‘screw gun’

A mountain artillery crew from the British Indian Army demonstrating assembly of the RML 2.5 inch Mountain Gun, circa 1895.

It seems the idea of a gun in two parts had its origin in Russia, having been proposed bin 1876 by Captain Kolokolzor, Director of a factory at Obuchow.

In 1877 Colonel le Mesurier RA proposed an RML 7-pr (2.5-inch) steel gun made in two parts which screwed together, hence ‘screw gun’, the piece eulogised by Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) in his poem on the subject. Twelve guns to le Mesurier’s design made by the Elswick Ordnance Company (Armstrong’s firm) were sent to Afganistan in 1879 and proved so satisfactory that a large number to a similar design were made at the Royal Gun Factory for the service. The RGF guns, designated Mark 2, differed from the EOC pattern mainly internally, eg in the shape of the sealing rings.

Rifling consisted of eight PPS grooves, 0.05-in deep, with a twist increasing from one turn in 80 calibres to one in 30 at 3.53 inches from the muzzle, the remainder being uniform at that pitch.

Gun and carriage dismantled were carried by five mules. The screw gun remained the armament of British mountain batteries until after the South African War (1899-1902). It was not popular among Gunners; although cordite had been introduced in 1892 ‘screw gun’ cartridges were still filled with gunpowder, the smoke from which advertised a gun’s position every time it fired.

Two mules each carried a third of the piece, a third the carriage, a fourth the wheels, and the fifth the rest, ie the axletree, elevating gear, rammer and other stores.

In its day the screw gun was considered the best mountain gun of its kind in the world.

Screw-Guns

by Rudyard Kipling

Smokin’ my pipe on the mountings, sniffin’ the mornin’ cool,

I walks in my old brown gaiters along o’ my old brown mule,

With seventy gunners be’ind me, an’ never a beggar forgets

It’s only the pick of the Army

that handles the dear little pets — ‘Tss! ‘Tss!

For you all love the screw-guns — the screw-guns they all love you!

So when we call round with a few guns,

o’ course you will know what to do — hoo! hoo!

Jest send in your Chief an’ surrender —

it’s worse if you fights or you runs:

You can go where you please, you can skid up the trees,

but you don’t get away from the guns!

They sends us along where the roads are, but mostly we goes where they ain’t:

We’d climb up the side of a sign-board an’ trust to the stick o’ the paint:

We’ve chivied the Naga an’ Looshai, we’ve give the Afreedeeman fits,

For we fancies ourselves at two thousand,

we guns that are built in two bits — ‘Tss! ‘Tss!

For you all love the screw-guns . . .

If a man doesn’t work, why, we drills ‘im an’ teaches ‘im ‘ow to behave;

If a beggar can’t march, why, we kills ‘im an’ rattles ‘im into ‘is grave.

You’ve got to stand up to our business an’ spring without snatchin’ or fuss.

D’you say that you sweat with the field-guns?

By God, you must lather with us — ‘Tss! ‘Tss!

For you all love the screw-guns . . .

The eagles is screamin’ around us, the river’s a-moanin’ below,

We’re clear o’ the pine an’ the oak-scrub,

we’re out on the rocks an’ the snow,

An’ the wind is as thin as a whip-lash what carries away to the plains

The rattle an’ stamp o’ the lead-mules —

the jinglety-jink o’ the chains — ‘Tss! ‘Tss!

For you all love the screw-guns . . .

There’s a wheel on the Horns o’ the Mornin’,

an’ a wheel on the edge o’ the Pit,

An’ a drop into nothin’ beneath you as straight as a beggar can spit:

With the sweat runnin’ out o’ your shirt-sleeves,

an’ the sun off the snow in your face,

An’ ‘arf o’ the men on the drag-ropes

to hold the old gun in ‘er place — ‘Tss! ‘Tss!

For you all love the screw-guns . . .

Smokin’ my pipe on the mountings, sniffin’ the mornin’ cool,

I climbs in my old brown gaiters along o’ my old brown mule.

The monkey can say what our road was —

the wild-goat ‘e knows where we passed.

Stand easy, you long-eared old darlin’s!

Out drag-ropes! With shrapnel! Hold fast — ‘Tss! ‘Tss!

For you all love the screw-guns — the screw-guns they all love you!

So when we take tea with a few guns,

o’ course you will know what to do — hoo! hoo!

Jest send in your Chief an’ surrender —

it’s worse if you fights or you runs:

You may hide in the caves, they’ll be only your graves,

but you can’t get away from the guns!

Here’s some general info on Indian Mountain Batteries of Screw Guns

The oldest Indian army Mountain Batteries were first raised around 1827. By the time of the Indian mutiny there were 3 such batteries, and by the time of the Great War, this rose to a total of 28 units. Although light in caliber, the guns of Mountain Batteries were designed to be disassembled and transported by pack mule in up to eight loads for use in terrain that would otherwise be impossible to traverse with larger and more conventional artillery. (note 1)

Each gun and its first line ammunition was carried in parts on six mules with a relief team of another six. In India, a Royal Artillery Mountain Battery had six guns, 219 mules and an establishment of 174 British all ranks with an additional 94 Indian muleteers who led the relief and baggage mules (note 4)

The earliest guns were the tiny 3 Pounder SBML (Smooth Bore Muzzle Loading) and 4 2/5 Inch SBML howitzer of c.1850. These were replaced in 1865 by the 7 Pounder RML (Rifled Muzzle Loading) and this in turn was replaced in 1879 by the significantly improved and significantly heavier 2.5 inch RML, also known as Kipling’s Screw Gun (all mountain gun types from this 2.5 inch RML on had barrels that split in two for transport). (note 1)

During the Afghan War Gen Williams who had come from England, declared that there were only three things worth seeing in India, namely the Taj at Agra, the way General Jough handled Cavalry Brigade and the Hazara Mountain Battery. (note 2)

This mountain gun was based on a new system invented by Colonel Le Mesurier in 1876. A new type of gunpowder had been invented but the barrel that was able to use it had to be longer and so heavier. While the carriage and wheels were carried in their parts by mules as usual, the new system was to have the barrel in two parts, each of one mule-load. These were joined by a trunnion ring attached to the muzzle section which allowed it to be ‘screwed’ to the breech section. The completed barrel length was 66.5 ins. with a diameter of 2.5 ins. The shell weighed 7lbs. Currently, one of these guns is on show at Firepower, the Royal Artillery Museum at Woolwich. (note 3)

The mule gun train consisted of five mules, the first two mules for each part of the barrel, a third for the wheels, a forth for the carriage and the fifth for the other parts (elevating gear, axletree etc, note 3)

Camel Mounted Versions: As part of the Khartoum Relief Column, the Naval Brigade had one five-barrelled Gardner gun with four camels to carry it; one for the barrels, one for the wheels and elevating gear, one for the trail, and one for the ammunition. The Camel Battery of the Royal Artillery had three 7 pdr. screw guns. Each gun, plus two boxes of ammunition, were carried on six camels with one native driver allotted to every two camels. The guns were usually put in the corners of the square, or placed in smaller fortified zaribas outside of the main square. (note 5).

During the battle of Abu Klea, the 5th Battery, 15th Brigade’s Royal Artillery guns were pushed out to the edge of the British square to fire at the charging enemy. The guns each managed to fire one round of case-shot, cutting down many of the enemy, before they reached the square and engaged in hand-to-hand fighting. (note 6)

R.A. and R.E.: Both the artillery and the engineers were dressed in the grey khaki uniform issued in Egypt. One photo of an R. E. officer shows him in full khaki with no puttees, and with his helmet a darker shade with than his uniform (Sandes, photo opp. p. 114). The R.A. were armed with three 2.5″ rifled muzzle loading screw guns, each carried by five camels, (Headlam, pp. 211, 218-19, note 5).

Howard Whitehouse (note7) points out that a major campaign had the effect of creating a boom in the prices for ANY pack animal, and then beasts that were old or sick often commanded double the proper price that they cost in peaceful times. Maybe this explains why camels have such a vast difference in the rated loads, from one source to another (anywhere from 250 pounds to 800 pounds!)

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