Artillery 3: The eighteen-pounder

The 18-pdr was “the gun of the Western Front,”(1) and so representative of that conflict that it is part of the National War Memorial in Canada’s capital.  national-war-memorial gun trip advisor

“For more than four years, from the morning of 2 March 1915, when the first Canadian shell was fired in France, … the 18-pounders – sometimes singly, sometimes in dozens, and sometimes by the hundreds – had supported the infantry, faithfully and reliably, in advance and in retreat. During the course of the war, the Commonwealth armies fired nearly 100 million 18-pounder rounds.” (1)

The 18-pr Q.F. gun fired shells weighing slightly more than 18 pounds (8.2 kg), from a barrel nearly 97 inches (2.46 metres) long. The barrel was a single tube of steel wrapped in steel wire and covered by a jacket; (2) such a  construction was lighter than the traditional method of “building up a barrel by shrinking concentric tubes one upon the other.” (3)  Not only was it lighter, which pleased the gunners, but it was cheaper, which pleased the War Office.

The gun body itself rested on a carriage: the barrel pointing in one direction and the trail extending behind it. The trail rested on the ground when the gun was in position and kept it steady; to move the gun, the trail was raised and attached to a limber, essentially a second set of wheels also equipped to carry ammunition. If necessary, the gun could be dragged by soldiers on either side of the trail, as in the monument.

description page 5

Handbook of the 18PR QF Gun.1915. 5

 

 

The 18-pr was a quick-firing or QF gun, chiefly because (unlike the 12-pr on which Percy and his pals originally trained), it had a recuperation mechanism to return the gun to its original position after it recoiled upon firing. Thus it did not have to pushed back into position and re-aimed before firing.(4) Other factors contributed to the speed of firing. The gun was breech-loaded, its shell being loaded from an opening at the rear of the barrel rather than being stuffed down its mouth (muzzle-loading). Furthermore, those eponymous shells were self-contained and could be loaded as a single unit.

Up to twenty rounds a minute could be fired by six men working closely as a team.

The image of the War Memorial is taken from Trip Advisor.

(1) Barnes, Leslie. Canada’s Guns: An Illustrated History of Artillery. 1979. 66.
(2) Handbook of the 18PR QF Gun. London: HMSO, 1915.5
(3) Barnes, Leslie. Canada’s Guns: An Illustrated History of Artillery. 1979. 69
(4) Grout, Derek. Thunder in the Skies. A Canadian Gunner in the Great War. Toronto: Dundurn, 2015. 38.

Copyright 2016. See “More about this project.”
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