British Howitzers

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Description

For a more general view of the subject please refer to our article British Artillery Equipment. The present article is dedicated to the detailed presentation of the various types of howitzers used by the British Army.

British howitzers were manufactured as 10-, 8-, 5 1/2-inch (brass only), and 4 2/5-inch (brass only). They could use the same shells as the corresponding mortars. These naming references are tied to the width of the bore or the diameter of the shell — the larger pieces best match the bore diameter, the smaller pieces best fit the shell diameter. Until the 1800s, the standard British artillery references will have all British howitzers cast only in brass (bronze). However, there was store of 8-inch iron howitzers in North America, particularly in New York. In all likelihood, these gun were an older, obsolete pattern, but their absence from the standard references is unexpected.

In 1753, the corresponding shell sizes were 9.75 inches, 7.75 inches, 5.54 inches, and 4.40 inches (McConnell 1988, Page 291). Although relatively short, howitzers were not light-weight, the 8-inch brass howitzer weighed some 1,430 pounds (~649 kg without carriage).

In this section, dimensions are given as per the 1764 ordnance specifications and according to a certain Mr. Glegg who described these pieces in the 1740s. However, the 1764 ordnance specifications likely draw on earlier designs first mentioned in the 1750s, since several dimensions mentioned by earlier sources seem to match well.

Length is given apparently from the cascabel to the extremity of the muzzle.

Howitzer Use

If a target was massive in size, the need for accuracy was diminished and high arching artillery employing solid shot was an option. Effective against cities and large towns, against spread armies in the field, it was problematic — the solid shot would most likely simply bury itself in the open earth on first impact. Being non-explosive, any damage would be strictly limited. Under these circumstances, the exploding shells of howitzers were much more effective.

Howitzers fired shells fitted with a fuse. Shells were hollow projectiles filled with gunpowder and often some form of shot. Internal to the shell, the gunpowder and shot needed to be isolated from each other or the shell could detonate prematurely — internal frictional forces sparking an explosion. The shell walls were thick metal and greatly contributed to the damage caused by the shell. Aside from standard shells, special formulations (carcasses) were developed that increased the likelihood that fires would develop as a result of the explosion.

Ideally, the shells would detonate in mid-air just before or at the instant of hitting the ground. By varying fuze lengths on the shells, some crude control of the timing of the explosion could be achieved. The construction and manufacture of fuses followed very strict protocols (Caruana, 1979). When targeting a gunpowder magazine or any casement, it was hoped that the shell would first penetrate the roof structure before exploding. Alternatively, howitzers could be used in ricochet with the idea the shell would not be buried by arching fire, but neither would it explode prematurely high in the air. The explosion would occur while the shell was still rolling on the ground or had just stopped.

Here, damage does not correlate with muzzle velocity or range. Instead, metal shards from the shell casing and the concussive wave of the explosion would cause the damage.

Field Howitzer Models

4 2/5-in Brass Howitzer (Coehorn Howitzer)

The 4 2/5 inch brass howitzer was created by basically mounting a Coehorn Mortar on a field carriage.

Model Barrel
Weight
Barrel
Length
Barrel
Bore
Calibre
(Ratio
Length/Bore)
Shell
Weight
Shell
Diameter
Charge Effective
Range
Horses
4 2/5-in Brass Howitzer 238 lbs
108 kg
1 ft 10 in
55.88 cm
4.52 in
11.48 cm
4.87:1 8.5 lbs
3.86 kg
4.40 in
11.18 cm
8.5 oz
0.24 kg
360-450 yards
329.2-411.5 m.
2


Note: the chamber at the back of the barrel was slightly conical, being 4.52 inches (~11.48cm) long, 2.73 inches to the front (~6.9cm), tapering down to 2.24 inches (5.7cm) to the back.

5½-in Brass Howitzer (Royal Howitzer)

During the Seven Years' War, the performance of the British 5½-inch howitzer and the later French 6-inch howitzer (Gribeauval) was commonly described as erratic or inaccurate. In the late 1700s, the British would field the heavy 5½-inch howitzer, a much bulkier gun (1,120 barrel weight) with a length of 2 ft 9 inches and a length/bore ratio of 5.87 — the added bulk allowed a greater charge achieving much greater range, the lengthened bore increased the accuracy but still limited excessive tumbling of the shell against the bore wall.

Model Barrel
Weight
Barrel
Length
Barrel
Bore
Calibre
(Ratio
Length/Bore)
Shell
Weight
Shell
Diameter
Charge Effective
Range
Horses
5½-in Brass Howitzer 462 lbs
209.6 kg
2 ft 2 in
66.04 cm
5.62 in
14.27 cm
4.63:1 16 lbs
7.26 kg
5.54 in
14.07 cm
1 lb
0.45 kg
700 yards
640 m.
3

Note: the chamber at the back of the barrel was slightly conical, being 6.01” (15.3cm) long, 3.2 inches front (8.2cm), tapering to 2.45” (6.2 cm)

8-in Howitzer

Historical correspondence will often reference British 7-inch howitzers. This is a reference to shell size. All British 7-inch howitzers are better referenced as 8-inch.

The 8-inch howitzer was too heavy to be considered horse artillery. Braddock had 4, captured by the French and incorporated into Montcalm's artillery train. This type of howitzer was used to establish batteries for field engagements, but was not quickly or easily moved. However, with a barrel weight of 1,430 lbs, it weighed less than a medium brass 12-pdr cannon.

Model Barrel
Weight
Barrel
Length
Barrel
Bore
Calibre
(Ratio
Length/Bore)
Shell
Weight
Shell
Diameter
Charge Effective
Range
Horses
8-in Brass Howitzer 1,430 lbs
648.6 kg
37.4 in
95 cm
8 in
20.3 cm
4.68:1 46 lbs
20.87 kg
7.75 in
19,7 cm
3.5 lbs
1.59 kg
680-850 yards
622-777 m.
5

Note: iron 8-inch howitzers are somewhat of a mystery. At least a full half-dozen of these howitzers are seen in New York between 1755 and 1758. However, the existence of iron howitzers in the mid-18th century is absent from the standard reference texts including Muller (1768), Hughes (1969), and McConnell (1988). These pieces were taken from colonial stores and were an older design, but there is no question that they existed.

Siege Howitzer Models

10-in Howitzer

The 10-in howitzer seems to have been largely disused during the Seven Years' War, as it is not mentioned in the 1764 specifications, and there seems to have been no attempt at a redesign after 1744. It was probably used mainly as a fortress piece.

Model Barrel
Weight
Barrel
Length
Barrel
Bore
Calibre
(Ratio
Length/Bore)
Shell
Weight
Shell
Diameter
Charge Effective
Range
Horses
10-in Brass Howitzer 2,880 lbs
1,306 kg
50.4 in
128 cm
10 in
25.4 cm
5.04:1 93 lbs
42.18 kg
9.75 in
24.77 cm
7 lbs
3.17 kg
800-1000 yards
732-915 m.
n/a

References

Adye, Ralph Willet. 1802. The Bombardier and Pocket Gunner. Printed for T. Egerton, Military Library, Whitehall. By W. Blackader, Took's Court, London. Online.

Caruana, Adrain. 1979. British Artillery Ammunition, 1780. Museum Restoration Service. Bloomfield, Ontario.

Caruana, Adrain. 1989. British Artillery Design in British Naval Armaments, ed. Robert D. Smith. Royal Armouries, Conference Proceedings 1. London.

Caruana, Adrain. 1992. Introduction: The Artillerist's Companion 1778 by T. Fortune. Museum Restoration Service. Bloomfield, Ontario.

Cubbison, Douglas R. 2010. The British Defeat of the French in Pennsylvania, 1758: A Military History of the Forbes Campaign Against Fort Duquesne. McFarland & Company, Inc., Jefferson, North Carolina.

Cubbison, Douglas R. 2014. All of Canada in the Hands of the British: General Jeffery Amherst and the 1760 Campaign to Conquer New France. University of Oklahoma Press. Norman.

Cubbison, Douglas R. 2015. On Campaign Against Fort Duquesne: The Braddock and Forbes Expeditions, 1755-1758, through the Experiences of Quartermaster Sir John St. Clair. McFarland & Company, Inc., Jefferson, North Carolina.

Doughty, Arthur George. 1901. The Siege of Quebec and the Battle of the Plains of Abraham; Volume 6: Appendix Part II. Dussalt & Prolux, Quebec.

Duncan, Francis. 1879. History of the Royal Artillery, Volume I, 3rd Edition. John Murray, London. Fortune, T. 1778. The Artilleriʃt's Companion, containing the Diʃcipline, Returns, Pay, Proviʃion, &c. of the Corps, in Field, in Forts, at Sea, &c. Forward by Adrian Caruana. Museum Restoration Service, 1992. Bloomfield, Ontario.

Henry, Chris and Brian Delf. 2002. British Napoleonic Artillery 1793 - 1815 (1): Field Artillery. Osprey Publishing Ltd. Oxford.

Henry, Chris and Brian Delf. 2004. Napoleonic Naval Armaments, 1792-1815. Osprey Publishing Ltd. Oxford.

Hughes, B.P. 1969. British Smooth-Bore Artillery. Stackpole Books, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Lavery, Brian. 1987. The Arming and Fitting of English Ships of War, 1600-1815. Conway Maritime Press. London.

Lavery, Brian. 1989. Carronades and Blomefield Guns: Developments in Naval Ordnance, 1778-1805. In: British Naval Armaments; Edited by Robert D. Smith. Royal Armouries, Conference Proceedings 1. London.

McConnell, David. 1988. British Smooth-Bore Artillery: A Technological Study to Support Identification, Acquisition, Restoration. Reproduction, and Interpretation of Artillery at National Historic Parks in Canada. Minister of Supply and Services Canada. Available Online.

Meide, Chuck. 2002. The Development and Design of Brass Ordnance, Sixteenth through Nineteenth Centuries. The College of William and Mary. Online.

Muller, John. 1768. A Treatise of Artillery. John Millan, Whitehall, London. Online. (First edition is 1757, available online as well. Not identical, notable in the Introduction).

O'Callaghan, E. B. 1858. Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of New York: Procured in Holland, England and France. Vol. X, Weed Parsons and Company, Printers, Albany. Online. Note: Some written histories will cite these documents as O'Callaghan, but most online sources will have John Romeyn Brodhead as the author per the cover page. O'Callaghan did the editing and translations from the French.

Pargellis, Stanley 1936. Military Affairs in North America, 1748-1765. "MANA". Selected Documents from the Cumberland Papers in Windsor Castle. American Historical Association, 1936. Reprinted: Archon Books, 1969. Online.

Persy, N. 1832. Elementary Treatise on the Forms of Cannon & Various Systems of Artillery. Translated for the use of the Cadets of the U.S. Military Academy from the French of Professor N. Persy of Metz. Museum Restoration Service, 1979.

Wise, Terence and Richard Hook. 1979. Artillery Equipments of the Napoleonic Wars. Osprey Press. London.

Acknowledgments

Ken Dunne and Christian Rogge for the initial version of this article