Military Wiki
Ordnance BL 5-inch howitzer
Territorial Force gunners with howitzer in camp pre-WWI
Type Field howitzer
Place of origin United Kingdom United Kingdom
Service history
In service 1895 - 1919
Used by United Kingdom British Empire
Wars Mahdist War
Second Boer War
First World War
Barrel length 42 inches (1.07 m) bore (8.4 calibres)[1]

Shell 50 pounds (22.7 kg) Common shell; 50 pounds (22.7 kg) Lyddite shell; later 40 pounds (18.1 kg) Amatol shell[2]
Calibre 5-inch (127.0 mm)
Breech 3-motion, interrupted screw[4]
Recoil 5.5 inches (140 mm), hydro-spring constant[4]
Carriage Wheeled, box trail
Elevation -5° - 45°[4]
Muzzle velocity 788 ft/s (240 m/s)[3]
Effective range 4,800 yards (4,400 m) (50 lb shell);
6,500 yards (5,900 m) (40 lb shell)
Filling weight 9 pounds 15 ounces (4.51 kg) (Lyddite)
5 pounds (2.27 kg) (Amatol)

The Ordnance BL 5-inch howitzer was initially introduced to provide the Royal Field Artillery with continuing explosive shell capability following the decision to concentrate on shrapnel for field guns in the 1890s.


Combat service

Sudan Campaign

The weapon was used by the Royal Field Artillery and served successfully at the Battle of Omdurman in 1898. During that campaign they gained the distinction of being the first British guns to fire the new Lyddite shells in action.

Second Boer War

Approaching Maddox Hill, Northern Cape, January 1900

Major D Hall states that in the Second Boer War the Lyddite shells often failed to detonate; the gun was too heavy to be used as a field howitzer, and for siege use its range was too short and shell too light. However, it achieved some success in Natal when able to get close enough to bombard Boers in trenches.[5]

World War I

In action on Gallipoli, 1915

By 1908 it was obsolete and replaced in British Regular Army brigades by the modern QF 4.5-inch howitzer.

Territorial Force brigades, however, continued to use the howitzer in World War I into 1916, including notably in the East African campaign.

A lighter 40-pound (18.14 kg) shell with Amatol filling replaced the original 50-pound (22.68 kg) Lyddite shell early in World War I Together with an increase in cordite propellant from 11 oz 7 drams to 14 oz 5 drams, this increased the maximum range from 4,800 to 6,500 yards (5,900 m). Administrative error led to the new 40-pound shells being sent to Gallipoli without range tables or fuze keys for the new pattern fuzes, rendering them useless.[6]


BL 5 inch Howitzer Common Shell Mk III Diagram.png
BL 5 inch Howitzer Common Lyddite Shell Mk IV diagram.png
Cordite cartridge 11 oz 7 dram Mk V, for 50 lb projectile
50 lb Common shell Mk III
50 lb Common lyddite shell Mk IV
T Friction tube Mk IV

See also


  1. Text Book of Gunnery 1902, Table XII page 336
  2. Treatise on Ammunition 1915, accurate as at 1st August 1914, mentions that there are both "Heavy" 50 lb (23 kg) and "Light" 40 pounds (18.1 kg) shells and mentions a 14 oz 13 dram cartridge for a 40 pounds (18.1 kg) shell (page 142). But only 50 pounds (22.7 kg) shells are listed in tables. It is possible the 40 pounds (18.1 kg) shell was in process of being introduced in 1914.
  3. Hogg & Thurston 1972 page113. Text Book of Gunnery 1902 gives 782 ft/s (238 m/s), firing a 50 pounds (22.7 kg) projectile, with 11oz 7dram Cordite size 3¾ propellant.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Hogg & Thurston 1972, page 113
  5. Hall June 1971
  6. Simpson-Baikie 1920


Surviving examples

External links

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