Armstrong 100-ton guns

Rinella gun, Malta, still on the original mount.


In the late 1800s, large muzzle-loading cannons were built by Armstrong’s Elswick Ordnance Company for the British government. They were built on the Armstrong system of a primary steel tube, with successive, shorter, wrought-iron tubes, heated and shrunk on the main tube. They had a 18-in (45-cm) bore, a little over 30ft (9m) long. The guns were first fired in 1884, but the weapons were not fully operational until 1889 owing to hydraulic system problems. The four original British guns were divided between Gibraltar and Malta and none of them were ever fired in earnest.

During the 1860s and 1870s, Woolwich manufactured several marks of large naval and seacoast Armstrong muzzleloaders, ranging from the 12-ton, 9-inch Mk IV to the 81-ton, 16-inch Mk I. Other big Armstrongs included the 38-ton, 12.5-inch Mk I; the 35-ton, 12- inch Mk I; the 25-ton, 12-inch Mk II; the 25-ton, 11-inch Mk II; and the 18-ton, 10-inch Mk II. The largest rifled muzzleloaders in British service were 17.72-inch, 100-ton giants that, with a 460- pound charge, fired a 1-ton projectile at a muzzle velocity of nearly 1,700 feet per second. Four were manufactured and were mounted in the defenses of Gibraltar and Malta.

The largest muzzleloading black powder cannons ever built were the Armstrong 100-ton guns which saw service with the Italian Navy and with British coastal fortifications on Malta and Gibraltar. They were purchased by the Italians first, to outfit a pair of new super battleships, each vessel having two turrets with two of these guns in each. To avoid being outclassed, the British ordered two guns for installation to protect the Grand Harbor of Malta and two more to protect Gibraltar. Today one survives at each location, and we are visiting the Rinella Battery in Malta, which was built to house one of the Maltese guns.

These guns had a maximum range of 8 miles, and was capable of piercing 15 inches of iron armor at 3 miles. It had a 17.7 inch (45cm) bore fired a 2000 pound (900 kg) shell with a 450 pound (200kg) charge of black powder. The gun itself weighed approximately 102 tons, and with its cradle and a shell the whole assembly came in at 150 tons.

Aside from the massive scale of the piece, the most interesting part of its design is actually the loading machinery. Because of the titanic size of the gun and ammunition, Armstrong designed a fascinating hydraulic reloading facility which makes up the body of the fortress in which the gun is set. A pair of steam engines drove a pair of hydraulic accumulators, which provided hydraulic pressure to move the gun on its carriage, to douse the barrel after firing, to hoist ammunition into position for loading and power a 60-foot (18m) ramrod to mechanically ram the charge and shell into place. Two mirror-image reloading galleries under the fortification operated in turn, giving the gun a sustained rate of fire of 1 round every 6 minutes – at least until its 120-round barrel life was exhausted.

Malta Batteries

In 1866, four coastal batteries were proposed, two on either side of the main harbor area. On the northwest side were established Sliema Point Battery and Fort Pembroke, while on the southeast side were Fort St. Rocco and Fort St. Tombrell. The Sliema Point Battery was built in 1876 with two eleven-inch and two ten-inch guns. In 1879 work began on Fort Pembroke, overlooking St. George’s Bay. It was completed at a cost of 13,730 pounds. The seventy troops stationed there serviced three thirty-five-ton twelve-inch rifled muzzle loader (RML) guns with a range of 10,000 yards.

Originally, these new coastal batteries were to be armed with twenty three-ton RML guns, but with the rapid development of technology, it became necessary to increase their size during construction, some being eventually armed with thirty-eight-ton RML guns firing 12.5-inch shells. Likewise, the protection of the batteries was repeatedly upgraded. While five inches of protective iron had been sufficient previous to 1866, the introduction of the twenty-three-ton gun led this to be increased to twelve inches. By 1878, twenty-eight inches of armor plating was deemed necessary to withstand the bombardment of the largest ironclad battleships.

It would seem that in their long possession of the islands, the knights had fortified every conceivable spot in the main harbor area. But if there was a chink in the armor, it was the Corradino Heights, directly across from Floriana and Valletta. The Turkish army had established batteries there in 1565, and the Hornwork at Floriana had been constructed to deal with any future threats from that direction. The British decided to build entrenchments on these heights and in 1871 began work on the Corradino Lines. These were completed in 1880 at a cost of 17,634 pounds and featured two sixty-four-pound RMLs.

Additional artillery positions were built around the main harbor area. On the northern or Marsamxett side, Fort Cambridge was built on the Sliema peninsula. It featured a single 100-ton RML, the heaviest muzzle loader ever built, with a maximum range of 14,000 yards, a gun crew of thirty-five, and firing a 17.72-inch shell. Begun in 1878, it was not completed until 1898 at a cost of over 19,000 pounds. Another new position on this side of the harbor area was Garden Battery, which was sandwiched between Fort Tigne and Fort Cambridge. It was completed in 1894 at cost of 7,806 pounds and armed with one 9.2-inch breech-loading (BL) gun and two 6-inch BL guns, all on disappearing mountings.

On the opposite or Grand Harbour side, the British built Fort Rinella, featuring another 100-ton gun similar to that in Fort Cambridge. Its massive artillery piece was mounted on January 12, 1888, with great ceremony. Delia Grazie Battery was then constructed between forts Ricasoli and Rinella. Completed in 1893, it was armed with two ten-inch and two six-inch BL guns, costing 16,344 pounds.


French Artillery – Napoleonic Wars I

0200, 20 June 1809: 40 miles west of Ingolstadt, Bavaria

The green Berline carriage rumbled like a juggernaut through the Bavarian countryside towards Ingolstadt. A large, specially modified vehicle, fitted with large, strongly built artillery wheels, it was escorted by grimly silent light horsemen uniformed in light green. The horses were lathered and showing the strain of the pace, and the carriage and escort finally pulled up in a clatter of hooves and trace chains in the next small village, where it was known that a French relay station had been set up.

Slowing down gradually on the cobblestoned street, the entourage still made enough noise to wake the dead, and the bone-tired troopers were near enough to the village cemetery for some of them to take a wistful look at the garden of stone in the moonlight. Villagers who were awakened by the awful clatter peered out of their shuttered windows to see the cause of their interrupted night’s sleep. One angry villager was about to shout down to them when he saw who it was that stepped down from the Berline. Another such spectator was the local Burgomaster, who lived across from the temporary relay station.

Opening his shutters and gazing into the street, he saw a very familiar scene. The team horses were being efficiently exchanged with a relief team, the only light being provided by the half moonlight and a few large lanterns. Still, it was light enough to see clearly. The troopers of the escort were watering and feeding their mounts, taking a little time to sip warm wine that had hastily been brought from the nearby inn. Even though it was hard to tell colors in the false light, the Burgomaster could see the escort was uniformed in faded, dust-covered light green, instead of the remembered dark green and scarlet. This puzzled the Burgomaster, especially when one of the NCOs started to berate a trooper for not being able to control his mount in fluent, idiomatic German. The officer who had dismounted from the carriage was wearing a nondescript grey overcoat and a small hat, though he was wearing riding boots. He was talking to another officer, who was more impressively dressed in dark blue trimmed with gold and had just dismounted beside the carriage. While they were talking, an older officer stepped down from the carriage, and the two men turned to engage him in conversation.

Suddenly the routine was interrupted by a courier clattering down the cobblestoned street, coming from the direction of Ingolstadt. Reining in his sweating horse, the junior officer dismounted, saluted the trio of senior officers, and gave the officer in the grey overcoat some type of dispatch. Tearing it open and glancing at it, he motioned to one of the escort who had a lantern to come closer, briefly read the contents, and barked quick, succinct orders, in French, to the rest of the party and escort.

Frenzied activity followed the officer’s last syllable. The replacement team was run into place and hitched quickly into place, and the escort swung into their saddles and formed up. Watching the two senior officers get back into the carriage and slam the door as the third mounted his horse, the officer in charge merely motioned his hand forward and the entire column lurched forward carrying the Emperor Napoleon deep into the German night on his way to once again face the enemies of his Empire—this time the formidable Archduke Charles and his Kaiserlichen.

Shaking his weary head, the Burgomaster could only feel vaguely sorry for the Austrians, who had once again invaded his country two weeks before. The terrible vengeance of the Grande Armée, led by the Emperor of Battles, was once again being unleashed on the enemies of the Empire. The Burgomaster had seen it before, and it was not pretty.


Across Europe they strode like a Colossus. Ragged, undisciplined volunteers, johnny-raw frightened conscripts and sullen regulars, led sometimes by unwashed sans-culottes générais, commissioned former sergants-major, and the vicious, sometimes helpful Representatives on Mission against the armies of the kings. Under execrable conditions, their officers, under threat of a “Republican Shave,” imprisonment, or the seemingly overwhelming numbers of enemy men and guns, whipped them into shape to defeat the enemies of the Republic who had placed La Patrie in danger. The survivors of these campaigns, which used up men wholesale, always moved forward by force of character, or the character of their commanding officers. These were the men that shaped the armies of the Republic, their tactics, organization, and training. Their remnants were iron men, honed by defeat and hardship, and they led the “wolf breed” of the Revolution through years of bitter struggle and hard-won victories. Somewhere along the grim road, they became professional soldiers and knew no other life. From their ranks came an individualistic, practiced, and hard group of men that were the artillery generals of the French armies.

Napoleon was the only head of state who took the field as commander-in-chief of his armies, and as commander of the Grande Armée. The Allied sovereigns at times also took the field. Alexander was present at Austerlitz, and thought himself in command. Frederick William III was the nominal commander-in-chief of the Prussian Army, was present at Auerstadt in 1806, and displayed admirable courage on the battlefield, but he did not assume command until after his field commander, the Duke of Brunswick, had been mortally wounded:

The Grande Armee was the trenchant instrument with which Napoleon reshaped both Europe and the art of war. Swift-marching, furious in the attack, grimly enduring, high-hearted, stubborn in disaster, it still ranks among the few greatest of the great. It also was many men of many different nations—many heroes, not a few cowards, and the multitude who were neither but did their duty as they saw it… The Grande Armee was Napoleon’s unique creation. He worked steadily at improving its organization, tactics, and weapons . .. Just as it was his creation, so it was his home. He was another solider there among soldiers, a father among his children. He could talk to them—collectively or man-to-man—in their own speech (not excluding a few popular expletives) and was an expert at the blague (blarney) or a quick fight talk. The Grande Armee gave him strange nicknames: “Le Tondu” (The Shorn One), “Father Violet,” and “John of the Sword.” Together, they put fear into the souls of Europe’s kings and foreign generations—a terrible reality and an enduring legend.

Napoleon was also the only period commander-in-chief who was an artilleryman. Scharnhorst, who was chief of staff to Brunswick in 1806, chief of staff to Lestocq in early 1807, and later chief of the Prussian General Staff, was also originally an artilleryman, but he was not an army commander, nor the commander of his adopted nation’s armed forces. Being an artilleryman, Napoleon took more than a normal interest in his army’s artillery; he was a moving force behind its development. Some of his artillerist generals, such as the du Teils were his teachers, and some, such as Gassendi, were senior to him. Others, such as Marmont, “grew up under him” and were also comrades of long standing.

Napoleon was also the consummate artilleryman, and “at heart, Napoleon was a gunner … Probably he never was, in his inner life, far from that at any time.” Proof of this was his finding Lannes’ artillery the night before Jena and sending it on its way. It would be interesting to find out what he said to the artillery officers who left the column stuck in the ravine and in the lurch while they went “off looking for supper.”

Part of the artillery Napoleon inherited both as a commanding general and later as head of state was

… full of the most ridiculous fiddle-faddle. They never consider the good of the Service … The junior officers in the ministry sprinkle holy water [make empty promises] and our country suffers … I have received only forty horse artillerymen, who have not seen combat and are without horses. Send me therefore six companies, and do not trust the execution of that measure to the officers of the [artillery section], since it takes them ten days to expedite an order, and they probably would be stupid enough to draw them from Holland, with the result that they would not arrive until October.

Upon becoming First Consul, one of the first things Napoleon did was to reorganize the artillery staff and establish a large artillery staff at army level that was responsible to him and him alone.

The French had five types of troops that were considered to be artillerymen. These were the horse and foot artillery (artillerie à cheval and artillerie à pied), pontonniers, artificers (ouvriers), and armorers (armuriers). Along with these troops, the artillery train (Train d’Artillerie) was established in 1800 to haul the guns and artillery vehicles (see Chapter IV). There were eight regiments of foot artillery, which formed the greatest part of the artillery strength of the Grande Armée. Each regiment was composed of twenty companies. Napoleon organized a ninth regiment of foot artillery, and increased the companies in each regiment to 27 or 28 companies per regiment. A company of foot artillery was composed of five officers, six NCOs, one drummer, and 81 enlisted men. There were six regiments of horse artillery, each of eight companies by 1814. Each regiment was given a depot company in 1807. A horse artillery company was composed of four officers, five NCOs, two trumpeters and 65 enlisted men. Each horse artilleryman was armed with a sabre and two pistols. While most were assigned to the cavalry divisions, Napoleon also tried to assign as much horse artillery to the different corps of the Grande Armée as possible, usually one per corps. Having all personnel individually mounted gave the horse artillery an immense advantage over the foot artillery in mobility, and they could be used in more fluid situations or react to emergencies much more quickly.

Gun crews by regulation were to be partly made up of assigned infantrymen, although there is no evidence that this was a permanent arrangement. It happened in an emergency, as at Essling and Wagram in 1809, artillery losses being so heavy that the Old Guard infantry was asked for volunteers to man the guns. Coignet mentions that, at Wagram, everybody volunteered to get into action. Gun crews numbered fifteen for the 12-pounder, thirteen for the 8-pounder, eight for the 4-pounder, and thirteen for the 6-inch howitzer. The crew for the new 5.5-inch howitzer remained the same when it was introduced with the new AN XI guns, and the 6-pounder had a crew of thirteen, the same as for the 8-pounder it replaced.

Pontonneers (pontonniers) belonged to the artillery and not to the engineers during this period. They were commanded by artillerymen, such as Eble, and not only were able to “throw” a pontoon bridge across a water obstacle, but also were capable of building trestle bridges. They were initially formed and organized at Strasbourg in 1792, and were originally an undisciplined group of Rhine River boat and bargemen. A second battalion of pontonneers was organized on the Rhine during 1796–97 and a third in Italy in 1800. The 2nd and 3rd Battalions were amalgamated in 1801. From then until the end of the Empire, there were between six and fourteen companies of pontonneers, not including the Imperial Guard.

One company of pontonneers was assigned to each corps d’armée, to the Cavalry Reserve, to the army Grand Parc, and to the Guard (which eventually had its own). A pontonneer company could “throw” (construct or emplace) a bridge of between 60 and 80 pontoons over a waterway in about seven hours, the length of this bridge being from 350 to 500 feet. Pontoons were carried on long two-wheeled wagons called hacquets, which were fitted to the usual artillery limber in the front to make it a four-wheeled wagon. Other wagons carried the ancillary equipment, such as planks, anchors, etc., needed to finish a bridge.

The pontonneers’ finest hour was undoubtedly at the Berezina in 1812, when their herculean efforts built two trestle bridges under extreme conditions, allowing the Grande Armée to escape from Russia. The pontonneers suffered ninety percent casualties in that gallant performance. Equally as impressive was the massive effort for the second Danube crossing in 1809, where they built a 179-yard-long pontoon bridge and swung it out from under cover and had it in place in five minutes for the troops to rush across.

The ouvriers d’artillery were the artificers—skilled workmen who built and repaired the artillery’s vehicles and gun carriages. They were assigned to the arsenals and the parks, though some of them got into action. In 1801 there were fifteen companies of them, and in 1810 eighteen. The armuriers d’artillerie, or armorers, were the personnel who worked on and repaired weapons. There were five companies of them by 1810 and they usually served in the arsenals and parks.

The Grande Armée had no permanently organized units of mountain artillery, though it was certainly used when required. Foot artillery was trained to be able to employ any type of gun, and these were the companies assigned as mountain artillery when needed. Mountain artillery comprised light guns and carriages, usually specially designed to be broken down into mule loads. All guns and equipment, as well as ammunition, were carried by mules. Captured Austrian pieces were used as mountain artillery, mounted on specially designed carriages, as well as Piedmontese 3-pounders. Some tools, such as a folding handspike, were also designed for use with mountain guns:

These light three pounders were mounted on two kinds of carriages; those taken from the Piedmontese had wheel carriages; the French made use of them, but constructed none of this first kind: the other were of French construction, and had chevrette carriages. The wheel carriage, however, appears the most preferable, because the piece stands higher, its service is more easy, and is not so liable to overset as the chevrette carriage, when the piece is fired; the weight is the same, but is of more difficult construction. Both can be carried on mules, each weighing about one hundred and twenty pounds. The wheel carriage has an iron pointing plate, which is fixed with a hinge at the head of the carriage, and, by means of a bolt which traverses both the flasks at the other end, can be placed at three degrees of elevation. This, with a very short pointing screw, gives the facility of leveling the piece either much above or much below the horizon, which in mountains is very important. The button of the piece is hollowed; the end of the pointing vice is forkated [sic] in two branches, each of which have a hole to receive a bolt, which, passing also through the button, prevents the jerking of the piece when it is fired.

There was also a portable field forge that could be packed on mules in boxes for transport with the mountain artillery. The number of mules needed for a 3-pounder section of two guns was eighteen, and for a 4-pounder, thirty-three. The number of gunners per section was six and sixteen, respectively.

DuTeil, in his treatise, stated that, based on experience in fighting in Corsica,

In extreme situations, where the ordinary carriages are not practical, one will instead supply the guns with sleds, which will fulfill the dual capacity for moving on the bad roads, such as are seen when traveling in the Alps, and also facilitate the emplacement of the cannon, for the fire from these sleds will be executed better than that done from the regular carriages.

Also, it had to be understood that, in mountain warfare,

It is, therefore, just as necessary in mountain warfare, as in that of the plain, that the artillery be well-conditioned, such as we have adopted. One can rest assured that no obstacles will be able to hinder the rapid operations of the entire army, as was the case formerly … Whatever the objective of the army’s conduct in the mountains, one cannot doubt that the artillery is an indispensable necessity. Can this war not be considered similar to a battle for a strong position, for who are better in the attack or the defense of positions, for reducing obstacles, and for the forcing of passages, than the artillery?

Mountain artillery was used successfully in Italy, in the Tyrol, and in Spain. For the Marengo campaign, artillery needed to be taken over the Alps. Regular field artillery was taken, and the carriages to get the guns over the mountains and through the snow proved to be unsatisfactory.

What the French artillerymen did, therefore, was to hollow out tree trunks for the gun tubes and drag them over the mountains.

French artillery employment and doctrine were based on infantry/artillery cooperation. This was taught in the excellent French artillery schools and was emphasized by the du Teil brothers and Gribeauval. Napoleon would also remark on how the French were to employ their artillery, and it peppers his correspondence:

A system of regular war requires a large quantity of artillery. Everywhere a regiment goes you need artillery. You must have as much artillery as your enemy, based upon four guns per 1,000 infantry and cavalry. The better the infantry, the greater the need to be careful of it and support it with good batteries. The greatest part of the artillery should be with the infantry and cavalry divisions, the smallest portion in reserve. Each gun should have 300 rounds, not counting the small chest. That is the normal expenditure for two battles.

It is necessary to be familiar with artillery … I believe that every officer ought to serve in the artillery, which is the arm that can produce most of the good generals… To be a good general you must know mathematics; it serves to direct your thinking in a thousand circumstances.

The artillery staff must serve with greater activity on the battlefield. It is up to the artillery commander and staff officers to place the guns in position and to withdraw them, to anticipate the expenditure of ammunition, to correct poor sites that the company officers select, and finally to have artillery perform the duty that it has always done with such distinction.

It is the duty of artillery general to understand all for the operations of the army, insofar as he is forced to provide the different divisions with arms and ammunition. His contacts with the individual battery commander in each division enable him to know everything that is going on.

As for the artillery, I think that the first inspector will have given the necessary instructions so that the duty for that is followed with the greatest activity. My intention is that in each regiment of mounted artillery notice will be taken of those gunners sighting the piece who hit the most targets, that you take similar note of the men working with mortars and howitzers who have lobbed the most shells into the circle, and those who will have fired the most shells.

From September 2nd to the 7th, each of these regiments will send its ten best gunners to La Fère, where they will be trained in large artillery drills consisting of firing siege guns, field artillery on their carriages, howitzer and mortar batteries, hot shot, and every other kind of fire, in order to determine which of these eight regiments will supply the best man who aims a gun.

—Napoleon to Berthier, 25 March 1803

French artillery doctrine can be neatly summed up in this passage from Tousard:

In defensive positions, place the large calibers in situations from which you can discover the enemy at a great distance, and from which the most extensive parts of its front are to be seen.

In attack, place these large calibers in the weakest part of your order of battle, consequently the most distant from the enemy; on the same side with the with the false attacks; on such heights which can, in securing them from insult, afford you the means of seconding the flanks of the real attack, and, if possible, batter de revers, the points which are attacked …

You should know the effect which you are to produce; the troops which you have to support; the points of attack, and take your positions so as not to impede your troops, nor occupy such where infantry could be more usefully employed than artillery. Avoid bringing your cannon too near and exposing them too much. Avail yourself of the disposition of the ground to cover your front, and especially your flanks; and, unless you are sure of a decisive effect, never trust your cannon from the protection of the troops.

Your crossfires should embrace the whole of the enemy’s position, and the ground he must march over to attack you. Let your fire be concentrated, that is to say, offer to the enemy only scattered subdivisions to fire at, whereas from your several positions you may batter the same object.

These same objects, in the defensive, are the Debouches, or openings of the enemy; the heads of such of its columns which threaten you; the ground in front of your weakest parts.

In the offensive; the whole front of the enemy’s army on which you should fire, in order to check and perplex him; and the parts which you intend to attack and destroy.

Force the enemy to make use of direct fire, before their crossfires might annoy your attacking troops; and, when forced to cease firing on the points which your troops attack, batter such of the enemy’s as are collateral to them.

Fire on an extent which covers the amplitude with the divergency of your shots.

Make your shot range the greatest dimension of a troop. Consequently, batter a line obliquely, or en echarpe, and a column with direct fire, but never trust your pieces from the protection of your troops.

Place your cannon so as to be beaten neither en echarpe, in flank, nor in the rear, unless you can shelter yourself, or have the certainty of producing the expected effect before you can be entirely disabled, and put hors de combat.

Before adopting a situation, consider the nature of the site, to avoid the miry, stony, and broken ground.

Secure to yourself easy means of advancing or retreating.

Choose positions not too much elevated. The maximum which is the most advantageous, is thirty or forty yards on six hundred, and sixteen on two hundred.

Avoid taking your situation behind your troops; your fire makes them uneasy, and presents two objects instead of one to the enemy’s fire.

Give at least thirty-six yards for each piece of your battery, unless the enemy may batter you en echarpe, under a very favorable angle; for they fire on a front, and not at a single piece.

Prefer positions from which you may batter the enemy for a longer time.

Never fire gun against gun, unless the enemy is under shelter, and his cannon exposed; moreover, unless your troops, being more annoyed by their fire than their troops are with yours, should be rendered incapable of performing their maneuvers.

Embrace with your fire the whole field of battle, or such part of it where the greatest number of their troops are collected, and do not fire on a contracted point.

Accelerate your firing so much the more as you may do it with more justness.

Make use of the grapeshot at shorter distances than such as are prescribed by the tables, if the field of battle is unequal, soft, covered, plunging, or plunged.

Spare your ammunition for a critical moment. Infantry, at quick time, march two hundred yards in three minutes; cavalry, at gallop, in half a minute.

Never abandon your cannon but when the enemy enters the battery. The last discharges are the most destructive: they may perhaps be the means of your preservation, but for certain those of your glory.

French Artillery – Napoleonic Wars II

While the tumult of the Revolution did not affect the artillery officer corps as much as it had in the infantry and cavalry, 81 percent of the artillery officers on the Army List in 1789 emigrated. This left a burden on the remaining officers, such as Napoleon, and the NCOs, which was eventually filled to some extent. Newly commissioned officers also filled the void: Marmont, for example, expertly served and smoothly emplaced guns to support Desaix and Kellermann at Marengo in 1800, smashing the Austrian pursuit and helping turn defeat into victory.

Tactics employed by the artillery units in the Wars of the Revolution reflected what had been taught in the schools before the wars. Although not always successful, and many times outnumbered in guns and equipment by the Austrians, the French artillerymen learned their trade and supported their infantry brethren on the battlefields of the Republic. The horse artillerymen brought a new variable into the artillery/infantry equation, and Séruzier remarked that “they were renowned for their courage, and no less for their contentious spirit. They pushed esprit de corps far beyond the point of virtue and believed themselves infinitely superior to their comrades in the foot artillery.” Horse artillery were assigned to the cavalry as, according to Kilmaine, “it is the only way to make up for our scarcity of cavalry.” They fought alongside the clouds of light troops that screened attacks, closely supported attacking infantry in line or column, and in the advance guard of the army. They furnished the needed artillery fire with the support that sometimes kept a faltering attack moving. At the Battle of Wattignies in October 1793, a French concentration of five artillery companies, three horse and two foot, totaling thirty guns, paved the way for the decisive infantry assault: the three horse artillery companies accompanied the French infantry, while the two foot companies conducted counterbattery fire against the opposing Austrian artillery. The doctrine taught and written about before the wars was starting to bear fruit.

When the French phased out the divisions of all arms by 1800, artillery was still assigned to infantry and cavalry divisions. Artillery was initially employed to support the skirmishers in attacks, as well as being formed in multiple company batteries along the front of the army to support the infantry’s main and secondary attacks. One of the problems in the Revolutionary campaigns was that the French were many times outnumbered in artillery by the excellent Austrian artillery, and were many times outshot, as at Neerwinden in 1793.

Napoleon’s coming to power in 1799 gradually changed all that. The artillery arm was enlarged, and more guns were manufactured and issued to the gun companies. The Grande Armée of 1805, the best Napoleon ever led, was short of horse transport (which is an indication that Napoleon’s actual intention was to invade England), and the artillery was short of horses when it moved east to face the Austrian invasion of Bavaria. Not all the guns and ancillary equipment could be taken until the horse shortage could be solved. Davout had to leave some of his guns and artillery equipment at Mannheim during the French offensive, to be retrieved later.

After the Austerlitz campaign and subsequent peace treaty, Napoleon reorganized his artillery in a more logical manner. New guns of the Système AN XI, of which the 6-pounder, a new 12-pounder, and a 5.5-inch howitzer were being produced, and now were issued as soon as they were manufactured. What Napoleon wanted to do was issue every infantry division in the Grande Armée with two artillery companies. He also wanted one of them to be a horse artillery company if there were enough to go around. One horse artillery company would be assigned to every light cavalry division, and the heavy cavalry divisions would get two each, and all divisional artillery companies would be equipped with 6-pounders and 5.5-inch howitzers. An army artillery reserve would be formed, where most of the 12-pounders would be held. Additionally, corps artillery reserve companies would be held by the corps commanders. The 4- and 8-pounder Gribeauval guns would either be placed in the arsenals for storage as they were replaced by the new ordnance, or assigned to armies in secondary theaters, such as Italy and Spain.

In December 1814, General Ruty conducted a study that favored the older 8-pounder Gribeauval gun tube over the newer and widely employed 6-pounder of the Système AN XI. His main points were that the older piece was better and more accurate, that there had been no field testing comparing the two pieces, and that the weight saved by using the lighter piece failed to give it a decisive advantage over the older 8-pounder.

Ruty also found that the companies of each gun type were almost identical in size, and that the number of horses needed to haul both guns and their ancillary equipment was also nearly identical. He also came to the conclusion that

The 8 caliber has, in all respects, an undeniable advantage over the 6-caliber. The use of the former, in preference to the latter, could not be put in doubt if we disregarded all economic considerations in the use of the resources. If, on the other hand, we proposed to coordinate with these last considerations, rather than with the first ones, the determination of the field calibers, the advocates of the old system would appose [sic] to the 6 caliber, the 4 caliber which, for the economy of the resources, obtains more advantages in relation to the 8 caliber. Yet, if the question was considered from only one of these points of view, it would be discussed in an incomplete and wrong way. In order to grasp the real point of view of the question, we must determine, in a more precise manner, the various purposes the cannon can serve in field warfare and then, examine if, for a definite sum of resources, the combination of the 8 and 4 calibers serves better these purposes than the intermediate 6 caliber.

Finally, Ruty stated that

If the reasoning itself did not suffice to establish the advantages of the 8 caliber or the 6 caliber in the formation of the batteries… it would rely on the memories of the past to convey its undeniable advantages … Twenty years of brilliant success had sanctified it. Nobody can feel more inclined than an artillery officer to grant the personnel a share of merit it has to claim in these successes; yet it is for the same officer to judge to what extent the nature of the weapon has played a part in obtaining these successes. It seems impossible to deny that the material and positive superiority of a caliber more significant than the usually weaker caliber, had a lot to do with the superiority of our horse artillery batteries generally accepted at the time of the war currently being discussed. This opinion was so widespread that the gunners brought themselves reluctantly to renounce a weapon that so many reasons of pride and trust made it precious to them. They seized with eagerness the opportunity to take it back, wherever the 8 caliber was still accepted in the composition of field companies, in competition with the 6 caliber, which has been introduced in our armies only successively.

The addition of the new 6-pounder into the French artillery simplified many issues, such as ammunition resupply and the number of calibers used by the field armies. However, the Système AN XI was not fully implemented, only the 6-pounder and 5.5-inch howitzer being issued in large numbers. Furthermore, as has been noted, the new carriage for the 6-pounder was unsuitable and fell apart after hard campaigning, so the 6-pounder had to be remounted on the older Gribeauval carriages taken from the armories.

On campaign, French artillery was organized by company, the companies being assigned to a separate corps under a corps artillery chief who was usually a general officer. Companies of the same regiment did not necessarily serve together, or even in the same corps, though sometimes it was specified that they should. There was no battalion-level organization in the artillery regiments.

Corps artillery was organized with a corps reserve, and with every infantry division receiving one company of foot artillery. Those companies were also issued with four extra caissons to carry ammunition resupply for the infantry. There were also companies assigned to the army artillery reserve, that mission generally being taken over after 1809 by the larger Guard artillery. A typical artillery order of battle for a corps in the Grande Armée is represented by that of Davout’s III Corps at the Battle of Auerstadt on 14 October 1806.

The total authorized strength of the French artillery arm in 1809 at the height of the Empire was as described in the following extract:

The French imperial corps of artillery, at this time, is composed of eight regiments of foot artillery, and six regiments of horse artillery. The full complement of the first is two thousand five hundred and eighty- two men, including the officers, and the total of the foot artillery is twenty thousand six hundred and fifty-six men. The full complement of a regiment of horse artillery is five hundred and twenty-four men, and the total is three thousand two hundred and twenty-nine men.

Fifteen companies of artificers, ninety-two men including four officers, thirteen hundred eighty. Eight battalions of the train, the great complement of which is four hundred and seventy-seven men, and the total, including the officers, thirty-eight hundred and sixteen.

When the battalions of the train are put on the war establishment, they are increased to the same number of battalions, of six companies, each of ninety-nine men, sixty of whom are conscripts.

There are also two battalions of pontonneers of six hundred and ten men; officers, soldiers and artificers, total twelve hundred and twenty men.

Fourteen companies of veteran cannoneers, fifty men each, seven hundred men, and one hundred and twenty-eight garde-côte companies of one hundred and twenty-one men each, which give a complement of fifteen thousand four hundred and eighty-eight men.

The whole of the French artillery is thus forty-six thousand four hundred and eighty-nine men, including the officers. In this number are not included the sappers and miners, which were formerly attached to the artillery, and which now form part of the corps of engineers, the total of which is five thousand four hundred and forty-five men, exclusive of four hundred and twenty-eight officers, who compose the imperial corps of engineers.

Regimental guns were phased out of the French service in 1800. Napoleon partially revived them in 1809, and again for the invasion of Russia in 1812. Generally, regimental gun companies were to be of two guns each. However, when Napoleon wanted them reformed in 1810, they were supposed to have four 4-pounders, as well as two officers and 95 enlisted men per company, bit it proved difficult to procure the required ancillary equipment (caissons, field forges, limbers, horse harness, etc.). There was also a shortage of guns, some companies being issued Austrian 3-pounders and even old Piedmontese guns, which were completely unsuitable. Therefore, Napoleon ordered that the old two-gun company organization of two officers and 68 enlisted be reinstated. On campaign in Russia they proved to be more of a hindrance than a help. According to General Merle, a very competent division commander in Oudinot’s II Corps in 1812,

That artillery has poor drivers and poor horses. It daily blocks the roads, impedes the march of the regular artillery, and deprives the ranks of seventy to eighty bayonets which would do the enemy much more damage than these poorly served cannons which cannot march.

Napoleon saw it differently:

Every day convinces me of the great damage that has been done to our armies by removing the regimental guns. I desire therefore that in the organization, each regiment will have two 3-pounders; but, during the time that we should have only guns and ammunition for 4-pounders, you will give them 4-pounders. The gunners, horses, and men of the train will be supplied by the regiments.

In this case, Merle was right and his Emperor was wrong. The regimental artillery did not serve well, and most, if not all, was lost in Russia.

The most interesting artillery unit during the period was that was used by the Dromedary Regiment in Egypt. The attached artillery company consisted of two 4-pounders, two caissons, and ten dromedaries, each of which carried two men. The total company strength was 24 all-ranks, and it was formed on 25 November 1800.

Napoleon’s note and instructions for Marshal Davout, in May 1811, partially in preparation for the massive buildup for Russia in 1812, are of interest here:

I have ordered that your artillery be completed for five divisions and composed as follows:

— Two reserve batteries, served by the fort artillery, each comprising two long-range howitzers and six 12-pounders;

— Five batteries of horse artillery (one per division), each of two howitzers and four 6-pounders;

— Five batteries of foot artillery, each of two howitzers and six 6-pounders; and finally

— Two batteries of horse artillery for the cuirassiers.

This makes twenty-eight howitzers, twelve 12-pounders, and fifty-eight 6-pounders, a total of ninety- eight guns. Added to the sixty-four guns of the corps trains, this makes a total of 162 guns. By this means your five divisions will be organized. The number of wagons will therefore be 992. You must have only two train battalions.

Napoleon’s interest and emphasis on formal education, which was mandatory for both artillery and engineer officers, occupied much of his time. He not only established military and civilian formal schools, but he also supervised the curriculum, food, attire, and general activities of the students and faculties. The following order is typical of the time and correspondence, as well as inspections, spent on his military schools:

The total length of the course of the school being fixed at two years, we must divide the course into four parts, each comprising six months of study. Students in the first class will learn:

The infantry maneuvers of the platoon and battalion.

The maneuvers of field and siege artillery as well as those of mortars and howitzers

Technical maneuvers … the composition of explosives

The principles of the attack of fortifications

The entire portion of the aide-memoire pertaining to firing, and finally

Everything necessary to the gunner and the engineer in the field.

Students will be led to the target range; they will lob bombs into the target barrel, fire blank cartridges, etc., and construct every kind of battery. They will continue their [initial] course of construction.

In the third class, students would pursue their studies in hydraulic architecture, civil and military. They would busy themselves with the most complicated part of construction and learn everything necessary to direct and superintend the construction of a fort. They would take cognizance of the details of foundries, mines, etc.

The fourth class would be dedicated to perfecting the students in the different subjects that they have been studying. They would go over all the details of arsenals, mines, galleries, etc.—in brief, everything that would complete their instruction as engineers and gunners would belong to the curriculum of this class . . .

In general, in the establishment of a school for engineers and artillery, one should consider the knowledge of the maneuvers of all the guns and the tactics of infantry as the principal object. When a student is admitted to the School of the Battalion, he would be forced to perform the manual of arms and the maneuvers of the battalion at least three times every ten days.

It is important for the maneuvers of artillery to keep in mind that nothing is more uncertain that the art of firing. This portion of the military art is classified among the physio-mathematical sciences, yet its results are dubious; those of practice are certain. Students having completed one course in mechanics know nearly everything that they must understand and apply.

It is appropriate therefore to strive above everything else, and not as one of the foremost foundations of the instruction, to see that each student executes the manual of arms and all of the maneuvers of artillery better than a veteran soldier, that he is skilled in large practice and has perfect knowledge of the employment of artillery. No one can be considered a good student if, upon graduation, he cannot go immediately to a battery or a siege. It is proper that upon joining his unit he should instruct a class of recruits in the maneuvers of artillery and infantry and in the mechanical maneuvers. How often do you not see officers unable to place a gun carriage, direct a mechanical maneuver, fashion explosives, and forced to take lessons from old sergeants?

When a student can aim a gun better than the soldier, no one will question either his right to advancement or the other advantages of his education. Old sergeants will not be jealous of these young officers when they never have to teach them anything.

—Notes on a Plan of Regulations for the Artillery

and Engineer School, 27 June 1801

Each French artillery regiment in the old Royal Army was an artillery school. The seven artillery regiments went by names, and were not numbered until the Revolution did away with the names of all regiments of all arms, as they were a vestige of Royal prerogative.

The French military school system of the old Royal Army was disbanded by the Revolutionaries in 1793 (it was the same with the Royal Stud Farms, which were closed and had their horses sent to the field armies). Some enlightened ones finally realized that you could not train artillery and engineer officers without some degree of formal schooling, so in 1794 the Ecole Polytechnique (originally called the Central School of Public Works) was opened. However, not all of its graduates went into the service, many opting for civilian employment instead.

Napoleon set to work immediately to remedy the situation as First Consul. The Châlons artillery school was revived, as was the Ecole de Mezières, though the latter was moved to Metz and was later combined with Châlons in 1802 to become the excellent École d’Application de l’Artillerie et du Génie. St Cyr evolved from a combination of the Prytanée Militaire and the military school at Fontainebleu during the period, and the top ten percent of its graduates went into the artillery by 1811.

Napoleon had been very well educated, first at the newly established military school at Brienne, and then at the prestigious Ecole Royale Militaire, where he finished the two-year course in one year and was commissioned a sous-lieutenant at sixteen. He was further very well self-educated, reading all the pertinent military literature that was available (which was considerable), especially Jean du Teil’s De l’Usage de l’Artillerie Nouvelle dans la Guerre de Campagne. He wanted his officers to be so educated, as he did by developing his public school system for the civilian population.

Finally, two anecdotes from the ubiquitous Major Boulart, who was a witness to Senarmont’s chevauchée at Friedland in 1807 and was a well-trained and skilled officer who took great pride in his Guard artillerymen, are given below. Both of these incidents took place during the buildup for and invasion of Russia in 1812.

Major Jean François Boulart, a man who in odd moments likes to play the flute, has brought one of the Guard’s three artillery columns all the way from its depot at La Fère, outside Paris. In their tall, plaqueless bearskins and dark-blue, red-trimmed uniforms, he says, his gunners were “a magnificent object of general admiration. On 5 June the Emperor had come and reviewed my artillery. He wasn’t a man to make compliments, but he found it handsome. He had the goodness to spend a lot of time in my company.”


For quite a while my gaze followed the three Guard batteries under a well-nourished fire and covered with a hail of roundshot whose falls one could only see by the dust they were raising. I thought they were lost, or at least half so. Happily, the Russians aimed badly, or too high.

French Artillery – Napoleonic Wars III

The artillery of the Imperial Guard, which grew into the Grande Armée’s artillery reserve, had inconspicuous beginnings. It originated with the light artillery detachment of Napoleon’s Guides; part, if not all, came back from Egypt and was incorporated into the new Consular Guard before Marengo in June 1800, where a small company served (and lost heavily). By 1802 Songis was the commander of the Guard artillery, which was composed of two artillery companies and a train company.

In 1804, when the Consular Guard became the Imperial Guard, there were only two companies of horse artillery and two artillery train companies. Two years later, the horse artillery had grown into a regiment of six companies, accompanied by six companies of the train battalion. One of the artillery companies was Italian. They were the pick of the line, and were well trained and equipped. By 1808, Napoleon had ordered Colonel Drouot to organize a Guard foot artillery regiment. Three companies were first organized, and served excellently at Wagram. Additionally, three companies of “conscript artillery” were formed, later becoming Young Guard artillery. When the foot artillery regiment was formed, the Guard horse artillery regiment was reduced to two squadrons of two companies each.

After the war with Austria in 1809, Drouot finished organizing his regiment of foot artillery, giving it a band and sapeurs, and finally issuing it with bearskins in place of the shakos the men had previously worn. By 1813, the Guard had six companies of horse artillery, and six of foot artillery, both classed as Old Guard; one company of horse artillery; and fifteen companies of foot artillery classed as Young Guard. The artillery train had become a regiment of twelve companies, and there was a company of ouvriers and pontonniers, and a Young Guard artillery train regiment was formed as an adjunct for the Young Guard artillery companies.

When the Guard artillery was being overhauled and rebuilt after heavy losses in Russia, some of the troops were drawn into it from the excellent and well-trained Artillerie de la Marine, who also served as infantry, forming four large regiments assigned to Marmont’s VI Corps. They were issued dark blue overcoats like those of the Imperial Guard, and fought so stoutly at Lützen that the Allies thought them to be Guard infantry.

The Guard artillery served as the army artillery reserve from 1809 until the end of the Empire. As such, it formed the major part of Lauriston’s huge 102-gun battery at Wagram in 1809, suffering such heavy losses that it had to be reinforced with Guard infantrymen. Coignet stated that when the Guard infantry was asked for volunteers, everyone wanted to go. It participated in Drouot’s artillery attack at Lützen in 1813, as well as the decisive element at Hanau the same year. It also formed the artillery mass that blew out the Prussian center at Ligny in 1815, as it had the Allied center at Lützen, again paving the way for the decisive assault by the Guard infantry. The Guard artillery gave the Emperor a reserve of highly trained, well-equipped, and very motivated artillerymen who could perform any artillery mission assigned to them.

The Guard artillery held annual gunnery (shooting) contests at La Fère. Guns and equipment were always kept in the highest state of readiness, and even in the first battles of 1813, with many inexperienced gunners in the ranks, they fought excellently, generally outperforming their Allied opponents.

One interesting situation developed in the Guard artillery between the officers who had been “school trained” and long-service officers who had ended up in the artillery or had been promoted up through the ranks and had never been to a formal school. They were experienced officers, but they were now were being considered as “unqualified” because of a lack of schooling. They were long in experience, however, and the common-sense decision was finally rendered that they could keep their status and station.

The ammunition load and projectile capacity for the French pieces of the Gribeauval System were as shown above. One type of canister contained 42 large lead bullets according to Gassendi, and the other between 60 and 100, depending on the caliber of the gun. At the highest elevation, the range limits for the 12-, 8-, and 4-pounders were 1,200, 1,500, and 1,800 meters. The maximum range with roundshot for the same three calibers was 800- 900meters for the 12-pounder, and 800 and 700 for the 8- and 4-pounder. Canister range was 600, 550, and 400 meters for the 12-, 8-, and 4-pounder. The 6-inch howitzer used a fused shell that could be exploded between 700 and 1,200 meters. Its bursting radius was 20 meters. The fuse, like the primer, was a hollow reed, “about 8 cm long filled with strands of match impregnated with a compound of powder, saltpeter, sulphur, and pitch.” The fuse had a burn time of between 3 and 4 seconds, the flight distance of the round being about 600–800 meters. It should be noted that the new 5.5-inch howitzer that replaced the 6-inch model was sometimes termed the 24-pounder howitzer.

One officer of the Guard artillery, Major Boulart, left an interesting memoir of his service in the Grande Armée. One story he related took place after the bloodbath at Essling in May 1809. He had been hotly engaged against the Austrian artillery, dueling outnumbered, and had suffered some loss. After the battle he met Napoleon, who stopped to question him about his unit’s performance, the losses he had suffered, and how he was going to replace what he had lost. He informed the Emperor precisely what shape his unit was in, and that he had one gun that needed a vent replaced and would have to go to the armory for repair. Napoleon, seemingly displeased, demanded to know why this problem had not been taken care of earlier, and, not waiting for Boulart to reply, told the unhappy officer that he would inspect him the next day and that he expected him to have all of his pieces in serviceable order and present for action.

Boulart went to his superior, told him of his apparently insurmountable problem, and was given permission to procure one of the captured Austrian pieces of the same caliber for the purposes of the inspection and to keep it until his original piece was returned, repaired, from the arsenal in Vienna. Boulart did so, and when Napoleon showed up the next day at the appointed time and place, he asked Boulart if he was prepared for inspection. Boulart told him he was, how he had brought his battery up to strength, and waited the Emperor’s pleasure. Napoleon smiled at him, told how pleased he was, and informed him that he did not need to be inspected. Undoubtedly, he wanted the good Major Boulart to have his full complement of artillery and found the correct way to motivate him, Napoleon’s personal inspections being somewhat dreaded in the Grande Armée.

French artillery tactics and employment stemmed from the doctrine taught in the excellent artillery school system developed after 1763. Artillerymen were taught to cooperate closely and support infantry. That being so, and the army in 1792 being organized in permanent divisions in the field, each with its own attached artillery, the principles of combined-arms tactics between the infantry and artillery was employed, experimented with, and developed. Artillery companies were used to support both troops in formation as well as in open and skirmish order. Attacks delivered in column or line, with large bodies of skirmishers deployed in front, were also supported by artillery, sometimes as far forward as the skirmish line itself and not just on the flanks of the units. Whenever possible, artillerymen massed their fire, employing at least two batteries to gain either local fire superiority or to destroy opposing infantry.

Counterbattery fire was discouraged: it took too long and used up much of the ammunition allocation. On many occasions it was ineffective, and it took artillery away from supporting their own infantry and cavalry. The rule of thumb used by artillerymen was that if the enemy’s artillery was hurting your infantry more than you were hurting theirs, then there was a need to engage the enemy’s artillery. Light guns were best, as they had a higher rate of fire than the heavier 12-pounders (sustained rates of two rounds per minute versus one per minute). Battery commanders would mass their fire on one enemy gun at a time, killing or wounding the crew or disabling the gun, then move onto the next one. That was much more efficient than targeting an entire enemy battery with one French battery. If multiple batteries were to be used, they would do the same thing but on a larger scale—concentrate one battery per gun of the enemy, and so on until the enemy artillery was knocked out.

French artillerymen usually chose positions on low hills or other eminences in the terrain with good fields of fire and little or no dead ground to the front and flanks (though howitzers might emplace in dead ground which offered sufficient cover and concealment). Artillery seldom took position directly behind friendly troops, for two reasons: first, the troops did not like it, as a round could fall short and cause friendly casualties; and secondly, the reaction of those troops to their own artillery might be detrimental to the offending artillerymen’s state of mind and personal safety.

Artillery was usually employed massed. Napoleon massed a considerable 30-gun battery at Lodi in 1796 to support the closed-column rush across the bridge. A 25-gun battery was employed on the Landgrafenberg at Jena in 1806 to support Lannes against the more numerous Prussian guns. In that same battle, French horse artillery was used to support French infantry in column, in line, and in open order, along with light cavalry, to defeat Grawert’s division, as well as Ruchel’s later in the day as it arrived on the battlefield when the rest of Honenlohe’s army was falling apart.

Increasingly after 1807, massed artillery was brought forward rapidly into canister range in order to “blow away great sections of the enemy’s line” and thus to seek a quick decision. This tactic was pioneered by Senarmont at Friedland in 1807, and was used to good effect at Ucles, Ocana, and Somosierra in Spain, as well as by the great 102-gun battery commanded by: Lauriston at Wagram in 1809, which not only covered a tactical corps change of front but preceded Macdonald’s famous attack that shattered the Austrian line. The best example of this tactic, however, was undoubtedly Drouot’s artillery attack at Lützen, in which his 80-gun battery completely blew the center out of the Allied line, paving the way for the decisive assault of the Guard. Further examples occurred at Hanau, at Ligny, and at Waterloo, as well as at Raab in 1809.

Waterloo is interesting, as the aggressive employment of French artillery did not take place. The French infantry reverted to the old tactic of large skirmisher swarms sweeping up to the enemy line, and starting to shoot it to pieces. Enough French cavalry remained intact to support this movement, forcing the Allied infantry to stay in squares—perfect targets for the French artillery, which was manhandled into 100–250 meter range to support the infantry and demolished the squares with point-blank fire. If this had been employed earlier in the day, Napoleon could very well have won the day. (As it was, the Prussians were coming in on the right flank and the numbers were overwhelming.)

On the defensive, French guns were “fought to the last extremity,” gunners making combat with handspikes and rammer staffs (which could inflict serious injury if they connected with a vital part such as the skull), as the Guard artillery did at Hanau, helping fight off Allied cavalry until the Guard cavalry counterattacked. When the enemy was in columns, he was engaged head on; if in a linear formation, French commanders attempted if at all possible to get onto his flanks for enfilade fire.

The French used their guns to gain every possible advantage. While it was abhorrent for an artilleryman to lose his guns to the enemy, French artillery commanders would risk this in order to gain a decisive advantage on the battlefield. Poniatowski used his guns in his skirmish line; Foy, a horse artilleryman, had as his dictum, “Get up close and shoot fast.” Interestingly, the elite British horse artillery considered their French counterparts to be more daring than they were themselves.

When necessary, howitzers were massed for special missions, as at Borodino, where they lobbed shells into the Russian field works, and at Waterloo, where they were massed against Hougoumont on the British right flank. They were also massed at Dresden against a fortified village on the French left flank. Sometimes, howitzers were emplaced in low points in the ground so that only the heads of the gun crews were visible. One Russian artillery commander was faced with this situation, but could not fire at them, as their licornes were unable to elevate to a sufficient degree to fire into the depression.

There were no written French artillery regulations. The Guard finally had an unofficial set of rules published in 1812, but the French artillerymen were taught their doctrine in their schools, and were constantly trained in its application. They also learned by experience, especially in the early days of the Revolutionary Wars, when they were usually outnumbered by the Allied artillery—especially the excellent Austrian artillery. What they learned they applied, and they fielded the best overall artillery arm during the wars.

French command and control was excellent. French corps artillery chiefs were, with few exceptions, general officers; one reason undoubtedly was to prevent their being intimidated by the infantry and cavalry generals or by their own corps commanders. In the chain of command, it was quite different being a senior field grade officer attempting to advise or convince a general or marshal than being a fellow general officer with an established reputation. One of the problems with common-sense artillery employment in other armies was that their artillery chiefs, except at the army level, were usually not general officers, and were not listened to because of their relatively low rank and low level of expertise.

The corps artillery chiefs also had their own staffs, and the army artillery staff backed them up. It was no disadvantage that their commander-in-chief, Napoleon, was also an artilleryman— and their Emperor to boot. For this reason, Senarmont could convince his corps commander at Friedland, Victor, to let him use the corps’ entire complement of artillery for an unsupported attack on the Russian center.

Battery operations and employment were simple and straightforward. First, guides from each gun crew staked out their gun’s position, which the horse team would gallop into. As the horses came to a halt, the crew would first change the gun tube from the traveling to the firing mode (if an 8- or a 12-pounder; 4- and 6-pounders did not require this added duty), and then unlimber and lay the piece. The guns were normally about 20 meters apart, but that was always dependent on the ground. The limber would usually stay close, and the prolonge would be attached from the trail of the piece to the limber. Caissons, one per gun, would be positioned about 50 meters to the rear, usually under cover to protect the horse teams. Ammunition coffrets would be taken from the trail of the piece and placed on the limbers, opened, and one round brought to the muzzle of the piece and loaded on command. The gun would be laid, aimed, and primed, and then the gun captain would await the company commander’s “Fire” order.

Artillery was a hard business, requiring big, intelligent men. They not only served their guns in combat but had to clean and maintain them afterwards. Moving a gun through rough or weather-beaten terrain could be heartbreaking. Additionally, for all their firepower and apparent strength, the guns and vehicles were rather fragile and needed constant repair and maintenance. Artillerymen, being elite troops, received “haute pay”—the “sou of the grenade.”

Allied and client-state artillery grew in importance from 1807. Dutch horse artillery had an excellent reputation and served well in Spain, notably at Talavera in 1809. Strength differed from year to year, the Dutch becoming excellent at shuffling their units around in constant reorganizations, “undoubtedly to conceal their actual weakness from Napoleon.” Their horse artillery went from four companies in 1807 (one being assigned to the Royal Guard) to two in 1809, and the Dutch foot artillery was a four-battalion regiment that year.

The Army of the Grand Duchy of Warsaw had excellent artillery, both horse and foot, and included a company of pontonniers, an artillery train battalion, and a company of artificers. Its equipment was a mixture of captured Prussian and Austrian. In 1810, by the royal decree of 30 March of that year, the artillery consisted of a Foot Artillery Regiment of 16 companies, four of which were field artillery, and a Horse Artillery Regiment of four companies. The foot artillery companies each had five officers, six NCOs, six artificers, two drummers, one enfant de troupe, and 108 enlisted men, the horse artillery companies five officers, ten NCOs, two trumpeters, eight artificers, two enfants de troupe, and 144 enlisted. Field artillery companies manned a division of guns consisting of four 6-pounders and two 6-inch howitzers; horse companies served the same type and number of guns. There was only one company of foot artillery serving 12-pounders, and six with no attached howitzers. In June 1811, a supplementary artillery battalion was formed, with eight companies.

Eugène’s Kingdom of Italy, of which he was Viceroy, and the army commander-in-chief, had a large artillery arm. Six companies of horse artillery and twenty-six foot artillery companies, plus a company or two of pontonniers and the requisite artillery train troops, made up the strength. Because of a chronic shortage of horses, oxen were sometimes used by the train units instead of horse teams. The Royal Guard, a miniature version of the French Imperial Guard and similarly organized and uniformed (except that the Italian national color of dark green replaced the French blue), had a small, expert artillery contingent. It consisted of one company of horse artillery and one company of foot artillery, and a train “detachment” to pull them.

The Danes had a small but efficient artillery arm, consisting of both foot and horse, sometimes referred to as “riding batteries”. However, the two horse artillery batteries were equipped with a largely useless 3-pounder gun that was too light for effective service, and in 1813, Davout issued them more useful French and captured Allied pieces. The Danish rocket company, commanded by Captain Schumacher, had a strength of 85 all-ranks—four officers, eight NCOs, one trumpeter and 72 privates. They were on active service, engaging the Royal Navy from Langeland Island, and the company was eventually increased to 114 all-ranks, an designated the Raket Corpset (Rocket Corps). There is no evidence that Schumacher’s Rocket Company was part of the “Auxiliary Corps” that supported Davout in northern Germany in 1813–14.

The Confederation of the Rhine, Napoleon’s most important military ally, consisted of a multitude of minor German states, the most important, and generally the most enthusiastic, being Baden, Hesse-Darmstadt, Saxony, and Bavaria. All of these states possessed solid artillery arms which rendered good service during the course of the wars, their most important contribution probably being in the 1809 war against Austria.

Baden had one artillery battalion of three companies, one of them, the 1st Company, being horse artillery and the other two foot artillery, plus the requisite train troops. The 3rd Company served in Spain, giving excellent service. Its misfortune at the Battle of Talavery in 1809 got Senarmont in trouble for taking the time to write to the Grand Duke telling him of their good and loyal service. Baden’s artillery contingent had always enjoyed a good professional reputation, usually contrary to the rest of the army. The Badeners were “highly prized” by the French, and thought to be on a par with the French artillery. They were well-trained, and their artillery material and guns were of excellent quality.

Bavaria had the largest contingent of any Confederation state, and its artillery regiment had four battalions of five companies each. There was an artillery train battalion, which was militarized in 1806. The Bavarians prior to 1813 gave excellent service: they were part of Lauriston’s large 102-gun battery at the Battle of Wagram in 1809 and did particularly well in Russia with St Cyr on the northern flank.

In 1809, the Bavarians had a regiment of twenty companies, thirteen of which were assigned to the field army, which became the VII Corps under French Marshal Lefebvre. The batteries were of three types—line, light, and reserve. The line and light batteries were assigned the same ordnance, four 6-pounders and two howitzers. The gunners in the line batteries walked, and those in the light batteries either rode the limbers or were mounted. The reserve batteries manned four 12-pounders and two howitzers, and they were assigned to the corps reserve artillery along with one of the light batteries. The train battalion (Fuhrwesenbataillon) had been militarized in 1806 and were an efficient organization, proud to now be soldiers and carrying arms and wearing the Bavarian Raupenhelm.

Hesse-Darmstadt fielded “excellent troops, raised from a population with a tradition of worldwide mercenary service.” They manned one battery of foot artillery, five 6-pounders and one 7-pounder howitzer. They also had a recently militarized train company of 108 personnel that was still short of equipment, such as harness and saddles, and some of the personnel were either poor riders, or no riders at all. Still, the artillery contingent served well. In 1812, they “marched with the Young Guard,” and brought all their guns home.

The Saxon artillery school was founded in 1766 with a small staff which included a director from the artillery staff, four officer instructors, and four NCO assistants. It was relatively efficient in the period of the Seven Years’ War, but little or no progress was made in the artillery arm from that time through 1809. Becoming inefficient because of a lack of training and shortages in equipment, the Saxon artillery was reorganized in 1810 into a foot artillery regiment of three brigades, with a total of 16 foot companies, and a horse artillery brigade of two companies, plus sufficient train troops to get the four brigades into the field. This was a far cry from what had been available in 1809. The Saxons fielded no horse artillery, and horses were in such short supply that battery officers also served on foot. Units trained together but once a year, and the batteries were organized only following orders for mobilization. Just four batteries were sent to the field for service with the IX Corps under Bernadotte, each made up of four 8-pounders and two 8-pounder howitzers. The artillery of 1809 was the weakest arm in the Saxon Army.

The Saxons also had a company of artillery artificers to take care of, and repair, their equipment. New guns, lighter and with a better performance than the older pieces, were also developed. A new 12-pounder, a 6-pounder, and an 8-pounder howitzer were used to great effect, though the older weapons were kept at the depot. For the 1812 campaign in Russia, the Saxons fielded four-foot, six regimental artillery, and three horse artillery companies. These performed excellently along the southern flank of the Grande Armée under Reynier.

The reorganization of 1810 provided for a foot company of four officers, twelve NCOs, sixteen artificers, two drummers, and 98 enlisted men. The horse artillery brigade consisted of ten officers, eighteen NCOs, two surgeons, four trumpeters, two farriers, and 204 enlisted men.

Württemberg fielded probably the best and most efficient army in the Confederation. In 1809 the state had three companies of artillery, two horse and one foot, one of the horse companies having Guard status, for a total of 22 pieces of artillery. The horse artillery manned four 6-pounders and two 7-pounder howitzers for each company, and the foot artillery company had eight 6-pounders and two howitzers. There were eighteen caissons with the companies and a further twelve in the park.

The French looked upon the Württembergers as military equals, Ney remarking in 1812 that his Württemberg horse artillery was as good as his French companies, and probably better-high praise indeed. The Württembergers were described as a “tough, dashing arm,” and they could think for themselves in a pinch. However, in 1812 their field forges could not keep up with the generally hard marches, and so the artilleryman improvised their own from “Russian farm wagons and the forges and tools of local blacksmiths;” clearly, they could make bricks without straw.

The Württemberg artillery was always “well-trained and equipped.” These were the last of the Confederation contingents to leave the Grande Armée in 1813, and there was no nonsense about them—no betrayal, no underhanded maneuvering. One Württemberg cavalry brigade under Nordmann had refused to charge at Leipzig, and, as a result, their sovereign, Friedrich, cashiered Nordmann and disbanded the two cavalry regiments. Friedrich called the Württembergers home during the retreat from Leipzig, as he was being threatened by the Allies. Passing Fulda, the contingent turned north, leaving the Grande Armée reluctantly, parting from the French “like good comrades.”


Although initially hampered by the restrictions imposed by the Versailles Treaty, Germany rapidly developed a system of highly effective antiaircraft weapons. An early attempt, adopted in 1928, the 75mm FlaK38 fired a 14-pound shell to a maximum ceiling of 37,730 feet. In the decade following World War I, Krupp arranged with the Swedish arms giant Bofors to allow its engineers to work secretly on new designs in Sweden. One of the most successful artillery pieces of all time came about as a result of that arrangement-the famous German Eighty-Eight. Originally designed as an antiaircraft gun, combat experiences in the Spanish Civil War and early World War II proved the Eighty-Eight’s versatility in other applications. By war’s end, German designers had also adapted it to antitank, tank, and conventional field applications. The first test model was assembled in 1931, and after trials the new gun went into ser- vice in 1933 as the caliber 88mm FlaK18. With a veteran crew it achieved a firing rate of 15 rounds per minute. The FlaK18 fired a 21-pound shell to a maximum ceiling of 26,247 feet, and in a ground role it achieved a range of 9.2 miles.

Krupp engineers continued to improve the FlaK18 and also redesigned it to ease its manufacture. The redesigned Eighty-Eight entered service in 1937 as the Flak36 and saw considerable service with Germany’s Condor Legion in the Spanish Civil War. Having proved the gun’s effectiveness as a ground weapon in Spain, Krupp again improved the Eighty-Eight, by adding ground sights and pro- viding high-explosive shells for field use. Firing high-explosive and armor-piercing ammunition, the Eighty-Eight further proved itself against British armor in North Africa in 1941-1942. As the war progressed, it became increasingly necessary to increase German tank armament to match the heavy guns and armor of the new Soviet tanks on the Eastern Front. That necessity resulted in slight modifications to the basic Eighty-Eight design, which resulted in the Kwk36 (Kampfwagen Kanone) and the Kwk43, for use in Tiger tanks and self-propelled guns.

Other German antiaircraft guns included the 37mm Flak18 and 36/37 series, which entered service in 1935 and, at 160 rpm, fired a 1.5-pound shell to a maximum ceiling of 15,750 feet. First introduced in 1938 as the Flak38 and improved in 1939 as the Flak39, the semiautomatic 105mm antiaircraft gun fired a 33-pound shell to a maximum ceiling of 37,400 feet. More than 2,000 Flak39s were manufactured during World War II. Adopted in 1941, the automatic 50mm FlaK41 was an intermediate antiaircraft gun effective at 18,000 feet and reaching a maximum ceiling of 59,528 feet firing a 4.8-pound shell. Despite a relatively unstable carriage, the FlaK41 was a good weapon and was popular with its crews. It later became the starting point for a more advanced 55mm gun that incorporated a comprehensive fire control system yet did not reach production by the war’s end. Heavy German antiaircraft weapons also included the semiautomatic 88mm FlaK41, a Rheinmetall-Borsig variation of Krupp’s famous Eighty-Eight designed primarily for antiaircraft use. It entered service in 1943 and, mounted on a revolving base, traversed 360 degrees and fired a 21-pound shell to a maximum ceiling of 36,213 feet. In a ground role it achieved a range of 21,544 yards. Adopted in 1942, the FlaK40 had a 128mm barrel with a semiautomatic horizontal sliding block. The Flak40 fired a 57-pound shell to a maximum ceiling of 48,556 feet.


The appearance of Luftwaffe anti-aircraft units on the battlefields of Europe and Africa in a conventional artillery role was not due to any personal ambition of the Reichsmarschall, but rather to a sound and admirable flexibility of thought on the part of the German staff. So often ignorantly criticized for rigidness, the Germans, in their willingness to experiment with combat techniques, compare very favourably with certain episodes in the record of the Allied command.

The superb 8·8 cm anti-aircraft gun developed by Krupps in the early 1930s first appeared at the front line in Spain during 1936, equipping Flak batteries of the German expeditionary force. (It was entirely logical that anti-aircraft artillery should fall under Luftwaffe control, not least because of the importance of close technical liaison.) ‘Flak’ has come into common English usage, and will be used throughout this text; it is a contraction of Flieger-Abwehr-Kanone, ‘anti-aircraft cannon’. The version used in Spain, properly termed the 8·8 cm Flak 18, was followed in 1937 by the improved Flak 36 model, which had provision for the speedy changing of barrels, and a new and significant wheeled carriage designated Sonderanhänger 201. The normal ground mounting was of cruciform design; for travelling the side arms were folded upwards and wheeled bogies fitted to the long arms. The 201 mounting allowed the gun to fire on ground targets without being freed from the bogies and winched down to ground level; the brakes were applied, the wheels chocked, the side arms of the cruciform mounting folded down and the ‘feet’ at their extremities winched down to brace against the ground – and the gun was ready for action. It is not known who first suggested that the gun was too versatile to be confined to flying targets, but he was certainly a soldier of some vision; that battlefield use of the gun played a part in staff thinking from an early stage is confirmed by the fact that from 1940 onwards armoured shields to protect the crew during ground combat were fitted to new guns, and fitted retrospectively to many Flak 18s.

The Luftwaffe Flak regiments and batteries operated in great numbers throughout the war, and with enormous success. To detail all these units is frankly beyond the author’s competence and would serve little purpose; but perhaps it is valid to consider one isolated campaign – that in North Africa.

In the mobile desert warfare of which the Germans of Rommel’s Panzerarmee soon showed themselves to be masters, the Flak played a vital part. Supply and replacement problems haunted Rommel almost from the first – his uniquely vulnerable lines of communication lay across a Mediterranean ranged by Allied aircraft from Malta and submarines from Malta and Gibraltar – and although his precious tanks were superior in quality to all Allied equipment until the very end of the campaign, their numbers were never as high as he could have wished. To conserve the PzKpfw IIIs and IVs of 15th and 21st Panzer Divisions, he evolved a deadly technique.

It has been said that despite the glamorous image of the tank columns which churned across the Western Desert, the real kings of the African battlefields were the landmine and the anti-tank gun. The greatest of these was the ‘eighty-eight’; it was extremely mobile and could operate well forward with the advanced armoured squadrons. It was normally towed by the heavy SdKfz 7 half- track; this powerful vehicle could accommodate the entire crew of eleven (layer, trainer, breech-worker, fuse-setter, five ammunition numbers, commander and driver) and their personal equipment, a good supply of ammunition for immediate use, and reserves of fuel. Thus, once a target was sighted, the gun could be got into action very quickly. Its impressive rate of fire – between fifteen and twenty rounds a minute – was combined with great range and accuracy. Maximum low-trajectory range was 16,500 yards, and the 21-lb armour-piercing round could kill a tank at up to 3,000 yards – three times the range of the best Allied equipment. Its air-burst high-explosive round was notably effective against infantry. In the ‘eighty-eight’, Rommel had a deadly anti- tank weapon, a fine anti-aircraft gun, and a field-piece capable of augmenting conventional barrages with great speed and accuracy, all rolled into one supremely functional piece of metal.

The most frightening and effective use of the gun was in Rommel’s famous ‘Flak front’. In the face of advancing enemy armour the Luftwaffe regiments would be sent right forward and dug in to ground level; the gun was easy to conceal, as is any relatively small piece of equipment at ground level under the peculiar light conditions of the desert, and its rounds used a flashless propellant. A few troops of tanks would probe forward, making contact with the British armour and then withdrawing, luring the Grants and Crusaders within range of the trap. Once they were comfortably lined up the Flak would methodically decimate them; their own short-range guns were useless, their attackers were virtually invisible, and their casualties were frequently appalling. At its anti-tank debut in the Battle of Sollum in June 1941 the ‘eighty-eight’ is claimed to have destroyed 123 out of 238 British tanks attacking the Afrika Korps position in Halfaya (‘Hellfire’) Pass); according to German sources this represented one ‘brewed’ tank for every twenty rounds fired by the Flak batteries.

Another battle in which the ‘eighty-eights’ distinguished themselves and their Luftwaffe crews was the series of actions near Agedabia in January 1942. Prominent was a crack Air Force unit, Major Hecht’s Flak Regiment 135; the 18th, 33rd and 35th Regiments also did well, as did Major Hartmann’s Reserve Flak Abteilung 114. The 135th, now led by Oberst Wolz, also figures honourably in the records of Bir Hakeim in June 1942; in this hard-fought action he also had under command various detached battalions, notably II./Flak 25, I./Flak 18, I. /Flak 6 and I./Flak 43· The last-named unit won no fewer than three awards of the Ritterkreuz (Knight’s Cross) during the desert fighting; they were awarded to Oberleutnant Gellert, Major Gürcke (the commanding officer) and Oberfeldwebel BöseL. At El Alamein the 102nd and 135th Regiments were organized as the main fighting units of the ‘9th Flak Division, under direct army command and led by Generalleutnant Burckhardt; these units, together with the 109th Flak Battalion attached to Graf von Sponeck’s famous 90th Light Division, and various army Flak battalions, had a total strength of eighty-six 8·8 cm guns at the opening of the battle. So seriously did the British take these weapons that Montgomery issued explicit instructions to his armoured brigade commanders concerning the absolute necessity of avoiding the ‘Flak front’ and saving their strength for the final battle with the panzers. Even so, it is said that the ‘eighty-eights’ were largely responsible for the massacre of the first wave of British armour at Alamein.

The Flak fought their way back along the coast with the other survivors of the Panzerarmee, and were still scourging Allied armour as the last stores were burned in Tunis in May ‘943. The remains of the ‘9th Flak Division took up their last firing positions along the Miliane line, in company with the survivors of the’ Hermann Goring’ Division and Koch’s and Ramcke’s paratroopers. The 20th Flak Division, or what was left of it, was at Tebourba; the 3/52 Battery distinguished itself in the last few days of the fighting when Leutnant Happach and Oberfeldwebel Wilhelm Voight turned their ‘eighty-eights’ on the American 2nd Armoured Battalion, and killed twenty tanks in as many minutes.

Torsion-Powered Artillery Engines


The cheiroballistra probably appeared in the late first century ad and was the most sophisticated Roman two-armed siege and field weapon. Its torsion springs were supported by all-metal frames and often were protected from the weather by bronze casings. The frames themselves were secured by metal components, with some possibly constructed with all-iron frames and two front-mounted wheels for rapid deployment.

Ranged by adjusting a ratchet controlling the firing cord tension, the cheiroballistra was highly accurate, being aimed with a simple rear sight aligned with the bolt tip. Capable of three to four shots a minute, it was particularly suited as a rapid-fire field piece, the majority of its up to ten-man crew serving as ammunition handlers.

Archeologists have excavated a relatively large number of metal cheiroballistra components and bolts; the finds have also been supported by a number of surviving artistic representations. Three scenes from Trajan ‘s Column (A.D. 106-113) show what appear to be larger types of cheiroballistrae used as defensive weapons in fortifications. Two scenes show smaller cheiroballistrae transported by wagon-a mode of transportation supported by Vegitius (fl. ca. A.D. 390), who reported that they were pulled by mule teams. The so-called Cupid Gem, a late Hellenistic or possibly early Augustine ornament, features a cheiroballistra in a rather humorous light, as it portrays Cupid aiming the weapon, in favor of his traditional bow, presumably at a particularly difficult and desirable object of affection .

As the size of siege engines increased, ancient artillery designers soon realized the limitations of bow-powered weapons. A later form of the oxybeles, appearing sometime before 340 bc, introduced the torsion principle for launching missiles. Torsion engines replaced the bow with powerful, vertically mounted twin springs on either side of the slider bed. These were composed of tightly wound skeins of sinew or hair wrapped around a wooden axis. The base of a wooden arm, approximately 2 to 3 feet in length, was mounted into each spring with the exposed end providing the attaching point for the bowstring. The introduction of the torsion principle quickly rendered the earlier tension-powered engines obsolete and opened new possibilities for huge weapons capable of projecting much more destructive projectiles at significantly greater distances.

Torsion-powered engines were, along with spring-powered and counterweight- powered engines, one of the three basic types of pre-gunpowder artillery. The first mechanical artillery was spring-powered, but steady increases in size of siege engines made its limitations all too apparent.

Sometime before 340 BCE, a form of the spring-powered oxybeles appeared, utilizing the torsion principle of elasticity of a tightly wound skein of hair or cord wrapped many times around two wood axles. The base of the wooden throwing arm, approximately two to three feet in length, was placed in the center of the skein. Winches and ratchets were then used to twist the ends of the skein. When released, the arm sprang forward and launched the projectile.

Torsion-powered engines could fire projectiles with higher velocity and greater range and accuracy than any other mechanical system and soon rendered spring – or tension – powered engines obsolete. They did, however, require heavy frames to withstand the stresses from the greater energy released.

Two early types of torsion weapons were the Greek euthytone and palintone. They derived their names from comparisons to hand bows. Euthytone means “straight spring” (as in a straight bow), while palintone means “V spring” (for the curved composite bow). The palintone appeared later and was the more powerful. It was used to hurl heavy stone shot, while the euthytone usually fired bolts against personnel.

In order to knock down a wall, artillerists would have to score a number of hits in the same spot. Optimum accuracy required standardized projectiles. Masons therefore shaped stone into equal-sized round shot, the shape of which enhanced its flight characteristics.

The Romans acquired significant quantities of artillery in their defeat of the Greeks, and Roman artillery was simply a refinement of earlier Greek forms. Thus, the Greek euthytone became the catapulta, and the palintone became the ballista. The ballista was a two-armed torsion machine used as an antipersonnel weapon in sieges and operated by a two-man firing crew. Julius Caesar equipped each of his legions with 30 ballistae. For portability, many ballistae were relatively small. Arm lengths varied from 2 to 4 feet. The larger stone-throwing weapons could hurl projectiles weighing up to 60 pounds as far as 550 yards. Bolt-firing ballistae could hurl 26-inch- to 3-foot-long projectiles 300 yards.

The onager (meaning “wild ass”) was perhaps the best known of late Roman torsion-powered engines. It was also the simplest of Roman siege engines. Its name came from the powerful kick upon discharge when the arm reached the end of its travel against padded boards at its front. The onager was in common use in the fourth century CE. It had a leather sling attached to the opposite end of the arm to accept projectiles. Once it was loaded and ready to fire, a mallet was used to strike the retaining pin and release its projectile. The onager could be manned by a crew of five to six men, although a larger number improved efficiency. The largest onagers could hurl stone shot of up to 180 pounds. At a weight of as heavy as 6 tons apiece, however, these engines were difficult to transport even disassembled. In consequence, they were most often a defensive, garrison weapon.

The scorpio (“scorpion”) was a relatively lightweight and mobile torsion – powered engine. Appearing in the mid-first century BCE, it had curved, tapered arms as with a recurved bow to increase its strength. It utilized metal on surfaces subject to wear. The scorpio could hurl a 7- to 10-pound shot 300 yards, while the bolt-firing scorpio usually fired a 27-inch arrow with a pyramidal iron head and three wood fletches.

The most sophisticated Roman two-armed torsion engine was the cheiroballistra. Appearing in the late first century CE, its torsion springs were supported by all-metal frames. It had two front-mounted wheels for rapid deployment. A well- trained 10-man crew, the majority of whom were ammunition handlers, could fire it three or four times a minute.

Further Reading The Diagram Group. Weapons: An International Encyclopedia from 5000 BC to 2000 AD. New York: St. Martin’s, 1990. Kinard, Jeff. Artillery: An Illustrated History of Its Impact. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC- CLIO, 2007. Marsden, E. W. Greek and Roman Artillery: Historical Development. Oxford, UK: Sand- piper, 1999.

A Multidisciplinary Re-evaluation of the Fabrication and Operation of the
4th Century CE Roman Artillery Engine known as the Onager PDF

The Catapult And Other War Machines Of Ancient Greece



The Vergeltungswaffe-3 “England Gun”

Few commentators seem to be in any doubt but that the V-3 was the “High Pressure Pump” or “England Gun”. Paul Brickhill recorded in The Dam Busters:

“the greatest nightmare of all was the great underworld being burrowed under a 20-foot-thick slab of ferro-concrete near Mimoyecques (between Calais and Boulogne). Here Hitler was preparing his V-3. Little has been told about the V-3, probably because we never found out much about it. The V-3 was the most secret and sinister of all – long-range guns with barrels 500 feet long!”

The V-3 was probably based on the 1885 unsuccessful ballistic principle of the Americans Lymann and Haskell and Baron von Pirquet’s concept of sequential, electrically activated, angled side chambers to provide additional velocity to a shell during its passage of an immensely long tube.

In mid-1942 August Cönders, chief engineer of the Röchling Iron and Steel Works, Leipzig, rediscovered the principle while reading through technical dossiers captured by the Germans in France in 1940. He worked out an improved design and approached Armaments Minister Speer with the idea. Hitler was enthusiastic and demanded that the development should proceed immediately.

The design was for a gun consisting of numerous lengths of smoothbore metal tubing bolted together to form a barrel up to 124 metres long. Every 3.65 metres along its length was a lateral combustion chamber set at from 45° to a right angle. The shell and main propellant were loaded into an sFH18 heavy field howitzer breech. When the gun was fired, the projectile would be impelled forward by pressure from a gas cartridge, and on passing each chamber it triggered electrically another cartridge positioned there which gave the shell further velocity. This was repeated throughout its transit of the barrel. The electrical activation solved a detonation problem which had been caused by expanding gases detonating the auxiliary chambers before the arrival of the shell. The muzzle velocity was around 1500 metres/sec which was significantly greater than that of standard artillery and provided a range of about 160 kilometres. The original 10-inch calibre projectile was over nine feet in length and weighed 140 kilos with a 25-kilo warhead. Six wings opened in flight for stability. Twenty-five guns were projected which at full output would have enabled London, 150 kilometres distant, to be subjected to a persistent rain of up to 200 ten-inch calibre shells per hour. For this reason the project was nicknamed fleissiges Lieschen, Busy Lizzie. The Heereswaffenamt, or German Army Weapons Office, contracted with firms such as Skoda, Krupp, Röchling, Witkowitz Iron and Steel, Faserstoff, Fürstenberg and Bochumer Verein for various calibres of ammunition. Towards mid-1944 20,000 shells were completed or under production.

Even before the gun trials had begun, work was started in the late summer of 1943 on a vast, well camouflaged underground gun battery to house twenty-five barrels of the HPP on the Channel coast at Mimoyecques. The barrels were to be sunk in shafts at a 50° angle 150 feet down into the ground. A slave labour force of 10,000 persons was involved in the construction and information was soon passed to London about a new mammoth “underground V-1 site”.

The initial tests were carried out using barrel lengths between 50 and 130 metres, first at Hillersleben and then from a range at Misdroy near Peenemünde at the beginning of 1944. Various permutations of barrels and chambers were tried without much success. Shells were supplied by numerous manufacturers. In tests between 21 and 23 March 1944 it was found that at muzzle velocities above 1100 metres/sec the tubes lost stability and developed metal stresses. General Leeb recommended that the project be stopped for investigations. By May 1944 the gun had an acceptable range of 95 kilometres and experiments were stepped up to find ways of increasing muzzle velocity. Before any guns were delivered, the Mimoyecques emplacement was destroyed on 6 July 1944 by RAF aircraft using a 12,000-pound Tallboy bomb. This signalled the end of the project for the long-range bombardment of London and put the entire V-3 project in question.

Nevertheless further trials with the HPP with shorter barrels were undertaken at Misdroy and eventually the whole project was placed in the hands of SS-Obergruppenführer Hans Kammler, head of the V-weapons project. Under his supervision the V-3 project was accelerated for an operation in the late autumn of 1944 and, with the help of General Dr (Ing) Erich Dornberger, military commander at Peenemünde, a battery of two 50-metre long 15-cm (5.9-inch) calibre barrels with twelve right-angled side chambers was completed. An emplacement had been excavated at Bürderheidermühle on a wooded slope of the Ruwer at Lampaden, about 13 kilometres south-east of Trier, where the battery was installed under the supervision of Hauptmann Patzig and his 550-strong Army Artillery Detachment 705.

The two HPP barrels rested on thirteen steel girders anchored to buried wooden foundations and were laid to the west with a 34° elevation. 43 kilometres along the firing line was target number 305, Luxemburg City. Calculations showed that the two guns had a maximum range of 65 kilometres with a shell dispersion radius of from 2.5 to 5 kilometres.

Between the two barrels were three bunkers for the gun crews plus either side of the barrels ten smaller bunkers which served as shell and powder magazines.

The Lampaden emplacement was part of the plan for the Ardennes offensive. Ammunition supply was poor because of disruption to the railways and in view of the critical time factor it was decided to use a 95-kilo shell of 15-cm calibre with a warhead of 7 to 9 kilos. The propellant was a 5-kilo main cartridge and twenty-four additional chamber charges, a total of 73 kilos of Ammon powder per shell.

Neither gun was operational when the Ardennes offensive began on 16 December 1944. Hurried preparations were being made to support the German offensive from Lampaden. Luxemburg City, liberated by the Americans in September 1944, was finally chosen as the target for diversionary fire. Although the battery was only operational to a limited extent on 20 December, Kammler was told by High Command West to have it ready before New Year.

On Saturday 30 December 1944 No 1 Gun opened fire. The flight of shell from Lampaden to Luxemburg was 42.5 kilometres. Because of muzzle velocity variables and the variety of propellants being used it was estimated that the target zone was from 40.6 to 43.6 kilometres, giving a dispersal of salvoes of about 3 kilometres. The exact barrel elevation was set at 36° and the muzzle velocity 935 metres/second.

Two ‘warmers’ were fired at 2145 hrs and 2205 hrs before Oberleutnant Bortscheller ordered the gun to open fire in earnest at 2216 hrs in the presence of SS-Obergruppenführer Kammler, the battery commander and officers from a neighbouring artillery detachment. Fire ceased at 2343 hrs. Five shells exploded more or less in the city centre but what effect they had is unknown.

According to German sources, these were 95-kilo shells, probably the six-winged Röchling type numbered 32, 29, 47, 15, 28 (firing sequence). On 31 December twenty-three more were fired between 0007 hrs and 2333 hrs from No 1 Gun, while No 2 Gun was still being adjusted, this not being completed until 3 January.

Following round 17 fired at 0944 hrs the pressure tube was found to have shifted by 4 millimetres and had to be realigned. After two ‘warmers’ the remaining shells were fired without incident between 1943 and 1958 hrs.

4 January 1601–2007 hrs. No 1 Gun, 16 rounds. No 2 Gun ready but did not fire.

11 January 2016–2351 hrs. Both guns fired, total 20 rounds.

12 January 1847–2224 hrs. Both guns fired, total 20 rounds.

13 January 0757–1238 hrs. Both guns fired, total 22 rounds, after which both barrels were checked and adjusted. Because of ammunition shortage, fire was not resumed until 15 January.

15 January Early afternoon, six shells exploded in Luxemburg City.

16 January Late afternoon, six rounds fired. The tower of the cathedral was hit and four persons attending mass were killed.

18 January 1421–1638 hrs. Both guns fired 19 rounds. Most of these exploded north-east of the city in the suburbs of Clausen, Neudorf and Hamm injuring 13 persons.

20 January 0808–1353 hrs. Both guns fired a total of 24 rounds.

Preparations had been taken in hand to transport and mount two more barrels with selected lines of fire into Belgium and France and existing HPP ammunition was rationed out between the four guns. By now the Americans were counter-attacking successfully in the Ardennes region and as it was obvious that Lampaden would soon be under threat, Kammler ordered the detachment to be prepared to dismantle the two pressure tubes for a withdrawal east of the Rhine in due course. The lack of ammunition remained severe.

15 February 0908–1735 hrs. No 1 Gun fired 20 rounds at Luxemburg. These all fell in unpopulated areas near Hamm and Sandweiler east of the city.

16 February 1020–1405 hrs. No 1 Gun fired four shells which fell near Fetschenhaff causing little damage. According to German sources the battery had now only six rounds left.

22 February 1745–1858 hrs. Six shells were fired, all off-target and landed in open country near Merl. This terminated the V-3 programme and the guns were dismantled for transport across the Rhine.

On 26 February US armoured units advanced to within 3 kilometres of Lampaden where they captured guns and replacement parts. A quantity of ammunition was also confiscated and tested later at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. The V-3 HPP was considered to have limited value and needed further development. Operationally 183 rounds had been fired from Lampaden towards Luxemburg of which 143 (78%) exploded within the territory or very close to it.

The V-3 suffered from lack of development due to the pressure of time. Had the Mimoyecques battery been operational against London in 1943, delivering 200 6-inch shells per hour, Paul Brickhill’s fears might easily have been justified.