Austrian Artillery Organisation

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Introduction

Liechtenstein, the Reformer of the Austrian Artillery

Fürst Joseph Wenzel von Liechtenstein (1696-1772) was a member of the Austrian aristocracy and Inhaber or colonel-in-chief of the Liechtenstein Dragoons (D6). At the Battle of Chotusitz (May 7 1742), he was so impressed by the superiority of the Prussian artillery over that of his own army, that he resolved to devote his future career - and much of his personal fortune - to improving the performance and organization of the Austrian artillery. He designed and cast an improved 3-pounder regimental gun, several of which saw field service in the campaign of 1744 on the Rhine. In this year he was appointed General Director of the Austrian artillery, a rank he assumed until 1772 and who gave him command of all artillery organizations of the realm. Three years later, the first Reglement für das Kaiserliche-Königliche gesammte Feld-Artilleriecorps (Regulations for the Artillery) was introduced.

In 1748, he became the head of the family and in 1753 he was appointed Commanding General of Hungary and General Director of the Austrian artillery training and experimental establishment at Moldauthein in Bohemia.

He gathered a team of skilled artisans including the Berliner, Schroeder, the Swiss carpenter and mechanic Jacquet, the Norwegian Ober-Stueckhauptmann (major) Adolph Nicolaus Alfson, Theodor Rouvroy from Luxembourg and the Austrians Ignaz Walther von Waldenau, Andreas Franz Feuerstein and Anton Feuerstein. The latter was ennobled in 1757, with the suffix 'von Feuersteinsberg' as a reward for his services to the development of the Austrian artillery. The French gunner and engineer, Jean-Baptiste Gribeauval also joined his team during the Seven Years' War, being promoted eventually to Generalfeldwachtmeister (brigadier-general).

Liechtenstein's Artillery System

Liechtenstein's Artillery System of 1753

In 1753, the Liechtenstein's artillery system replaced the existing guns of the 1716 design, which used the same pieces for fortress and field operations. These pieces were relatively long, heavy and difficult to move around. They were so unwieldy, that the scale of guns was one 3-pounder piece to every 1,000 men. The powder charge was calculated at half the weight of the shot and was transported in barrels on the wagons, to be loaded into the gun barrel with a ladle.

After years of experimentation, aimed at reducing the length and weight of the barrels and carriages, Liechtenstein's teams came up with a family of three groups of guns.

Field Artillery: 3-, 6- and light 12-pounder cannon, whose barrels measured 16 calibres in length, and the 7-pound howitzers.
Battery Pieces (long and short-barreled guns): 12-, 18- and 24-pounder pieces.
Heavy Mortars: 10-, 30-, 60- and 100-pound mortars firing iron shot and a 100-pound, stone-throwing piece.

The Austrian projectile-weight classification used the Nuremberg pound, of 0,45kg and related to the actual weight of a stone ball of the same diameter as the iron projectile that was used in practice. This meant that the iron "7-pounder" howitzer fired a hollow, cast-iron, gunpowder-filled ball of 14-15 pounds.

For further details on the pieces, type of shots, carriages, etc., please refer to the article on the Austrian Artillery Equipment.

Evolution throughout the War

The numbers of opposing guns in some of the battles may be of interest. The asterisks indicate which side won the action.

Battle Austrian
Guns
Prussian
Guns
Lobositz 1756 94 102 *
Prague 1757 200 192 *
Breslau 1757 220 * 138
Hochkirch 1758 340 * 200
Liegnitz 1760 130 120*
Torgau 1760 360 320 *
Reichenbach 1762 100 60 *

Situation in 1762

In 1762 the main Austrian armies fielded 352 3-pounders, 90 6-pounders, 58 12-pounders, 36 7-pound howitzers and 6 24-pounders. By this time, they were fielding five guns per thousand troops of the army. The Netherlands artillery contribution in this year was 33 3-pounders, four 6-pounders and a 12-pounder.

Organization

Due to its academic requirements, the artillery appealed more to the learned youths of the cities than to the young aristocracy and there were very few such noblemen in its ranks.

Another major feature of this era is the conversion of the artillery to a completely military organization. On June 21 1568, Emperor Maximilian proposed the attachment of the artillery to the infantry, but it was not until 1607 that it took place in all Austrian provinces. In 1602 the tactical infantry unit (the regiment) was called into life and the attached guns were thus called `regimental guns`. Initially there was one 3-pounder per regiment. The commander of the infantry regiment had administrative responsibility for the gun and the regiment had to pay the Büchsenmeister (gun commander, or master gunner) and his technical crew. These artillery personnel remained under tactical command of the Feldzeugmeister (Master General of the Ordnance) and could be recalled to the main artillery park of the army at any time. At this time, in almost all European armies, gunners were not subject to normal military regulations. They were highly skilled experts, members of a trade guild, who were very highly paid in comparison to the infantry and the cavalry. This unhappy arrangement did not satisfy the infantry, the artillery nor the army, but it remained in being for over 200 years. With lumbering equipment, mediocre teams, unwilling crews with independent minds, full of pride in their guilds, their guns took the field and were sent off to serve with the infantry.

The Austrian artillery was divided into the House Artillery and the Field Artillery.

House Artillery

The House Artillery consisted of the recruited guild of Büchsenmeister and artificers, who were charged with the maintenance and security of all artillery items in the various arsenals and fortresses throughout the realm.

Apart from these people, the House Artillery took in all invalid gunners; eventually, the latter became the sole source of recruits.

The organization was divided into geographical districts, each commanded by a field artillery officer who was no longer capable of doing service in the field, or by such Büchsenmeister, who had gained promotion to that rank. If two officers of the same rank, one each from these categories, were present, command always went to the field artillery officer.

Altogether, the House Artillery counted about 800 officers and men.

Field Artillery

The Field Artillery was organized as follows:

  • the Field Artillery Staff;
  • the Field Artillery Corps;
  • the Feldzeugamt (Ordnance Department);
  • the Rosspartei (Horse Party).

Field Artillery Staff

The Field Artillery Staff was the command element of the field artillery. It was responsible for the management and implementation of the doctrine, organization, equipment, training, logistics and discipline of the corps and had about 100 members. This staff was located at Budweis (today České Budějovice), in southern Bohemia.

The Oberfeuerwerksmeister (Master Gunner) commanded all technical training and laboratory procedures in the corps. Together with the professor of mathematics, he conducted all experiments.

The Oberpetardirer (Senior Petardist) oversaw all matters relating to the construction and use of petards, but as these became fewer, he also assumed other management functions.

The Oberadjutant carried out the same functions as the adjutant of a regiment, but only in the tactical sense; he was the assistant to the commander. He also controlled all security duties.

The Wachtmeister-Lieutenant managed all the detailed aspects of guard rosters, ration re-supply and clerical duties. He was assisted by a Stabsoffizier-Adjutant.

The duties of the chaplain, field auditor, provost, paymaster, etc. are self explanatory.

Field Artillery Corps

The Field Artillery Corps consisted of:

  • 1 lieutenant-general, commanding the artillery in the field
  • the Mining companies: responsible for mining operations in the attacking and defence of fortresses. They took the field as part of the artillery reserve and were responsible for the preparation of demolition charges and the storage and issuing of ammunition. They consisted of:
    • staff (once grouped in a brigade in 1763):
      • 1 lieutenant-colonel
      • 1 staff lieutenant-colonel
      • 1 adjutant
      • 1 senior surgeon
      • 3 junior surgeons
      • 1 drum major
    • 2 companies in 1748 (increased to 4 in 1763 and grouped in a brigade), each of these companies totalled 119 men and consisted of:
      • 1 captain
      • 1 senior lieutenant
      • 2 mining lieutenants
      • 2 sergeants
      • 1 master miner
      • 1 quartermaster
      • 8 leading miners
      • 1 junior quartermaster
      • 1 drummer
      • 1 fifer
      • 12 master miners
      • 20 senior miners
      • 68 miners
  • the Feld-Artillerie Haupt-Corps formed the real field artillery; it provided the crews of the field guns and of the fortress guns and, since 1755, consisted of 3 brigades, each of:
    • staff (none of these officers was allowed to be a company commander, in contrast to the custom in the infantry and the cavalry): these officers carried out weekly inspections
      • 1 major-general (for the 1st brigade) or 1 colonel (for the 2nd and 3rd brigades)
      • 1 lieutenant-colonel
      • 1 major
    • 8 Büchsenmeister companies (increased to 10 in 1763), each of these companies consisted of:
      • 1 captain
      • 1 Stückjunker (lieutenant)
      • 2 Altfeuerwerker supervising the technical work in the laboratories and the duties in the siege batteries
      • 4 junior Feuerwerker acting as sergeants
      • 6 or more corporals
      • from 60 to 72 men who drilled on the guns twice a week and with small arms twice a week
  • the Artillery Fusilier Regiment raised in the winter of 1757-58 to provide escorts for the guns and to act as assistants in moving the pieces in the field. It had 3 battalions, each of these 3 battalions consisted of:
    • 8 companies, each of
      • 116 men (organised as in the infantry)

The artillery school was established at Budweis. Technical training took place in the winter, the Ober-Feuerwerksmeister (master gunner from the artillery staff) giving the tuition. Those Büchsenmeister who failed the annual exams through their own negligence, had to pay the Ober-Feuerwerksmeister 5 florins Lehrgeld (tuition fees).

With their long trains of vehicles and their closely-guarded technical secrets, the gunners were now soldiers and were forced to develop their tactical awareness. As the reputation of the artillery grew, so did their significance and their employment on the battlefield forced all nations to increase their numbers. At the beginning of the War of the Austrian Succession, there were 800 gunners (Büchsenmeister) in Austria and this number remained static until 1746. There now began a rapid expansion: in 1749 there were 1,000, in 1755 over 2,000, most of which were in the field during the Seven Years' War; only a few companies were left in those fortresses away from the area of operations. About 62% of the artillerymen came from Bohemia. There were fewer nobles in the artillery than in other arms. Promotion was made according to merit.

Even taking into consideration the Artillery Fusilier Regiment, there were too few men for the tasks in the field and infantrymen still had to be detached to the guns, to make up the numbers needed.

After the Peace of Hubertusburg in 1763, the Artillery Fusilier Regiment was reduced to a single battalion of six companies.

In 1769 Feld-Artillerie Haupt-Corps counted almost 5,000 and in 1772, at the time of Liechtenstein's death, there were almost 8,000 Büchsenmeister in the Austrian army.

In 1772 the miners were taken out of the artillery and formed their own corps, with their own uniform. The same year, the Artillery Fusilier Regiment was disbanded, the men going into the newly-raised 3 artillery regiments.

Ordnance Department

The Feldzeugamt (Ordnance Department) was responsible for the administration of the mobile artillery materiel and for the procurement, storage, repair and movement of the field guns, equipment, materiel and tools and organized the siege artillery parks as required. From 351 in 1759, their numbers rose to 416 in 1762.

A few drill guns were deployed to the field artillery companies. Department head was usually a staff lieutenant-colonel. The financial side of life was very complex and was handled by the Oberkriegscommissario.

There was no permanent establishment; the numbers of officials required was dictated by the numbers of guns in use.

The Ordnance Department was also responsible for the procurement, storage and supply of small arms, swords, sabres and lances, small arms ammunition and entrenching tools. The staff included blacksmiths, carpenters, locksmiths, cartwrights, wheelwrights, saddlers and clerks.

Horse Party

The artillery maintained neither horses nor drivers in time of peace; these were requisitioned in time of war. The regulations of 1757 organized the Rosspartei (Horse Party), commanded by the Oberwagenmeister (Senior Wagon Master, equating to a lieutenant-colonel of the cavalry), supported by the Obergeschirrmeister (Senior Harness Master). The Horse Party was divided into 60 troops of 100 horses, 50 grooms, 2 farriers, two saddlers and a Unterwagenmeister (junior wagonmaster), who commanded the troop. The health of the horses was the responsibility of several vets, who also had to instruct and supervise the farriers. All members of the Horse Party were mounted.

Additional 4-horse peasant wagons and drivers were requisitioned as needed.

Forage was provided by the Proviantmeister, saddlery and all horse-related articles by the Zeugamt. The Geschirrschreiber (clerks) were divided into 3 teams; one accounted for Horse Register and finances, the second looked after the accounts for the rations and forage and the third for materials and other items.

Acquisition of horses took place in the presence of the Kriegscommissario; those horses found to be acceptable were at once branded with the imperial mark. It often happened in the field that the Rosspartei would be used for gathering forage; in these cases, the officers' grooms would also take part.

At the outbreak of the Seven Years' War, the Austrian army needed 1,868 horses (excluding the cavalry regiments), of which 96 were rented and were used to pull 26 rented wagons. In 1757 there were no rented horses or vehicles. The horse strength of the army had risen to 3,663. These were managed by 37 Wagenmeister, 74 saddlers and 1,944 grooms. Replacements averaged 10% p.a. In the 3 last years of the war, the field army had 548 guns and 1,147 wagons. The Rosspartei grew to over 60 troops, with 5,257 horses, 106 saddlers and 2,912 grooms. Among these wagons were 166 peasants' four-horse vehicles; for the duration of the war, 664 horses, with their own drivers, were taken on.

At the end of the war, the Rosspartei was – as usual – reduced to a peace-time cadre. In 1772 the organization and management of horse teams was taken from the field artillery and the Fuhrwesens-Corps (Corps of Drivers) was founded.

Other units

The Netherlands Artillery Corps of eight companies initially, rose to twelve companies during the Seven Years War. It was a semi-autonomous body, commanded by a lieutenant-colonel. It had its own Ordnance Department and Horse Party.

There was also a so-called Hausartillerie consisting mainly of invalids formerly serving in the field-artillery.

In 1761, copying the Prussian horse artillery, the Austrians transferred twelve 3-pdr guns, each with a 4 horses team to their cavalry.

Ranks

The Austrian artillery ranks included the Ober-Stueckhauptmann / Obristwachtmeister or major, who commanded a half-brigade, the Stueckhauptmann or captain, the Stueckjunker or first lieutenant, who commanded from four to six pieces, the Altfeuerwerker, a sort of company quartermaster and training officer, the Jung-Feuerker or sergeant, and the Buechsenmeister or professionally trained gunner or bombardier.

High-ranking officers had very limited latitude to take disciplinary action. In extreme cases, wrongdoers were punished with fortress work.

Logistic

See the sections on the Ordnance Department and Horse Party.

Arsenals

The largest collection of ordnance stores was held in the arsenal (Zeughaus, since demolished) in Vienna. At the outbreak of the Seven Yeras' War, there were enough field pieces and ammunition wagons in a camp near Vienna for an army of about 65,000 men. Furthermore there were 95 3-pdrs and 31 heavy pieces of various calibres in Budweis and Moldauthein along with 341 ammunition carts and 174 ammunition wagons.

In January 1757 it was decided to move half the stocks of field artillery items to Prague, closer to the theatre of the war. The stocks of the siege artillery inventory were also moved from Vienna, to Prague or to Olmütz.

By 1762 over 130,000 rounds of artillery projectiles were held in the arsenals; 71% were solid shot, 19% canister, 6% grape and 4% were shells.

Recruitment

Recruitment for the artillery was somewhat better than in the infantry. The usual recruiting practices did not apply, volunteers came forward from a better class of people: citizens, craftsmen and many failed students. As artillery officers all came from the other ranks of the corps, it was possible for gunners to make real careers in that arm. The main source of recruits for the artillery was the soldiers who transferred across from the infantry and the cavalry.

To be accepted into the artillery, a candidate had to be at least 171 cm tall, strongly built, single, reasonably young, be literate in German and – if possible – a subject of the empire. Foreign deserters were not accepted.

If a Büchsenmeister or corporal were to be promoted or discharged, it was the custom that he repaid his engagement bonus, so that a replacement might be recruited.

Gunners who committed crimes, or were technically incompetent, could be transferred into an infantry regiment as a punishment.

Drill

The artillery regulations of 1757 defined the normal gun crew as consisting of 6 Büchsenmeister.

Gun handling

As the members of the Austrian artillery were very highly paid compared to the infantry and cavalry, their establishment was deliberately calculated to be too small to man the guns in the field in time of war; for the missing men, the infantry would be required to send work details, so-called Handlanger, who would have to be trained up by the gunners to operate the pieces.

The 3-pounder regimental gun (each battalion had two) needed six Handlanger, the 6-pounder cannon and the 7-pounder howitzer needed eight each, the 12-pounder twelve, the 24-pounder 16. Needless to say, the malingerers and the awkward squad of the infantry battalion usually ended up serving the guns. Each infantry regiment also had to detach two of its pioneers to each 3-pounder operating with it, to hold the horse teams when unhitched from the guns and a corporal to guard the civilian drivers and prevent them from running away.

To take the place of the unwilling, untrained, unreliable Handlanger, Liechtenstein obtained agreement in 1758 to raise the Artillerie-Fuesilier-Regiment of three battalions, one attached to each artillery brigade. This provided a pool of permanent gun crews and the best of them would be absorbed into the artillery proper when sufficiently trained.

Firing procedure

Duties of the gun crews were identical for the 3 - 6 - and 12 pounder.

  • Nr 1: he stood to the left of the muzzle and loaded the projectiles.
  • Nr 2: he stood to the right of the muzzle and wielded the rammer / mop.
  • Nr 3 and Nr 4: they stood to left and right of the piece respectively, ready to push on the Avancierstangen to move the gun forward.
  • Nr 5: operated the elevating device and inserted the fuze
  • Nr 6: held the matchstick (linstock) and ignited the charge.
  • Nr 7: was mounted on the single horse, that was used to move the gun. (This horse was abolished in 1805. Wrede)
  • Nr 8: held the traversing spike at the rear of the gun trail.
  • Nr 9: he was the gun commander or Vormeister.
  • Nr 10: was stationed at the limber, which was stationed twenty paces to the left rear of the gun.
  • Nr 11: was stationed at the ammunition cart, which was stationed twenty paces to the right rear of the gun and ten paces from the limber.

The service of the 7-pounder howitzer was more complex; it was commanded by the Alt-Feuerwerker. He aimed the piece, chose the projectile type and inserted the priming tube. Two Jung-Feuerwerker stood, one at either side on the muzzle; one inserted the charge, the other the projectile. The 4 Büchsenmeister of the crew were assigned to the linstock, traversing spike, limber and ammunition cart.

Apart from this crew, there were the Handlanger (assistants), of whom, according to the size of the piece, there would be from four to twelve. These men did the non-technical duties, such as moving the ammunition forward in leather satchels, unlimbering and limbering of the piece and its movement on the battlefield, by use of the aforementioned tools. In order to ease the work of these men, major-general von Rouvroy invented the 7 m long tow rope, to which one of the team horses would be attached, to help pull the gun. Usually, 6 Handlanger were assigned to the 3-pdr, 8 to the 6-pdr, 12 to the 12-pdr, 16 to the 24-pdr and 8 to 10 to the 7-pdr howitzer.

The hazardous practice of spooning loose powder into gun barrels had now given way to pre-packaged charges in linen bags (or pigs' bladders), painted with oil paint to protect against damp.

To fire the loaded piece, a spike would be pushed through the touch-hole to pierce the casing of the charge, some fine powder would be poured into the touch-hole and ignited by the burning linstock. This system was soon replaced by the use of copper tubes, filled with powder and having a very sharp end, which was driven through the touch-hole and into the cartridge. The touch-hole was angled forwards, so that the tube would be thrown clear of the crew when the gun was fired.

Rapid Firing

Rapid firing became an exercise in its own right under Liechtenstein and a report of one such event in the camp at Moldauthein (from the diary of the Württemberg artillery captain Schmidt, an official observer) tells us that a detachment of six 6-pdr guns and six 3-pdr guns, fired against an earthen rampart with aimed fire. After every 3-5 shots, the barrels were mopped out and the pieces were run forward. Each gun could fire 5 to 7 shots per minute. After 15 minutes 'Cease Fire' was drummed and in this time, the guns had fired a total of 1,200 rounds. On the same day, they fired 40 hand grenades from a Coehorn mortar in 9 minutes.

The cartridges were so clean-burning, that a piece might be fired up to 100 times without being washed out with a mop. Musket powder was finer than that used by the artillery and was of high quality. With all these improvements, well-trained Austrian gun crews could attain and maintain a rate of fire of up to four rounds a minute; as fast as infantry musket fire.

In practical terms, Liechtenstein calculated that light field pieces would fire 100 rounds in a 24-hour period. One gun was recorded as having fired 1,070 rounds over 17 consecutive days suffered bore erosion of 2 mm. The other negative effects of prolonged firing were that the barrel would droop and the touch-hole would become enlarged, thus reducing the effective range of the weapon.

Ammunition Resupply in the Field

An artillery depot would be set up in a town, on a good communications route to the rear of the theatre of war. An army mobile reserve would be attached to the rear of the army. A number of ammunition carts would be attached to the guns in both of the lines of battle. Each gun would have a ready supply contained in the detachable box, carried on the gun trails, or in boxes on the gun axle, at either side of the barrel. The practice was for the ammunition cart to be emptied first, at which point it went back to the second line and sent forward a full ammunition cart to the gun. The empty cart went on to the mobile reserve, refilled and returned to its parent gun.

This sounds simple, but reality was more complex. A mixture of projectile types would be held in each limber and cart; solid shot, canister and grape. According to the nature of the action, either one sort or the other might run out before the others. The gun commander would then have to gamble on whether to send the half-empty wagon to the rear or not.

Apart from the artillery ammunition, 36 rounds of small arms ammunition per man (packed in packages of twelve) were carried in each caisson of the regimental artillery, along with 1,000 flints, 48 horseshoes and 360 horseshoe nails.

References

Das Heer Maria Theresias (Albertina), reprinted in Vienna, 1973

Dollaczek, Anton: Geschichte der Österreichischen Artillerie von den frühesten Zeiten bis zur Gegenwart, Vienna, 1887

Duffy, Christopher: Instrument of War: The Austrian Army in the Seven Years War, Emperor's Press, Chicago, 2000

Grosser Generalstab Kriegsgeschichtliche Abteilung II: Die Kriege Friedrichs des Grossen, Part 3 Der siebenjährige Krieg 1756-1763, Vol. 1 Pirna und Lobositz, Berlin, 1901, pp. 140-142

Wrede, Alphons Freiherr von: Geschichte der K. U. K. Wehrmacht; Vienna and Leipzig, 1911

Acknowledgments

Digby Smith for the initial version of this article and for the translation of Dollaczek's book