American Civil War Artillery – Rifled and Imported Cannon

Ultimate General: Civil War

The Parrott Field Rifle

Between 1856 and 1859, Robert Parker Parrott and Dr. John Braham Read collaborated in developing what was to become the most used rifled field gun by either side during the Civil War. In 1849, Parrott, the superintendent of the West Point Iron and Cannon Foundry of Cold Spring, New York, became interested in rifled guns after the successes of Krupp in Germany. In the following years he applied his own skills to designing an American rifled gun and eventually joined with the Alabamian Read, who had an interest in designing the appropriate projectiles. Their joint venture proved successful, with both men receiving various federal patents; yet, with secession, Read sided with his native state and returned home. Parrott continued to manufacture his rifles and their ammunition in various calibers throughout the war, whereas Read aided the Southern cause by designing projectiles.

Parrott’s design incorporated a cast iron gun tube strengthened at the breech by a broad wrought iron reinforcing band. During the manufacturing process the tube was cooled with water as the band was heated and then heat shrunk to the barrel as it expanded. The final result produced a relatively lightweight, economical gun and gave the Parrott rifle its distinctive profile. The Parrott rifle was not, however, without its defects. Although immensely strong at its breech, the brittle cast iron forward of its reinforcing band was prone to burst, especially in larger caliber pieces. Nevertheless, its low cost and ease of manufacture dictated its land and naval use throughout the war, with almost 2,000 guns accepted by the federal government, as well as numerous pieces manufactured by Confederate foundries.

The first of the Parrott field rifles, the 2.9-inch Army Pattern of 1861 10-pounder, was eventually superseded by the 3-inch Pattern of 1863, which appeared in the latter part of that year and was cast without the earlier pattern’s muzzle swell. The primary impetus for the change in caliber was to allow more interchangeability in ammunition between Parrotts and other rifled guns then in service. Although the Pattern of 1863 was capable of firing Pattern of 1861 ammunition, the reverse was not possible-a drawback apparently considered acceptable under the circumstances. The highly accurate 3-inch Parrott achieved a range of about 1,900 yards. The federal government purchased more than 500 Parrott 10-pounders during the war, with others going to various state units.

Confederate foundries including Tredegar also manufactured both 2.9-inch and 3-inch Parrott rifles. Southern Parrotts were somewhat longer and heavier than Northern guns and were also distinguished by a longer reinforcing band, often beveled on its leading edge.

As with the 10-pounder guns, early 3.67-inch, 20-pounder Parrotts were cast with a muzzle swell, that feature being omitted on later pieces. With a range of 1,900 yards, they were mounted on the #3 stock trail carriage. Federal purchases for both the army and navy totaled 507 pieces. Confederate 20-pounders were essentially identical to the Northern models, other than their longer and heavier band giving a somewhat greater total weight.


At the beginning of the Civil War, neither the Northern nor Southern logistics and ordnance organizations were prepared to supply and arm the vast influx of volunteers swelling their armies’ ranks. To gain time, both sides dispatched agents to Europe to buy foreign military goods, including uniforms, accoutrements, small arms, and artillery. For their part, European arsenal commanders were more than happy to clear out stocks of obsolete and often defective equipment in exchange for U. S. gold, bonds, or cotton. Of all the foreign weapons used by either side, those obtained from Britain proved the most effective.

During the early months of the war the most famous of the Confederate agents, Major Caleb Huse, scoured Europe signing contracts for weapons ranging from pistols to cannons. Such weapons were usually sufficient until more modern weapons could be procured but often required some improvisation to use U. S. ammunition. One such example-the approximately 17 Austrian bronze 6- pounders obtained by Huse-were bored to 3.74 inches rather than the American 3.67 caliber. Although a seemingly minor detail, such disparities required extra effort on the part of ordnance crews, who had to wrap ammunition for the Austrian pieces in an extra layer of canvas for a proper bore fit.

The son of a Congregational minister, Sir Joseph Whitworth (1803-1887) was one of Britain’s leading engineers and helped to revolutionize the country’s precision tool making industry. He designed machine equipment and a highly accurate rifle, as well as advanced cannons. Whitworth designed various calibers of both muzzle- and breech loading artillery pieces, with both types sharing his unique rifling system. The bores of Whitworth cannons and small arms were precisely cut with distinctive spiraling hexagonal rifling that required a matching six-sided projectile. The odd shape of the projectile produced a weird, unnerving shriek as it traveled through the air.

Although rejected by the British army in favor of Armstrong weapons, Whitworth rifles were made of high-grade steel and iron and were capable of extremely accurate long-range fire of nearly six miles. Still, such accuracy was often negated by the period’s lack of sophisticated sights, fouling problems, and the complicated loading procedure that often baffled poorly trained crews: in many cases Confederate gunners locked the breechloaders’ mechanisms and simply used them as muzzleloaders. Moreover, the slender Whitworth projectile was too small to carry a significant bursting charge. Solid bolts did, however, prove highly effective against armored targets, owing to their high velocity at flat trajectories.

The breechloading 2.75-inch 12-pounder was the most commonly used Whitworth by both sides during the American Civil War. Other lesser used models included the 2.15-inch and 3.75-inch breechloaders, as well as the muzzleloading 5-inch 80-pounder seacoast rifle. With a 10-pound charge and an 80-pound projectile filled with a 3.17-pound bursting charge, the seacoast Whitworth had an astounding 13,665-yard range at 10-degree elevation. Although an impressive weapon, such large rifles were prone to fouling, and inexperienced crews often found loading difficult and at times dangerous: improperly handled shells were prone to detonate prematurely.

The Confederacy imported a small number of both muzzle- and breechloading British Armstrong rifles of various sizes during the Civil War. The most popular Armstrong for field use, the 3-inch model, fired a 12-pound projectile 2,200 yards. The 70-pounder 6.4- inch breechloading Armstrong fired a 79.8-pound projectile loaded with a 5.4-pound bursting charge 2,183 yards. Two large 8.5-inch (150-pounder) 120-inch-long muzzleloading Armstrongs were included in the defenses of Wilmington, North Carolina: a 15,737- pound cannon at Fort Fisher and a 15,786-pound gun at Fort Caswell. The 150-pounder required a 20-pound charge.

Although rejected by his own government, British captain Theophilus Alexander Blakely found the Confederacy a ready buyer of his muzzleloaded rifled cannons during the Civil War. Blakely contracted with various private firms to cast his heavy and field pieces under license. Most Blakely bores were cut with right-hand twist-the so-called saw tooth or hook-slant rifling-and were manufactured using a cast iron core reinforced at the breech with wrought iron bands. Sizes ranged from small 2.5-inch 6-pounders to 12.75-inch seacoast rifles. Several types of 3.5-inch 12-pounder Blakely field rifles saw Confederate service during the Civil War. Other less used types included the 3.75-inch 16-pounder and the 4.5-inch 20-pounder, classed as naval and siege weapons.

Larger Blakelys included 7-inch (120-pounder) navy rifles. The Confederate raiders CSS Alabama and CSS Florida each mounted a 7-inch Blakely on pivots. A number of Blakely 7.5-inch pieces were also made up from British 42-pounder smoothbores that were banded and rifled according to Blakely’s patent. The barrels of the converted pieces utilized twelve-groove “hook-slant” rifling. On 22 May 1863 one such rifle-known as the Widow Blakely, as it was the only Blakely in the Vicksburg defenses-lost two feet of its muzzle when a shell exploded prematurely. Workmen repaired the remainder of the tube, and the Widow continued to defend the city until its fall on 4 July.

Other heavy pieces included 8.12-inch rifles made up from converted British 68-pounder smoothbores, 9-inch rifles, and 12.75- inch seacoast rifles. The 12.75-inch Blakely fired very heavy flanged projectiles, including 450-pound shells, to about 2,000 yards, and reportedly bolts as heavy as 700 pounds. Two 12.75-inch Blakelys were delivered through the blockade for the defense of Wilmington, North Carolina, in August 1863 but were rerouted to Charleston, South Carolina, by order of Secretary of War James Alexander Seddon and General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard. Local gunners, however, were unfamiliar with the Blakelys’ innovative air chamber. Some 7 inches in diameter and 30 inches long, the bronze air chamber was located at the breech below the guns’ powder chamber and was intended to reduce the shock of the recoil. Baffled by the unexplained extra space, General Roswell Sabine Ripley ordered one of the guns’ crews to load the air chamber with powder during its first firing, thus bursting the piece. When loaded correctly, however, the second gun functioned satisfactorily; after repairs, the damaged gun was returned to service.


Freak Guns and Infernal Devices – American Civil War

This four-wheeled weapon is called Winan’s Steam Gun. According to the history of this weapon, The Winan’s Steam Gun can shoot 300 bullets in one minute. The half-coned metal acts as the armor for its machinery. It is very accurate and its bullet can go as far as a mile if not more. This weapon however, was not widely used around the world. It is believed to be because not many civilization were introduced to this invention. Winan’s Steam Gun was never introduced to anyone except its maker until it was seized by a Massachusetts’ volunteer on his way to a rebel camp. Though it looks funny and not well organized, this weapon firing shots using steam-powered technology is the main reason of its uniqueness.

Henry Clay Pate was a former attorney who, during the U.S. Civil War, organized a mounted company that was called Pate’s Rangers or the Petersburg Rangers. The innovative Pate designed the revolving cannon, which he had cast at the Petersburg foundry in Petersburg, Va. This cannon was then made available to Pate’s unit.
The cannon saw use in the siege of Petersburg, Va. It was captured by Union troops at Danville, Va, on April 27, 1865. While innovative, the weapon did not play a significant role on the battlefield. After its capture, the cannon was sent to the Ordnance Laboratory, United States Military Academy, West Point, New York.

Double-Barreled Cannon, Athens, Clarke County, Georgia

Among the numerous weird and wonderful inventions with which the Union, or the Confederacy, were to be saved, were several attempts to make repeating cannon on the revolver principle. Most of these never got beyond the testing stage and none ever saw action. The Scientific American illustrated many such during the first few months of the war. (Later the magazine, like many of its readers, became disenchanted with the seemingly endless struggle, and pictures of warlike gear gave way to woodcuts of cultivators and thrashing machines.) The majority of the rapid-fire cannon appear as unwieldly monstrosities, overdecorated with wheels and gears.

One relied on steam as a propellant; the “Justly celebrated Winans steam-gun which … was expected to revolutionize the then existing system of warfare,” was captured by Union General Ben Butler’s men in May of ’61. The wood engraving shows it as a fascinating-look contraption, part fire engine, part snowplow. It was obviously not up to revolutionizing warfare, or anything else, or the astute and unconventional Ben Butler, who would try anything if he thought it would work, would have made some use of it.

One of a pair of revolving cannons cast by Tappey & Lumdsen of Petersburg, Virginia for H. C. Pate (the other burst during its test firing and killed three of the crew) still can be seen outside a Petersburg museum. It is really not much more than a large revolver on wheels, with a crank at the back to force the cylinder forward against the barrel, to cut down leakage of gas.

Another “freak” gun still to be seen (this one at Athens, Georgia) is the famous double-barrel cannon. The device, which consists of two 6-pounder cannon cast in one piece so that they diverge slightly, is only the last of a long line of such pieces, designed to mow down the enemy like ripe grain, by two cannon balls connected by a chain. There is only one thing wrong with this delightful conception, as other enterprising artillerists have found out through the ages—it won’t work. No matter that the vents are drilled so as to give fire simultaneously to both barrels. No matter that the powder charges and balls are carefully weighed and that the chain is cunningly arranged. It is physically impossible to give both projectiles exactly the same momentum at exactly the same time. The results, as might have been foreseen, were spectacular, to say the least. A contemporary account says:

“It had a kind of circular motion, plowed up an acre of ground, tore up a cornfield, mowed down saplings, and the chain broke, the two balls going in opposite directions. One of the balls killed a cow in a distant field, while the other knocked down the chimney from a log cabin.”

17/25-pounder “Pheasant” Tunisia – 1943

17/25-pounder “Pheasant” caught in full recoil firing in Tunisia – 1943

Before the QF 6-pounder had entered service, the British predicted that it would soon be inadequate given the increasing armour of German tanks. In late 1940, design of a replacement was started, and was largely complete by the end of 1941. A prototype production line was set up that spring, and with the appearance of Tiger I tanks in early 1943 in the North Africa, the first 100 prototype 17-pounder anti-tank guns were quickly sent to help counter this new threat. So great was the rush that they were sent before proper carriages had been developed, and the guns had to be mounted in the carriages of 25-pounder gun-howitzers. These early weapons were known as 17/25-pounders and given the codename Pheasant. They first saw action in February 1943.

When the allies encountered the first Tiger tanks in Africa in 1942 nothing they fielded at that time could effectively take these big cats on. The 17 pounder gun itself was available but the production of its carriage was lagging behind. As a stop gap measure some 17 pounder barrels were fitted onto 25 pounder carriages (incidentally that was also how the 25 pounder field gun concept started out: being fielded on the 18 pounder field gun carriage……): enter the 25/17 pounder, code name ‘Pheasant’. Some 150 units were produced.

At this early stage of the war only AP (solid) shot would have been available, some APC (capped) rounds might have been issued later in 1942 but at that time most Pheasants were probably already converted to ‘full’ 17pdr’s.

Generally the riveted 25 pounder carriage could sustain the abuse of the high velocity gun quite well. The first supplies of ammunition however did seem to suffer from accuracy issues and the solid shot projectiles prone to shatter on surface hardened armor plate. The later introduced cap prevented it from shattering at oblique impact angles.

The ‘Pheasant’ is certainly not the most refined looking gun, but this ugly duckling would profile itself as a potent tank killer and was a great boost for morale.

As one looks closely to the production 17 pounders the barrel slide and cradle are virtually identical. And with some minor adjustments the new barrel and slide could be fitted into the 25 pounder cradle. Main external (visible) change to the 25 pounder carriage was the firing mechanism which, due to the breech being much further backwards, was mounted on an extension arm bolted to the gun cradle.


Italy-Naval AAA


The Ansaldo 65mm/64 was the only new gun project of the wartime Royal Italian Navy.


The Royal Italian Navy developed radar but, as with the Germans, mainly for gunnery (LA range-finding). The only wartime anti-aircraft gun project (indeed, the only wartime gun project at all) was a new 65mm/64 HA gun intended specifically for the projected conversion of two small cruisers, Etna and Vesuvio, laid down pre-war for Siam, and left incomplete at the end of the war. Each was to have been armed with three twin 135mm/45 LA guns (as in the ‘Capitani Romani’ class) and a total of ten 65mm/64. Twelve were to have been mounted on board the carrier Aquila, left incomplete in 1943. The gun would also have armed ‘Capitani Romani’ class cruisers (a single mount would have replaced each twin 37mm/54). It was begun by the two gun manufacturers (Ansaldo and OTO) in collaboration in 1939 and was nearly ready in 1943. Production was cancelled in the summer of 1943, just before the Italian armistice. Length was originally to have been 56 calibres, increased to 62 calibres and then to 64 calibres. It fired a 4kg (about 8.8lbs) shell at a muzzle velocity of 950ft/sec (3117ft/sec). Originally it had an all-elevation electric loader, but that proved difficult to develop, and before the programme died altogether the gun was to have been hand-loaded. On that basis it could fire about 20 rnds/min. Maximum elevation was 80°.

Wartime anti-aircraft upgrades were limited. Thus the Littorios received a few additional twin 20mm/65 (fourteen rather than the original ten in Littorio and Roma). Other ships received small numbers of additional twin 37mm/54s (two more in the Dorias, to supplement the existing six). Some cruisers had their pre-war twin 13.2mm machine guns replaced by larger numbers of 20mm/65s. Destroyers were more heavily rearmed with 37mm/54s and 20mm/65s. For example, as completed Maestrale class destroyers had four twin 20mm/65s as their sole anti-aircraft weapons. In 1942 Maestrale had another two single 20mm/65s. In 1943 her sister Grecale had a twin 37mm/54 and four single 20mm/65. These short-range weapons were apparently quite effective against low-flying attackers, as the RAF suffered badly from intense anti-aircraft fire in the war to cut the supply line across the Mediterranean.

Effective machine gun range, as estimated in January 1942, was 1500m for the 37mm and 1200m for the 20mm, based on the capability of the predictors (alzi calcolatori and correttori rapidi), which took several tens of seconds to produce solutions. They were considered effective against aircraft flying a straight course, such as torpedo bombers.

During the war, the main Italian fleet encountered only a few air attacks in the open sea (as opposed to attacks in harbour, as at Taranto). Much of the Italian naval effort was devoted to running small convoys to North Africa in support of the Italian and German armies there. The destroyers and smaller ships fought an intense battle against RAF bombers, many of them operating out of Malta. At the same time they had to deal with submarines and with surface striking forces, also based on Malta. In this sense Italian convoy operations were a kind of microcosm of the larger British operations intended to resupply Malta. The Italian convoys generally did not enjoy air support, apart from the indirect effect of attacks on Malta. Neither the Germans nor the Italians ever seem to have developed effective shipboard fighter control, although on occasion their fighters formed a CAP over a convoy. That was probably adequate in view of the limited number of attacking aircraft, although the RAF did mount mixed bomb and torpedo attacks from time to time. In turn, the situation on Malta decided how effectively the convoy route could be squeezed. For example, limited workshop facilities limited the use of aerial torpedoes by strike aircraft operating from Malta. The alternative was masthead bombing. Alexandria suffered similar limitations, particularly after the depot ship Medway, with her torpedo workshops, was lost.

The RAF used low-level tactics from the autumn of 1941 up to the autumn of 1942. Losses were due not only to anti-aircraft fire but also to crashing into the ships’ masts. For example, an RAF Blenheim V crippled a tanker almost inside Tobruk in October 1942, but his wingman crashed after colliding with the ship’s mast. Many of the combat narratives in the official RAF history of the maritime war in the Mediterranean refer both to intense anti-aircraft fire and to heavy losses. Often it is clear that pilots were unable to observe hits due to heavy smoke screens, and the narrative relies heavily on official estimates of how well the pilots did. It is not clear how accurate those estimates, which are far more pessimistic than the pilots’ reports, were.

Initially the British rules for dealing with merchant ships from the air were related to rules for submarines; for example aircraft could not attack at sight, and ships in convoy were not regarded as part of the enemy fleet. Presumably the British hoped to limit enemy air attacks on shipping. In August 1940 the Italians announced that any ships within 30nm of enemy territory would be attacked, and the rules were dramatically relaxed.

At the outset the demand on shipping was limited because the German objective in setting up the Afrika Korps was to stop the British advance into Italian North Africa. Transport across the Mediterranean to Tripoli began in mid-February 1941. In March Hitler ordered a blitzkrieg, which pushed the British out of their conquests in the area. At the same time the Germans attacked in Greece and within a month they occupied Crete. With the loss of Crete, the Admiralty considered that it could no longer use carriers in the Eastern Mediterranean. Its torpedo bombers moved ashore to Malta; by December 1940 a Swordfish squadron (830) was on the island. Until the fall of Greece Swordfish also operated there. However, the Swordfish lacked the range to attack convoys in transit, and by December the Mediterranean and Middle East commanders were asking for longer-range torpedo bombers (Beauforts) to challenge the Axis supply route across the Mediterranean to Tobruk.

The Germans later complained that commitment of their air forces to the offensive in North Africa and also to the Russian campaign opened the convoys to air attack. Convoy losses in February and March 1941 were negligible, but in April and May they amounted to about 32,000 tons each month out of totals of 143,000 and 112,000 tons respectively. The situation was further complicated in that the army in North Africa was soon 1000km from its main port of Tripoli, and Tripoli itself had insufficient capacity. Thus a substantial fraction of the limited transport capacity had to go to repairing the port and to extending the key coastal road. To put the loss figures in perspective, in May 1941 the British Ministry of Economic Warfare estimated that the Axis was getting very short of shipping, because the enemy had nearer 500,000 tons than 1,000,000 tons available, excluding tankers and ships over 10,000 tons (useless for this service). They needed 250,000 tons to supply Albania and Tripoli, 100,000 tons for commercial service in the Adriatic, and 100,000 tons would always be under repair, leaving 100,000 tons for expeditionary warfare (at that time for Greece). Italian successes in getting tonnage across the Mediterranean in the face of British attacks can be attributed both to successful defence and to evasion based on code-breaking; evasion was similarly a vital element in Allied success in the Battle of the Atlantic.

Most of the damage to the Italian convoys during the first half of 1941 was by submarines, as the Swordfish had only limited capability. By this time the British were coming to sea attacks on the convoys as the best way to limit supplies going to North Africa; VCNS said that a successful attack on a ship in transit by an aircraft was worth the effort of fifty aircraft attacking the same cargo once it was ashore. For his part Winston Churchill wanted the largest possible submarine force based at Malta.

Air Staff wanted to use bombers. For the moment it was impossible to base Beauforts at Malta. With so few torpedoes on the island, Blenheim light bombers were sent out again, supplemented by Beaufighters (with IFF so that they could co-operate with ships) to help protect convoys. The Beaufighters operated in detachments of six aircraft at a time, the first six arriving on 27 April 1941 and carrying out their first anti-shipping strike on 1 May against a 3000-ton merchant ship escorted by a destroyer near the Kerkenna Islands. They claimed three hits on the destroyer and one on the merchant ship, both later confirmed as having been sunk. This detachment returned to England on 11 May, to be replaced by a second, which began its attacks on 22 May. A further detachment arrived on 21 May, suffering the first losses (two aircraft) during a 26 May convoy attack. In all, Blenheims of No. 2 Group made thirty-four sorties and attacked fifteen ships, sinking two, seriously damaging five and somewhat damaging another five, at the cost of two aircraft lost and two damaged. Blenheim detachments continued to operate from Malta through at least late 1941. The Blenheims attacked at low level, a very dangerous tactic. Typically Blenheims operated by day, torpedo-armed Swordfish at night. By the end of August 1941, there were thirty-two Blenheims on Malta, together with seven Marylands (typically used for reconnaissance, but now fitted with bomb racks), fifteen Wellingtons and twelve Swordfish. The Blenheims were having increasing trouble due to stronger convoy escorts and also fighter escorts, and AOC Mediterranean (Air Marshal Tedder) wanted to shift to attacks on enemy ports, but the Air Ministry considered it more useful to attack shipping in transit, so it decided to send another Blenheim squadron to Malta (this squadron, No. 18, did not leave for Malta until 10 October). At the time it was estimated that twenty-two ships had been sunk in August, of which submarines sank ten, torpedo bombers five, Blenheims four and heavy bombers (Wellingtons) three in harbour. In 1942 Malta continued to operate as an effective air-striking base but it was gradually choked by heavy enemy attacks (and very limited resupply, due to difficulties in running convoys), which nearly closed it down in March–April 1942.

In June the British air effort had to be cut back as the German- Italian army advanced towards Egypt: only 8500 tons out of 118,000 tons total were damaged or lost. Then British attacks increased, presumably partly because air pressure on Malta was relaxed due to the demands of the Russian campaign. In July, out of 153,000 tons sent out, nearly 20.000 tons were sunk and 7000 tons damaged. In August losses were 36.000 tons sunk and nearly 13,000 tons damaged out of 150,000 tons sent. In September losses were 49,000 tons sunk and nearly 14,000 tons damaged out of 163,000 tons sent out. Losses squeezed the capacity to ship heavy material, particularly vehicles such as tanks. There was no industrial capacity to replace heavy shipping losses. The large convoys could not be sustained, so in October shipping fell to 50,000 tons, of which 18,800 tons were lost and 12,800 tons damaged. Even had all the supplies gone through, they would have been grossly insufficient. In November, shipments fell to 37,000 tons – of which 26,000 tons were sunk and 2100 tons damaged. This was the worst damage ratio of the war, and the remaining 8400 tons was the least which had been delivered to Libya to date. In December only 36,000 tons was despatched, of which 13,000 tons was lost and 4800 tons damaged. These disasters coincided with the opening of a British offensive. Interdiction has always been most effective when the force being starved is also being forced to fight. The British advance into Cyrenaica greatly reduced Axis options to starve Malta, because it improved their prospects for convoy operations in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Three long-range Wellingtons fitted with ASV radar (sea-search radar) were deployed to Malta towards the end of September 1941 specifically to work with the Royal Navy surface force based at Malta, with the Malta-based naval torpedo bombers (Albacores at this time), and to shadow and attack enemy shipping. These aircraft acted as snoopers.

British anti-ship activity out of Malta was particularly intense in November 1941 in connection with the Crusader offensive in North Africa. It included a 19 November masthead-height attack on a convoy, escorted by one destroyer, by five Blenheims in the face of heavy anti-aircraft fire. Three were shot down. At this time the RAF was also flying Wellingtons out of Malta, armed with semi-armour-piercing bombs. One night thirteen of them, working with four Swordfish, attacked a large convoy: five merchant ships escorted by a cruiser and five destroyers. The Swordfish opened with torpedoes (one hitting the cruiser escorting the convoy). The Wellingtons followed at low and medium altitude. No hits could be observed due to the thick smoke screen the convoy generated. The Wellingtons claimed straddles, which might damage the ships, but there was no assessment. One Swordfish failed to return. A particular effort was made to attack enemy ships in harbour, presumably because bombs were more likely to be effective against static ships.

For their part the Germans felt compelled to divert U-boats from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean (initially twenty-one, ultimately thirty-six) specifically to deal with the convoys reinforcing Malta. For example, U-boats sank the carriers Ark Royal and Eagle, the latter during the ‘Pedestal’ convoy. By late 1941 it had become far more difficult to run convoys to Malta, and the onset of war in the Far East reduced the British capacity to make up losses in the Mediterranean. During the autumn of 1941 strikes from Malta became less effective both because the Italians learned to route their convoys out of range and because Malta itself was heavily bombed. The see-saw land war in North Africa did not help because bases seized there were too far from the Italian convoy routes for naval torpedo bombers.

The effect of renewed attacks against Malta showed in an improving Italian shipping situation. In January 1942, 60,000 tons were delivered to North Africa without loss. In February only 5000 tons of the 60,000 tons sent that month was lost. In March, 70,000 tons were sent, of which 15,800 tons were damaged and 1000 tons lost. None of these shipments was on the earlier scale, but in April 145,000 tons was sent, of which only 3500 tons was lost. The April shipment was the first and last time that it exceeded demands. At that time Rommel required 12.000 tons each month, but that did not include amassing supplies for any major operation. The more numerous Italian troops fighting alongside Rommel needed about twice the tonnage. With the reduction of air activity on Malta, at the end of March the Italians began to run single ships with heavy AA armament instead of convoys. The situation on Malta improved with the arrival of strong reinforcements of Spitfires in May 1942.

In April the total requirement for the German forces was 32,000 tons, the army taking 14,000 tons of fuel, as well as 1565 vehicles (including thirty-four tanks). May was even better: over 170,000 tons sent out, and only 10,000 tons lost. However, Rommel’s needs were also escalating, because on 26 May he began the offensive which took him to El Alamein. As he advanced, he needed not only convoy traffic across the Mediterranean but also coastal shipping from the main ports in North Africa (Tobruk to Mersa Matruh). Both convoys and coastal shipping were vulnerable to air and surface attack. In June the combination of cross-Mediterranean and coastal shipping depended on a total of about 107.000 tons of shipping, of which about 10,000 tons were lost or damaged.

The improvement in the Axis convoy position seems traceable directly to the worsening situation on Malta, which affected both strike aircraft and submarines based there. The British were well aware of the connection between Malta-based interdiction and the campaign in North Africa, and that explains the very costly convoy operations mounted in June and August 1942 (‘Pedestal’). Air attacks on the Axis convoys through the end of June 1942 were very limited, the bulk of Italian losses being by submarine.

The convoys were, however, still in range of RAF torpedo bombers. The first two Beaufort squadrons were sent out from the United Kingdom at the end of 1941. They began operating from Malta and Egypt early in 1942 (the second squadron soon moved to India). The day-attack Beaufort squadrons benefitted heavily from escort by Beaufighters. These aircraft carried out synchronised attacks after flying from their bases at very low altitude. Beaufighter escorts provided a diversion by strafing escorting destroyers and anti-aircraft ships. Converted Wellington medium bombers intended for night attack were successfully tested early in 1942, one squadron becoming operational by the end of May 1942. A second followed late in 1942. Few Wellingtons were lost.

Convoy losses began to rise in August (figures for July are not given): 114,000 tons despatched, of which 38,000 tons were sunk and 2000 tons damaged. In September 108,000 tons were despatched, of which 23,000 tons were sunk and over 9000 tons damaged. The situation continued to worsen, so that in October of over 96,000 tons sent, 24,000 tons were sunk and 14,000 tons damaged. In November demand exploded, because with the Allied landings in French North Africa, and with the offensive in the east, the Germans and Italians were fighting on two fronts. They made a supreme effort: 178,000 tons were sent out – but Malta was now fully operational, and 31,500 tons were sunk and 25.000 tons damaged. In December, even more was sent: 212,500 tons; but over 68,000 tons were sunk and over 15,000 tons damaged. The damaged ships were all hit in harbour. From August on the weight of the offensive against Axis shipping moved from submarines to bombers. Of the twenty-eight ships sunk in December, thirteen were sunk by air attack. Most of the sinkings by air attack seem to have been by torpedo. Attacks on convoys destroyed a large percentage of the Italian merchant fleet. They also wiped out many of the destroyers and seagoing torpedo boats which might otherwise have screened the Italian battle fleet.

12.8-cm Pak

There were two versions of the 12.8 cm K 44 tested by the Germans during the Second World War, differing only on the type of carriage used.

Version one: The Krupp model had a cruciform platform with outriggers, carried on two two-wheel axles that could be swung from the ground as the platform was lowered by a simple hand-operated arc and pinion mechanism. The top carriage revolved on four rollers running around a racer plate on the lower carriage and was centred o by a simple pivot.

Version two: The Rheinemetall-Borsig model also used a carriage of the cruciform type, carried on a two-wheel bogie at the front and a four-wheel bogie at the rear. The front bogie was removed completely on coming into action, while the rear bogie was raised from the ground but remained on the carriage to form part of the traversing mass and to add to the gun’s stability.

It was generally agreed that the Krupp design was the cleaner and better of the two, though critical examination showed that certain parts of the carriage – especially the wheel-raising gear and the traversing arrangements – were somewhat underweight for their tasks and might not have lasted long in service.

Although prototypes were made, no complete weapons entered service though a number of gun barrels (51 according to some reports) were made and fitted to extemporised carriages.

These being as follows:

12.8 cm Kanone 81/1: This was the K 44 ordnance mounted on the ex-French 155 mm Mle GPF-T carriage.

12.8 cm Kanone 81/2: This was the K 44 ordnance mounted on the ex-Russian 152 mm Model 1937 howitzer carriage.

The 12.8cm Pak 44/ K44 was designed as a dual purpose anti tank and field gun. Prototypes only were built. However the barrel was produced. A version, the K81, was intended for use in AFV. 50 barrels were converted and fitted to a carriage from the French Canon de 155 GPF-T. These were issued as 12.8cm Kanone 81/1.
A small number of barrels were fitted to the Soviet 152mm Gun howitzer carriage obr,. 1937 and used as the 12.8cm Kanone 81/2.
Both of these were intended to be field and anti tank guns.

page 120 Small Arms Artillery and Special Weapons of the Third Reich Gander and Chamberlain ISBN 0 354 01108 1 has a pic of US troops and a captured 12.8cm Kanone 81/1

The 12.8cm weapons weighed in at well over twice the weight of the 8.8cm Pak and were beyond the ability of crews to shift far without the aid of vehicles. This and their massive bulk limited their effectiveness as a wheeled anti tank gun although its ability to penetrate armour is beyond question eg 148mm at 30 degrees from vertical at 2000 m with Pzgr43.

Usage of the Pak 44 in combat

There is somewhat good account of the deployment of the Pak 44 in Andrew Devey’s “Jagdtiger” Vol.1 pages 33-6.

The field guns were designated 12,8cm Kan 81/1,(using the French 155 mount) or the 12,8cm Kan 81/2 (using the Russian 152 mount).

On Oct.25.44, a “Fuhrerbefehl” ordered that 52- 12,8cm Pak 80 (up until Sept ’44 known as the Pak 44) be diverted from the Jagdtiger program and mounted on Russian and French carriages.

On Nov.8.44, the Gen.Insp.d.Artillerie ordered the deployment of the 12,8cm Kan with the organization of 4 Batterien under K.St.N 479a v. 1.10.43 each with 10 12,8 Kan, (7- Kan 81/2, and 3- Kan 81/1 each).

The following Batterien were created:
Batterie 1092
Batterie 1097
Batterie 1124
Batterie 1125

All were sent to the Western Front in anticipation of the Ardennes Offensive and were in the assembly position by Nov.22.44.

As for their exact assignment you’ll have to consult Pallud’s “Battle of the Bulge-Then and Now”, or Parker’s “Hitler’s Last Gamble” I don’t know how the units were employed, as Pak or as Artillerie, but the order dated Nov.8 show a very low number of Pz.G.R. rounds

Maxim Pom-Pom


Pom-pom. So named from the sound of its report, a small-caliber automatic cannon whose reloading mechanism is powered by the firing of each previous round. Developed in the 1880’s and 1890’s by Hiram Stevens Maxim and originally intended as a mounted naval gun, its first use was as a field piece by both the British and the Boers in the Second Boer War (1899-1902). In subsequent naval and antiaircraft use, it was typically mounted in pairs. The British used a 37-millimeter version as a field piece in World War I (1914-1918).

The “Pom-Pom”-so-called because of the noise it made when in use- was an enlarged version of Maxim’s machine-gun. It was the world’s first autocannon-unlike a machine-gun, it fired shells rather than bullets. The “Pom-Pom” served as an artillery weapon and an anti-aircraft gun. Gun on anti- aircraft mounting

A British pom-pom. The performance of these guns in the hands of the Boers convinced the British that they should be using them as well. In later wars they were used against thin-skinned transports, ships and aircraft, (NRA. MFM BW18/5.)

The 1-pounder (1.457-inch/3.7cm) gun that became known, because of the noise of its steady rate of fire, as the Pom-Pom was descended from the hand-cranked guns principally intended for use by the navy. The British soldier was to regret his own army’s lack of interest when he encountered the weapon in the hands of the Boers. They recognised its handiness and mobility in difficult country and used it, after the British had discovered the wisdom of taking cover, less to inflict damage than to restrict movement and prevent the return of fire.

The guns manufactured by the French factory of the American designer Hotchkiss and by the British factory of the Swedish inventor Nordenfelt were turned by hand and thus were vulnerable to, at best, jamming or, at worst, exploding should a round fail to go off promptly. The guns were, absolutely at all times under the control of the officer commanding the battalion.

Royal Navy’s 2 pounder Pom Pom.

This Vickers pom-pom was adopted by the army in 1889 and by the navy in 1892. It was a belt-fed machine gun, the barrel being surrounded by a cooling water jacket. In 1914 these were primarily anti-aircraft guns, and the main difference between the two versions was in their mountings, the HA Mk II (for Mk II) being much steadier, as the revolving pedestal was on rollers rather than a pivot. The AA version was introduced in March 1915. It armed some light cruisers and monitors and many flotilla leaders, destroyers, P boats, river gunboats and lesser warships and auxiliaries, as a defence against low fliers and remote-controlled motor boats (DCBs). Production: 112 Mk I, 785 Mk II. To the end of 1918 deliveries were 701 (including twenty-one for proof or experiments) and 104 for allies (100 Mk II to Italy). Sixteen were transferred to land service for AA.

Ammunition was carried on a 35-round fabric belt, the cyclic rate being 200 rounds/min (each fixed round weighed 2.95lbs). Doctrine was to fire five-round bursts at aircraft and ten-round bursts at DCBs. The calibre was just large enough that shells could be explosive. Approximate barrel life was 5000 full charges, and maximum range was 6900yds at 45° elevation.

2pdr Mks I and II

Nomenclature for 1pdr and 2pdr automatic and semi-automatic guns was assigned in September 1915.

This was a complex, but, extremely reliable weapon, descendant of the 37mm One Pounder Pom Pom of the Anglo-Boer War, basically an enlarged version of the Maxim/Vickers machine guns. Britain also supplied the Boer republics – with the experimental Maxim-Nordenfeldt 1-pdr. machinegun, the ‘pom-pom’. This had a range of only 3,000 yards (1.7m/2.74km) and threw a little shell of 37mm calibre intended to explode on impact. It often failed to do so. However, if hit by one, the victim suffered terrible wounds, but if the shell exploded in the ground it was virtually neutralised and if in the air fragmented inefficiently. The gun was, nonetheless, feared partly because of the speed of fire and partly because it could be taken into places into which other artillery could not go. By the end of the war the British were using them as well. With less modern guns the total strength approached 100 pieces. The Boers also had 30 Maxim-Vickers machine-guns, the precursors of the famous weapon of the First World War, mounted on light carriages.

Subsequently the Royal Navy developed it into an extremely advanced air defence weapon (for its time – 1927) in a eight barrelled mount controlled and fired by one man. The mount’s complexity, especially in reloading resulted in the first use by Britain’s armed forces of work efficiency specialists – the work study practitioners that were in everyone’s way in the 1960’s-70’s. Whilst an efficient weapon system, it suffered from a low rate of fire only 60 sustained rounds per minute per barrel, and if the gun crew became undermanned its effectiveness dropped dramatically. Produced in more effective 4 barrelled mounts during WWII, it was widely used, as was the single barrel mount.

The Munitions Scandal

There was to be an unexpected and momentous sequel to the disaster at Aubers Ridge. For some months there had been growing dissatisfaction throughout the country with the conduct of the war, fuelled by lengthening casualty lists in the newspapers. There was an uneasy feeling that those in charge of the nation’s affairs had not been prosecuting the war with sufficient energy and determination. From the outset the Press had consistently supported the Government; news of the battles on the Western Front had been presented to an innocent and gullible public in the most favourable light; small gains were inflated into significant advances and setbacks were few. However, even the Press became a little restive after Neuve Chapelle when rumours began to circulate about a shortage of shells for the guns. Lord Northcliffe, proprietor of The Times and the Daily Mail, had been receiving detailed complaints for some time from both officers and men at the front about conditions in the trenches, including comments from a number of members of Parliament who had been commissioned soon after the outbreak of war. The censor had repeatedly refused to let him publish them. Public disquiet was now heightened by the return of the wounded from Neuve Chapelle and Second Ypres with stories of delays, bungled attacks and a demoralizing shortage of shells. Some hints of these criticisms at last began to find their way into the local and national papers.

For a little while it was possible for the Cabinet to maintain the line taken by Asquith and Newcastle. The disaster at Aubers Ridge on 9 May received little attention from the Press, and that little was hopelessly inaccurate and misleading. But within days echoes of the fiasco quickly began to reverberate down the corridors of Westminster and around the clubs in Pall Mall. With the arrival of the wounded and men on leave, stories started to circulate in London about another failed offensive by the First Army accompanied by heavy casualties. It was an explosive situation and it only needed a spark to set it off.

The spark was Colonel Repington. He was already aware that Sir John, incensed by the continuing failure of Kitchener and the War Office to respond to his demands for more ammunition, was considering going over their heads and appealing directly to leading politicians and the Press. As we have seen, he had watched the battle with the Commander-in-Chief, though it is difficult to reconcile this with his distorted piece published in The Times on 12 May.

French had left the Aubers Ridge battlefield early and returned, accompanied by Repington, to his headquarters. Here he found a telegram from the War Office instructing him to send 2000 rounds of 4.5-inch and 20,000 rounds of 18pdr ammunition from his scanty reserves to Marseilles for shipment to the Dardanelles. This was the last straw. If Sir John had harboured any doubts about the consequences of his proposed course of action, this order dispelled them. The combined effects of his next actions were to have far-reaching consequences for the Government, for Kitchener and in due course for himself. In his memoirs, entitled 1914, he describes what he did:

I immediately gave instructions that evidence should be furnished to Colonel Repington, military correspondent of The Times, who happened to be then at Headquarters, that the vital need of high-explosive shells had been a fatal bar to our Army’s success on that day [Repington could hardly have asked for more explosive copy!]. I directed that copies of all the correspondence which had taken place between myself and the Government on the question of the supply of ammunition be made at once, and I sent my Secretary, Brinsley FitzGerald, with Captain Frederick Guest, one of my ADCs, to England with instructions that these proofs should be laid before Mr Lloyd George (the Chancellor of the Exchequer), who had already shown me, by his special interest in this subject, that he grasped the deadly nature of our necessities. I instructed also that they should be laid before Mr Arthur J. Balfour and Mr Bonar Law [senior Conservative politicians who were also coopted members of Asquith’s War Council], whose sympathetic understanding of my difficulties, when they visited me in France, had led me to expect that they would take the action that this grave exigency demanded.

In political life it is rare for a single issue to bring about a great upheaval. Usually this is caused by several factors combining to create a situation where one further incident – a scandal, a resignation or a piece of ill-considered legislation – is sufficient to cause a violent reaction. Thus it was not the shell shortage a Aubers Ridge revealed by Repington that by itself brought down Asquith’s Government. His article simply served to focus the disappointment caused by the failure of the Aubers Ridge offensive, by the anger over the gas attack at Ypres which had caught our troops unprepared, the disquiet over the Dardanelles adventure, and by growing public concern at the leisurely and ineffective way the war was being conducted by the Liberal Government. All these matters now came together to create a volatile situation where one more blow might bring disaster down upon the Government. That critical blow, untimely and unexpected, was struck the very next day after Repington’s article.

It had not been easy for Asquith’s Cabinet to conceal the differences over the Dardanelles campaign between Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty, and the First Sea Lord, Lord Fisher, his senior naval adviser. ‘Jackie’ Fisher, the creator of the modern navy, pugnacious, outspoken and ‘the darling of the Conservatives’ in Beaverbrook’s phrase, had made little secret of his opposition to the attempt to force the Dardanelles employing the Navy alone. He was even more hostile to later developments involving a military expedition and further demands upon the Royal Navy. Finally he could contain himself no longer and on Saturday, 15 May he resigned in protest against the Dardanelles ‘foolishness’.

This was the immediate cause of the downfall of the Liberal Government. In the next few days the political crisis came to a head. Fisher’s intemperate action led to a flurry of activity. It cast a shadow over the integrity and actions of the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, who at once saw Asquith and offered to resign. His offer was refused. At the same time, Fisher resisted all attempts by powerful friends, such as Churchill, Lloyd George and even the Prime Minister himself, to make him reconsider his decision and embarked on a bizarre course of behaviour that made his return to office out of the question. Bonar Law discussed the serious political situation with Lloyd George; they agreed it made a coalition government necessary and that Lloyd George should suggest this to Asquith. Such a proposal now suited Bonar Law and Balfour, while Lloyd George saw it as his chance to take a major, and more aggressive, part in the conduct of the war.

Meanwhile, Asquith was left in no doubt by the outcry from the Conservative party at this turn of events that to preserve national unity and present a harmonious parliamentary front he would have to form a coalition government and reconstruct his Cabinet. Balfour had made it clear that under no circumstances would the Conservatives stomach Churchill – who was anathema to his party – continuing in high office following Fisher’s departure. Asquith not unwillingly gave way and announced his intention to reconstruct his government to a tense House on 19 May. The Prime Minister moved swiftly to appoint leading Conservatives to his Cabinet, but it involved some painful decisions. In the reshuffle he removed Churchill from the Admiralty and made him Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, a post usually reserved, as Lloyd George commented, ‘either for beginners in the Cabinet or for distinguished politicians who had reached the first stages of unmistakable decrepitude’. He was also forced to sacrifice Lord Haldane, to whom the country owed so much. Many in the House expected Kitchener to follow him but Asquith realized that Kitchener’s continuing reputation and popularity among the public made this impossible. Others were not so deterred.

Lloyd George had naturally been intimately involved in the reconstruction process. All the time, however, he had been seething with anger at his realization that Kitchener had withheld Sir John French’s memos and letters about the shell shortage not only from the original Cabinet ‘Shells’ Committee of which Kitchener himself had been the reluctant chairman, but also from the Munitions of War Committee. Lloyd George saw his opportunity and he took it. On 19 May he wrote a lengthy letter to the Prime Minister stressing the points that had been made so forcefully to him by French in his report. He went on to complain about the way this information had been withheld from the Munitions Committee by the War Office (i.e. Kitchener) and stated that he would no longer preside over such a farce.

Two days later Lord Northcliffe re-entered the fray. He was no friend of Kitchener and he put the blame for the shell shortage firmly upon him. When he heard that Kitchener was to continue as Secretary of State for War in the reconstructed government he published a bitter personal attack upon him in the Daily Mail on 21 May under the headline: ‘The Shells Scandal: Lord Kitchener’s Tragic Blunder’. Many were upset by this attack upon a national institution, but there was scant sympathy for Kitchener among the Cabinet. He had upset too many people and made too many enemies; they had been intimidated too long by the stern, imposing figure of England’s most famous soldier and by the impact of his powerful personality.

Northcliffe followed up this attack on Kitchener by running a campaign for the next ten days on the theme of the shells ‘scandal’. If this had any effect at all, it was to strengthen Lloyd George’s hand in talks with the Prime Minister about the most effective way of settling the munitions problem. It was no surprise then that, when Asquith announced details of his new Cabinet to the House on 26 May, he also announced the most significant decision of all – his invitation to Lloyd George to form a Ministry of Munitions charged with the task of mobilizing the nation’s resources for armament production. The new Ministry would embody the functions of the former Munitions of War Committee, but with this crucial difference: it possessed the executive authority and the power that Lloyd George had been seeking for months. Lloyd George willingly gave up the Treasury, recruited ‘men of push and go’ and set off on the mission that was to contribute largely to the winning of the war and lead him to the premiership.

It is not within the compass of this book to deal with Lloyd George’s success in harnessing and expanding the engineering capacity of the nation. One might simply illustrate his achievements by comparing the brief bombardments and lengthy recriminations of the first half of 1915 with the intensity, weight and duration of the bombardment that opened the Battle of the Somme a year later.

If Lloyd George had been infuriated by Kitchener’s behaviour, Kitchener in his turn was very angry with French. He had endured for months a wrangle with his Commander-in-Chief over the supply of guns and shells to the Western Front. In the last few weeks he had had to contend with the Second Battle of Ypres and the offensive against Aubers Ridge, while at the same time being embroiled in Churchill’s scheme to force the Dardanelles and having to find men, guns and shells for it. He bitterly resented French going behind his back to stir up the Press and leading politicians against him. Sir John French had knowingly tempted the wrath of Achilles and in due course it was to descend upon him. His cause was not helped by the failure of Haig’s third attempt to make progress against Aubers Ridge; the Battle of Festubert had opened on 16 May and was now grinding to an expensive and inglorious halt. In September would come an even more disastrous offensive at Loos leading to calls for his resignation as Commander-in-Chief. Sir John’s reactions after the débâcle of 9 May proved a potent factor in his removal.

Kitchener was to soldier on in the Coalition Government until his tragic death the following summer, but his reputation had suffered a severe blow. The idol was seen to have feet of clay, and from this point his dominant role in the Cabinet and his influence over the conduct of the war began to wane.

Such an offensive, before an adequate supply of guns and high-explosive shell can be provided, would only result in heavy casualties and the capture of another turnip field.’

LORD KITCHENER, June, 1915 on a future offensive in France.