First experiences with quick-firing guns



During the last two decades of 19th century the major powers begun to examine the possibility to increase the rate of fire of their field guns. The concept of a quick-firing or quick-loading gun was already known at that time, having its origin in the naval field. To defend major ships against torpedo boats, small-calibre guns had been mounted on warship, firing fixed ammunition (fuze, shell and charge put in a metal case with the detonator attached). Vertical or horizontal wedge breech blocks with automatic cocking and ejector mechanisms allowed shortening the process of loading and unloading, thus increasing the rate of fire. It seemed possible to make the same with field artillery, by simply placing such quick-firing guns (37mm to 57mm calibre) on field carriages.

Experiments were carried out in several countries, but soon first problems arose. Although the rate of fire of these guns greatly exceeded that of traditional field guns, their accuracy was unsatisfactory at long range due to the low weight of the projectiles, and the maximal range itself was judged too short. Also the great increase of shells intake made more difficult supplying the guns.

In 1891 the publication of the study Das Feldgeschütz der Zukunft by German major general Richard Wille opened an intensive discussion on the possible appearance of the field gun of the future, where the major artillery experts of every country took part with countless articles and memorandum. At the same time the major weapons firms began drafting the first plan for quick-firing field gun of large calibre (over 57mm) field guns were carried out. Nevertheless, the problem could be solved only with the 75 mm field gun mle. 1897, devised by the French Army Arsenal of Puteaux.


Even the Bulgarian Army dealt with the question, and to test a quick-firing gun the Edict N° 28/5 February 1889 commanded “to order directly to the producer for test one automatic machine-gun type Hiram Maxim and one quick-firing non-automatic gun with all its fittings”. In all likelihood this gun should be identify with the 6 pdr Nordenfelt with a calibre of 57mm, which was tested, but no additional order was placed afterwards. During the Balkan War and the World War I it was assigned to the coast artillery and placed near Varna.

On 22 and 24 June 1891 in the proving ground of Sofia at Yuch Bunar severe tests were made with a 53mm Fahrpanzer built the German firm Grusonwerk of Magdeburg. A similar test had been made in Belgrade in May, and was repeated at Hademköi, near Istambul, in December 1892, this time with a 57mm gun. The work schedules were prepared by the Bulgarian War Minister, col. Mihail Savov, and were aimed to appreciate the effect of a quick-firing light calibre gun against both animate and inanimate targets. The result were regarded as satisfactory, but the Bulgarian Army decided to adopt the more powerful 57mm gun, that had proved to be as much satisfactory in the tests performed at Tangerhütte in 1891 and at Hademköi in 1892.

On 1 and 2 October 1892 another test was made at Yuch Bunar, this time with a 47mm QF gun and a 8mm machine gun, both manufactured by the Austrian firm Skoda of Pilsen. The Bulgarian NCOs, who served the gun for the first time, fired for 1’ 30, shooting the target placed 400 m away. The breech lock was judged solid and easy to handle. Also the machine gun, after some initial mechanical faults, worked satisfactorily. The Bulgarian Army nevertheless decided to not adopt these weapons.


After these initial trials the Artillery Inspector, col. Boncho Balabanov, decided to form a special commission to deeply investigate the whole matter, going to the major artillery firms of the Westerner Europe to test the gun in loco. The Inspector himself joined the commission that should visit the firms Schneider, Canet and St. Chamond in France, Armstrong in Great Britain, Cockeril in Belgium and, obviously, Krupp in Germany. Till now I have been not able to know which firms were actually visited, but in 1896 the Artillery Committee presided by col. Balabanov decided to improve the existing field and mountain guns, without adopting for the moment quick-firing guns, and to purchase modern heavy howitzers and long guns for the fortress-siege park.

In May 1897 a representative of the Maxim-Nordenfelt arrived at Sofia to carry out trials of a 37mm quick-firing gun, hoping to receive an order from the Bulgarian government, and according with Jonathan A. Grant, “the efforts were rewarded when Maxim Nordenfeldt received and order worth about 1 million francs” (Rulers, guns, and money…, p. 99).