French Paixhan Gun

  • General History
  • 1 min

By Crusader1307

Developed by French General Henri Paixhans, The Paixhan was one of the first “Heavy Guns” to safely fire an explosive shell. Designed primarily for Naval use, The Paixhans was the “Grandfather Gun” of such heavy weapons as The Armstrong, Columbiad and Dahlgren. Although many examples of explosive shells have been used for many years prior, their use was haphazard at best. Shells of this type were known to detonate prematurely or fail to explode when required. The primary key, General Paixhans noted – was the use of standard flat trajectory shells. With a practical “base shell type” to work from, Paixhans developed one of the first delayed action fuses (for use in such shells).


In theory, the shell would be fired and “stick into” a wooden ship hull. After several seconds, the shell would detonate. This innovation was a devastating (and very effective) new method. Paixhan next set about developing large caliber cannons which could handle larger timed shells. Roughly starting at 50-pound lead shot projectiles (similar to Canister Shot), the highest shell weight used was 90-pounds. The Paixhans had a 1,200 yard effective range. The French Naval installed some 50 Paixhans initially. By the mid-1840s, England, Russia and The United States all had purchased and incorporated The Paixhan into their inventories. They were documented as being heavily used during The Crimean War of the 1850s. With the advent of case and shell shot and larger (more effective shells), The Paixhans were slowly phased out of most Nations inventories.