Artillery / Great Britain
7.2-in Howitzers Marks I-V and 6
7.2-in Howitzers Marks I-V and 6

7.2-in Howitzers Marks I-V and 6 

Between the wars the British army tended to neglect artillery; a number of programmes were initiated but came to naught, so when heavy artillery was required in 1940 all that there was to hand was a quantity of old World War I 203-mm (8-in) howitzers with ranges too short for current conditions. As a stopgap it was decided to reline the existing 203-mm barrels to a new calibre of 183 mm (7.2 in) and to develop a new range of ammunition. The original 203-mm carriages were to be retained, but the old traction engine wheels were replaced by new pneumatic balloon-tyred wheels on what became known as the 7.2-in Howitzer.

The new ammunition provided the conversion with a useful increase in range, but when the weapon fired the full charge the recoil forces were too much for the carriage to absorb. Firing the 7.2-in howitzer on full charge was a risky business, for the whole equipment tended to rear up and jump backwards. Before the next round could be fired the howitzer had to be manhandled back into position and re-laid. Some of this unwanted motion could be partly overcome by placing behind each wheel wedge-shaped ramps up which the howitzer and carriage could climb, only to roll down again into roughly the original position, but sometimes even these ramps were insufficient and the howitzer would jump over them. But the conversion proved to be an excellent projectile-delivery system capable of good range and a high degree of accuracy, to the extent that the gunners in the field called for more.

In order to provide more, the number of 8-in howitzer conversions eventually ran to six marks depending on the original barrel and type of conversion; some of the 8-in barrels came from the United States. The first 7.2-m howitzers were used in action during the latter period of the war in North Africa (they were the howitzers mentioned in Spike Milligan's hilarious military memoirs) and in Tunisia, went on to take part in the long slog north through Sicily and Italy; and were used following the Normandy landings.

But by 1944 numbers of 7.2-in barrels were being placed on imported American Ml carriages. These excellent carriages proved to be just as suitable for the 7.2-in howitzer as they were for the American 155-mm (6.1-in) gun and 203-mm howitzers, and the first combination of a 7.2-in barrel with the Ml carriage was the 7.2-in Howitzer Mk V. Few, if any such combinations were made as it was obvious that the Ml carriage was capable of carrying more than the original conversion. Thus a much longer 7.2-in barrel was placed on the Ml carriage and this was the 7.2-in Howitzer Mk 6. The longer barrel produced a considerable range increase to 17985 m (19,667 yards) and the carriage was much more stable than the old 203-mm carriage. As more Ml carriages became available they were used to mount the new Mk 6 barrels, and by the end of 1944 there were few of the original 8-in carriages left. With the increased stability came increased accuracy, and the Mk 6 howitzer gained an enviable reputation for good shooting, to the extent that they were retained for many years after the end of the war in 1945.

Specification 7.2-in Howitzer Mks I-V

Calibre: 183 mm (7.2 in)
Length of piece: 4.343 m (14 ft 3 in)
Weight: inaction 10387 kg (22,900 lb)
Elevation: 0° to +45°
Muzzle velocity: 518 m (1,700 ft) per second
Maximum range: 15453 m (16,900 yards)
Shell weight: 91.6 kg (202 lb)

Specification 7.2-in Howitzer Mk 6

Calibre: 183 mm (7.2 in)
Length of piece: 6,30 m (20 ft 8 in)
Weight: in action 13209 kg (29,120 lb)
Elevation: -2° to +65°
Traverse: 60°
Muzzle velocity: 497 m (1,630 ft) per second
Maximum range: 17984 m (19,667 yards)
Shell weight: 91.6 kg (202 lb)
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