Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics

The Artillery of System An XI

The System An XI Guns

By Paul Dawson

Given their masters vocal support for the new system, a new 6 pound gun was introduced. Gassendi and others had complained that the shot fired by the 6 pound gun  was too light at 13 pounds and a new tube 18 calibres long (1775 mm) rather than 17 calibres long(1675 mm), firing 15 pound shots was put into manufacture. This in essence created a light weight version of the Gribeauval 8 pounder. Rather than building a new carriage, the carriage for the Gribeauval 4 pounder  was re-introduced (in fact the new system was little used in Spain, and the 8 pounder  and 4 pounder  remained un use. The 12 pounder  was too heavy, as it exhausted the horse teams, already malnourished by the scarce fodder in the Peninsula Campaign. This lead to more static battles, where the 8 pounder  was the ideal piece, as it could be used for both foot and horse artillery. Indeed, the Guard Horse Artillery had a heavy battery armed with 8 pounders, so one wonders if the complaint that the 8 pounder  was too heavy was in fact legitimate; although the complaint it took a long time to get into action due to moving the tube position (encastrement) took time was a legitimate complaint). The old 6 pounder  represented nearly half of all guns in the army for the 1807 Campaign, with the Gribeauval system 4 pounder  and 8 pounder  being used, along with 3 pounders  of dubious origin. After Russia, the army needed re-equipping, and was equipped with the 1809/10 system, using 12 pounders, 6 pounders, 6 inch howitzers and 5.6 howizters.

 The Army of Germany in April 1813 had 144 12 pounders, 646 6 pounders, 44 6 inch howitzers and 246 5.6 howitzers, served by a grand total of 4,050 caissons. Perhaps another reason why the An XI System proved un-popular was that is was very similar to the system used by the Austrians, who were continually beaten from the 1790’s until Leipzig. Many officers resented having to use Austiran equipment, albeit in some cases it was superior to French. (The same is the case when white was adopted once more as the colour for the line infantry uniform.) Politics, economics, and conservatism amongst the artillery high command, rather than common sense and judgement condemned the An XI System of artillery.

In 1814, Gribeauval guns were taken from arsenals and place with the field armies as a matter of national economy. With the abdication of Napoleon in 1814, General Ruty, president of the Committee of Artillery carried out tests on the 6 pounder, in order to test its effectiveness. Construction was stopped until the committee published its report. They found that the piece had imperfections, and was abandoned, but more tellingly, the Royalist committee and the new artillery commander in chief had objections to what was essentially a Bonapartist alteration to what was essentially a royalist artillery system. Napoleon’s support of the 6 pounder gun was legitimate, but the Royalists were turning the clock back to the time before the Revolution when the monarchy was strong and all pervasive. Indeed, the Royal Order of 30 January 1815 which restored the Gribeauval system entirely stated that they were returning the artillery system of France to pre-1789. These officers were ignorant of artillery, as very few had actually been trained in gunnery. System An XI was considered as heresy by the Ultra Royalists, even though it did improve the French artillery arm. For example the number of wheel types was reduced from 23 to 6, which allowed for greater inter-changeability. Eugene Hennebert writing in 1887, commented that General Fave, and others supported the abolition of the new system because it was difficult to operate both systems together with out further changes to Gribeauval, and it was felt better to retain Gribeauval and restore harmony to the artillery high command. For the Cent Jours campaign, Napoleon used what ever guns he could lay his hands on.

In 1827 Gribreauval was  theoretically replaced by the new Valee system of artillery, which retained the 4 pounder  and 8 pounder guns  and introduced the single bracket trail ala Congreve, as proposed by Fave in 1802. However, the adoption was done piecemeal and it was not until the Royal Decree of 5 May 1832. that Gribeauval was officially repressed and the new system adopted;  but it was not fully organised until 1854! Therefore, one suspects that some Gribeauval guns remained in service nearly 100 years after they had been introduced. The smooth An XI barrels re-appeared in 1853 when the new 12 pounder gun  was brought into service, the barrel of which was an almost exact copy of the 12 pound  proposed by An XI.

The use of a single bracket trail in 1802 was deemed at the time to be unwise polticially as war with England was imminent once more. Sylvian-Charles Valee was educated at the artillery school of Brienne, became a Lieutenant in the artillery in 1792,  fought at Eylau and Friedland, before commanding siege artillery in the Penninsula. During the Hundred Days he commanded the artillery of Paris. In 1822 he was made Inspector General of Artillery, and three years later, based on his experience of the Gribeauval system he began a systematic re-design of Gribeauval, making the guns both lighter and more mobile, and their range longer. Valee became a Marshall of France and Governor General of Algeria in 1838.

The Valee system was boasted as the most complete re-design of French artillery since 1765. Rather than designing a new artillery system, which An XI attempted, Valee and Piobert mainly re-designed the carriages and limbers after the Congreve system. The barrels were essentially Gribeauval, made longer with an increased bore, but retained the stepped profile of Gribeauval, though without the reinforcing rings. The new system re-introduced the 16 pound siege gun and Gribeauvals mortars. The new howitzers owed their origin to the new 5.6 and 6inch howitzers of An XI than Gribeauval, in that they lacked reinforcing rings and were of comparable calibre’s.

To conclude, the failings with Gribeauval system of artillery were in part solved by the new system of An XI, but not fully remedied until 1827. The 6 pound gun of An XI was a modern weapon, and is notable for its lack of re-inforcing rings, this marked the piece different and superior to the Liechtenstein system.



Placed on the Napoleon Series: September 2004


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