Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics

 

 

Wellington’s Big Bang: the British 12-pounders

By Anthony Leslie Dawson

 

It has long been considered by historians and commentators on the Royal Artillery of the Napoleonic period that the British army did not have a 12-pounder field gun in service; it has been suggested that the weapon was too heavy and therefore immobile for use in the field and that it was instead a siege or garrison weapon. This, however, is not the case. The Royal Artillery used 12-pounder field guns in almost all of their major operations and furthermore it was used by the Royal Horse Artillery.

Weapon Design

The [re-]introduction of the 12-pounder to the British army was due to Prussian influence and tactical papers by Major William Collier published between 1780 and 1791. Collier had made a study of contemporary European artillery and believed the Prussian system to be the superior. He advocated a new scheme of artillery which utilised two calibres of field guns (heavy three -pounder and medium 12-pounder) and two calibres of howitzer (5.5inch and 8 inch). The 12-pounder “would prove more by a superior weight and rate of fire”.

Collier, however, also advocated the abolishing of the heavy 12-pounder and that it be replaced by the long 6-pounders. These guns had a similar range and importantly

…The Diminution of transport, on a comparative view, seemed to be an Object of the greatest Consequence. The introduction of the six pounder of this nature tend to shorten the Train in a line of march, and thereby greatly facilitated the transport of a heavy mass of artillery.” The size of the weapon and difficulty in moving it “retarded the movement of the infantry, and prevent it from seizing on a post”.

He urged the retention of the medium 12-pounder to provide heavy fire support at crucial points.

William Congreve senior had also visited Prussia in the late 1770’s and had made a study of both Prussian and Hanoverian horse artillery; he also  became well acquainted with King Frederick (“the Great”) of Prussia.

a) Brass (Bronze) Gun-tubes

Thomas Blomefield, as Inspector-General of Artillery, introduced a new system of Ordnance from 1784 onwards. His system of gun tubes was based around two standard lengths: that of 17 calibres and that of 13. Seventeen calibre tubes were used for the “heavy” or “long” pieces with the “light” and siege/garrison guns having tubes of 13 calibres.  The calibre of all 12-pounders was 4.623 inches.

 Blomefield designed three types of 12-pounder, each being specialised towards a particular function. The heavy 12-pounder was used in garrison and siege work; the medium was used in the field and the light for the horse artillery. As the Napoleonic wars progressed, however, the medium 12-pounder became the sole weapon of its class.

The medium 12-pounder had a gun-tube that was 6 feet 6.66 inches in length and it weighed 18.0 cwt; an example cast by John and Henry King in 1795 at the Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds, has a length of 6 feet 3 inches and a weight of 18 cwt 9lb. A medium 12-pounder also survives with its original block-trail carriage in Montreal.

The dimensions of the 12-pounder tubes are noted by Isaac Landmann c.1790:

Tube length

17 calibres

13 calibres

Length

6 feet 6.66 inches

5 feet 0.10 inches

Weight

18.0 cwt

12.0 cwt

Diameter of the Calibre

4.623 inches

4.623 inches

Diameter of the Shot

4.403 inches

4.403 inches

Windage

0.220 inches

0.220 inches

Thickness of metal before the bass ring

4.008 inches

3.450 inches

Thickness of metal at the Breech

4.050 inches

3.467 inches

Thickness of metal at the Muzzle Astragal

1.950 inches

1.913 inches

Weight of Powder for Scaling

12 oz

8 oz

Weight of Powder for Proof

5.0 lb

4.0 lb

Weight of Powder for Service

4.0 lb

4.0 lb

No. of Rounds for Proof

2

2

Blomefield’s light 12-pounder was 5 feet 0.10 inches long and weighed 12.0 cwt. Ironically, the Blomefield weapon was heavier by approximately 4 cwt than its predecessor. The use of a 13-calibre light 12-pounder is presumably based on the Prussian horse artillery weapon which had a length of 14 calibres.

The Blomefield 12-pounders were first cast in 1792; in 1794 trials took place between the heavy and medium calibres of that weapon.  They were tested against each other, but also against the older weapons of their class. A letter dated 14th February 1794 states that the medium 12-pounder of 18 cwt was to be adopted “…to compleat the Park of Artillery”. Cockburn writing in 1827, however, indicates the medium 12-pounder of 18.0 cwt was introduced as early as 1788. Cadet Mould at the Royal Military College confirms the length and weight of the medium 12-pounder and tables of ordnance show that it was in service until 1881.

In 1792 Colonel Drummond and Majors Blomefield and Congreve were ordered by the Duke of Richmond, Master General of the Ordnance, to convene a meeting and hold trials of the new block-trail carriage and to ascertain which armament was most suitable for the new Royal Horse Artillery. Present at these trails of August 1792 was the 12-pounder, mounted on the block-trail.  The initial armament for the Royal Horse Artillery was the heavy 3-pounder Desaguliers, the 6-pounder Belford and Light 12-pounder Blomefield. This establishment is supported by Adye (1802), as is the fact that they were mounted on the block-trail.

The three Blomefield weapons were not the only 12-pounders designed for the Royal Artillery; General Thomas Desaguliers designed a bronze 12-pounder of 7 feet 6 inches and a weight of 23.0cwt in 1778. According to Adye this was still in use by 1802, despite it being deemed obsolete in 1784.

By 1802, suggests Adye, the Blomefield medium and light 12-pounders were “…the only ones now in service”.

b) Iron Gun-tubes

Not only did Blomefield produce designs for bronze 12-pounder field guns, but also iron. The iron 12-pounders were designed for garrison, siege or naval service; Blomefield designed six of these weapons.

Adye in 1802 indicates that four iron 12-pounders were in service, and gives their respective lengths, length by calibre and weights:-

9 feet 6 inches

24.659 calibres

34 cwt

9 feet

23.361 calibres

32 cwt

8 feet 6 inches

22.063 calibres

31 cwt 2 qr

7 feet 6 inches

19.463 calibres

29 cwt 1 qr

For each gun-tube there was 249 pounds of metal for every pound of shot.

Blomefield, however also designed two “short” iron 12-pounders for field service; both of these had gun-tubes six feet in length, with one weighing 24cwt and the second 21cwt respectively.

Cadet Mould at the Royal Military Academy in 1825 lists four 12-pounders in his notebook, as follows:

9 feet

34 cwt

Battleships, garrison duties

8 feet 6 inches

31 cwt

Battering Train

7 feet 6 inches

29 cwt

Garrison duties

6 feet

24 cwt

Not in use at present

By 1813 only two iron 12-pounders were still in service, those of 9.0 feet and 34cwt and 6 feet and 24cwt. The 9 foot gun was used as siege or garrison artillery and the 6 foot gun as part of the park artillery.

At Fort York, Toronto, is an iron Blomefield gun on what appears to be an original block-trail carriage. The tube length is 9.0 feet, and overall 9 feet 8 ¾ inches.

Tube Length

9.0 feet

Overall Length

9 feet 8 ¼ inches

Thickness of metal at Muzzle

3 inches

Position of Trunnions

4 feet 11 inches from Muzzle

The tube has no markings other than a broad Ordnance Board arrow, George III cipher and quarter-site. There are no weight markings, Master General of Ordnance cipher, nor are there any maker’s marks.

Carriages

The medium 12-pounder used by the Royal Horse artillery was mounted on the block-trail carriage from 1792; this is further confirmed by Lawson in 1800 and Adye in his “Pocket Gunner” of 1802. The block-trail for the 12-pounder, unlike those for the 3- and 6-pounders had no axle seats, and William Congreve in 1795 argued for two gunners to ride on the limber and the remainder of  the gun detachment to travel into action mounted on the support vehicles, rather like the French and Austrian horse artillery “Wurst Wagon”. This is confirmed by Adye.

For the foot artillery, the gun was mounted on a “light travelling carriage” of traditional double-bracket form. A cadet’s note book of c.1800, quoting Adye, notes

...the cheeks and transoms of Elm wood and the axletree of Ash, the nave and fellies are of Elm. The ammunition box of deal, the spoaks of oak and the shafts, bars and axle tree of ash”.

The same student also indicates it was drawn by three horses in single file – which  indicates that at that time the 12-pounder had not yet received the 1788 system limber.

The weights of the “park” or travelling carriages for the light and medium 12- pounders are note by Adye:

12 pounder Medium

Gun-carriage without boxes

16 cwt 1 qr 11 lb

Limber to do.

7 cwt 2 qr 14 lb

Gun

18 cwt

Total, complete

36 cwt 2 qr 23lb

   

12 pounder Light Gun

Gun-carriage, complete

12 cwt 2qr 7lb

Limber with empty boxes

12 cwt 3qr 14lb

Gun

12 cwt

Total, complete

36 cwt 21 lb

Wheels were four feet eight inches in diameter for both carriage and limber.

He also proceeds to detail the “horse artillery” block-trail carriage in use at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The carriage for the medium 12-pounders had two trunnion positions (firing and travelling) and that of the light 12-pounder had a single position due to its short tube length.

Weight of Field Carriages present in use Horse Artillery Carriages

12-Prs. Gun-carriages complete for service, with two men, and their appointments on the limber, and 16 rounds of ammunition

Total: 45cwt  4lb

Circa 1800 William Congreve indicates that the 12-pounder carriage could be modified on campaign so that it could be fired at an elevation of 17 degrees.

Adye, in 1802, indicates that the horse harness and limbers for the foot artillery 12-pounder were all of the New Pattern, but the carriages were still of the double-bracket type.

Returns by Lieutenant-Colonel William Robe of 1st November 1808 in Spain note that the foot artillery’s 12-pounder was by that date mounted on the “New Pattern”, i.e. block-trail carriage.

The weights for the carriage and support vehicles for the 12-pounders are as follows:-

 

Medium

Light

Carriage (complete)

12 cwt 3 qr 9 lb

8 cwt 2 qr 11 lb

Limber (complete)

8 cwt 3 qr 6 lb

8 cwt 6 lb

Stores (18 rounds)

11 cwt 5 qr

The total weight of the New Block Trail Carriage and New Pattern Ammunition Carriages, when equipped, are listed by Adye:

12-pounder medium gun, gun, carriage, and limber, with ammunition: 42.0 cwt
12-pounder ammunition carriage, and limber to, with ammunition: 29.0 cwt

The wheels for the 12-pounders on the block-trail were 5.0 feet in diameter and weighed 4cwt 21lbs a pair in 1813. The carriage for the 12-pounders lacked the side-boxes of their smaller sisters and carried all their ammunition and stores in the limber boxes. Adye, however, notes that the ammunition and stores were carried in two ammunition wagons.

The iron 12-pounders were still mounted on the double-bracket carriage in 1813 which presumably confirms they were used as siege or garrison pieces. The carriage for the 9 foot 12-pounder weighed 24-0-6 and that for the 6 foot tube, 18-1-4

Gun detachments and Equipment

Drill manuals from the 1790s indicate that the medium 12-pounder had an 8-man detachment and two ammunition numbers; the heavy had 10 men to serve it, plus 2 ammunition numbers, which, ironically, was the same as that for the light 6-pounder in Battalion service.

In action the limber and its horse team were placed 20 yards behind the gun line; the first-line ammunition wagon 15 yards behind and the 2nd line 15 yards further. Each gun was placed 13.1 yards apart.

The equipment issued for the service of a medium 12-pounder included:-

Apron of lead with strap

1

Spunges, with staves and heads

2

Wad Hooks with staves

1

Hand Spikes, traversing

1

Tampions with collars

1

Tarpaulin

1

Linstock with Cocks

1

Drag ropes, pairs

2

Padlocks with keys

2

Slow Match

28 lbs

Spike, spring

1

Spike, common

1

Punches for vents

2

Barrels budge

1

Spare heads – rammer

1

Spare heads – spunges

1

Priming Irons – sets

1

Claw Hammer

1

Draught chains – pairs

2

Water-buckets – French Pattern

1

Intrenching tools – felling axe

1

Pick axe

1

Handbill

1

Spades

2

Marline, tarred – skains

1

Hambro’ line, tarred – skains

1

Grease, firkins

1

Grease, boxes

3

Tallow

1 lb

Lantherns, dark

1

Lifting Jack

1

Handscrew Jack

1

The lead apron was to cover the vent of the gun-tube to prevent any moisture or foreign objects entering it; the straps were to secure it to the tube on the march. The tampion served the same function but to protect the muzzle.

The Wadhook or worm was a metal helix mounted on an ash stave which was used to remove the remains of the cartridge from the bass of the cylinder and the sponges to extinguish any burning embers in the cylinder. The Priming wires – made from bronze or copper - were to pierce a hole in the cartridge through the vent into which the priming tube or fuse was inserted. The claw-hammer was used to extract a miss-fired priming tube. In French service a special fuse-extractor was in use.

The two spikes were used to render a weapon hors de combat if the gun-position was in danger of being overrun. The common spike was a length of soft iron that could be hammered into the vent, which could only be removed by drilling it out. The spring spike did not completely disable the gun. The spike had a spring mounted half-way down its length, so that it was compressed when forced through the vent but sprung open when it entered the cylinder. When the gun was recovered, the ram rod could be pushed down the cylinder, compressing the spring, so that the spike could be removed.

The remainder of the equipment is fairly self explanatory: the gun detachment was expected not only to serve their pieces, but also to maintain them in the field and create any field works as necessary.

The harness for the six horses consisted of:-

Ropes (6 to a set), sets

1

Chain Traces (4 to a set)

2

Wanties

2

Hemp Halters

14

Sheepskins

7

Whips, short

7

Nose bags

14

Corn sacks

3

Forage cords, sets

3

Each 12-pounder was issued with two ammunition wagons of “Flanders Pattern” in 1802 to transport the ammunition, and each Brigade of four guns had issued to it 8 ammunition wagons, 1 forge cart, 1 stores wagon, 1 spare wagon, 1 food wagon, 2 wagons musket ammunition.

Around 1800 the medium and light 12-pounders were drawn by three horses, but with the introduction of the New Pattern Carriage, it had risen to 6 and then 8 by 1808. During the Peninsula it was found expedient to increase their number by a further pair, bringing the total of horses per gun to 10.

Ammunition and Ranges

The ammunition allotted to each medium 12-pounder in 1802 is listed by Adye. He notes that they carried extra ammunition in a “small box on their limbers, carry 6 round shot and 2 case shot, with 6 cartridges of 4lbs and 2 of 3 ½ lbs powder more.”

Shot Fixed to wooden bottoms – Case

24

Shot Fixed to wooden bottoms – Round

120

Cartridges of Flannel filled with 4lbs Powder

120

Cartridges of Flannel filled with 3 ½ lbs powder

24

Cartridges, Flannel, empty

12

Tubes of Tin, New Pattern

172

Portfires

18

The medium 12-pounder had no side-lockers or limber-boxes, and had all of its ammunition and stores divided equally between two artillery wagons. Each carried 72 rounds, giving a total of 144 rounds. The wagons in use in 1802 were all of the “old pattern”, drawn by three horses.

Light 12-pounders used by the Royal Horse Artillery were issued with only 66 rounds, distributed between an ammunition wagon and limber boxes:-

Limber Boxes               12 round shot, 4 case shot, 4 shells
Ammunition wagon       52 round shot, 8 case shot, 10 shells.

This was considerably less than the other weapons used by the RHA; the 6-pounder had 116 rounds and the 9-pounder 104 rounds total.

With the introduction of the block-trail for the foot artillery 12-pounders and the associated new pattern rolling stock, the amount of stores carried per gun was dramatically increased. By 1813 a medium 12-pounder was issued with the following stores:

Gun Limber

Off Box

5 round shot, 1 heavy case shot

 

New Box

5 round shot, 1 heavy case shot

Ammunition Carriage

Limber

Off Box

12 round shot, 4 light case shot

 

Near Box

12 round shot, 4 heavy case shot

Body

Fore Box

12 round shot, 8 Shrapnell’s Case Shot

 

Hind Box

16 round shot, 2  heavy case shot, 2 light case shot

Total: 62 round shot, 7 Heavy case shot, 7 Light case shot, 8 Shrapnell’s case shot: 84 rounds total.

It is interesting to note that spherical case shot is referred to as “Shrapnell’s case shot”. Alexander Dickson states that on average guns were equipped with ammunition according to the following ratio: 70% round shot, 11.5% canister, 18.5 Shrapnell’s case.

French 12-pounders were allocated three Caissons, which were loaded with 48 round shot, 12 heavy canister and 8 light canister, giving a total of 68 rounds per caisson.

Therefore it is apparent that the British artillery were used in an offensive role; to fire at long range, using round shot to break up enemy formations. The small provision of defensive shot (canister etc) suggests that the guns were seldom fought at close range.

A comparison of the ammunition provision for the 12-pounders of various other Napoleonic armies suggests that in a prolonged fire-fight that the British would have been out shot

Austria

Britain

France

Prussia

Russia

150 rounds

84 rounds

222 rounds

114 rounds

172 rounds

Adye in his “Little Bombardier and Pocket Gunner” of 1802 gives the following details on range and recoil of these guns:

Ranges of Brass Guns, with one shot, 1793

12-Pr Medium, to the first graze, charge 4, 705 yds
12-Pr Light, to the first graze, charge 3, 601 yds

Range from Brass Field Guns, with small Charges, 1798

12 pr   10 oz charge, first graze at 199 yds, extreme range was from 800 to 1000 yds
12 pr    1 lb charge, first graze at 280 yds, extreme range from 1200 to 1800 yds.

Recoil of guns. Field Guns on Travelling Carriages on Elm Planks

12-Pr Med.   4 lbs charge, 1 shot, 12 feet; double-shotted, 25 feet, case shot, 8.5 feet

The comparative ranges to the first graze and weights of charge for the medium, light and Desaguliers 12-pounders are as follows:

 

Charge

1 degree

2 degrees

3 degrees

12-medium gun

4 lb

705 yards

973 yards

1189 yards

12-light gun

3 lb

601 yards

816 yards

1063 yards

Desaguliers

2 lb

645 yards

966 yards

1325 yards

When fired with a reduced or “small” charge the range in yards at the first graze of a medium 12-pounder were measured as being:

Charge

1 degree

2 degree

3 degree

4 degree

5 degree

6 degree

7 degree

8 degree

Extreme range

12 pounder

10 oz

199

290

390

785

597

716

695

788

800 to 1000

1 lb

208

416

729

777

966

1090

1054

1295

1200 to 1500

At three degrees elevation the “first” graze for the 12-pounder firing round-shot was at 1, 189 yards using a four-pound charge,  255 yards shorter than that of the 6-pounder at the same elevation, using a 2 pound charge. The French Year 11 12-pounder at 2 degrees elevation with a 4.5 pound charge had a first graze of 1,350 yards i.e. 161 yards further.

British canister shot was made in two types: light and heavy. The 12-pounder used three sizes of canister balls; the light ball of 6.5oz was shared by the light and medium weapons, with the medium 12-pounder using a ball of 18oz for heavy canister compared to 14oz for the light gun.

Canister Specifications

 

Number of Balls

Ball Weight

Cartridge Weight

12-pounder Medium

15

18 ox

18 lb 8oz

 

42

6.5 oz

17 lb 11oz

12-pounder Light

12

14 oz

14lb 14oz

 

34

6.5oz

14lb 11oz

These figures, however, are contradicted by Adye in 1813 who suggests that all balls were 1.5 inches in diameter each weighing 10 ounces. There were 55 per canister.

The charges for firing round and case shot are given by Adye: 12-pdr heavy canister shot was 4.0 lbs., the same used for round shot. The light canister used a charge of 3.5lbs in 1802 and 3lbs in 1813.

The British canister used considerably fewer balls than its French counterpart; Gribeauval system canister, for heavy canister shot used 41 balls and light 112. Furthermore, the French cartridges were lighter.

Shrapnell’s Case Shot was a copy of the European “exploding grenade shot” which was initially devised in Prussia. It was in use in Prussia and France by 1780. Lieutenant Henry Shrapnell is credited with its introduction to the Royal Artillery in 1784 and also claims its invention, which was obviously not the case. It consisted of a hollow iron sphere filled with a bursting charge and up to 60 iron or lead musket balls. They used a wooden timing fuse. Shrapnells case shot was not used in the field artillery until c.1805 and the Board of Ordnance refused to let it be fired against French troops in case they captured any unexploded cases and therefore would be able to copy them, which, in any event they had been able to do when French soldiers had captured a British ammunition in the Peninsula.

Range tables from the early 1820s indicate that the Blomefield 12-pound gun could fire Shrapnell’s case up to 2,340 yards. Trials show that it could achieve a 48% of hits at 1000 yards.

British Guns in Russia

In 1813 the British Government sponsored the formation of the Russo-German  Legion. Equipment appears to have been largely obsolete. The Russo-German Legion was issued with a hotchpotch of artillery equipment and the surviving material in the Kremlin and Borodino Museum indicates the use of a variety of gun-tubes, carriages and support equipment.

Details of two British 12-pounders in Russia are as follows:

 

Tube Length

Tube Weight

Calibre

12-pounder Light

13 calibres

13cwt 2 qr

4.623 inches

12-pounder Medium

16.8 calibres

20.0 cwt

4.623 inches

From these details it would appear that the light 12- pound gun in Russia was the Blomefield weapon introduced in 1784, as the above details relate closely to those listed by Adye etc.

The medium 12-pound gun listed, however, does not relate to the weight of any known British tube; it is too heavy to be the Blomefield medium gun and too light to be that of Desaguliers. However, one candidate may be the “old” (i.e. pre-Blomefield) medium 12-pounder. It is listed by Adye (1802) Congreve (1778) and Walton (1778) has a weight of approximately 21cwt. Adye notes that the pre-Blomefield medium 12-pounder was obsolete and not in service by 1802, which raises the question of obsolete equipment that was still serviceable being used for Colonial service and to rapidly and cheaply equip émigré or foreign regiments.                             

Active Service

The light, subsequently medium, 12-pounder was adopted for use by the Royal Horse Artillery in 1792. The use of such a large-calibre weapon for Horse Artillery duties is presumably based on Prussian practice. The Prussian Horse Artillery used a light 12-pounder with a tube length of 14 calibres as early as 1763 and the French adopted that same calibre by 1806.

  The use of Horse Artillery 12-pouders and gives some impression of the tactical role of that new arm. William Congreve suggests that the Horse Artillery were to: “…be capable of Accompanying Cavalry and infantry in all their movements” and “that it never ought never to be stationary, and scarcely ever to act on the defensive.” In other words the Horse Artillery was to be a highly-mobile Brigade of guns to be brought rapidly to bear on critical points of the enemy line.

The foot artillery 12-pounders were used in a similar fashion. They formed part of the Park, which unlike the French practice, was seen as a pool of heavy guns to be drawn on as required, rather than a heavy Brigade to be deployed en-masse. William Robe in 1808 suggests that Park guns were

“…to be detached as required, and on the completion of the Service to be returned to the reserve park. As it is not envisaged that the whole of the… brigade will be called upon at one spot, Lieutenant Colonel Robe would propose to attach a Captain to each of its half-brigades”.

Adye in 1813 suggests that the

guns of the largest calibre must be posted in those points from whence the enemy can be discovered at the greatest distance, and from whence may be seen the whole extent of his front…”  and “to place a strong battery in the center; this should be composed of the guns of the heaviest calibre, and it should be posted in the interval between the right and left wing, by which means it does not offer a double object for the enemy to fire at.”

Both the medium and light 12-pounders saw service in Flanders 1794 and the Egypt Expedition of 1799-1800, as a result of which their carriages were re-designed under the auspices of Major General Lawson. Lawson noted that their carriages, unlike their European contemporaries, did not have a second pair of trunnion holes so that the gun tubes could be moved when on the march. He noted that this had the effect that the gun and limber were highly unstable on the march and that the muzzles dragged on the ground. The introduction of the travelling position for the gun tube was put into immediate effect.

Adye in 1802 notes that the field artillery consisted of 3-, 6- and 12-pounders and the park 12- and light 24-pounders. The medium 12-pounder saw service in the Peninsula war; the reserve park at Lisbon in October 1808 had a Brigade of five 12-pounders and in November Robe lists nine 12-pounders in service, four of which were manned by the Royal German Artillery. The medium 12-pounder was in service in March 1809 in Spain and both the medium and light weapon was used in the War of 1812. Two medium 12-pounders were involved in the attack on Sacket’s Harbour and 12-pounders (both brass and iron) are listed in service in June 1813.

In order to help their fight against Napoleon, Britain supplied artillery equipment to the Prussian army in 1813 which included the medium 12-pounder.

Conclusion: Were the 12-pounders too heavy?

As can be observed from the above, the British used the 12-pounder field guns for the entirety of the Napoleonic wars. This surely must contradict the notion that on the first hand it wasn’t used and on the second that it was phased-out because it was too heavy.

The following table compares the light and medium 12-pounders to those of contemporary European armies:

 

Tube Length

Tube Weight

Blomefield Medium

78.0 inches

2016lbs

Blomefield Light

60.0 inches

1344lbs

France Gribeauval

117.7 inches

1936lbs

France An XI

84.0 inches

1950lbs

Austria

75.0 inches

1786lbs

Prussia

80.5 inches

2100lbs

As can be readily observed, the Blomefield light 12-pounder was the smallest of its class in use during the Napoleonic wars and therefore would have been the easiest to manoeuvre on the battle-field. The Blomefield medium 12-pounder was approximately the same weight as similar weapons in use by other European powers, which did not deem them to be too heavy and immobile. This suggests that notion that the British 12-pounder was too heavy is misplaced.

Furthermore, the light 12-pounder was approximately the same weight as the Blomefield 9-pounder (1510 lbs) and the medium 12-pounder was shorter than the 9-pounder by 12 inches.

The total weight of the gun-tube and carriage for the 12-pounders compared to the 9-pounder are displayed below:-

Light 12-pounder

Medium 12-pounder

9-pounder

20cwt 2qr 11lb

30cwt 3 qr 9lb

29 cwt

It is obvious, therefore that the medium 12-pounder was only marginally heavier than the 9-pounder, and therefore just as manoeuvrable on the battle field.

The major difference between the potential manoeuvrability of the various weapons was the weight of their stores; the 12-pounder carried considerably less ammunition than either the 6- or 9-pounder and further more it was 50% and 25% heavier than the ammunition for those pieces.

Even though commentators have wrongly suggested that the Royal Artillery deemed the Blomefield 12-pounders too heavy for service, they were used by both the Prussian and Russian armies to great success c.1812 to 1815; two Prussian field batteries were armed with British 12-pounders. Therefore, if the continental armies did not deem them to be too heavy and lack manoeuvrability, surely that must imply that they were as mobile as the weapons in use in Europe at the same date.

Due to the chronic shortage of good horses and the poor state of the roads – or lack thereof – great difficulty was had in drawing the heavier field guns. Gun-teams for all calibres of weapons suffered greatly and William Robe argued that

Every Artillery Carriage for Service in this Country, and Spain will require to be Drawn by Six horses; the Long 6-pounder guns by eight; and the 12 pounder guns by ten.

Each Light 6-pounder in Brigade therefore without more ammunition carried on its cars, must have 14 carriages, with six horses each, which, with the Riding and Spare, will amount to 110.

The Long 6-pounder in the like manner will require 123 and the 12-pounder Brigade 165”

He added,

Experience has shown that no less a number can move them in the hills and bad roads of this country!”

In other words, gun teams were enlarged by an extra pair of animals. It was becoming obvious, however, that as the Peninsula campaign drew on not only was the quality of the horses available dropping, but also their number. Robe, therefore, was forced to reduce the strength of Brigades to four, or even in some cases three pieces, and the heavier field guns, notably the 12- and 9-pounders were increasingly un-used. Robe suggested that the 12-pounder albeit it a powerful weapon, having to use 165 horses to transport them was too great a strain on artillery resources and ordered that a Brigade of 9-pounders be sent to replace them. Even then, there was a 12-pounder Brigade present in Spain as late as 1810. This, therefore, suggests that the 12-pounders were not taken out of service due to being too heavy and immobile, they were taken out of service due to the extreme climate and rough terrain encountered in Spain, and more importantly, there were insufficient horses available to move them.

It is surely this that has been misinterpreted that they were too heavy for a battle-field role.

Moreover, the claim that the Royal Artillery introduced the 9-pounder into service c.1809 as a weapon to counteract the French 8- and 12-pounder guns can also be proven to be wrong. 9-pounder guns were in use in the Peninsula from the outbreak of that campaign and fought alongside the 12-pounders, which shows conclusively that the British did have the equivalent firepower to the Grande Armée.

The adoption of the 9-pounder as the “standard” British field gun by 1815 does not appear to have been a popular decision; the weapon was heavier and less manoeuvrable than the 6-pounders and required more horses to draw it.

The argument that the 9-pounder was adopted to match the firepower of the French artillery, therefore, is incorrect. The accusation that the 12-pounder was too heavy to be of use in the field Brigades only appears to hold true for the unique circumstances encountered in Spain, and it is likely that had sufficient good quality horses been available the weapon would have continued in service.

One must also add, that the 12-pounder was not the heaviest field gun in use by the Royal Artillery – that distinction falls to the light 24-pounder, which remained in service in that role during the War of 1812.

Afterword

In the research for this paper, the author has identified three surviving British Napoleonic 12-pounder gun tubes, two of which are in Canada, with that in Montreal being mounted on its original carriage.

Bibliography

Adye, R.W. Little Bombardier and Pocket Gunner. London; 1802.

Adye, R.W. The Bombardier and Pocket Gunner. 7th Edition London; 1813.

Anonymous. Questions upon Artillery. 1795.

Caruana, A.B. British Artillery design in the Eighteenth Century in Canadian Journal of Arms Collecting vol. 15 no. 2; 1977. Pp 35 - 42

Caruana, A.B. British Artillery Drill of the Eighteenth Century in Canadian Journal of Arms Collecting vol. 16 no. 2; 1978. Pp 46-60

Caruana, A.B. The Introduction of the Block-Trail Carriage in Canadian Journal of Arms Collecting. vol. 18 no 1; 1980. Pp 3-16

Caruana, A.B. Sir Thomas Blomefield and the Blomefield System of Ordnance in Canadian Journal of Arms Collecting. vol. 21 no. 3; 1983.

Caruana, A.B. Identification of British Muzzle Loading Artillery in Canadian Journal of Arms Collecting. vol 22 no 1; 1984.

Collier,W. An Enquiry into the use and Advantages that may probably be derived from the introduction of a Lighter Nature of Artillery for field Services… Woolwich; 1791.

Congreve, W. Description of the Prussian Artillery.Woolwich; c.1777.

Congreve, W. Several Methods of detaching Artillery Men to Pieces of Ordnance for the Field and Garrison Service. 1778.

Congreve, W.  An Account of some of the cases in the Practice of Artillery which must be taught by the Officers of the Royal Military Repository, Woolwich. 1800.

Congreve, W.  Description of the Actual Establishment of the Hannoverian Artillery. Woolwich; n.d.

Congreve, W.  Description of the Sorts of Artillery used by the Prussian Cavalry. Woolwich; n.d.

Congreve, W.  Instructions for Practicing the Modern Method of Manoevering and Quick Firing with Field Pieces. n.d.

Graves, D.E.  Personal Communications. 2006.

Landmann, I. Construction of a brass 12 Pounder…according to Colonel Blomefield’s Principle. Woolwich; c. 1790.

Lawson Memorandum of Artillery Arrangements and Alterations Made in Carriages, Harness  and Ammunitions &c.” in Proceedings of the Royal Artillery Institute vol. XII no. 4.Woolwich; 1884 Pp. 207 to 220

McConnell, D. British Smooth-Bore Artillery: A Technical Study. National Historic Parks and Sites Service, Canada; 1988.

Nafziger, George. Imperial Bayonets. London: Greenhill; 1995.

Public Records Office, Kew. Board of Ordnance papers, WO 55/1195 “letters from Officers – Foreign” and WO 55/1201 “letters to Officers – Foreign”.

Royal Artillery Institute, Woolwich. Various papers including: bound letter book c.1800 and the Congreve Collection.

Acknowledgements

The author would like to express his thanks to Mr Don Graves for his support,  encouragement and invaluable help with writing this paper as well Dr Carl Benn and the staff at Fort York, Toronto, for providing details of the surviving 12-pounder there.

 

Placed on the Napoleon Series: March 2006 

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