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COLESKOP and the ARMSTRONG 15-POUNDER BL

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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 damage".
(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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Kloof Camp

Grassy Hill Boers

Gibraltar Boers

McCracken’s Hill British

Colesberg

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 ascent:

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GLOSSARY Ammunition Case Ammunition Common Ammunition Double Ammunition Ring (or segment) Ammunition Shrapnel BL A tin cylinder filled with bullets of lead hardened with antimony. The 9 pr 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. A hollow projectile filled with a bursting charge, fitted with a fuze, and designed to burst on impact (percussion) or in the air (time). A shell of increased length fired with a reduced charge. A thin cast iron shell, made up of rings welded together, with a hollow space in the centre for the bursting charge. The rings broke up into segments on explosion. It could be employed as shrapnel, case or common shell. A shell with its interior filled with bullets embedded in rosin. A bursting charge at the base ejected the bullets forward when detonated in the air above the target. It was less effective when detonated on impact. 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. The rear end of the piece (barrel) of a gun, opened to load the shell, and charge, then closed, and locked before firing. Fire directed at a target visible by the gun-layer. 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 accuracy. The wheels, axle, trail and recoil system (if any). 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.) 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. 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. 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. 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'. Fire directed at a target which cannot be seen (hidden by a terrain form) from the gun. The artillery term for aiming the gun
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Breech Direct Fire Driving Band

Carriage Elevation Fuze

Gun

Handspike Howitzer

Indirect Fire Laying

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Limber ML Nomenclature Obturation

Ordnance Piece QF Quoin (or wedge) Ranging RML rpm Tampion Trail

Traverse Trunnions

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. Muzzle loading. 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. 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. 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. A very old term still used in Britain for the barrel of a gun. From the term ‘pieces of ordnance’. 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. In some equipment, a wedge is moved backwards and forwards under the breech to achieve elevation and depression. 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. Rifled muzzle-loader. Rounds per minute 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. 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 towing. 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. The projections on the gun which support it in its carriage and about which it rotates in elevation and depression.

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THE ARMSTRONG 15-Pounder BL

Calibre In service Barrel length Weight of gun Weight of gun carriage packed Weight behind gun team Ammunition Weight of shell Elevation Traverse Muzzle velocity Range: Time-Fuze Range: Percussion Rate of fire

3 inch (76.2 mm) 1892 - 1918 (Boer War & WWI) 84 inch (2,135m) 7 cwt (320kg) 20 cwt 2 qtr 27 lbs. (910kg) 37 cwt 2 qtrs 17 lbs (1,230kg) Shrapnel 14 lbs 1 oz (6.4kg) -5° to + 16° nil 1,590 feet/second (490m/second) 4,100 yards (3,750m) 5,600 yards (5,135m) 7-8 rounds/minute

For centuries before the Crimean War, British artillery had been equipped with castiron 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).
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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.

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Armstrong 12 pr 8 cwt RBL - Just forward of the hollow breech screw is the ventpiece, 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 muzzleloading. 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 muzzleloading 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.

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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 lbs. With the compliments of The Barracks The Reason for the N1 http://www.thebarracks.co.za 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 success. 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
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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 immediately. 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 Limbers Ammunition wagons Forge, store, etc. wagons Ammunition - complete rounds 108 275 162 54 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.

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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 http://www.thebarracks.co.za 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.

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Type 15 pr Ehrhardt 15 pr 18 pr 15 pr BL QF QF BLC

Weight Calibre of gun 7 cwt 737 lbs 9 cwt 7 cwt 3 in 3 in 3.3 in 3 in

Weight of shell

Ammo.

MV Range(yards) (ft/sec) 1574 1640 1615 1590 5900 6600 6525 5750

Weight Year behind adopted team(cwt) 37 35 40 1895 1900 1906 1909

14 lb 1 oz Shrapnel 14 lb 5 oz Shrapnel 18 lb 8 oz Shrapnel HE

14 lb 1 oz Shrapnel

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. NOTES: 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 here.
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 http://www.thebarracks.co.za 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 airburst shrapnel. Later, the new 'Blue Fuze' (Fuze 57) increased this range to 5,900 yards. 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 carriages.

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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.
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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.

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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 cartridge. 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 position. 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.

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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 MartinBaker 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.
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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 spaghettilike 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.
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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 cordite.

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Part 3 Fuze, time and percussion, No. 56

The functioning of the fuze preceded that of the shell, so the fuze will be described first. 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
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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).

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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
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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 off. 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
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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 on. 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.

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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
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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 firing. ‘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
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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.

Hand-spike

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.

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1

Officer Driver

A 15 pound Gun Detachment

3

Gunner Horse Corporal Wheeler 8 9 Centre 7 Lead 5 4 6 3 2 Wheeler Centre Sergeant No. 1 1 Lead

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.

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A Battery in Action
B V
La F Lo 1

R R T

2 3 8 9 8 9

H S

D

F

D
La F Lo 1

Wind Direction

D

2 3

D

200 to 400 yards
La F Lo 1

D
2

20 yards

3 8 9 8 9

D S C T Q D

Battery served by 171 men and 131 horses and commanded by a Major
La F Lo 1 2 3

D

La F Lo 1

2 3 8 9 8 9

S

La F Lo 1

2 3

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

D

D

D

f

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

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stepping clear of the recoil, the No. 1 extending his right arm in the direction of the vent. 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 possible.
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 howitzers. 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.

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Ammunition holdings per gun in an RFA battery were as follows: 2 case 2 shrapnel In the limber 48 In the ammunition wagon 96 TOTAL 148 On the gun 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 figures:

Excluding the pom-pom, 233, 714 shells were fired by British guns during the war. Of these, 166, 548 were 15 pr shells.

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References: 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)

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