French Howitzers

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Howitzers

8-in howitzer

French 8-in howitzer M1743/48 – Copyright Christian Rogge

The barrel illustrated here has been reconstructed based on an illustration found in the French magazine La Sabretache with additional details found in Michel Decker & Sylvie Leluc, Petits modèles d'artillerie published by the Musée de l'Armée in Paris in 1994. In the latter publication, the barrel length is estimated at only 95 cm while the author's (Christian Rogge) calculations, based on Struensee's tutorial for finding the metal strength of the various parts of the barrels, give a length of 97.5 cm (exactly 5 Paris pied).

Prior to the introduction of this piece, the French did not produce any howitzers. Those in use were all Dutch and English pieces of various calibres captured in 1693 during the battle of Neerwinden. According to Decker & Leluc a Bavarian 30–pdr piece is said to have served as template to this first genuine French howitzer design. Oddly enough, in the same book, they also state that it was a 25-pdr. Both versions may well be true.

The piece seems to have been designed by the founder Jean Maritz around 1743, but first serial casts started only later, most likely in 1745, at the foundry of Douai. The first notable use of this new piece was probably at the siege of Maastricht in 1748. The sources provide confusing data here.

N.B.: in Christian Rogge's reconstruction, the diameter of the shot has been used as a base to derive the dimensions of the barrel and of its carriage.

Using the Austrian or the Prussian systems, this howitzer would be designated as a 30-pdr.

This type of piece, being rather cumbersome, was rarely used in the field. However, at the Battle of Hastenbeck, a few howitzers were employed to shell the village of Hastenbeck. Similarly, at the Battle of Minden, Contades ordered 6 howitzers to support Broglie during his initial cannonading of the Allies field works at Todtenhausen.

The sketch in the accompanying illustration depicts the method used to cut the bracket cheeks. The figures are based on a tutorial found in Struensee's Anfangsgünde der Artillerie published in Breslau in 1760 which worked with French sourced material. The recommended length of the raw elm tree plank was 8 Paris foot (252 cm). In this sketch, all figures are in relation with the diameter of the shot even though, by this time, French constructors preferred to specify all dimensions in feet and inches. However, the dimensions continued to be essentially based on the former custom to measure all dimensions in relation with piece's own calibre scale.

Accordingly, for this 8 inches piece, proportions can be easily calculated. Height and width of the 3 front transoms as well as the axle tree were proportioned 0.75 by 0.75 and the trail transom measured a more massive 1 by 1.75.

The height of the wheels was 54” (146.25 cm) as estimated by the author. However, the piece may well have been adapted with 58” wheels. The width of the track was 3' 11 (124.3 cm).


Model Barrel
Weight
Barrel
Length
Barrel
Bore
Calibre
(Ratio
Length/Bore)
Shot
Weight
Shot
Diameter
Charge Horses
Model 1743/48 8-in 1100 Paris pounds
538 kg
3' Paris foot
97.5 cm
8” 3´´´ Paris inches
22.32 cm
4.5 55 Paris pound
26.9 kg
8 Paris inches
21.65 cm
1.8 Paris pound
0.9 kg
n/a


N.B.: in this table the weight of the shot is an estimation made by the author

6-in howitzer

French 6-in howitzer ?M1760? – Source Jäger, Frankfurt, 1766

A rare draft found in a contemporary German publication indicates that the French also fielded a number of 6 inch howitzers at some stage during the Seven Years’ War in Germany. This draft of such a piece is authored by a certain Johann Wilhelm Jäger, a retired ingénieur d'artillerie capitaine-lieutenant of the Imperial Austrian Army, who had been appointed Zeugwart (director ) of the Frankfurt Arsenal from 1757 to 1762. Apparently, he had first hand knowledge of the French artillery material fielded during the war, as Frankfurt had been a major base for all French armies operating in Lower Hesse from 1759 on. He presents his draft as a French 6 inch howitzer along with its carriage of the sort the French made use of during the last war in Germany.

The barrel has a length of 28.5 French pouce (inch) or 4.75 calibres (shot) / 78 cm. It seems to equal the proportions and dimensions of a later design by Jean-Baptiste Vaquette de Gribeauval dating from around 1765. Jäger does not provide any more information to its construction other then this draft. The adopted French Gribeauval design 6 inch howitzer M1774 was likewise 4.75 calibres long and had a weight of 318 kg. Its shell had a weight of 11.5 kg, approx equal that of a 24 pounder's iron shot.

It is believed this earlier French 6 inch howitzer was first fielded during the summer campaign of the Maréchal de Broglie in 1760. An intercepted French original letter from Frankfurt, dated June 1760, found among Prince Ferdinand's published staff papers mentions six “16 pounder” howitzers fielded that year. This should be a transcription error since the French identified howitzers and mortars by their calibre, rather than the German custom designation by the weight of their stone shot. It should more rightly read “6 inch”. Its adoption in the French artillery park should have taken place with Maréchal de Broglie's many efforts to improve the mobility of the French army, which also included several measures to lighten the artillery material. These efforts started only in 1760.

Different to the custom design of the Vallière system guns, this howitzer's carriage is designed with a straight lower face from the lower front edge to its trail angle. Elsewhere it is said that the French really favored such a carriage design during this period, which would confirm that it is really a French carriage, besides its iron fittings bearing more resemblance to this periods Nuremberg, Dutch and British carriages. The wheel has a diameter of 58 French pouce (inch) — the custom wheel height for French guns of this period.

Model Barrel
Weight
Barrel
Length
Barrel
Bore
Calibre
(Ratio
Length/Bore)
Shot
Weight
Shot
Diameter
Charge Horses
Model ?1760? 6-in approx. 538 kg 28.5 French pouce
78 cm
n/a 4.75 11.5 kg 16.4 cm n/a n/a


N.B.: in this table the weight of the barrel and the weight of the shot is an estimation made by the author based on the very similar Gribeauval Model 1774

Comparison of the French 6-in howitzer (left) with the French 8-in howitzer M1743/48 (right) – Copyright Christian Rogge

References

Jäger, Johann Wilhelm Abraham: Herrn Le Blonds Kriegskunst, Frankfurt 1766.
N.B.: The German edition of the original French L'Artillerie Raisonnée, Paris 1761. The German edition includes an appendix edited by Jäger that does not come with the original French work by Mr. Le Blond.

Acknowledgments

Christian Rogge for the initial version of this article and for the accompanying plates