A quick-firing gun (in U.S. parlance, 'rapid-firing') is an artillery piece, typically a gun or howitzer, which has several characteristics which taken together mean the weapon can fire at a fast rate. Quick-firing was introduced worldwide in the 1890s and early 1900s and had a marked impact on war both on land and at sea.
The characteristics of a quick-firing artillery piece are:
- Buffers to limit recoil, so the barrel can quickly return to position after being fired.
- A breech mechanism which allows rapid reloading
- Single-piece ammunition, e.g. a cartridge containing both shell and propellant. (This criterion was sometimes taken as the definition of quick-firing, but many quick-firing guns dispensed with it).
These innovations, taken together, meant that the quick-firer could fire aimed shells much more rapidly than an older weapon. In 1887, an Elswick Ordnance Company 4.7-in gun fired 10 rounds in 47.5 seconds, almost eight times faster than the equivalent 5-inch breech loading gun.
Another important factor was the introduction of 'smokeless powder' - nitrocellulose, nitroglycerine or cordite - which created far less smoke than gunpowder, meaning that gun crews could still see their target.
Use on land
The first quick-firing field gun was created by Vladimir Baranovsky in 1872-5 which was officially adopted by the Russian military in 1882. The first war in which quick-firing artillery was widespread was the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5.
On land, quick-firing field guns were first adopted by the French Army, starting in 1897 with the Canon de 75 modèle 1897 which proved to be extremely successful. Other nations were quick to copy the quick-firing technology. Although the British took few quick-firing weapons to the Boer War, the first war in which quick-firing artillery was widespread was the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5.
The quick-firing howitzer offered the potential for practical indirect fire. Traditional howitzers had been employed to engage targets outside their line of fire, but were very slow to aim and reload. Quick-firing weapons were capable of a heavy indirect bombardment, and this was the main mode of their employment during the 20th century.
Use in battleships
The Royal Navy introduced the QF 4.7-inch in HMS Sharpshooter in 1889, and the QF 6-inch MK 1 in HMS Royal Sovereign, launched 1891. Other navies followed suit; the French navy installed quick-firing weapons on its ships completed in 1894-5.
Quick-firing guns were a key characteristic of the pre-dreadnought battleship, the dominant design of the 1890s. The quick-firing guns, while unable to penetrate thick armour, were intended to destroy the superstructure of an opposing battleship, start fires, and kill or distract the enemy's gun crews. The development of heavy guns and their increasing rate of fire meant that the quick-firer lost its status as the decisive weapon of naval combat in the early 1900s, though quick-firing guns were vital to defend battleships from attack by torpedo boats and destroyers, and formed the main armament of smaller vessels.
- Shirokorad, Aleksandr. "2,5 дм. (63,5 мм.) конная и горная пушки обр. 1877 г." (in Russian). 2.5 in. (63.5mm) Cavalry and Mountain Guns Model 1877. http://ww1.milua.org/RusBaranovskyjgun1.htm.
- "История артиллерии с середины XIX в. до 1917 г." (in Russian). The history of artillery from the middle of the 19th century up to 1917. Military Historical Museum of Artillery, Engineers and Signal Corps. http://www.artillery-museum.ru/schema-2.html.
- Bidwell, Shelford; Graham, Dominick (1982). "Fire-Power: The British Army: Weapons and Theories of War, 1904-1945". Allen and Unwin. ISBN 9780049421769. OCLC 9687161. , pp. 11–13
- Gardiner, Robert; Lambert, Andrew, eds (2001). "Steam, Steel and Shellfire: The Steam Warship, 1815-1905". Book Sales. ISBN 978-0785814139. , p. 161
- Impact of the French 75mm Quick-Firer
- 1905 lecture on the U.S. Army employment of quick-firing artillery
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