Medieval Catapults and Trebuchets

Recent reconstructions and computer simulations reveal the operating principles of the most powerful weapon of its time.

Scholars now generally agree that the successor states of the Roman empire in the early medieval West inherited two basic types of artillery from their imperial predecessors. The first of these consisted of torsion-powered engines (Roman: ballista, chieroballista, onager; Medieval: manga, mangonellus) that propelled their projectiles through the transformation of potential energy stored in twisted fibrous material, ranging from gut to horsehair and hempen rope, into kinetic energy that drove a wooden beam. The wooden beam, which could be equipped with a basket attached directly to the beam, or with a sling attached to its end, then transferred this kinetic energy to a projectile, usually a stone, located in the basket or sling. These engines generally were light artillery with rounds weighing 22–33 pounds (10–15kg). The second type of artillery available in late antiquity and throughout the Middle Ages was tension-powered. Tension engines (known as gastraphetes in the ancient world but balistae in the medieval world) used the same principle as handheld bows and crossbows, transferring the potential energy of the bow to the projectile, usually a long thin shaft equipped with an iron head, which looked like a large arrow or a crossbow bolt.

The range of engines (petraria, trubecheta, blida) that were probably the particular inventions of the Middle Ages employed the lever principle. Engines of this type were essentially long beams fixed to a fulcrum. The front, shorter end of the beam—i.e., the end closest to the target—is described by scholars as the target end, and the back, longer end is identified as the projectile end, because the projectile was attached there. Energy was generated by the rapid descent of the target end and the concomitant rapid rise of the projectile end.

Medieval engineers had two means of causing the rapid descent of the target end. The first method was to have a large number of well-trained men pull down, in unison, on ropes attached to the target end. Engines employing this method have been identified by scholars as a “traction type.” The traction lever engine was the only type of lever engine available in the Latin West and in the Levant until the end of the twelfth century.

The second method used to cause the rapid descent of the target end was to attach a very heavy weight to it. These weights, called trubae in some medieval sources, could weigh up to 220 pounds (1,000kg) and varied considerably in material composition and construction. In many cases, artillery engineers used large lead castings. However, wooden containers filled with stone, or even clay, were also fixed to the target end. The projectile end, in this type of engine, although substantially longer, was therefore much lighter than the target end. In order to use this engine, the artillerymen had to drag down the projectile end and secure it. After it was loaded, the projectile end was set free and the much heavier weight on the target end fell rapidly, causing the projectile end to rise rapidly with the result that the projectile was sent on its way. Engines equipped with weights on their target ends have been designated by scholars as “counterweight” lever engines. Counterweight engines did not appear in the Latin West until the first quarter of the thirteenth century.

The technology available to artillery engineers remained relatively static from the late Roman period through the end of the twelfth century. Although some scholars have questioned whether torsion or, conversely, traction-lever artillery was produced in the Middle Ages, it is now generally agreed that both types of propulsion were used consistently. Nevertheless, there is even at present controversy on this point because of the nature of the sources of information that deal with artillery in the period before c. 1200. One of the major problems faced by scholars, who have tried to identify the types of artillery actually deployed in late antiquity and the Middle Ages, is the lack of precision in the use of terminology in contemporary narrative sources. Many of the authors of historical narratives, in which artillery is discussed, were personally unfamiliar with military technology and used generic terms, such as instrumentum (instrument), machina (machine), ingenium (engine), and catapulta (catapult) to describe the weapons that were deployed. Many authors of narrative sources also used terms such as tormentum, scorpio, petraria, and onager, which may have had a technical meaning as a particular type of artillery. The lack of description for these weapons, however, makes it virtually impossible to determine whether they were torsion- or lever-powered, much less their specific characteristics, e. g., one-armed or two, wheeled or stationary. Finally, the narrative sources frequently used closely related terms, e.g., manga and mangonellus, without making clear if these terms refer to the same type or to different types of artillery.

Perhaps the most famous example of terminological confusion concerns the type of artillery known to modern readers as the trebuchet. The Latin version of this word begins to appear in medieval narrative sources in the thirteenth century. The first mention of a trubechetum in England, for example, occurs in the context of Prince Louis of France’s invasion of the island in 1216. Louis is reported to have brought a trubechetum with him to help conduct sieges. The thirteenth-century narrative sources, however, do not provide detailed information about the construction of the trubechetum. In light of this ambiguity, the English term trebuchet frequently has been used by scholars in a generic manner to refer to all lever-powered artillery from the ninth century onward. In fact, however, trebuchet was not used by contemporaries as simply another generic term for lever-powered artillery, but rather referred to a sophisticated technological improvement introduced by government officials to replace the older type of traction lever engine with a counterweight design. (The term for the counterweight engine as a whole may have been derived from the word truba, noted above, which some medieval authors used to designated counterweights.) Instead of deploying an engine that required dozens if not scores of well-trained men to operate, the trebuchet required only a small crew to lock the projectile end of the piece of artillery into position. It has been suggested by scholars that the counterweight engines could propel much heavier stones than their traction-lever cousins, with rounds weighing as much as 100–200 pounds (45–90kg), over distances of 328 yards (300m).

It is a happy coincidence that the first major development in the technology of artillery in many hundreds of years coincides with the survival of major new sources of information that shed significant light on how the trebuchet differed from earlier engines. The number of surviving administrative documents in England, where we have the best information about developments in the construction of artillery, increases dramatically for the period 1200 and after. These documents include large numbers of reports from engineers and military officials concerning the construction of artillery. This is significant because, unlike the contemporary authors of narrative sources, these engineers and officials were very familiar with military technology, and had a range of very precise terms to discuss the types of engines that they built. It is from these reports that it is possible to determine that the trebuchet was a relatively small type of counterweight lever artillery that began to be produced in England c. 1225. By the early 1240s, engineers in England began to build much larger counterweight lever artillery, which they at first designated as blidae, but then later simply referred to as engines (ingenia).

Cultural Significance

It is widely accepted by medieval military historians that sieges were the dominant form of warfare from the late Roman Empire until the massive introduction of gunpowder weapons at the end of the fifteenth century. The pursuit of politico-military objectives throughout this period required the capture, or the holding, of fortifications and major fortified cities. In the late antique West, the Roman government long maintained a monopoly on the ability to produce and deploy the sophisticated siege engines, particularly stone-throwers, that facilitated the reduction of these fortified places short of starving the population and garrison into submission or storming the walls with overwhelming numbers and concomitantly high rates of casualties. The late fourth-century Roman military officer and historian Ammianus Marcelinus emphasized in his works that barbarians were quite simply unable to capture Roman fortress towns, or even substantial forts, because they lacked “modern” technology. Attila the Hun likewise famously lacked sophisticated siege engines during his assault on the city of Orléans in the north of Gaul in 451 C.E., as his men were reduced to trying to pull down the walls stone by stone with hand tools. By contrast with the barbarians, the Christianized rulers of the Roman successor states devoted tremendous human, material, and financial resources both to producing artillery and to maintaining as well as improving the Roman military infrastructure of fortifications and fortified cities, that could withstand these engines. Indeed, medieval engineers engaged in an ongoing and increasingly expensive cycle of competitive development in the technology of siege engines and of fortifications. This pattern of military spending, what one might term part of the pre-modern “military industrial complex,” continued throughout the Middle Ages.

Stone-throwing engines were constructed of specially designed wooden pieces, iron clamps and bolts, ropes, slings, baskets, and, in the case of trebuchets, counterweights. All of these elements of the engines’ material construction had to be built or produced by highly trained specialists. Not every carpenter knew either the designs or the techniques necessary to build the wooden framework for a piece of artillery, much less all of the types of artillery deployed by his government. Similarly, not every blacksmith knew how to produce the fittings necessary to withstand the stresses of holding together an engine that could hurl hundreds of rounds of stone ammunition weighing 100–200 pounds (45–90 kg). In order to ensure that a sufficient number of the correct types of artillery were available at the right place at the right time in good working order, governments in late antiquity and throughout the Middle Ages required a thoroughly articulated logistical system supported by a well-financed and highly structured military administration.

The Norman and Angevin kings of England, like many other rulers in medieval Europe, employed a corps of specialists in the construction of artillery, including torsion, tension, and lever engines of both the traction and counterweight types. These specialists, identified in contemporary English administrative sources as engineers (ingeniatores), were among the most highly paid officers of the crown. Some of them even became substantial landowners as a result. Each of these engineers employed numerous carpenters, blacksmiths, ropemakers, leatherworkers, woodcutters, carters, sailors, and bargemen. To gain a mere glimpse of the effort required to sustain this work, one can note that the royal forests of England rang with the axes of woodsmen preparing thousands of logs to be shipped to London, Dover, Carlisle, and other towns that served as major production centers for hundreds of enormous wall-breaking engines, as well as the even more numerous smaller pieces of artillery used as antipersonnel weapons. The lead mines of Cornwall produced hundreds and hundreds of tons of lead that were carted or shipped out for use as counterweights. The hides of whole herds of cows were required to produce slings. Masons chipped and shaped tens of thousands of stones to be used as ammunition, some of which can still be found at the sites of medieval sieges. To these basic elements of construction, one might add the thousands of carts, wagons, barges, and ships that were required to transport these supplies, as well as the completed artillery and ammunition. It is also necessary to keep in mind the mountains of grain and other foodstuffs necessary to feed the animal and human personnel who undertook these transportation duties. In economic terms, the production of weapons, in general, and of artillery, in particular, was a big industry that employed many thousands of workers. In sum, if we are permitted, as modern politicians are, to see the commitment of resources as a gauge of the importance attached by the government to a particular program, it is clear that the kings of England, and they were certainly not alone, valued artillery, including the trebuchet, very highly indeed.


Amt, Emilie. Besieging Bedford: Military Logistics in 1224. Journal of Medieval Military History (2002) 1: 101–124.

Bradbury, Jim. The Medieval Siege. Rochester: Boydell Press, 1992, pp. 250–270

Chevedden, Paul E., Zvi Shiller, Samuel R. Gilbert and Donald J. Kagay. The Traction Trebuchet: A Triumph of Four Civilizations. Viator (2000) 31: 433–486.

DeVries, Kelly. Medieval Military Technology. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 1992, pp. 125–138

Dinzelbacher, Peter. Quellenprobleme bei der Erforschung hochmittelalterlicher Bewaffnung. Mediaevistik (1989) 2: 43–79.

Finó, J.-F. Forteresses de la France médiévale: Construction-Attaque-Défense. 3rd edition. Paris: A. et J. Picard, 1977, pp. 150–158.

——. Machines de jet médièvales. Gladius (1972) 10: 25–43.

Hill, Donald R. Trebuchets. Viator (1973) 4: 99–115.

Huuri, Kalervo. Zur Geschichte des mittelalterlichen Geschützwesens aus orientalischen Quellen. Helsinki: Societas Orientalis Fennica, 1941.

Köhler, Gustav. Die Entwicklung des Kriegswesens und der Kriegführung in der Ritterzeit von Mitte des 11 Jahrhunderts bis zu den Hussitenkriegen. 3 volumes in 4. Breslau: W. Koebner, 1886–1890. volume 3.

Nicolle, David C. Arms and Armour of the Crusading Era 1050–1350. White Plains: Kraus International Publications, 1988.

Rogers, Randall. Latin Siege Warfare in the Twelfth Century. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992, pp. 251–273.

Schneider, Rudolf. Die Artillerie des Mittelalters. Nach den Angaben der Zeitgenossen dargestellt. Berlin: Weidmannsche Buchhandlung, 1910

WWI German Artillery I

15cm. schwere Feld Haubitze (s.F.H.) 1913

Ever since its significant contribution to the German victory against France in the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, the artillery had enjoyed a particularly prestigious position within the army. From 1914, artillery units were employed extensively to support all operations, while technological advances meant that its destructive power and effectiveness increased significantly as the conflict progressed. That effectiveness also influenced the future construction of defensive positions, as all sides sought to counter the sheer weight of high explosives that could be delivered with considerable accuracy by a wide range of guns, mortars, and howitzers of all types, capabilities and calibres. Arguably, the combination of artillery fire and machine-gun fire shaped the whole nature of the war on the Western Front in particular, precipitating the stalemate and onset of operational stagnation from the end of 1914, followed by the years of trench warfare and the dominance of defensive operations, which persisted until the appearance of Allied tanks on the battlefield. Certainly, the artillery arm more than any other exemplified the industrialized, dehumanized and mechanistic forms of attrition warfare that characterized so much of the 1914–18 conflict.

The German artillery was categorized either as field artillery (Feldartillerie) – which also included the horse artillery (Reitende Artillerie) – or as foot artillery (Fußartillerie), which manned the army’s heavy artillery, howitzers and mortars. The horse artillery was intended for employment with cavalry divisions and the field artillery with infantry divisions. In 1913, the field artillery’s peacetime establishment consisted of 3,523 officers, 325 medical officers, 315 veterinary officers, 529 paymasters and assistant paymasters, 101 bandmasters, 214 artificers, 14,181 NCOs and 72,180 other ranks, with 57,327 horses. These personnel manned 3,732 guns and light field howitzers, with a further 54 guns designated for training use. All field artillery training and development was the responsibility of an inspector of field artillery.

The second category of artillery was the foot artillery, and in 1913 its peacetime establishment included 1,332 officers, 82 medical officers, 35 veterinary officers, 129 paymasters and assistant paymasters, 25 bandmasters, 50 artificers, 5,322 NCOs and 28,002 other ranks, with 3,391 horses. Training and development for all of the Prussian foot artillery regiments was the responsibility of an inspector of foot artillery, his inspectorate being organized as three sub-inspectorates. However, in peacetime the Bavarian ministry of war retained a measure of responsibility for the efficiency and preparation of the Bavarian artillery regiments for war.

From February 1917 the separate branches of field and foot artillery were centralized, with a single focus for artillery development, command and control.


In peacetime the headquarters staff of a field artillery regiment included seven artillery officers, three medical officers, three veterinary officers, three paymasters and their assistants, a bandmaster, an armourer, three NCOs, and three regimental tradesmen. The headquarters staff of the eleven horse artillery regiments had five medical officers and four veterinary officers. In field and horse artillery regiments alike, these numbers included six personnel to serve as Abteilung staff. A field artillery Abteilung was formed of three batteries, each of which in 1914 had six 7.7-centimetre field guns or four 10.5-centimetre light field howitzers; the pre-war horse artillery batteries usually had only four guns rather than six. In wartime the field artillery regiments were subdivided into two Abteilungen (numbered I and II), each of which contained the usual three batteries (numbered 1 to 6 within the regiment) of field guns or light field howitzers. A field battery was commanded by a captain (Hauptmann), whose post as battery commander was termed Batterie-Führer. As at 1 October 1913 there were 642 batteries of field and horse artillery, including nine batteries at the field artillery school of gunnery (Feldartillerie-Schieß-Schule). During 1914 the total number of batteries increased to 782, and then to 1,691 by late 1918.

On mobilization the divisional field artillery was grouped into field artillery brigades (Feldartillerie-Brigaden), each consisting of of two regiments and commanded by a major general (Generalmajor), with a brigade allocated to every division. These Feldartillerie-Brigaden bore the number of the division they supported. In August 1914 the divisional field artillery brigades were formed as planned, and each initially deployed with two regiments and a total of twelve field batteries grouped in four Abteilungen (with two Abteilungen per regiment). The second Abteilung of the second field regiment of the brigade usually had three batteries of the 10.5-centimetre light field howitzer rather than the 7.7-centimetre field gun. A light ammunition column supported the regiment in the field.

In wartime, field batteries were subdivided into two sections (Züge). Subalterns commanded these sections, while other junior officers were responsible for observing and adjusting fire, supervising the supply of ammunition to the battery and overseeing the battery’s transport arrangements. This resulted in an authorized establishment of six officers to manage the battery once fully mobilized and deployed for action. Although the precise numbers always depended upon the operational situation and stage of the conflict, a field artillery battery usually had about 135 rounds of gun ammunition or 88 rounds of howitzer ammunition immediately available for each gun from its battery gun limbers, wagons and wagon limbers.

In 1915 the number of guns or light field howitzers of all field batteries was reduced to four, together with commensurate reductions of manpower, in order to enable the redistribution of the surplus guns produced by this action to equip newly formed artillery units. These reductions were followed in April 1916 by further decreases in the transport establishment of the field batteries. As a result of these changes some 110 new batteries of field artillery were formed during 1916, most of which were subsequently deployed to reinforce the divisional artillery of divisions serving on the Eastern Front.

The four-gun batteries in service from 1915 had an establishment of six officers, 21 NCOs, 64 gunners and 45 drivers, with its transport divided into the firing battery (Gefechts-Batterie) and its 1st Line (Gefechtsbagage) and 2nd Line (Grosse Bagage) transport.

An important vehicle within the field battery was the six-horsed observation wagon, which carried the equipment necessary to observe and adjust the battery’s fire. Included in the wagon’s standard equipment inventory was optical equipment such as a rangefinder (Entfernungsmesser) and a stereoscopic telescope (Scherenfernrohr), as well as a 3.75-metre tripod-based ladder with a shield fitted to protect an observer while observing from the ladder, plus telephones and various other items.

In 1917 a mobile observation mast or tower was added to the surveillance inventory. This self-contained device featured sophisticated prisms and magnifying optics as part of a telescoping eight-section tubular metal tower that could be raised and lowered to enable observation from behind cover to a height of between nine and 24 metres. The tower was raised and lowered by a cable winch, with three guy ropes fitted to stabilize the equipment when the tower was fully extended. The whole equipment was mounted on a two-wheeled trailer and drawn by a suitable motor vehicle, a metal seat being provided at each side of the tower for use by the device’s two-man crew when in transit. Although not as effective as a reconnaissance aircraft, these extending observation towers were mobile and relatively easy to conceal, so they were less vulnerable than captive observation balloons.

Communication between the command posts and the guns was effected by the telephone detachment (Fernsprech-Trupp) found in every field battery and Abteilung, each with a capability to lay at least two kilometres of telephone cable. In 1917 a bicycle was added to the transport inventory of every field battery to assist with routine liaison, administration and message-carrying duties in situations where a horseman might otherwise have been employed.

In light of battlefield experience and the pressing need to form ever more artillery units to support newly-formed formations during 1916, the two-regiment divisional field artillery brigade had been completely displaced by a new organization by 1917. This involved the creation of a divisional artillery headquarters (Artillerie-Kommando) in each division, which now controlled not only the field artillery but all of the artillery allocated to support the division. The demise of the field artillery brigade soon followed the adoption by divisions of a single field artillery regiment from 1916 in place of the two-regiment organization that had existed from 1914. These reorganized regiments now had three Abteilungen, numbered I, II and III (one of which was entirely equipped with light field howitzers) rather than two, and nine instead of twelve field batteries. The three-Abteilungen organization also reflected the fact that most infantry divisions were ‘triangular’, being based upon three infantry regiments, and by 1917 this structure had become the standard field artillery support for a division.

In addition to the field artillery allocated to specific divisions, some 80 independent field artillery regiments were also created in 1917, these being held in reserve and allocated by higher-level army headquarters to support front-line sectors and specific operations as necessary. By early 1918, the army had no fewer than 2,900 field artillery batteries in service.

Mention should also be made of the so-called ‘close range batteries’ (Nahkampf-Batterien) formed from 1916, the numbers of which expanded significantly during 1917. These batteries were developed primarily to counter the threat posed by the arrival on the battlefield of the first Allied tanks on 15 September 1916. Initially using 2-centimetre, 3.7-centimetre, 5-centimetre, 5.7-centimetre and 6-centimetre guns adapted for the purpose (mainly by lowering and reconfiguring the gun carriage to enable shells to be fired with a near horizontal trajectory), these defensive or protective artillery units (Schützengrabenkanonen-Abteilungen) were deployed to infantry regiments on the Western Front as sector troops, being manned jointly by artillery and infantry gunners. However, these units and the Nahkampf-Batterien that succeeded them from 1917 – by that stage armed with a 7.7-centimetre gun – were never able to counter the Allied tanks decisively.

Some 50 Nahkampf-Batterien were formed, with single batteries being deployed to divisional sectors as required. Their establishment mirrored that of the infantry-gun batteries deployed to the army-level assault battalions described earlier and included two officers and up to 70 other ranks with six guns, although their usual method of employment meant that neither the infantry-gun battery nor the Nahkampf-Batterie were allocated transport or horses. Following the mixed results achieved by the Nahkampf-Batterien, better success was achieved by the army’s anti-armour gunners later in the war following the introduction of a 3.7-centimetre light anti-tank gun (Panzerabwehrkanone, or PAK) and improved armour-penetrating munitions; however, the Panzerabwehrkanone was not produced in sufficient numbers in time to realize its full potential before the war ended.


Although categorized as part of the army’s survey organization and arguably, therefore, part of the army’s support services rather than combat troops, counter-battery fire planning was supported by a comprehensive network of artillery survey units tasked with pinpointing the location of Allied artillery fire positions. As well as identifying Allied gun positions, these units actively assisted the ranging and fire planning of the army’s own guns. They included artillery observation groups (Artillerie-Meßtrupps) of about six officers and 100 other ranks, which could deploy up to five flash-spotting sections (Licht-Meßstellen) as well as four or five sound-ranging sections (Schall-Meßtrupps).

Personnel for the observation groups were trained at an artillery observation training school (Artillerie-Meßschule) at Wahn in Germany. The units or sections were controlled by, and allocated to, corps and divisions by army-level headquarters and included at least one artillery officer. They were under the operational command of the artillery commander of the division in which area they were deployed, with one Artillerie-Meßtrupp and one Schall-Meßtrupp usually assigned to a division sector. A single observation or sound-ranging post might cover a frontage of five to sixteen kilometres, the actual distance depending upon the type of terrain and the prevailing meteorological conditions. To carry out their task, artillery group observation detachments used a range of optical surveillance equipment, including large periscopes (Mastfernrohre) manned by an NCO and four other ranks. Observation reports were passed by telephone directly to a coordinating centre (Auswertungs-Stelle), which was usually located close to the divisional artillery headquarters. However, when that division moved out of the sector, the Meßtrupps usually remained in place, serving as sector troops and thus providing invaluable continuity and knowledge of the area to the benefit of the relieving division.

The army’s artillery survey training manual issued in May 1917 included a list detailing the principal duties of these units: ‘(a) Location of hostile batteries and other targets; (b) Information from aeroplane photographs; (c) Observation of fire for own artillery; (d) Observation of enemy’s movements; (e) Preparation and use of stereo photographs; (f) Preparation of charts and tables showing the positions, number and activity of hostile batteries; (g) Preparation of battery [fire data] boards and artillery maps; (h) Collection and collation of all reconnaissance reports concerning the sector.’

With artillery and machine-guns dominating many of the World War I battlefields, the identification and neutralization of Allied artillery batteries was accorded a particularly high priority by the German general staff, and it was therefore hardly surprising that by early 1918 there were at least 175 Artillerie-Meßtrupps and 125 Schall-Meßtrupps operating on the Western Front alone.

Lovett Artillery Collection

WWI German Artillery II

10.5cm leFH16 howitzer.


The foot artillery contained a diverse range of heavy artillery, howitzers (leichte Feldhaubitzen and schwere Feldhaubitzen), mortars, and special-purpose weapons (such as siege guns and railway guns), which from 1914 regularly bombarded the Allies’ defensive positions, troop concentrations, artillery batteries, headquarters and many other key command, control and logistic targets. Whether firing in support of a German offensive, to destroy an Allied attack, or simply engaging opportunity targets to disrupt Allied activities on a day-to-day basis, these massive guns – with calibres from 10 centimetres right up to 24 centimetres – routinely delivered tons of high explosive shells on to an already devastated terrain. These awesomely destructive and relatively indiscriminate weapons exemplified World War I as a war of attrition – nowhere was this more apparent than in the stagnant operational environment of the Western Front. There the defence ruled supreme, with the weight and accuracy of massed artillery and machine-gun firepower determining the outcome of so much of the fighting at the tactical and operational levels. Time and again the German artillery frustrated Allied attempts to regain the initiative, as successive Franco-British offensives crumbled into a chaos amid the fire-swept mud and barbed wire of a desolate and shell-cratered no-man’s-land.

As at 1 October 1913, the foot artillery could field 24 regiments, comprised of 48 battalions with a total of 190 batteries: this increased to about 1,100 by late 1915 and to 1,550 by late 1918. Prior to the war, one foot artillery regiment was allocated to each military district (or army corps) and was intended for use as corps-level artillery support in wartime. Two additional artillery battalions formed the instructional regiment at the foot artillery gunnery school (Fußartillerie-Schieß-Schule). Of the 24 foot artillery regiments, nineteen were Prussian, two Saxon and three Bavarian, with 38 of the total 48 foot artillery battalions stationed in Prussia, four in Saxony and six in Bavaria.

The structures and establishments of the various foot artillery regiments, battalions and independent batteries were frequently complex and often varied considerably. Inevitably, the established strength and internal organization of a unit depended in large measure upon the type of heavy gun, howitzer or mortar with which it was equipped. Accordingly, in the pre-war years, it was always anticipated that a certain amount of restructuring and regrouping of some foot artillery units would need to take place during the period of transition to war. Nevertheless, as the majority of foot artillery units were equipped with the same types of 15-centimetre heavy field howitzers and 21-centimetre heavy mortars, these units were able to achieve and sustain a fairly standard regimental organization. With the weapons it manned, the foot artillery had a particular heavy-haulage requirement, and one or two sections of foot artillery draught horses (Bespannungs-Abteilungen) were included in the peacetime organization of most foot artillery regiments. These draught horses were attached to batteries to provide them with a degree of mobility, so that they could train for field deployment and siege missions. Only the several static foot artillery units committed solely to coastal defence were not allocated Bespannungs-Abteilungen.

Generally, foot artillery howitzer battalions had four batteries, while mortar battalions comprised only two batteries; irrespective of the type of gun or mortar involved, the standard foot artillery regiment fielded two battalions once mobilized. Indicative maximum and minimum manning figures for foot artillery units in peacetime and on mobilization were laid down by the general staff pre-war as at 1 October 1913, and these establishment figures remained valid up to the mobilization of August 1914.

The varying deployment concepts and typical fire positions of guns and mortars, together with the different 1st and 2nd Line transport arrangements for a heavy field howitzer battery and a heavy mortar battery, reflected the contrasting employment characteristics of these weapons. Whereas all of the troops directly involved with crewing and firing howitzers could be carried on the battery’s gun limbers and wagons if necessary, those in the mortar battery could not, which meant that a mortar battery could move only at marching speed and was therefore much less mobile.

Once the war was under way the foot artillery expanded steadily, with an increase of heavy artillery batteries in the order of no less than 550 per cent achieved by January 1918. Inevitably much of this expansion depended upon exploiting captured Allied artillery pieces and guns removed from fortresses in Germany, which in turn meant that the variety of guns in service increased – and this of course had unwelcome implications for those staffs and services responsible for the army’s logistical support. The addition of many long-range naval batteries to the field army’s artillery inventory during 1916 and 1917 exemplified the ever-growing diversity of that fire support. Nevertheless, the overriding need to dominate by fire the static battlefields on the Western Front drove the expansion of the army’s heavy artillery, so that Reserve, Landwehr, Ersatz and Landsturm regiments, battalions and batteries all began to appear in the foot artillery’s order of battle from 1914. These were joined by a further 650 independent batteries during 1915 and 1916, many of these new units being equipped with captured or older guns and established without any horses – a clear reflection of the static nature of the conflict by that stage. However, during 1916 a number of these independent batteries were regrouped into new foot artillery battalions, each of three or four batteries, at which stage they also received an allocation of horsed transport, providing them with a movement capability.

Not surprisingly, the wartime organization of the foot artillery was much less straightforward than that of the field artillery assigned to the divisions, as foot artillery deployments and allocations were based primarily upon availability, weapon types and capabilities together with the task in hand. Consequently, when a division redeployed it would usually leave in place the foot artillery units that had been supporting it. Eight or nine heavy batteries might be sited in a quiet divisional sector, with up to sixteen in a more active sector. While there they would be controlled by the division’s artillery commander along with the divisional field artillery units. Super-heavy railway guns and other long-range artillery were usually held under corps-level control for counter-battery and other special missions.

In April 1918 a British intelligence staff assessment sought to correlate foot artillery gun allocations with the different types of battery. It concluded that the 10-centimetre gun batteries had four guns, 13-centimetre and 15-centimetre batteries had two guns, 15-centimetre howitzer batteries had four howitzers, and 21-centimetre mortar batteries had three guns. At the same time it was assessed that the established strength of a 15-centimetre heavy field howitzer battery in 1918 was four officers and 120 other ranks, and that of a 21-centimetre heavy mortar battery was six officers and 200 other ranks, with three mortars, 100 heavy and 25 light draught horses. It then added that ‘[Heavy] Batteries do not appear to be horsed in all cases, and, in general, the number of horses has been considerably reduced from the establishment laid down prior to mobilization. In other respects, the normal organization and equipment of heavy batteries does not differ greatly from that of field batteries.’ Despite having observed and analyzed the development of the German artillery for almost four years, the uncertainty implied in this Allied intelligence report is another indication of the sheer complexity, non-standard and necessarily flexible nature of much of the German army’s foot artillery organization.

The army’s mountain artillery units were also categorized as part of the foot artillery, despite the fact that the guns they manned were of relatively small calibre and their support role was closer to that of a field battery than that of a foot artillery unit. Mountain artillery units were not permanently established before the war, although quantities of the specialized equipment, guns and howitzers to equip a number of batteries were held ready on a contingency basis, and the requisite preparatory training was also carried out. Once the conflict was under way – with the need to provide artillery support to the divisions and infantry mountain units operating in the Carpathian, Alpine and Vosges mountain regions and in the Balkans – mountain artillery batteries (Gebirgskanonen-Batterien) were formed, with some 25 batteries created by 1918. As was the case with the mountain infantry units, these batteries were largely manned by soldiers from Bavaria, Württemberg and Baden in order to capitalize on their direct personal experience of living and working in the appropriate terrain.

Three of the four-gun Gebirgskanonen-Batterien were grouped as a detachment (Abteilung) but were in practice usually employed independently as two-gun sections. The main gun used by these batteries was the 7.5-centimetre quick-firing mountain gun, firing high-explosive and shrapnel shells, although a small number of batteries were also equipped with mountain howitzers. The 7.5-centimetre guns could readily be broken down and carried on pack mules, seven of which were required to transport a complete gun. Thirty-one mules (including two in reserve) could transport the entire guns and equipment of a two-gun section, including its guns, entrenching tools, a field forge and tools, forage, farrier’s tools, observation equipment, medical stores, cooking equipment and ammunition. In December 1916 the establishment of a two-gun section included two officers, a warrant officer, six non-commissioned officers and 60 other ranks (26 gunners, 33 drivers, one orderly), together with 31 mules and ten riding horses.


The German army’s field, horse and foot artillery units used a wide array of light, medium and heavy guns, howitzers, mortars (which were in practice heavy howitzers) and adapted naval guns, as well as captured artillery pieces. Some pre-war guns were employed throughout the conflict, while others were superseded by new, improved weapons, which themselves underwent further modification and updating in the light of experience of their use on the battlefield. Among a very diverse range of guns of all types and calibres, eight or so emerged as the ‘core’ guns, howitzers and mortars that were in daily use to provide fire support by early 1918.

At the very top of the scale of heavy artillery were the army’s railway guns, which included a 28-centimetre gun that could fire a 284-kilogram shell more than 28 kilometres, a 38-centimetre gun that could fire a 353-kilogram shell 45 kilometres, and railway guns of 21–24 centimetres firing slightly smaller (119 kilogram) shells almost 130 kilometres. In addition to all these artillery pieces, the army also used a number of 7.7-centimetre, 9-centimetre and 10-centimetre guns fitted on rotating pedestal or mobile mountings for engaging aircraft, airships and balloons, as well as rapid-firing 2-centimetre and 3.7-centimetre anti-aircraft guns (Flugzeugkanone, Flugabwehrkanone, or Flak).

Principal Artillery Weapons (1913–1918)


The static nature and attrition warfare of the 1914–18 conflict led to the development of a range of so-called trench mortars or (in the German army) Minenwerfer (literally ‘mine thrower’) capable of projecting heavy explosive charges relatively short distances, using their high trajectory to drop these charges into or on to emplacements, trench systems and besieged towns and fortresses. These purpose-made weapons, which were generally based upon flat-bed carriages, began to appear on the battlefield during 1915, quickly replacing the several types of much older, relatively rudimentary – but suitably modified – pre-war mortars that had been introduced as an interim solution to this operational deficiency. Whereas all the Allied versions of this type of weapon were smooth-bored, most of the German army’s Minenwerfer had rifled barrels. The most commonly used Minenwerfer varied in calibre from 7.6 centimetres up to 25 centimetres, although other types, including several smooth-bore Minenwerfer variants, were also in service. The heaviest Minenwerfer generally fired only high-explosive shells or bombs; medium and light Minenwerfer also fired gas shells, while a message shell was also available.

In the German army Minenwerfer were usually manned by the Pionier troops of Minenwerfer companies and battalions and were therefore not categorized as part of the artillery, despite the obvious similarities between the various calibres of Minenwerfer and conventional heavy artillery pieces and mortars, as well as between several skills common to both artillery and Minenwerfer units. The introduction of a light Minenwerfer into infantry battalions from 1917 frequently resulted in infantrymen being reassigned and trained to crew these close-support weapons, where they were routinely employed as light field guns or light howitzers. Most light Minenwerfer were mounted on wheeled horse-drawn gun carriages but could also be manhandled into position if necessary. Heavy Minenwerfer were typically crewed by between 21 and 28 men, while the Flügelminenwerfer required a crew of 42 to operate it effectively. Medium Minenwefer needed between 17 and 21 men, while light Minenwerfer had a 6-man crew. These totals included the men required to move the Minenwerfer into position. By 1918 a formidable array of Minenwerfer was in service, among which several main types predominated.

Minenwerfer (1915–1918)

Other types of Minenwerfer included the 9.2-centimetre Ehrhardt and Lanz weapons, the fairly rudimentary wood-barrelled Albrecht Mörser produced in 25-, 35- and 45-centimetre calibres, as well as two smooth-bored Minenwerfer: the 18-centimetre Minenwerfer and 17-centimetre Flügelminenwerfer (which used finned projectiles).


The organization of the artillery described above identified the division of that combat arm between the lighter guns of the field artillery and the heavy guns of the foot and siege artillery units, as well as the existence of mountain batteries. Although numerous types and calibres of artillery were used, the principal guns of the field artillery were 7.7-centimetre field guns and 10.5-centimetre howitzers, while the foot artillery mainly used 15-centimetre and 21-centimetre howitzers. Most of the heavy siege guns came into service between 1909 and 1912, in response to a general staff requirement to have available a suitable means of destroying existing and newly constructed French and Belgian fortifications in the west and thus to carry through the Schlieffen Plan. Until 1917, field artillery was generally deployed at division level and heavy artillery at the corps and army-level, but in February 1917 all artillery within a divisional sector came under the control of a single Artillerie-Kommandeur irrespective of type.

Both before and during the war, the main role of the artillery, both in attack and defence, was to support the infantry. Pre-war and during the campaign in 1914, field batteries were expected to deploy and move closely behind advancing and attacking infantry units, employing direct fire to support the attack and if necessary even to form a gun line to repel a counterattack and behind which the infantry could rally if necessary. However, developing technology and the improved range of guns meant that artillery batteries could provide heavier and more accurate supporting fire from well-selected positions while remaining further displaced from the infantry’s close-contact battle. At the same time, the diminishing opportunities for manoeuvre and offensive action from 1915 further reduced the need for the guns to employ such direct fire and close support of the sort envisaged before the war.

Where offensive action was practicable and undertaken, all the available artillery would initially fire on to the infantry’s objective; then the field artillery would continue to do so and to fire other close-support missions as required, while the heavy artillery engaged enemy reserves in depth and fired counter-battery missions to limit or deny the enemy artillery’s ability to fire on the attacking troops. Artillery was not usually held in reserve, and any decision to do so temporarily would normally only be taken at division, corps or army level if the operational situation warranted it – at the outset of a major offensive for example, where the likely course of the impending battle might be difficult to anticipate in the short term. One gun for every 25 metres of front was the norm on the Western Front, but this would increase to three guns per 25 metres in anticipation of an offensive. In March 1918 the general staff artillery support plan for the Kaiserschlacht required the equivalent of 92 field guns, 31 field howitzers, 14 medium howitzers, 14 heavy guns and 7 heavy howitzers for every 1.5 kilometres of the 80 kilometres attack front, as well as 7 super-heavy howitzers for every 3 kilometres of that front. In addition, numbers of extra field guns were positioned by hand and used only for the opening bombardment.

If the supported infantry were in defence, the main task of the artillery was to destroy any infantry attack or incursion before it reached the obstacle line in front of the defenders’ positions, while at the same time neutralizing any enemy artillery firing in support of the attackers. In defence, the artillery fire plan would usually be much more detailed than might be the case when supporting advancing troops. For defensive fire planning, targets and potential targets would already have been ranged-in (i.e., having been successfully engaged earlier in order to register the precise gun settings required to ensure first round hits whenever that target was again fired upon); obstacles, possible lines of approach and choke points would all have been noted as fire missions; observation posts would be pre-positioned ready to adjust fire; and telephone communications between the supported troops and the guns were more or less assured, so long as the telephone cables were buried, with backup cables also in place.

Russian Artillery of the 16th Century

The Czar Cannon

Also known as the Great Mortar of Moscow, the Czar Cannon was cast of bronze in 1586 and was the last and the largest of the bombards. Cast by master metalworker Andrei Chokov for Czar Fyodor I (b. 1557; r. 1584-1598), son of Ivan the Terrible (b. 1530; r. 1547-1584), the great gun has never been fired and is now exhibited in Moscow. Already an anachronism when cast, it is, however, a masterpiece of the bronze-caster’s art and is awe-inspiring in its scale (al- though it would probably burst if actually fired). The Moscow cannon is 18 feet long, weighs more than 40 tons, and is 36 inches at the muzzle. Essentially a straight tube, it is decorated with equestrian portraits of Czar Fyodor and has four handles molded into each side to aid in transporting its bulk. Although originally designed to fire grape shot, the Czar Cannon is now exhibited with four large balls weighing approximately 2,000 pounds each and rests on a huge, decorative gun carriage.

Classification of Sixteenth – Century Cannons

Although seemingly infinite variations existed, the evolving standardization of cannon types offered some rudimentary consistency in defining artillery according to its design, ammunition, use, and nationality. As a general rule the various European powers shared ba- sic designs with inevitable regional differences, such as the Spanish tendency to field heavier guns of similar type to those of England. By about 1550, King Henry II of France had made the significant step of standardizing his guns’ calibers, a move that greatly simplified ordnance manufacture and supply. Typical French artillery types of the period included the 5,200-pound, 10.5-foot-long Cannon, firing a 33-pound ball; the 11-foot-long, 4,000-pound culverin 15-pounder; and the 7-foot-long, 410-pound falconet, the smallest category, which fired a 12-ounce ball.

In 1544, Germany’s King Charles V attempted to impose some standardization on his artillery by limiting standard gun types within his artillery train. These included cannons firing 40-pound balls, the 24-pounder cannon moyane, 12-pounder culverins of two varieties, two models of 6-pounder culverins, and a light 3-pounder falcon. In Holland, Prince Maurice of Nassau moved to increase the efficiency of his ordnance by ordering the standardization of his gun types to 6-pounders, 12-pounders, 24-pounders, and 48-pounders. The issue of one standard carriage type capable of accepting any of these gun tubes further simplified Dutch artillery logistics.

By the end of the century Germany had emerged as the leader in artillery design and production, and in 1592 the Spaniard Luis Collado attempted to classify guns according to the Germans’ system. Collado thus identified long-range guns such as culverins and sakers as first-class guns, and fortification battering cannons as second- class pieces (technically, the only “true” cannons of the period); pedreros, mortars, and bombards used to fire heavy stone shot against ships and to defend fortifications were third-class. Collado further subdivided these primary classifications into numerous subgroupings based on size and caliber.

The amount of metal used in manufacturing cannons was a constant concern for cannon makers as they strove to maintain the lightest possible guns without sacrificing safety. A key factor was the amount of gun-metal used-bronze being more flexible than the relatively brittle cast iron and thus requiring less metal in comparatively sized pieces. The thickness or “fortification” of the bore’s walls became another form of gun classification. English gun founders, for example, rated cannons on an ascending scale of fortification as “bastard,” “legitimate,” and “double-fortified.” The fortification of a particular gun determined the amount of gunpowder used in individual charges and thus directly affected the effective range of each piece.

The second-class reinforced cannon proved one of the most effective guns of the period, with a range and destructive power to rival those of the culverin. The so-called 60-pounder was one of the most popular sizes, as it was imminently versatile, rugged, and, despite its classification, fired a potent 55-pound shot. As they often fired lighter stone balls and required less powder, third-class guns often mounted barrels of lighter weight.

Gun founders also reduced the weight of guns by incorporating a powder chamber of somewhat smaller diameter than the bore. The only significant flaw inherent to early chambered guns lay in the tendency of less experienced crewmen to mistake the outer rim of the chamber for the rear of the gun while ladling powder, thus emptying the gunpowder at the chamber’s mouth. The Spanish attempted to alleviate this problem by introducing a chamber with a tapered or bell-shaped mouth known as the encampanado. The Spanish cañon encampanado was one of the finest guns of its day, as it was both light and capable of long-range, accurate fire. One of the smallest artillery pieces of the period, the robinet, was generally strapped atop a simple wooden stock and used as an antipersonnel weapon mounted on castle walls or on ships to repel boarders. A surviving example of Austrian origin is held in the collection of Fort Nelson in England and made around 1570. It is of approximately 1.5-inch bore and fired a 1-pound ball. An inscription on its barrel alludes to the small yet deadly nature of its shot: “I am forsooth an uncouth peasant- who tastes my eggs won’t find them pleasant” (Norris, 122).

Russian Artillery

During the reign of Ivan IV the role of Muscovite artillery, organized under the Pushkarskaya liba ( ‘gunnery house ) , increased significantly . In 1547 the gunners-who lived separately from other troops but were nevertheless part of the streltsi – became a independent formation called the naiad. In 1581 a special pikaz or regiment of pushkarski (from pushka, gun) was formed. In 1558 ambassador Fletcher had written: No one sovereign of Christendom has so many guns as them, which is proved by their great number in the Palace Armoury in the Kremlin… all cast from bronze and extremely beautiful. The campaign dress of gunners varied but was similar to Russian folk costume and to the kaftans of the streltsi; however the artillery kaftan was shorter, being called a chug kaftan. At first artillerymen also used traditional mail armour, helmets and vambraces. Their winter uniform was a Russian folk polushubok or sheepskin coat.

At this period Russia had many talented gun – founders, such as Stepan Petrov, Bogdan Piatoy, Pronia Fedorov and Kashpir Gunysov. Kashpir’s pupil Andrey Chokhov became the best known of them all; he cast his first gun in 1568, his second and third in 1569, and all were sent to strengthen the defences of Smolensk . Chokhov’s first known large calibre siege gun was cast in 1575, and was again sent to Smolensk. Today 12 of his guns are still preserved (he made over 20), seven in the State Museum of Artillery in St Petersburg, three in the Moscow Kremlin, and two in Sweden since being captured during the Livonian war. Each of Chokov’s guns was named, including the Vixen (1575), the Wolf (1576), the Persian (1586), the Lion (1590), and King Achilles (1617). In 1586 he produced a huge gun, decorated with the figure of Tzar Fedor Ivanovich riding a horse, which came to be known as the ‘Tsarushka’ and which now stands in the Moscow Kremlin. Nevertheless, the widespread idea that Russia concentrated on the production of large guns during the 16th century is incorrect. Many different types of gun were cast at that time, to be used by field armies and in timber fortresses along Russia’s extensive frontiers.

Their special skills made the pushkari or gunners men of high value, who received large wages in cash, bread and salt. On the other hand, their role was not considered very honourable, since it required considerable experience without any guarantee of success. Consequenty the streltsi often refused to serve as pushkari, and this branch of the military profession became more hereditary than the others. Such gunners frequently showed great devotion to duty. For example, outside Venden on 21 October 1578 during the Livonian war, the Russian artillerymen, unable to bring their guns safely off the battlefield, actually hanged themselves on ropes attached to the barrels.

M19 5cm Maschinengranatwerfer


Diagram of German M19 5cm automatic mortar as sited in the Channel Islands and at points on the Atlantic Wall.

Rheinmettall-Borsig produced ten studies into developing a complete system for an automatic mortar before making a final choice which would become the M19 5cm Maschinengranatwerfer. The operational role of the system was to provide firepower to cover areas of ‘dead ground’ which could not otherwise be observed. This was usually an area on the coastline with steep cliffs, but that was not exclusive. Apart from firing the 5cm calibre mortar bomb, the weapon used in the M19 system was completely different to the standard GrW36 used by the infantry. Using standard dismountable mortars in such a defensive role would have only been a short-term solution and they would have needed to be removed periodically for service. Emplacing a weapon mounted in a specially-produced turret or cupola would provide a permanent position, ready to provide all-round 360-degree traverse and able to come into action at a moment’s notice to cover all points of approach to the defensive site. Initially, these automatic mortars were intended for installation in the Westwall and the Eastwall, a defensive system also known as the Oder-Warthe-Bogen Line. This was built between 1938 and 1940 on the border between Germany and Poland. It covered a length of around 20 miles and included around 100 main defensive emplacements. After the successful campaigns in 1939 and 1940, it was decided not to install the weapons in these locations and instead they would be sited at intervals along the Atlantic Wall, which included several being built on the Channel Islands of Jersey, Guernsey and Alderney.

The M19 installation on the island of Jersey was built at Corbière Point at the western end of the island, which was turned into a strongpoint to defend the headland. From here its high rate of fire could be useful in engaging targets at close quarters and overlap with the firepower of machine guns and two 10.5cm field guns also sited at the point. The neighbouring island of Guernsey had four M19 automatic mortar installations, including one located at Hommet, overlooking Vazon Bay on the north-west coast, where its firepower could be integrated with that of machine guns, at least three pieces of artillery with 10.5cm calibre and a 4.7cm gun of Czechoslovakian origin. On Alderney there were two M19 strongpoints with other similar installations built along the much-vaunted Atlantic Wall, including three in Norway, nine in Holland, one in Belgium, twenty-two along the French coast and twenty along the Danish coastline, with four more planned but not built. For such a small weapon it absorbed a huge amount of resources in manpower to build the emplacement, with tons of concrete and steel in its construction. The sites of the M19 automatic mortars were out of all proportion compared to those built for heavier weaponry in defensive positions. The M19 mortar could fire HE bombs at a rate of between sixty and 120 rounds per minute, although the higher rate of fire was rarely used in order to minimise stresses and prevent the weapon from overheating. The crew could engage targets at ranges between 54 and 820 yards, which was closer than artillery could achieve, and together with support fire from other weapons such as machine gun, any infantry attack would have been met with fierce opposition. Indeed, one M19 position on the Eastwall held out for forty-eight hours when attacked by troops of the Red Army in early 1945.

The M19 weapons were mounted in steel cupolas which had an internal diameter of 6ft 6in to accommodate the three-man crew during firing. Initially, there were two main designs of cupola, the 34P8 and the 49P8, but it was a third type, the 424PO1, which became the most widely used with armour protection 250mm thick. The cupolas were mounted on specially-prepared bunkers designated ‘135’, with concrete protection up to 11.5ft thick, and the ‘633’, which was the most common design and the type used in the Channel Islands. The M19 bunkers were divided into several rooms including the firing room and had accommodation for up to sixteen men. Each bunker had its own independent generator to provide power to traverse the firing platform and cupola, but in the event of a power failure the weapon and cupola could be elevated and traversed by means of hand-operated wheels. The ammunition storage room had racks for thirty-four trays, each pre-loaded with six bombs, giving a total of 204 bombs ready to fire. Ammunition boxes containing ten bombs each to reload the spent trays were stored in this room, and it was the task of the crew members to reload these. In total an M19 bunker could have ammunition reserves of up to 3,944 bombs stored in readiness for use. These bunkers were equipped with field telephones and optical sight units such as the Panzer-Rundblick-Zielfernrohr, an armoured periscope with a magnification of × 5. Because it was an indirect fire weapon, the M19 had to be directed on to its targets and integrate its fire by overlapping with neighbouring weaponry.

The firing platform on which the mortar was mounted could be elevated when firing and lowered when not in use. The loaded ammunition trays were fed up to the platform by means of an elevator where the loader removed them and fed the trays into the left-hand side of the weapon’s breech. As it fired, a mechanism moved the tray along to feed the next bomb into the weapon, and the process continued until the empty tray emerged on the right-hand side of the weapon, where a handler removed them and placed them in the descending elevator section. These were removed by another member of the crew and taken to the ammunition room, where they were reloaded ready for reuse. The M19 could fire the standard types of Wurfgranate 36 bombs, which these were fitted with colour-coded graduated propellant charges to be used according to the range required. The red charge was for use at ranges from 22 to 220 yards and the green charge was for ranges from 220 to 680 yards. There were training bombs which had no filling and could not be fired, which were really for familiarising crews with handling procedures of the weapon. There were two training systems developed to teach crews how to operate the M19; the first was the Sonderanhangar 101 mounted on a trailer and the other was the Ubungsturm, which replicated the complete cupola layout.

Preparing the weapon to fire, the operator lifted the barrel clear of the breech by means of a cam and lever mechanism which allowed a bomb on the loading tray to be aligned with the chamber. As the barrel was lowered over the bomb, the firing pin in the breech was activated to initiate the propellant charge. The recoil forces on firing unlocked the barrel a fraction of a second later and the cam mechanism lifted the barrel clear of the breech, and another bomb was loaded ready to fire as the tray was fed through.

As the Allied campaign to liberate Europe continued in the second half of 1944, the Germans had to rethink their defensive strategy. From September 1944 they renewed construction work on the Westwall to improve defences and began to install M19 systems at certain locations. The actual numbers of M19 systems built and turrets installed varies according to sources. Some, for example, state that perhaps seventy-three such installations were built in the Atlantic Wall. These did not cause the Allies any unnecessary problems and those along the Westwall were largely ineffective, while those in the Channel Islands never fired a shot in anger. In summary, it was indeed a great deal of effort for such a small weapon which did not play a decisive role in stopping or even slowing down the Allied advance.

Korean naval bolt-firing cannons (Chongtong)

The first one is a chija-ch’ongt’ong which was the second largest of the cannons that appeared in the mid-1500s. The second was a pyorhwangja which was a swivel gun variant of the smallest cannon, the hwangja, which appeared during the Imjin War or shortly after. The third was a hyonja which was the second smallest.

The first one is a chija-ch’ongt’ong which was the second largest of the cannons that appeared in the mid-1500s. The second was a pyorhwangja which was a swivel gun variant of the smallest cannon, the hwangja, which appeared during the Imjin War or shortly after. The third was a hyonja which was the second smallest.

The turtle ship was equipped with Cheonja “Heaven”, Jija “Earth”, Hyeonja “Black”, and Hwangja “Yellow” type chongtong (Joseon cannons). There was also an arquebus known as Seungja (Victory). The Seungja ranged 200 metres (660 ft) while the Hwangja was the lightest but with a range of 1,200 metres (3,900 ft). According to Hae-Ill Bak, one Japanese record of the Battle of Angolpo records the experience of two Japanese commanders on July 9, 1592 in their battle against turtle ships: “their (turtle ships’) attack continued until about 6 o’clock in the afternoon by firing large fire-arrows through repeated alternate approaches, even as close as 18-30 feet. As a result, almost every part of our ships – the turret, the passages and the side shielding – were totally destroyed…”

The bolts from the Korean guns look very heavy and large. That means, with the same powder charge and quality, the range would be very limited compared to a gun firing plain metal ball, and effective range even more so with the low muzzle velocity. At this effective range the impact would be devastating though.

I can see them working as a kind of counterpart to carronades – very short range, very big punch, but… They will miss out on the bonus of carronade, which was relatively small weight for the projectile weight. Still, since the concept is already there, they may be available earlier, especially for ship armament and perhaps for sieges (though getting close enough would be a challenge). But the ship then either should have a mixed battery… Or the gun needs to be “universal” – at longer ranges firing shot, at short ranges the bolt (and extra arrangements for reloading).

But overall this style of bolts would be always tied by the need to have them sticking out. I do not really see any option to make a discarding sabot arrangement reliable enough and giving enough benefit to make such thing work in given time period. Maybe by the late 19th century you can have shells with spring-loaded fins (kinda like RPG-7) but that would be solution looking for problem at that time.

According to partially confirmed information, largest of such cannons “cheonja-chongtong” which fired 30 kg (66 pounds) heavy bolt had a maximum range of ~ 1600 m. With help of some math, I eventually ended up estimating its muzzle velocity to be around 140-170 m/s. These cannons were being improved from 15th to 18th century but except for minor improvement, there was no major overhaul.

In fact, the bolt fining cannons were gradually pushed out by Chinese take on European Culverins named Hongyipao.

Muzzle velocity of 140-170 m/s that I calculated is greatly below what the potential of black powder cannon can do, so it appears there is lot of space to improve that. However, that would require a thicker cannon, that can withstand a larger charge (Cheonja Chongtong apparently used only a bit over 1kg charge to fire the 30 kg bolt) and also making the cannon longer would improve its efficiency. Actually without making the cannon longer, the improvement we can achieve is limited.

Which is where the problem is. These bolts have to have fins to have stable flight and accuracy. And so, making the cannon longer without making the bolt longer poses a problem, as in the historical version, bolt was put into cannon in a way that fins were in front of the muzzle.

Korean cannon explained

The American War of Independence – Artillery

Rebel Gun Crew: A well-trained crew could swiftly load, aim, and fire; these artillerymen swab their gun’s hot muzzle with a damp sponge to eliminate sparks before reloading.

Displayed at Saratoga, background, an English howitzer; foreground, a 6-pounder. Note the ammunition boxes mounted on each side of the gun – these would hold enough munitions to put the gun into action quickly, while the munition wagon was being brought up to support sustained fire.

Artist’s conception of the French artillery park at Yorktown. Directly behind the gun carriages are limbers, which, when attached to the gun carriage, transformed them into 4-wheeled vehicles. To the right of the horses, resembling coffins on wheels, are the powder wagons. Farther back are ammunition wagons. The flag appears to be that of the Régiment d’artillerie d’Auxonne.

Artillery had an almost parasitic relationship with the musket. Because muskets were individually so inefficient, they had to be massed in compensation, and it was this density of men that gave eighteenth-century artillery its raison d’être. Lacking accuracy itself, it was a beast of omnivorous and indiscriminate appetite, guzzling, like some Cyclops, the herds of men conveniently marching in dense formation toward its greedy muzzle.

The guns of the War of Independence were, like muskets, all smoothbore and, like muskets, lacked efficient aiming mechanisms. Although gunners thought of themselves as a cut above other branches of the army because their business carried with it the aura of “science,” it was as much a craft, even an art. The gunner’s “eye” and “feel” for his weapon mattered more than the complicated mathematical tables of barrel elevation, shot weights, and powder charges. The field gunner had recourse to three ammunition types. The first and most popular was simple round or solid shot: iron balls of different weights. Artillery firing round shot was graded by the weight of the ball rather than the caliber or diameter of the muzzle. The second was canister or case shot: tin cans filled with musket balls or any old pieces of iron junk. (The Prussian captain Johann Heinrichs described American case shot loaded with bits of “old burst shells, broken shovels, pickaxes, hatchets, flatirons, pistol barrels, broken locks etc etc.”). The case disintegrated as it emerged from the muzzle to spread its projectiles in a spray pattern, shotgun fashion. The third was spherical shell: hollow cast-iron globes filled with gunpowder and fitted with a fuse which, if cleverly adjusted, could be configured to explode just over the heads of advancing infantry. (In 1804, it would evolve into the famous shrapnel shell.)

Solid shot accounted for about 70 percent of the ammunition carried by the artillery and was used for medium-range fire. Ranges and lethality varied according to the size of ball and powder charge. William Müller, an officer in the King’s German Legion, made extensive tests of artillery accuracy which he published in The Elements of the Science of War (1811). Müller’s tests, although from a slightly later date than the War of Independence, would have been applicable to the earlier time frame. As with all such tests, there is some dislocation from the realities of the battlefield, but they are nevertheless useful as a range finder of lethality. For example, the 6-pounder (the workhorse of field artillery) firing at a cloth target six feet high by thirty feet wide (roughly representing a company of infantry) scored 100 percent hits at 520 yards and 31 percent hits at 950 yards. At 1,200 yards, however, it scored only 17 percent hits. Müller’s test does not quite tell the whole story because gunners firing a round shot tried to get two or even more bites at the cherry through ricochet: the effect of a cannonball bouncing before coming to rest. A 6-pounder might have a range of about 1,200 yards, but the ball had several phases of lethality over that distance. At zero degrees elevation (parallel with the ground) the first bounce (“graze”) would have been at about 400 yards; it would then travel for another 400 yards at shoulder height before making its second graze, and then on for a further 100 yards at about three feet from the ground before rolling to a halt. The knack was to pitch the ball just in front of the enemy’s first rank and have it skip and rise through the subsequent ranks. If the ground was hard and stony, each graze would kick up splinters, which, in their turn, became secondary projectiles. Even in its last phase, a rolling ball could be deceptively harmful. There are many instances of men being badly wounded, even killed, by trying to “catch” what seemed to be spent cannonballs, innocently rolling toward them. John Trumbull was with the American army besieging Boston when rewards were given for salvaged British cannonballs, but

it produced also a very unfortunate result; for when the soldiers saw a ball, after having struck and rebounded from the ground several times (en ricochet), roll sluggishly along, they would run and place a foot before it, to stop it, not aware that a heavy ball long retains sufficient impetus to overcome such an obstacle. The consequence was that several brave lads lost their feet, which were crushed by the weight of the rolling shot.

Private Edward Elley of Virginia described another incident, at the siege of Yorktown: “The works of the battery were thrown up by the militia soldiers, and whilst they were cutting brush a cannonball came bounding along on the ground, and a youngster put his heel against it and was thrown into lockjaw and expired in a short time.”

The most destructive potential for solid shot was when it was fired “in enfilade”: into the side of a rank of men. Müller estimated that one ball, fired in enfilade at effective range, would kill three men and wound four or five, but greater numbers were often recorded. The weight of the ball was an important factor in determining lethality because although the muzzle velocity of most field guns was about equal at approximately 900 feet per second, the heavier the ball, the more velocity it retained over longer distances. For example, at a 1,000-yard range, an eighteen-pound ball traveled at 840 feet per second, compared with 450 feet per second for a six-pound ball.

A six-or nine-pound ball of iron traveling at anything up to 900 feet per second could do terrible damage to human flesh. Peter Brown, a patriot soldier crossing the Neck onto Charlestown Peninsula during the battle of Bunker’s Hill, described the effect of British gunships firing in enfilade: “One cannon [ball] cut off 3 men in two [cut them in half] on the neck of land.” James Duncan of the Pennsylvania Line at Yorktown recorded that on 3 October 1781 “four men of [his] regiment…were unfortunately killed…by one ball.” Even small-caliber guns like the three-pound ball from a “grasshopper” (a mobile gun sometimes referred to as a “galloper”) could pack a punch. For example, at Monmouth in June 1778 Joseph Plumb Martin described how the British “occupied a much higher piece of ground than we did and had a small piece of artillery, which the soldiers called a ‘grasshopper.’ We had no artillery with us. The first shot they gave us from this piece cut off the thigh bone of a captain, just above the knee, and the whole heel of a private in the rear of him.”

Even near misses could be fatal. A large ball created potentially devastating shock waves, with sometimes macabre results, as Joseph Martin witnessed at Yorktown.

I was sitting on the side of the trench, when some of the New York troops coming in, one of the sergeants stepped up to the breastwork to look about him…at that instant a shot from the enemy (which doubtless was aimed at him in particular, as none others were in sight of them) passed just by his face without touching him at all; he fell dead into the trench; I put my hand on his forehead and found his skull was shattered all to pieces, and the blood flowing from his nose and mouth, but not a particle of skin was broken.

A gun crew loading with ball could get off two or three rounds a minute; the heavier the ball, the slower the process (firing canister speeded up the rate). A six-or nine-pound gun would normally have a specialist crew of a minimum of five men (often supplemented by infantrymen to help move the gun and fetch ammunition). One man stood to the right of the muzzle with a combination rammer-sponger; the man to the left of the muzzle was the ammunition loader; a man to the left of the vent hole at the rear of the barrel carried a slow-burning match on a forked rod (“linstock”); opposite him stood the “ventsman.” At the rear stood the gun chief, who aimed the piece and gave the order to fire.

The loading sequence for the first discharge started with the crew chief directing aim (“laying” the gun) and moving it on the horizontal plane by having it manhandled with poles (“handspikes”). The elevation of the barrel was controlled by a screw mechanism at the rear of the barrel (or perhaps on older pieces by inserting a wooden wedge, the “quoin”). The loader now slid a cartridge consisting of a flannel or paper bag of powder and ball into the muzzle, and the rammer pushed it down the length of the barrel. (On larger pieces, the powder charge and ball were more often separate.) If the barrel was depressed below the horizontal, a wad (of straw, hay, a coil of rope, even turf) was rammed down to prevent the ball from rolling out. The ventsman now inserted a “pricker” into the vent to puncture the powder bag. He then inserted a quill or paper tube filled with “quick match” (cotton strands soaked in saltpeter and alcohol). When the order to fire came and the men had stood clear, the firer extended his linstock across to the vent (being careful to keep clear of the wheel when it recoiled) and lit the quick match.

Before the next shot could be loaded, the gun had to be relaid because the recoil would have thrown it back several feet. (Not until 1897 would the recoil problem be solved by the hydraulic “antirecoil” mechanism of the famous French 75.) The rammer reversed his pole and used the end covered in sheepskin and soaked in water to swab out the barrel. When the loader inserted the next powder bag, the ventsman covered the vent with his thumb (protected by a leather “thumb stall”) to prevent any accidental discharge. If a smoldering piece of the powder bag or wadding remained, the rammer would use a pole with a corkscrewlike end (the “wormer”) to extricate so it too wouldn’t create an accidental discharge. But, of course, in the heat of battle accidents did happen. At the siege of Charleston in May 1780 Lieutenant John Peebles of the Royal Highland Regiment (42nd Foot) recorded, “An artillery man lost an arm and an assistant killed by one of our own guns hanging fire and going off when they put in the spunge.”

Canister or case shot (sometimes referred to as grapeshot, which was made up of larger three-ounce balls and was primarily a naval warfare munition) was reserved for relatively close-up work. It made, said the American artillery sergeant White at the battle of Princeton, “a terrible squeaking noise” as it flew. Characteristically, each canister contained 85 balls. Tests carried out in 1810 indicated that 55 of those balls (65 percent) would make hits at 200 yards; 36 (42 percent) at 400 yards, but only 6 (7 percent) at 600 yards. These are hit patterns that one would expect from a shotgun spread. (The balls spread to thirty-two feet over the first 100 yards.) At 80–100 yards (the effective range of a musket) it would be reasonable to assume that the hit rate of canister might have risen to at least 80 percent (44 balls). Theoretically, a standard battery of six guns firing at this range would have delivered 264 balls on target, compared with the 188 of a 500-musket battalion (the guns being 71 percent more effective). Even if we take into account men hit by multiple balls, no such level of casualties was inflicted by canister in any American battle (perhaps because there were few such concentrations of guns on the battlefield). The effect of concentrated case shot, however, could be withering. In 1793 near Tournai (in what is now Belgium) the Coldstream Guards were caught unawares by a French battery firing case at close range: “The fire was so sudden that almost every man by one impulse fell to the ground—but immediately got up again and began a confused fire without orders—The second discharge of the French knocked down whole ranks.” At Waterloo men and horses fell “like that of grass before the mower’s scythe.” An artillery officer at Waterloo described “four or five men and horses piled up on each other like cards, the men not even having been displaced from the saddle, the effect of canister.”

Spherical shell was the lob shot of eighteenth-century warfare. It was usually fired from short-barreled howitzers and mortars. (Regular cannons could not elevate their barrels sufficiently.) The skill of the gunner lay both in setting the trajectory and in trimming the fuse (which was lit automatically by the cannon’s flash) to achieve either an airburst just above enemy troops or an explosion as the ball bounced into the enemy’s lines. If the fuse or trajectory was miscalculated, the shell would fizz on the ground and could be extinguished by an intrepid soldier, but it was a hair-raising business. Tolstoy in War and Peace describes the (highly) disconcerting effect of a fizzing shell, pregnant with destruction, “whirring like a bird in flight…spinning like a top.” When it went off it made “a splintering sound like a window-frame being smashed” followed by “a suffocating smell of powder.” Some gunners firing shell were true master-craftsmen and could place their projectile with unnerving accuracy. The Continental army regimental surgeon Dr. James Thacher reported from Yorktown in October 1781:

It is astonishing with what accuracy an experienced gunner will make his calculations, that a shell shall fall within a few feet of a given point, and burst at the precise time, though at a great distance. When a shell falls, it whirls round, burrows, and excavates the earth to a considerable extent, and, bursting, makes dreadful havoc around. I have more than once witnessed fragments of the mangled bodies and limbs of the British soldiers thrown into the air by our bursting shells.

Attacking infantry typically had to pass through three killing zones, characterized by the three types of artillery ammunition usually employed. When the enemy was about 1,000 yards out, the medium guns (mainly 6 and 9-pounders) would engage, as would the howitzers with their shells. It would take the infantry about four to five minutes to make it to the 400-yard mark, during which time each gun could have fired about twelve to fifteen times. At 400 yards the attackers would also start to receive canister in addition to solid shot. It would take about three minutes for the attackers to get to the 100-yard mark, the start of the final and most intense killing zone, which would bring them into musket range as well as more canister and shot.

The patriot cause had few artillery pieces at the beginning of hostilities: forty-one cannons of various calibers, fourteen mortars, and three howitzers. A substantial number of guns, particularly of the larger sizes, had fallen into American hands with the capture of Ticonderoga and Crown Point in May 1775. They remained there until Henry Knox, that extraordinary autodidact bookseller who became the head of Continental artillery, managed to transport thirty-nine brass and iron cannons, fourteen mortars (three of which weighed over a ton), and two howitzers by sled through the wild winter terrain in one of the most extraordinary efforts of the war. (It ranks alongside Arnold’s march to Canada as a feat of staggering endurance.) More pieces were picked up when the British evacuated Boston, and another forty-nine guns when Burgoyne surrendered in October 1777. On the debit side, however, many guns were lost with the defeat at Long Island and the subsequent surrender of Forts Washington and Lee, where 146 pieces were taken by the British.

Even though colonial America manufactured 30,000 tons of pig iron a year, making it the seventh largest producer in the world, there had been little call before the war to create domestic cannon-foundries, and those guns that were made tended to be of heavier caliber, more suited to defense installations rather than smaller and mobile infantry support weapons. In early 1776 congresses began to encourage and finance foundries in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut, but it proved slow going. Many of the cannons were substandard (due mainly to inferior metallurgy) and had to be rejected, and then there was the old monkey-on-the-back of a depreciating Continental dollar, which quenched the mettle of even the most patriotic ironmasters.


French Railway Guns

There were some heavy guns in the French armoury at the beginning of the First World War, but they were either in static fortress positions or awaiting installation in warships: the French philosophy of attack, mobility and rapid fire had no place for big guns. It reflects creditably on French designers that from some very crude rail-mounted guns they finished the war with efficient modern pieces which even included a massive 520-mm (20.5-in) gun. Some were in action in the Second World War ­Ind after the French defeat in 1940 passed into German hands. They included 305-mm (12-in), 320-mm (12.6-in), 340-mm (13.4-in) and 370-mm (14.5-in) guns and though most remained in France to back up the Atlantic Wall defences some were sent East. One 370- mm gun was in action as late as January 1945 against Soviet forces. Rail guns h­ave passed into artillery history for, as one writer remarked, ‘improved reconnaissance methods have made it hard to conceal a soldier, so a massive gun with a railway line extending behind it becomes an easy target’. The

 French built a large number of rail guns during the First World War; some were very crude lash-ups with guns taken from fortresses or naval pieces. Both types required a mount which could not be fitted on a railway flat car and as a result they were temporary arrangements which varied from gun to gun.

The 194-mm (7.6-in) mle 1875 was straight out of the nineteenth century coastal forts found in France and Britain. Guns like this and the more sophisticated Canon de 240-mm and 140-mm were mounted on sloping ramps which took some of the recoil, the rest was absorbed by the backward movement of the railway truck mounting. Some had ground anchors and could be cranked back into their firing position after each shot.

Canon de 240-mm modele 1884

This was one of the most widely used calibres in the French army. The mle 70-81 was comparatively crude and the mle 1893-96 and 1884 were not only more powerful but mounted on improved carriages. The Vasvasseur pattern carriage was similar to the inclined ramps of earlier designs, but with improved buffers recoil was reduced to 1.5 m (5 ft).

Canon de 240-mm modele 1893-96

A heavier piece, the mle 1893-96 had a 360-traverse platform on a well base wagon. It was also one of the first guns to be fired from a prepared platform-anchored mounting which was later to be incorporated into the Batignolles design.

Materiel de 274 modele 87, 93

This was the smallest calibre adapted by Schneider for a non-recoil sliding mount. The basic design was similar for their 274-mm (10.78-in), 285-mm (11.2-in), 305-mm (12-in) guns and howitzers. The 320-mm (12.6-in) 340-mm (13 4-in) and 370-mm (14.5-in) guns had a similar mount but with bigger bogies to take the greater weight. The basic design consisted of two heavy side plates rigidly connected by an elaborate system of cross transoms to make a rigid box. The side members accepted the gun trunnions in a reinforced area with a solid steel bushing to take the shock of recoil.

Materiel de 400 modele 15, 16

This rebored ex-naval gun was shortened and turned into a howitzer by St Chamond. It was fired from a Batignolles emplacement though the majority of the recoil force was taken by the hydro-pneumatic buffers. The Batignolles mount was also used on the 305-mm (12-in) mle 93/06 and 370-mm (14.5-in ) mle 1887

Obusier de 520 mle 16

This piece was a product of Gallic pride and political pressure. After the Germans had deployed 42-cm (16.5-in) howitzers against the Belgian forts and French forts at Verdun the French demanded a bigger gun. The 520 mm (20.5-in) howitzer was built and paraded for politicians. It saw little action, but is of interest as the only gun to be designed during the war rather than adapted from existing prewar stocks. Two were built, but since they weighed 255 tonnes, took three hours to emplace and only had a range of 14600 m (15965 yards ) they were expensive luxuries.