to fire grapeshot and similar types of small-diameter shot, though they could also fire small caliber round shot. As with other types of cannon, swivel guns are muzzleloaders. They were aimed through the use of a wooden handle, somewhat similar to a baseball bat, attached to the breech of the weapon.

In operational use, swivel guns were highly portable and could be moved around the deck of a ship quite easily (and certainly much more easily than other types of cannon). They could be mounted on the deck railings of a ship, which provided the gunner with a reasonably steady platform from which to fire. Their portability enabled them to be installed wherever they were most needed; whereas larger cannon were useless if they were on the wrong side of the ship, swivel guns could be carried across the deck to face the enemy.

from Francis Grose, Military Antiquities, 1796

Click on the Piece of Eight to return to the Main Page