Serbian quick-firing field artillery



The first attempt to equip the Serbian Artillery with quick-firing guns was done in summer of 1899, when a commander of the Active Army, ex-king Milan Obrenovich, planned the purchase of 23 batteries with 6 guns each. Since he had been always in close relations with Austria, he choose to deal with Skoda. Unfortunately, at that time Skoda’s design was not perfected yet: there were problems with the connection of gun and carriage and firing, the whole assembly jumped too much. This was a characteristic of guns with short-recoil system, and Skoda introduced workable long-recoil type, like one of the French gun Mle 1897, only after 1900.

In 1900, young king Aleksandar expelled his father, so all new military projects came to stand still. In 1903 Serbia received a sample gun and 1000 rounds for trials. Skoda expected the Serbian order for 2 February 1904, but on 11 June 1903 Army officers killed the young king for a number of reasons, among them neglecting of military was one of most important. The new king was Petar Karadjordjevich, who decided to speed up the establishment of modern artillery.


In August 1903 the Serbian Army formed a committee to review what kind of quick-firing artillery was available on the market, with consideration on technical and tactical issues. It was composed by col. Damjan Vlajich (chief), col. Mikhailo Rashich and lt.col. Nedeljko Vuchkovich.

During September-October 1903 they visited the following artillery factories:

-     Saint Chamond and Schneider, in France;

-     Vickers and Armstrong, in Great Britain;

-     Krupp and Erhardt, in Germany;

-     Cockerill-Nordenfelt, in Belgium;

-    Skoda, in Austria.  

This small committee suggested that, before the adoption of particular model, comparision tests should be made and listed which factories should be considered:

-     for field guns: St. Chamond, Schneider, Vickers, Krupp, Erhardt, Skoda.

-    for mountain guns: Vickers, Krupp, Erhardt, Skoda.

It is interesting to remark that for mountain artillery the committee found nothing worth considering in France. This happened at the end of 1903, the same time as Bulgarian quest for a suitable type of mountain gun.

More than one year ago, on 8th February 1905, four factories were invited to place offers for their guns: St. Chamond, Schneider, Krupp and Skoda. Three days later they were also asked to send one field gun to Belgrade for tests. Only Skoda gun arrived to Belgrade by March, since the Austrians made bureaucratic problems for other contestants, so decision could be made only on political grounds. Vickers was dropped because ties with Great Britain were broken, after the murder of king Aleksandar, and English banks were not interested. Erhard was also avoided, probably because Handelsgesellschaft, the German bank involved in loan deal had interest in Krupp only.


In 1905 at Kragujevac 75mm Skoda M. 1903 field gun was tested from a Serbian military commission of 16 officers along with Krupp, Schneider and St. Chamond models of the same calibre. But after the fall of Obrenovich Dynasty, Serbia slowly allied itself with Russia and France. On the other hand, Austria pressed their Skoda offer, since the order of artillery means some country independence in matters of war and peace. Because of Austrian pressure, the tests were prolonged, but by 1906, there was a clear winner: Schneider 75mm M.06 gun, which was adopted from Serbia as M.1907. Serbian choose in the “Gun crisis” led to economical embargo impressed by Austria, the so-called “Customs war”.

Two main reasons led to the Serbian choice: political one – to gain independence from Austria in future Balkans affairs – and technical one – Schneider gun was more advanced and Serbs particularly hated the hardened-bronze barrel of the Skoda gun.

Since Serbia depended on Bulgarian cooperation for the success of a future “Liberation war” against Turkey, artillery conformity was considered desirable. The Radical party governments, presided by Nikola Pasich, were interested in alliance with Russia and France in Europe and with Bulgaria in the Balkans, since the Greek army was considered weak after the defeat against Turkey in 1897. So, right from the start, they were determined to buy French guns, best if they were the same as Bulgarian ones. This explains why in 1912 Serbian and Bulgarian artillery was so similar: of course, Bulgarians lead the way since their choices were placed first; Serbia just followed their example, and probably benefited from Bulgarian experience, by avoiding some mistakes, or buying improved versions of models firstly bought by Bulgaria).

During 1904 Serbian Army demands rose rapidly – from 10 millions for 15 field and 6 mountain batteries at the start (planned mainly for introduction of cadre troops to modern guns) to 43 millions at the start of 1905 (more guns, 47 field and 9 mountain batteries, more artillery ammunition, 100.000 more modern 7mm rifles). The main reason for this increase was the current Bulgarian and Turkish weapons orders.


Influenced by Bulgarian choice, at first Serbs asked for P.R.1 model; however, they also asked what Schneider could offer as alternative. At the end, they considered P.D.1 (most expensive), P.D.2 (golden middle) and P.R.1 (cheapest) alternatives. In 1904 a Schneider field battery, without ammunition, cost 251.000 (model P.D. 2) or 246.000 (model P.R.1) dinars (1 dinar = 1 franc), whilst, according to the Austro-Hungarian reports, price for Skoda field battery, without ammo, was 220.000 dinars. Skoda was in crisis and ready for concessions, just to get orders and ovecome this crisis.

On 8 April 1905 new offers were opened : Saint Chamond asked for field battery, including ammunition, 380.000 dinars; Schneider for its two models, 385.000 dinars or 380.000 dinars; Krupp 385.000 dinars. For mountain artillery St. Chamond and Schneider asked 254.000 dinars and Krupp 255.000 dinars. St. Chamond gave 24 month delivery period (first deliveries would be 8 months after signing the contract), Schneider 18 months (first delivery after 8 months) and Krupp 18 months (first deliveries after 11 months). At that time Serbs asked for 2000 rounds of ammunition.

For accepting Schneider offer voted the Ministry of War, gen. Radomir Putnik and 8 members of committee, 3 voted for St. Chamond guns and one voted neutral. This vote was made after the review of offers. Since loan offered to Serbia in March 1905 implied purchase of French artillery, Krupp’s offer was probably not taken into consideration. The loan was offered from consortium made of French (40%), German (30%) and Austrian (30%) banks, so each country expected Serbian orders at the same level (for military and railway material). However, Germans made demand that Serbia have to order artillery ammunition from Krupp, but faced with Serbian stiff resistance, they changed their mind to other small ultimatum: 5 millions of artillery deal (about 25%) must go to Krupp (who will share that part with Skoda, according to later agreement). Serbia accepted the clause and planned to buy artillery wagons from Krupp/Skoda. However, the government which made arrangements (Radical party, President Minister Nikola Pašić) had fallen at the end of May, so nothing came of this deal.


It seams that mountain gun issue was treated as secondary one (only 9 batteries, compared to 47 field ones) and no tests were asked for them. However, requests placed to French companies indirectly suggest that they introduced suitable mountain gun types during 1904.

All the time problem was how to avoid Austrian pressure to buy Skoda field guns, because this means less independent Serbia. As a compromise solution, Serbs offered Austria to buy mountain guns from Skoda (French side – diplomatic one, not Schneider – was quite happy with this, to avoid Serbian-Austrian confrontation). This suggests that Serbian military probably had much better opinion of Skoda mountain gun, than the field gun model, but for Nikola Pasic main issues were political, not technical ones. At the end Serbia bought 70mm model almost by default – at that time it was better-selling than 75mm, having been adopted by Portuguese Spanish and Italian armies, moreover the Serbs liked its low weight and compactness. Since Serbia at that time was buying all artillery ammunition abroad, no concern was taken about 70mm / 75mm ammunition diversity. 

The Schneider-Cresuot 70mm mountain gun M. 07 was not a weapon of choice of Serbian military circles, who preferred the Krupp 75mm mountain gun, which at first vote was indeed the winner of the Military artillery council selection, even if it was slightly expensive than Schneider gun. For political and economical reasons the Serbian Government decided to purchase only 9 batteries from Schneider and later 15 more batteries from Krupp. This was not realised, however, because French put diplomatic pressure on Serbian government to cancel this order. Later 75mm Schneider mountain guns became available, and Serbia actually received two 75mm Schneider-Danglis batteries after the end of the Balkan Wars.

After the Balkan Wars the Serbian Army tested also a 8cm Rheinmetall mountain gun, and according with Franz KOSAR, Gebirgsartillerie…, p. 71-72 bought some of these guns as 8cm mountain guns L/17 M. 14. But about this powerful, but too heavy, gun I was not able to find any reference in any other sources.


Serbia got three successive loans from France for the purchase of artillery and for some railway equipment. Due to the diplomatic obstacles first deliveries took place almost two years later than expected. Indeed Austria put an economic embargo to Serbia, angry because Serbs did not accept its own Skoda field guns, and closed the frontier, so deliveries must be done via Salonika. But the Turks made problems too, aware what is a final purpose for this guns. The first order was signed on 31 December 1906 for 47 field batteries (180 field and 8 horse artillery guns), with 12 ammunition wagons and 3000 rounds per battery, and 9 mountain batteries with 100 packs and 3000 rounds per battery.  

The first guns arrived only in 1908-09 and were destined for the five “First call” infantry divisions, the core of Serbian army, for the Cavalry division and for one mountain artillery regiment.

In 1910-11 a second round of orders was realised:

-      19 batteries of M.1907A field guns,

-      6 batteries of 120mm M.1910 light howitzers,

-      2 batteries of 150mm M.1910 medium howitzers.

These guns were destined for five “Second Call” divisions, and the Cavalry division (“First call”). This was the armament of Serbian artillery at the beginning of the Balkan War, considered as “minimal requirement” at that time (64 field gun batteries in total).

An additional loan, granted from France, allowed Serbia to order a third round of artillery purchases:

-      21 batteries of M.1907A field guns,

-      2 more 120mm howitzer batteries,

These guns were planned to strengthen the “Second call” divisions with a second group of 12 guns. The rest (6 batteries) were planed for independent use in various “task forces” (Serbian: “Odred”, sized regiment to brigade, or “Vojska”, division to corps strength). The crew planned for all these batteries were “Second call” men taken from the obsolete De Bange field batteries.

In 1912, when First Balkan War broke out, some 75mm M. 07A field guns were in Salonika, awaiting transportation to Serbia. The Turks seized 13 batteries (52 guns) and assigned them to the Chadaldzha Army. After capturing the city on 9 November, the Greek Army found the rest of these guns in pier warehouse. The Serbian Government requested from Greece to forward these guns to original owner; the Greeks, although themselves short of artillery, but keen to keep the alliance with Serbia, allowed the delivery to take place.


The exact number of the guns used actually by the Serbian Army is still not clear. At the beginning of the World War the Serbian Army had only 272 Schneider-Canet 75mm field guns, namely 68 batteries. Since in 1912 Serbia had 62 batteries, this means an increase of only 6 batteries. Since 13 batteries had been seized by the Turks, 6 batteries are lacking. Since in 1913 the Serbs delivered to the Montenegrin Army – that at that time had only 14 quick-firing guns – at least 12 guns, we can make the hypothesis that they were some of the missing batteries. The 12 missing guns might be lost during the war or sent to the Montenegrins later (LYON, “A Peasant Mob…”, p. 492, claims that “at the war’s outbreak Serbia sent almost 100 cannons to Montenegro, which had no modern breech-loading artillery of its own). The Military Notes on the Balkan States compiled by the English General Staff in 1915 states that at that time 8 Serbian artillery batteries were in Montenegro (p. 63).


Unlike the Bulgarians, the Serbs did not use the great number of Turkish guns captured during the Balkan War. It seems that only one group (12 guns) of Krupp guns were ever raised for service during the World War I. These batteries were used separately on “quiet” sectors on front, due to the lack of ammunition. Another group of captured Krupp guns was donated to Montenegrin Army, desperately short of modern artillery.

As for the Austrian guns, Serbian sources states that batteries of captured Austrian guns existed, but their number should be low. According with a report written by gen. Paul Pau, the head of the French military mission dispatched in Serbia in February-April 1915, the Serbs raised only 4 groups with 2 batteries each with Austrian field quick-firing guns, in spite of the great numbers of guns captured. In fact a lot of them were broken, unfit for use without major repair and many of them were slow-firing, obsolete guns. Furthermore ammunition captured with guns was limited in quantity. But the most serious reason of the limited employment of captured guns during the world War was the lack of men, even for already existing Serbian batteries. So most of captured Austrian guns, functional or broken, were placed in artillery depots (the biggest one was in Nish), only to be captured later by Germans and Bulgarians.