The 6-inch 26 cwt howitzer was developed during World War 1 and was still in service at the beginning of World War 2. These weapons fired an unbelievable 22.4 million projectiles during their tenure in the Great War and served as one of the most respected and important weapons available to the British war effort during the conflict. Approximately 3,633 examples were completed in whole and these were produced from a combined effort from British factories that included Vickers, Beardmore, Coventry Ordnance Works, Woolwich Ordnance Factory and Midvale Steel Company. The type went on to see additional action in the early years of World War 2 before being formally declared as obsolete in 1945.
World war found Europe in beginning on July 28th, 1914. Exactly a month earlier, regional tensions boiled over after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria - in line to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire - by nineteen year old Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip. The assassination triggered Austria-Hungary's declaration of war against Serbia and other loyalties were soon following in declaring war against another's allies. Such began the Great War.
British Empire forces were pressed into service and brought with them whatever they had available - among these were obsolete 6-inch 25 cwt and 6-inch 30 cwt medium howitzer systems. While relatively still effective, these systems were nonetheless past their prime - the 6-inch 30 cwt weapon was itself forged in the late 1800s. As such, there proved a dire need to develop a more modernized form of the base field gun for British artillery elements. The 6-inch 30 cwt was, therefore, devised as a replacement for both aging field guns, offering an all-new design that promoted such qualities as mobility, improved ranges and lethal firepower. Design work on the 6-inch 26 cwt howitzer began in January of 1915 and fire trials followed in late July. The weapon proved sufficient for British needs and the type was entered into operational service in August.
The weapon system, as a whole, was highly conventional in overall design. The gun barrel sat upon a mounting that was set between two wooden spoked metal wheels. The rear featured a "box trail" assembly that facilitated road transporting as well as moving the gun into position. The weapon system was a heavy one - weighing in at 8,142lbs - and required the services of no fewer than 10 personnel to manage her. Her running length (carriage included) measured in at 21.6 feet and her barrel alone was 6.6 feet long. The main gun caliber was 152.4mm (6 inches) and the breech consisted of a Welin screw design while recoil was handled by a variable hydro-pneumatic system. Elevation was limited from 0- to 45-degrees and traverse was just 4-degrees to either side without having to move the entire weapon in a certain direction.
The crew was trained to fire a variety of rounds that included the standard 100lb High-Explosive (HE) projectile as well as a High-Explosive Incendiary (HEI) rounds. World War 1 also ushered in the age of chemical warfare and both sides were quick to take advantage of a level playing field. As such, there also existed a chemical-base round. A trained crew could let-off some two rounds per minute at ranges out to 9,500 yards with a 1,400 f/s muzzle velocity.
Upon entering service, the 6-inch 26 cwt was utilized to good effect. Like other weapons of this class, early versions were towed to and from locations via "pack" animals and it was not until 1916 that motorized transport vehicles came into the fold to facilitate travel across longer distances and tougher terrain. To compensate for its sheer weight across soft ground, metal rectangular plates (referred to as "girdles") were set around each wheel in a tank-track like fashion to help keep the weapon from becoming grounded in mud or snow. By the end of the war, the original iron-based wheels were replaced with solid rubber- tired ones.
Ultimately, as world war in Europe drew to a close and became a part of Western history, the original wooden spoked wheels gave way to pneumatic tires set upon steel rims. The gun barrel was also now ranged out to 11,400 yards using a newer 86lb projectile. The weapon's success also made her a global presence that was not limited to the British Commonwealth and went on to include artillery forces in Belgium, Italy, Greece, Netherlands and Russia to go along with her standardized use in the armies of Australia, Canada, South Africa and New Zealand.
No sooner had the war-weary world turned the page that world war was on the horizon yet again - this time in World War 2. With the 6-inch 26 cwt still residing in the British inventory, the weapon system was called to action once more and still proved quite valuable for what she brought to a battle. Her value was further solidified in the fact that the German Army even made use of captured systems under the designation of FH-412(e). The type would serve faithfully in her artillery role until superseded by the more modern BL 5.5-inch medium field gun beginning in 1942. From then on, the 6-inch 26 cwt would be encountered less and less until formally dropped from all operational service in 1945 - the final year of World War 2. The last combat actions of the 6-inch 26 cwt occurred in the Burmese Theater of War, bringing an end to the long and successful tenure of the mighty 6-inch 26 cwt gun.
While "6-inch" refers to the barrel caliber, "26 cwt" refers to the collective weight of the barrel and associated breech - this being 26 "centum weight" or "long hundredweights".
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