French Artillery à la Suédoise

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Description

The pièce de 4 courte à la Suédoise 1740-1765 or the difficult beginnings of a regimental artillery

Note: in this article, all feet and inches are expressed in Paris foot (1' = 32.5 cm).

During the 1730 decade, the chevalier de Belac managed to join the artillery corps of the Swedish Army and to study the artillery system developed by marshal Cronstedt in the years 1725.

In 1735, the chevalier de Belac transmitted dimensions and drawings on this artillery system to the comte de Castéja, the French ambassador in Sweden. The latter dispatched a courier with two scale models to M. Boiteulx de Gormond, secretary general of the artillery, to inform him of the habit of the Swedish and Russian armies of placing at the head of their regiments pieces capable of firing more than 10 shots per minute, a remarkable feat for the period.

During the following years, particularly at the Ecole Royale d'Artillerie in Metz, serious thoughts were given to the regimental artillery. A certain number of memoirs were published on the subject.

Finally in 1738, the first tests were made in Metz, placing an ordinary 4-pdr piece of the Vallière system on a new carriage à la Suédoise similar to the model sent by M. de Castéja. Then in 1739, a new series of tests was realised at Croix Saint Ouen near Compiègne, some of them in presence of king Louis XV and of the cardinal. From these various tests, it appeared that the ordinary 4-pdr piece mounted on a Vallière carriage could usually fire only 5 shots per minute while, mounted on a carriage à la Suédoise, it could repeatedly fire near 10 shots per minute.

To improve firing speed, the chevalier Pelletier, instead of simply using gargousses (pre-measured powder charges in a paper envelope), used more costly French and Prussian style cartridges allowing a faster firing speed. Prussian style cartridges were made of canvas envelope coated with a sort of bitumen and containing the powder charge. A wooden bottom was affixed between to the canvas envelope and a cannonball.

Another innovation concerned the firing procedure which was now done using a fuze. This replaced the standard firing procedure where ground powder was poured into the vent-field before igniting it. Here the fuze is used instead of a slow-match. The fuze was made of a reed stalk picked at the beginning of winter. The stalk had a diameter of less than 0.67 cm to fit into the vent-field. The stalks were cut in 6.35 cm long sections, filled with a mix of ground powder, saltpetre and ground coal, then closed with étoupille (friction tube) and placed into a paper envelope.

Finally in 1740, 2 new short (1.46 m.) artillery pieces were cast at the Paris arsenal by the Sieur Sautray, commissioner general for smelting, to complete this new carriage à la Suédoise. The same year, the carriage à la Suédoise took a new orientation, quite different from the original Swedish model and of the French model designed in 1738. M. Cuisinier, captain of artillery workers at Metz built a model which was a copy of the amusette found in the artillery parks of the northern states or in the small German states. Cuisinier described this new model as follows: "this carriage is without limber, the brackets serve as shear shafts for the horse, this carriage carries with it at least 30 shots". Other changes were the adjunction of 2 chests on the wheels and the replacement of the screw by a gun-sight mechanism for the tangent scale.

This model did not please the war state secretary nor captain du Brocard. The latter would write about Cuisinier's amusett type carriage

"I think that we can have 20 or so pieces mounted on such carriage in an army, which could serve advantageously in many occasions, but the other pieces must be mounted on carriage à la française with limbers and shafts, although much lighter than actually."

This type of carriage, when mounting a 4-pdr piece with a strong recoil, was too light and too fragile. Indeed, at the same period, foreign pieces using such a carriage were limited to 1-pdr piece.

Tests were finally conclusive and the casting of 50 barrels of 4-pdr pieces “à la Suédoise” destined to equip the advanced posts of the infantry is decided and entrusted to captain of workers du Brocard.

French Brocard M1740/1756 4-pdr piece “à la Suédoise” – Copyright Christian Rogge

The manuscript kept at the Musée de l'Armée dated from 1750, gives a standard carriage “à la française” but shorter with a cartridge chest between the brackets, a pointing system with a screw and a crank-handle, the whole drawn by a limber with pintle. The adoption of this latter type of carriage is confirmed par the regulation of January 1757 – Art.2:

“The said piece “à la Suédoise” will be mounted on its carriage and a limber; it will be fitted with a chest which will contain the necessary ammunition.”
French limber for the piece “à la Suédoise” Side View – Manuscript c. 1750 from Jean-Louis Vial's collection


During the War of the Austrian Succession, the pieces remained attached to the artillery park. Their deployment was done according to the will of the commander of the army, the maréchal de Noailles or the maréchal de Saxe, they were often installed besides long 4-pdr pieces who constituted the majority of the pieces. During these campaigns, they did not give entire satisfaction and, by 1748, they seemed to have fallen in obsolescence, thus the artillery park of the Army of Flanders comprised 86 4-pdr pieces but only 10 pieces “à la Suédoise”.

In 1755, tests were made with Prussian 3-pdr pieces but the Seven Years' War broke out in 1756 and France still had no regimental piece while, at this period, the infantry of Frederick II counted 3 pieces per battalion. Also a regulation was published on January 20 1757, stipulating that:

“the king gives to each battalion of his French and foreign infantry destined to serve in campaign 1 cannon piece “à la Suédoise”, his majesty allows 1200 livres for the purchasing of 3 horses, of their harnesses, men's harnesses, carter's outfits... and 300 livres annually for remounts and maintenance. Two sergeants and 16 soldiers including 8 gunners and 8 assistant-gunners at high pay, employed at the manoeuvre of the said piece.”

The 8 gunners including 1 sergeant came from the artillery whille assistant-gunners came from the regiment. One may find excessive the presence of 16 men to manœuvre a light artillery piece, but it must be noted that its mobility on the battlefield depended on strength of arms, infantry movements imposing to advance or move back more or less rapidly while conserving the ability to shoot. We can thus reasonably assume that artillerymen were mainly charged of firing sequences while the 8 assistant-gunners served mainly to install and move the piece.

The allocation of regimental pieces was inconsistent; certain regiments having none, others only one for 2 or 3 battalions. This brought the maréchal de Belle-Isle to write in January 1758 in an agenda destined to M. de Crémille:

“It is not natural that our infantry could fight against the Prussian infantry with a disproportion of more than half. This object is of the greatest consequence”.

Gribeauval, in his reform, would not keep this regimental artillery piece still considered too heavy, not very handy and nor effective. He prefered a modification of the organisation of the artillery, creating divisions of field artillery with 8 to 10 pieces served by artilleryment thus prefiguring the artillery of the Imperial campaigns.

Dimensions of the piece “à la Suédoise”

Model Barrel
Weight
Barrel
Length
Barrel
Bore
Ratio
Length/Bore
Breech
Thickness
Shot
Weight
Shot
Diameter
Charge Horses
Model 1740 Brocard (Swedish) 325 kg 146 cm 8,4 cm 18 7,52 cm 1,8 kg 8,2 cm 0,6 kg n/a

Mouldings and ornementation were similar to those prescribed by the regulation of 1732. However, as for all preserved pieces of the Vallière system, it was very variable from one founder to another.

In theory, these pieces weighed between 294 and 318 kg.

Four pieces are preserved in Europe and more than 50 in the U.S. Among these pieces, “La Caressante” is at the Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin; while “La Divine” and “La Pie” are at the Musée de l'Armée in Paris. “La Divine” was cast in 1758 in Strasbourg by Berenger. It joined the collections of the Musée de l'Armée in 1947. “La Pie” (cast in 1756) has holes drilled around its cascable in the back; the French can not trace it further back than the 1850s. There is one more piece at the Belgian Army Museum in Brussels which showed up in catalogues in the 1860s.

Sionville in his œuvres militaires published in 1756, wrote:

“this cannon is carried by a small carriage with pintle”

One notes here that Sionville, as du Brocard advocated too, gives a carriage with poles which tends to indicate that, as in Sweden, the two types of limber were used. However, it is likely, as we have seen before, that Cuisinier's limber did not survive the War of the Austrian Succession.

The length of the carriage bracket cheeks was 5' 4” (244 cm), its wheels had a diameter of 54” (146.25 cm), the width of the French track was 3' 11” (124.3 cm), the total width of the axle was 164 cm and the transverse distance between the wheels 132 cm.

Note: the plate accompanying this article does not illustrate the wheels camber angle.

The limber with pintle had wheels measuring 87cm (measures taken on the model illustrated in the manuscript of the Musée de l'Armée gives slightly higher wheels of 96 cm), the total height of the bolster and axle was 43cm, the total length of the side pieces was 260 cm.

The piece could be pointed up and down thanks to a screw passing through a nut fixed to the brackets by a flat headed bolt and a pin. The ring of the trail-transom made it possible to move rapidly the carriage with the help of a lever.

Transportation of the piece “à la Suédoise”

Reconstruction of the French piece “à la Suédoise” Copyright RMN Musée de l'armée

On flat terrain, the cannon is fixed to a limber with shafts of the standard artillery model and needs only 3 or even 2 horses. For the transportation of the cartridges and fuzes, a small 2 wheeled caisson drawn by 2 horses was used. On the carriage, between the brackets, lay a small chest containing 55 cartridges.

Sionville in his Oeuvres Militaires published in 1756 gives a description of the technique used to move on uneven or mountainous terrain:

“One then uses mules, the low relative weight of this carriage, 160 pounds, allows a mule to carry two of them on a specially designed packsaddle. The transportation of the cannon barrel is made on a stretcher carried by 2 mules . This stretcher is constituted of 2 poles of a length of 10 feet (3,25m) and of 2 crosspieces having each a half round notch to receive the trunnions of the piece which is carried perpendicularly to the cannon breech. The crosspieces are fastened to the poles with cotter bolt, it is necessary that the crosspieces are tied with belts so that the piece is high enough for the button of the breech to be at least 18 inches (50 cm) from the ground. As for the notches to receive the trunnions, they must be made at 1 ½ inche (4 cm) below the middle of each pole because the axis of the trunnions does not correspond to the axis of the barrel of the piece. To avoid swaying, the piece is kept in place by a rope attached to the button of the breech and to the opposite arm where it is fastened by a wooden plug passed through the handles and leaning on the crosspieces. The harness of the mules is similar to the one used to transport a litière and consists of a bolster, an avaloir and a breast collar”.

Service of the piece “à la Suédoise”

For the service of the piece “à la Suédoise”, 5 men are required, this is the number of men used during the tests. However for service in the field, it is served by a sergeant and 16 soldiers.

Here are the roles for a minimal crew of 5 men:

  • at the bore: on to the right to put the cartridge, one on the left to ram the cartridge and to clean once the shot has been fired, with the sponge staff who also serves as a ramming tool;
  • at the breech: one to the left to place the fuze, he has a loading-needle to clean out the vent-field in case it gets blocked; one to the right to fire.

The fifth holds the lever to put the piece back in place as soon as it has fired.

References

Acknowledgments

Jean-Louis Vial of Nec Pluribus Impar for the initial version of this article and Christian Rogge for the colour plate.