Weaponry and Wartime Experience


Artillery Developments in Canada

British artillery innovations, 1914-1918

Caption: British artillery innovations, 1914-1918

In Canada, the year 1871 marked an important stage in artillery history as the first two permanent batteries were founded, at Kingston and Quebec City. Before the end of the decade all the recently established batteries of the permanent force, along with all the militia batteries, were equipped with a new 9-pound gun developed by a British officer, William Palliser. With a range of 3,300 m, this muzzle-loader threw a shell fitted with bolts that held and slid along the grooves in the gun's bore. These 9-pounders were used by Canadian gunners for over 25 years, and six of them saw action at Fish Creek and Batoche in the North-West Campaign.

As of 1897 the 9-pound gun began to be supplanted by a new artillery piece, a breech-loading 12-pounder. Using cordite, this new gun could throw a forged steel shell a distance of 5,120 m. At the same time a new dual purpose fuse (air and ground burst) made it possible to explode a shell at a predetermined time or on ground impact. During the Boer War, Canada sent three batteries to South Africa, each equipped with six of these new guns.

Progress continued, however, and at the turn of the century British artificers developed a new 18 pound gun with a maximum range of 5,670 m and a firing rate that could reach 20 rounds a minute with the use of cartridge ammunition. This gun also included an aiming device that permitted indirect fire. The first 18 pound guns reached Canada in 1906, and during the 1914-18 war they spearheaded the Canadian field artillery. They would not be withdrawn from service until 1941, though by then they had seen a number of improvements.

At the beginning of the 1914-18 war Canadians also had a heavy artillery piece in a highly accurate 60-pounder that threw shrapnel and explosive shells approximately 9,150 m, a range that was later extend by munitions development. This was the Canadian army's main heavy gun throughout that conflict.

The First World War spurred accelerated development in munitions and artillery, especially in terms of range. In a few short years the range of the 18 pound field gun increased from 5,670 m to 8,685 m, and the range of the 60-pounder was extended from 9,150 m to 13,715 m. Trench warfare also restored to honour an artillery piece that had fallen into disuse for over a century after widespread use in sieges of fortresses and cities: the mortar. In contrast to the field gun, which had an angle of departure no greater than 45°, the mortar, like its cousin the howitzer, fired at angles greater than 45°. This meant that a projectile's angle of fall could be almost vertical and thus strike targets behind a ridge or fortified wall. The howitzer differed from the mortar only in that it had more power and a longer range. During the war the British developed new artillery pieces that benefited the Canadians well, including two new howitzers with 6-inch and 9-inch bores. The latter became the largest weapon in the Canadian army's arsenal.