CANNON brought up from a sunken Elizabethan ship by Oxford archaeologist Mensun Bound have offered up new secrets of English naval successes in the age of Drake.

Mr Bound recovered two guns from an Elizabethan ship that went down in 1592, off Alderney, in the Channel Islands, while carrying munitions to an English army fighting in Brittany.

After conservation work, one of the guns has now been replicated and tested to reveal the true firing power of English ships, just four years after the defeat of the Spanish Armada. And the results left Mr Bound and his team hailing the guns as our “first weapon of mass destruction”.

Mr Bound, a fellow of St Peter’s College, Oxford, said: “No gun of this type and period had ever been tested before and the results were surprising. Muzzle velocities were achieved that were almost the speed of sound and the shot that was fired was able to punch through four inches of oak with ease.

“The weapon was also remarkably accurate and was able to hit the target every time.”

The testing was carried out at a quarry, owned by the explosives company Alford Technologies, where the police send specialist units for explosives training. The actual discharging of the gun was undertaken by a specialist from the Royal Armouries.

The project has shown how far naval warfare advanced from the time of the Mary Rose, which sank only 47 years before.

The guns on the Mary Rose, which was famously raised, were all different, giving a sense of “making do.

Mr Bound, who lives in Horspath, said: “The Mary Rose style of fighting was to grapple, clap sides, storm across and then fight it out toe-to-toe. What we have here is the beginning of stand-off naval warfare.

“These guns represent the beginning of broadside warfare in which fighting ships, as gun platforms, arranged themselves in line-ahead formation and delivered an entire battery of shot at the same time. The results were devastating.”

The initials FW were carved on one of the guns. With no gun-makers of the period known to have these initials or monogram, the team believe the answer to the mystery could be Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth I’s great spymaster.

This would link the ship to two of the most important men in Elizabeth I’s court. For the ship had also been carrying dispatches from Lord Burghley, her chief minister, when it sank The story of the recovery of the cannons and the test firing was featured in a BBC Timewatch television programme last weekend.

The Duke of York is patron of the underwater excavation project led by Mr Bound, whose major discoveries around the world have led him to be dubbed ‘Indiana Jones of the Deep’.

The cannon went on display at the Tower of London last year, from where it is likely they were first issued 400 years before.

Mr Bound previously raised a cannon from Nelson’s first ship of the line, The Agamemnon. He is planning to return to South America later this year to dive to German pocket-battleship the Graf Spee, from which he earlier brought up an eagle insignia.