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Ordnance QF 4.5-inch howitzer
Camouflaged British 4.5 inch field howitzers on the Western Front, probably 1917
Type Field howitzer
Place of origin United Kingdom United Kingdom
Service history
In service 1908 - 1944
Used by  British Empire
 Russian Empire
Wars First World War, Second World War
Production history
Designer Coventry Ordnance Works
Manufacturer Coventry Ordnance Works, Royal Arsenal, Vickers, Bethlehem Steel
Number built 3,359
Specifications (Mk1 & Mk2)
Weight Barrel & breech: 972 lb (441 kg)
Total: 3,010 lb (1,370 kg)
Length 9 feet (2.7 m)
Barrel length Bore: 5 ft (1.5 m)
Total: 5 ft 10 in (1.78 m)
Width 6 ft 8 in (2.03 m)
Crew 6

Shell separate QF. HE shell 35 lb (16 kg)
Calibre 4.5-inch (114 mm)
Breech Horizontal sliding block
Recoil Hydro-spring
40 inches (0° elevation);
20 inches (45° elevation)
Carriage Wheeled, box trail
Elevation -5° to +45°
Traverse 3° right and left
Rate of fire 4 rpm
Muzzle velocity Maximum: 1,010 ft/s (310 m/s)
Maximum range Mk II: 7,300 yd (6,700 m)
Sights Reciprocating & non-calibrating

The Ordnance QF 4.5-inch howitzer was the standard British Empire field (or ‘light’) howitzer of the First World War era. It replaced the BL 5-inch howitzer and equipped some 25% of the field artillery. It entered service in 1910 and remained in service through the interwar period and was last used in the field by British forces in early 1942. It was generally horse drawn until mechanisation in the 1930s. It was used by British and Commonwealth Forces in most theatres, by Russia and by British troops in Russia in 1919. Its calibre (110mm) and hence shell weight were greater than those of the equivalent German field howitzer (105mm), France did not have an equivalent. In the Second World War it equipped some units of the BEF and British, Australian, New Zealand and South African batteries in East Africa and the Middle and Far East.


Origin and use

During the Second Boer War (1899–1902) the British government realised its field artillery was being overtaken by the more modern "quick firing" guns and howitzers of other major powers. The Krupp field howitzers used by the Boers had particularly impressed the British. The usefulness of field howitzers and the need for them to form part of an infantry division’s artillery were reinforced by reports from the Russo-Japanese War in 1904. In 1900 Cabinet ordered Field Marshal Lord Roberts, the Commander-in-Chief in South Africa to send home artillery brigade and battery commanders “selected for their eminence and experience” to form an Equipment Committee. The committee was chaired by General Sir George Marshall, who had been artillery commander in South Africa.[1] It formed in January 1901 with wide ranging terms of reference concerning artillery equipment from guns and howitzers to harness design and instruments.[2]

The Committee swiftly established requirements and invited proposals from British gun makers. None were satisfactory and compared poorly with a captured Krupp 12 cm howitzer. A purchase of Krupp howitzers was discussed including visits to Essen. However, by 1905 the Committee was sufficiently satisfied to recommend the production of trial equipments from Ordnance Factories, Armstrong, Vickers and the Coventry Ordnance Works (a joint venture by several Coventry engineering companies). Testing in 1906 showed the Coventry design was by far the most satisfactory and a battery’s worth were ordered for trials. In 1908, after trials the 4.5-inch howitzer was recommended for service, albeit with a shortened barrel.[3]

The 4.5-inch howitzer was used on most fronts during the First World War. On the Western Front its normal scale was 1 battery to every 3 batteries of 18 pounder. Initially 4.5-inch howitzers equipped a howitzer brigade RFA in each infantry division. In the original British Expeditionary Force in 1914 this brigade had 3 batteries each with 6 howitzers. Subsequent batteries had only 4 howitzers. In 1916 all batteries on the Western Front began to be increased to 6 howitzers and later that year the howitzer brigades were disbanded and a howitzer battery added to each Field Brigade RFA as the fourth battery. This organisation continued between the wars.

It remained in service during the inter-war period and was used in various campaigns in that time. However, apart from changes to ammunition the howitzer itself remained unchanged except for carriage modifications to enable mechanisation.

During the Second World War they served with the BEF in France and although many were lost they were the most widely available artillery piece until 25 pounder production developed. They were used in the Middle and Far East theatres as well as for training and were gradually replaced by the 25 pounder.



QF stands for "Quick Firing", a British term for ordnance that fires ammunition with a metal (usually brass) cartridge case containing the propellant charge. The cartridge case also provides obturation, or sealing the chamber. This howitzer was the largest calibre of British QF field artillery ordnance.

Apart from extensive experimentation with shell and rifling designs, two problems slowed development; both were howitzer specific issues. The first was the need for an adjustable quick firing recoil system to prevent the breech striking the ground when fired at high elevation angles. The second was the suitable design for a range scale in yards able to accommodate a choice of propelling charges. The first was solved by use of “cut-off-gear” that allowed 40 inches of recoil when the barrel was horizontal but only 20 inches when it was at 45 degrees. The second led to the range scale being designed for charge 4 and a “range rule” provided to convert the actual range for other charges to a false range set on the charge 4 scale.

The gun carriage was designed to be towed behind a limber and 6 horses; the lower carriage comprised a box trail. The QF 4.5 fired a separate round (i.e. shell and cartridge were loaded separately). The barrel was of built-up type, with a horizontal sliding block breech. A limited traverse saddle supported the elevating mass and a shield. It was designed for one-man laying with both traverse and elevation controls and sights on the left. The recoil system was below the barrel and used a hydraulic buffer with a hydro-pneumatic recuperator to return the barrel to its firing position.

Originally fitted with rocking bar open sights including a deflection scale and a strip elevation, by 1914 the Number 7 Dial Sight in Carrier Number 7 Dial Sight Number 1 had been introduced. This carrier was reciprocating (i.e. it could be cross-levelled), it had an integral elevation scale drum and a mounting for the sight clinometer (used for the angle of sight).[4] The Number 7 Dial Sight was a modified version of the German Goertz panoramic sight. The only changes to the ordnance, creating the Mark II in 1917, with a reduced twist in the rifling (from 1:15 to 1:20) and changes to correct design defects in the breech to reduce the effect of firing stresses.

From the 1920s the carriage was upgraded; first to Mk 1R (solid rubber tyres) then to Mk 1P (new wheels, axles, brakes and pneumatic tyres) for vehicle towing. Two versions of this appeared, in one stub axles were fitted below the original axle, later an entirely new axle was introduced. The similarly wheeled No. 26 artillery trailer was introduced to replace the limber. Unlike most other guns and howitzers in British service, calibrating Probert sights were not fitted to the 4.5-inch howitzer.


By the outbreak of war in 1914, 192 guns had been produced, 39 being for imperial forces, this was less than ordered.[5] Coventry Ordnance Works was the main supplier, with Ordnance Factory Woolwich producing substantial numbers. Other suppliers of complete equipments were Bethlehem Steel and before the outbreak of war a small number from Vickers. The Austin Motor Company produced some carriages. Total wartime production was 3384 guns (i.e. barrels) and 3437 carriages. 400 4.5-inch howitzers were supplied to Russia in 1916–17.[6]

Combat service

British Empire service

First World War

Gun with sand tyres around wheels, towed by camels, Egypt circa. 1915–1916

The QF 4.5 served throughout the Great War, principally with the Royal Field Artillery, beginning with 182 guns in 1914, with 3,177 more produced during the war.

At the beginning of the First World War a Brigade of three 6-gun howitzer batteries was part of each British Infantry Division. In February 1917 Divisional artilleries were consolidated into two field brigades each with three batteries (A, B, C) of 18 pounder guns and one battery (D) of 4.5-inch howitzers. The balance were formed into Army Field Brigades with the same organisation.

Following experience gained in the Battle of the Somme in Summer 1916, its role on the Western Front was defined in January 1917 as "neutralising guns with gas shell, for bombarding weaker defences, enfilading communications trenches, for barrage work, especially at night, and for wire cutting in such places which the field guns could not reach".[7]

During advances such as at Messines in June 1917 the gun was typically employed in "standing barrages" of HE on the enemy forward positions ahead of the 18 pounders' creeping barrage, and gas shelling following bombardments.[8]

There were 984 guns in service on the Western Front at the armistice and 25,326,276 rounds had been fired.[9]

4.5-howitzers were also used by British batteries in the campaigns in Gallipoli, the Balkans, Palestine, Italy and Mesopotamia.

Between the Wars

Several batteries of 4.5-inch howitzer arrived in North Russia shortly before the armistice on the Western Front and remained there through much of 1919.[10]

In 1919 small numbers were used in the successful 3rd Afghan War[11] and Waziristan Campaign [12] and in Mesopotamia 1920-21.[10]

Second World War

New Zealand battery, UK, 6 July 1940

4.5-inch howitzers equipped some batteries of the British Expeditionary Force in France in 1940. 96 were lost, leaving 403 in world-wide service (only 82 outside UK) with the British Army, plus those held by Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa. The British holdings were expected to increase to 561 by August 1940 due to completion of reconditioning and repairs.

4.5-inch howitzers equipped British and Australian batteries in the Western Desert in 1940 and 1941 and Australian unit in Syria.[13] The batteries with the 4th and 5th Indian Divisions went with them to East Africa and South African batteries with 4.5-inch howitzers also fought in this very successful campaign.[14]

In the Far East in 1941 4.5-inch howitzers equipped some British and Australian batteries in Malaya and a troop in each mountain battery in Hong Kong. The 4.5s of 155th (Lanarkshire Yeomanry) Field Regiment were instrumental in holding back Japanese attacks at the Battle of Kampar in late December 1941. The last operational use of 4.5 by the British Army was in early 1942 in Malaya.[15] They were withdrawn from field formations in 1943 and declared obsolete in 1944 when ammunition stocks ran out.[16]

Irish service

The 4.5-inch howitzer entered Irish service in 1925 to equip the newly formed 3rd Field Battery. Additional equipment received by the Irish army in 1941 included four 4.5-inch howitzers. In 1943/44, 20 additional 4.5-inch howitzers were received. 38 4.5-inch howitzers used by the reserve FCA.

It is worth noting that the QF 4.5 survived in use with the Irish Army until the 1960s. They were fired by the FCA (An Fórsa Cosanta Áitiúil - Local Defence Force) on the Glen of Imaal firing range, County Wicklow circa 1976. Some retired examples exist today, such as those preserved at Collins Barracks, Cork and two in Aiken Barracks, Dundalk.

Finnish service

1916 model used by Finland, at the Hämeenlinna Artillery Museum

Finnish BT-42 self-propelled gun armed with QF 4.5 inch. The photo has been taken at Parola Tank Museum

Britain supplied 24 howitzers to Finland for use in the Winter War of 1939–1940. Finland obtained 30 more from Spain in July 1940 and all guns were used in the Continuation War of 1941–1944. It was designated 114 H/18 in Finnish service. Some of the guns were used in the BT-42 self-propelled artillery piece.[17]

Portuguese service

The Portuguese Army used the QF 4.5 in combat in the Western Front, during the First World War. The howitzer was received in 1917, to equip the Portuguese Expeditionary Corps (CEP) sent to the Western Front, as part of the Portuguese effort in support to the Allies. In the CEP, the howitzer was designed to equip the fourth batteries of each of the field artillery battalions, the other three batteries in each battalion being equipped with 75 mm quick firing guns.

In Portugal, the QF 4.5 was officially designated Obus 11,4 cm TR m/1917 and received the nickname "Bonifácio". It remained in service until the 1940s.

Notable actions

  • A section (2 guns) of D Battery, 276 Brigade RFA fought a notable action in stopping the German counter-attack at Little Priel Farm, S.E. of Epéhy, during the Battle of Cambrai on 30 November 1917. Sergeant C.E. Gourley was awarded the Victoria Cross for leading this action.[18]

Extended specification

Diagram of 4.5-inch howitzer

Australian gun seen in recoil position after firing, 1935


  • Overall length: 5 ft 10 in
  • Bore length: 60 inches
  • Weight: 972 lb (Mk1), 1,021 lb (Mk2) including breech
  • Rifling: PPS 32 grooves
  • Twist: 1 in 20-15 increasing twist (Mk I)
    1 in 20 uniform twist (Mk II)
  • Breech: horizontal sliding block


  • Weight: 27 cwt (1,372 kg) total weight
  • Width: 6 ft 9 inches
  • Recoil: 40 inches (0° elevation) 20 inches (45° elevation)
  • Elevation: -5° to +45°
  • Traverse: 3° right and left


  • "Shell HE" Mk 12 to 16 - 4.3 lb Amatol or TNT filled. Minor differences between marks
  • "Shell Smoke Bursting" Mk 3 to 11 - White phosphorus filled
  • "Shell Smoke Base Ejection" Mk 1 - Hexachloroethane/Zinc filled
  • "Shell Star" Mk 3 - Star unit & parachute with Fuze Time & Percussion No 221
  • Shell weight: 35 lbs
  • Propellant charge: 5 parts, from .4 to 1 lb loaded into a 3.4-inch-long brass case


4.5-inch ammunition was separate loading, the shell and cartridge were loaded separately, with charge bags being removed from the cartridge as necessary. The full charge was charge 5, i.e. the cartridge case had an irremovable charge (1) and four incremental bags. Shells were delivered fuzed. In 1914 the ammunition scale for 4.5-inch howitzers was 70% shrapnel and 30% HE. New types of shell were introduced during the First World war. These were chemical at the end of 1915, incendiary shells in 1916 and smoke shells in 1917. Smoke shells were phosphorus filled with both steel and cast iron bodies. A new streamlined shell (HE Mk 1D) was also introduced to increase maximum range from 6600 yards of the older 3C.R.H. (Calibres Radius Head) models to 7300 yards.

QF 4.5 inch Howitzer Smoke round 1915.JPG
Mk I cartridge case showing arrangement of cordite rings around central core. One or more rings were removed for shorter ranges.
World War I shrapnel shell containing 492 balls, at 35 balls per pound.[19] Shell from the Imperial War Museum collection.[20]
No. 82 Fuze for shrapnel shell, World War I
World War I Mk V high explosive shell. Red band indicates it has been filled. Green band indicates it is filled with amatol or trotyl (TNT)
Contained 4 lb 10oz (2.09 kg) explosive.[19] Shell from the Imperial War Museum collection.[21]
No. 101 E Fuze for HE shell, World War I
Smoke round, 1915
Chemical shell, 1943

See also

Surviving examples

At Firepower – The Royal Artillery Museum, London.

Notes and references

  1. Headlam, Major-General Sir John, The History of the Royal Artillery – from the Indian Mutiny to the Great War, Volume II 1899–1914, p. 73
  2. Headlam, Major-General Sir John, The History of the Royal Artillery – from the Indian Mutiny to the Great War, Volume II 1899–1914, Appendix B
  3. Headlam, Major-General Sir John, The History of the Royal Artillery – from the Indian Mutiny to the Great War, Volume II 1899–1914, pp. 81-82
  4. Handbook of the 4.5-in QF Howitzer, Land Service, 1914
  5. Hogg, Ian V, Allied Artillery of World War One,1998
  6. The Official History of the Ministry of Munitions, Volume X The Supply of Munitions, Part 1 Guns
  7. Farndale 1986, page 158, quoting from Artillery Notes No. 4 - Artillery in Offensive Operations issued by the War Office in January 1917
  8. Farndale 1986, page 188, 190
  9. Farndale 1988, page 342
  10. 10.0 10.1 History of the Royal Regiment of Artillery – Between the Wars 1919-39, Hughes, Major General BP, 1992
  11. The Third Afghan War 1919 Official Account, General Staff Branch, Army HQ India, 1926
  12. Operations in Waziristan 1919-20, General Staff, Army HQ India, 1923
  13. The Gunners - A History of Australian Artillery, Horner, David, 1995
  14. History of the Royal Regiment of Artillery – The Years of Defeat 1939-41, Farndale, General Sir Martin, 1996
  15. History of the Royal Regiment of Artillery – The Far east Theatre 1941-46, Farndale, General Sir Martin, 2002
  16. Allied Artillery of World War Two, Hogg, IV, 1998
  17. Jaeger Platoon: Finnish Army 1918 - 1945. Artillery Part 5: Light Howitzers
  18. Farndale 1986, page 250
  19. 19.0 19.1 Hogg & Thurston 1972, page 241
  20. Imperial War Museum (2013). "Shell 4.5in HE Shrapnel (MUN 661)". IWM Collections Search. Retrieved 9 March 2013. 
  21. Imperial War Museum (2013). "Shell Q.F. High Explosive 4.5 in Howitzer Mark V, plugged (MUN 3233)". IWM Collections Search. Retrieved 9 March 2013. 
  22. Imperial War Museum (2013). "4.5 in QF Field Howitzer Mk I (The Lone Howitzer) (ORD 106)". IWM Collections Search. Retrieved 9 March 2013. 

There is an example of a 4.5 inch hoeitzer at the Polish Army Museum in Warsaw. Reference. visual observation.


  • Nigel F Evans, British Artillery in World War 2. 4.5-Inch Howitzer
  • General Sir Martin Farndale, History of the Royal Regiment of Artillery. Western Front 1914–18. London: Royal Artillery Institution, 1986. ISBN 1-870114-05-1
  • Major-General Sir John Headlam, The History of the Royal Artillery from the Indian Mutiny to the Great War. Vol. II (1899–1914). Woolwich : Royal Artillery Institution, 1937. Facsimile reprint by Naval & Military Press, 2005. ISBN 978-1-84574-043-6
  • I.V. Hogg & L.F. Thurston, British Artillery Weapons & Ammunition 1914–1918. London: Ian Allan, 1972. ISBN 0-7110-0381-5
  • WL Ruffell, QF 4.5-in Howitzer
  • The Third Afghan War 1919 - Official Account, 1926. General Staff Branch, Army Headquarters, India.
  • Operations in Waziristan 1919-20, 1923. General Staff Branch, Army Headquarters, India.

External links

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