ARTILLERY PART 2:

French guns without recoil system

France had lost War of 1870 - 1871 against Germany. One of the main reasons for that was that French artillery had not been as up to date as the German one. This gave the inspiration for the French to introduce new family of artillery weapons for their Army in late 1870's. Once French 75-mm field gun model 1897 was introduced as first field gun equipped with modern recoil system, French military concentrated their efforts it and maneuver warfare, but neglected to acquire more modern heavy long-range artillery. So, when World War 1 started in 1914 French Army found itself facing shortage of more modern heavy artillery weapons, due to which the old "Mle 1877" and "Mle 1878" field guns were re-introduced as replacement of more modern heavy field artillery even if they were quite old-fashioned already back then. During World War 1 little by little France managed to replace most of these old guns with new modern artillery weapons, but as the old "Mle 1877" and "Mle 1878" guns had served them quite well they were put through maintenance and then carefully stored for possible future use. The old guns remained stored for French reserves until World War 2. When World War 2 started the French were still using them mainly as fortification artillery, but this still left large number of these old guns stored away for further use.

When Finnish - Soviet Winter War started in end of November 1939 Finnish Army found itself in serious shortage of artillery weapons and their ammunition. To fix the situation Finland was willing to buy just about any field artillery pieces, that any country was willing to sell. As part of this Finland contacted France asking possibility to purchase weapons. France offered only limited number of modern artillery pieces, but proved willing to donate large number of old "Mle 1877" and "Mle 1878" field guns, which the French had no use and could be delivered with large stockpile of readily available ammunition. Germany being in war with France made transporting the guns from France to Finland difficult and the used transport route quite long: First guns were shipped from France to Narvik in Norway. From Narvik the guns were transported by railway through Norway and Sweden to Finnish border in Torneå / Tornio where they had to be reloaded to Finnish trains, as gauge of Finnish railways was different from Norwegian and Swedish. In Finland the guns were taken to depots, where they were checked before being issued. Due to thing leghty transport route only small number of guns reached Finland before Winter War ended. These French guns proved to be in much better shape then the Russian guns also originally introduced in 1870's. Not only were the guns in notably better condition, but also French ammunition was typically more recent production and in much better shape than Russian artillery ammunition intended for equivalent Russian guns captured in year 1918, which made the French ammunition notably more reliable.

Goniometer, aiming ruler and mirror were the usual instruments used for measuring azimuth for these well-aged French guns. Correct elevation was measured with quadrant. Sometimes things had to be improvised: If the correct azimuth measuring instruments were missing or there was not enough light for using them Finnish military compass with its phosphorous needle could be used instead. Because of long transport route and other reasons the guns were slow to arrive. Only 24 guns (all of them "90 K/77" model) went to combat before Winter War ended in 13th of March 1940. Luckily for the Finns France decided to continue the promised deliveries even after ending of Winter War. Germany attacked to Norway in 9th of April 1940. By that time 136 guns and some 305,000 shots for them had reached Finland, but about 100 of the guns were still in route in Norway and the Germans captured them. Summer of 1940 the Germans allowed those 100 guns to be transported to Finland where they got nicknamed as "Niukkasen hyppyheikit" ("jumping henry's of Niukkanen") after Finnish Minister of Defence Niukkanen (*).

(*) "Niukkasen hyppyheikit" contains hidden meaning with word play. Finnish word "niukka" translates "scarce" in English. In this way the nickname suggests that scarce financial reasons were the main reason for getting these guns. With "hyppyheikki" the nickname is somewhat derogatory.

The issuing of French guns, which did not have modern recoil system, during the Interim Peace between Winter War and Continuation War is very much connected in establishing Finnish Fortress Artillery. Year 1940 Finland found itself having new even longer land border with Soviet Union that was notably more difficult to defend than the earlier one. Since political situation with Soviet Union continued to be anything but friendly, as preparation against possible new Soviet invasion building of new and very long fortified defence line called "Salpa-line" was begun. Fortress artillery was created for boosting artillery support of Salpa-line. Hence during Interim Peace every Finnish Army Corps got its own Fortification Artillery Battalion (exception: 3rd Army Corps, which got two). In addition large number of these French guns went to Coastal Artillery. Noteworthy detail is that issuing these old field guns without recoil system to coastal artillery was not a one-way street - fortification artillery units of Salpa-line also got fair number of coastal guns transferred for their use. But as the early part of Continuation War proved to be an offensive, instead of defensive, the plans changed. Units formed from best suited parts of the Fortification Artillery Battalions followed the attacking troops to offensive, but being slow to move they were rather ill-suited for mobile warfare. Only once the "trench-war period" period started in Finnish - Soviet front they could be again used effectively. As they were no longer in Salpa-line the necessary re-establishing and renaming process followed. Three Svir/Syväri Fortification Artillery Battalions were established in end of 1941 ("Syväri Fortification Artillery Battalion 4" existed on paper but it was never established for real). They were followed by two Maaselkä Fortification Artillery Battalions, which were established in summer of 1942. However in January of 1943 the Maaselkä Fortification Artillery Battalions got their old guns replaced with more modern weapons. Around 1943 - 1944 the ammunition obtained with these old guns started to run low, so the number of guns still used had to be reduced. If World War 2 had continued longer Finnish military would either run out of their ammunition or would have needed to start ammunition production for them, which was highly unlikely. With last of these guns remaining in combat use until year 1944 Finnish Army was likely the last Army in a world to still use 19thfield guns without modern recoil system in battle.

 

90 K/77

(90 mm cannon model 1877)

(Materiel de 90 de campagne Mle 1877)

PICTURE: 90 K/77 field gun. Notice the hand crank used to adjust elevation. (Photo taken in yard of Sotamuseo). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (195 KB).

Calibre:

90 mm (bagged charge ammunition)

Barrel length:

L/25,3

Weight in action:

1200 kg

Muzzle velocity:

455- 500 m/sec

Traverse:

0 degrees

Elevation:

- 5 degrees, + 26 degrees

Max. range:

7,0 - 9,7 km

Ammunition weight:

8,2 - 8,4 kg (HE)

Ammunition types:

HE

Country of origin:

France

Finnish use: 100 guns donated by France during Winter War. 24 guns arrived in time to see frontline use before ending of Winter War. During Continuation War 84 guns were issued to fortification artillery and coastal defence units. Last shots in battle fired in June of 1944.

This gun was still one of the French favourites during World War 1. Originally it had been designed for direct fire only, but later had been provided with equpment that made it capable for indirect fire also. Like usual the gun had box trail and wooden wheels with steel hoops. Ammunition used was also bagged-type typical to that time (propellant was packed in bags and was loaded seperately from projectile and primer). Surpassingly, even if their calibre was so small these guns were among the ones with slowest rate of fire - only 1 shot per two minutes. During Winter War France donated 100 of these guns and 100,000 shots for them. The first guns started arriving in February - March 1940, but only 24 guns managed to barely reach frontline before Winter War ended in 13th of March 1940. From these 24 guns:

PICTURE: 90 K/77 seen from customer end of the barrel. Notice reinforced tip of gun barrel (thicker part), which Russian guns of the same era do not have. (Photo taken in front of Finnish War Archives). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (191 KB).

When the first guns arrived to Finland the same delivery unfortunately did not include instruments for measuring azimuth needed for indirect fire. So the 24 guns issued to combat units during Winter War got issued with orders to use them for direct fire only. However as mentioned it did not long from their crews to start using military compass for the purpose, which allowed firing at least somewhat accurate indirect fire also even if this did not allow exactly pinpoint accuracy. During the Interim Peace between Winter War and Continuation War 48 guns were issued to Fortification Artillery Battalions 4, 5 and 6 stationed to Salpa-line. Originally these guns were naturally horse-towed, but Finnish military often transported them on truck body from one place to another.

Once Continuation War started and Finnish troops launched their offensive the great majority of 90 K/77 guns were left behind. Only in Hanko Peninsula the war continued longer in more static mode and there these guns saw quite a bit of action already in year 1941. Fortification Artillery Battalions of Syväri (Svir) and Maaselkä and coastal units kept using these guns until 1944. The total number of 90 K/77 guns used in Continuation War was 84 guns. When Finnish units retreated from Syväri (Svir) they were unable to take 8 of the guns with them, so they were demolished and left behind. The last shots with these guns were fired in Syväri/Svir in 21st of June 1944. Usually 90 K/77 guns were used primarily as direct-fire guns. After the war these guns were commonly used as monuments. When it comes to ammunition that Finnish Army was using with these guns, only two types of high explosive (HE) type ammunition loaded alternative either with Picric or Schneiderite existed.

War:

Shots fired:

Winter War (1939 - 1940)

not known

Continuation War (1941 - 1944)

174148

Total

174148

PICTURE: 90 K/77-k aka 90/25-BW aka 90 K/77 with fixed fortification gun-carriage. This kind of gun-carriage could be bolted to concrete structure or to heavy timber frame. (Photo taken in Kuivasaari). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (214 KB).

During Continuation War Finnish military planned fixed fortification gun-carriages for many guns to allow them to be more easily used in fortification artillery batteries of Salpa-line. This project got delayed and none of these fixed gun carriages ever saw battle-use, but unlike the other fortification gun-carriage projects the carriage for 90 K/77 actually was produced in small numbers before ending of the war. The same gun mount could be used also with 107 K/77-piirk guns. These gun carriages were ordered from Värtsilä factory for 50 guns in year 1943 and the first gun mount was completed in May of 1943. But manufacturing rest of the production batch took much more time. When Continuation War ended in September 1944 only 15 guns with the new fixed fortification gun-carriages were ready and the gun carriages for other 35 guns were still under work. Later (depending sources) 15 or 17 guns 90/25-BW (as coastal artillery called them) were refitted, equipped with particular gun carriages and introduced to training use with Finnish coastal artillery in year 1964. These refitted 90 K/77-k guns on fixed fortification mounts proved unsuccessful and served only few years before being declared obsolete.

 

120 K/78

(120 mm cannon model 1878)

(Materiel de 120 Long, Mle 1878)

PICTURE: 120 K/78 with cingali wheel plates, which were part of equipment used to reduce recoil with this gun model and make transporting the gun on soft ground easier. Also notice the ramps and that the box trail is closed unlike in Russian guns. (Photo taken Tykistömuseo). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (62 KB).

Calibre:

120 mm (bagged charge ammunition)

Barrel length:

L/27

Weight in action:

3750 - 3850 kg

Muzzle velocity:

525 - 613 m/sec

Traverse:

0 degrees

Elevation:

- 0 degrees, + 30 degrees

Max. range:

10,7 - 12,4 km

Ammunition weight:

18,8 - 20,0 kg (HE)

Ammunition types:

HE

Country of origin:

France

Finnish use: 72 guns donated by France during Winter War. None of the guns arrived in time to see any battle use in that war. Most guns, if not all got used by fortification artillery units during Continuation War. The most popular and most heavily used of these guns in Finnish use. The last of these guns remained in combat use until June of 1944.

This was the medium-calibre gun among these French de Bange guns. In World War 12 they remained in French use for duration of the whole war and also saw some use with the Serbs. The gun was usually used with cingali wheel plates (also known as "Centure de Roues" by the French) tied with wire around the wheels to help reducing recoil and improve mobility of the gun on soft ground. The gun used bagged charge ammunition. The weapon also had especially designed recoil reduction system, which was installed in end of the box trail. Wheels were the usual wooden ones with steel hoops. The gun had been intended to be towed by 6 - 8 horses, but it was slow to tow (only about 4 km/h) and getting the gun ready to fire once it had arrived to its position took about an hour. As usual the gun was turned around for correct azimuth with prying end of the guns trail with crowbars. Aiming system was on top of the breech and mirror used for determining the correct azimuth was in left side of gun carriage. As far as the rate-of-fire goes the gun was not one of the worst among its kind: In the French use the average rate of fire for this gun was about 1 shot per minute and 46 - 50 shots per hour. In early 1930's the Poles developed improved version by installing barrels of this 120-mm French gun on gun carriages of Russian 152-mm howitzers. The resulted combinations called "120mm wz. 1878/09/31" and "120mm wz 1878/10/31" by Polish military was also used by Finnish Army during World War 2 and known as "120 K/78-31" in Finland.

During World War 1 old 120 K/78 field guns saw so much use with French military, that the French decided to start manufacturing replacement gun barrels for them. This resulted in creation of sub-version of 120 K/78 field gun referred as 120 K/78-16 due to its new gun barrel. The two versions have some certain visible differences (like direction of lifting ring on top of the gun barrel). However the main differences of this gun are structure of gun barrel and the type of rifling used inside it:

  • "Original" 120 K/78 gun barrel: Rifling in 7 degree angle, but increases progressively near muzzle
  • 120 K/78-16 gun barrel: Rifling in 7-degree angle, no change in rifling angle.
  • PICTURE: Side profile of 120 K/78-16. Notice lifting ring on top of the gun barrel. (Photo taken in Suomenlinna). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (67 KB).

    During Winter War France donated 72 guns with 96,000 shots to Finland. Only 18 arrived in Finland during the Winter War and even they only during last week of the war. So, it is not a large surprise that none saw battle use in Winter War. Only 24 out of the 72 guns had reached Finland before the Germans invaded Norway. After some talks the Germans released rest of the guns and allowed them to be delivered to Finland. For Finnish military the gun become the mostly widely issued of all 19th century guns without recoil system during Continuation War. Already before the Continuation War 55 guns were issued to various artillery units and from five Fortification Artillery Battalions of Salpa-line only 2nd Fortification Artillery Battalion did not use them. Once Continuation War broke out in June of 1941 the guns saw use in whole Finnish-Soviet front in Hanko Peninsula and from Carelian Isthmus to Uhtua sector in Lapland at one time or another. Last shots with these guns were fired in Syväri/Svir in 24th of June 1944. As the Finns had shortage of heavy long-range artillery 120 K/78 was often used in roles, for which other Armies usually used more modern heavy cannons and gun-howitzers.

    Finnish soldiers found the guns to be surprisingly accurate and the projectiles they fired quite effective. Finnish military usually transported the guns with trucks. Towing the whole gun on dirt roads proved somewhat problematic, so usually the gun barrel was removed and transported on truck body and rest of the gun towed after the truck. The lifting ring on top of the gun barrel was useful for removing the gun barrel and reinstalling it, but a crane was needed for the job. With hard training and experience Finnish gun crews also managed to raise rate-of-fire up to 2 shots/minute. However the plentiful use also effected to number of guns lost. December of 1941 Soviet unit managed to surprise 78th Fortification Artillery Battery in Jyvälahti in Uhtua sector, captured its guns and take two of them back to their own side of frontline. Another 16 guns had to be left behind in June of 1944 when Finnish troops retreating from River Syväri (Svir) were unable to evacuate them after Soviet landing to Tuulos in northern shore of Lake Laatokka/Ladoga. Finnish Army used only high explosive (HE) type shells loaded with these guns, these shells included variety of shell designs loaded with Picric, Schneiderite or TNT.

    War:

    Shots fired:

    Winter War (1939 - 1940)

    0

    Continuation War (1941 - 1944)

    128226

    Total

    128226

    Notice: According unverified information more ammunition was bought from Germany for these guns during Continuation War.

     

    155 K/77

    (155 mm cannon model 1878)

    (Canon de 155 Long, Mle 1877)

    PICTURE: 155 K/77. Notice the wheels, which have rather unique look. (Photo taken in yard of Sotamuseo). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (199 KB).

    Calibre:

    155 mm (bagged charge ammunition)

    Barrel length:

    L/27

    Weight in action:

    5700 - 6500 kg

    Muzzle velocity:

    517 m/sec

    Traverse:

    0 degrees

    Elevation:

    - 26 degrees, + 26 degrees

    Max. range:

    12,3 km

    Ammunition weight:

    40,0 - 43,6 kg (HE)

    Ammunition types:

    HE

    Country of origin:

    France

    Finnish use: 48 guns donated by France during Winter War, but they arrived too late to be used in that war. All guns were issued to fortification artillery and coastal artillery units during Continuation War. Last shots in battle fired in July of 1944 - these were likely the last shots ever fired in combat with field guns so old, that they lacked recoil system.

    France had introduced two versions of 155-mm de Bange guns in late 1870's. From those two this was the long barreled version. Like other French de Bange guns they saw use during World War 1 and the French kept them stored for possible further use after that. They were the heaviest and largest-calibre cannons of French de Bange artillery system. The basic structure of the gun was same as used in other smaller-calibre models: The gun had de Bange screw breech and box trail. As typical the ammunition used was bagged type. But the gun also had steel wheels instead of the usual wooden ones.

    During Winter War France donated 48 guns of these guns and 48,000 shots to Finland. The guns arrived too late to be used for Winter War, but 44 of the guns were issued to Fortification Artillery Battalions of Salpa-line during already before Continuation War the other 4 guns were used by Coastal Artillery. Especially 2nd Fortification Artillery Battalion could be classed as "heavy-user" as the only guns it used were twenty 155 K/77. Finnish military found the gun to have effective projectiles, good accuracy and quite a good range, but the bulk and weight of the gun made both using and transporting it difficult. Because shortage of heavy long-range guns also 155 K/77 guns had to be often used in roles such as counter-battery fire, for which the more better equipped armies used modern heavy guns and gun-howitzers. The transport method used with this gun was the same, which was also used with 120 K/78 guns. Barrel of the gun was usually placed on truck body and the same truck towed the gun carriage. During first year of Continuation War 155 K/77 guns first saw use in Carelian Isthmus and Hanko Peninsula. Next year 36 of the guns were given to Syväri (Svir) Fortification Artillery Battalions, which kept using them until Soviet offensive across River Syväri / Svir started in June of 1944. The old guns of fortification troops were not a priority and there was capacity for transporting the old and heavy 155 K/77 guns to safety. So Finnish troops demolished 24 of the guns and left them behind. Twelve of the guns had been transported by railway beyond Tuullos before the Soviets made landing in there and cut the railway. The twelve guns were issued to re-established Syväri Fortification Battalion 1 and fired their last shots supporting Finnish troops in U-defenceline near Koirinoja in 13th of July 1944. Very likely this was the last time in whole world for cannons which had no recoil system were still being used in battle. Finnish Army used only high explosive (HE) type ammunition with these guns, these included numerous shell designs filled with Picric, Schneiderite or Amatol.

    During Continuation War Finnish coastal artillery installed the four guns it had received to gun mounts of 152/35 Mk coastal gun and named the resulting gun 155/27 BaMk. The four 155/27 BaMk coastal guns served in Fort Herrö in Ahvenanmaa (Åland) Islands until end of the Continuation War.

    War:

    Shots fired:

    Winter War (1939 - 1940)

    0

    Continuation War (1941 - 1944)

    59392

    Total

    59392

    Notice: Presumably Finland purchased more ammunition from Germany during Continuation War for these guns.

     

    OTHER OLD FRENCH ARTILLERY PIECES WITHOUT RECOIL SYSTEM:

    80 K/77 (80 mm canon model 1877): Lightest of these old French guns delivered to Finland. During Winter War France donated 12 guns and 14,000 shots to Finland. The gun had very similar to 90 K/77 sharing the same basic structure and characteristics. Also these guns arrived too late for Winter War. During the peace between Winter War and Continuation War the guns were issued to 6th Fortification Artillery Battalion, which was stationed to sector of Salpa-line reaching from Suomussalmi to Lapland. During Continuation War they served as training weapons in the homefront. Some 2,244 shots were fired during Continuation War, but none in combat. Only ammunition Finnish Army had for this gun was 6.15-kg HE (high explosive) type shell filled with Picric.


    SOURCES:

    Jyri Paulaharju: Itsenäisen Suomen Kenttätykit 1918 - 1995.

    Unto Partanen: Tykistömuseon 78 tykkiä.

    Jyri Paulaharju: Suomen Kenttätykistön historia, volumes 1 - 2.

    Pertti Tamminen: Vienan Tykit.

    Ove Enqvist: Itsenäisen Suomen Rannikkotykit 1918 - 1998.

    Reino Arimo: Suomen Linnoittamisen Historia 1918 - 1944.

    Talvisodan historia book series.

    Jatkosodan historia book series.

    Military manual: 120 mm Raskas kenttäkanuuna vuosilta 1978 ja 1931 by Puolustusvoimien pääesikunta Taisteluvälineosasto, Väliaikainen kalustoselostus (printed 1941).

    Military manual: Kenttätykistön ampumatarvikkeet by Puolustusvoimien Pääesikunta Taisteluvälineosasto (printed 1940, updates added until 1947).

    Article: Linnoitustykistö - aselaji välirauhan alkamisesta jatkosodan loppuun by Teuvo Rönkkönen in Journal of military history 14.

    Article: Ranskalaiset jäykkälavettiset, talvisodan hankinta by Jyri Paulaharju in Ase-lehti magazine vol. 1/99.

    Article: Ranskan Suomelle Talvisodan aikana tarjoamasta sotilasavusta by Jukka Nevakivi in Tiede ja ase vol. 34.

    Article: Tuhkaluukun miehistö haisee by Ove Enqvist in Rannikon puolustaja magazine vol 4/1995.

    Special thanks to Tykistömuseo (Finnish Artillery Museum), Hämeenlinna

    Special thanks to Sotamuseo (Finnish War Museum), Helsinki


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