Home Forums Horse and Musket Napoleonic howitzers long and short – technical question

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  • #148094
    Jonathan Gingerich
    Participant

    My uneducated understanding is that too much acceleration tore apart a howitzer shell. Therefore you either used a full charge in a short tube to pop the shell forward, or a longer barrel with a reduced charge to give it a longer, slower push. The latter should result in a higher muzzle velocity, with more accuracy and a flatter trajectory, at the expense of a heavier piece. If this is correct, it would explain the appeal of the gun-howitzer, used by the Russians and later adopted by everyone.
    Is there anyone well versed in this subject?
    thanks,
    JG

    #148100
    John D Salt
    Participant

    Oops. Just posted a bunch of drivel withut checking which board I was in.

    All the best,

    John.

    #148233
    Cerdic
    Participant

    John, you shouldn’t worry about posting a load of drivel. This is the Internet….

    #148236
    Jonathan Gingerich
    Participant

    I was kind of taking Mom’s advice there;-) Does anyone know of any technical discussion anywhere?

    I suspect the later years could be analyzed on the basis of artillery and ammunition logistics and the findings would be eye-opening.

    #148261
    MartinR
    Participant

    According to wikpedia gun-howitzers were popular in the run up to WW2 as they combined the advantages of howitzers (high angle fire) with those of conventional artillery (flatter trajectory fire). Nothing about ammo problems. Lots of WW1 armies had a mix of guns and howitzers in their divisional artillery regiments, so having one weapon to perform both roles made sense. In WW2, long barrelled guns (like the 4.5″ or 100m K18) were the exception – although very handy for CB fire with their greater range.

    "Mistakes in the initial deployment cannot be rectified" - Helmuth von Moltke

    #148293
    grizzlymc
    Participant

    I think it is gas pressure rather than acceleration that tears shells apart, but they amount to the same thing.  Somewhat simplifying reality, howitzers used elevation to achieve range, where guns simply relied on brute force of bigger charges and longer barrels (which allow acceptable pressures to persist for longer).  In general a gun requires a much higher muzzle velocity to achieve a comparable range to a howitzer and, for a given shell weight, will carry less explosive so that the shell can cope with the pressures.

     

    For most purposes, the advantage of howitzers (more explosive, a more circular burst pattern, the ability to lob shells over terrain, lighter weight carriages) outweigh the range benefits of guns.  However, even today, the Russian doctrine uses guns to snipe counter battery fire on enemy artillery.

    #148299
    John D Salt
    Participant

    As a Kibologist of long standing, I always like to check my facts before posting drivel to the internet.

    Having had a quick flonk around with google, as this isn’t my period, I have concluded that the Russian “gun-howitzers” Jonathan refers to must be edinorogi, “unicorns” in English but usually referred to a “licornes”, which is French (because, hey, it’s Napoleon’s period, isn’t it?) These were designed by Pyotr Ivanovich Shuvalov (1711-1762) in the 1750s; he was also responsible for more outlandish designs such as the grapeshot-firing “secret howitzer” and multi-bore designs, but the edinorog seems to be the most useful and enduring of them. Up to 1805, such pieces were decorated with figures of unicorns (a creature featured in the Shuvalov coat of arms) on the cascabel (knobby bit at the end, “vingrad” in Russian if it comes up) and dolphins (lifting handles).

    According to an article in the Russian edition of Popular Mechanics, and repeated in various other English and Russian sources about the place including Wikipedia, the distinguishing feature of an edinorog was its conical chamber. It is stated that guns had no chamber, the barrel ending either flat or rounded, and howitzers had a cylindrical chamber. The chamber was where the propelling charge was placed, and apparently the short length of howitzers permitted them to be placed in the chamber by hand, the length of the barrel not exceeding the length of a man’s arm. It is claimed (often in suspiciously similar terms) that the conical chamber made it easier to place the propelling charge securely, and that the rate of fire was increased, although how on earth chamber shape can influence rate of fire is something that escapes me. More convincing arguments in favour of the edinorog are that it can fire the full variety of ammunition natures — roundshot, shell, or canister — whereas howitzers cannot fire roundshot and classic guns cannot fire shell. It is also claimed that the more curved trajectory of the edinorog enabled it to conduct overhead fire in situations a gun couldn’t.

    Therefore you either used a full charge in a short tube to pop the shell forward, or a longer barrel with a reduced charge to give it a longer, slower push. The latter should result in a higher muzzle velocity, with more accuracy and a flatter trajectory, at the expense of a heavier piece.

    This isn’t right; howitzers had much smaller propelling charges than guns of comparable calibre, with edinorogi falling somewhere in between. AIUI there is very little designers could do with black powder to control the burn rate other than to control the grain size (which is why artillery powder is corned into large grains, and small-arms powder is much finer). It was not until 1850 that Rodman came up with the idea of using grain shape to control how burn-rate changed, and nitrocellulose propellants appeared about a decade later. Nitrocellulose-based propellants are vastly preferable to black powder for all sorts of reasons, including safety and smokiness, but they also offered much more favourable burn-rates. Black powder cannot take advantage of really long barrels, because it transforms itself into gases so quickly that beyond a fairly short distance the barrel is adding nothing but friction.

    If this is correct, it would explain the appeal of the gun-howitzer, used by the Russians and later adopted by everyone.

    I don’t think everyone adopted the gun-how in response to Shuvalov’s invention, though. The edinorog does not seem to have caught on outside Russia, and when the rest of the world started copying Gribeauval’s systematization of artillery, long-barrelled guns and short-barrelled howitzers seem to have remained the rule for most powers. As far as I can tell, the Russians carried on using edinorogi in place of short-barrelled howitzers. Doubteless somewhere there is an authoritative account in a book by Shirokorad (the Russian equivalent of Ian Hogg).

    The 12-pounder Napoleon of American Civil War fame, of which I recall owning a beautiful model made by Wm. Britain’s, was, I gather, technically a gun-howitzer, but I don’t recall anyone ever calling it that. In any case, by the time of the ACW it represented an obsolescent style of weapon.

    Whether one calls something a gun-howitzer (French “canon-obusier”) or a shell-gun, there seems to me no obvious reason why a gun cannot fire shell, and this idea became widespread in naval warfare in the epoch of the ironclads. This also saw the development of full-length brass cartridge cases, rifled barrels, efficient breech loading, conoidal shells, high explosives, and all sorts of other improvements that led, between 1850 and 1900, to the development of recognisably modern artillery.

    These days the principal distinguishing feature of a howitzer is, disregarding all definitions based on calibre length or ability to fire in the upper register, the use of a charge system. This is such an obviously useful feature that one really is getting the best of both worlds, and practically all current designs of tube artillery are really gun-howitzers, regardless of official designation.

    Napoleonics is not my period, so I expect this is all pretty well-known already to proper Sicilian Ogreheads, but at least now you know the Russian for cascabel.

    All the best,

    John.

    #148333
    vtsaogames
    Participant

    …The 12-pounder Napoleon of American Civil War fame, of which I recall owning a beautiful model made by Wm. Britain’s, was, I gather, technically a gun-howitzer, but I don’t recall anyone ever calling it that. In any case, by the time of the ACW it represented an obsolescent style of weapon…

    Rifled guns had it over the Napoleon for range and accuracy at long range, but the Napoleon (named for Napoleon III before his feet of clay were revealed) was better at canister range. In the broken terrain of the ACW, the ratio of Napoleons to rifled guns actually went up as the war progressed. Grant ditched many field guns before undertaking the Overland Campaign in the hope of greater mobility. He had a good number of Napoleons with him.

    This too shall pass

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