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.

Siege and Defence of Castles During the First Crusade I

From a military point of view, one can relate to the castle – any castle – as a complex and expensive technological development intended to with- stand attack and to ward off enemy attempts to capture or mount a siege against it. Castle architecture, like all other improvements in military technology, was influenced and shaped by a constant tactical and strategic dialogue between opposing forces. When one side developed a new and successful siege tactic, the opponent countered with a new strategy of fortification that took the edge off the enemy’s innovation. This in turn led the attacker to come up with a new strategy for besieging the castle, and the cycle was repeated.

This phenomenon led Hugh Kennedy to write: `The development of castle architecture must be seen as the result of continuing dialectic between attack and defence which gave the advantage sometimes to one, sometimes to the other. Only by examining techniques of attack can we come to a real understanding of the architecture of defence.’ In other words, Frankish military architecture reflected not only the construction methods with which the Franks were familiar, but also Muslim tactics of siege and warfare, as well as the financial ability of the owners of these strongholds. And yet, even in his brilliant and innovative analysis of the strategic dialectic between the Frankish castle and Muslim siege tactics, Kennedy hardly refers to the gradual development of this very dialogue over time and space. He adopts a generalised approach to the common siege techniques and defence tactics, providing examples for every type of warfare and all types of fortifications, but the exact cause and effect relationship between new attack techniques and new defence tactics remains rather cloudy.

And yet, even if my assertion is correct, and the Franks were not endangered by the external enemies throughout the entire period and in all of their territory, they nonetheless had to strengthen their fortifications in accordance with the changing threats. It can be suggested, therefore, that to the extent to which a castle was subject to greater and more frequent threats, the greater was the tendency to invest more resources in the improvement of the fortifications. The opposite argument is also logical: to the extent that the threat was less imminent, the settlers could make do with less expensive and more compact fortifications.

The underlying assumption of this approach is that only an understanding of the ongoing development of the tactics of siege warfare of both sides and a better understanding of the ever-changing balance of power can enable us to gain a clear picture of the ongoing development of defence techniques. Siege warfare and castles account for only one part – important as it may be – of medieval military strategy, and it is impossible to separate the siege and defence tactics from the other elements of their military techniques. Besieging an individual castle is generally only one component of a wider plan of attack which always includes advancing into enemy territory and deploying siege machines, and on the other hand the advance of reinforcements and supplies to the besieged castle. This chain of events might end with the surrender of the besieged castle, the retreat of the besieging armies, or a general showdown in a field of battle.

Thus, the transformations undergone by the Frankish castles cannot be explained solely on the basis of their architectural features (as many of Kennedy’s predecessors attempted to do). However, these architectural changes also cannot be explained simply through a generalised analysis of techniques typical of warfare between Muslims and Crusaders, for these were not the only components of the strategic dialectic between them. The superiority or inferiority of one of the field armies is as important as the financial capabilities of the landlords and their willingness to invest the huge sums needed to provide defence and fortifications.

As for the balance of power between Frankish and Muslim land forces, it is reasonable to assume that during periods of clear Frankish superiority in the field there was less of a threat to nearby Crusader castles. During these periods the Muslims were fearful of engaging in direct land battles and were quick to lift the siege and flee when Frankish reinforcements drew near. The average duration of a Muslim siege during such periods was five or, at most, ten days, the length of time it took Frankish forces to come to the rescue of the besieged castles. The Frankish castles built during such periods were planned so that they could hold out for a week. A longer period of time was unnecessary and there was no need to invest huge sums in mighty fortifications or immense supplies of water and food.

In periods and regions in which the opposing land forces were more or less of equal strength, or during periods in which the Muslim armies were more formidable than those of the Franks, the frequency of Muslim sieges increased, as did their potential length. The castles erected in the frontier areas of the kingdom from the 1160s onwards were planned to withstand lengthier sieges and more frequent attacks than those of the earlier period, because the defenders within their walls could not rely on speedy relief by reinforcements from the centre of the kingdom.

We may conclude, then, that the strength of the castles and the sums needed to erect and equip them were in inverse ratio to the might of the land forces in the immediate vicinity: in periods and areas in which the Franks held military superiority they could make do with smaller, less fortified castles; whenever and wherever the Muslims held the upper hand, the Franks were in need of more mightily fortified castles.

Several factors influenced the relative cost of incorporating defence technologies. The stronger the Muslim land forces and the more improved their siege techniques, the longer the potential duration of the siege they could mount and the mightier the Frankish castles became. Therefore, the cost of castle building increased in a direct ratio to their potential of being besieged and the potential length of the siege warfare. Not every lord was able to assemble the funds needed to fortify and equip his castle; moreover, even if he were able to come up with such sums, it is doubtful that he would expend them unless conditions made this absolutely necessary. It is therefore quite likely that the new and expensive technologies were implemented differentially throughout the kingdom, depending on the frequency of the Muslim attacks and their geographic diffusion. More sophisticated strongholds were first erected in regions more prone to attack or those which in time became frontier areas; only later did these innovations also seep down into other regions in the interior of the kingdom. As a result of these high costs, in the final tally the frontier castles were gradually transferred from the possession of their seigneurial lords to the military orders, which could more easily raise the necessary funding.

Thus, I maintain that study of the archaeology and military architecture are not enough to gain an understanding of their development. Technological innovations and the speed of their diffusion, financial ability, and differential capabilities of the opposing land forces were important considerations influencing military architecture. Moreover, it is not enough to point to the dialectic between Muslim attacks and Frankish defence, for there was a simultaneous, ongoing dialogue by both sides concerning the adopted technique in both siege-fare and defence. I shall attempt to trace, in as great detail as possible, the sieges mounted by both Franks and Muslims, and try to ascertain the relative advantages of each side in the conflict. This analysis will enable us at a later stage to better understand the significance of Frankish military architecture.

Frankish Siege Machinery and Logistics During the First Crusade

The siege and defence tactics employed by the Franks during the First Crusade, and also later, when they took the cities along the Mediterranean seashore, were different from those used by the Muslims during that same period. Frankish attacks were almost always supported by siege engines and siege towers, as well as by various types of artillery, whereas the Muslims did not erect towers and made little use of heavy artillery when besieging enemy castles. They preferred tactics which became traditional: direct storming of the castle, a tight blockade, tunnelling under the walls, and limited use of light artillery.

The difference between the siege tactics of the two warring camps apparently did not stem from poorer technological skills of the Muslims; Latin chroniclers specifically mention that the Muslims were acquainted with heavy artillery and even employed it in defence. But the use by the Franks of heavy artillery, and especially of siege towers, was much more frequent. In fact, it can be maintained that they employed both these means in almost every siege they mounted, while the Muslims did so only very rarely.

I believe that the difference between the siege tactics can be put down to the Franks’ superior logistic capabilities during the first quarter of the twelfth century. They had advanced transport facilities, including four- wheeled wagons; they could call upon the services of trained craftsmen and carpenters who served in their land forces or supporting fleets; and they could count on ships for transport and much logistic support. The Muslim armies too employed the services of Muslim sailors, but they did this more to enhance their defence than their attack abilities. The Frankish superiority in logistic capabilities already came to bear during the First Crusade. The Franks began the siege of Nicaea, the first massive one mounted by the Crusaders in Asia Minor, with a tight land blockade, but what actually accounted for their victory was their superior technology and engineering, and the despair of the besieged.

Descriptions of the siege of Nicaea by Latin and Greek chroniclers indicate just how much the balance of power between the Frankish and Muslim land forces influenced the morale of those within the city. At first, when the Nicaeans believed that no outside help would be forthcoming, they agreed to surrender to the Byzantine emperor. Somewhat later, when they learned that the Seljuk sultan had not abandoned them and was trying to come to their aid, they were more determined and decided not to surrender, but to fight on.

The Franks then erected siege engines and positioned various types of artillery. Most of the engines were intended to protect the soldiers who were digging under the city walls to weaken their foundations, but Anna Comnena relates that her father, Byzantine Emperor Alexius Comnenus, who had little faith in the Crusaders’ ability to take the city, suggested that they use a new type of artillery. Anna does not provide specific details about this weapon, but she does note that the Franks did employ, inter alia, a rock-propelling device known as Helepoleis. The Helepoleis was already known by this name during classical antiquity, and Paul Chevedden, who has studied the development of medieval artillery for many years, believes that `Helepoleis’ does not necessarily signify a specific weapon; rather it is used to designate the most advanced type of artillery existing during each specific period of time. Chevedden provides no proof to substantiate this argument, but he bases his assertion upon it and on the fact that Anna Comnena mentions a new type of weapon, concluding that during the siege of Nicaea the Byzantines for the first time supplied the Franks with an artillery piece of the counterweight trebuchet type, which replaced earlier sorts of artillery (each of which had in turn been called Helepoleis). Though Chevedden’s articles are based on a multitude of references, I have been unable to find in them support for the argument that `Helepoleis’ designated the most advanced type of artillery at a certain point in time, or that the counterweight trebuchet was already in use at the time of the siege of Nicaea. Rogers and France too, both of whom have studied the Frankish siege of Nicaea, did not find any evidence of this fact in the sources describing that event. The question is too vast to be dealt with here in full, but it should be noted that the majority of the students of Frankish and medieval Muslim artillery follow Huuri, in asserting that leverage artillery was invented in China and was brought to the East and from there to Europe, but most of them date the invention of the counterweight trebuchets to the twelfth century.

Nonetheless, even if the Franks did not have artillery of the counter- weight trebuchet type at their disposal when they besieged Nicaea, they were able to employ other relatively advanced types of artillery, at least some of which had been planned and built by Frankish craftsmen on the basis of knowledge they brought with them from their countries of origin. The Latin sources repeatedly mention, sometimes even by name, crafts- men and carpenters who were an inseparable element of the fighting force. They also note that craftsmen were hired and paid to perform professional tasks, some of them even losing their lives while engaged in construction efforts. For example, two German noblemen, Henry of Aische and Count Hartmund, funded the construction of a mobile roof of oak planks to protect twenty knights who were digging under the city walls. This stratagem failed, however, and the roof collapsed under the weight of the rocks hurled down by the defenders. Some time later, craftsmen from southern France in the entourages of the count of Toulouse and the bishop of Le Puy were hired to erect a very high tower along Nicaea’s southern wall. The warriors atop this tower successfully created a breach in the wall, but the defenders soon blocked it.

Siege and Defence of Castles During the First Crusade II

UNSPECIFIED – CIRCA 1754: Siege of a town led by Godefroy de Bouillon (c1060-1100) 1st Crusade (1095-1099), showing Saracens firing arrows at Crusaders as they attempt to scale the walls. From manuscript of Roman de Godefroy de Bouillon. (Photo by Universal History Archive/Getty Images)

The technological skills of the Franks were not limited to constructing siege engines and artillery. They managed to transport boats overland from the Aegean seashore to the shores of the Lake of Nicaea. This they did by joining together three or four wagons, creating large platforms each of which could carry one boat. One source reports that `during the night, by means of ropes wrapped around the necks of men and horses, they pulled [the boats] to the sea, a distance of seven miles or more’. From this description we learn that the Franks brought heavy four-wheeled wagons with them, and were able to move these wagons using horses. This source emphasises the ability of Frankish craftsmen and carpenters to build cranes under difficult battlefield conditions, and to harness horses to pull heavy wagons.

According to the Latin chroniclers, the breakthrough in the siege of Nicaea came when a Lombard carpenter and engine-builder managed to build a machine sufficiently fortified to withstand attacks by the defenders (for which he was generously paid and supplied with materials), thus providing cover for those who dug under the wall’s foundations. It was this effort which finally brought the lengthy siege to an end.

The Frankish sieges of Antioch, Ma’arat an-Nu’uman, and Arka also entailed the construction of siege engines and the use of heavy artillery. Siege towers reduced the advantage provided by the height of the city walls, and in cases in which they were not effective enough the Franks constructed real wooden fortifications. They were used, for example, in the siege of Antioch, where the Franks first initiated a lengthy land blockade, while the defenders, for their part, mounted surprise attacks and quick sorties through the city gates. At this time the defenders did not yet have special openings in the wall for such sorties, but time and again they managed to surprise the Franks by opening the gates and rushing out to strike at them. The latter responded by quickly erecting wooden fortifications to defend the camps of the besieging forces.

Thus, at a fairly early stage of the siege of Antioch they built a castrum or an external fortification (antemurale) which came to be known as Malregard and was intended to defend the camp of Bohemond and his men. Immediately upon the arrival of reinforcements, which included craftsmen and building materials, another wooden fortification (munitio) which they called the Mahomeria, was constructed on a site that previously had been a Muslim mosque. A third fortification, given the name Novum Presidium and manned by 500 warriors, prevented the defenders from exiting through one of the city gates.

Labourers, craftsmen – and sometime even mercenaries – from among the Crusader forces were employed to construct and maintain such fortifications. They were well paid, for demand greatly outstripped supply. In one case, when the Crusade’s leaders decided to construct a fortification opposite Antioch’s western gate, it was impossible to find persons who would build or man it without receiving due compensation. In the end, Tancred agreed to take this task upon himself, but only after he was promised a sizeable monthly income of 40 marks from the public treasury (ex publico). From this description we learn of the existence of such a treasury and also that sums were paid out of it for building operations connected with military action.

All these fortifications were erected in a matter of weeks, sometimes even days. It can therefore be assumed – though this is not explicitly stated – that they were built of wood and were similar to such fortifications known to us from contemporary Europe. A letter written by one Anslem of Ribemonte, who was party to the construction of one of the fortifications, to the lord of Reims, indicates that it was built atop an earthen motte, which indicates that the castle was of the motte and bailey type and was probably constructed of wood. William of Tyre relates that Bohemond was unable to defend one of the fortifications, so he set it on fire. In the exceptional cases in which they were built of stone, this is specific- ally mentioned: thus, for example, during the siege of Antioch the Franks built a wall of solid materials (`factumque muro cum propuganculist ex opere solido’).

All these sources and examples testify to a sizeable presence of expert craftsmen in the Crusader forces and to their willingness to use their specific skills for proper remuneration, but it is quite clear that such a situation was not characteristic of the Muslim armies as well.

Frankish technical capabilities and their ability to adopt innovations while mounting a siege were obvious during the siege of Ma’arat an- Nu’uman (12 November-12 December 1098). At first they tried to storm it, using ladders, but they had only two ladders. `Had they had enough ladders’, claim the Latin sources, `the city would have already fallen during the second day of the siege.’ When the frontal attack failed, the Franks began to construct shelters, artillery, and a mobile wooden tower, the first built during the First Crusade. According to Rogers, it was less perfect than those constructed during later sieges; though it could be moved by means of four wheels, warriors could not leap directly from it onto the walls. The Muslims propelled rocks and a buzzing beehive at the tower, but to no avail, for according to Ibn al-Qalanisi the tower was higher than the walls and the defenders could not protect themselves. Ibn al-`Adim too noted that the capture of Ma’arat an-Nu’uman was made possible only after the Franks had cut down all the trees in the city’s surroundings in order to build a wooden burj [tower] which dominated the walls. They attacked the city from all sides until they managed to place the tower against the wall. Only then did they raise their ladders and break into the city. We see, then, that the Muslim sources note the tower’s height as its primary advantage, disregarding its mobility.

From the descriptions of this siege it is also obvious that in order to implement Frankish siege tactics, which relied on the construction of heavy engines, they had to rely not only on carpenters and other skilled craftsmen. They also needed devoted rank and file troops trained to carry out tasks connected with the use of these engines. Thus, for example, in order to set siege engines against the walls one needed soldiers to carry weighty planks of wood, fill in dykes and defensive trenches, collect rocks to be propelled, and then drag the heavy engines, all this at a risk to their lives. During the siege of Ma’arat an-Nu’uman, the troops in question were an unusually wild group, known as tafuri, who had a reputation among the Turks as being ruthless and uninhibited warriors, even cannibals!

After completion of the tower, the fighting was primarily between the Frankish soldiers on its platform and Muslim defenders who faced them at the same height atop the walls. By means of lances and artillery, the attackers, commanded by William VI of Montpellier, provided cover for their fellow warriors who leaned ladders against the fortifications in order to scale the walls, and for others engaged in digging underneath their foundations.

Frankish Attacks and Muslim Artillery

The Muslims frequently used artillery to ward off attacks by the Franks against their own cities and castles. For example, in preparation for the Frankish siege of Antioch, the Turkish governor commanded the city’s residents to prepare stocks of iron and wood from which to create artillery pieces. The residents obeyed the governor, and their artillery hurled heavy rocks and fired arrows at the besiegers, forcing them to retreat to a safe distance from the walls. William of Tyre notes that Antioch’s rulers imposed most of the work involved in preparing the artillery upon the city’s Christian population:

If machines were to be erected or immensely heavy beams moved, that work was at once laid upon them . . . Others had to furnish the huge stones which were being constantly hurled beyond the walls by the engines and to manage the ropes by which these were operated.

Similar behaviour is recorded in descriptions of Muslim preparations for the siege of Jerusalem by the Franks. Commanders of the Fatimid forces made ready pieces of artillery and stationed them atop the city walls. William was convinced that the Muslim artillery was no more than an excellent imitation of that of the Franks:

Following our example, they built from these [beams], inside the walls, machines equal to ours in height, but of better material [Machinas interius nostris equi- pollentes, sed meliore compactas materia certatim erigebant]. This they did with the greatest enthusiasm, that their engines might not be inferior to ours either in construction or in material. Guards were maintained constantly on the walls and towers, who watched intently all that was done in our army, especially in regard to devices which pertained to engines of war. Every detail observed was at once reported to the chief men of Jerusalem, who strove with great skill to imitate the work of the Christians, that they might meet all our efforts with equal ingenuity.

Imitation, William goes on, `was comparatively easy, for the people of Jerusalem had at their command many more skilled workmen and building tools, as well as larger supplies of iron, copper, ropes, and everything else necessary than had our people’. He records that these engines, like the ones built by the Muslims during the Frankish siege of Antioch, were constructed by Eastern Christians who were forcibly recruited for the difficult task, which entailed carrying heavy wooden planks and other materials. William, however, attributes the knowledge necessary to build these engines to the Muslim defenders of Jerusalem, whose efforts became increasingly effective during the later stages of the siege, when real artillery battles were conducted between the Franks’ siege engines and the Muslim artillery on the walls. From William’s chronicle one can sense an atmosphere of technological competition, as each side made an effort to study and adopt the enemy’s war machinery.

The similarity between the Frankish siege weapons and those used by the Muslims for defence was most noticeable during the unsuccessful attempt to take ‘Arka and the successful siege of Jerusalem. Since the topographical features at ‘Arka prevented effective use of siege engines, the Franks tried their hand at the tactics favoured by the Muslims: mining under the foundations of the city walls. Despite their strenuous efforts, they were unsuccessful. Artillery, too, was not enough to take the city: the Muslims mounted on the walls artillery no less effective than that of the Franks and managed to hit an important Frankish knight.

The siege of Jerusalem also began with frontal attacks, whose failure was put down to the lack of ladders. The commanders soon decided to refrain from such attacks until they should have heavy artillery and siege towers at their disposal. During most of the siege (until mid-July 1099), the Franks engaged in the logistics which the construction of siege engines and towers entailed, until the two leading camps in the Crusader force each possessed a tower of its own. The one commanded by Godfrey of Bouillon built its tower along the northern wall, while the second camp, under the command of Raymond of St Gilles, erected its tower on Mt Zion. The logistics involved were far from negligible: they had to ascertain where suitable wooden beams could be found; furthermore, in order to cut down trees, prepare the heavy beams, and transport them they needed craftsmen and carpenters, camels, donkeys, horses, and experienced waggoners. Particularly hard hit by a lack of experienced craftsmen, the Crusaders were aided by two Genoese vessels that dropped anchor at Jaffa on 17 June 1099, only eleven days after the siege of Jerusalem began. Their commander agreed to supply the force surrounding Jerusalem with pro- fessional builders (`viri prudentes et nautarum more architectorie habentes artis periciam’) to `construct engines in the shortest time possible’. These craftsmen `brought with them a great selection of tools which proved to be of advantage to the besieging forces’.

Positioning the towers, too, called for much expertise, for this entailed transporting them and putting together the tower’s numerous sections under enemy fire. Both of these tasks were carried out under the cover of darkness to reduce the danger to a minimum. The builders’ expertise enabled them to do this in one night and complete the entire undertaking before sunrise. The fighting, accompanied by curses and acts of sorcery, raged around these towers. William relates that `two Muslim witches and three apprentice witches’, who threw a curse upon these most efficient siege engines of the Franks, died in the line of duty atop the walls of Jerusalem.

The rank-and-file labourers generally went unpaid, but the wages of the others (particularly expert craftsmen) were paid out of donations, since none of the Crusade commanders – with the exception of the count of Toulouse – had the funds necessary to hire expert builders. Yet, even Raymond of Toulouse’s men were ordered to place their beasts of burden and servants at the disposal of those who engaged in transporting building materials, and every two knights in his entourage took upon themselves to supply one ladder or one mobile shelter.

From the detailed descriptions of the sieges of Nicaea, Antioch, Ma’arat an-Nu’uman, and Jerusalem, as well as the less detailed ones of other cities conquered during the First Crusade, we see that the Franks made use of complex wooden structures and sophisticated artillery to breach the fortifications which defended the enemy. The presence in their camp at all times of expert carpenters and craftsmen, in addition to the relatively high availability of Italian fleets, eased these rather complicated efforts. Commanding a siege based upon artillery and siege towers called for much experience in deploying combined forces charged with executing diverse missions: construction of the siege engines and artillery, moving them towards the walls, defending them, and doing battle with the enemy at specific locations along the walls.

Advanced types of stationary artillery, prepared in advance of attack and mounted atop the walls, were used by the Muslim troops. William of Tyre was convinced that the Frankish artillery far surpassed that of the Muslims, and that the latter were in the habit of imitating that used by the Crusaders. During the First Crusade, however, the Muslims had no opportunity to build mobile field artillery or to employ heavy artillery during attacks and sieges.

The evident superiority of the Frankish armies over their adversaries, which enabled them to capture many of the coastal and inland cities of the Levant, did not emanate therefore from technologies which were unknown to the Muslim armies, but from their superior logistics and the presence of experienced carpenters and builders in the field armies. This advantage facilitated the construction of complex machines even under the difficult conditions which prevailed during the siege itself. The Muslims, who were able to construct similar installations to defend their own fortifications, did not possess similar logistical capabilities during their own siege campaigns.

Verdun – Death of All…

The German plans for Verdun appear to have entirely abandoned the idea of a breakthrough, Falkenhayn himself describing such a full-scale assault as a ‘doubtful operation … which is beyond our forces’ and which might lead to German forces being trapped in untenable salients that could be pounded from both flanks. Verdun was chosen as the objective since it was perceived both as a base from which the French could launch a potentially decisive offensive and because it had acquired an almost mystical significance during the Franco-Prussian War. Ironically, the Germans underrated their own fascination for the fortress city. The ever-aggressive General Charles Mangin noted that ‘Verdun has always exercised a singular fascination upon the German imagination, and its capture, which seemed relatively easy, could in itself be celebrated as a great victory in Germany and in neutral countries.’

On the French side the success of German heavy artillery in 1914 had convinced GQG’s theorists that fortresses were potential death-traps which might enable the enemy to isolate and capture large numbers of men. The capitulation of forts on the Eastern Front in 1915 appeared to further confirm the lessons of 1870 and Joffre had ordered the remaining forts to be stripped of their guns in late 1914 to reinforce the army artillery. The theory was that fortresses supported the defensive system but were too fragile to function as a strong-point upon which the entire system could succeed or fail. Placing valuable artillery in a position that the enemy could easily target seemed akin to placing too many eggs in one basket. General Herr protested that there was a difference between an isolated fortress and a fort in a defensive system but his memoranda were ignored. Herr’s problem was exacerbated by the relative inactivity seen in the Verdun sector since the Marne. With major assaults being planned elsewhere and the rumours of an attack assumed to presage a limited assault, GQG assigned Verdun territorial units and concentrated on offensive planning.

Oblivious to their unintended assistance from GQG, the Germans deployed vast quantities of equipment and ammunition and began to construct bomb-proof stollen (shelters) for the assault troops being moved into the line. Infantry units were given strict instructions not to push out ‘parallels of departure’ or Russian saps that might give away the on-going preparations for the offensive. Artillery units were moved forwards and carefully concealed. Most batteries were under orders to hold their fire until Operation Gericht had commenced so that the French would be surprised by the 306 field guns, 542 heavy guns and 152 minenwerfer directly behind the assault units and the 400 additional guns supporting the offensive on the flank. Entirely fooled by the German deception plan, the French artillery was outnumbered by a ratio of 4:1 and French military intelligence had identified only 70 gun emplacements before the battle. Most dangerously, they totally missed the larger guns assigned to smash the forts, including the 420mm and 380mm heavy howitzers; the latter could drop 40 shells a day on almost any target in the Verdun sector.

General Schnabel

In General Schnabel’s fire-plan, the 210mm batteries were assigned to pulverise the front line then place a curtain barrage to block any potential counter-attack as the leading assault units consolidated their hard-won objectives. Strong-points would be reduced by both the heavy guns and minenwerfers and the 150mm batteries would then be assigned to both counter-battery missions and to interdict the supply network and rear areas. ‘No line is to remain unbounded and no possibilities of supply unmolested, nowhere should the enemy feel safe.’ The 150mm batteries assigned to counter-battery work would use zone-fire, deluging entire areas instead of trying to hit individual targets, adjusting rapidly with the aid of air observers, instead of relying on more precise methods of adjustment. This required substantially more ammunition but the use of asphyxiating and lachrymatory agents delivered by gas shell successfully enabled the German gunners to neutralise the French batteries. The lighter guns would move forwards as soon as the assault began so that the heavy guns could be shifted to new positions capable of covering the new front line. The Germans stocked 2. 5 million rounds alongside the batteries, and intended to fire the bulk of them in only 9½ hours on a 22-kilometre stretch of front before an infantry attack only 7 kilometres wide. It would be an unprecedented demonstration of the power of modern artillery.

The bombardment was delayed by poor weather but finally began on 21 February. It was initially general, with batteries concentrating on key objectives only after the French defensive communication system was judged to have been sufficiently disrupted. In the final stages of the fire-plan, patrols were filtered into the gaps between the main target zones to assess the remaining defences. A horrified French air observer saw no evidence of a gap in the carnage and reported that ‘there are gun batteries everywhere. They follow each other non-stop; the flames from their shells form an unbroken sheet.’ Another described the fire as ‘a storm, a hurricane, a tempest growing ever stronger, where it is raining nothing but paving stones’. Fire jumped to the second line and continued on into the rear areas and out on to the flanks as the infantry advanced and the Germans surged forwards, only to halt as soon as they reached their primary objectives. They had been instructed not to push beyond these locations and new units moved forwards methodically to assault the second line; the General Staff had seen the effect of artillery barrages on attacks that were unsupported by counter-batteries and were wary of repeating what they saw as Gallic over-enthusiasm. ‘The mission of infantry units is generally as follows: to seize a part of the hostile fortified system on a front and to a depth which has been delimited in advance; and then to hold it against intense artillery fire, and resist hostile counter attacks.’ A note written by a staff officer in the same division (the 20th Bavarian Brigade) summarised the official view on initiative:

It is possible that the enemy situation may be such as to permit the attack to be continued beyond the line that has been designated, and to capture certain points which the subordinate may consider of secondary importance. Do not forget that our artillery will not be in condition, if progress is made beyond the designated line, to immediately execute a new preparation and to quickly support the operation … The decision made by a subordinate commander to extend the attack beyond the objective is a very serious one and should be the exception. Furthermore, the responsibility of the leader is affected, if a position which has been taken be retaken by the enemy, even though the adversary thus gains only a moral success.

The highly regulated approach to securing the first line of objectives (although this theoretically abandoned any chance of a coup de main) enabled the Germans to exploit along the flanks of the initial penetration of the defensive system. German units that secured the initial objectives instinctively sought out opportunities to assist other units still struggling on their flanks. The French defensive system was severely ruptured but the combination of inflexible assault timetables and the leadership and defensive innovation displayed by the redoubtable if doomed Colonel Driant, in the section of the line dominated by the Bois-de-Caures, bought the French enough time to stabilise the front line before the Germans could realise how close they had come to a breakthrough. Driant’s simple but effective tactic was to scatter his men among the shell-holes so that the German lifting barrage, designed to ‘lift’ just before the assault infantry swarmed over the defences, fell on his empty trench line and not on the men of his beleaguered command.

During the first stage of the Verdun offensive General Fayolle noted:

The Boches have captured the front-line trench and the support trench. How do they do it: all their attacks succeed … they knock over everything with a horrifying bombardment after concentrating superior means. Thereby they suppress the trenches, the supporting defences and the machine guns. But how do they cross the barrage? Probably their infantry infiltrate, and since there is no one left in the fire trenches they get in, and when they are there to get them out we need to have the same artillery superiority.

The effect of the German heavy bombardment, involving a rate of fire that the French simply could not match, soon earned the mordant nickname trommelfeuer (drumfire). An officer of the 243rd Infantry was stunned by the destruction: ‘by three o’clock in the afternoon, the section of the wood which we occupied which, in the morning, was completely covered in bushes, looked like the timber-yard of a sawmill; a little later, I had lost most of my men.’ Kronprinz Wilhelm was delighted by the apparent destruction but was quick to note the relatively low casualties inflicted during the bombardment:

The enemy, surprised by the annihilating volume of our fire, only shelled a few villages at random. At 5 p. m. our barrage jumped on to his second line, and the skirmishers and shock troops of all corps left their trenches. The material effect of our bombardment had been, as we discovered later, rather below our expectations, as the hostile defences in the wooded country were in many cases too well concealed; the moral effect was immense.

Mangin was rather less impressed with their initial moves in the battle:

The offensive of 21st February was both terrible and stingy at the same time; it was staged on too narrow a front, which while it widened out slightly, again contracted, in spite of the great array of artillery with which it was provided, and the limitless use of infantry in deep formations, it advanced only with great effort and did not know how to profit by the gaps which were in front of it on certain days. When it was decided to extend it to the left bank of the Meuse, it was too late; the defence had got a new hold on itself and had been organised.

As Mangin had noted, the first assaults were focused on the right bank of the Meuse and ignored the defensive positions on the left bank; for planning purposes, it was assumed that the counter-battery artillery would deal with any batteries flanking the main assault. Considering that the German plan was intended to maximise French casualties by retaining complete air and artillery dominance of the battlefield, the decision to leave the French batteries on the left bank almost completely unmolested by infantry seems to have been a major error in the planning for the first phase of the operation. As successive assaults went in, the obsolete but cunningly emplaced 155mm batteries on the left bank shrugged off the increasingly desperate attempts to silence them and poured fire into General von Zwehl’s VII Korps every time they recommenced their advance. In spite of a spirited defence and an overly methodical fire-plan, the Germans still drove deep. Their overwhelming superiority in both guns and tactics enabled them to consolidate most of their initial objectives but as soon as the French threw in reserves, they launched vigorous counter-attacks and casualties on both sides began to mount. What Mangin bitterly described as the age of ‘mechanical’ battle had begun.

After the under-garrisoned and ill-armed Fort Douaumont fell, isolated by a near-constant barrage that gradually drove the supporting units to positions from where they were unable to cover the entrances to the fort, the Germans commenced a series of remorseless assaults on positions on both banks of the Meuse. Stunned by the initial reverses, Joffre sacked all the officers he saw as responsible for the débâcle and assigned Pétain to command the sector. Colonel Driant’s tactical success with dispersed defences in the Bois-de-Caures during the first day of fighting was extended into a broader operational concept based upon ‘an advanced line of resistance’ consisting of forward outposts and observation positions backed up by ‘a principal line of resistance’ where localised reserves could gather and retake any lost positions with the assistance of attached artillery units. The concept of the easily identified defensive line was being aban-doned in the face of increasing firepower. Counter-battery and curtain barrages by the heavy artillery units delayed the enemy while creeping barrages supported counter-attacks.

Pétain, ably assisted by the slippery but brilliant Nivelle and the implacable Mangin, stabilised the Verdun sector by creating a position de barrage behind the front line, then using the old forts as armoured bastions in a defensive system that served as a protective zone in which the reserves could gather and launch counter-attacks. Unsurprisingly the artillery was seen as the key to this enhanced system and Pétain demanded additional artillery. The continuing carnage forced Joffre to confront the consequences of years of mismanagement at GQG. The French artillery was still outclassed and outranged by the Germans, giving Kronprinz Wilhelm a priceless advantage in a battle where artillery was the key to victory. The evidence was conclusive enough to convince Joffre, who demanded that 960 medium and 440 heavy guns should be produced as quickly as possible. Even with better weapons, French supplies were being brought along a narrow-gauge railway and the one forlorn, wreckage-strewn road into the salient and Army Group Centre could not hope to equal the near-continuous German barrage even if they wanted to. An American, working as a volunteer ambulance driver, asked about the rumble of thunder he heard as they approached the city and wondered if there was a storm coming. The driver shook his head in despair. ‘If it were thunder the noise would stop occasionally. The noise is constant. It’s Verdun.’

Pétain and his staff drafted a new artillery programme and it was disseminated in May 1916. The roles assigned to each type of artillery and their proportions were adjusted in recognition of the new realities revealed by the battles around Verdun. Divisions gained additional medium howitzers while all the 155mm howitzers and heavier, bunker-busting mortars went into the corps and army artillery groupes. Once again it was the Second Army’s training pamphlet that was circulated to the entire army as accepted doctrine, outlining advances in support, counter-preparation, communications, liaison, counter-battery techniques and the rapid concentration of fire from dispersed batteries. Pétain also set up a Centre of Artillery Studies to coordinate research into new technologies, techniques and doctrines and to disseminate the most effective approaches to artillery operations. The new programme changed production schedules and increased the French artillery regiments from 115 to 247: a radical increase in dedicated manpower at the very point at which the French were beginning to run out of fresh reserves.

Pétain took a personal interest in the activities of his hard-pressed gunners and often started meetings by asking corps liaison officers ‘What have your batteries being doing? We’ll discuss other points later.’ Coordination was to be their new watchword and they were instructed to ‘give the infantry the impression that [the artillery] is supporting them and that it is not dominated’. Such a policy increased artillery casualties but heartened the infantry, who were increasingly seeing the artillerymen as rear-area troops who had found a way to avoid genuine combat. One of the key innovations was the artillery offensive, a series of coordinated artillery raids on rear areas designed to disrupt movement and cause casualties. The Germans quickly noted the effectiveness of such tactics, observing that the French ‘began the flanking fire on the ravines and roads north of Douaumont that was to cause us such severe casualties’.

Even antiquated guns could make an impression if properly sited and, as noted above, the obsolete 155s placed to flank any German assault on the right bank of the Meuse inflicted horrific casualties during VII Korps’ attempts to breach that sector during March. The French guns were concealed among the fortress lines on the Bois Bourrus ridge and there was nothing that General von Zwehl’s gunners could do to prevent the French from slaughtering his men. The wounded streaming back to their start lines were described as ‘a vision of hell’ by one commander while another officer shouted ‘What … battalion? Is there such a thing!’

The next series of attacks focused on the left bank of the Meuse, centring on the grim slopes of the all-too-appropriately-named hill, Le Morte Homme. The terrain gave the attacking infantry considerable cover but the complex topography also favoured aggressive counter-attacks and the entire region was soon covered with blackened craters – one airman described the Verdun sector as appearing like ‘the humid skin of a monstrous toad’. The German preparatory bombardments were horrifying and one description of an attack on Côte 304 creates a strong impression of both the improvements to artillery preparation being made by the Germans and the stubborn tenacity of their Gallic opponents:

The pounding was continuous and terrifying. We had never experienced its like during the whole campaign. The earth around us quaked, and we were lifted and tossed about. Shells of all calibres kept raining on our sector. The trench no longer existed; it had been filled up with earth. We were crouching in shell-holes, where the mud thrown up by each new explosion covered us more and more. The air was unbreathable. Our blinded, wounded, crawling and shouting soldiers kept falling on top of us and died while splashing us with their blood. It really was a living hell. How could one ever survive such moments? We were deafened, dizzy and sick at heart. It is hard to imagine the torture we endured: our parched throats burned, we were thirsty, and the bombardment seemed endless …

Pétain’s new system was based upon building up a detailed record of all enemy artillery missions and battery locations and then centrally co-ordinating his forces to maximise his own guns’ disruption and destruction.20 Petain ensured that units spent only a few days in the front line before being relieved, the noria system, and this combination of fire-power and a realistic understanding of what the infantry could withstand gave the French the edge they needed. The army buckled but it did not collapse, even after the Germans launched eight frontal attacks on the defensive system around the heroic stronghold of Fort Vaux, finally taking its exhausted and parched garrison on 7 June. Undaunted, the Germans experimented with creating artillery corridors for assaults and the French found these extremely frustrating as it was difficult to predict the objective and resist the concentration of firepower. As Pétain noted, ‘In effect, ignorant of the points threatened by attack, the defenders are obliged to be strong everywhere and to place in the front line increased numbers of personnel who must be replaced often.’ While the new tactic was successful in increasing French casualties, it could not win the battle without forming part of a wider operational plan; it proved to be yet another example of the Germans’ inability to use their advanced tactics to achieve strategic objectives. In contrast, they ignored French logistics and throughout the battle ammunition and reinforcements flowed up the road from Bar-le–Duc to Verdun, endless lines of soldiers and 2, 000 tonnes of ammunition a day moving towards ‘the everlasting rumble of the guns’. For reasons that are still difficult to understand, neither the German artillery batteries nor the Luftstreitkräfte made a concerted effort to cut this vital artery and thus doomed both sides to a level of attrition that drained the fighting power of both armies.

Pétain, ‘the master of scientific tactics’, was promoted to command Army Group Centre in June and Robert Nivelle took over the defence of Verdun, ‘the kingdom of the guns’. A new German offensive, led by the elite Alpenkorps and supported by a three-day bombardment that utilised large quantities of phosgene (a new asphyxiating gas), understandably described by Mangin as ‘the most important and most massive attack that Verdun had to withstand’, greeted Nivelle’s appointment but the French artillery had reorganised and restructured since February. The precise German timetable of fire-missions and assaults that had worked so effectively in February fell apart in the face of a devastating series of counter-barrages that enabled French counter-attacks to retake all the key points. Another offensive in July ran straight into Mangin’s veteran gunners and was pushed back to its start line by a series of savage counter-attacks. Verdun had become an open ulcer that threatened to swallow Germans as fast as it slaughtered Frenchmen. The German phase of the battle had ground to a halt and now the French could demonstrate what they had learned in the first six months of fighting.

It would take time to fully reorganise the French army to suit Pétain’s vision of total war but most of the key concepts would be in place when their primary creator was placed in supreme command. The proof came when Nivelle and Mangin finally launched a successful attack to retake Fort Douaumont, after a number of costly but instructive failures, overwhelming the battered fortress with relentless fire from super-heavy guns – including two 400mm pieces which Joffre brusquely dismissed as being ‘chiefly for the diversion of the public and the press’. Nivelle dedicated enormous resources to the assault and a number of innovations helped the advancing French infantry. Every unit was thoroughly briefed on their objectives, a creeping barrage was used to keep the defenders under cover until the assault was on top of them and all communication wires were laid in 6-ft deep trenches to ensure continuous communications. The barrage moved 100 yards every 4 minutes, the 75s firing a hail of shrapnel only 70 yards ahead of the advancing infantry and the 400 heavy guns methodically pulverising the line with high explosive another 80 yards further forwards.

The supremely confident Mangin, described by one observer as literally licking his lips in anticipation,24 even briefed Allied journalists on the morning of the attack:

My 75s will engage the Boche trenches and I have an abundance of large calibre shells to smash every shelter … At H-hour, in two hours, the infantry will leave their own trenches and take the trenches before them; preceding them, at a distance of 70 or 80 metres, will be a blanket of 75 shells … When the creeping barrage catches up with it, the heavies will shift targets and hammer the reserves … We will continue towards the [German] reserves using the same method and they will be beaten by our troops … It will be an affair of at most a few hours …

One officer saw the lines of guns being deployed and understandably snarled at the belated arrival of France’s full military potential: ‘If only we had been thus provided at the beginning of the war, we should not now be fighting in France.’

Mangin ordered a continuous preparatory bombardment to prevent the Germans from improving their defences, a process he gleefully described as ‘not burying the hatchet’ and the Germans assumed that the French intended a series of localised attacks. One French unit even withdrew to avoid being hit by any shorts from their own side during the massive barrage and some audacious Mecklenburgers on the other side of no-man’s-land had the audacity to dash over and take cover in the abandoned French front line! The larger guns focused on Douaumont itself and as the 400mm shells began to smash into the fort’s already shattered carapace, the German garrison withdrew to the interior – then, after the water was exhausted, all but a few men abandoned the fortress entirely.

The bombardment started on 15 December and lasted three days; when the French guns at last fell silent the Germans emerged from their stollen and dashed to their assigned positions just as their own guns commenced counter-preparatory fire. To the amazement of the front-line infantry, there were no enemy troops in sight – but then Nivelle’s reserve of heavy guns commenced counter-battery fire against the freshly unmasked German batteries. The French 155mm guns pounded the German positions for an additional 36 hours, silencing or destroying 68 of the 158 batteries, before the creeping barrage began its relentless progress towards the main French objectives. The stunned Germans were completely over-whelmed as the French emerged from the morning mist and poured across the shell-scarred landscape, seizing positions that both sides had bitterly contested for months. In the foggy chaos Mangin and his staff soon lost contact with the assault regiments – a foretaste of disasters to come – but the key objectives were taken. French casualties were higher than hoped but the defenders suffered an even greater mauling and the Verdun sector was finally deemed to be secure.

Joffre’s influence faded during the battle for Verdun. His aggressive prewar doctrine had simply collapsed in a battle where superior artillery played the decisive role. Heavier guns, indirect fire and greater range gave the Germans a valuable advantage but their strategic errors allowed the French to survive, a victory of sorts. With Papa Joffre politely kicked upstairs, the Young Turks were dispersed to field commands and the artillery was finally able to take full advantage of the increasing numbers of heavy pieces being supplied. Planning began to focus around the artillery instead of the furia francese. The problem with such revolutions is that they occasionally lead to grand assumptions about the utility of the technical innovations forged during the collapse of the old system and tend to forget that the enemy has an even greater reason to monitor such changes.

Of the 800,000 casualties at Verdun, an estimated 70 percent were caused by artillery. The Germans launched two million shells during their opening bombardment—more than in any engagement in history to that point—and the two sides eventually fired between 40 and 60 million shells over the next ten months. Rumbles from the barrages were heard as far as 100 miles away, and soldiers described certain hills as being so heavily bombed that they gushed fire like volcanoes. Those lucky enough to survive were often left with severe shell shock from the constant drumroll of falling bombs. “I arrived there with 175 men,” wrote one Frenchman whose unit fell victim to a German artillery attack at Verdun. “I left with 34, several half mad…not replying anymore when I spoke to them.”

Victor of Verdun

Ordnance, QF, 4.5-in Howitzer

The 4.5-in (114-mm) field howitzer was one of the best of the British Army field pieces, as it was light, handy and fired a useful shell. Its design was to remain virtually unchanged from its first use in 1914 until World War II, when it once more was taken over to France. Many were sent to Russia in 1916 and more were used by Commonwealth armies.

The two main projectiles ­ red by the 4.5-inch ­field howitzer with the high explosive (HE) on the left with a yellow body and the Smoke on the right with a pale green body.

Another service manual illustration, this time of the barrel assembly for a 4.5-inch Field Howitzer Mark 2.

The Ordnance, QF, 4.5-in Howitzer used by the British army throughout World War I was another weapon developed in the aftermath of the Boer War, During that colonial conflict the Royal Artillery learned the hard way that its field howitzers were too heavy, too slow in action and generally too cumbersome, so they asked for something better. For some reason the usual state arsenals were asked to submit their new designs at the same time as private manufacturers, and in the end a private manufacturer, the Coventry Ordnance Works, was awarded the contract. This welcome change from what had up till then been a virtual state monopoly meant that when the BEF went to France in 1914 it took what was then thought to be the best field howitzer in the world. It was able to outperform all its contemporaries, and yet was handy enough to operate alongside the 18-pdr guns in a normal field artillery regiment. This result was achieved mainly by making the basic design simple and robust, and the weapon was so sound it required only one modification throughout its long service life: the rounding off of some of the sharper corners of the breech mechanism to prevent cracking after prolonged firing.

The design encompassed another assumption: that shrapnel would be the key munition. (The actual weapon of artillery is the shell: guns, howitzers, mortars and rockets are simply delivery mechanisms.) Shrapnel lost effectiveness as the shell’s velocity dropped, and since the Royal Artillery believed so heavily in shrapnel the lack of long range hardly bothered them. Indeed, so strongly did they believe in shrapnel over high explosive (HE) that the 4.5-inch field howitzer had its HE shells designed to match the ballistic performance of shrapnel, although that reduced their bursting charge and thus effectiveness.

Along the way the 4.5 gained the general accolade of being the ­ finest ­ field howitzer in its class anywhere, being sturdy, relatively easy to handle and highly effective on target. However, prolonged ­ ring could lead to small cracks appearing in the sharply machined corners of the horizontal breech-block slides, giving rise to the possibility that the entire breech ring could be blown off. This was overcome by machining gradually curved radii at the affected stress points, leading to the Howitzer Mark 2, this being the only change of mark throughout the 4.5’s long service career. Also introduced at the same time (1917) was the replacement of a complex variable rifling system that was dif­ficult (and expensive) to machine by a uniform twist (one turn in 20 calibres) system that made no difference to ballistic performance or accuracy.

The Mark 2 changes were con­fined to the barrel. No changes were needed to the sound and sturdy box trail carriage which travelled on Number 25 wooden spoke wheels with a diameter of 1.42m. Teams of six or eight horses were used for towing (six being the norm), the load including a Limber, QF 4.5-inch Howitzer Mark 1. Each battery also had a number of ammunition resupply wagons. Each 4.5 had a crew of ten, about ­ five of whom actually served the gun in action; the rest were either ammunition handlers or looked after the horse team. As with most other howitzers of the period, loading had to be carried out with the barrel horizontal so a quick-action device was incorporated in the elevating mechanism to allow the barrel to return rapidly to the required elevation angle for ­ ring without disturbing the No 7 dial sight. The hydro-spring recoil system appears never to have given any trouble, unlike the equivalents on the early marks of the 18-pounder. To protect the gun and its crew a curved shield was provided.

Being a howitzer the 4.5 employed a variable propellant charge system; there were ­ five possible charges to be inserted in a stubby brass case. High explosive was by far the most often ­ red, the payload being about 2kg of Trotyl (TNT), Amatol or Lyddite. Also available were two types of Smoke (base ejection or bursting) and Star (Illuminating). Fuzes could be either Percussion or Time.

The 4.5-inch howitzer was deployed by the British Army throughout the Great War, originally organised into a single brigade but eventually distributed so that each Royal Artillery Field Regiment had one 4.5- inch howitzer battery and three 18-pounder gun batteries. During the accounting period following 1918 it was estimated that some 25,326,276 rounds had been ­ red from 4.5-inch howitzers, a total only exceeded (by some four times) by the 18-pounders.

As with the 18-pdr the 4.5-in (114-mm) howitzer was also issued to many Commonwealth armies including those of Canada, Australia and New Zealand. During the war the 4.5-in howitzer was also passed on to Russia, as by 1916 the Tsarist armies were in a rather poor state, and the British government handed over 400 4.5-in howitzers, These were destined to have an eventful life, for they took part in the Russian defeats of 1917, and also played their part in the events surrounding the revolutions of 1917 and the subsequent civil war, Many were still on hand when the Germans invaded in 1941, captured examples being designated 11.4-cm leichte Feldhaubitze 363(r).

During World War I the 4.5-in howitzer was towed into action by a team of six horses. The full gun team was 10 men although fewer actually served the gun in action, the rest acting as ammunition and horse handlers, In common with most other weapons of the period the 4.5-in howitzer was supposed to make great use of shrapnel, but high explosive was soon found to be much more useful, though it was in short supply in 1914 and 1915, a shortage that lead to a political storm known as the ‘shell scandal’, The ammunition also featured in another political uproar, this time after World War I, for the fuses used on the shells were a clockwork type first produced by Krupp in Germany, After the war Krupp took the British government to an international court to extract royalties due on every fuse fired, and won the judgment!

By the time World War I ended, 3,177 4.5-in howitzers had been produced in addition to the 182 completed before 1914. After 1918 these howitzers were retained in British army service to be used again during the early campaigns of World War II. By then their original wooden spoked wheels had been replaced by new items with pneumatic tires for powered traction, The Germans used 96 captured equipments in the Atlantic Wall with the designation 11.4-cm leFH 361(e). The last 4.5-in howitzers to be used as service weapons were those of the Irish army, the final examples not retired until the late 1970s.

Specification Ordnance, QF, 4.5-in Howitzer

Service date: 1908

Calibre: 114.3 mm (4.5 in)

Length: of barrel 1,778 m (70 in)

Weight: complete 1365 kg (3,010 lb)

Elevation: – 5* to +45*

Traverse: 6*

Muzzle velocity: 308 m (1,010 ft) per second

Maximum range: 6675 m (7,300 yards)

Shell weight: 15.876 kg (35 lb)

British 4.5inch QF Howitzer

The First Breech-Loader Artillery

Guns were already essential for siege warfare, and although they were slow-firing and very immobile they had also been successfully employed on the battlefield before the 16th century, notably in the wagon-riding Czech armies of Jan Ziska, and by the French in the later stages of the 100 Years War. Early cannon were usually on static mountings, and a crane, for lifting, and wagons, for transport, remained essential parts of the artillery train well into the 16th Century (in 1527 the Emperor Maximillian still had six heavy guns like this, though his 105 lighter guns were all on wheeled carriages). Among the first guns on wheeled carriages were those used by the French in 1461, and those which the Swiss captured from Charles the Bold of Burgundy in the 1470s (and still hold).

The first fully mobile and effective field artillery appeared in 1494 in the train of Charles VIII of France when he invaded Italy, and Fornovo (1495) was probably the first battle where artillery played a really effective part. The eight-foot bronze guns were drawn by horse teams and could keep up with marching infantry. They made a great impression on the Italians whose few heavy pieces, being ox-drawn, usually arrived too late for battles and, according to Machiavlli, could never fire more than one or two shots before battle was joined.

Until the middle of the 15th century, gunpowder really was a powder, simply a mixture of the three essential components in a dry, dusty state. This mixture tended to separate into its components during travel and therefore was a very unreliable propellant for the gun operators. Then someone had the bright idea of mixing the potassium nitrate, charcoal and sulphur with water, before drying it into a solid cake. This cake was first broken up into small flakes, then screened into bits of roughly similar size, before being loaded into the barrels of the guns.

The result was a large number of burst barrels. This mixture was not only much more reliable; the entire propellant now ignited almost instantly and was much more effective than a fine powder. A much smaller volume of propellant was found to provide much greater power and range. Gunners were soon able to calculate exactly how much powder they needed to use to achieve firing maximum effect, and as a result, they stopped splitting the guns.

Until about 1450, cannon were relatively immobile. Transported only with difficulty and installed on sturdy mounts before the battle, they were lucky to get off more than a few shots before serious difficulties arose. During the ebb and flow of the battle, infantry and cavalry could wash over the gun positions several times during a fight, and whomever won kept the guns.

Improved mobility began to be seen in the mid-15th century in great measure, because this was when Swiss forces started mounting their guns on large wheels and firing them from carriages. Mobility, firepower, range and lethal effect began to influence the battle in serious ways.

In 1450, at Formigny, two culverin cannon helped French forces break the formation of English archers during battle. Three years later, massed cannon and small firearms were a decisive factor on a battlefield for the first time, routing an English force at the Battle of Castillion. Here the guns were tactically employed from carefully prepared positions as the primary force, in an intentional and devastating way.

Around 1470, the first practical breech-loading cannon were introduced. Other breech-loading cannon had been made for some time, massive weapons, the breech section of which was threaded onto the barrel. Re-loading took time and manpower to unscrew the breech, stuff it with powder and shot, then reassemble it.

The new system, called culverin or veuglaire, tended to be long, slender tubes open at each end, firing a shot about 102mm (4in) in diameter. The breech was a metal component about the shape and size of a large beer stein, with about the same capacity. This was charged with powder and ball, then installed in position at the breech. Wedges secured this crude breechblock in place and thereby prevented it from flying loose after each discharge.

Propellant gas, of course, leaked past the joints with a vengeance, but the gunners of the time were not too demanding about such things. The long bore allowed the propellant to develop its energy fully, which offset the leakage somewhat, and it also made the weapon easier to aim.

Artillery of Burgundy

Archival research was the speciality of Joseph Garnier, archivist of Dijon, who studied the artillery of the Dukes of Burgundy in the archives of the Cote d’Or for his L’Artillerie des Ducs de Bourgogne (Paris, 1895). The bulk of the transcriptions came from the Chambre des Comptes of Dijon that, as he informs, had been already studied by other scholars. He deals with Burgundian artillery from its beginnings, under the Duke Philip I the Bold (1363-1404), until the time of Charles the Bold (1467-77). Of documentary interest are the details of Louis XI’s artillery at the moment of the incorporation of Burgundy into France by the Treaty of Arras (1482). One appendix deals with artillery pieces referred to in the Chambre des Comptes’s ms. B. 11864, on whose origin Garnier is uncertain. A second one is an annotated glossary for the oldest or most difficult words. Some entries are particularly elaborate such as Canons, which is broken down into Bombardes, Bombardelle, Portier, Veuglarie, Coulevrine, Crapaudeau, Courtaut, Serpentine and Faucon. They are pioneering in European artillery study, as also is the last appendix, which contains comparative tables on the pieces mentioned with name, date, type of metal, length, weight of the piece, weight and diameter of the stone ball, weight of the iron ball, gunpowder charge and everything regarding the gun-carriages, carts and horses [attelage].

There is an illustration of the ball casting process in the German Codex Germanicus 600, ascribed to the second half of the 14th century, which shows a man handling the tongs to pour the metal into the mould. In the lower Meuse valley shot was being made at least as early as 1414 and the following year, the council of Strasburg ordered 100 cast-iron balls from that of Freyburg. In 1431 Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy (1419-1467), used cast-iron balls and in 1473 Baudouyn d’Awain, Artillery Master of Charles the Bold, cast more than 1,000 balls in Brussels. Simon Mahenard and Anthoine de Maison, iron and steel masters from Diénay and Béze (Cote d’Or) are recorded around 1478-79 as working on cast-iron ammunition. Likewise, in 1486 Jehan Ladmiral, “master gunner and iron smelter” made for Archduke Maximilian I two cast-iron mortars weighing 1,060 kg for the artillery of Burgundy.

Robert Douglas Smith

The latter’s output is mainly for iron cannon. His proposed classification of wrought-iron pieces appeared in Towards a new typology for wrought iron ordnance (1988), followed by various articles such as Identification of iron cannon (1994) and The technology of wrought-iron artillery (2000), where he groups the different types according to shape, number and position of hoops, etc. giving four main categories: “swivel-guns”, “tube guns”, “chambers” and “muzzleloaders”, the latter including two varieties: “short” and “chambered”. In each category there are up to 18 different types, defined by form and shape. This is a good attempt at classification of wrought-iron artillery but the problem is: how many pieces could be admitted without inflating the list so that it became unmanageable? It has been used repeatedly showing a need for this type of framework. Smith has brought new technologies to artillery research, such as X-ray to study construction methods, as in the case of Mons Meg in the so-called Wrought iron cannon project of 1985, amplified in Bombards: Mons Meg and her sisters (1989), written in collaboration with Ruth Rhynas Brown, where eleven iron pieces are studied.

In 2005 Smith was the co-author of The artillery of the Dukes of Burgundy 1363- 1477, written with Kelly DeVries, a prolific scholar on warfare. The work depends heavily on Joseph Garnier’s L’Artillerie des Ducs de Bourgogne, whose transcriptions of archival documentation are analysed extensively. However, it lacks the scholarship of the work of Achilles Gessler or a greater use of the chronicles of Gerold Edlibach, Benedikt Tschachtlan and Diebold Schilling. It includes a catalogue of 27 surviving pieces supposedly of Burgundian origin strongly based on Florens Deuchler’s work. Smith is also the current editor of the Journal of the Ordnance Society, created in London in 1986 with the objective of promoting and disseminating the study “of all forms of artillery” from its beginnings up to the present day.