Why are some cannon barrels octagonal

The Iroise cannons

The shores of the Iroise Sea have always been the subject of special care to protect them from possible disembarkation. We think of course of the Second World War, in which the occupier built a lot of log houses with huge cannons. The Atlantic Wall should also control access to the port of Brest in our region, a strategic high point with its German submarine base.
But long before that time, our banks were carefully defended. What is left of these coastal defenses today? Some closed jumps of the XIX. Century and traces of fortifications that go back to the Louis XIV era. As for the cannons, only memories remain because they were dismantled and reused elsewhere.
However, not all of them have completely disappeared and the hiker will enjoy finding them in a rather unexpected form as described below.

Here is a route that will take you from Lampaul-Ploudalmézeau to Locmaria-Plouzané to find these ghosts from another time.
We start from the parking lot of the Lampaul-Ploudalmézeau church.

-1- The stone cannons of Lampaul-Ploudalmézeau

The curious visitor will be amazed at the decorations on this bell tower. (Visit to the church). Under every corner of the great gallery a kind of tubular stone gargoyle emerges that protrudes over the void. But in reality they are not gargoyles for evacuating rainwater: they have no openings. In fact, they are sculptures that represent cannons. And cannons, even made of stone, to decorate a place of worship, it may seem surprising.
It is known that in the Middle Ages many bell towers were fortified and had battlements and loopholes. The danger could be seen from above. In the absence of a fortified castle, the population could seek refuge there under divine protection. But the Church of Lampaul-Ploudalmézeau is by no means medieval. It dates from the 17th century.
However, it has replaced an older church that was medieval. It is therefore likely that these ornaments came from them. The architect's plan did not foresee them, and the stone cannons were likely forced upon him.
We will see further that this case is not an isolated one.

Now let's take a look at the bell tower of Ploudalmézeau, which is only 3 km away.

-2- A super defended church

Indeed, here is a battery of eight granite cannons that adorn the corners of the two galleries.

And we see that these elements are not additional, but are perfectly integrated into the construction. The church dates from 1857, but its bell tower is older as it was completely rebuilt between 1773 and 1776. The previous church was built in 1504. It is therefore very likely that the stones of the old bell tower and the cannons were reused.

Now let's go to Lanildut.

-3- The rendering of Lanildut

Parking GPS: 48 ° 28'16.3 N 4 ° 45'36.3 W

Access: Leave Lanildut in the direction of Porspoder and take the first left in the direction of the harbor. Park on the large mound at the end of the road and follow the coastal path. The battery is 200m away.

This is a current replica of a weapon from the time of Louis XV. After the remains of the surrounding military structures and the Coast Guard platform were uncovered, it was necessary to install a cannon so that the public could understand the importance of these facilities. The cannon chassis was made by the students of a grammar school in Brest, the barrel itself was cast in a foundry in a form intended for it after long documentary research.

Before continuing on this itinerary, please see the page of our website dedicated to the Lanildut arts battery for more details. (Explanations here).

But let's now return south to the village of Lanildut. After the shops is a 1/7. Replica of the Concorde obelisk, which was set up on a grassy terrace in front of the harbor. (here is the story of the base of this obelisk). Let's park here.

-4 - The cannon of the Obelisk House in Lanildut

This time it is on the corner of a private house overlooking the harbor what we can see a stone cannon. It is possible to approach him and see him from the shore.

Surely this house has outlasted the centuries. And his stone cannon, which is still very eroded in spite of everything, still stands proudly on the bottom of the harbor, which once continued beyond the street.
Private houses that are adorned with such a cannon, as can still be seen in some churches, are rare. But what is now a private house may once have contained a small defensive garrison. Would it be a sign or just a decoy?

We will discover others.

-5 -The Kermarc'har cannon in Plouarzel

GPS: 48 ° 26'08.5 N 4 ° 45'44.1 W

Access: Kermarc'har is in the countryside, between the village of Plouarzel and the coast. Leave Plouarzel towards Le Conquet and at the roundabout go straight towards Trézien. 1.5 km after the wind turbines, turn right towards the church of Trézien and cross the village. (Visit to the church). At the intersection, turn right, leave Trézien and continue straight on. Cross a street, turn left 500 m further into the cul-de-sac and park in front of the Kermarc'har manor. Be careful the place is private do not enter the domain.

You have to approach under the tree near the entrance and look up to spot this sculpture on the corner of the roof. It's a granite cannon mouth like Lanildut's. Its cross-section is not circular, but octagonal. Here it becomes clear that its ornamental function takes precedence over a true resemblance.
To fully understand the reason for its location at the entrance of this manor, it should be noted that the residence is that of the family of Hervé de Portzmoguer (1475-1512), known as Primauguet, the famous captain of La Cordelière, the royal ship of Anne de Bretagne. The sailor was probably born here. In 1512, during a fierce naval battle off Pointe St-Mathieu, and while his ship clung to the English flagship, he decided, it is said, to blow up the two ships instead of surrendering. The explosion killed 2,000 people and ended the sea battle.

In this location, this stone cannon is unlikely to be a scam. Rather, it reminds the visitor that it is a family of sailors, one of whom sacrificed himself in battle.

After all, there is no evidence at Lanildut that the Obelisk's house was not that of a heroic sailor.

Now let's go to Ploumoguer.

6 - The Church of Ploumoguer

The name Ploumoguer has a certain analogy with that of Portzmoguer. But it is misleading because if we can translate Portzmoguer through the walled mansion, and we understand it well when we see the great stones of Kermarc'har, Ploumoguer translates to the parish with walls that would refer to Gallo-Roman ruins .
In the church of St-Pierre there is a bell tower from 1753. It has two galleries, but only the lower gallery has four stone cannons. Very rough and eroded, these ornaments could have come from the bell tower of the previous church.

We continue towards Le Conquet.

-7- The Le Conquet cannon

GPS: 48 ° 21'41.8 N 4 ° 46'19.2 W

Access: Park in the center of Le Conquet and walk down to the port on Rue Lombard which starts in front of the "Vents sucrés" bakery and pastry shop. At the end of this street, follow the Quai du Drellac'h on the right to the end.
- When the sea is low, go off through the slipway and walk along the bank. Behind the house, overlooking the coast, is a cannon on the tip of a private slipway. It has been very visible since the strike. Warning: Access to the slipway is prohibited.
- If sea level prevents you from going ashore, follow the coastal path. After passing the house, you can see the cannon through the hedge.

This is a 6 pound short ship cannon that the former owner discovered in the basement of the house when he bought it in the 1970s. He carefully installed it in this location, accompanied by a chassis and fake cannonballs. These cannons are quite common in 18th century warship wrecks. They were in the XIX. gradually replaced by much more efficient models. From then on, these heavy bronze cannons were sold by weight to be used as ballast for cabotage sailboats. Since the Drellac'h's cannon showed no signs of corrosion, it is likely that it did not stay underwater and was used as ballast.

-8- The granite cannons of the Drellac'h quay.

Let's retrace our steps, quay of Drellac'h, and stop in front of this beautiful house, the imposing external staircase of which leads to the first floor.

At either end of the roof, stone cannons can still be seen jutting out over the street. However, this very old house is not like a fortified residence.

As in Kermarc'har, they are decorative cannonies with an octagonal cross-section that probably adorned the house of a captain of a warship who wanted to show his activity and deeds.

But let's keep following our steps and go up the rue Lombard. On the right is the imposing House of the English. (the little castle of Le Conquet).

It's a fortified house. It may have been rebuilt after Le Conquet was destroyed by the English in the 16th century. And the stone cannon that dominates a corner of the building at a height of twelve meters cannot serve a simple decorative purpose. Too far from the ground and facing the harbor, only its silhouette emerges from the sky.

The "little castle of Le Conquet", as this fortified house is sometimes called, does not hide its defensive character. One thinks this granite cannon could be a scam1. An architectural element of deterrence, in a way, for those who don't already have a bezel2to detail him.

But this granite cannon can also have a warning function: "Be careful, we have enough here to defend ourselves!"

Now let's go to the church of Le Conquet.

-9- Two out of four.

Four protruding sculptures can be seen under the first gallery of the bell tower. They are still not gargoyles. Those on the corners of the facade represent animals. Only those on the other side show a cannon.

How old are these sculptures? As can be read on our website for this church, the entire building was moved stone by stone from the hamlet of Lochrist, 2 km away, to the center of the city. (The Church of the Holy Cross of Le Conquet). This titanic work took place from 1856 to 1858. Since the sculptures are badly corroded, it is likely that the four stone cannons were already in place on the earlier bell tower. And this could well go back to the 16th century, after the destruction and sacking of Le Conquet by the English in 1558.

Let us now take the coastal road to Pointe Saint-Mathieu. We will discover real cannons there.

-10 - The venerable cannons of the Pointe Saint-Mathieu

GPS: 48 ° 19'50.0 N 4 ° 46'24.8 W

Access: Park in the large parking lot and go to the cenotaph in memory of the sailors who perished at sea.

Two old rusty cannons facing the ocean are located there. But we have to get closer because they have something to say to us.

On the chassis of one of them we can still read "Schneider Le Creusot 1877". On one of the tubes: "Tarbes AC 1882".
Well, they don't go back to WWII at all ... or the First ...
1877, 1882! Almost a century and a half! They were built after the war of 1870!
It's easier to understand why steel is a little rusted under the ocean's salt mist here at Europe's endpoints.
Specialists will tell you that they are 95mm cannons, model Lahitolle 1875 and 1888, the first steel cannons to come from France. Equipped with a screw base, but without a reverse brake, they were not very suitable for field artillery. The heaviest, with its armored mask, weighs almost 3 tons. It was better to fix them to the ground. Between the wars of 1870 and 1914 we learned at school that Germany was the great enemy and that it was necessary to be constantly on guard and, above all, to protect the port of Brest from the intrusion of possible submarines ... These cannons were installed in the concrete cells of batteries attached to the large-caliber coastal batteries.
Starting in 1917, the defense of the coasts was transferred to the Navy, who installed these old cannons to defend lighthouses, semaphores and small ports, as these powerful guns could still keep a submarine from attacking these targets.
To see them in such a sad state today, it really doesn't look like they can throw a 12 kg grenade at a speed of 400 m / s!

After a moving thought for the venerable artillerymen who served these rare witnesses of our military heritage, we take the road again towards Plougonvelin for a final stop near the coast.

11 - The naval guns of the Rospects

GPS: 48 ° 19'49.6 N 4 ° 45'35.3 W

Access: On Plougonvelin Street, 500 meters after the end of the St-Mathieu agglomeration and in front of the World War II Museum, turn right on the street to Les Rospects until you reach the car park.

A barrier made up of boulders deposited there with remarkable aesthetic concern prevents vehicles from approaching the cannons. But there is no problem avoiding the obstacle on foot.
Two cannons are waiting for us 50 m further, guarding the entrance to a row of bunkers.

These two weapons, one 57 mm and the other 75 mm, were anti-aircraft guns used by the French Navy. Landed when the units to which they were attached were disarmed, they were used by the GERBAM (Groupe d'Etudes et de Recherches en Balistique, Armes et Munitions) at their Gâvres (Morbihan) location for ballistic tests. However, in 2010 this area, which was included in a Natura 2000 area, was closed in order to restore it in accordance with European guidelines. The weapons depot was intended for scrap. Several communities, including Plougonvelin, then acquired certain weapons to make them available to the public. These two naval cannons are part of it.

-12- The canon of Memory Museum 39-45>

GPS: 48 ° 20'07.5 N 4 ° 45'45.2 W

When returning to the road to Plougonvelin we will be visiting the Memorial Museum 39-45, which opened in 2017 in the former Kéromnès firing station, don't miss it. It is the work of two brothers, passionate about the history of the last war, who gave up their jobs to showcase their significant collection to the public. You can find an overview on our website for this museum. Its upper terrace offers visitors an exceptional panorama of the Iroise Sea. (Museum visit). During the occupation this command post of the powerful German defense unit of Keringar directed the shooting.They had, among other things, three huge 280 mm guns that could fire 240 kg projectiles at a distance of 30 km! These terrible monsters have been dismantled and their huge concrete shelters are empty.
As you step out of this terrace, you can get up close and personal with a 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft gun, manufactured in Canada under a Swedish license and used by the Allies during the Liberation.

To complete this trip we go back to the road to Brest and at the Kerfily junction we turn left towards Locmaria-Plouzané, where we can park at the foot of the church.

-13- The stone cannons of Locmaria-Plouzané

Parking GPS: 48 ° 22'28.8 N 4 ° 38'35.8 W

Once again the bell tower of a church shows its maritime and defensive character with these stone cannons. Notre-Dame Church, built in 1779, replaced an older building that already had these decorations. With a circular cross-section, these 4 stone cannons are placed like real gargoyles at each corner under the upper gallery.

This concludes our journey, which shows how keen the Pays d'Iroise is in preserving the memory of the battles that have shaped its entire history. Discovering this ancient heritage means realizing the importance of the Breton maritime border for our country as a whole. One must also imagine the fears and heroism of a coastal population in such a frequent uncertainty that they wanted to be engraved in stone as a message.
And of course this message is for us .......


-1- Check the internet for the opinion of Michel Le Goffic, archaeologist of Finistère, about the canons de pierre.

-2- The first binoculars come from the end of the 16th century. Century. Galileo perfected them in 1609. But with an inverted image, they were only used in astronomy. Proximity binoculars, whether on land or water, that require an image straightener are therefore older than 1609.

Many thanks to Maj. Roger Coguiec, the club Brest-44 and Mr. Patrick Jaubert for their help and the accuracy of their information.

The museum "Memories 39-45" in Plougonvelin

We can find more detailed documentation about the Lanildut battery on the Internet by Jean-Yves Besselièvre, which was put online by the "Cercle d'Histoire Locale de Lanildut":