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With the compliments of The Barracks The Reason for the N1
General French reached the top of Coleskop on 1st January 1900. In his report to Lord
Roberts he wrote:
"About 2,000 yards west of the centre of the western face is a hill called
‘Kols Kop’, of great height, commanding the whole country for many
miles round. It stands quite isolated in the centre of a large plain."
From the top of Coleskop General French was now able to communicate with his
forces by heliograph and telegraph. Communication was possible with forces as far off
as De Aar.

Extract from a letter from Ernest Murray written from the top of Coleskop - published
in a Wick paper - John O'Groat Journal (February 1900):
(On 2nd Jan.) - "We ran a telegraph wire (insulated cable) right up
(Coleskop) and were finished 12 midday. I slept in one blanket with
another fellow who was to work an office at the bottom. Next day we
had a look round. The sight was worth the trouble. We could see the
town of Colesberg (President Kruger's birthplace), and all the Boer
laagers around it."
In January 1900, 4 Battery RFA commanded by Major Butcher was serving in South
Africa as part of General French’s Force operating around Colesberg. The British, in
comparatively small numbers were trying to hold off a numerically superior force of

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Boer’s who were too alert and substantially reinforced on the British left front to allow
successful action against them in this area.
The tour de force of the campaign was accomplished on 11th January 1900 after
Major Butcher had made a careful recce of Cole's Kop, rising to a height of 800 ft
(250m) over the plain, and decided it would be possible to get one of the guns onto the
summit from where it would be able to engage several enemy Laagers hitherto out of
range. The hill had almost perpendicular sides and the lower slopes were covered with
large boulders. It was difficult for even an active man to climb to the top of the hill, so
except for the occasional observer, Cole's Kop was unoccupied. The Boers had left it
ungarrisoned, thinking it useless either to themselves or to the enemy. They made a
very great mistake. For the mere hint that a thing is impossible fires General French to
attempt it.

With the assistance of the Royal Engineers and 50 men from the Essex Regiment an
Armstrong 15-pounder was dragged to the summit of Cole's Kop. Ropes were
attached to each side of the gun with 50 men to each rope and by pulling on the
ropes to order, the guns were successfully hauled into place, via the western face, in
three and a half hours by dint of much scientific haulage and more sinew. The Boers
themselves never equalled this extraordinary feat.

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To hoist the guns on to the hilltop was the least part of the undertaking. Guns without
ammunition are useless. To get shells on to the kopje without disaster was an
infinitely more difficult undertaking. Assistance was again sought from the Engineers
and the Essex Regiment to overcome this problem by installing a hill lift. The veldt is
not a very promising engineering shop; but Butcher was not easily beaten. Using steel
rails for standards and anything worthy the name for cable, he soon had the
framework erected. To the uprights were fixed snatchblocks over which he passed his
carrying wires. On this mountain lift he was able to send weights up to 30 lbs., thanks
to an ingenious system of pulleys. Nor was the lift altogether rustic, for a drum and
ratchet made it double-acting, so that as one load went up another was automatically
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let down. It is only fair to say that the Boers themselves were masters of the art of
haulage. How they managed to get their guns to the top of kopjes remained for long a
mystery to our men. Butcher, however, quickly taught his men to beat the enemy at
their own game, although nothing else quite so dramatic as the Coles Kop incident is
on record.

At dawn on 12th January 1900, the solitary gun opened fire on Boer Laagers one after
another, bursting shrapnel over targets hitherto considered out of range of the British
Artillery. Shelling commenced at a range of 5,100 yards, increased by the extreme
elevation to 7,000 yards.
The enemy, taken completely by surprise, was thrown into confusion, forcing them to
move back out of range of the lone gun. Initially the Boers had no idea where the fire
was coming from, for the Battery successfully synchronized the fire of the gun on the
summit of Cole’s Kop with another Battery on the plain below. On 16th January 1900 a
second 15 – Pounder was brought up to the top and put into action. A total of 3,383
rounds were fired between 12th January and 12th February 1900. Although the
physical damage caused by the guns was relatively small, the effect on morale was
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great. It surprised and imposed caution on the Boer Commander (General Schoeman)
when the situation demanded that he act boldly. It demonstrated the British Army still
maintained a fighting spirit and could devise and implement innovations and
unconventional approaches that the war would require.

The following extract comes from a letter, written by E J Murray writing to his father
in England. It gives his account of the advantage gained when the two guns opened
fire on the Boer laagers around the town:
"About a week or ten days ago we got two guns up here; it took over a
hundred men to drag them up. When we opened fire on Boer laagers
from this height there was great commotion amongst them and they
could not understand it (we were firing with smokeless powder), because
for days they did not know where it was coming from. We got up two
lyddite guns, but they don't work such wonders as we were inclined to
believe. Of course when they do get amongst them they do some
(Lyddite was a highly explosive shell, but the blast was too concentrated and failed to
make much impression against the Boers, who spread their troops out, making use of
natural cover).
As a result of this several Boer camps had to be moved out of range of the Coleskop
guns. The town was not directly shelled, because of the British residents and prisoners
housed there, yet people living in the town reported that during January and February
the streets in the town were not safe because of the bullets "flying about."
The remains of one of the 15-pounders can be seen in the Colesberg Museum. This
field-gun was kept in action until the last moments of a Boer attack and finally pushed
over the edge to save it from capture.
Major C S G Smith R A, visited Colesberg in 1989 and climbed to the top of Coleskop.
After this visit he wrote an article in the Gunner, Issue Number 222, May 1989, in
which he claimed to have found a circle of rocks that he thought could be the exact
gun position.

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Major Butcher was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his innovative idea,
energy and perseverance while at Cole's Kop. He later rose to the rank of Lt General
and was commandant of the Royal Military Academy Woolwich and Colonel
Commandant Royal Artillery. After leaving the Army he became a Member of
Parliament. He died on the 7th December 1927 and is buried in Shooters Hill
Cemetery at Woolwich.

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Boers McCracken’s
Grassy Hill Hill
Boers British

View from the top of Colesberg

14 (Cole's kop) Battery, formed originally as a Company of the Royal Irish Artillery in
1755, was transferred to 7 Battalion RA on 1 Apr 1801 as Captain Thornhill’s
Company. In 1889 it was redesignated 4 Field Battery RA, ten years later it became 4
Battery RFA and this title was retained until 1924 when it became 4 Field Battery RA.
On 16 Aug 1928 the Battery was granted the Honour Title COLE’S KOP after its action
at Cole's Kop during the Anglo Boer War. On 1 April 1946 it was placed in suspended
animation but reformed again on 23 Jan 1950 being renumbered 14 and became a
Locating Battery, serving in both 94 and 21 Locating Regiments up to 1964. After a
brief spell in suspended animation the Battery was re-formed once again, this time as
14 (COLE’S KOP) Lt AD Regt RA on 31 December 1969. Today ‘Light Air Defence'
has been dropped from its title and it serves in the 16 Regiment RA.
Every year at Colesberg, on the nearest weekend to the 11th January, the 6 LAA (Light
Anti-Aircraft) Regiment commemorate their affiliation to 14 (Coles Kop) Battery by
holding a memorial service at the base of Coleskop and thereafter climbing to the top.
Upon reaching the summit they fire their handguns. Many years back the ascent was
treated as a race (doing it in about 20 minutes) but these days, with the regulars
respecting their ages, it is ascended at a much more leisurely pace. In England the 14
(Cole's Kop) Battery celebrates “Cole's Kop Day” and send a party to Shooters Hill to
pay a visit to Major Butchers' grave.
Below is a group from the 6 LAA (Light Anti-Aircraft) Regiment contemplating the

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With the compliments of The Barracks The Reason for the N1 9

Ammunition - A tin cylinder filled with bullets of lead hardened with antimony. The 9 pr
Case case contained 110 bullets, each like the old smooth bore musket ball. It
was effective up to 350 yards and was used against infantry and cavalry at
short ranges.
Ammunition - A hollow projectile filled with a bursting charge, fitted with a fuze, and
Common designed to burst on impact (percussion) or in the air (time).
Ammunition - A shell of increased length fired with a reduced charge.
Ammunition - A thin cast iron shell, made up of rings welded together, with a hollow space
Ring (or in the centre for the bursting charge. The rings broke up into segments on
segment) explosion. It could be employed as shrapnel, case or common shell.
Ammunition - A shell with its interior filled with bullets embedded in rosin. A bursting
Shrapnel charge at the base ejected the bullets forward when detonated in the air
above the target. It was less effective when detonated on impact.
BL Breech-loading - On the introduction of quick-firing guns (QF) with brass
cartridge cases, BL came to mean only those guns where the charge was
loaded in bags. This distinction remains to this day. Both BL and QF are, in
fact, breech-loaders.
Breech The rear end of the piece (barrel) of a gun, opened to load the shell, and
charge, then closed, and locked before firing.
Direct Fire Fire directed at a target visible by the gun-layer.
Driving Band A band of soft metal around the outside of a shell near its base. It is
engaged by raised metal ridges, winding spirally up the inside (or bore) of
the piece, thus sealing off the expanding charge gasses between shell and
barrel, and imparting rotation to the shell in flight to improve range and
Carriage The wheels, axle, trail and recoil system (if any).
Elevation In simple terms it is the angle between the horizontal plane and the angular
movement of the barrel. (The maximum range of a gun is theoretically
achieved at 45° elevation.)
Fuze This ignites the bursting charge of the shell at the required moment, either
on percussion or time. In artillery usage, it is spelt 'fuze'. This is the
shortened or modern method of spelling 'fuzee', meaning a tube filled with
combustible material. 'Fuse', from the Latin 'fundo', means 'to melt', and is
used in connection with electricity, as well as with commercial explosives.
Gun Technically the gun is the barrel and breech only, and the term does not
include the carriage. However, normally the word is applied to the whole
equipment. In comparison with a howitzer, a gun is a long-barrelled
equipment firing a relatively light shell a greater distance at a higher muzzle
velocity (MV) with a lower trajectory.
Handspike The handspike has two uses – (1) to traverse the carriage by inserting it
into a socket on the end of the trail and (2) the other (unshod) end of the
handspike is used for pushing the shell firmly into the breech.
Howitzer Compared with a gun, a howitzer is a short barrelled equipment firing a
heavier shell a shorter distance at a lower MV with a higher trajectory.
Although possibly incorrectly, a gunner will normally refer to his howitzer as
'his gun'.
Indirect Fire Fire directed at a target which cannot be seen (hidden by a terrain form)
from the gun.
Laying The artillery term for aiming the gun

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Limber A two-wheeled vehicle (which carries immediate use ammunition and some
gun stores), with hook to take the eye on the trail and so convert the gun
carriage into a four-wheeled vehicle for draught or towing.
ML Muzzle loading.
Nomenclature A gun is normally referred to by the weight of its shell (e.g. 12 pr) or its
calibre (e.g. 5 in). When described as '12 pr 6 cwt', the '6 cwt' is the weight
of the gun, in the correct sense of that term.
Obturation Part of the breech mechanism which prevents the gases resulting from the
explosion of the propellant charge from escaping to the rear. Obturation in
ordnance using bagged charges is effected by means of a tallow and
asbestos pad which is squeezed by the propellant gases to expand round
the circumference of the breech face, so sealing it.
Ordnance The term “ordnance” is applied to weapons designed for the propulsion of
missiles by explosive force, and includes guns, howitzers and mortars. Any
one weapon may be referred to as a ‘piece’ of ordnance.
Piece A very old term still used in Britain for the barrel of a gun. From the term
‘pieces of ordnance’.
QF Quick-firing - Originally this indicated an equipment with both a means of
controlling recoil, and with the charge in a brass cartridge case. Later, when
all guns had recoil systems, QF only applied to guns using cartridge cases.
Quoin In some equipment, a wedge is moved backwards and forwards under the
(or wedge) breech to achieve elevation and depression.
Ranging The process of obtaining the correct range and bearing of a target by
observing trial shots and altering the elevation and bearing until a round
lands on or in the immediate vicinity of the target.
RML Rifled muzzle-loader.
rpm Rounds per minute
Tampion A wooden plug used to seal the bore at the muzzle when a gun is not in use
or in travel, in order to keep foreign matter from entering the barrel – also
referred to as a tampon.
Trail The rear portion of a gun carriage, which extends from the axle to the
ground to form a three-point base with the wheels, providing support and
countering recoil. It had a hook at the end to attach to the limber, for
Traverse To move or ‘switch’ the piece left or right relative to the carriage in azimuth
– ‘top traverse’ – or movement of the whole carriage by swinging the trail
left or right of the original line of fire.
Trunnions The projections on the gun which support it in its carriage and about which
it rotates in elevation and depression.

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Calibre 3 inch (76.2 mm)
In service 1892 - 1918 (Boer War & WWI)
Barrel length 84 inch (2,135m)
Weight of gun 7 cwt (320kg)
Weight of gun carriage packed 20 cwt 2 qtr 27 lbs. (910kg)
Weight behind gun team 37 cwt 2 qtrs 17 lbs (1,230kg)
Ammunition Shrapnel
Weight of shell 14 lbs 1 oz (6.4kg)
Elevation -5° to + 16°
Traverse nil
Muzzle velocity 1,590 feet/second (490m/second)
Range: Time-Fuze 4,100 yards (3,750m)
Range: Percussion 5,600 yards (5,135m)
Rate of fire 7-8 rounds/minute

For centuries before the Crimean War, British artillery had been equipped with cast-
iron or bronze smooth bore, muzzle-loading ordnance. During that war experiments
were carried out with 68 pounders and 8-inch guns converted into rifled ordnance on
the Lancaster principle. In this system, the bore was in a twisted or spiral ellipse, and
was oval in section. It was not a success.
Then in 1859-60 came the greatest step in progress to occur throughout the whole
course of the Royal Artillery's existence. Wrought iron, built-up, rifled breech-loading
ordnance were adopted for the first time. (The term 'built-up' means the construction
of the gun barrel by shrinking wrought iron coils on to an inner tube).

With the compliments of The Barracks The Reason for the N1 12
The genius behind this step was a Mr W. G Armstrong, a Tyneside engineer. His
principles were applied to several calibres, but in field artillery they resulted in the 12
pr Rifled Breech Loading (RBL) Armstrong gun.
This gun was used in China in 1860 and New Zealand in 1863. It saw service in South
Africa, and was used to fire the salute at Cetewayo's coronation in 1873. One now
stands in the Old Fort in Durban, and another is outside a MOTH Hall in East London.
In these early days, the greatest problem was how to close the breech. In the
Armstrong this was achieved by dropping a block of wrought iron into an opening at
the breech end of the gun. This was called the vent-piece, as it incorporated the vent
used in firing the gun. The vent-piece weighed 15 lbs for the 12 pr, and more for the
larger guns. For the latter, the excessive weight proved to be unacceptable, so a side
closing device was adopted for them.

Armstrong 12 pr 8 cwt RBL - This shows the lever for tightening the breech screw,
which is hollow to allow for loading from the rear. The carriage is wooden.

The 12 pr's vent-piece was pressed home against the chamber by screwing in a
breech screw. This was hollow to allow for the loading of the gun from the rear.
The projectile was coated with lead making it slightly larger than the bore of the gun.
On discharge, the soft coating was compressed into the many grooves of the rifling,
givingit a rotatory motion. This gave better ballistics and a greater range.
A tangent sight was also adopted for the Armstrong RBL. This system was used until
the end of the century. The carriage was wooden: and an advantage the gun had over
the smooth bore was that it was much lighter. A 12 pr SB weighed 18 cwt and a 12 pr
RBL only 8 cwt.
At this time, another inventor, Mr. J . Whitworth, introduced a similar RBL. This was
not so successful. With his gun, the breech screw had to be removed before loading.
The rifling was similar to the Lancaster system mentioned earlier, and the bore was
hexagonal. The Whitworth gun did not come up to expectations, and it never became
part of the British armament.

With the compliments of The Barracks The Reason for the N1 13
Armstrong 12 pr 8 cwt RBL - Just forward of the hollow breech screw is the vent-
piece, incorporating a right-angled vent.

British Armstrong and Whitworth guns were used in the American Civil War -- both
with some success. In spite of this, a movement now grew for a return to muzzle-
loading. This was largely because construction methods were not keeping pace with
the advances being made by scientists and inventors. There were several accidents
because of mechanical weaknesses.
An 1865 committee reported that "the breech-loading guns are far inferior to muzzle-
loading as regards simplicity of construction and cannot be compared to them in this
respect in efficiency for active service." This report established the principle that
heavier natures should be muzzle-loading with three rifling grooves only (the
Woolwich system) -- a marked departure from the Armstrong poly-groove system.
This view found favour with one veteran who said: "First of all they insisted on having
a lot of grooves in the bore of the gun. Now they are only going to have three grooves
in the bore of the gun. Please goodness they will next have no grooves at all, and we
shall get back to the good old smooth bores which did all that was necessary to beat
the Russians and smash the Mutiny."
A rifled gun was more accurate, but another veteran declared that this was no
advantage. On being told that shot from a rifled gun would fall into a much smaller
area than that from a smooth bore, he replied that this proved the superiority of the
smooth bore. "With your new-fangled gun firing at me, I have only to keep outside
that small area and I shan't be touched. But with a smooth bore firing at me, I'm not
safe anywhere!"
Tests were conducted and it was found that muzzle-loaders held their own in range
and rapidity of fire, were sufficiently accurate and, most important were much more
simple and far less costly. So the change was made, but to Rifled Muzzle Loaders
(RMLs), not to smooth bores.
The 13 pr RML was used in Egypt in 1882, but it was not very popular. It was
accurate and had a range of 4800 yards, but it had a violent recoil. 16 pounders were
also used there. With a weight behind the team of 43 cwt, they gave much trouble in
the soft sands of the desert.

With the compliments of The Barracks The Reason for the N1 14
Meanwhile developments in England were continuing, and before rearmament with
the 13 pr RML was complete, a new gun had appeared. This was the 12 pr 7 cwt, and
it was breech-loading. The experts had decided that, after all, muzzle-loading was
obsolete. By 1885, both RHA and RFA had been re-equipped.
Remembering the violent action of the 13 pr, much thought was given to controlling
recoil. This problem had become more urgent with the improved and more powerful
propellants then in use. For example, the muzzle velocity of the 13 pr RML was 1595
ft/sec; that of the 12 pr 7 cwt BL was 1710 ft/sec.
In the 12 pr 7 cwt, the axletree was connected to the trail on each side by stays in
which were strong spiral springs. The axletree itself had a small amount of play in its
seating, with a view to easing the initial recoil stresses taken by the spring stays. The
recoil was also checked by brakes on the hubs of the wheels. These were held by a
pawl and ratchet, so that they acted during recoil only, and did not prevent running up
after firing. On the move, they could be operated from the axletree seats. In some
cases, drag shoes were also used to help limit recoil.

12 pr 7 cwt BL - This gun marks the return to breech-loading, and is the
direct forerunner of the Boer War 15 pr.

The elevating gear was improved. A toothed arc operated through a worm and arc
pinion, these being connected by a friction cone which slipped on firing, thus easing
the blow on the teeth of the arc and pinion. With some Marks, a limited traverse of
four degrees was incorporated.
Sighting was also improved, and this was the first equipment to be supplied with a
telescopic sight in addition to the usual tangent scale and foresight.
Problems arose when the 12 pr 7 cwt was used in the great Indian cavalry
manoeuvres of 1891. The carriage was found to be much too complicated. The axle
traversing device, in particular, gave trouble as the dust caused the metal surfaces to
seize. In addition, with a weight behind the team of 37 cwt, it was found to be too
heavy for RHA.
A new 12 pr 6 cwt with a lighter and simpler carriage was consequently introduced for
horse artillery, at 33 cwt behind the gun team. At the same time, experience was
showing that the common shell of the 12 pr 7 cwt had little or no effect on
earthworks, and it was thought that a field gun ought to fire a shell heavier than 12
With the compliments of The Barracks The Reason for the N1 15
A committee assembled in 1892 to consider this question shortly after cordite had
been adopted. This new smokeless propellant was much more powerful than
gunpowder and provided an opportunity for adding to the weight of the shell, without
such increase demanding any very important alterations in the actual gun.
The committee, therefore, recommended that the 12 pr 7 cwt should be converted
into what was designated a 15 pr, although it actually fired a 14 lb 1 oz shell. Field
artillery were issued with the converted gun, with shrapnel as its only shell. Common
shell on the battlefield would come from the 5 in. howitzers of the RFA.
Although the 15 pr had a percussion range of 5600 yards, its effective range was only
4100 yards because of limitations in the time fuze. This was the maximum shrapnel
range. Similarly the 12 pr 6 cwt had an effective shrapnel range of only 3700 yards.
During the Boer War an improved time fuze was introduced. This increased the 15 pr's
shrapnel range from 4100 yards to 5900 yards, and the 12 pr's correspondingly.

15 pr 7 cwt BL - It should read: Mk 1* carriage, i.e. the original carriage
fitted with the axle spade and trail spring.

It will be recalled that the 7 pr RML had been given the 'Kaffraria carriage' for use in
South Africa. The 2,5 in RML 'Screw gun' had replaced the 7 pr, and thought was
given to adapting this for mobile use in this country. It was given a special limber and,
mounted on its usual carriage, trials were carried out with the gun being drawn by a
pair of cobs abreast, with pole and breast harness, and driver mounted.
Officers, Numbers One, trumpeters, etc., were mounted, but the detachments had to
walk. It was found that the gun was prone to capsize, but it was easily turned right
side up again, and no harm was done. The battery did not possess the mobility of a
normal field battery, nor of a pack battery armed with the same gun in difficult terrain.
Short trots were indulged in when coming into action, with the detachment doubling
behind. The comments of the detachment can be imagined! The experiment was not a
Later the 2,5 in. RML was given a field carriage, and it was used in South Africa. Some
local units were in action with this equipment in 1899, and examples are to be found
at Fort Klapperkop near Pretoria. It was not widely used during the war, as it was
completely outclassed by Boer artillery. (Photographs of both 7 pr and 2,5 in. RML on
With the compliments of The Barracks The Reason for the N1 16
field carriages can be found in 'Guns in South Africa' in Vol.2, No 1 of the Military
History Journal).
To return to the 15 pr -- this gun retained the main features of the 12 pr 7 cwt's recoil
system. Elevation saw a return to the elevating screw system. Later a 15 pr carriage
with a buffer recoil system was introduced. This only allowed a short recoil of four
inches, and did little to relieve the problem.
Then came the idea of the axle spade. This spade was connected to a spring in the
trail, and so limited the rearward movement of the complete gun and carriage when
the gun was fired, but it resulted in a considerable jump. Most guns used in the South
African War had these spades.
Several Marks of 15 pr followed. The hydraulic buffer was discarded, and
improvements were made to the strength of the carriage and to the brakes. The
authorities adhered to the 'one shell, one fuze' principle, and for some time to come,
the British Army's field gun had only the shrapnel shell. The 5 in. howitzer, adopted in
1896, provided the high explosive aspect, and it was on this principle that it had been
introduced. Operations in South Africa were beginning to show that this was not a
wise decision.
This account has already illustrated that no gun lasted long at this time of continuing
development. It was then found that the continental weapons being used by the Boers
were superior to those of Britain's field artillery. Comparatively, the 15 pr had a slow
rate of firing, a poor recoil system, a light shell and a short range.
The field gun of the British Army in the South African War of 1899-1902 was the 15 pr
7 cwt BL. In 1914, the RFA was equipped with the 18 pr QF. This Part describes the
developments between the two wars which resulted in this re-equipment.
While the 15 pr was in action in South Africa, steps were being taken to find a
successor. In fact, the story begins just before the war started. The principle of 'quick
firing' had already been applied to heavy naval and fortress armaments, and it was
obvious that it would soon be extended to field guns - but there were problems. In
the case of fixed artillery, there was no limit to the weight of the mounting. Obviously,
this was not the case with field artillery.
Yet the ability to 'quick fire' was becoming vital. Shell weight was too light, and yet
the answer was not simply to increase this weight. A heavier shell meant a heavier
gun, and there were limits to such increases. An excessive increase in weight behind
the gun team would result in too great a decrease in mobility.
If the shell weight could not be increased, the alternative was to increase the rate of
fire without appreciably increasing the weight of the gun. This required an efficient
recoil system. Gunmaking firms were continually claiming to have found the solution
to this problem. Many designs were produced, and some were sold to minor powers.
A good example was the 75 mm Creusot QF of 1896-97 which was used by the Boers
in South Africa. Although this gun was the most technically advanced of its type in
South Africa, it was by no means perfect. It had a buffer and recuperator, assisted by
a trail spade and spring, but the recoil was too short (11.5 ins) and too violent, and
the gun was often in need of repair.
Nevertheless this gun was the forerunner of the famous French 75 of the First World
War. This model had its d‚but in the manoeuvres of 1900. The French guarded their
new gun well, and it was to be some years before the new 75s were seen at practice
and more before their secrets were disclosed.

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At this point, General Sir Henry Brackenbury enters the scene. In October 1899 he
was appointed Director-General of Ordnance. It was his task to ensure that the British
Army had the best possible guns. Although war was then in progress in South Africa,
the greater danger lay in a possible European war. It was vital that the RFA should
have a gun equal to those in use in the French and German armies.
Brackenbury immediately surveyed the position and, in January 1900, he submitted
his report. This did not deal simply with the need for a new field gun, but also for
reserves of guns and mountings for coast batteries; the completion of the siege train;
and the provision of reserves of guns, carriages and ammunition for the field artillery.
His report recommended that guns of an improved pattern should be produced
Meanwhile the war in South Africa soon showed that ordnance factories alone could
not supply all the needs of ammunition, etc., and that 'the Trade' was not organised
to assist in a national war effort. Brackenbury's report covered this problem as well,
and steps were taken to rectify the situation. These measures were to be appreciated
when the two World Wars drew on the complete industrial effort of the nation. Credit
for the early appreciation of this problem can be given to Sir Henry Brackenbury.
His report was accepted and its urgency appreciated. He realised that no new gun was
readily available in Britain, so he promptly sent experts to the continent to see what
guns were available for immediate purchase. The answer lay in an engineering firm at
Dusseldorf- known as the 'Rheinische Metallwaaren und Maschinenfabriek'. There a
clever engineer, Herr Ehrhardt, demonstrated a 15 pr in which the whole of the recoil
was taken up by a top carriage, so that the carriage itself remained absolutely steady
when the gun was fired.
It was shown that a coin placed on the tyre of the wheel was not shaken off on firing.
An order was given for the complete equipment for the field artillery of an army corps,
with three batteries for reserve - eighteen batteries in all, with their ammunition and
other wagons, spare parts and stores. The negotiations for the purchase of the
'Ehrhardt guns' had to be carried out in absolute secrecy. All the equipment was
packed in cases marked 'Machinery and Explosives'. Arrangements were made for
Customs examinations to be dispensed with. Only half a dozen key men in all were
aware of the transaction.
Not until the last case had been received was the secret revealed, by which time a
great mass of packing cases had arrived at Woolwich Arsenal. They contained:

Guns - mounted on their carriages 108
Limbers 275
Ammunition wagons 162
Forge, store, etc. wagons 54
Ammunition - complete rounds 54, 000

The 'Ehrhardt gun' had a calibre of 3 ins and, although it fired a 14.3 lb shell, was
known as the 15 pr QF.
MV was 1640 ft/sec, with a range of 7,000 yards and a time fuze range of 6,600
yards. Weight behind the gun team was 35 cwt. This was 2 cwt less than the 15 pr BL
on the Mk I carriage.

With the compliments of The Barracks The Reason for the N1 18
The gun had a telescopic trail, and upper and lower carriages fitted with a
hydraulic/spring buffer which allowed a recoil of about 47 ins - the famous 'long
recoil'. For the first time in the British service, the layer could remain on his seat when
the gun was fired. The sights were on non-recoiling parts, so re-laying could begin
while the gun was still recoiling. Compared to the 15 pr BL's rate of fire, the 'Ehrhardt
gun' could achieve about 20 rpm. There were several versions of the gun and, among
others, the Norwegian Army bought a number.
Although there were some complaints about details of the design, which were
different from those in normal British equipments, it was obvious to all that these
were real 'quick firers'. Brackenbury had provided much needed stop-gap equipment
but British design must now come up to date.
The 'Ehrhardt gun' was so successful that the Cabinet immediately accepted the
necessity for rearming horse and field artillery. This was considered so urgent that
Lord Roberts was directed to send back selected artillery commanders from South
Africa to form an Equipment Committee for this task; this in spite of the fact that
hostilities were in progress. In addition a questionnaire on the subject was sent to a
large number of officers in South Africa. At the same time, many designs of British,
Continental and American guns were studied.
The most promising of these were selected for manufacture, and the specimen guns
were tried in 1902. Although all were 'quick firers', none was completely satisfactory.
It was then decided to take an unprecedented step - to combine Vickers recoil
arrangements with Armstrong guns and the ordnance factories' sighting and elevating
gear and method of carrying ammunition. Problems of manufacture were overcome
and, in 1903, four batteries were ready for trials.
These trials were successful and a decision was made to accept the new equipments -
an 18 pr for field and a 13 pr for horse artillery. There then arose a controversy as to
whether both guns should be adopted. Some felt that the 18 pr was not sufficiently
superior to the 13 pr to warrant the manufacture of both. More trials followed, and a
recommendation was made that one gun only should be adopted - the 13 pr firing a
14.5 lb shell.
The argument raged on, until finally it was left to the Prime Minister to make a
decision. Mr. Balfour agreed with the committee's original view that there should be
both 13 and 18 prs; and that was that.
Had it not been for Mr. Balfour, the British Army would have entered World War I with
the 13 pr only, firing the 14.5 lb shell. It is interesting to note that the 18 pr fired
more than 100 million rounds during the war, compared with only 1.5 million rounds
by the 13 pr.
Unfortunately the acceptance of the committee's recommendations did not mean that
the construction of the gun would start straight away. Designing guns was one thing;
but finding the money for them was another. It was only after a public outcry, with
special articles appearing in The Times, and cartoons in Punch, that the orders were
placed. Delays continued, and it was not until after the Moroccan Crisis of 1906 that
finally a cavalry division and six infantry divisions were re-equipped, and good
progress was made with re-equipping the Indian Army.
The new 18 pr was a good gun, incorporating all the lessons recently learned. It had a
long recoil of 41 ins resulting in a steady carriage, which allowed the detachment to
remain on or behind the gun all the time. This was the first gun in the British service
with a shield. This was fitted mainly for protection against the effects of enemy
shrapnel, and also for protection against rifle-fire. The provision of a shield resulted in
some derogatory comment in the Press.
With the compliments of The Barracks The Reason for the N1 19
In the same way, when guns in India were painted khaki for the first time for the
cavalry manoeuvres of 1891, this was deplored by the press. They considered that
'hiding the guns' was not in keeping with the traditions of the RHA, and bound to have
a bad effect on morale!
As gun positions were no longer chosen in the open in full view of the enemy, more
sophisticated laying systems were required. Dial sights were introduced and it was no
longer necessary to remove sights before firing, as had been the case with the 15 pr.
Axletree seats were removed. These seats and their loads were a source of extra
weight which could be dispensed with. Wheels, which had always before been 5 ft in
diameter, were reduced to 4 ft 8 ins. The 'Ehrhardt gun's' smaller wheels had
demonstrated that no ill effects would result from this change.
The gun itself was a 3.3 in calibre piece of wire-wound steel with two guide ribs along
nearly the whole of its length, one on either side. It was found that wire-wound
construction was lighter than built-up, and relatively stronger; in addition manufacture
was considerably cheaper.
The pole trail restricted elevation to 16 deg., and the range to 6 525 yards. In 1914
shrapnel only was available but, by the end of that year, there was an HE shell as
well. As a top carriage had been introduced for recoil purposes, a traverse gear was
incorporated. This allowed 4 deg. left and right. Finally, the gun had a high rate of fire
- about 20 rpm. There were some drawbacks in such a performance, and the gun had
to be relaid after each round.
The Mark I had a hydraulic buffer and spring recuperator. The Mk II appeared just
before the war with a compressed air recuperator, but in appearance it was similar to
the Mk I. Most of the 18 prs in action during the war were Mk IIs. There were further
developments throughout the war, and Mk Ills and IVs also saw service. More 18 prs
were produced than any other British gun, before or since.
To go back to 1905 - the RFA still had large numbers of 15 prs. Although the Regular
Army was soon to re-equip with the 18 pr, it would be some time before both Reserve
and Colonial Armies would receive the gun. It was, therefore, decided to bring the old
15 prs up to date and to equip the Territorial Army with them.
This was done by fitting the Mk IV carriage for long recoil. The piece was suspended
by guide blocks from the guides of a ring cradle. This cradle had cross trunnions which
were directly supported by the trail brackets. The gun was traversed by shifting the
point of the trail laterally along the spade which remained fixed in the ground. A shield
was fitted as the improved recoil system enabled the detachment to remain on the
gun when it was fired. The axle spade and trail spring were removed. The ammunition
was the same as that fired by the Boer War 15 pr, but the ordnance itself was of a
later Mark, as also was the single action breech mechanism.
The new version was known as the 15 pr BLC (BL Converted) and was issued to the
Territorial Army in 1909. It also went to the Colonial forces, and examples appeared in
South Africa. Although it was used in South West Africa, it played no significant role in
World War I.
By 1914, therefore, the RFA had been re-equipped with the 18 pr. With this gun it
fought the war and, with various modifications, this was the gun with which it served
right up until the start of the Second World War.

With the compliments of The Barracks The Reason for the N1 20
Weight Weight MV Year
Type Calibre Ammo. Range(yards) behind
of gun of shell (ft/sec) adopted

15 pr BL 7 cwt 3 in 14 lb 1 oz Shrapnel 1574 5900 37 1895

QF 737 lbs 3 in 14 lb 5 oz Shrapnel 1640 6600 35 1900
15 pr

18 pr QF 9 cwt 3.3 in 18 lb 8 oz 1615 6525 40 1906

15 pr BLC 7 cwt 3 in 14 lb 1 oz Shrapnel 1590 5750 - 1909

The Mk I carriage was not fitted with an axle spade and trail-spring. Recoil was
controlled by drag-shoes. These were placed under the wheels, and were connected
by chains and cables to the wheel hubs and the trail.
The Mk II carriage followed. This had the same drag-shoe system, but in addition, had
a hydraulic buffer. This only allowed a short recoil, and was not successful.
The axle-spade and trail-spring were then adopted. Mk I and II carriages fitted with
these were known as Mk 1* and Mk II*. The latter retained the hydraulic buffer.
Other marks of carriage followed, all with axle-spades, but without buffers.
The axle-spade finally went out of service with the introduction of the 15 pr BLC,
described elsewhere in this number. This gun had an efficient buffer and a spade on
the end of the trail, so the axle-spade and trail-spring were no longer necessary.
1. Details vary from source to source. These are drawn from Headlam's 'History of the
Royal Artillery' and 'List of Service Rifled Ordnance. 1881. No.16'.
2. Ranges vary between types of shell. Those quoted here are shrapnel ranges.3.
Years of adoption are approximate as the distinction between acceptance of a new
equipment, and issue to batteries, is difficult to define.
The 15 pr 7 cwt BL was the standard field gun of the British Army during the Boer War
of 1899 to 1902. Consequently there were more 15 prs (about 300) in service in South
Africa during the war, than any other gun.

15 pr 7 cwt BL on Mk III carriage - the operation of the axle spade is clearly illustrated

Experience had shown that the 12 pr 7 cwt shell had little effect on earthworks. It
was, therefore, converted to a 15 pr (although the shell in fact only weighed just over
With the compliments of The Barracks The Reason for the N1 21
14 lbs). In 1895, this became the gun of the RFA. This conversion was possible as the
new smokeless propellant, Cordite, was much more powerful than gunpowder. It
provided an opportunity for adding to the weight of the shell without necessitating any
major alterations to the gun.

15 pr 7 cwt BL on Mk III carriage - note the tangent sight mounted above the breech,
and the elevating screw. This method of elevation had been in use for over 200 years.

At the same time, the cry of 'one shell, one fuze' resulted in the 15 pr only receiving
the shrapnel shell. The shortburning time-fuze was a major disadvantage in South
Africa. Being frequently outranged by Boer artillery, there were many instances where
RFA had to move forward under fire in order to be able to engage the enemy with air-
burst shrapnel. Later, the new 'Blue Fuze' (Fuze 57) increased this range to 5,900
The 15 pr was also notable for the axle-spade system of controlling carriage recoil.
The spade was connected by a rope stay to a strong spring in the trail. The recoil of
the carriage caused the spade to dig into the ground, and the stay then prevented any
movement of the carriage except that permitted by the compression of the spring.
This spring housing was a distinctive feature of the 15 pr. However, batteries arriving
from India had not yet had this modification applied to their guns.
The majority of batteries had the Mk I carriage; four had Mk II and three Mk III

With the compliments of The Barracks The Reason for the N1 22
15 pr 7 cwt BL - these are guns of 21 Battery RFA arriving in Durban from India. Axle
spades and trail springs had not been fitted to guns arriving from that country. This
Battery served in Ladysmith during the siege.

It is important that a student of the military history of this period should have some
idea of the 15 pr’s ammunition, as its performance was a significant factor in the
outcome of every battle of the war.
There is another important reason for studying the ammunition of any gun. It is not
the gun which causes casualties, but the shell. The organization, training and
equipment of an artillery unit have but one aim — to place shells on an enemy
position in such a way as to cause the maximum casualties and damage to the enemy.
The 15 pr’s main shell was shrapnel; but there was also case shot, for use at very
short range against targets such as enemy infantry. The functioning of the 15 pr shell
is described in this article. An explanation is also given of the method of firing the gun.
The article consists of the following parts:
1. T-friction tube.
2. Cartridge, BL, 15 pr.
3. Fuze, time and percussion, No 56.
4. Shell, BL, shrapnel, 15 pr.
5. Shot, BL, case, 15 pr.
In nearly all cases, the 15 prs in service in South Africa were fitted with the Mark I
gun. In this context, the term ‘gun’ refers to the barrel from muzzle to breech screw.
The gun was mounted on a carriage, but the carriage is not relevant to this article, so
no further mention will be made of it.
The 15 pr was a breech loading equipment. To load, the breech screw was opened, a
shell and cartridge inserted, and the breech screw closed.

With the compliments of The Barracks The Reason for the N1 23
To fire the gun, it was necessary to cause a flash to be passed into the chamber in
order to ignite the cartridge, and so propel the shell from the gun. In the case of the
15 pr Mk I gun, this came from a friction tube.

With the compliments of The Barracks The Reason for the N1 24
Part 1
T-friction tube

As the name implies, the T-friction tube was shaped like a T, with the head of the T
and its stem both being about 4,8 cm (1,9 inches) in length.
After loading the gun, the T-friction tube was placed in the T-vent. This was a hole in
the upper surface of the gun just forward of the breech screw. A locking device
secured the tube in this vent. A lanyard was attached to a loop in the head of the T.
On the order to fire, the loop was pulled, drawing the friction wire sharply out of its
socket. The resulting flash passed vertically downwards, so igniting the pellet powder,
which in turn flashed into the chamber.
Gases trying to escape upwards drove the soft copper ball into the cone seating, thus
preventing the escape of gas through the head and, by expanding the body of the
stem, also preventing any escape of gas between it and the vent. The flash ignited the
The T—friction tube was then removed and discarded. As one was used for every
round fired, a pile of friction tubes would build up next to each gun. The discovery of
old friction tubes therefore provides conclusive evidence of the location of a gun
T—friction tubes were packed ten to a square tin box. These were also discarded
when empty. The remains of these can sometimes be found on old gun positions.

With the compliments of The Barracks The Reason for the N1 25
Part 2
Cartridge, BL, 15 pr

The same cartridge could also be used with the later model 15 pr BLC.

The cartridge was loaded into the chamber of the gun, behind the shell. On ignition, it
exploded and propelled the shell from the barrel.
The 15 pr cartridge was composed of cordite and was contained in a cloth bag. It was
adopted for use by the Services in 1891 in place of gun powder.
Cordite is a family of smokeless propellants developed and produced in the United
Kingdom from 1889 to replace gunpowder as a military propellant. Cordite was used
for large weapons, such as tank guns, artillery and naval guns. It was also used in the
.303 British, Mark I and II, standard rifle cartridge between 1891 and 1915; however
shortages of cordite in World War I led to US-developed smokeless powders being
imported into the UK for use in rifle cartridges.
Cordite has been used since World War I by the UK and British Commonwealth
countries. Its use was further developed in the early years of World War II, as 2 inch
and 3-inch diameter Unrotated Projectiles for launching anti-aircraft weapons. Small
Cordite rocket charges were also developed for ejector seats made by the Martin-
Baker Company.
Cordite is now obsolete and it is no longer produced. Production ceased in the United
Kingdom, around the end of the 20th century, with the closure of the last World War
II Cordite factory, ROF Bishopton. However, Cordite propellant may still be
encountered in the form of legacy ammunition dating from World War II onwards.
With the compliments of The Barracks The Reason for the N1 26
Development of cordite
A United Kingdom government committee, known as the "Explosives Committee",
chaired by Sir Frederick Abel, monitored foreign developments in explosives and
obtained samples of Poudre B and Ballistite. However, neither of these smokeless
powders were recommended for adoption by the Explosives Committee.
Abel and Sir James Dewar, who was also on the committee, developed and jointly
patented in 1889 a new propellant consisting of 58% nitroglycerine, by weight, 37%
guncotton and 5% vaseline. Using acetone as a solvent, it was extruded as spaghetti-
like rods initially called "cord powder" or "the Committee's modification of Ballistite"
but this was swiftly abbreviated to "Cordite".
Cordite began as a double-base propellant and later triple-base cordites were
developed. Cordite was made by combining two high explosives: nitrocellulose and
nitroglycerine. Whilst Cordite is classified as an explosive, it is not employed as a high
explosive. It is designed to deflagrate, or burn, to produce high pressure gases.
Nobel and Abel patent dispute
Nobel sued Abel and Dewar over an alleged patent infringement. His patent specified
that the nitrocellulose should be "of the well-known soluble kind". This dispute
eventually reached the House of Lords, in 1895, but lost because the words "of the
well-known soluble kind" in his patent were taken to mean the soluble collodion and
hence specifically excluded the insoluble guncotton.
Cordite formulations

An 80 year old 4" round brass cartridge case filled with cordite as found on sea bed.
It was quickly discovered that the rate of burning could be varied by altering the
surface area of the cordite. Narrow rods were used in small-arms and gave relatively
fast burning, while thicker rods would burn more slowly and were used for longer
barrels such as those used in artillery and naval guns.
Cordite (Mk I) and Cordite MD
The original Abel-Dewar formulation was soon superseded as it caused excessive gun
barrel erosion. It has since become known as Cordite Mk I.

With the compliments of The Barracks The Reason for the N1 27
The composition of Cordite was changed to 65% guncotton and 30% nitroglycerine
(keeping 5% vaseline) shortly after the end of the Second Boer War. This was known
as Cordite MD (= MoDified). Cordite MD is also obsolete.
As described previously, the T—friction tube sent a flash down the vent to ignite the
cartridge. With the cordite enclosed in a cloth bag, an igniter of some sort was
required. For this purpose, guncotton yarn was wound round the base of the
cartridge. This was ignited by the flash, and it then caused the explosion of the

With the compliments of The Barracks The Reason for the N1 28
Part 3
Fuze, time and percussion, No. 56

The functioning of the fuze preceded that of the shell, so the fuze will be described
The 15 pr shell’s fuze was a ‘nitric acid percussion’ type. This meant it could be set
either to go off in the air (when the effect was known as ‘time shrapnel’), or on impact
with the ground (known as ‘percussion shrapnel’). As shrapnel was most efficient
when exploded in the air, the nitric aspect was the most important. Unfortunately the
fuze’s time scale was shorter than the shell’s time of flight at maximum range. This
meant that the fuze could be set to burst at ranges up to 3 750m (4100 yards), but
from there to 5 120m (5600 yards), it could only explode the shell on impact. This
drawback severely curtailed the effectiveness of the 15 pr, and it frequently required
the gun to be brought forward under fire to within time shrapnel range of 3750m (4
100 yards).
In order to set the fuze, the nut at the top was loosened, using the Universal Fuze
Key, or the socket provided on the trail of the gun. The graduated ring was moved to
the fuze length ordered, and the nut retightened. Both safety pins were then
removed, the shell loaded and fired.
The shock of firing caused ‘set-back’. i.e., the effect, of ‘leaving moving parts behind',
as the shell suddenly set off up the barrel.
The removal of the upper safety pin freed the steel needle on the left of the diagram.
Set-back caused the needle to be driven into the detonating composition. The mealed
powder then started burning round the time ring, the fuze setting controlling the
amount which actually had to burn. On completion of this action, a powder pellet was
detonated, and the resulting flash passed downwards through various channels into
the body of the shell.
Earlier it was mentioned that both safety-pins were removed. This was to ensure that
the percussion mechanism of the fuze would operate on impact, if the time
mechanism malfunctioned. If the shell were specifically required to burst on impact as

With the compliments of The Barracks The Reason for the N1 29
percussion shrapnel, the upper time safety pin was left in, and only the lower
percussion safety pin was removed. It was necessary to leave the upper safety pin, as
otherwise the time fuze action would automatically start when the gun was fired.
The removal of the lower safety pin released a metal plug. On set-back, this plug
moved to the bottom of its shaft. Centrifugal force, caused by the rotation of the shell,
then threw the metal ball outwards in to this shaft. The removal of this ball then freed
the steel needle alongside it. On impact, this was driven into the upper detonator and,
as before, the resulting flash passed downwards into the shell.
Later in the war, a new fuze, No. 57, was introduced. This was known as the ‘blue
fuze’ from the colour it was painted. It had a slower burning composition effective up
to 5 313m (5 800 yards).

With the compliments of The Barracks The Reason for the N1 30
Part 4
Shell, BL, shrapnel, 15 pr.

The letters F.S. mean 'Forged Steel'. Earlier marks had 35 shrapnel bullets to the lb.

In 1784, Lieutenant Henry Shrapnel of the Royal Artillery invented a ‘spherical case
shot’. This was a circular projectile, filled with musket balls or the equivalent, and
detonated by a time fire. It was first used in battle in 1804, against the Dutch at the
Battle of Fort Amsterdam, Surinam, in South America. In 1852, ten years after the
death of the inventor, orders were given that such shells were to be called ‘shrapnel
shells’ in his honour.
Improvements in gunnery led to changes in shell design, and the shape changed to
that well-known today. In its new form, shrapnel remained in service until and
including World War I.
Not all guns in 1899 fired shrapnel. The 5 inch (12,7cm), howitzer for example, fired
common shell. This was filled with lyddite and burst on impact. Lyddite was followed
by TNT, and shells became known as high explosive, or HE. The improved
fragmentation effect of these HE shells made them more effective than shrapnel which
slowly disappeared from the scene. Like shrapnel, they could also be burst in the air

With the compliments of The Barracks The Reason for the N1 31
or on the ground. Strictly speaking, references to ‘shrapnel’ today should be
references to ‘shell fragments’ instead.
There was a copper driving band round the outside of the base of the 15 pr shrapnel
shell. This was forced into the rifling grooves in the barrel of the gun on firing, giving
the shell its rotating movement. The shell was filled with metal bullets - 41 to the lb
(0.45 kg), 200 in all, packed in resin. The fuze was screwed into a threaded fuze hole
in the nose. Brass screws held this nose-cap in position. On detonation, it was blown
After the fuze acted as described in Part 3, the flash passed down the centre of the
shell to the bursting charge in the tin cup at the base. This exploded, driving forward
the steel disc and shearing the nose-cap off the shell to allow the shrapnel bullets to
be thrown forward on to the target.
The resin was ignited by this explosion, and gave a puff of white smoke at the point of
burst. This was useful for the Battery Commander observing the fire, enabling him to
give the necessary corrections.
The bursting charge which achieved this, consisted of 1½ oz (42,5 g) of RFG (rifle
fine-grained powder).
It was obviously important to burst the shell at the correct distance short of the
target, and at the correct height above the ground. On bursting, the shrapnel bullets
were thrown forward along the line of the trajectory of the shell, in a conical shower.
The greater the distance that the shell burst short of the target, the greater was the
dispersion of shrapnel bullets. The rough rule was that the spread of bullets was one
fifth of the distance short of the target, i.e., the spread at 45m (50 yards) was 9m (10
yards), at 180m (200 yards) it was 36m (40 yards).
The amount of dispersion also depended on the velocity of the shell at burst. As this
velocity decreased with range, the velocity of rotation of the shell had more effect —
and the cone of dispersion was greater.
The striking velocity of the bullets also fell off as range increased — so at long
distances it was necessary to burst the shell closer to the target than at short
distances. For example, up to 900m (1 010 yards), the burst could be 80m (90 yards)
short; up to 1 800m (2 000 yards), 63m (70 yards) short; up to 2 700m (3 000 yards),
45m (50 yards) short; and up to 3 600m (4 000 yards), 36m (40 yards) short.
It was impossible to judge at the gun position how far a shell bursting in the air was
short of the target. However, as height of burst could be judged, it was possible to
make a rule to cope with this problem. This stated that the height of burst in feet
should be two-thirds of the range in hundreds of yards. In other words, 5m at 2 195m
(l6ft at 2 400 yards); and 8m at 3 565m (26ft at 3 900 yards).
This was the theory. The nature of the ground, the type and size of the target, the
weather conditions, etc, all affected the issue. The actual fuze length and point of
burst were usually decided by ranging, which was observed by the Battery
Commander. He ordered corrections until he was satisfied, and his experience was a
most important factor.
Time shrapnel was used against troops in the open; where there was no overhead
cover; or as a ranging projectile against balloons. Percussion shrapnel was ordered
when there was no time to set fuzes; for ranging; against troops in buildings or
behind walls, or when out of time shrapnel range.
When the shell burst on impact as percussion shrapnel, it still had a shrapnel effect.
After graze, or contact with the ground, the shell had an ascending angle, but the

With the compliments of The Barracks The Reason for the N1 32
velocity was considerably decreased by the impact. It was, therefore, necessary to
land the shell very close to the foot of the target, otherwise the cone of shrapnel
bullets passed over the top and landed in a shower some 229m (250 yards) further
To be at all effective against a house or a wall, the round had to be landed close up
against the wall. But, in practice, percussion shrapnel was not very successful. If the
ground were soft, the shell would bury itself, and the explosion of the bursting charge
would produce nothing more than a mangled shell casing and a negligible lethal
effect. Where possible, 15 prs were brought unto action within time shrapnel range.
Fragments of shell casing picked up on South African battlefields are normally from
common shell fired from such guns as 5 inch (12,7 cm) howitzers, 5 inch (12,7 cm)
guns, etc. In the case of common shells, the lethal effect was caused by the
fragments of shell casing thrown out violently on the explosion of the shell. No
shrapnel bullets were involved.
No doubt by now all 15 pr shell casings have been picked up. These would normally
have been intact except for the nose-caps. There should still be a number of shrapnel
bullets lying about. Unfortunately for the souvenir hunter, most will now be covered
by earth or vegetation and will be difficult to find. The enthusiast may find pieces of
the tin cylinder which enclosed the shrapnel bullets in the shell. This was perforated
with holes 2,28 cm (0,9 inches) in diameter.

With the compliments of The Barracks The Reason for the N1 33
Part 5
Shot, BL, case, 15 pr

Note that this projectile could be used in both 12 and 15 prs.

This projectile was used in emergencies to prevent guns being overrun. It was like a
shot-gun cartridge. It consisted simply of a flat-topped cylinder, filled with 290 metal
bullets with a bursting charge at the base.
Case shot was loaded and fired in the same way as shrapnel. It broke up at the
muzzle and the bullets had a considerable spread. It was used at close range against
troops, and was effective up to 275m to 365m (300 to 400 yards). The lateral spread
was 14,23 and 37 metres at 90, 180 and 275 metres (15,25 and 40 yards at 100, 200
and 300 yards).
The great advantage of case was that, it required no preparation, and its large
number of bullets was spread very widely. If all case were expended, shrapnel could
be used set at Fuze 0. (With muzzle loading guns in such emergencies, shrapnel was
loaded reversed, without fuze or plug.)

Two instances were recorded of case shot being used in the war. Two guns of Q
Battery RHA, used case at Zilikat’s Nek on 11th July, 1900; and two guns of 75th
With the compliments of The Barracks The Reason for the N1 34
Battery, RFA used case in a gallant defence at Buffelspoort on 3rd December, 1900,
when a British convoy was overrun.

Operation of the 15-pounder ∗

The 15 pounder BL was fixed on its carriage and recoil was checked by a spade
attachment which consisted of a spade-shaped, toothed blade, suspended under the
axle by a telescopic spring case, hinged to a bracket fitted to the underside of the
carriage below the axle-tree. The blade was also attached by a steel wire rope to
another spring case fixed obliquely between the side brackets near the trail eye.
When not in use the spade would be raised under the trail and secured by a clip.
When in action the spade was released and dropped to the ground slightly in rear of
the axle. On firing the axle-spade dug into the ground and absorbed much of the
recoil, some of which was also taken up by the spring case which returned the carrage
to somewhere near its original position. Not surprisingly the 15 pounder in action was
a lively gun and serving it was an arduous task. The gun detachment stood away from
it on firing due to its movement.
The back-sight was a T-shaped attachment with a range marked on the upright
portion and deflection on the cross-piece. There was also a ‘Scott’ pattern telescopic
sight fitting on a bracket on the trunnion and a clinometer was also available for
indirect firing. Both forms of sight had to be removed before the gun was fired to
avoid damage from the shock of the recoil.
Many field artillery batteries in South Africa later learned the value of firing from
behind cover and began using Gunners Arc, developed by Major Gordon – a strip of
wood, 26 inches long and graduated in half-degrees fro 0° to 25°, right and left.
‘Ordnance 15 pounder 7cwt. BL on Mk.1 Carriage’ as it was more officially known fired
a 14 pound shrapnel shell fitted with a No. 56 fuze which could be set to burst either
on percussion (known as percussion shrapnel) or in the air (known as time shrapnel).
The latter was the most efficient and more usually employed. Case shot was also
carried. This was essentially a close-quarter projectile consisting of an envelope
containing mixed metal balls, the envelope weak enough to break up at the muzzle of
the gun and release the bullets, but strong enough not to break up in the bore on
‘Shot, BL, case, 15 pounder Mk. V’ had a body of tin in one piece, lap jointed and
soldered, with a base of forged steel. It had a copper driving band and the body
contained mixed metal balls – 34 to the pound weight – and the interstices filled with
clay and sand. The projectile could also be used by the 12 pounder 6 cwt. Guns of the
Royal Horse Artillery.
No High Explosive (common shell) or other ammunition was carried. The propellant
charge for both shrapnel and case was cordite, contained in a red silk bag and it was
placed in the chamber after the shell had been loaded and rammed home. To fire the
gun a T friction tube was employed. It was placed in a vent and operated by a lanyard
after the breech screw had been closed. The latter had a mushroom head covered by
an obturator pad to prevent the escape of gas.
Each gun was drawn by a team of six horses (although mules were also used during
the war) harnessed in pairs. Three drivers – Lead, Centre and Wheeler – each
controlling a pair of horses, rode postillion, seated on the near-side horses. To protect

Extracted from “Artillery of the Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902, Lionel Crook (edited by Ron Bester), Kraal
Publishers 2006
With the compliments of The Barracks The Reason for the N1 35
his leg from damage by the pole of the limber, the wheeler wore on his right leg a
special lagging made of stout leather with a steel bar attached from top to bottom.
Three gunners rode on the limber and two on the gun carriage, one on each side of
the gun. Two more rode on the wagon bodies. Those on the limber and carriage had a
leather band loop between their legs and iron stanchions on each side, to hold onto
when travelling over rough ground at a trot. The men had often to hang on grimly as
the seats were by no means sprung and only covered by an army blanket. They could,
therefore, be thrown around considerably.
The No. 1 (sergeant) rode his own horse and was positioned at the head of the gun
team in line with the lead horses and on the near (left) side, the corporal on his horse
in a similar position with the wagon team. On going into action No. 1’s horse was
taken by the lead driver. The corporal went with the teams, all the teams being taken
to the rear to a selected cover position where they were under the charge of the
battery quartermaster sergeant.
In action the gun was served by four numbers; No.1 positioned himself at the end and
to the left of the hand-spike (which projected towards the rear from the end of the
trail), the loading No. stood on the left of the trail close to the breech of the gun and
the gun layer was on the right of the trail, with the Firing No. on the right to the rear
of the gun wheel. All the detachment knelt on one knee in action when not engaged in
their duty relative to firing the gun.

Firing No. Loading No.


No. 1 (Sergeant) Gun Layer

To come into action the six guns would advance in line keeping an exact interval
between guns of 20 yards, at a gallop if possible and with ground scouts in front to
warn against dongas and fences. In action, the battery commander would take up his
position on the windward flank so that his view of the target would not be obscured
by the blast from the guns, and would give his orders to the section commanders who
would pass them on to the guns.

With the compliments of The Barracks The Reason for the N1 36
1 Officer

A 15 pound Gun Detachment
3 Gunner

Corporal Sergeant No. 1
7 1
Wheeler Centre Lead Wheeler Centre Lead
8 5 2
9 6 3

The section nearest the battery commander was usually selected as the ranging
section, one gun layed at the shorter and the other at the longer of the two elevations
ordered by the battery commander. The bracket of 300 yards was fired with
percussion shrapnel, followed by two elevations at the two intermediate hundreds of
yards to obtain a bracket of 100 yards. When the range has been found by corrections
of 50 or 25 yards, the battery commander proceeded to range for fuze by ordering a
fuze setting and adding 50 yards to the range, one gun of the Centre Section nearest
the ranging section being loaded with the fuze named and the other with a longer
fuze. Ranging for fuze continued until the correct length of fuze was found, giving a
burst 10 minutes ∗ in elevation above the line of sight. The battery commander was
then able to order, “Fuze ……, section fire…..seconds”. The battery commander
watched the general effect of fire but this will not preclude him from occasionally
going through the battery, and encouraging his men by his presence.
Range finding instruments were used, but were slow and not too reliable. They were
operated by two men, each with an instrument attached to either end of a cord 100
foot long which gave the base line. The man at one end moved his forward and
backward until the mirrors in his instrument made the other instrument coincide with
the target and gave a right angle between the base and the line of fire. The other
man then turned a drum until his mirrors made the other end correspond with the
target, and read the range on the drum.
A regular feature of the standing drill was the order “Cavalry of the Right (or Left).” ♣
At this order, the Right or Left Section would swing its guns around to face the flank
and fire rapidly with time fuzes set at zero, “Case” was immediately ordered if the
enemy came within 500 yards. The remainder of the battery would continue to fire at
the original target.

One degree is equal to 60 minutes as a measurement of angle.

This order, and the two lines that follow, have been taken from the detailed description of 15 pounder
drill contained in The History of the Natal Field Artillery 1862-1942, p.2 of Appendix D. Field Artillery
Training 1902, p. 107, gives the orders as “Prepare for Cavalry”, at which three shrapnel with fuses set
for 500 yards were prepared, to ensure their being ready to hand if “Cavalry Attack” is ordered. The
Training Manual does, however, cover the employment of the earlier 12 pounder and 15 pounder fire
discipline procedures.
With the compliments of The Barracks The Reason for the N1 37
A Battery in Action

La F
Lo 1

2 H D F

8 8
S 9 9


Wind Direction
La F

Lo 1


200 to 400 yards
La F D
Lo 1

20 yards

8 8
S 9 9 C Q
Battery served by 171 men and 131 horses and commanded by a Major
La F

Lo 1


B Battery Commander (Major) D
C Battery Captain
La F V Battery Commander's Observer
Lo 1
S Section Commanders (Sergeant) D
2 M Battery Sergeant Major
8 8 R Range Finders
S 9 9
H Horseholder D f
Q Quartermaster Sergeant
D Coverer
La F
T Trumpeter
Lo 1
F Farrier
f Shoeing-Smith

On the order to load (the breech having previously been opened) the Loading No.
withdraws the safety pins from the fuse, shows the shell to No. 1 who confirms that it
is correctly set. It is then placed in the breech. No. 1 removes the hand-spike from its
socket on the trail and places the unshod end against the shell and pushes it gently
home, then applies his whole weight to ensure that it is home; the propellant charge
is then inserted by the Loading No. and the breech is closed in three movements.
The Firing No. then inserts the T-friction tube into the vent of the gun and the Gun
Layer lays the gun for line with whatever sight is ordered, Tangent (Open Sight) or
Telescopic, signalling No. 1 with his hand behind his back to indicate in which direction
to traverse the gun. The final adjustment was usually made by a tap on the handspike
with a palm of No. 1’s hand. When the gun is laid the Layer holds up his right hand
and remains in that position till the order to fire is given. When the order is received,
No. 1 shouts the number of his sub-section, the whole detachment standing up and

With the compliments of The Barracks The Reason for the N1 38
stepping clear of the recoil, the No. 1 extending his right arm in the direction of the
The Gun Layer removes the sight in use and the Firing No. hooks the lanyard in his
right hand and taut against his chest. When No. 1 sees that all is clear he gives the
order, “fire”, at the same time dropping his right hand to his side. At that order, the
Firing No. puts his whole weight against the pull of the lanyard, withdrawing the
friction wire from the T-tube, which causes a flash into the cartridge chamber and
ignites it. The pull required to withdraw the friction wire is from 150 to 200 pounds
and thus the Firing No. had to be a strong or heavy individual.
Once the gun had been handled forward to its original position the breech was opened
and No. 1 examined the chamber to see that no unburnt portion of the cartridge
remained. If there was some it had to be removed before reloading. This was
important as any fragment left would either prevent the shell from being rammed
home or it could cause a premature explosion of the cartridge. Unofficially, the
Loading No. generally had a thick piece o rag wrapped round his hand and cleaned
out the chamber, the process of loading thereafter being carried out as before.
The supply of ammunition for the gun was either from the gun limber or wagon body,
according to conditions, and was in position on the left of the gun. Two numbers
attended to the preparation of shells at limber or wagon; all shells having had the
fuzes screwed in before coming into action, being set at percussion, a special spanner
being used for this purpose. When using timed shells the fuze was set by loosening a
nut at the head of the fuze with a spanner thus enabling the time ring on the fuze to
be turned round to the setting ordered. The nut was then tightened up as much as

The only provision for indirect fire consisted of
clinometers and aiming posts. It was here,
behind Hussar Hill that Major Gordin devised “
…wooden gun-arcs…” to enable him to quickly
order alterations in bearing (and range)
beyond the limits of the deflection leafs on his

It consisted of a piece of wood fastened to the
piece, and into which small holes had been
bored at intervals. A matchstick (or secondary
sight) was placed in the centre hole and the
sights lined on an aiming point. When the
observer ordered, for instance, “Right two
degrees”, the matchstick was moved four holes
to the left and the sights again laid on the
aiming point – in the illustration, the building
to the left of the barrel. It was simple and
effective and was the forerunner of the
modern dial sight; and gave artillery the ability
to provide ‘indirect fire’ from behind cover and
away from the menace of the Boer Mausers.

With the compliments of The Barracks The Reason for the N1 39
Ammunition holdings per gun in an RFA battery were as follows:

On the gun 2 case
2 shrapnel
In the limber 48
In the ammunition wagon 96

Note: Ammunition in the limber and the ammunition wagon was almost all shrapnel,
but included some case shot.
There are many reports of the effectiveness of 15 pr shrapnel during the Boer War.
Some said that the most effective guns the Boers had were the 15 prs they captured
from the British.
The shell had its limitations, mainly because of the short burning time fuze. It was not
fully effective as a shrapnel shell until the ‘blue fuze’ No. 57 was introduced. Oddly
enough, the shell did not weigh 15 lb. (6,8 kg). Its weight was 14 lb (6.35 kg) (or 14
lb 1 oz (6,38 kg) according to some sources).
At the beginning of the war, British gunners found themselves outranged by many of
the more up-to-date Boer guns. Until the arrival of the new fuze, much depended on
their coolness as, time after time, they coolly trotted forward under fire, until they
were within time shrapnel range. It was this coolness, coupled with the concentration
of artillery support wherever possible, which did much to enable this disadvantage to
be overcome.
Finally the importance of the 15 pr’s shell in the Boer War can be gauged by these
Excluding the pom-pom, 233, 714 shells were fired by British guns during
the war. Of these, 166, 548 were 15 pr shells.

With the compliments of The Barracks The Reason for the N1 40
Artillery of the Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902 – Lionel Crook / Ron Bester
History of the Royal Artillery - Headlam
Modern Guns and Gunnery 1910 - Bethell
Artillery Through the Ages -- Rogers
Proceedings of the Royal Artillery Institution, Vols. XXVIII and XXIX
The Story of the Gun - Wilson
The Gunner Magazine - Our Guns: The 18 pr QF Gun
Artillery: Its Origin, Heyday and Decline - Hogg
Treatise on Ammunition (HMSO London 1911)

With the compliments of The Barracks The Reason for the N1 41