Your guide to Martello Towers in the UK and throughout the world.

ArmamentsĀ In Martello Towers

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Martello Towers were essentially gun towers, strong forts with a large gun on top. They were specifically built to have some form of cannon on their flat roof, either a naval long gun and/or a carronade and sometimes with a howitzer or mortar.

The piece was usually put on a traversing gun carriage that could be pointed in any direction in a full circle. They could be a stand-alone work, or be coordinated with other defensive measures. Coastal defence ordnance was normally, but not always, of the iron naval type. The gun carriages used with the ordnance could be of several types, including the standard naval gun carriage of the truck type, the traversing carriage, or the older slide carriage. Mortars could also be used in the defence of ports and naval bases. 

There were generally four types of  artillery pieces weapons pieces used on Martello Towers in the 18th and 19th centuries:

The most commonly used in England was the 24 pounder cannon, but some had 32 pounders. Some of the large towers had more than one cannon and/or one or two howitzers.

There was usually a considerable gap (known as windage) between the ball and the inside of the gun barrel, as a result of irregularities in the size of cannonballs and the difficulty of boring out gun barrels. The windage of a cannon was off as much as a quarter of an inch and caused a considerable loss of projectile power. The manufacturing practices introduced by the Carron Company reduced the windage considerably. Despite the reduced windage, carronades had a much shorter range than the equivalent long gun, typically a third to a half, because they used a much smaller propellant charge (the chamber for the powder was smaller than the bore for the ball). 

Other armaments were the firearms used by the soldiers and militia manning the towers, with the Infantry Musket being the most common.


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The Cannon

The Cannon is characterized by a longer barrel, larger propelling charges, smaller shells, higher velocities, and flatter trajectories,

The 24 pounder/32 pounder cannon on the gun platform of a Martello Tower was a typical cannon of the time, used both by the Army and on the Royal Naval ships.

The cannon was muzzle loading, weighed about 2.5 tons and had a range of about a mile. Its main charges were a solid shot, canister shot or case shot, grapeshot or shrapnel.

The Parts of a Cannon

24 Pounder Cannon
A 24 Pounder Cannon on Martello Tower No.24

Parts of a Cannon

  • The Muzzle is where the shot comes out and is considered to be the 'front' of the cannon, this is usually the narrower end of the barrel.
  • The other end of the gun is called the Breech. The widest part of the Breech is the Base Ring and behind this is the Cascable (or Cascabel), with the Button right at the end.
  • The Touch Hole is on the top at the back, just in front of the Base Ring, and the Vent Field is the area around the Touch Hole between the Base Ring and the Vent Field Astragal.
  • The Bore is the hole down the centre of the cannon from the muzzle towards the Breech.
  • When in use the cannon is mounted on its Trunnions, these act as a pivot so it can be angled up and down on its Carriage.
  • The Mouldings, Astragals and Reinforces are rings around the barrel, they are for decoration and the gun would work just as well without them.

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The Carronade

A carronade was much shorter and a third to a quarter of the weight of an equivalent long gun. It was was designed as a short-range naval weapon with a low muzzle velocity for merchant ships. It had a shorter barrel than the cannon and used less gunpowder.

It was as the main armament in some Martello Towers, given its effectiveness at close range, loaded with musket balls, grapeshot, lengths of chain and scrap.

NB. This is a photo of a carronade on board HMS Victory today.
It is typical of
19th century carronades used in Martello Towers

Typical Carronade

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The Howitzer

The Howitzer is characterized by a relatively short barrel and the use of comparatively small propellant charges to propel projectiles over relatively high trajectories, with a steep angle of descent.,

The Howitzer shown on the right is of the type designed by General Blomfield in the 19th century for use on Martello Towers in England during the Napoleonic Wars. They typically had a range of just under a mile. 

NB. This Howitzer came from on a Martello Tower on Romney
Marsh in Kent and is located in LIttlestone.
The carriage shown is not the original
but a skeleton carriage of the
type used in the 19th century.

5 1/2 inch Howitzer
5Ā½ inch Howitzer

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The Mortar

The originality of these artillery pieces lays with their projectiles: the bombs. They were designed to fire at even higher angles of ascent and descent than the Howitzer.

12 inch Mortar
12 inch Morter (Ack 1.)

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