French Artillery Vallière system

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Introduction

Jean-Florent de Vallière (1667 - 1759), colonel and inspector of artillery from 1720, Lieutenant-General in 1732 is a significant figure in the development of French artillery. As Director-General of France's artillery, he reduced the pieces in use to the cannon listed above and two types of mortars. From 1726 - 1747 de Vallière was Director-General of the Manufacture of Arms in France. In 1704 the Swiss, Jean Maritz I (1680 - 1743) designed and built a water-powered horizontal cannon-boring machine in the foundry in Geneva; this was a great technical advance in the manufacture of gun barrels. De Vallière recruited Maritz I into French service and in 1732, the first Maritz cannon boring machine was operational in the foundry at Lyon, boring out the Model 1732 system equipments. These standardized pieces became known as the “Vallière System”.

During this period, no distinctions were made between field and siege guns. Gribeauval did so only by 1765.

Prior to the outbreak of the Seven Years War, the French army was equipped with the best artillery in Europe, but they had just been overhauled by that of Austria, with the Model 1753 Liechtenstein system.

N.B.: the 1-pdr gun à la Rostaing and the 4-pdr gun à la Suédoise are not considered as part of the “Vallière System” and are convered in separate articles.

Artillery Pieces

N.B.: in the following sections, all feet and inches are expressed in Paris foot (1' = 32.5 cm).

Cannon

4-pdr Cannon

French 'long' 4-pdr field cannon – Vallière System M1732 – Copyright Christian Rogge

The piece weighed about 287 times the weight of its shot.

Model Barrel
Weight
Barrel
Length
Barrel
Bore
Ratio
Length/Bore
Shot
Weight
Shot
Diameter
Charge Horses
Model 1732 Vallière 1,150 pounds
522 kg
6' 9”
219 cm
3” 1.75´´´
8.4 cm
27 - 3”
8.1 cm
- n/a

8-pdr Cannon

Royal French 8-pdr field cannon – Vallière System M1732 – Copyright Christian Rogge

The piece weighed about 260 times the weight of its shot.

The length of the carriage bracket cheeks was approximately 11' 4,5” (370 cm). The height of the wheels 54” (146.25 cm). The width of the French track was 3' 11” (124.3 cm). In the accompanying illustration, the main draft of the carriage does not illustrate the wheels camber angle. Similarly, applied metal fittings on the carriage tail are in a variant seen in several scale models of the Vallière ordnance at the Paris Musée de l'Armée. The tail is fastened by two bolts instead of just one. The iron tail band is missing and the side straps of the carriage are fastened rather perpendicular to the bracket cheeks lower side instead of diagonal.

Model Barrel
Weight
Barrel
Length
Barrel
Bore
Ratio
Length/Bore
Shot
Weight
Shot
Diameter
Charge Horses
Model 1732 Vallière 2,100 pounds
1,028 kg
8' 1.75”
264 cm
3” 11´´´
10.5 cm
26 4 kg 3” 9.4´´´
10.24 cm
4 kg n/a

12-pdr Cannon

French 12-pdr field cannon – Vallière System M1732 – Copyright Christian Rogge

The piece weighed about 267 times the weight of its shot. These pieces slightly varied in design, weight (up to 50 kg) and length according to the foundries. From a distance the 12-pdr of the Vallière system could hardly be distinguished from the 8-pdr of the same system.

The thickness of the barrel walls was 12.13 cm at the breech and 5.56 cm at the muzzle. The cascabel of the barrel was distinctively shaped as a head of rooster or cockerel.

The length of the carriage bracket cheeks was approximately 12' 4.5” (397 cm). The height of the wheels 58” (157 cm). The width of the French track was 3' 11” (124.3 cm). In the accompanying illustration, the carriage shows a variant of applied metal fittings. Extra iron plates have been added to give additional strength to the wooden bracket cheeks. This variant come from a contemporary 18th century draft of the Hesse-Kassel artillery school. In this draft, dated around 1790, the artist strictly obeyed the tutorials of Struensee's 1760 book on gunnery, but has added these rather 'roccoco-style' metal plates to his otherwise purely technical drawing. The artist, who was illustrating an 18-pdr culverine-type German siege cannon based on French figures for proportions, had probably seen an original SYW-period gun at the Kassel Arsenal and decided to include this detail in his draft to make it look 'more French style'. This sort of extra metal fittings, normally not included in the general drafts for a particular piece, probably resulted from repair work. Bracket cheeks were usually made of thoroughly dried elm tree. Best quality could not be supplied at all times. As a consequence, additional metal sheets were necessary to add stability to sections where the wood showed signs of weakness.

Model Barrel
Weight
Barrel
Length
Barrel
Bore
Calibre
(Ratio
Length/Bore)
Shot
Weight
Shot
Diameter
Charge Horses
Model 1732 Vallière 3200 Paris pounds
1,565 kg
9' 0.34” Paris foot
293 cm
4” 5.75´´´ Paris inches
12.13 cm
25 5.82 kg 11.74 cm 4 kg n/a

16-pdr Cannon

French 16-pdr field cannon – Vallière System M1732 – Copyright Christian Rogge

The piece weighed about 262 times the weight of its shot. These pieces slightly varied in design, weight (up to 50 kg) and length according to the foundries. The accompanying illustration depicts the original barrel of La Chiffoneuse (approx. translation: “The Crumpler”) on display at the Musée de l'Armée in Paris. It weighs 2,007 kg and was casted by Bérenger d'Onicourt at Douai in 1742.

The cascabel of the barrel was distinctively shaped as a Medusa's face.

The length of the carriage bracket cheeks was approximately 12' 10” (417 cm). The height of the wheels 58” (157 cm). The width of the French 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 1732 Vallière 4200 Paris pounds
2,054 kg
9' 6.75” Paris foot
310 cm
4” 11´´´ 2´´´´ Paris inches
13.45 cm
24 7.84 kg 4” 9´´´ 2 ´´´´ Paris inches
12.9 cm
n/a n/a

24-pdr Cannon

Royal French 24-pdr heavy cannon – Vallière System M1732 – Copyright Christian Rogge

The piece weighed about 225 times the weight of its shot.

The cascabel of the barrel was distinctively shaped as a Bacchus' or Hercules' face.

The length of the carriage bracket cheeks was approximately 13.5'. The height of the wheels 58” (157 cm). The width of the French track was 3' 11” (124.3 cm). In the accompanying illustration, the main draft of the carriage does not illustrate the wheels camber angle.


Model Barrel
Weight
Barrel
Length
Barrel
Bore
Calibre
(Ratio
Length/Bore)
Shot
Weight
Shot
Diameter
Charge Horses
Model 1732 Vallière 5400 Paris pounds 9' 11.4” Paris foot
323 cm
5” 5´´´ 7.5´´´´ Paris inches
15,25 cm
21.8 n/a 5” 5´´´ 4´´´´ Paris inches
14.75 cm
n/a n/a

References

Dawson, A L and P L Dawson and Stephen Summerfield, Napoleonic Artillery, Crowhurst Press, 2007

Acknowledgments

Digby Smith for the initial version of this article and Christian Rogge for the accompanying plates and additional details about the various pieces