Sunday, May 31, 2009

Making the Leap

This is the next part of my little series on evolution of artillery. I keep saying that I am going to hit on the 75mm next post, but I keep remembering the stuff I need to hit on earlier. This post is no different. Another part of the build up to the 75mm gun and its brethren, I am going to hit on the driving factors behind the development of this gun.

One of the biggest driving points behind many weapons is something called doctrine. A military doctrine is simply a standardized guide to how that military is supposed to fight. Does it focus on infantry, artillery or cavalry? Does it combine them? How fast does it expect a war to be fought? Guerrilla or conventional? Heavy or light? Both? And so on. Once you have an idea on how you want to fight you are supposed to figure out if you can actually fight like that, and then build weapons to support your endstatement. Note the use of the word "supposed", this is not always the case. In the 1890s/1900s the worlds militaries were really running into a frightening situation of technology outpacing their understanding of how it effected their doctrines and some did not study how they wanted to fight, but declared how it was going to happen and then designed weapons to support it, evidence or not. The 75mm gun was a product of this thinking.

Numerous technological advancements had occurred that were drastically changing artillery technology. Better materials such as steel alloys, chemical propellents, and hydralic systems were making guns stronger and more powerful and allowing some interesting perks such as actually being able to have an effective breech-loader (i.e. you can load from the rear instead of ramming it in from the muzzle). The real question that started this ball rolling was asked by the French Army starting after the Franco-Prussian War. The French accepted that there would be another war with Germany. The question was how do we win it? Obviously their old tactics were a complete failure, especially their artillery which hit a big nerve as the French had always considered themselves the best artillerymen in the world (Napoleon was an artilleryman).

Old muzzle-loaders obtained effects by massing large numbers of guns in one location and blasting a hole in the enemy's line. This was no longer effective with the new breech and bolt action rifles which would mow down artillerymen firing Napoleon-style cannon before they could cause enough damage. Also the French felt that they had been unable to maneuver and mass guns quickly enough to be tactically decisive. So the conclusion reached was this: artillery for the next war needed to be maneuverable on the field, survivable, and could bring lots of firepower to bear quickly without having to have lots of guns (i.e. rapid firing guns).

History recognizes this theory as the "maneuver" arguement. Light guns, capable of keeping close to infantry, but having enough firepower that they can help to rapidly overpower the enemy forces without having to mass in large formations that became easy targets. This system is very decentralized and puts the decision in the hands of the infantry or cavalry commander on the spot as to how he needs the guns used. It is great if you are fighting smaller units (brigades or regiments), fighting people who have a lower tech level or are poorly trained and equipped. It breaks down in large scale operations against opponents of equal ability. The key to victory is being able to mass your effects in the location it is needed when it is needed. A decentralized system where your assets are parcelled out among smaller units makes massing difficult, and almost impossible to do quickly. This is especially true when you do not have radios or other means of reliable and rapid long distance communication.

This maneuver theory spelled out the doctrine for the French Military. With these requirements they designed a gun to meet the need. The Mle 75mm Gun.

Now we get to the fun irony of this situation. The French did design a gun that meet their specified requirements. But the problem was that they built a gun that went WAY beyond what they had been looking for. And it doing so caused a whole bunch more questions that eventually didn't get worked out until WWII. The next post will be on the actual French 75mm (HONEST).


  1. You should write a book on this kind of stuff -- most history writers cure insomnia but you make the reader go, "what, hey, who cares about his day job, where's the good stuff?"

  2. Thanks (urm, I think). I am beginning to be tempted by the idea. But I have to finish yet another Army online school first and move to a assignment that has slightly more free time.