Saxon Artillery Geschwindstück

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Description

Origin

The design is indeed said to be a Saxon invention. The date of first introduction could not be ascertained. By 1728 light 2-pdrs were fielded. This we know because in that year King Augustus the Strong gave a pair of these guns as present to the King of Prussia. It was the forerunner of the 1734 introduced 3-pdrs fielded with the Obmaus machinery. The M1734 pieces had barrels with a length of 21 calibres or shot diameters. From a Prussian sourced paper on ammunition transport we also know the Saxon Geschwindstücke were drawn with limbers containing an ammunition box (German: Kastenprotze – see Archiv für die Officiere der Königlich Preußischen Artillerie und dem Ingenieur-Korps, vol. 11, Berlin 1840). It must have been among the first pieces with this new concept of ammunition transport.

The Saxon ‘Quick-Firers’ first test in battle seems to have been a rearguard action known as the Combat of Radojovaz, Serbia, Sept. 28 1737. The relation of the army’s commanding Feldmarschall Khevenhüller notes it was the Saxon Geschwindstücke in particular, that decided the action for the Imperials because of their sustained rapid (canister)-fire which had such devastating effect against the densely packed Ottoman hordes attacking and bent on capturing the Imperial army’s grand baggage (found in Streufflers Oesterreichische militätische Zeitschrift, vol. III, Vienna 1828, p. 347.)

The same pieces were also fielded during the First Silesian War (part of the War of the Austrian Succession) in the campaigns of 1741 and 1742. In 1744 new pieces were introduced with a length of only 20 shots. Furthermore, a 6-pdr Geschwindstücke was designed. As the Prussian records of captured pieces imply, only 3-pdrs were fielded in the battles of Hohenfriedberg (June 4, 1745) and Soor (Sept. 30, 1745). At the battle of Kesselsdorf (Dec. 15, 1745) 6-pdrs were also fielded. During this battle the Prussians had a taste of their performance. A good number of 6-pdrs along with heavy battery guns were deployed around the village of Kesselsdorf, the objective of the Prussian right wing attack. It is noted that the initial attack was repulsed because of the defenders' murderous canister fire. It was the mindless counter-attack of the defending Saxon grenadiers that gave the Prussians a chance for a second try. Also the attack of the Prussian left onto the Saxon held high grounds nearly ended in defeat once more because of the very deadly Saxon artillery fire.

In 1756, each Saxon infantry battalion had 2 battalion guns entitled Geschwindstücke (quick-fire pieces) - mostly 6-pdrs and a few 3-pdrs. They were served by 8 gunners and had a 4-horse team.

During the Prussian invasion of Saxony in 1756, a total of 50 6-pdrs were found with the Saxon army in its entrenched camp of Pirna. All fell into Prussian hands with the Saxon surrender. A total of 46 was found undamaged and these pieces were issued to the Saxon infantry regiments that were now incorporated into the Prussian army. It seems that too many of the original Saxon gunners preferred to leave Prussian service to enlist with the newly formed Saxon army in Hungary so that by the start of the 1757 campaign no gunners were found that knew how to serve the Geschwindstücke. From Prussian sources we know that these pieces never took to the field, the former Saxon battalions were rather equipped with Prussian 3-pdrs.

The entire construction of the Geschwindstück was certainly more costly then an ordinary cannon. This may have been the reason why the large military powers of Europe rejected its design. The fact that it was introduced in Saxony and Piemonte, two of Europes' most affluent countries, and both with only a smallish army would support this suggestion. In technical terms, it was said that any light damage suffered in action by the machinery would disable the piece.

Saxon 6-pdr Geschwindstück including General Obmaus' quick-fire aiming and loading machine – Copyright Christian Rogge

Dimensions of the “Geschwindstücke”

The above illustrations are Christian Rogge's tentative reconstruction based on a set of original scale drawing found at the Torino / Italy Museo Storico Nazionale di Artiglieria illustrating a piece called Canone alla Sassone. The museum also has a scale model. All is dated approximately 1755. Furthermore, an original Sardinian-Piemontese 1757 cast 3-pdr barrel with near similar dimensions as the illustrated Saxon 3-pdr barrel is on display at the Vienna Heeresgeschichtliches Museum (HGM). Our sources were completed by an illustration of a Prussian 1746 prototype and various scattered notice found in German publications.

Model Barrel
Weight
Barrel
Length
Barrel
Bore
Ratio
Length/Bore
Breech
Thickness
Shot
Weight
Shot
Diameter
Charge Horses
Model 1744 3-pdr n/a 145 cm 7.6 cm 20 5.45 cm n/a 7.27 cm n/a 4
Model 1744 6-pdr n/a 183 cm n/a 20 6.87 cm n/a 9.16 cm n/a 4

The raw tubes of both pieces, excluding the rise of the moulding, was a ¾ solid metal strength design proportioned 18/24 partes of the shot diameter at the barrel breech end and dropping to 7/24 at the front end of the muzzle.

The conical powder chamber allowed for a reduced powder charge without loss of energy – widely believed in this period – thus, permitting a reduction of the metal strength of the barrel.

The carriage bracket cheeks were proportioned approximately 9 shots longer than the overall length of the barrel – i.e. 21 shots including the cascabel for a total of 30 shots. The illustrated wheels have a diameter of 114 cm.

Carriages were painted black with yellow metal fittings.

Transportation of the “Geschwindstücke”

On the battlefield, wooden poles were used to lift the tail of the piece to move it. The legnth of these poles is unknown, however similar poles used bu the Prussians for the same purpose measured 9.5 feet.

Service of the “Geschwindstücke”

Each “Geschwindstück” was served by 8 gunners and had a 4-horse team.

These Saxon cannon belong to the class of the so entitled Einfallendes Geschütz (Engl. lit. ‘dropping cannon’). This entitlement derives from this guns alternate method of loading, as well as laying it anew. For loading the piece when engaged in quick-firing canister, the gunner would place the ready cartridge round into the muzzle, and with the special design of the Obmaus ‘aiming & loading machine’ replacing the wedges and centre transoms of the carriage, the barrel would be unlocked from its horizontal position and drop down rearwards till it was stopped dead by the axle-tree. With the illustrated carriage design approx 65° position. The round would now place itself automatically without the need to employ a rammer. Thereafter the barrel was pulled upwards and latched into its previous horizontal position by means of a T-handle with a rope fixed at the barrel’s rear and the gun was ready for the next discharge.

References

Acknowledgments

Christian Rogge for the research and the colour plate.