10 Facts About World War One Artillery

Alex Browne

3 mins

02 Aug 2018

Artillery developed rapidly during World War One. The near constant shelling by all sides on the western front drove rapid innovation in the hope of attaining a decisive advantage over the enemy. For more information on particular weapons see our list of 12 of the most important artillery weapons of World War One.

1. The heaviest shell used in the war weighed 3,130 lbs

schneider-520

It was used by the 520mm French Schneider Howitzer (pictured above).

2. The guns with the longest range were the German Paris guns

paris-gun

The guns’ range was so great Parisians initially believed they were under attack from high altitude zeppelins because the gun could be neither seen nor heard at such a distance. It could fire shells up to 80 miles.

3. Most artillery was transported by horses

horse-gun

Motorised transport was still in its infancy and the majority of artillery was transported by horses throughout the war.

4. Field guns typically had a crew of 6

Tank legend David Fletcher MBE, historian of armoured warfare, and David Willey, curator of the Tank Museum, Bovington, discuss the First World War development of the tank. Why and how was the tank designed? How did it evolve over the course of the war? And what attributes were required of a Tank Man?Watch Now

The crew comprised an NCO in command; a layer, responsible for the gun’s alignment and elevation; a gunner, responsible for opening and closing the breech; and three additional crew responsible for moving the shells and setting fuses.

5. The greatest rate of fire attainable by the British was 48 rounds in 75 seconds

This rarely, if ever, occurred in practice, though at that rate it would take 13 minutes for a battery to exhaust its full supply of ammunition.

6. The war saw the widespread introduction of streamlined shells

women-munitions-world-war-one

These increased range by up to 95%. The German 7.7cm gun at the start of the war had a range of 6,000 yards this rose to 11,700 yards.

7. In March 1918 for every mile of their 50-mile trench network, the German Army had 92 field guns

German-10cm

In addition to 92 field guns like this one, they had 31 field howitzers, 14 medium howitzers, 14 heavy guns, 7 heavy howitzers and 3.5 super heavy howitzers for each mile of trench

8. In the bombardment before the Battle of Messines in May 1917 the British used 3.5 million shells

Tank legend David Fletcher MBE, historian of armoured warfare, and David Willey, curator of the Tank Museum, Bovington, discuss the First World War development of the tank. Why and how was the tank designed? How did it evolve over the course of the war? And what attributes were required of a Tank Man?Watch Now

9. The war introduced pneumatic artillery

brandt-mortar

Guns were invented which used cylinders of compressed air as propellant. Due to the difficulties of keeping them supplied with bottled carbon dioxide they did not see widespread use except for the short range French Brandt mortar, seen here with its inventor.

10. The German 24cm Flugelminenwerfer, a large mortar had to be fired from 50ft away to protect the crew

flugelminenwefer

The smaller 17 and 18cm minenwerfer were less dangerous to their crews and could be operated up close.