Military Wiki
BL 60 Pounder Gun
60 pounder Cape Helles June 1915.jpg
A 60-pounder Mk I at full recoil. In action at Cape Helles during the Battle of Gallipoli, June 1915. Photo by Ernest Brooks.
Type Heavy field gun
Place of origin United Kingdom United Kingdom
Service history
In service 1905–1944
Used by  British Empire
 United States
 Russian Empire
 Soviet Union
Production history
Designer Elswick Ordnance
Designed 1904
Number built 1,756 (Mk. I)[1]
Variants Mk I, Mk II
Barrel length Bore Mk I: 13 ft 3 in (4.04 m)
Bore Mk II: 15 ft 4 in (4.67 m)[2]
Crew 10

Shell 60 lb (27 kg) shell with 8 pounds (3.6 kg) Lyddite or 6 pounds (2.7 kg) Amatol.[3]
Later 56 lb (25 kg) shell
Calibre 5 inches (127 mm)
Recoil 55 inches hydro-spring constant (Mk I - III)
54 inches hydro-pneumatic variable (Mk IV)[4]
Carriage Wheeled, box trail
Elevation -5° to +21.5° (Mk I)
-4° to +35° (Mk. II)[4]
Traverse 4° L & R[5]
Rate of fire 2 rpm
Muzzle velocity 2,080 ft/s (630 m/s) (Mk I)
2,130 ft/s (650 m/s) (MK II)[4]
Maximum range 10,300 yd (9,400 m) (original 60 lb 2 c.r.h. shell), 12,300 yd (11,200 m) (modified 8 c.r.h. shell shape) (Mk. I);[1]
15,500 yd (14,200 m) (56 lb Mk 1D 10 c.r.h. shell, Mk. II gun)

The British Ordnance BL 60-pounder[6] was a 5 inch (127 mm) heavy field gun designed in 1903-05 to provide a new capability that had been partially met by the interim QF 4.7 inch Gun. It was designed for both horse draft and mechanical traction and served throughout the First World War in the main theatres. It remained in service with British and Commonwealth forces in the inter-war period and in frontline service with British and South African batteries until 1942 being superseded by the BL 4.5 inch Medium Gun.


Origin and Use

The effective use of modern heavy field guns by the Boers during the Second Boer War (1899–1902) was a revelation to armies in Europe including the British. They were impressed by their mobility and range. Britain used some heavy guns in that war under ad hoc arrangements. After the capture of Pretoria in 1900 Lord Roberts, the commander-in-chief in South Africa (and an artillery officer), had stated the requirements of a heavy field gun: a range of 10,000 yards, weight behind the team of no more than 4 tons and the largest possible shell, accordingly the Ordnance Committee in London ordered experimental guns and three were trialled.[7]

However, in 1902 the Heavy Battery Committee was formed comprising officers experienced with heavy and siege artillery in South Africa and presided over by Colonel Perrott who had commanded the Siege Train there. In early 1903 their first report dismissed the 4.7 inch (120 mm, used in South Africa) and the 30 pounder (used in India) from further consideration because they lacked firepower. Of the three trial guns they accepted the Armstrong design but rejected all three carriage designs. New designs were sought that were easier for detachments to use. 1904 trials with a new design, including both horse and mechanised towing, resulted in further changes but in 1905 the design for the BL 60 pounder was accepted, although it was still a half ton over the target weight.[8]

Unfortunately, in 1900 the Secretary of State for War had announced a plan to give ‘Volunteer Position Batteries 4.7 inch guns’, he also extolled the merits of 4.7, (which the army knew to be misleading) and in 1902 and 1903 Parliament voted to equip 60 Volunteer batteries with a 4.7 inch,[9] despite the 60 pounder being in development. The 4.7 inch had many weaknesses as a field equipment, but it had captured the public’s imagination. However, in 1903 a heavy brigade RGA was formed by converting three siege companies and equipping them with 4.7 inch guns. The following year a second brigade was formed from three more RGA companies. These regular army brigades were part of the corps artillery, although their equipment was an expedient.

The 60 pounder gun was used on most fronts during the First World War and replaced the 4.7 inch guns. At the outbreak of war they equipped, with 4 guns, the heavy battery RGA in each infantry division. In 1916 all batteries on the Western Front started being increased to 6 guns. By this time heavy batteries had ceased to be part of each infantry division and batteries became part of what were eventually called Heavy Artillery Groups with several batteries of different types. After the First World War they equipped medium brigades, later regiments.


By the outbreak of war in 1914 41 guns had been produced, 13 being in Canada and India.[10] Armstrong were the main supplier, with Vickers and Ordnance Factory Woolwich also producing complete equipments. Major assemblies including barrels were also produced by many other companies. Total wartime production was 1773 guns (i.e. barrels) and 1397 carriages.[11]


General Features

60 pounder was a heavy field gun or ‘gun of position’ designed to be towed by either a horse team or mechanical vehicle. It had a quick firing recoil, meaning that the carriage did not move when the gun fired. The barrel was a wire wound A tube in a jacket with a screw breech. It fired a separate round (i.e. shell and bagged cartridge were loaded separately). The lower carriage comprised a box trail. It was designed for one-man laying with both traverse and elevation sights and controls on the left. Recoil system was below the barrel and used a hydraulic buffer with a hydro-pneumatic recuperator to return the barrel to its firing position.

Initially 60 pounder was fitted with tangent sights on a rocking bar with the range scale graduated to 10,400 yards and 22 degrees, the rear sight had a deflection scale. Before the First World War it was fitted with oscillating (reciprocating) sights, using either the older No 5 sighting telescope (x12 magnification) on Sight Oscillating BL 60 pr Mk I or II, which include a sight clinometer and range scale as well as a deflection drum for the telescope. This was replaced by the No 3 carrier for the No 7 dial sight.

Mk I gun on Mk I carriage

Gun on Mk I carriage being towed in Flanders, August 1918

The original 1904 gun and carriage was designed for the gun barrel and recoil mechanism to be moved rearwards on its carriage (i.e. the breech moved towards the end of the trail) when traveling. This was intended to equalise the weight born by the 2 gun carriage wheels and the 2 wheels of the limber towing the gun,[12] hence minimising the weight born by any single wheel. Its cradle was difficult to make.[13] Mk I carriage had the usual field artillery wooden spoked wheels with iron tyres.

In February 1915, wartime manufacturing and maintenance requirements led to a simplification of the barrel construction, as gun Mk I* and Mk I**.[12]

Mk I gun on Mk II carriage

Mk I Gun on Mk II carriage, traveling position

Wartime manufacturing of the carriage was simplified in Mk II by removing the provision to retract the gun for traveling. This moved most of the weight when traveling away from the limber on to the carriage's own wheels - most weight was on the gun carriage wheels rather than the limber wheels and it was 1 ton heavier. 5 ft (1.5 m) diameter x 1 ft (0.30 m) wide steel traction engine wheels replaced the wooden wheels to cope with the added weight.[12] The tractor wheels added more weight to be towed, requiring the use of Holt artillery tractors to replace horses. In early 1917 new brakes, a new cradle design and calibrating sights were adopted.[13]

Mk I gun on Mk III carriage

The increased weight with the traction engine wheels made maneuvering difficult in typical mud conditions. In June 1916 the BEF commander General Haig requested a return to the lighter Mk I carriage.[14] This was not possible, but retracting the gun back on its carriage for traveling was re-introduced in simplified form by disconnecting the barrel from the recoil system and locking it on the trail in the recoiled position. This reduced the weight by 9 cwt.[12] Wooden spoked wheels were re-introduced. This became the Mk III carriage, or Mk II* for converted Mk II carriages.

Mk II gun on Mk IV carriage