Organisation and Equipment of the Prussian Artillery 1870-71

by Martin Tomczak

This article was originally published in the October 1988 edition of the magazine "Wargames; Illustrated," and is reproduced here with the permission of the Editor, Mr Duncan Macfarlane. Two short paragraphs intended solely for the wargaming readership have been ommitted.

This article deals with the Prussian artillery organisation, ammunition and vehicles. An outline is provided concerning the artillery of the other German contingents, although it should be noted that battery organisation and the way the guns were used were very similar between the various armies.

 

Colour Schemes of Gun Garriages and Vehicles

The armies of the Franco-Prussian war still presented a colourful spectacle, with some variety in uniforms on both sides. The gun carriages and vehicles contributed to this variety, with some variation across the German contingents. The table below is followed by more detailed information on Prussian vehicles from the Handbuch für Offiziere der Königlich Preussischen Artillerie (Berlin 1860):

State

Woodwork

Metal Parts

Saxony

Grey

Black

Baden

Olivengrau(Brown-Grey-Green)

Black

Württemberg;

as Baden

as Baden

Hessen-Darmstadt

Grey

Black

Bavaria

Silbergrau(Silver Grey)

Black

Prussia

Middle Blue

Black

The 1860 source gives the following further details of Prussian colours.

Blue - all gun carriages and vehicles ( and the wooden parts of all items connected with them) of the field batteries.
Grey - the same material of the ammunition Kolonnen, and of the fortress and the siege artillery (with the exception of 5 small items for which no further details are given).

Concerning the vehicles with the troops, of the Train and of the various Administrations-Branchen:

Blue - all medicine carts and wagons, and all vehicles connected with the hospitals.
Grey - all other vehicles with the troops, the "flying horse depots", and the vehicles of the Intendantur (Administration) of the Feld Post (Field Post Office).
Kaisergelb (emperor yellow, a dark yellow) - all other vehicles of the Feldpost.

French guns had "bottle green" (a dark green with a splash of olive) wooden parts with black metal fittings. French gun barrels were bronze, German barrels were black. (The result of the process used to protect the steel against corrosion.)

 

The Introduction of Rifled Breech-loading Guns

The Prussians began experimenting with steel-barrelled rifled breech-loaders in the 1850s, and although they were undoubtedly superior to the old muzzle-loaders there was considerable resistance to them in conservative military circles. Energetic individuals helped to overcome this. For example in 1859 Crown Prince William ( later Emperor ), who was a strong supporter of the new guns, changed an order for 100 guns to one for 300 in his own hand. The issue was settled when it became clear in 1866 that the range of modern small arms required their use. The Prussians themselves were fully equipped with the new guns by 1867, smaller contingents in the Army of the North German Confederation which still had muzzle-loaders were re-equipped from 1867. The other German states changed to breech-loaders during the 1860s and by 1870 all deployed them.

The development by Krupps of steel strong enough to be used for gun barrels, coupled with the development of machine tools after mid-century permitted the production of large numbers of guns of identical performance with easily replaceable parts. The strong barrels permitted the use of more powerful charges and thus enabled firing at longer ranges than before. All this assisted the Prussians in the development of a highly effective artillery arm. As a matter of interest a major reason for the lack of development of steel-barrelled guns in France was the fact that French industry was some way behind the Germans in steel-making and had not yet developed a strong-enough type of steel.

 

The Guns

The Germans used two calibres in their field batteries in 1870-71. The 4 pounder ( calibre 77 millimetres ) was used in horse and light driving batteries, the 6 pounder ( 91.6 millimetres ) was used in the heavy driving batteries. The 4 pounder was the 1864 model ( C/64 ), with gun carriage and limber from the same year. In 1867 a new breech-block was introduced, giving the designation C/64/67. The 6 pounder had the barrel of 1861 ( C/61 ) with the gun carriage and limber developed in 1864. A new 6 pounder barrel introduced in 1864 proved unsuitable and the barrels were finished as the C/61, although they were slightly lighter. Along with the C/64 limbers and gun carriages, 1864 also saw the introduction of a new munitionshinterwagen, a two-wheel caisson drawn by a similar limber to that used to tow the guns.

 

Ammunition

The ammunition used by the artillery in 1870-71 consisted of explosive and incendiary shells, canister and shrapnel ( shrapnel was only just being introduced in German armies and its use was limited ). The projectiles were propelled by using bagged charges ( Kartuschen ) of various sizes.

The terms 4 and 6 pounder applied to the weight of round shot the guns would fire. The 4 pounder's shell in fact weighed 4.342 kilogrammes ( about 9½ pounds ), that of the 6 pounder weighed 6.9 kilogrammes ( about 15¼ pounds ). On exploding the 4 pounder shell broke into 30-50 fragments, the 6 pounder shell into 30-40 fragments.

At ranges up to 900 metres, the effects of 4 and 6 pounder shells were similar; at ranges above 900 metres the heavier shells had greater moral effect and were more effective against fixed targets. When the shell exploded there was a potential danger zone for a further 450 metres beyond the point of impact, although not too much should be made of this.

Incendiary shells contained 20 percent less explosive than normal shells, in lieu they contained small incendiary elements ( Brander ), the 4 pounder shell four, the 6 pounder shell six. The Brander ( burners ) made the shells slightly heavier than the explosive variety. Each Brander would burn for 15-20 seconds, and it was found that these shells could set quite heavy wooden structures alight. Incendiary shells were distinguished externally by three small flames painted at the tip in red oil paint.

The Prussian shells were fitted with extremely reliable percussion fuses of a type developed by General Neumann in 1859.

Shrapnel was a new weapon in Germany and had not yet been tested thoroughly. It could be used at ranges up to 2,200 metres and exploded into 200 fragments. There was an idea that it could perhaps be used as a form of long-range canister, although at this time German artillerymen had little confidence in it, as it was still an untried weapon.

Canister came in the form of cylinders, a 4 pounder round containing 48 zinc balls ( zinc was used in preference to iron because it wore the rifling in the barrels rather less ), and a 6 pounder round containing 41 rather heavier zinc balls. When 4 and 6 pounders fired canister it was effective up to 450 and 500 metres respectively.

 

Range of the guns

The 4 pounder, when firing shells, had a range of 3,450 metres, the 6 pounder a range of 3,440 metres ( figures from Handbuch der Waffenlehre, Berlin 1912 ).

 

Bagged Charges (Kartuschen)

The bagged charges used to propel the shells came in several sizes. For normal shell and canister fire the 4 pounder would use a charge weighing 1 pound, the 6 pounder a charge weighing 1.2 pounds. For high trajectory fire each calibre had 2 sizes available: the 4 pounder 0.25 and 0.5 pounds, the 6 pounder 0.3 and 0.5 pounds. The smaller of the two would be used for shorter distances, although whenever possible gunners used the 0.5 pound charges because they gave the shells greater effect, and improved accuracy. The choice would be limited by distance and the nature of the target. As a general rule, for example, the 6 pounder would require the 0.3 pound charge for ranges of 600-1200 metres, and the 0.5 pound charge for ranges of 1000-2000 metres. This kind of fire was that for which the old 7 pounder howitzer was used, namely when a target was behind some form of cover and could not be fired upon using the larger charges with the resulting lower trajectories.

 

Ammunition Vehicles

A number of vehicles old and new were used to carry ammunition. The limbers towing the guns carried a supply. The 4 and 6 pounders were both towed by limbers of 1864 ( C/64 ), and each battery also had 6 limbered Munitionshinterwagen C/64 ( ammunition rear wagons ), the limbers towing these were similar to those towing the guns. The older vehicles consisted of 4-wheeled wagons of 1816 ( C/16 ) which had originally carried ammunition for 7 pounder howizters and limbered 2-wheeled vehicles of 1842 ( C/42 ). The process of altering these older vehicles to carry the new ammunition was known as aptiren, the alterations were known as aptirungen, the whole process requiring more or less extensive internal and external changes. The C/42 and C/16 material was used for both 4 and 6 pounder ammunition.

 

Ammunition Supply

The batteries were provided with a large supply of ammunition, this being carried in the limbers and Munitionshinterwagen with the batteries themselves and with the various Munitionskolonnen ( Ammunition Columns ) to the rear. The two tables following show the numbers of projectiles and charges carried by the various vehicles. Unfortunately the author's sources do not give full information on the C/42 vehicles.

It must be pointed out thatTable 1 gives figures for batteries with guns having the 1864 breech. The breech of 1867 called for differences in the construction and use of the bagged charges and altered stowing arrangements, resulting in small variations in the numbers of charges carried in the various vehicles. Table 3 shows the numbers of charges carried for batteries using the C/67 breech.

Table 1 - Ammunition Stowage for 4 pounders

C/64 Limber

C/64 Limber for Munitionshinterwagen

C/64 Munitionshinterwagen

C/42 Limber

C/16 Wagon

Shell

40

40

48

40

119

Incendiary Shell

4

4

8

4

10

Canister

4

8

-

8

13

0.25 pd. Charge

10

10

10

10

36

0.5 pd. Charge

8

8

14

8

34

1 pd. Charge

48

48

60

48

144

Table 2 - Ammunition stowage for 6 pounders

C/64 Limber

C/64 Limber for Munitionshinterwagen

C/64 Munitionshinterwagen

C/42 Limber

C/42 Munitionshinterwagen

C/16 Wagon

Shell

27

27

57

54

24

81

Incendiary Shell

3

3

6

6

3

9

Canister

3

6

-

-

3

6

0.3 pd. Charge

7

7

14

8

4

12

0.5 pd. Charge

8

8

16

8

4

12

1.2 pd. Charge

36

36

72

60

30

96

Table 3 - Ammunition Stowage for 4 pounders using the C/67 breech

C/64 Limber

C/64 Munitionshinterwagen

C/16 Wagon

0.25 pd. Charge

14

10

28

0.5 pd. Charge

15

14

22

1 pd. Charge

50

60

142

 

Each battery of 4 and 6 pounders thus had 6 limbers towing the guns, and also 6 lirnbered Munitionshinterwagen. This gave each battery the following allocation of ammunition and charges (again the figures allow for the C/64 breech, for batteries with the C/67 breech use of Tables 1 and 3 will permit the reader to arrive at the correct number of charges).

This gives the following for the numbers of shells ( Table 4 ) and charges ( Table 5 ) carried by a battery ( the number in brackets gives the total per gun ) :

Table 4 - Shells and canister carried by a battery

4 pounder

6 pounder

Shells

768(128)

666(111)

Incendiary Shells

96(16)

72(12)

Canister

78(13)

60(10)

Table 5 - Charges carried by a battery

4 pounder

6 pounder

1 or 1.2 pounds

936(156)

864(144)

0.5 pounds

180(30)

192(31)

0.25 or 0.3 pounds

180(30)

168(28)

The figure for canister rounds includes the one round carried on each gun carriage. In addition to ammunition the various vehicles also carried a variety of smaller items needed during the firing of the guns.

 

ORGANISATION OF THE ARTILLERY

The German States

By 1870 all the German contingents were using 4 and 6 pounders breech-loaders, and all deployed their artillery in 6-gun batteries.

Baden

Baden had a Feld-Artillerie-Regiment (FAR) of three Abteilungen (an Abteilung was equivalent to a battalion), each with three batteries. There were four 6 pounder batteries, and five 4 pounder batteries. In July 1871 the Baden artillery became FAR nr. 14 of the Prussian army.

Hessen-Darmstadt

This had a Feld-Artillerie-Regiment the Grossherzogliches Artilleriecorps ("Grandducal Artillery Corps"), with two Abteilungen. The I. Abteilung had one 4 pounder horse battery and two 6 pounder driving batteries ( "driving" meant that all personnel were carried on limbers or on seats on the guns ). The II. Abteilung had three 4 pounder driving batteries, for a total of 24 x 4 pounder and 12 x 6 pounder guns.

Wuerttemberg

This had an Artillerie-Regiment with three Abteilungen each of three batteries, with a total of 36 x 4 pounder and 18 x 6 pounder guns.

Bavaria

Bavaria had four Artillerie-Regimenter with eight batteries each, for a total of 72 x 4 pounder and 120 x 6 pounder guns.

The Army of the North German Confederation

This, made up largely of Prussian units, fielded 13 artillery regiments: 1. Garde FAR, and FAR nr. 1-12. FAR nr.12 consisted of the Saxon artillery. Each FAR ( other than nr.12, which had a slightly different organisation ) was made up of three Fuss Abteilungen ( foot battalions ) and one Reitende Abteilung ( mounted battalion ). Each Fuss Abteilung had two 4 pounder and two 6 pounder driving batteries, each Reitende Abteilung had three 4 pounder horse batteries. Each FAR therefore had 90 guns with 36 x 6 pounders and 54 x 4 pounders.

An Allerhoechste-Kabinett-Ordre ("Supreme Cabinet Order") or A.K.O. of 9th June 1870 ordered that from then on all 6 pounder batteries were to be designated "heavy" and all 4 pounder batteries "light".

Within the regiments the smaller contingents were distributed as follows:

The Grossherzoglich Mecklenburgische Fuss Abteilung made up the III. Fuss Abteilung of FARnr.9.

The Herzoglich Braunschweigische 6 Pounder battery was part of the III. Fuss Abteilung of FAR nr. 10.

The Hessen-Darmstadt artillery was attached to the 11. Artillerie - Brigade. As such it was not an integral part of a FAR.

The Saxon artillery regiment (FAR nr. 12) consisted of four Fuss Abteilungen and one Reitende Abteilung. The I. and III. Fuss Abteilungen each had two 4 pounder and two 6 pounder driving batteries. The II. and IV. Fuss Abteilungen each had one 4 pounder and two 6 pounder driving batteries. The Reitende Abteilung had two 4 pounder horse batteries. FAR nr.12 thus had two more 6 pounder batteries and one less horse battery than the other regiments, with a total of 48 each of 4 and 6 pounders.

FARnr.9, 10 and 11 had been set up in October 1866 using the artillery formations of the various territories annexed to Prussian in 1866, including Schleswig-Lauenburg, Kurhessen and Hanover.

 

Regimental and Battery Organisation

The Prussian artillery had different peacetime and wartime establishments. In peacetime fewer horses and men were present and only four guns were deployed per battery. The larger wartime establishment was attained by calling up reservists and any Landwehrartillerymen required to make up the numbers, and by procuring the necessary extra horses and organising the necessary Trainsoldaten.

As in peacetime, during war the artillery consisted of technical and combat elements. Each of the Prussian regiments ( 1. Garde and FAR nr. 1-11 ) was part of an Artillerie-Brigade. Such a brigade consisted of a FAR, an Ersatz-Abteilung ( replacement unit ) and one Festungs Artillerie Regiment( fortress or siege artillery ), and the brigade staff.

The Feld Artillerie Regiment itself consisted of the regimental staff, the four Abteilungen, and a Kolonnen-Abteilung carrying ammunition.

A Fuss Abteilung with four batteries had a staff made up of 1 staff officer, 1 "Lieutenant" (adjutant), 1 NCO, 15 "horse doctors" ( lower grade vets, each with a horse, and divided among the units as required ), 4 Trainsoldaten, one 2-horse wagon and 8 horses.

A 6 pounder driving battery was made up of 4 officers - 1 Hauptmann ( Captain ), 1 Premier-Lieutenant and 2 Sekonde- Lieutenants; amd 145 men - 14 NC0s, 2 trumpeters, 6 Obergefreite, 9 Gefreite ( corporals and lance-corporals ), and 114 Kanoniere. In addition there was a Lazarett-gehuelfe ( medical orderly ), a Sattler ( saddler ), and 4 Trainsoldaten. It had nine 6-horse vehicles, one 2-horse Packwagen and 126 horses ( including 6 officers' horses ).

A 4 pounder driving battery had the same personnel as the 6 pounder unit ( except for 6 fewer Kanoniere ). It had 10 vehicles ( including a Packwagen ) and 124 horses ( including 6 for officers).

The staff of a Reitende Abteilung was as that of a Fuss Abteilung.

A 4 pounder horse battery had 4 officers, 143 men ( 12 NC0s, 2 trumpeters, 6 Obergefreite, 9 Gefreite and 114 Kanoniere, in addition a medical orderly, 2 saddlers, 4 Trainsoldaten, with 9 vehicles, a Packwagen and 207 horses including 12 for officers ).

Each battery had 6 guns, and 6 limbered 2-wheeled ammunition wagons. Guns were pulled by 6 horses.

A Kolonnen-Abteilung consisted of the staff and 9 Kolonnen ( columns ). The staff consisted of: one staff officer, one Lieutenant ( adjutant ), one Feuerwerker to oversee the ammunition ( a specialist in ammunition, etc. ), one NCO as Schreiber ( clerk ), one Kanonier, 5 Trainsoldaten, one 2-horse Equipagewagen and one 4-horse Trainwagen, and 13 horses.

The 1, 2 and 3. Artillerie-Munitions-Kolonnen with C/42 vehicles had 2 officers and 87 men, 24 vehicles, 162 horses, one medical orderly, one saddler and 79 Trainsoldaten.

The 4 and 5. Artillerie-Munitions-Kolonnen with C/16 vehicles had the same establishment as the 1-3. Kolonnen.

The 1, 2, 3 and 4. Infanterie-Munitions-Kolonnen each had 2 officers and 87 men, one medical orderly, one saddler, 92 Trainsoldaten, with 27 vehicles ( including 24 cartridge wagons, Patronenwagen ) and 188 horses. The cartridge wagons carried ammunition for both the infantry and the cavalry.

In addition to these Kolonnen, during a larger campaign or when circumstances required it, Reserve-Munitions-Kolonnen with 32 vehicles per Kolonne could be set up.

The doctors attached to the FAR were part of the staff of the regiment.

The Ersatz Abteilung, which had a staff, two foot and one horse batteries, would be retained under the authority of the fortress artillery regiments' commander, who would also be in charge of the immobile artillery of the relevant Armeekorps.

An Artillerie-Brigade was attached to each Armeekorps in wartime. The field artillery component of a brigade, a FAR, provided the complement of batteries in an Armeekorps with two infantry divisions - each division would have two 4 pounder and two 6 pounder batteries, and the Corps artillery would have two each of 4 and 6 pounder batteries. The cavalry division and Corps artillery would each have 1 or 2 horse batteries, as considered appropriate.

 

Final Points

Firing was now taking place at distances such that the naked eye was unable to observe accurately the effect of the fire and difficulty might be experienced in aiming the guns, and optical instruments were not yet as effective as they later became.

The maximum range for high trajectory fire using the smaller charges is stated in one source to have been 2,000 metres.

At long range the Prussian 6 pounders had a markedly greater moral effect on the French than the 4 pounders.

A final point of interest concerns the direction taken by the various pieces of a shell after it has exploded. One source states that there was a potential danger zone of 450 metres beyond the point of impact, the same source ( Witte ) also states that in the event of a shell landing short of a target, depending on its distance from the target, the pieces created by the explosion might well fly over the target altogether ( and presumably create danger for a unit further along the path of the pieces' flight ). This is an interesting question which might warrant further investigation, suggesting both a wide variety of consequences for targets more or less distant from a shell burst according to the type of ground they are occupying, and the idea that the greatest danger exists for someone further from the gun than the point of impact of the shell.

 

Sources Used

- T.N. Dupuy, A Genius for War - The German Army and General Staff 1807-1945 ( London 1977 )

- W. Witte, Die gezogenen feldgeschuetze C/61, C/64 und C64/67 1870/71 ( Berlin 1867 )

- Heerwesen und Infanteriedienst der Koeniglich Preussischen Armee ( Berlin 1869 )

- Handbuch für Offiziere der Königlichen Preussischen Artillerie ( Berlin 1860 )

- Various individual references from articles in several editions of the annual Deutsches Soldatenjahrbuch ( published München )

- W. Peter and E. Graf Matuschka, Organisationsgeschichte der Streitkraefte, in Strukturen und Organisation, Section IV, Part II, in vol. 2 of Handbuch zur deutschen Militaergeschichte ( Frankfurt am Main 1964 - 1979 )

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