Artillery in Spain: cannon markings, Panama Viejo

Spanish Cannon markings, Panama Viejo

An Army colleague I served with is touring Panama - I asked him to keep an eye out for cannon and he sent me these photos of SBMLs found on the grounds of Panama Viejo, the former capital which was destroyed in 1671 by the Welsh Privateer Henry Morgan.

(Photo by Pierre Deschenes)

Artillery Historian Renato Gianni Ridella noted that this Spanish bronze SBML has a weight mark of 27 Quintales - 10 Libras, corresponding to 1,247 kg (2,749 lbs), and that it is probably a demi culverin. This cannon was cast the year just before the death of Felipe III, King of Spain from 1598 to 1521, whose name is inscribed on the upper rectangle. The cannon was cast between 1580 and 1640 as there is a Portuguese shield in the centre. The date on the gun says ANO 1620.

Artillery Historian Nico Brinck notes that this cannon is a 12-pounder, The big cartouche says: DON DIEGO FELIPPE DE GUSMAN MARQUES DE LEGANES CAPITANE GENERAL DE LA ARTILLERIA DE ESPANA ANO D E 1620. He was the artillery general in the Spanish Netherlands between 1600 and 1621. There is a 30-pounder with his coat of arms, cast in Brussels in 1623, in the Museo del Exercito in Madrid.(nr 6025)

Spanish cannon diagrams.

Spanish bronze gun markings. (HM Government of Gibraltar)

The close association of the Spanish and French ruling houses since 1700 gave a strong French influence to Spanish ordnance. Foundries for casting bronze cannon were formed at Seville (Est. 1662 by Juan Gerardo) and Barcelona. The cast and forged iron [shot, shell and bombs] ammunition was made at Fargadelos and near Oviedo whilst gunpowder was manufactured in Murcia, Granada, near Alcázar de San Juan in La Mancha, Manresa plus 170 powder mills in Catalonia and Aragon.

Although Iron was generally used due to the fact that is was cheaper, Bronze was stronger, withstood the shock of discharge better, and lasted longer at sea. Bronze also was easier to cast, could be re-cast, and could be easily embellished with decoration. Because of this last quality, along with their hefty price tag, bronze guns also served as status symbols.

The Royal Ordinance of 1743 like that of France in 1732, there would be five calibres of cannon (4, 8,12- 16 and 24-pdr) and two mortars (12-pouce and 14-pouce). The Royal Ordinance of 1743 also specified the calibre would be defined in French Livre de Paris.

The Royal Ordinance of the 19th October 1756 instructed the forming of four arsenals in Barcelona, Zaragoza, Seville and at La Coruña. The Saragossa Arsenal, however, lasted only a short time.

The Spanish like the French were dissatisfied with the performance of their field artillery in Seven Years War. The Spanish Artillery attempted to keep pace with developments in ordnance. In 1766, Jean Maritz II (1711-1790) was sent by King Louis XVI of France at the request of Carlos III of Spain to improve the foundries at Seville and Barcelona. The horizontal boring machines in Seville were installed in 1768 just 3km from the foundry and were driven by the waters of the River Guadaira. This permitted the bronze gun barrel to be cast solid and then bored out but the external surfaces had to hand finished. In 1779, the Maritz simultaneous horizontal boring and finishing machines were installed. This permitted the bronze gun barrel to be bored out from solid and finished at the same time so reducing the completion time significantly, probably by half.

Maritz II was rewarded with the rank and pension of Marechal de Camp. In 1769, he returned to France where he was involved with Gribeauval in the reorganisation of the French artillery system. By 1780, the Seville and Barcelona Foundries were producing over 500 bronze and iron guns per year to the modern Gribeauval style designs.

The Spanish Gribeauval gun tubes were without raised decoration and plain dolphins. This made production of gun tubes faster and simpler to cast let alone accurately bored. After 1768, the relief on the barrels and the markings were engraved on the surface. The base ring would have where it was cast and the date. The cipher of the king would be on the breech [Carlos III (1759-1788), Carlos IV (1788-1807) or Ferdinand VII (1813-33)]. The left trunnion would have the weight. The gun name in a scroll was on the chase. The Seville Foundry ceased to have the name of the founder from the 1760’s.

The Spanish gun tubes retained the 17th Century bulbous multi-ringed muzzles, sculpturally ornament dolphins and individual names upon the scroll just behind the muzzle. Spanish cannon had the royal coat of arms in relief on the first reinforce and ornate dolphins. The base ring would have where it was cast, the date and possibly the gun founder. The left trunnion would have a peso [P = weight] followed by the weight in quintal [qq or QQ)] or libras [lb or lbs.]  The gun name in a scroll was on the chase.

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