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Great War Artillery - United Kingdom

Cal Intro Weight Breech Barrel
(m/sec) or
10pdr BL2.75"1901400kgIS27cal25392m/sec5480m
2.95in2.95"1901234lb **IS10.6cal25920ft/sec4825yd
3.7inQF How3.7"1901730kgSQF12cal40296m/sec5395m
12pdr6cwt BL3"1900910kgSQF22cal16483m/sec5485m
15pdrQF Erhardt3"1901709lb***28.6cal161674ft/sec6400yd
4.5inQF How4.5"19041365kgHSB13cal45307m/sec6675m
5inBL How5"18951212kgIS8cal45240m/sec4390m
60pdrBL Mk 15"19044470kgIS32cal21633m/sec12700m
60pdrBL Mk 25"19185464kgIS37cal35647m/sec15000m
5.4inchBL How5.4"18951479lb**IS10cal45781ft/sec4800yd
6inch25cwt BL Siege How6"18952704lb**IS12cal35/70781ft/sec5200yd
6inch 26cwt BL Siege How6"19153083kgIS13cal45376m/sec8686m
6inch30cwt BL Siege How6"18963505kgIS14cal35236m/sec4755m
6inchBLC Siege 6"190211200lb**SQF26.6cal242130ft/sec14200yd
6inchBL Mk 7 Field Gun6"191719875lb**SQF44.9cal222525ft/sec13700yd
6inchBL Mk 19 Field Gun6"19169376kgIS35cal38716m17145m
8inchBL How Mks 1 to 58"191514200kgSQF14cal45396m/sec9600m
8inchBL How Mk 68"19176552lb**ASH14.7501300ft/sec10760yd
8inchBL How Mks 7 & 88"19168990kgASH17.3cal45457m/sec11250m
9.2inch BL Siege How Mk 19.2"191413590kgIS13cal55361m/sec9200m
9.2inchBL Siege How Mk 29.2"191616460kgIS17cal50408m/sec12750m
9.45inchBL Siege How (Skoda) 9.45"19048687kgIS8cal63282m/sec6995m
12inchBL Siege How Mk 212"191637190kgIS13cal65364m/sec10370m
12inchBL Siege How Mk 412"191738100kgIS17cal65447m/sec13120m
15inchBL Siege How15"1915n/kIS10cal45340m/sec9870m
9.2inchMk 39.2"191560960kgIS30cal35640m/secn/k
9.2inchMk 109.2"191691450kgIS45cal30822m/sec19200m
12inchBL Mk 912"1915n/kIS40cal30762m/sec29900m
12inchBL Mk 1112"1918495050kgIS50cal45838m/sec34565m
12inchBL How Mk 112"191658780kgIS12cal65358m/sec10180m
12inchBL How Mk 312"191661725kgIS17cal65448m/sec13715m
14inchBL 14" 1916251985kgIS45cal40746m/sec31820m
** = barrel & breech only

The allotment of artillery per division worked out at about 76 field guns and four 60-pdrs.; the whole Siege Train capable of taking the field consisted only of 4 batteries of old pattern 6-inch howitzers and an armoured train equipped with erratic 4.7" and antiquatetd 6" guns. The total number of guns of all natures with the British Expeditionary Force in the fall of 1914 was 504. Some idea of the growth of the British artillery during the war may be realized from the fact that at the time of the Armistice the British guns in batteries on the Western Front numbered 6,406, of which 2,204 belonged to the heavy artillery.

The British infantry division in 1914 had three infantry brigades, supported by four artillery "brigades," three of the artillery brigades being armed with eighteen-pounder field guns, and one with 4.5-inch field howitzers. Each British artillery brigade, which tactical unit practically corresponds to the US battalion, was made up of three six-gun batteries. The 4.5-inch howitzer was the calibre adopted by the British as their standard light howitzer, and they, like the Germans, contemplated its use at times as a shrapnel weapon.

The British Artillery owed a great deal to Major General Sir Stanley von Donop. It was due to his foresight and initiative that the 9.2" Mark I Howitzer was introduced, probably the best and most reliable weapon the British put into the field, and the only modern heavy howitzer available at the outbreak of war. It was in 1908 that he first began advocating the use of the heavy howitzer in the field, and in July, 1914, the first 9.2" Mark I. Howitzer, designed and constructed under von Donop's guidance, passed its test. This weapon gave comparatively little trouble in the shops, which cannot be said of some of its more hastily designed brothers.

In 1916, when the Field Marshal submitted a fresh program of construction, orders for artillery matériel which had been given in July, 1915, were nearly completed. As at that date the early delivery of more guns and ammunition was a matter of vital importance, in view of the fact that the British line was being lengthened and new troops were arriving in France, he selected the latest "Marks" of existing models, adopting this policy in order to facilitate construction and to ensure uniformity in design. The elimination of a variety of existing natures of guns was not therefore immediately practicable.

In submitting his program, however, the Field Marshal insisted that every endeavor should be made as time went on to increase the range and accuracy of our guns, and that there should be no cessation of research and no finality of design. But in 1916 quality had to give way to quantity.

In the early days the artillery situation was not such as to inspire confidence in the minds of British infantry; picture to yourself the case of an infantry officer pointing out to a gunner the location of a nest of German machine guns which are worrying the men in the line. The gunner admits that it is a good target and that he would like to engage, but — "No ammunition." The retort of the infantryman was likely to be "What are you doing in the Great War anyway?" and the result, if the gunner was a bit touchy, was to impair and discourage liaison.

The severe shortage of munitions during the First World War increased the level of casualties in the battlefields; prevented the breakthrough of the German defenses thus continuing a war of attrition; brought about the downfall of the great Liberal Government of the early twentieth century; and placed the British public on a total war footing for the first time in history. The British Shell Shortage of 1915 was a time when decisions made by a government whose ideology was not compatible to war, had to answer for their decisions and management since war was declared. The Rifle Brigade casualties in the battle of Aubers Ridge was the catalyst of The Times article that resulted in a coalition government and the creation of a Ministry of Munitions. The political and military casualties are explained, along with the innovative creation of the Munitions Ministry, which led the way for industrial conscription, ensuring that the whole country stood behind their fighting men.

The supply of ammunition, of all munitions of war, but particularly of shells, had given Kitchener great anxiety since October 1914, by which date the unprecedented expenditure of artillery ammunition had already become manifest. Other Powers, hostile and Allied, encountered difficulties in the supply of munitions, but whereas they had only to increase their means, England had to improvise most of its machinery, which was totally incapable of meeting the strain thrown upon them. The British Army in France was left lamentably short of high explosive shells for field artillery in May 1915. Winston Churchill wrote that in 1915 "Lord Kitchener of course appreciated perfectly the need for abundant artillery and ammunition. But this was at the time his most biting want. The shell-shortage crisis was each day becoming more acute. Demands were pouring in. Contracts were all inadequate in scale, and overdue in fulfilment. The British Army in France were scraping together and accumulating every available shell for the offensive which it had been decided to launch against the Germans early in May. The amount in hand judged by later standards was of course pitifully small and quite insufficient for the task on the Western front. Still those who were urging the offensive declared they had good prospects of success in spite of the scarcity of ammunition if every shell were given them. In fact they had no chance whatever, nor had they supplies of ammunition necessary to sustain their attacks.....

"The British Army in France struggled forward at the side of the French into the disastrous offensives of May, and when these failed, as they were bound to, the Headquarters Staff turned upon Lord Kitchener and exposed the deficiency of shells, which they well knew from the beginning. Sir Ian Hamilton's Army sprang ashore on the [Gallipoli] Peninsula, and then while victory was within their grasp fell down for want of shells and reinforcements, both of which, on the scale they required them, could at any time have been supplied."

In May 1915 The Times made public Sir John French's bitter complaints about the lack of high-exploslve shells and in so doing precipitated a government crisis. Lloyd George took from Kitchener's hands the task of sending supplies to Sir John French, and before many weeks had passed he had all the factory wheels of England whirring away at the making of shells.

While the British munitions manufacturers could and did produce both guns and shells in excess of the targets set In pre-war plans, they could in no way meet the highly inflated demands made by the extended mass warfare along the Western Front. Only a totally new system could solve this crisis. The chief fault was not that of the armaments industry, which did its best to meet the (often preposterous) demands which worried generals and optimistic politicians forced upon it in 1914-1915.

The chief culprit was the chronically bad method of military contracting, the running-down of the government's own ordnance factories prior to the war, and the reliance upon private industry to close any "gap" -- without, however, taking preparations to ensure that there was spare capacity to meet emergency demand. The worst fact of all was that exactly the same sorts of problems had occurred In the first year of the Boer War (1899-1902), and yet no efficient remedies had been devised.

Many of English automobile factories, latter running two shifts on war munitions, were doing practically nothing when Asquith made his famous “no shell shortage” speech. Other cases are to be found where factories tried to carry on their ordinary production, building for stock under the impression that the war would be short and that there would be a big demand for cars at its close. Several of such factories were suddenly ordered to accept contracts for shells and other military material, and work on cars had to be stopped at practically a moment's notice.

The delivery of munitions ordered by the Munitions Ministry did not begin on any considerable scale till the spring of 1916. The existing defects and deficiencies discovered by Mr. Lloyd George when he took over Munitions forbade him to hope for any earlier solution of the munitions difliculties, and he certainly never claimed that he could hope for any large delivery at an earlier date than the spring of 1916.

As the war went on, units got more and more ammunition, but suffered considerably from lack of standardization. In the early summer of 1915, some had four different types of shrapnel in their limbers at the same time, with a variation of range between them of anything up to 400 yards. In 1916 in the 4.5 howitzers, there were three types of propellant in use simultaneously—Cordite, Ballistite and N.C.T.—all with different temperature and moisture coefficients, and all giving results varying in a most obscure way with the wear of the howitzer. Charges originally shipped in lots of similar manufacture got mixed up on the Lines of Communication; shell varied in weight; driving bands were of many varieties.

When the already difficult task was further complicated by lack of standardization in propellant, driving band and shell, the task of exact shooting became almost impossible, and by 1918 the lack of standardization was recognized as one of the serious limiting factors in the tactical employment of artillery.

As the number of guns available began to increase the existing artillery units had to be expanded and new ones raised. Technical skill had to be developed and previous lessons and teachings modified to suit the changing conditions. The field and horse gunners, accustomed to fighting under circumstances which enabled them to observe every round, had to cease from scoffing at corrections for temperature, barometer, etc., and the heavy artillery, used to the utmost deliberation, had to learn speed. Accuracy of fire on unseen targets, and the ability to shoot close over the heads of own infantry had to be acquired, and an organization built up which could effectively handle large masses of artillery.

At the Somme in 1916, the British had any quantity of guns and ammunition, but many battery officers and higher commanders were inexperienced; they could not be otherwise; the artillery intelligence organization was in its infancy; the methods of cooperation between aircraft and the military command was rudimentary; the type of shell was in many instances unsuitable for the task to be performed (those who were there will recollect their disheartening task of endeavouring to cut wire with field gun shrapnel). Although, as Ludendorf admits, they did considerable harm to the Germans, the results indicated that there was not that happy combination in the employment of the artillery in support of the other arms which leads to easy success in battle. The lessons were invaluable, but the cost in life was inevitably great.

It was largely because the British General Staff read these lessons correctly and had the courage of their convictions to effect the necessary reorganization, that, later they were able to beat the Germans despite the fact that in the technical matters of guns and ammunition they still maintained their lead. Put shortly, the situation in 1917 and onward is, that the Germans had the advantage in quality of artillery material; the British in quantity, organization and method of tactical employment.

As early as August 26, 1914, the British found it necessary to break up their howitzer brigades in the battle of Le Cateau, and attach separate batteries to field gun brigades, to give howitzer support on the flanks and provide for howitzer fire where it was needed. In 1917 they completely reorganized their division artillery organizations into a form quite similar to the German. The infantry division was changed to include two infantry brigades, and the artillery to support this infantry consisted of two mixed brigades (battalions), each with three six-gun eighteen-pounder batteries and one battery of six 4.5-inch howitzers. A number of brigades (battalions) of army artillery, for reinforcements, were made up with the same organization.

The German artillery was invariably organized and fought on a divisional front; as a consequence, they experienced great difficulty in bringing to bear, at any given time or place, an adequate volume of fire. During the battle the British, on the other hand, organized and fought as a corps, with the result that the whole force of our artillery within range was immediately available to support any sector and the whole of our intelligence system was centered on those who had the means at their disposal to take immediate and effective action.

The "life" of the howitzer — that is to say the number of rounds that can be fired from it before it becomes unserviceable from wear—is far longer than that of a gun. For example:

  • The 6" Gun, Mark VII., has an average life of 1500 rounds.
  • The 6" Howitzer, 26 cwt., has an average life of 10,000 rounds.
  • The 9.2" Gun, Mark X., has an average life of 500 rounds.
  • The 9.2" Howitzer, Mark I., has an average life of 7000 rounds.

As every weapon had to go back to England to be relined and generally renovated, it was obvious that heavy guns were only to be used for work that heavy howitzers could not do. This, however, was by no means the only reason. The howitzer is much easier to place in position in the field. Many can be sited in a comparatively limited area owing to the high line of departure of the shell, and the problem of crest clearance is rarely met with. Howitzers have less range than guns of a similar shell power, but are more mobile, and, when fired at horizontal targets their accuracy is, generally speaking, greater.

There were 486 guns and howitzers in the original Expeditionary Force, 24 of which were of medium calibre, and on the day of the Armistice there were less than 6437 guns and howitzers of all natures in France (exclusive of anti-aircraft artillery and mortars), of which 2211 were medium and heavy artillery. This number was below Lord Haig's original demand, but it must be remembered that the Ministry of Munitions was obliged to supply other theatres and other nations with artillery matériel; and further, that in the last year of the war men were not available to man more guns. The work which Lord Haig required his artillery to perform was, briefly, to destroy the enemy and to protect his own armies.

In the Cambrai attack of November, 1917, registration was dispensed with, and surprise, so far as artillery action was concerned, was made easy. At the battle of Amiens on the 8th of August, 1918, in which over 2000 British guns were employed, practically all of them opened destructive fire from their attack positions for the first time on the actual morning of the assault.

Counter-battery work, so little thought of before the war, and which, according to Ludendorff, caused the Germans much loss and great anxiety, became an exact science through the development of air photography, aërial observation, sound-ranging, flash-spotting and air-burst ranging.

Page last modified: 19-01-2019 18:38:04 Zulu