Artillery or Cannon?

In a recent inquery about a object for inentification, the quick answers were; a cannon primer or an artillery primer. One reply says cannon another says artillery. (Actually it is a firing plug).

So, my question is: what is the difference between a cannon and an artillery piece?

Cannon = a fixed mount? Artillery = moved about by horses(power)?

Thanking you in advance.


I think cannon, or gun, would refer to an individual piece whilst artillery would be a collective term. But, I think in common language they are used interchangeably and everyone knows what is meant.

I guess I wasn’t clear when I mentioned the “firing plug”. I was refering to the one small component of the primer. I was nit-picking because the posts referred to it as a cap or striker (even I called it a firing pin, which is incorrect). In Naval parlance that same piece is called a plunger.


As I understand it, the term “cannon” has different meanings in the UK and the USA.

In the UK it means a high-velocity, fast-firing automatic gun wiith a calibre of 20-57mm. Artillery, tank and naval guns are just called “guns”.

In the USA it means the barrel and breech (without mounting) of any large-cailbre gun or mortar. So the cannon of an artillery piece is the bare gun. So an artillery primer will also be a cannon primer - both are correct.

TANK’S (pun(?) intended) to both of you.

The word “artillery” looks like it comes from “art”, but what is the origin of “cannon”?

Vlad - I will made a wild guess that it comes from Latin. Since the Italian word for a gun barrel is “canna,” and since the first cannon barrels were of wood, and I believe long slats of wood banded together, I am going to guess it may have come from the same Latin word “canna,” which among other things, means a “reed pipe.”

I am probably not even in the ballpark, but thought I would give it a try. I suspect “Artillery” has a Latin root too, but I don’t know from what specific word it might come.

Just an aside.

The cap badge of the British Royal Artillery is illustrated below and has the Latin word UBIQUE on the banner across the top. The gun depicted on the cap badge is a 9pdr Rifled Muzzle Loader of about 1871, and the rammer used to ram the charge into the muzzle is also seen, to the left of the carriage wheel

When I was doing a tour with the British Royal Air Force, a British infantry officer told me that the Gunners claimed UBIQUE meant “Everywhere”, the motto of the Royal Artillery. This officer told me that the Infantry was convinced it really meant “All Over”!!!

So much for definations and translations.

In the early years, artillerists were not a part of the military but were hired professionals. They designed and built the cannons, projectiles and powder, which they owned. They hired and trained the gun crews. They were considered the same as other artists or specialists of the time so there may be some connection to “art” as Vlad suggested. But I believe the origin of artillery comes from the French word atellier and came to mean a builder of war equipment.

Even as late as the 1950s, US Navy Gunners Mates were near the top of the “pecking order” and were one of only a few “right arm” ratings. But alas, political correctness put an end to such archaic thinking.


Hmmm… I think there could be some discussion to that comment.

Searched on “cannon” and came up with a number of interesting terms. And because I found it posted on line, I know that it has to be irrefutably accurate: … hmode=none


I got your back with Shotmeister. Not to worry. I’m here for ya buddy.

Rick, thanks for the cover. I may need it. ;)

Chief, I didn’t make the rules. Torpedomans Mates were part of the Ordnance Group and may have been one of the right-arm ratings but I’m not sure they were. You can correct me if I’m wrong. No offense intended and I hope none was taken but I get the feeling I have stepped on your toes without having meant to.




I may have already opened my big mouth too wide. But, AFAIK, right-arm ratings applied to all Navy ratings. But I will glady stand corrected if I’m wrong. Again, I did not mean any offense to any sailor. It’s simply the way things were.


For those who are wondering what the hell this is all about - US Navy rating badges are worn with the eagle facing forward. Here’s a photo of a Gunners Mate Second Class right arm and left arm badge (I guess I could have done better with the photo layout.)

The precendence of rating petty officers was established in the early days in order to identify a “chain of command” when no officers were present. The heiarchy was identified by the location of the rating badge. Right-arm ratings were always considered to be first in command regardless of rank.


I did not know of that. Nice bit of trivia. Of course, I went in right after Zumwalt took over and changed EVERYTHING.

Right arm ratings are no longer needed or desired. If all the officers are killed, leaving only Petty Officers, Ernest Borgnine or Steve McQueen will step in and take charge. I know. I saw it on TV.


After WWII, deck “guns” were removed from submarines but the small arms compliment remained, usually including a MK II for awhile. However when the large gun left, so did the Gunner’s Mate. (GMs were assigned to subs in WWII to handle the deck guns.) Naturally someone had to fill the void and the job fell to TM’s. Selected TMs went to various schools, out-numbered but never out-gunned by GMs, to learn SA mainitenance, ammunition administration and crew training. I have always felt honored and lucky to have been one of those.

BTW, I recall referring to a 5" gun once as a “cannon” and an old, crusty GMC climbed me like a bear climbing a tree! “It’s a Naval Gun you *** **** bubblehead! We ain’t used cannons since sails went away!” I sort of accepted that term to heart and have since referred to large caliber guns upon ships as Naval Guns. Based on that, I have always felt that if you loaded it from the muzzle, and it was to big to carry in your hands, it was a cannon. If it had wheels and loaded from the breech, it was artillary and if it was on a mobile platform, it was a gun.(a BIG one)

My toes are just fine Ray. Just couldn’t pass up the shot.

Ray, your comments about right arm rates reminded me of when I made 2nd Class. I was on the WWII era USS Union AKA-106. I was issued new rating badges out of the ships stores and sewed them on as quickly as I could. The first Captain


Great sea-story. :)

BTW, I figured I was already in enough trouble so I didn’t mention it, but Fire Controlmen were one of the right-arm ratings (as you knew), right up there with Bosuns and GMs.

Chief, I’m glad I wasn’t out of line. And, I don’t have access to any lists but I have a feeling that TMs were right-arm ratings too. Most of the Ordnance Group were.