Category: artillery

A British gunner visits some trench gunners …

A British gunner visits some trench gunners at their gun position near Amiens, 21 April 1918.

French troops manning a battery of trench mo…

French troops manning a battery of trench mortars in front of the ruins of Remenauville, and trench mortar ammunition, 4 February 1916.

A French gunner polishing a 37mm infantry su…

A French gunner polishing a 37mm infantry support gun at Tilloy.

German gunners manhandling a trench gun to a…

German gunners manhandling a trench gun to a new position on the Somme, Spring 1918.

Bellairs 3.7 inch multiple trench howitzer. …

Bellairs 3.7 inch multiple trench howitzer. The gun had four barrels, each one would be filled with small projectiles, in tests 16 Mills Bombs were used in each barrel, and then fired using a mixture of oxygen and hydrogen.
It was tested by the British Army in 1915 but not picked up for use but Bellairs was able to get a patent for his mechanism in 1916.

Captain Alan de Mowbray Bellairs was a member of the Royal Naval Reserve who served briefly with the Royal Engineers Special Brigade where he worked on this pneumatic trench mortar. A member of the Special Brigade later wrote this about the device.

“Christmas Day (1915) was one of fine weather. There were no parades, but a party of of us were detailed to assist a certain Capt. Bellairs in matters relating to an ingenious gun he had invented. It was a bulky contrivance devised to fire a number of bombs simultaneously, the propelling force being an explosive mixture of hydrogen and oxygen supplied in correct proportions from cylinders of these gases. This remarkable gun had four barrels, each of which could hold sixteen missiles of the Mills Bomb type, so that sixty-four of them could be thrown to burst in a confined area at a distance of about 300 yards. We conveyed the gun to some demonstration trenches, and man-handled it into position. Then we waited around while Bellairs discussed various problems with several officers. All this completed, we carried the gun out again, and made for home. As mere pawns in this game, we were quite content to do as we were told and leave the responsibility to others.

Two days later, we were on fatigue once more with Bellairs’ gun. A longer journey this time took us to some open fields beyond Bethune. Having fixed the gun in position on a sort of firing range, we awaited the arrival of Staff Officers. They were abominably late, and so we hung around while Bellairs tested his apparatus and filled the explosion chamber with the gases removing the safety-pin from each Mills Bomb as a sergeant passed them to him, he slid sixteen bombs down each barrel and sighted the gun. At last there was a clatter of horses and riders as a batch of Staff galloped over the field and reined near us. The General dismounted, chatted with Bellairs, and examined the gun. The others remained on horseback, moving away somewhat to witness the spectacle while at the same time feeling safer, and the General peered into the barrels. The signal was given, and the gun went off. A shower of bombs hurtled through the air, and burst on their target. We all proceeded to see what the effects had been.
The result did not appear to be devastating, and the General was obviously not impressed. Mounting, he spoke briefly to Bellaires, finishing with the terse comment, “Come back when you have something which will fire half a ton”. Turning away, he quickly rode off, and his staff hurriedly followed. Bellairs looked depressed at such a summary dismissal. The gun was packed up, accessories and all, and we returned to Chickory. We were never asked again to give demonstrations, and shortly afterwards “Billy Bellaires” departed with his chauffeur, fur collar and gun.“
Martin Sidney Fox, "Corporals All – With Special Brigade RE 1915-1919" 

A captured French heavy trench mortar in its…

A captured French heavy trench mortar in its emplacement, June 1918 and the explosion of a French heavy mortar shell on a German trench.

A French heavy trench mortar position, c1917.

A French heavy trench mortar position, c1917.

A captured German 25cm Albrecht Morser trenc…

A captured German 25cm Albrecht Morser trench mortar emplacement between Hamel and Beaumont Hamel, seen in November 1916.

German guns and trench mortars, captured in …

German guns and trench mortars, captured in the Battle of the Somme, July 1916.

“Heavy mortar” or a big fuckin pipe.

British artillery crew winching a shell.

British artillery crew winching a shell.