ARTILLERY PART 2:

French guns without recoil system

France had lost 1870 - 1871 was against Germany. One of the main reasons for that was that French artillery had not been as up to date as German one. This gave the inspiration for the French to introduce new family of artillery weapons for their Army in late 1870's. When WW1 started in 1914 French Army found itself facing shortage of more modern artillery weapons, so the old "Mle 1877" and "Mle 1878" field guns were introduced to use 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 warehoused for French reserves until World War 2. When World War 2 started the French considered issuing the old guns as extra artillery weapons for Maginot-line, but decided against leaving them in their warehouses.

When 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 artillery any country was willing to sell. As part of this Finland contacted France asking possibility to purchase weapons. France offered only limited amount of modern artillery, but instead was willing to donate large number of old "Mle 1877" and "Mle 1878" guns, which the French had no use and could be delivered with large amounts of readily available ammunition. Germany being in war with France made transporting the guns from France to Finland difficult and the used 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. 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 in much better shape than Russian artillery ammunition intended for equivalent Russian guns captured in year 1918, so French ammunition proved much 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 "90 K/77" model) saw got to frontline before Winter War ended in 13th of March 1940. Luckily for the Finns France decided to continue the promised deliveries even after that. 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 Defence Minister Niukkanen (*).

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

The issuing of French guns, which didn't have 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 border that was more difficult to defend than the earlier one. To improve the situation building of new and very long fortified defence line called "Salpa-line" was begun. Fortress artillery was established for Salpa-line and during Interim Peace every Finnish Army Corps got its own Fortification Artillery Battalion (exception: 3rd Army Corps got two). Noteworthy detail is that issuing these old field guns without recoil system to coastal artillery wasn't a one-way street - fortification artillery units of Salpa-line also got large number of coastal guns for their use. As the early part of Continuation War was offensive the Fortification Artillery Battalions followed the attacking troops, but being slow to move they were not exactly suited for offensive warfare. Once the "trench-war period" period started they could be used effectively again. As they were not longer in Salpa-line the necessary re-establishing and renaming process followed. Three Svir/Syväri Fortification Battalions were established in end of 1941 ("Syväri Fortification 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 modern weapons. Around 1943 - 1944 the ammunition obtained for 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 very unlikely. High probability is that Finnish Army was the last Army to use guns without recoil system in battle.

 

90 K/77

(90 mm cannon model 1877)

(Materiel de 90 de campagne Mle 1877)

PICTURE: 90 K/77. Notice the crank used to adjust elevation. (Photo taken in yard of Sotamuseo). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (53 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 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 WW1. Originally it had been designed for direct fire only, but later had been equipped 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 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 thickening in barrel, which Russian guns of the same era didn't have. (Photo taken in front of Finnish War Archives). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (51 KB).

When the first guns arrived to Finland the same delivery unfortunately didn't include instruments for measuring azimuth needed for indirect fire. So during Winter War the 24 guns were issued with orders to use them for direct fire only. However as mentioned it didn't long from their crews to start using military compass for the purpose, which allowed firing at least somewhat accurate indirect fire also even if it didn't 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 located to Salpa line. Originally the guns were naturally horse-towed, but Finnish military often transported these guns on truck body from one place to another.

Once Continuation War starter and Finnish troops attacked 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 use in 1941. Fortification Artillery Battalions of Syväri (Svir) and Maaselkä and coastal units kept using these guns until 1944. Total number of 90 K/77 guns used in Continuation War was 84. When Finnish units retreated from Syväri (Svir) they were unable to take 8 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 popular for monumental use.

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 in static fortification gun-carriage. The gun-carriage could be bolted to concrete structure or to heavy timber frame. (Photo taken in Kuivasaari). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (90 KB).

During Continuation War Finnish military planned static 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 ever saw battle-use, but unlike the other fortification-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 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 these new 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 these fortification mounts and introduced to training use with Finnish Coastal Artillery in year 1964. These refitted guns on 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. 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 battle use in that war. Most guns, if not all used by fortification artillery units during Continuation War. The most popular and most heavily used of these guns in Finnish use. Last shots fired in battle in 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 (known as "Centure de Roues" by the French) tied with wire around the wheels to help reducing recoil. 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 wasn't 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 Poles developed improved version by installing barrels of this 120-mm French gun to carriages of Russian 152-mm howitzers. The resulted combinations called "120mm wz. 1878/09/31" and "120mm wz 1878/10/31" by the Poles was also used by the Finns during WW2 and known as " 120 K/78-31" in Finland.

120 K/78 cannon also had sub-version called 120 K/78-16. They have some certain visible differences (like direction of lifting ring on top of the barrel). However the main difference of this gun when compared to original is inside barrel:

  • "Original" 120 K/78 barrel: Rifling in 7 degree angle, but increases progressively near muzzle
  • 120 K/78-16 barrel: Rifling in 7-degree angle, no change in rifling angle.
  • PICTURE: Side profile of 120 K/78. 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 even them during last week of the war. So, it is not a large surprise that none saw battle use in Winter War. Only 24 of the 72 had reached Finland before the Germans invaded Norway. After talks with the Germans also rest of the guns arrived. The gun become the mostly widely issued of guns without recoil system during Continuation War. Already before the Continuation War 55 guns were issued and from five Fortification Artillery Battalions of Salpa-line only 2nd Fortification Artillery Battalion didn't use them. Once the war broke out 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 cannons 120 K/78 were 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 having quite effective projectiles. Finnish military usually transported the guns with trucks. Towing the whole gun proved somewhat problematic, so usually the 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 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. 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 Syväri (Svir) were unable to evacuate them after Soviet landing to Tuulos in northern shore of Laatokka/Lake Ladoga.

    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 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 (51 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 used by 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 with 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-barrel version. Like other French de Bange guns they saw use during WW1 and the French kept them storaged 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-artillery, for which the more better equipped Armies used modern heavy guns and gun-howitzers. The transport method used 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 152 K/77 guns first saw use in Carelian Isthmus and Hanko Peninsula. Next year 36 of the guns were given to Syväri (Svir) Fortification Battalions, which kept using them until Soviet offensive started Syväri/Svir 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 Tuulos 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 being used in battle.

    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 and naturally had 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 had Salpa-line sector 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 battle. Only ammunition Finnish Army had for this gun was HE (high explosive) type.


    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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