The introduction of quick-firing artillery : 1904-1905

 

 

In 1903 the military position of Bulgaria was becoming very hard since Turkey and Romania, the most powerful of its neighbours, had already introduced quick-firing guns. This meant that in any war they could easily outclass the fire of the Bulgarian artillery. Bulgaria had to work quickly in order to fill the gap.

 

In 1903 at the proving ground at Le Hoc, between Le Havre and Harfleur in Normandy, the Bulgarian Army, conducted some tests of a Schneider gun, which were satisfactory, since the rate of fire was from 17 to 27 rounds per minute. In January 1904 the National Sobranie approved an “exceptionally heavy military expenditure” for an extraordinary credit of 25,000,000 levas to purchase equipment, and an additional 7,000,000 levas (4,500,000 for past deficits, 2,500,000 to purchase 15,000 Mannlicher rifles). The primary aim of this resolution was to purchase modern guns for the Bulgarian artillery. Therefore the Artillery Inspection asked to the Artillery Committee to develop a plan for the introduction of quick-firing guns. To speed up the process, the Committee suggested buying some unsold batteries. Negotiations between the Bulgarian War Ministry and Schneider went on for some time for the purchase of 12 quick‑firing field batteries (72 guns) originally ordered by the Boer state of Transvaal, but not delivered. However, because there were not enough available ammunition for them and the guns were of different patterns and required considerable alteration, that Schneider was not disposed to make, Bulgaria decided not to purchase them.

 

The rearmament of field artillery with quick-firing guns begun actually with the Report Nr. 3/3 February 1904 that approved a program to test quick-firing and accelerated firing guns offered by various European firms.

The main requirements present in the document were :

1.    the gun and its materials should be strong and lasting;

2.    the mechanism should have no fault even after having carried the most intense marches and manoeuvring;

3.    the weight of the gun, with the carriage, the limber and all its accessories should not exceed a definite limit, fixed according with the modern tactical requirements;

4.    all the mechanisms of the piece should always work, even in the most unfavourable conditions;

5.    the gun should be unlimbered and put in position quickly and in every kind of ground by the authorized crew;

6.    the firing device should have safety arrangements against unexpected and premature fire;

7.    the service with the gun should be simple and easy and it should be accomplished by the fewest servants;

8.    the laying and aiming gears should allow to point the gun as quickly as possible without any warm for the accuracy of the fire and to conduct also indirect fire from covered positions;

9.    the weariness of the servants working at the gun (limbering, unlimbering, loading etc) should be reduced as much as possible;

10. the ammunition should be of such a quality, that it should constantly stay in reliable and working condition.

 

The Artillery Committee fixed also the specifications for the new quick-firing gun:

-     calibre : 75mm;

-     weight of the shell : 6.5 kg;

-     rate of fire : 15/20 round in a minute;

-     muzzle velocity : not less than 500 m/s;

-     absolute steadiness of the carriage on firing;

-     spring run-out gear;

-     breech mechanism : simple and provided with safety device against unexpected fire;

-     sighting gears : able to assure an fixed line of sight on firing, easy to use, and provided with optical device for a clear vision of the target with all sort of illumination;

-     shield : able to withstand shrapnel and rifle bullets up to 400 m and to shelter the crew;

-     piece : light and movable;

-     barrel : made in nickel steel.

 

The gun should undergo trials of different kinds : of the recoil; movement on different kind of ground and at long range; precision fire, percussion and time fire at different targets and in every condition.

 

At first the Committee directed its attention to the mountain artillery. The matter was settled quickly. Already at the beginning of year a Bulgarian commission leaded by art. eng. lt.col. Kalin Naydenov had been sent to Essen to test some pack quick-firing guns, produced by the German firm Krupp. On 4 March the artillery Committee, along with the head of the mountain artillery divisions, examined the material provided by the commission, including its report, the list of the technical features of the gun and the deductions of the Swiss commission concerning the data that the Bulgarians had not had the opportunity to verify directly.

The gun was judged fit for the needs of the Bulgarian Army, and on 18 March 1904 the War Ministry ordered 9 six-guns 75mm QF mountain batteries with 512 shells for every piece and their equipments for them (harnesses, packsaddles, fittings, spare parts, mountain forges, and the auxiliary sights to equip three artillery divisions). The total cost was 3,232,000 leva. The guns should be delivered within nine months and in order to supervise the production lt.col. Dimitar Rakovski was sent to Essen, followed later by cpt. Joncho Berberov. To accept the guns a commission had been raised already on 9 February 1904. It was leaded by the art. eng. lt.col. Kalin Naydenov, and was composed by cpt. Stefan Slavchev, maj. Stoyan Pushkarov and lt. Filipov was raised. The delivery was completed in October 1905.

In 1911 in order to establish three mountain artillery regiments, the existing 9 six-guns batteries were transformed into 14 four-guns batteries. Thence 2 more guns were ordered, being delivered the following year. The Krupp guns were assigned to 1st and 3rd regiments (seven batteries each), while the 2nd regiment was equipped with the Schneider mountain guns purchased in 1907.

 

As for the field guns, instead of testing all the quick-firing guns produced by the major firms, the Artillery Committee concentrated its attention on only two of them. In March 1904 a commission leaded by the Inspector of the Armaments, col. Nikola Ryaskov (president), and composed by col. Stoyan Zagorski, maj. Konstantin Zhostov and maj. Vladimir Vazov was set up to collect information and data for the adoption of a quick-firing field gun, in order to test the guns produced respectively by Schneider and Krupp. During the session at Le Creusot, they were supported by cpt. Angel Angelov, who had been sent to the firm Schneider as controller. From 20 April to 7 May 1904 the Artillery Committee, along with the field artillery regiments commanders, examined the material provided by the commission.

The Committee concluded that :

1.     the Schneider model (gun-barrel with breech mechanism, carriage, sighting apparatus, limber and ammunition wagon) outclassed the Krupp’s one, that showed defects especially in the laying mechanism;

2.     the Krupp ammunition outclassed the Schneider’s one, as for the kind of the projectiles, the ratio between H.E. shells and shrapnel should be 1:5;

3.     comparative tests between pyroxyline and nitro-glycerine powders should be carried out to determine the most suitable charge for the projectiles.

Therefore the Committee proposed to the War Minister to choose the Schneider field gun, giving some indications for the improvements that Schneider should made, and asking whether part of limbers, wagons, wheels, harnesses and other accessories might be manufactured by the Sofia Arsenal. Although all Schneider guns was equipped with hydraulic buffers and compressed air running-up gears, the Committee decided to order guns with springs. The reason was that the hydro-pneumatic recoil mechanism of the howitzers delivered by Schneider in 1901-1902 malfunctioned and had to be replaced. This decision caused a sensation, since Krupp claimed the superiority of its spring, and Schneider had to show that it had corrected all the imperfections and that its hydro-pneumatic brake was now fully reliable. In fact, after the experiences made with these guns, in 1907 the Bulgarian Army ordered compressed-air gears for the field howitzers and mountain guns equipments.

On 28 October 1904, only three days before signing of the contract with Schneider, the Artillery Committee made its last requests: the inner tube of the gun should be of nickel steel, while the outer mantle of common chromo steel; furthermore two of the ammunition wagons of every battery should be equipped with an armoured observatory for the commanding officers.

 

But the purchase of quick-firing guns was not only a technical matter, but especially a political and financial affair. Bulgaria needed money in order to offer the solid guarantee of payment required by the military furnishers, and the army could not acquire any quick‑fire field guns until the government resolved the financial matter. In September 1904 Eugène Schneider convinced Banque de Paris et de Pays Bas, the same bank that in 1896 had contracted a loan of 30,000,000 francs with Bulgaria, to conduct the negotiations of another loan. He hoped to get the Bulgarian government to accept a loan of 100,000,000 francs, with 80,000,000 firm and 20,000,000 on option, the latter sum being designed for railroad enterprises. Thinking that Krupp could made desperate efforts to keep the Bulgarian order, Revol, one of Schneider’s directors, persuaded the French bankers to satisfy all the demands of the Bulgarian government.

In fact three German banking groups were competing for the Bulgarian loan: Deutsche Bank and Banque de Commerce de Buda Pest; Disconto Gesellschaft (Berlin) and Wiener Union-Bank (Austria); and Dresdner Bank, officially through the German government. The first two groups proposed similar plans, and offered Bulgaria 60,000,000 francs with absolute freedom to order its artillery in France or elsewhere. Dresdner offered 40,000,000 francs on the condition that artillery would be ordered in Essen. Schneider feared that Krupp, with the help of the German government, might reunite the three groups and offer better conditions to Bulgaria.

Negotiations went on quickly, with the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Théophile Delcassé, informing the Bulgarian Minister in Paris that the French political and financial support to Bulgaria was subordinate to the assignment of the guns order to a French firm. Finally on 31 October 1904 a 5% loan of 100,000,000 francs was contracted with the Banque de Paris et des Pays Bas. Part of that sum was transferred directly by the bank to Schneider.

The same day the Bulgarian Army ordered to the French firm Schneider-Creusot 81 batteries armed of 75mm QF Schneider-Canet modèle 1903 PR field guns. The total cost was 25,986,525 leva. Every battery had four guns, 12 ammunition wagons with 230 shrapnel for every piece (74,520 shrapnel), 96 harnesses of the French pattern (with collars instead of breast-strap) for draught horses and 32 harnesses for pack horses. The keen competition with Krupp had driven down Schneider’s final price to 316,000 leva per battery, and this price was considered low by observers. The contract established that Sofia Arsenal had to manufacture the service vehicles: field forges, forage carts, provision wagons and so on. The order was completed with 27 spare carriages and limbers (one for every artillery division). In order to supervise the production and the reception of the guns, a special commission was raised, composed by art. eng. col. Stoyan Zagorski and Njagul Tzvetkov, maj. Stefan Slavchev and cpt. Ivan Dodov. They went in pairs (a senior and a young officer) to Le Creusot, alternating with each other and staying in France for a fixed span of time (from 6-8 months to one year). The guns should be delivered in three batches within twenty-seven months : 9 batteries in May 1905, 27 in December 1906 and 45 in July 1907. Owing to problems with fuzes for shells the last delivery arrived only on 28 December 1908. Bulgaria made payment in the form of state treasury bonds bearing 6 percent interest for thirty-six months.

 

In order to avoid a too direct subordination to France, the commission laid down the condition that French guns could fire also shells made by Krupp. The Bulgarian War Minister envisaged ordering its ammunition only after having tested the shrapnel provided by Schneider. At first Schneider presented the shrapnel type EC1 with steel head, fuze with brass plates and only 250 bullets inside, while Krupp proposed a shrapnel with head and fuze in aluminium and 320 bullets. Becoming aware of the favour of the Bulgarian officers for the German shell, Schneider decided to follow the way traced by Krupp, and proposed the shrapnel type EC2 with steel head and aluminium fuze with interposition of brass sheaths and 311 bullets. It was accepted, even if only in little number.

As for the high-explosive shells, there was a great debate between the French Obus explosive à grande capacité (twin-walled H.E. shell) with a charge of 650 g of Schneiderite and the Spreng-granate (thick-walled H.E. shell) produced by Krupp, with a charge of 140 g of Picric acid. The Artillery Committee choose the German shell, which was able to put out of combat all the crew of a battery, bursting after having crossed the shell, whereas it reproached the French shell for providing too small burst, and for aiming more to the destruction of the gun than to the effectiveness against the gunners.

On 23 December 1904 the Bulgarian Army ordered to the German firm Krupp also 112,104 shrapnel and 46,656 H.E. shells for the Schneider guns at the cost of 9,032,000 leva. They were delivered within two years.

 

On 19 – 22 October 1905, during his state visit to France, prince Ferdinand of Bulgaria visited the Schneider factory in Creusot, where he could see the gun in action. During the same year a commission of Bulgarian officers, composed by the heads of the technical and of the line section of the Artillery Inspection, the art. eng. col. Kalin Naydenov and col. Vladimir Vazov, came to take a practical course of fire at Poitiers, in France. In 1905-1906 to familiarize with the new quick-firing guns, the Artillery Inspector, gen. Nikola Ryaskov instituted a course four-six weeks long for the commanders of artillery batteries, divisions and regiments. Col. Naydenov and col. Vazov were appointed as teachers and instructors. Moreover several Bulgarian officers served for some time in French regiments, and on returning home, became instructors in their turn.

 

From 1905 to 1907 all the field and mountain batteries were gradually rearmed with quick-firing guns. In every artillery regiment the rearmament was by battery, in numerical order : the unit that had received the new guns immediately began to be instructed to their use, while the remaining batteries lasted to be trained with the old not quick-firing guns, but began to familiarize with the new guns, by means of the description published by the Artillery Inspection on 25 January 1906.

 

 

 

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