Artillery has been important in warfare even before the invention of gunpowder and cannon. The medieval trebuches could demolish stone castels, but the process was slow. The invention of cannons meant that fortified cassels that had resisted seiges for months if not years could be demolished in ours. This was an important factor in ending the European feudal system. The Napoleonic Wars had been fought at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. Since then enormous improvements had been made in metalurgy and balistics. The American Civil War has been called the first modern war, but American at the time was just beginning to industrialize. Only in World War I had fully industrialized powers first come to grips in a general European war. And no where did this show on the battlefield more than artillery. The rapid fire French 75 mm gun made a poweful impression early in the more mobile phase of the War. It was key in slowing down the German afvance through Belgium and its drive toward Paris. The French Army was unable to capitalize on the potential of this weapon. As the Western Front settled down into tatic trench warfare, the armies of both sides began demanding heavier artillery that could destroy heavily fortified trench positions. And the heavy industries of the major combatants were capable of producing truly fearsome artillery in great quantities. World War I soldiers fond that the only way to survive machine guns and rapid fire artillery was to birrow under grond. And the only way to get at entrenched enemy forces was artillery.
Artillery has been important in warfare even before the invention of gunpowder and cannon. The medieval trebuches could demolish stone castels, but the process was slow. The invention of cannons meant that fortified cassels that had resisted seiges for months if not years could be demolished in ours. This was an important factor in ending the European feudal system. The Napoleonic Wars had been fought at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. Since then enormous improvements had been made in metalurgy and balistics. The American Civil War has been called the first modern war, but American at the time was just beginning to industrialize. Only in World War I had fully industrialized powers first come to grips in a general European war. And no where did this show on the battlefield more than artillery.
Artillery was among the key weaons systems that decided World War I. Ohers included machine guns, poison gas, aircraft, and tanks. Artillery was not new, but mamy technical improvements made World War I artillery the most deadly in the history of warfare. All of the major weapon systems (except nuclear bombs) that were used in World War II were in place on the World WarI battlefield.
Artillery is mounted weapons capable of firing projectiles. It is detinguished from small arms weapons by the calibre of the projectile fired. Early cannons were commonly measured as to rhe weight of the projectile, often solid shot. This was still the principal measurement of 19th century artillery pices.
Artiller was commonly separated between light and heavy guns. The light weapons were usually deployed at battalion levelas were normally 4-6 pounders. Heavy guns were 8-12 pounders. Armies in the 20th century began categorizing artillery in terms of calibre, meaning the diameter of its barrel bore. Continental aemies used millimeter measurements. Americans used inches. The British continued using pounds into World War II.
There are three basic types of artillery pieces. Field cuns also called cannons are mobile guns with high-velocity flat trajectories with short rnges that can accompny the infantry. The French 75 is the best exmpkle and playd a major role in slowing the German drive through Belgium (1914). A mortar is also a relatively short rnge gun which traditioinally is a heavier, less mobile gun with fires at an elevated trajectory. In World War II light mortors were developed that infantry could carry. This was not common in World War I. Field guns can best be used in mobile operations, but are of little use when attacking trenches. For this the mortar is needed. The third type of artillery is the howitzer. It is generally a the longest ranged artillery weapon that stands between a field gun and the mortar. Howitzers have fariable trajctories and fire heavy shells at long range. They are used to emgage targets beyond visible sight. The aerial recoconisance and radio/telephone communication brought the howitzer to the forefront in World War I. This meant that targets could be effectively targeted at considerable distance. The fact that aircraft did not yet have radios somewhat limited this, but the fact that positions on the Western Front were basically static meant that that there was a huge increase in the effectiveness of long range gunnery. They generally had short barrels and fired on a high trajectory, although not as high as mortars. They were effective weapons against both fortifications and trenches. Mortars had much shorter ranges than howitzers. Thernge increased during the War, but never much beyond 2 kilometers. The need for another type of artillery appeared during the War--anti-aircraft artillery. This became apparent when the Germans began bombing Britain with Zeppelins and the British did not have artillery that could reach the alduitudes that the Zeppelins could operate. As antui-aircrft atillery as devdloped, they tended to have similarcharacteristics of a field gun capable of pebnetratng armor. In World War II, one of the most capable artilery pieces was the Germann 88 which served as both an anti-tank and anti-aircraft gun.
One of the most important artilery pieces of World War I was the French 75. It helped stop the German drive through Belgium and a quick German victory in he opening weeks of the War. It was a mobil, rapid fire piece, but mobility and rapid fire became less critical when the oppoing forcs to surbive began burrowing under ground. For the net three years of trench warfare, the job of the artillery was to get at the men dug into the opposing trench lines. Artillery became the major killer of the War and a key elemnt in trench warfare tactics. Mortars were revived by the Germans because of their high angle firing. Only mortars were theoretically capable of delivering shells directly into enemy trench, although the firing accuracy was not very effective. The Germans also developed artillery shells for poson gas (1915).
France's humiliating defeat in the Franco Prusian War (1870-71) resulted in a major reassessment of military arms. A major foicus was on artillery as the superior Prussian artillery had been a factor in the French defeat. One of the results of that reassment was the de Bange 155 mm long cannon mle. 1877 (155 L de Bange). It was the first artillery piece that debuted the 155 mm caliber which is today in widespread use. The 155 L basically obselete by the outbreak of World War I due to its massive recoil and slow firing rate. In the war time emergeny it was pressed into service. The smaller and more mobil French 75 and helped stop the Grmans, but was not very effective in attacking entrenched German positions. The heavier 155 L de Bange became the main French counter-battery piece during the first 2 years of the War. [Vauvillier] The French 75 (Canon de 75 modéle 1897) was France's main artillery piece during World War I. The French introduced it 1897. It was the first fully integrated quick-firing gun. The technical innovations became involved in the Drefus Affair. It had a firing rate of 20 rounds a minute -- very high for the era. The rapid fire French 75 mm gun made a poweful impression early in the more mobile phase of the War, but the French Army largely because of poor leadership in the General Staff was unable to capitalize on the potential of this weapon. It did help the French slow down the German advance through Belgium and played a key role in the critical Battle of the Marne (September 1914). It also played a mjor role at Verdun (1916). The 75 had an innovative recoil system that bounced the barrel back into firing position. This significantly increased the rate of fire--a critical factor on the battlefield. The recoil system also made for a smoother operation which also assisted gun crews. When the War broke out, the French had 4,000 of these 75mm Field Guns (1,000 batteries of 4 guns each). At the end of the Wat they had 17,000. The German and British armies did not develop a field gun of comparable performance until the last year of the War. The French Army on the other hand did not have modern heavy field artillery until 1917. The French 75 was also heavily used by the American AEF when it arrived in France.
Mortars were revived by the Germans because of their high angle firing. Only mortars were theoretically capable of delivering shells directly into enemy trench, although the firing accuracy was not very effective. The Germans also developed artillery shells for poson gas (1915). The term "Big Bertha" came to be used for any German heavy artillery piece. Actually there was only one real Big Bertha (Dicke Berta). It was at the time the largest artillery piece ever built. It was produced by the famed Krupp factory. The weapon was a 42cm howitzer (model L/14). The Germany Army contracted the development of the weapon in the aftermath of the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05).
The gun's name was derived from the name of Gustav Krupp's wife--Bertha Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach. Gustav Krupp managed the family owned firm. It was an enormously complex artillery puiece, both to deploy and operate. Despite the notiriety of the weapon, Krupp only built four. The first two were completed only days after the War broke out (August 9). The 420 mm guns fired a huge shell (820 kg). They had a range of 15km their 420mm shells The guns were too large to be moved. Thus they had to be transported in pices and assembled in the field. Thus a crew of about 1,000 men were required to operate the gun. The Big Bertha were first used to smsh the Belgan fortresses at Liege and Namur (August 1914). They were also used at Antwerp). They were subsequently used to smash other Allied strong pounts on the western Front. All four guns wre deployed at the protracted German seige of Verdun (beginning February 1916). German Chief of Staff Erich von Falkenhayn had cinceived of the Verdun offensive as a way of breaking the back of the French Army. The Germans failed to take Verdun and Falkenhayn was replaced. Actually he had in large measure suceeded. The French Army did not crack, but its morakle was so weakebned that for the rest of the War, offensive operaions had to be carried by the British and Americans. What Falkenhayn had not anticipated was the cost to Germany in smashing the French at Verdun. The Germany Army itself was disaterously weakened. The Germans after the Verdun offensive was terminated, decommisioned the Big Bertha guns. The Allies had developed artillery with even a longer range.
A primary British artillery piece was the 18-pounder.
America did not have an army in being when it declared war on Germny (April 1917). President Wilson sems to have though America could fight the War by providing the Allies financial and material without commiting a major army in Europe. The British and French quickly disbused him of this and explained th desperate need for an American Army, especially after the Russian Army in the East began to desintgrate. When the United States entered the War, not only did it nt have a a sizeable army, but it did not have a sizeable arms industry as well. Every part of the U.S. Army was unprepared, including the artillery. It gradually becme clear that the main German blow wold come in Spring 1918. Many men could be at least partially trained by that time, but creating a modern arms industry in year was a dfferent matter. Thus for the men that America began to transport to France, America had to relly on the British and French for arms, including artillery. Much of the weapons provided were French, including the artillery. The French provided 3,834 field pieces and mortars, as well as 10 million rounds of ammunition. The standard American artillery piece was the 3-inch gun and the Army only had 600 of them. They were replced with the far superior French 75-mm gun. The French 75-mm gun had an effective recoil system. Because of the limited recoil, it was easier to aim and was a rapid fire weapon. It was not very effective in breaking throgh thetrenches, but it was in sme ofvthe more open enggemnts with the Germans that developed during the 100 Days Campaign.
Light, highly mobile field guns with bascally flat tragetories like th French 75 were impoerrntb in the imnitil mobile phase of the war. As the Western Front decenced into trench sarfare because of the lethlity od weaoonry the demabnd for different rtillery developed. The armies of both sides began demanding heavier artillery that could destroy heavily fortified positions and trenhes. Artillery with highter trajectories such as howitzers and mortars were needed. And because the front nline was basically stable, mobility was not a major attribute needed. The heavy industries of the major combatants were capable of producing truly fearsome artillery in great quantities.
Artillery played an important role in most World war I battels. It played an especially prominent part in the trenches of the Western Front, particularly at the Somme and Verdun.
Vauvillier, François . "Le 155 Long de Bange, une pièce de siège et place part en campagne (1914-1918)," Histoire de Guerre, Blindés & Matériel (Paris: Histoire & Collection ((April-May 2008) Vol. 82, pp. 74-79.
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