French Invented Modern Artillery

All modern artillery, including US artillery, is an improved version of the French 75mm howitzer invented and issued to the French Army in the late 19th Century. The photograph below is a French 75mm field artillery piece used by the American Expeditionary Forces in World War One. It is in the West Point Military Museum. The US Army used thousands of these French artillery pieces in the First World War.

 

Caliber: 75mm
Action: Breech Loader, hydro pneumatic recoil mechanism
Range: 9,300 yards shell, 5,000 yards shrapnel
Weight of Round – 13lbs High Explosive, shrapnel, anti-tank
Barrel Length: 106 inches. Weight Towed: 3,400lbs. Year Built: 1897
This particular 75mm Field Gun fired the first US shot against German Troops in WWI by Battery C Sixth Field Artillery. Their first shots were fired at 6:05am October 23, 1917. It fired over 10,000 rounds before being taken out of service and preserved.

(All of the above information and the photograph are courtesy of
www.williammaloney.com/Aviation/WestPointMilitaryMuseum/Artillery)

The French had far better field artillery at the time of the First World War (1914-1918) than Great Britain and the United States (which did not enter the war until 1917). Both countries used large numbers of French 75s. A favorite hobby in the US is disparing the French. I do it myself because they drive everyone half crazy. But they were our critical ally who helped us win our independence from England and they have long invented many things we use today.

(However, the famous French 75 cocktail was invented in the US in 1915. Made from gin, champagne, lemon juice and sugar it was said to have the impact on the imbiber of a French 75 shell).

 

canon-75-mm-MLE-1897-No-15932-left-rear

The famous 75 mm field gun modèle 1897 was manufactured at the foundry and arsenal at Bourges, capitol of the département Cher. The famous 75 remained in service long after the Great War of 1914-1918. Thousands of these reliable guns were upgraded in French service in 1938 and 1940, and many of them ended up in the German Wehrmacht and other Axis formations after the fall of France.

(Caption and photo courtesy of www.miniatures.de)

What made the French 75 so unusual was this: it was the first field artillery piece with hydro-pneumatic recoil. This built-in pneumatic technology acted as a “shock absorber” and dissipated the force of the recoil when the cannon fired. The barrel moved back against the “shock absorbers.” Hence, for the first time in history, the artillery piece itself did not jump backwards from the force of the recoil.

Prior to this innovation, field artillery pieces had to be manhandled back into position and re-sighted before re-firing. Eliminating this time consuming process, allowed a much higher rate of fire by artillery.

In World War One and World War Two, artillery caused half of all casualties because of the advances made in field artillery design by the French. I guess that is progress.

Published by

Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/