During World War I the French 75' or, more formally, the Canon de 75 modèle 1897, passed into French national legend as the gun that enabled the French to win the war. It was famous even before 1914 as what may now be regarded as the first of all modern field artillery designs: it coupled a highly efficient recoil mechanism with a rapid-action breech design and a carriage that enabled hitherto unheard-of rates of fire to be maintained. Before 1914 the 75 was a virtual state secret but once in action it more than proved its worth, to the extent that the French army depended on its high rate of fire to make up for deficiencies in the availability of heavier artillery weapons.
By 1939 the 75 was rather past its best, and was outranged by more modern field gun designs, but the French still had well over 4,500 of them in front-line use. Other nations also had the 75. The list of these nations was long for it included the USA (which was producing its own 75-mm M1897A2 and 75-mm M1897A4 versions), Poland (armata polowa wz 97/17), Portugal, many of the French colonies, some Baltic states, Greece, Romania, Ireland and many other nations. The 75 of 1918 was also very different from the 75 of 1939 in many cases. The Americans and Poles had introduced split trail carriages to the 75 in place of the original pole trail, and many nations (including the French) had introduced rubber-tyred wheels for motor traction in place of the original spoked wheels. The 75 has also undergone some other changes in role. Before 1918 many 75 barrels had been placed on rudimentary anti-aircraft carriages, both static and mobile, and despite their limited value many were still around in 1939.
The 75 has also undergone some adaptation as a form of tank weapon, but it was to be left to the Americans to make the full development of this possibility when they later adapted the type as the main gun for their M3 and M4 tank series. In France the 75 was updated to Canon de 75 modèle 1897/33 standard with a new split trail carriage, but by 1939 there were few of these in service.
In the shambles of May and June 1940 huge numbers of 75s fell into the hands of the Germans, who were only too happy to use many of them for their own purposes as the 7.5-cm FK 231(f) or, more commonly, as the 7.5-cm FK 97(f). At first many were issued to occupation garrisons and second-line formations, while others were later incorporated into the beach defences of the Atlantic Wall. Many more were stockpiled ready to be on hand when some use could be found for them. That came during 1941 when it was discovered the hard way that the armour of the T-34/76 Soviet tank was invulnerable to nearly all the German anti-tank weapons. As a hasty stopgap improvisation the stockpiled 75s were taken from the storerooms, fitted with strengthening bands around the barrel and placed on 5-cm Pak 38 anti-tank gun carriages. A muzzle brake was fitted and special armour-piercing (AP) ammunition was hastily produced, the results were rushed to the Eastern Front and there they proved just capable of tackling the Soviet tank armour. This rushed improvisation was known to the Germans as the 7.5-cm Pak 97/38 and was really too powerful for the light anti-tank gun carriage, but it worked for the period until proper anti-tank guns arrived on the scene.
The 7.5cm Pak 97/38 was not the only war-time development of the 75, for later the Americans developed the 75 to the stage where it could be carried in North American B-25 bombers as an anti-ship weapon.
After 1945 the 75 lingered on with many armies, and it would not be surprising if it is still in service here and there. In its day it was an excellent artillery piece that well deserved its famous reputation.
Specification Canon de 75 modèle 1897 Calibre: 75 mm (2.95 in) Length of piece: 2.72 m(107.08 in) Weight: travelling 1970 kg (4,343 lb) and in action 1140 kg (2,514 lb) Elevation:-11∞ to+ 18∞ Traverse: 6∞ Muzzle velocity: 575 m ( 1,886 ft) per second Range: 11110 m (12,140 yards) Shell weight: 6.195 kg (13.66 lb)