I have just been asked if I could provide dimensions of the various shell cases used during the ABW. To this end I am reposting the image of eight cartridge cases side by side. It was remiss of me not to include dimensions at the time, as the illustration is rather meaningless if one doesn't have at least one of the cases for scale.
Measurements are in millimetres: Base x Length x Mouth
A. 4.7-inch QF Naval (153.5 x 404 x 120)
B. 12-pdr QF Naval (104 x 391 x 79)
C. 75 mm Creusot QF (92 x 331 x 75)
D. 75 mm Maxim-Nordenfelt QF (85 x 214 x 75)
E. 75 mm (12½-pdr) Vickers-Maxim QF (85 x 214 x 75)
F. 75 mm Krupp QF (87 x 171 x 75)
G. 120 mm Krupp Howitzer (140 x 106 x 127)
H. 37 mm Vickers Sons & Maxim QF “pompom” (44 x 94 x 37)
Some may notice that the mouth of the "120 mm" Krupp Howitzer case exceeds the gun's calibre by 7 mm. This was a surprise to me, and I have messaged MC Heunis to see if he has an explanation for this apparent discrepancy.
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MC Heunis has now sent me drawings showing the breech and barrel of the 120 mm Krupp Howitzer.
These explain the apparent discrepancy between the cartridge diameter and the gun's calibre. The breech steps in between the cartridge chamber and the main barrel, the former having a diameter of 130 mm and the latter 120 mm.
I also include an image of the cartridge and shell photographed together, clearly showing the difference in diameter (with thanks to Dougie McMaster).
The final image again shows cartridge and projectile, together with detonator protector clip (with thanks to MC Heunis).
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Four howitzers of this design were imported in 1896 and although probably not originally intended, some were positioned in the Pretoria and Johannesburg forts as an interim measure.
The “12cm Krupp: Schnellfeuer-Haubitze L/10” (also called “12cm Schnelllade-Feldhaubitze L/10”) was easily identified by its stubby 10 calibre long barrel and horizontal sliding breech block system which opened to the right. The breech mechanism was of a newer design than any of the other Krupp artillery pieces used in South Africa and was lever operated, opening the breech block, setting the firing pin and extracting the spent cartridge case. As with the Transvaal’s 75mm gun a brass cartridge case was used for obturation. The use of smokeless powder made it ideal for Boer artillery tactics.
The Boer howitzer was still mounted on a rigid carriage without a recoil system. To assist in recoil the carriage trail ended in a folding spade and wheel brakes were used. The base of the barrel was equipped with a geared arc that was used to elevate the gun by turning a hand wheel on the left hand side of the carriage. To enhance stability the gun was mounted low on the carriage and had relatively small sturdy wheels spaced wide apart. This assembly proved extremely strong, yet lightweight. It was a trouble free piece, which could be transported over very uneven terrain without capsizing. Twelve mules were used to move the gun and limber. It demanded little attention and proved to be an immensely powerful gun which could spread a particularly effective spray of shrapnel. Other ammunition consisted of common and ring segment shell, while steel pointed shells were manufactured in Pretoria.
Although this was a true howitzer, it outranged British howitzers and a number of field guns. The only known drawback of this howitzer, mainly due to its rigid carriage, was that it had the tendency to jump into the air when fired and in extreme cases even capsized. One can only imagine the frustration when a piece of this size had to be turned back onto its wheels while under fire from the enemy.
During the Siege of Ladysmith two howitzers were damaged during night raids on Gun Hill (7/8 December 1899) and Surprise Hill (11 December 1899), one of these beyond repair. To replace it an exact copy was manufactured by Mr. Uggla, a Norwegian, at the Z.A.S.M. (South African Railway Company) workshops in Pretoria. The barrel was manufactured from an 8-inch section of steel found at Johannesburg and the breech jacket of a 12-inch section of iron. On the proving ground the gun showed the same ballistic qualities as the original from which it was copied.
After the war the Z.A.S.M. gun, inscribed: “Made in Z.A.S.M. Workshop, Pretoria, 1900, to replace gun blown up by English night of 11.12.99, Ladysmith”, was found in the Eastern Transvaal. According to WO32/8111 it was found by Col Urmston’s Column in June 1902 north of Belfast (“near Roos Senekal” also given). To the contrary WO32/505 states that it was surrendered at Middelburg after the peace. According to British War Office lists the other howitzers were accounted for at:
The Piet Retief howitzer was discovered by British scouts under Knox and French while a convoy was crossing a swollen stream. It was presumably disassembled and dumped into the stream by the retreating Boers. After it was “unearthed” it was re-assembled and shipped to England aboard the Mountford on 21 May 1901. A second howitzer, almost certainly the Z.A.S.M. gun, was sent to England aboard the SS Avondale Castle on 30 December 1903. The fragments discovered “near Pietersburg” in January 1902 are believed to have belonged to a howitzer that was blown up by the Boers on 18 October 1900, at the same time as the other Boer guns were destroyed at Haenertsburg. Fritz Rothman’s diary confirms that one howitzer was destroyed outside Haenertsburg, at Lethaba Drift.
On 2 January 1905 the Z.A.S.M. howitzer complete with a carriage and limber was issued to the “Officer Commanding” of the Rifle Depot at Winchester (or Manchester - document illegible). The post-war disposition of the Piet Retief howitzer is not known and to date neither of the two captured pieces could be traced.
What really happened to the Gun Hill howitzer? British sources state that it was destroyed, but that no pieces were ever found. From War Office lists and the inscription on the gun captured near Dullstroom it is safe to say that the Surprise Hill howitzer was the gun that was damaged beyond repair and that was re-made at the Z.A.S.M. workshop. According to the official history of the Z.A.S.M. the Gun Hill howitzer was only damaged and was repaired at Pretoria. The charge of gun cotton that was placed on top of the barrel caused a dent in the barrel (similar to that on the Long Tom’s barrel). This deformity was machined out and new rifling was cut before the gun was sent back to the front.
This means that one howitzer was probably never captured or recovered by the British. The late Maj. Darrell Hall made mention of a photograph captioned: “Guns captured by Babington from De la Rey – March 1901” that shows two 120mm Krupp howitzers, but this photograph could not be traced.
The Z.A.S.M. Howitzer outside Peninsula Barracks, Winchester, c. 1930 (believed to have been smelted during WWII).
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Two more images of 120 mm Krupp Howitzers in South Africa, the first from the album of Majoor Friedrich Wilhelm von Wichmann, Transvaal Staatsartillerie, the second taken from "The Anglo-Boer Album", 1902 (500 photographic engravings edition), p. 51.
Also photographs of a cartridge picked up after the Battle of Pieters and fuze plugs found on Surprise Hill in 1981.
Selection of Krupp howitzer fuze-hole sockets/adaptors with percussion fuzes inserted. The plugs found on Surprise Hill would have been removed before inserting primed fuzes.
Photograph showing matching numbers on the fuze adaptor and nose-cone (with thanks to Dougie McMaster)
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155 mm Creusot shrapnel ring/disc, reconstructed from fragments found on the Platrand (Caesar's Camp), Ladysmith, in 1978.
Also a photograph of similar cast iron fragments from Mafeking. The partially intact disc in this image (bottom row), with recesses for shrapnel bullets on one side only, would have constituted the first or lower ring.
Finally one of the cog-like fragments mounted as a trophy: "SIEGE OF LADYSMITH / 1899-1900 / FIRED INTO 18TH HUSSARS CAMP".
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A. British 15-pdr BL - "35 balls per lb"; c. 13 g each (Cronje's laager, Paardeberg)
B. Boer 155 mm Creusot "Long Tom" - c. 24 g each (Caesar's Camp, Ladysmith)
C. British 4.7-in QF - "14 balls per lb"; c. 32 g each (Cronje's laager, Paardeberg)
D. Boer 75 mm Creusot QF - c. 10 g each (Horseshoe Hill, Tugela)
Note the difference in oxidation. The Creusot shot had a much higher lead content than the British bullets, resulting in a distinctive white coating of lead oxide.
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