I've seen estimates of the range of round shot fired from smoothbore cannons during various eras.

Is there a simple estimate how far a cannon ball would continue bouncing/rolling on dry, level ground following the initial impact?

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    Wouldn't the cannon make a difference? I would expect that the range of a 9 pounder would differ from the range of a 42 pounder, and neither to match the range of a Rodman (although the Rodman is unlikely to be fired towards dry level ground). – Mark C. Wallace Aug 22 '16 at 16:38
  • Possibly, although there may be a simple formula (e.g., maximum range = twice the effective range of the cannon). Actually I'd be happy with any reference to the maximum range of round shot fired from any caliber of cannon. – RobertF Aug 22 '16 at 16:48
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    You also have smoothbore cannons used by modern tanks. – SMS von der Tann Aug 22 '16 at 17:01
  • The wikipedia article I referenced contains general references for the range of various cannon types. Or you could check history stack exchange. – Mark C. Wallace Aug 22 '16 at 17:43
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    VTC as too broad - cannon range is not only dictated by weight and bore, but also by advancing technology - unrifled cannon in 1900 could throw further than in 1850, and much further than in 1800. – user13123 Aug 22 '16 at 23:46

In answering the second question (i.e. "how far a cannon ball would continue bouncing/rolling on dry, level ground following the initial impact?"), the result will be maximized when looking at what was called "ricochet fire".

Ricochet fire. Round shot was usually fired at the flattest trajectory to achieve the maximum killing effect. A shot fired at point blank would hit the ground at the first graze point a relatively shot distance from the gun. It would then bounce approximately half the distance and strike the ground at the second graze point, rebound half as far again to strike at the third graze and then roll or bounce a little further; all very dependent on the nature of the ground and the position of the gun.

The actual range of the cannon would be based on a number of factors, such as the weight of shot, the elevation of the gun, the size of the charge (and the quality of the powder) and the windage of the gun (i.e. the space between the ball and the barrel). In the real world, it would be rare to find a battlefield that had a large expanse of dry, level, unobstructed ground to reach these extreme ranges. In most cases, damp, uneven ground and undergrowth would slow the progress of the ball so that it stopped short of the experimental maximums.

An example of this can be seen in the ranges for a light 6-pdr field gun. At point blank (i.e. with the barrel horizontal) the range to first graze (i.e. the first impact with the ground) is 256 yards but the extreme range, when the ball comes to rest, is 1,630 yards. So the subsequent bouncing and rolling after the first impact is 1,374 yards, which is over 5 times the range to first graze.

Higher elevations gave a longer initial range but reduced the subsequent bouncing/rolling. For the same 6-pdr fired with a barrel elevation of 4 degrees, the ball would travel 1,500 yards to first graze and stop at an extreme range of 1,800 yards. So, in this case, the additional range caused by bouncing and rolling was just a fifth of the range to first impact.

Source: British Napoleonic Field Artillery, C.F.Franklin (Spellmount, 2012)

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  • Excellent, thank you. I imagine the trajectory of the round shot also affects the distance of ricochet fire. Found the (expensive!) book you've cited on Amazon. – RobertF Aug 22 '16 at 21:08

The answer depends on the cannon.

By the 16th century, cannons were made in a great variety of lengths and bore diameters, but the general rule was that the longer the barrel, the longer the range. Some cannons made during this time had barrels exceeding 10 ft (3.0 m) in length, and could weigh up to 20,000 pounds (9,100 kg). " from wikipedia (emphasis added)

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    Moving a 10 ton canon around does not sound like a fun duty. – T.E.D. Aug 22 '16 at 17:49
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    <drill sergeant voice> I'm sorry, I thought you said that there was a difference between "duty" and "fun". I guess you'll just have to move this cannon until you realize that "fun" is just "duty" with a civilian accent."</drillsergeantvoice> – Mark C. Wallace Aug 22 '16 at 17:54
  • @T.E.D.: Field cannons obviously didn't weigh ten tons; only siege cannon did. – Pieter Geerkens Aug 22 '16 at 22:32
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    OP didn't specify field cannon. – Mark C. Wallace Aug 22 '16 at 22:53

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