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"How do artillery pieces fire downhill?" Topic

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AuvergneWargamer20 May 2017 3:54 a.m. PST

Bonjour Chaps,

Just been of a tour of battlefields with some chums and on several it was unclear to us how an artillery battery would be able to depress its guns enough to fire into a valley below.

Waterloo was a good example but so were other battles e.g. Montmirail.

So how would it be done?

Answers gratefully received.



14Bore20 May 2017 4:07 a.m. PST

The artillerists will be along shortly I'm sure, but as far as I know depression of pieces is limited, there also seems to be aiming issues shooting small arms downhill so wonder if it applies to artillery.

Bob the Temple Builder20 May 2017 4:42 a.m. PST

You can depress the barrel by a few degrees, but changing the amount of powder charge used would help … although as most artillery used pre-loaded powder bags I'm not sure how that could be achieved.

Extrabio1947 Supporting Member of TMP20 May 2017 5:11 a.m. PST

Ask the Confederates on Missionary Ridge. The guns were placed so poorly the artillerymen were putting logs under the carriage trails in efforts to depress the barrels enough to be effective.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP20 May 2017 6:52 a.m. PST

The gun tube can be depressed, but not significantly.

The 'solution' to the problem is care in choosing the artillery position(s). Positions are not picked with significant dead ground in front of the battery position.

You want an elevated position, but not one that precludes you firing at close range which would entail a good chance at being overrun.

Mick the Metalsmith20 May 2017 6:54 a.m. PST

Digging holes under the wheels too.

wrgmr120 May 2017 8:42 a.m. PST

Digging a holes as Mick suggested or a trench, then piling the dirt under the trail.

138SquadronRAF Supporting Member of TMP20 May 2017 8:52 a.m. PST

One thing you have to remember is that many battlefields have fairly gentle slopes.

Yes, there are exceptions, not everything is like the battle of Lansdown

Or Perryville

As part of the wargaming aesthetic we tend to make our hills too steep.

Yes, you'll get dead ground- von Bredlow proved that at Mars-la-Tour – but here;s a great video of the Pratzen Heights at Austerlitz. Artillery would have a great field of fire – weather permitting. As someone who's shot live rounds from smoothbore artillery you've plenty of good shots over this ground:

YouTube link

Mick the Metalsmith20 May 2017 8:58 a.m. PST

Also a handy extra wedge of wood under the breech might be a decent fix without the labor.

Dead space is a given for the period. The attempts to minimize it by interlocking fields of fire could well be one of the advantages of dividing batteries up into 2 gun parcels deploying apart.

Korvessa20 May 2017 9:17 a.m. PST

Always wondered how the rebels fired on Harper's Ferry. Pretty steep hills.

rmaker20 May 2017 12:50 p.m. PST

Also a handy extra wedge of wood under the breech might be a decent fix without the labor.

Unlikely. The usual limit to depression is the barrel forward of the trunnions resting on the carriage.

JMcCarroll Supporting Member of TMP20 May 2017 2:03 p.m. PST

Parking brakes

Jcfrog Supporting Member of TMP20 May 2017 2:37 p.m. PST

Field pieces, a few degrees only. That was a pb that game rarely do right , with our downwards shooting from every height in sight.

Even fortress guns had a real trouble though they had the time and material to add wads and ways to plug the inside from sliding out or get so undone as to make a non efficient shooting.

It was a pb on Waterloo, Maloyaroslavets and Acw battles, as they pop up to mind.
Remember for Gribauval guns had their barrels moved back in limber position when moving, which means gimmicks to put the gun at a steep angle, upon firing will unhinge the stuff. Not sure I am clear enough.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP20 May 2017 4:36 p.m. PST

Of the three Gribeauval field pieces ('the three calibers'), two, the 8- and 12-pounder, had two sets of trunnion plates-one for travelling when limbered up to displace, and the other for firing.

There was a drill devised for it in order to change the trunnion plates for these two field pieces when displacing and emplacing. Handspikes were used to roll the gun tube into the proper position.

It was done while the piece was limbered up and took no longer than limbering the piece.

LORDGHEE20 May 2017 6:13 p.m. PST

one Austrian Lt. wrote home after the battle of Neerwinden that it was so unfair, the French placed Howitzers at the bottom of the hill and his guns could not hit them while they shell his battery all battle.

He could see the top of the artillerymen heads and could bring his guns to bare.

AuvergneWargamer20 May 2017 10:56 p.m. PST

Bonjour Gents,

All helpful replies.

And just realised that one of the respondents is coming to lunch today!!!



Jcfrog Supporting Member of TMP20 May 2017 11:29 p.m. PST

Trunions a l'auvergnate.

1968billsfan Supporting Member of TMP24 May 2017 3:39 p.m. PST

Heh? If there is a constant slope from where the gun is to the target,,,, there is not problem. You just load and fire as usual. There might be a slight difference in the path of the cannonball, (it will sink slightly slower towards the center of the earth on a down-slope than on level ground- as measured by a tape measure laid on the ground) but it will take some math to calculate those few inches.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP01 Jun 2017 7:45 p.m. PST

I was doing some work this evening and came across some data in a period artillery manual, Louis de Tousard's American Artillerist's Companion, which was compiled using period French and British artillery manuals and it stated that the Gribeauval field pieces (4-, 8-, and 12-pounders) could elevate 17 degrees 'above the horizon' and depress 15 degrees 'below the horizon.'

For the heavy artillery, siege or battering pieces, it would be 13-14 degrees above and 6-8 degrees below the horizon.

1968billsfan Supporting Member of TMP06 Dec 2017 4:34 a.m. PST

….and please don't forget that the same thing that is true for modern machineguns was true for artillery guns in that era. You do NOT want to fire just directly to your front. You want to fire from the flank of the attacking enemy in order to increase the length of the zone that might contain the enemy and be swept by your projectiles. A cross-fire is even better. "From the flank" does NOT mean (as is usual in wargame rules) that you draw a line down the front of the attacking enemy line and that line has to also go through your gun. (Gee- ever realize that the target would then be the depth of a rank wide? 30" or so? AND be available for only a few seconds!) 15 to 40 degrees works just fine as then the target is wide and each projectile can still hit several targets.

Three Armies06 Dec 2017 1:13 p.m. PST

Gravity should help, if that fails use a breach block/wedge. ;)

Lion in the Stars06 Dec 2017 4:20 p.m. PST

An older discussion on this: TMP link

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