The first recorded naval battle featuring artillery took place in the first naval engagement of the Hundred Years’ War.

The Battle of Arnemuiden saw five slow but stable single-masted English cogs face 48 galleys of The Grand Army of the Sea. This huge French fleet had already sacked English coastal towns such as Portsmouth and Southampton in an attempt to cripple the English economy and stop Edward III’s attempts to gain the French crown.

Edward relied on income from the valuable wool trade to ensure he could pay for his army and maintain the support of his allies on the continent. The five ships that sailed from England to the Flanders port of Arnemuiden were unloading this cargo when they were overwhelmed by the French fleet.

Realising that their best chance of avoiding capture was to put to sea again, the ships quickly left their moorings. Under the command of John Kingston on board the Christopher, the English then attempted to fight off the French. Four of the five ships were forced to adopt the established tactic of attempting to ram the sides of the opposing ships, but the Christopher was able to employ a new type of offensive: artillery.

The ship was equipped with three canons and one handgun and, against overwhelming numbers, the crew were able to use these to hold off the enemy for much of the day. However, Kingston was eventually forced to surrender. The French admirals Hugues Quiéret and Nicolas Béhuchet captured the five ships with their valuable cargo and executed the crews.

The French navy went on to dominate the Channel for almost two years before its decisive defeat at the Battle of Sluys on 24 June 1340 during which the English were able to recapture the Christopher.

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© Scott Allsop