77mm Feldkanone M 96 (7.7cm Field Gun Model 96)
Adoption date: 1896
Weight: 3,400 pounds (with limber)
Barrel length: —
Projectile weight: 15.04 pounds
Muzzle velocity: 1,525 fps
Maximum range: 8,750 yards
The Krupp arms-making dynasty was founded in Essen upon the fortune amassed by Arndt Krupp, who settled in that city in 1587. His son Anton expanded the family’s endeavors into making firearms during the Thirty Years’ War of 1618–1648, and the family progressively expanded its operations over the ensuing decades. In 1811, Friedrich Krupp (1787–1826) established a steel casting facility, and, although he successfully began casting steel in 1816, he expended considerable funds in the process. His son, Alfried (1812– 1887), continued his father’s work and eventually re-established the family fortune. By its nature steel was very difficult to cast, and internal faults were often impossible to detect through existing testing procedures. Defective cast steel pieces were also much more dangerous to crews than iron cannons, as the softer iron tended to split or burst with less energy than the harder steel, which more often ruptured with deadly violence. The Krupp firm’s success in casting steel was considered one of the major metallurgical achievements of its day.
Beginning in 1844, Alfried Krupp began experimenting in machining guns from solid cast steel blanks and in 1847 produced his first steel cannon. That same year he presented a steel gun to the King of Prussia, Frederick Wilhelm IV (1795–1861)—an act of entrepreneurial generosity that later won an order for 300 field guns. He went on to display a 6-pounder muzzleloading gun at the Great Exhibition of 1851 and began experiments in developing breechloading weapons. In 1856, Krupp introduced a 90mm field gun fitted with a transverse sliding breechblock that fit through a corresponding slot in the rear of the barrel.
Germany subsequently made the transition to rifled breechloaders during the 1860s, a move that gave it a distinct artillery advantage during the 1870–1871 Franco-Prussian War. Shortly after the war it adopted 78.5mm guns for its horse artillery and 88mm pieces for field use. The logistical difficulties associated with supplying two sizes of ammunition in the field and recent advances in metallurgy and gun design then led to the Model 73/88 system, which used the 88mm caliber for both horse artillery and field use and the later Model 73/91 system, utilizing nickel steel barrels. The Model 73/91 was finally superseded by Germany’s answer to the French 75—the Model 96 or Feldkanone 96 neur Art.
PRE– WORLD WAR I GERMAN ARTILLERY TRENDS
At the beginning of the century, artillery construction fell under three basic techniques. Armstrong’s built-up method of heat shrinking progressively larger reinforcing bands around a central tube remained a viable method for manufacturing large guns and howitzers as did, to a lesser degree, wire-wound pieces. Wire-wound cannons consisted of a central tube wrapped in tremendous lengths of flat wire that were, in turn, secured and reinforced by heat-shrunk bands, much like built-up guns. Although in some cases more economical than other methods of cannon construction, wire-wound guns were difficult to rebore and eventually fell out of use. The third technique, as pioneered by Krupp, relied on machining the piece’s barrel out of a single blank stock; as technology improved, that soon became the preferred of the three construction methods.
The major powers interpreted the artillery lessons of the Franco- Prussian War, Second Boer War, and Russo-Japanese War according to their own inclinations and command structures. Still, by 1910, France and Germany viewed artillery duels as ineffective, and the protection of one’s own and the destruction of the enemy’s infantry their artillery’s primary purpose. Following its defeat by the Germans, France initially modified its doctrine to mimic some aspects of its enemy’s, yet it still retained a reluctance to expose its gun crews to opposing infantry or artillery fire. For a brief period the use of field pieces with armored shields did encourage the French into more aggressive infantry support, yet by 1910, French doctrine had reverted to providing indirect fire support from less exposed positions.
France and Germany developed profoundly different approaches to their artillery organizations during the new century’s first decade. The differences in their command structures were particularly apparent. As its primary purpose was to provide fire support, the French artillery was considered essentially subordinate to the infantry and was thus subject to rigid control and had little autonomy. It was divided into infantry batteries subordinate to the infantry commander and into counter-batteries to provide anti-artillery fire. German artillery batteries, in contrast, were allowed much more freedom of action in the field, allowing individual commanders to operate as they saw fit. The French officers themselves received rigorous technical and theoretical training at the École Polytechnique, whereas German officers concentrated on tactics and the other more practical aspects of their profession.
In 1910, French field artillery batteries were made up of four guns, whereas the Germans favored larger six-gun batteries. By 1914 the French organized its field artillery regiments into battalions consisting of three four-gun batteries armed with the French 75mm gun. Divisional regiments were made up of three battalions and operated with infantry divisions while in the field, whereas the four battalion corps regiments acted as an artillery reserve. A German artillery brigade of the same period consisted of three battalions armed with the 77mm light field gun and one battalion of 105mm light field howitzers.