The carronade was a short smoothbore, cast iron cannon, developed for the Royal Navy by the Carron Company, an ironworks in Falkirk, Scotland, UK. It was used from the 1770s to the 1850s. Its main function was to serve as a powerful, short-range anti-ship and anti-crew weapon. While considered very successful early on, carronades eventually disappeared as long-range naval artillery led to fewer and fewer close-range engagements.
The carronade was designed as a short-range naval weapon with a low muzzle velocity. Its invention is variously ascribed to Lieutenant General Robert Melville in 1759, or to Charles Gascoigne, manager of the Carron Company from 1769 to 1779. In its early years the weapon was sometimes called a "mellvinade" or alternatively, a "gasconade".
Carronades initially became popular on British merchant ships during the American Revolutionary War. A lightweight gun that needed only a small gun crew and was devastating at short range was a weapon well suited to defending merchant ships against French and American privateers.
The Royal Navy was initially reluctant to adopt the guns, mainly due to mistrust of the Carron Company, which had developed a reputation for incompetence and commercial sharp practice. Carronades were not even counted in numbering the guns of a ship. It was Lord Sandwich who eventually started mounting them in place of the light guns on the forecastle and quarterdeck of ships. They soon proved their effectiveness in battle. French gun foundries were unable to produce equivalents for twenty years, so carronades gave British warships a significant tactical advantage during the latter part of the 18th century.
The carronade was initially very successful and widely adopted, and a few experimental ships (for example, HMS Glatton and HMS Rainbow) were fitted with a carronade-only armament. Glatton, a fourth-rate ship with 56 guns, had a more destructive broadside than HMS Victory, a first-rate ship with 100 guns. Although Glatton and Rainbow were both successful in battle, the carronade's lack of range against an opponent who could keep well clear and still use his long guns was an arguable tactical disadvantage of this arrangement.
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