This is the next article on artillery evolution I am undertaking. Before diving into the "42" (aka the French 75mm), I feel it necessary to hit on some background. This is a recap of a short field trip I take my LTs on at Fort Sill to get them into the idea of innovation and how the army/military adapts to change and transformation. Before we talk French 75mm, we must talk Napoleons.
The Napoleon is a 12 pound cannon capable of shooting both round shot (aka cannonballs) and actual shells that can be set for timed explosions or point detonation (i.e. they hit the ground and go BOOM!). It is a smoothbore (no rifling) cast out of bronze (which is why it doesn't have rifling, bronze won't take the pressure a rifled shot would generate). This weapon system is horse drawn (usually 6 to 8), and has a cassion which carries its internal ammo supply of mixed types (ball, shell, grape and cannister, think shotguns). It had a crude system of elevating the tube and aiming. It had no internal recoil absorber so when it fired the gun rolled back and you had to manually reposition and aim it. Crew of 6, usually 6 guns per battery. Range varies: max with cannonball was out to 3000 yards (rarely used), usually used at 2000 yards or less. If you were less than 500 yards out you used cannister or grape. It could be fired using an open flame (if you were ghetto) or a percussion cap. It was a muzzle-loader, which meant you rammed the powder and projectile in from the front.
This gun was the high water mark for the black powder cannons, the pinnacle of black powder cannon technology for field artillery. This may be argued by some other cannon enthusiasts, but I am using a certain range for determination. It was as mobile as these systems ever got, it had decent range, reasonable reloading time (under a minute if you were quick), if was a flexible system that could shoot a variety of munitions and it was fairly dependable. It was a great example of "the box".
This is "the box". The first recorded used of black/gunpowder was in China around 800 AD. The first record of a type of firearm was dated in the 1100s. This was a type of hand cannon: metal tube, open on one end, apply flame at other, projectile blows out the other end. The point I made to my LTs is a simple one. A early user of the hand cannon could have figured out how to use a Naploeon cannon with little trouble. Boiled down, there was no massive difference in how either system worked just the overall size and range (even the most powerful black powder field artillery was still a direct fire weapon that was only used on enemies you could see). This leads to a "box" when it comes to thinking about how this type of weapon can be used. A box that was 700 years old. How do you think outside a box that is 700 years old? That is a hell of a box to try and disregard.
I bring this point up to set the stage for the arrival of what we recognize as modern artillery. The development of the French 75mm and its brethren destroyed a 700 year old box of military thought. Literally overnight, everything everyone thought they knew about how artillery worked no longer applied.
Welcome to Challenge 101.
Next post in this series will detail the French 75mm, its capabilities, and why it was different enough to literally change existance as it was know for every artilleryman on the planet (and why some of them didn't realize it).
And how everyone reacted to this.