12 Important Artillery Weapons from World War One

Alex Browne

5 mins

02 Aug 2018

Artillery was the most devastating weaponry of World War One, with some bombardments lasting for days and destroying landscapes. Indeed, many of the battlefields in France and Belgium still show the pock marks of artillery fire, and farmers regularly dig up shells when ploughing fields.

The Battle of the Somme was preceded by a week-long bombardment of the German trenches by British and French artillery – during which they fired 1.7 million shells. Find out more with this audio guide on HistoryHit.TV. Listen Now

As the war progressed, the emphasis came for increasingly heavier weapons, as many field guns did insufficient damage to fortifications. The effect on soldiers was terrible – with far more being killed by artillery fire than opposing infantry.

Coming under bombardment was also a terrible mental experience, and tens of thousands of British soldiers had to be treated for shell shock. Below are 12 of the most important artillery weapons used in the war.

French 15-mm Grande Pussane Filoux Gun

BatteryFUS55thartillery155mmGPF1918

Features:

  • Length (ft/in) 29ft 7 in
  • Weight (pounds) 24640 lbs
  • Range (yards) 19650 yards
  • Rate of Fire (RPM) 2 rpm

Alarmed by a void in their artillery at the start of the war, the French adapted existing, static weapons to meet the challenges of modern warfare. The GPF was a product of this process.

Starting in late 1916 the French produced over 700 GPFs and soon were receiving requests for them from incoming American forces. It proved a reliable and effective artillery piece on the battlefields of the Western Front.

British 18-pounder (Mark I) field gun

brit-18

Features:

  • Length (ft/in) 130ft 8in
  • Weight (pounds) 2904  lbs
  • Range (yards) 7000 yards
  • Rate of Fire (RPM)  8 rpm

The standard British field-gun of the war, the 18-pounder was a general purpose gun. Originally equipped with shrapnel shells – the better to neutralize exposed infantry – they adapted to use in ‘creeping barrage’ maneuvers,  and in pre-emptive strikes before major offensives.

At the Armistice there were 3,162 18-pounders in service on the Western Front and the gun had fired approximately 99,397,670 rounds.

British 12-inch (Mark III) Railway Howitzer BL_12_inch_Mk_III_railway_howitzer_diagram

Features:

  • Length (ft/in) 41ft 2in
  • Weight (pounds) 76 tons
  • Range (yards) 14300 yards
  • Rate of Fire (RPM) 1 rpm

This gun,together with its Mark I and Mark V versions, was widely deployed on the Western Front. It was also deployed for the home defence of Great Britain.

German 10-cm (Model 1917) Field Gun German-10cm

Features:

  • Length (ft/in) 20 ft
  • Weight (pounds) 6104 lbs
  • Range (yards) 12085 yards
  • Rate of Fire (RPM) 2 rpm

This 1917 model was particularly effective as a counter-battery weapon, and was even occasionally used as an AA weapon. The German Army was forbidden from producing and possessing this gun in the terms of the Treaty of Versailles and ordered to scrap their arsenal, but some were hidden and subsequently deployed in World War Two.

Austrian 10.4-cm field gun Autstrian-10

Features:

  • Length (ft/in) 14 ft
  • Weight (pounds) 5040 lbs
  • Range (yards) 13670 yards
  • Rate of Fire (RPM) 4 rpm

The primary Austro-Hungarian artillery piece,  the 10.4 guns were handed over as reparations to Italy after the war and became one of Italy’s principal long-range weapons in World War Two.

French 370-mm mortar  

370

Features

  • Length (ft/in) 13 ft
  • Weight 30 tons
  • Range (yards) 8820
  • Rate of Fire (RPM) 0.5 RPM

The railway gun was another obvious solution to the French shortage in long-range artillery. Although the French pioneered this innovation, with the 370mm at the fore, by 1916 both sides were using them.

British 4.5-inch howitzer  Brit-4

Features:

  • Length (ft/in) 13 ft 6 in
  • Weight (pounds) 3004 lbs
  • Range (yards) 7000 yards
  • Rate of Fire (RPM) 4 rpm

The standard British Empire howitzer, 182 were available at the outset of the war and 3,177 more were produced over the next four years.

Find out about British imperialism in the Middle East before, during and after World War One in the documentary Promises and Betrayals: Britain and the Struggle for the Holy Land on HistoryHit.TV. Watch Now

After the Somme, its role was defined as “neutralising guns with gas shell, for bombarding weaker defences, enfilading communications trenches, for barrage work, especially at night, and for wire cutting in such places which the field guns could not reach.” It followed this remit strictly up to the end of the war. 

British 60-pounder field gun   brit-60

Features:

  • Length (ft/in) 21 ft 7 in
  • Weight (pounds) 11705 lbs
  • Range (yards) 10300 yards
  • Rate of Fire (RPM) 2 rpm

Used mainly for counter-battery fire, and requiring 8 to 12 horses to transport it, the 60-pounder was a heavy duty piece of kit.

British 9.2-inch (Mark I) Howitzer   

brit-9

Features:

  • Length (ft/in) 11 ft 15 in
  • Weight (pounds) 25906 lbs
  • Range (yards) 10,000 yards
  • Rate of Fire (RPM) 2 rpm

Britain’s principal counter-battery weapon, the gun initially served only on the Western Front with 36 British, one Australian and two Canadian batteries. Its role was soon expanded. 

German 10.5-cm Light Field Howitzer 1916   

german-10

Features:

  • Length (ft/in) 12 ft
  • Weight (pounds) 3036 lbs
  • Range (yards)  6250 yards
  • Rate of Fire (RPM) 4 rpm

The onset of trench warfare early in World War One increased demand for howitzers with steep angles of descent. This howitzer met that demand, for it was capable of high elevation of the barrel.

German 13-cm (Model 1913) field gun  german-13

Features:

  • Length (ft/in) 22 ft
  • Weight (pounds) 12678 lbs
  • Range (yards) 15,750 yards
  • Rate of Fire (RPM) 2 rpm

Again after the onset of trench warfare this slightly bulked-version of earlier field guns was more effective in attacking fortified positions than its predecessors.