Wooden cannons have been manufactured and used in wars in many countries. The wooden parts were invariably strengthened with metal fittings or even rope.
The use of wood for cannon-making could be dictated either by the lack of metal, or the lack of skill to engineer metallic cannons. Wooden cannons were notoriously weak, and could usually fire only a few shots, sometimes even just one shot, before bursting. The balls for use in such wooden-barreled cannons could be made of various materials such as wood, stone, ceramics, or steel.
The Romanians (motzes) from the Apuseni Mountains, Transylvania, manufactured this type of cannon extensively for use against the Hungarian army in 1848–49. The wooden cannons had various calibers, up to 120–150 millimetres, and were made from fir, cherry, or beech tree. They were made using man-powered drills to obtain the desired caliber. In battle, the largest-caliber cannons were employed from fixed positions, whereas cannons of smaller calibers could be deployed in the field, carried on man-drawn or horse-drawn carriages, or transported on horseback via pack saddles.
The barrel could be sometimes coated with tin in the interior, having the exterior reinforced with 8–10 iron rings. The firing system was identical with the one used on flintlocks.
The cannons could fire a variety of missiles, from cannonballs made of iron, wood, or rock, to incendiary materials and a type of grapeshots (a load of smaller rocks with sharp edges to increase damage upon attacking compact infantry formations). Also, they were used as a psychological weapon, firing without missiles, simply for the sound, which was enough to create in enemy ranks a state of panic, believing that it is being attacked by military artillery. In the mountains, the sound was reverberated by the mountain slopes, the sound being thus repeated and amplified.
Wooden cannons were used by the Vietnamese against the French during the Cochinchina campaign in 1862. Some Japanese forces used wooden cannons during the Boshin war in 1868. The native peoples of South America used wooden cannons against the Spanish and Portuguese during the 17th and 18th centuries. The Native Americans in North America used improvised wooden cannons against fortifications. Squire Boone also constructed a wooden cannon used in the defense of Boonesborough, Kentucky in 1778 Siege of Boonesborough.
Wooden cannons were used in Europe on various occasions. Russian Tsar Peter the Great is known to have built several as a childhood pastime. The Bulgarians used 52 cherry-wood cannons during the April Uprising in 1876. The Macedonians likewise produced cherry-wood cannons before the Ilinden Uprising in 1903.
Muzzle of Vietnamese wooden cannon, 1862, Vĩnh Long
Muzzle of the cannon shown in the previous picture
In some wars, fake cannons made from a wooden log, sometimes painted black, were used to deceive an enemy. Misleading the enemy as to the strength of an emplacement was an effective delaying tactic. Both sides of the American Civil War used such faked weapons, called Quaker guns. The name derives from the Religious Society of Friends or "Quakers", who have traditionally held a religious opposition to war and violence in the Peace Testimony.
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