Canon de 75 mle 1897

French field gun Canon de 75 mle 1897 (soixante-quinze).
History, development, service, specifications, pictures and 3D model.

Model 1897 gun
This pre-1914 picture of a Model 1897, taken at a time when the French army expected to fight mobile battles over open terrain.

Canon de 75 mle 1897
Type: field gun.

History Canon de 75 mle 1897

The demand to becoming probably the most legendary guns in recent history could be absolutely offered by the French ’75’, the well-known ‘soixante-quinze’ or Canon de 75 role 1897.
In recent times this weapon won for itself a virtually mythical status, however in historical terminology it de­serves reputation to be the first real quick-firing guns. This was realized by the release of an innovative hydraulic recoil technique which made up to date systems (depending on the usage of springs solely) practically outdated right away. This system, allied to the creation of the Nor­denfeld breech system that could be closed and opened via the flick of a lever, allowed the ’75’ to fire shells at rates as high as Twenty-eight rounds per minute, which in its day had been absolutely revolution­ary.
The ’75’ was a state development initially manufactured at the Atelier de Bourges, however it wasn’t just before the mle 1897 had been manufactured in other places, particularly by Schneider & Cie at Le Creusot. This corporation’s manufacturing was so productive that the pattern had been occasionally associated with Schneider.

The initial guns came out in 1897 (hence mle 1897) and had been held under wraps for a long time because they had been considered to be extremely secret weapons. A lot had been anticipated of them, for they were considered as the primary support weaponry for the French concept of the assault, where the offensive spirit was expected to triumph over any kind of resistance. The top fire rate of the ’75’ was intended to overcome the fairly light weight of high-explosive shell fired, 6.195 kg (13.66lb). This concept was to cost the French military a lot in 1914, but all over the ‘Great War’ the ’75’ remained the standard field piece of the French military.

The hydraulic recoil technique of the ’75’ created a comparatively lengthy recoil motion, so long actually that 2 ‘ears’ had been attached beneath the muzzle to en­gage lugs for the recoil housing at maximum moving to take certain of the barrel tons off the pistons. These ‘ears’ created the ’75’ with a basic identification fea­ture. The breech system made use of an easy lever and interrupted-thread action which was rapidly and simply oper­ated to permit the one-piece ammuni­tion to be fed into the chamber. A box­-section pole trail was adopted, restricting the highest angle of elevation and con­sequently the range, however this undesir­able characteristic wasn’t fixed till well after World War One. Numerous ’75s’ were built with a fuse-setting device mounted to the trail leg when in action.

75-mm mle 1897 in use as anti-aircraft gun
The 75-mm mle 1897 in use as anti-aircraft gun on mobile mountings. This gun is manned by newly-arrived US Army gunners.

The ’75’ was manufactured in 1000’s (17,000+ in France) during World War One and it was supplied to armies apart from the French. The US Army bought the type in 1917 as well as started manufacturing of a unique model. Countless ’75s’ were produced that they were employed for a wide range of different functions. The armament of the earliest French tanks had been the ’75’, and the ’75’ have also been utilized as an anti-aircraft gun, both attached to some horrific lash-ups including steel structures or on self-propelled mountings on de Dion trucks. Certain were utilized as coastal defense guns and when a 37-mm (l.456-in) trench gun was necessary in 1916 the outcome was a half-scale ’75’.

The ’75’ continued to a prolonged post-war career after 1918, and it was afterwards produced in certain unusual appearances, but it’s among the most widespread guns of World War One that the ’75’ will probably be best remembered. Examples employed by the Germans in Ww2 had been designated 7.5-cm Feldkanone 231(f), however a more usual designation was 7.5-cm FK97(f).

Users: France, USA, Britain, Belgium, Romania, Serbia, Portugal, Spain, Poland, Finland, Germany (Wehrmacht).

Animated 3D model Canon de 75 mle 1897

Specifications Canon de 75 mle 1897


Canon de 75 mle 1897Specification
Typefield gun
Weight in action: 2,514 lb (1,140 kg); travelling 4,343 lb (1,970 kg)
Calibre 2.95 in (75 mm)
Length overall ?
Length of barrel 1101.85 in (2.587 m)
Elevation -11° to +18°
Muzzle velocity 1,886 ft/s (575 m/s)
Maximum range 12,030 yds (11,000 m)
Rate of fire 28 rpm
Shell weight 13.66 lb (6.195 kg)

Service statistics:

Canon de 75 mle 1897figures
Production period1897-1939
Total production figure c.17,000 (1914-18) in France; c.1,000 after 1918 in USA
Price per unit unknown, but high because of great cost in material and manpower
Available August 1914 c.4,000
Availabe September 1939 c.4,500 (France); 1,374 (Poland)

The Legend

The weapon which was being internationally­-known as the ’75’ got its roots in a French military project of the 1890s. By that period the breech-loading gun had been very common, however it struggled with the issue that had impacted artil­lery guns from the time of black-powder days: whenever a cannon had been fired the recoil power pushed the gun barrel and carriage back out of position, and they needed to be replaced prior to one more round could be fired. If some technique of absorbing this recoil might be discovered, fast rates of fire could be achievable because there would be no reason to keep manhandling the weapons returning to their firing placement following each shot.

The answer appeared to remain in the area of hyd­raulics, for a German company had designed a method of creating a piston connected to the gun barrel proceed through a dense liquid as it recoiled, and by care­ful layout this assimilated the recoil power. This concept was used on several big fixed coastal guns, but to result in the concept work with a considerably lighter and smaller field gun had been a different topic. The majority of the important European nations arranged their developers to get results for the challenge, nevertheless the French discovered the solution first.

The French answer became an easy extension from the previous German piston and liquid concept; they just managed to make it scaled-down along with holes inside the piston to ensure that a combination of water and glycerin could move through the openings at a specify however slow rate. This would absorb recoil forces to the degree that none, or almost none, could be exceeded to the carriage. Hence, the mle 1897 was created and the French military instantly place a rigid security clamp on it. Nobody away from immediate group of user gunners had been authorized even to see the gun, and not even the gunners got any kind of real understanding of the way the recoil system really operated.


Sadly for the French military, this kind of de­sperate secrecy drawn to interest and it wasn’t long before the functions of the recoil sys­tem were released. By that moment the other important European nations had made the decision that if the French were to employ a brand new quick-firing gun by having a successful recoil technique, then they required one too. Hence, their desig­ners usually created various other however fundamentally identical options. A few of these alternatives have been even better compared to the mle 1897, for to make sure that the French technique operated successfully the barrel had to recoil a consider­able distance, some 1.22 m (48 in). This made the barrel move so far that the center of gravity and therefore carriage stability might be impacted, as well as the pressures on the recoil cylinder piston rods have been so significant that ‘ears’, participating in lugs below the recoil housing, needed to be installed below the muzzle to take some pressure. This didn’t materially impact the rate of fire of the mle 1897, which could be up to Twenty-eight rounds per minute with a skilled team. The gun barrel made use of a Nordenfeld breech system that could be fast opened utilizing a basic lever along with a flick of a skilled hand, and the ammo was loaded in one piece, shell and propellant case gathered together.

By the time when World War One started the common secret of the mle 1897 had been well-known, however the French even now maintained some security limitations for the interior characteristics. The French military expected superb things of the ’75’, for it completely matched their doctrine of the assault. In this viewpoint any enemy would purely be swept away by massed infantry assaults along with batteries of ’75s’ creating extensive supporting barrages at high rates of fire. The somewhat light shell weight had been ignored, it being mentioned that higher fire rates would eliminate that minor drawback. Consequently, when the French infantry advanced to the Battles of the Frontiers in August 1914, they advanced in front of massed batter­ies of ’75s’ shooting over open landscapes at the German enemy.

The Battles of the Frontiers immediately demonstrated that French concepts on the power of the assault were of no reward when confronted with machine-guns, maga­zine loading firearms and well-concealed opponent artillery. The ’75s’ did undoubtedly demonstrate to be valuable and handy guns, however their general deficiency of shell weight made them no match for the heavy German howitzers, and they struggled nearly as much as the infantry throughout the open­ing battles of World War One. The protagonists reeled at a distance and began to entrench them­selves for the strange state of siege warfare that was to continue the following 4 awful years. Here the ’75’ wasn’t to shine for it fired in a lower trajectory simply, as well as verses trenches and even lightly protected field fortifications it had been of very restricted worth. Just about all it could do had been scratch minor depressions into the terrain and create some minor measure of the semi-desert landscape which was to symbol the Western Front.

Public craze

However, before 1914 was arrived the ’75’ had been popular. To hide the measure of their de­feats on the Frontiers several French propagan­dist stumble on the idea that the ’75’ had been the weapon that ‘saved’ France. The French public grabbed upon the idea and the ’75’ became a public craze practically immediately. Songs were released lauding the gun, as well as the press made use of every way to advertise the vision. Even jewelry and lapel badges portrayed the ’75’, and a legend was created.

The soldiers on the battlefields without a doubt got other ideas. The only method the ’75’ might be employed on the Western Front had been definitely far forward, simply behind the front lines and well inside enemy artillery range. To make up for the light shell weight of the ’75’ the weapons needed to be massed together in huge figures: at some point in the 1916 battles at Verdun one whole valley was populated with ’75s’ massed wheel to wheel and maintained continuously shooting. Large numbers had to compensate for the general deficit of firepower until more heavy guns arrived at the front, and it wasn’t any comfort to the French gunners to recognize that their shells might have minor impact on the enemy trenches and earthworks.

French battery firing their 75-mm mle 1897 field guns
British gunners watch a French battery firing their 75-mm mle 1897 field guns near Domart, April 1918.

Throughout World War One the ’75s’ rolled off the manufacturing lines at Bourges and in other places in huge numbers, however the mle 1897’s recoil system hasn’t been a simple feature to create. Due to the close specifications required every process needed to be practically hand-made. Regardless of this a lot of guns were manufactured that some have been quickly being redirected to other purposes than field artillery. The initial French anti-aircraft guns have been purely ’75s’ positioned on metal frameworks and directed skywards, although some have been positioned on mobile vehicle mountings. Once the tank came out the earliest French types mounted the ’75’ as their main armament. Other ’75s’ were placed on pedestals to defend French harbors and ports, or were put into fortifications to replace cannons removed out during 1914 and 1915. For the duration of this time the legend of the ’75’ continued, to the degree that when the US Army came to France in 1917 without having artillery it requested to get batteries of ’75s’. It properly received them, and so inspired were the Americans that they de­cided to manufacture a model as their regular field piece. The issue for them was that the French companies wouldn’t provide them with the fabrication blueprints. In common American fashion a mle 1897 was transported to the USA and strip­ped down to the least element. The Americans were immediately dismayed, for they discovered that each mle 1897 had been almost a hand­-built gun manufactured at terrific expense in material and workforce. However, the Americans wished to mass produce the ’75’, so they started revis­ing the basic design to match their own manufacturing techniques, and in so performing created the ’75’ a significantly less expensive (and superior) gun.

The ’75’ saw out World War One as well as in the time following the war there wasn’t any hope of the French military even considering of exchanging it: it was far too much a symbol of the French triumph of 1918. However, some feature improvement could possibly be constructed. In the first place the box-section trail was removed, for that limited elevation and extended range. A new box trail (by which the breech could be decreased as the barrel was raised) was created, however only several were constructed. The explanation appeared to be that as the ’75’ had seen the French through World War One it was subsequently sufficient for the following war, and no resources were forthcoming for this kind of costly modifications. Modifications did come with the arrival of pneumatic tires so that the gun could be towed at the rear of vehicles, however that was in the late 1930s and in a short time one more war was looming. Yet again the ’75’ would need to be put prepared to save France.

World War II

7.5cm PAK 97/38
German anti-tank gun 7.5cm PAK 97/38

So when World War 2 began in September 1939 the ’75s’ have been prepared, often even now on their authentic carriages, including wooden-spoked wheels. The old anti-aircraft guns were still emplaced on their elevated structures as well as on their authentic World War One lorries. Several (although not numerous) brand-new equipments had been manufactured. A fresh type of ’75’ was adopted to equip some Maginot Line fortifications, and a few French tanks utilized the short-barreled ’75’ as their main armament.
It turned out all for no­thing, as not even the ’75’ could hold up against the Panzer hordes that swept all over France in May 1940. Massive piles of all types of French war booty fell into German hands, and with them went the ’75s’.

 75 mle 1897
French gunners at a range training session before WW2. These 75 mle 1897 are all been fitted with large pneumatic tires, but still retain the original carriage and shield.

The ’75’ consequently became a German weapon, employed to equip the Atlantic Wall plus some garrison units in France and in other places. It also turned out to be an anti-tank gun in 1942 when the in­creasing number of Russian T-34s became immune to the already present German anti-tank guns. The ’75s’ were pulled straight from the boo­ty stockpiles and equipped with new muzzle brakes and strengthening bands around the barrels. New armor-piercing ammo was produced, and the gun became the 7.5-cm Pak 97/38, the ’38’ denoting that the Pak 38 carriage was adopted. It appeared to be the final indignity the ’75’ could suffer.

However, even while that was taking place the ’75’ was carrying out its bit across the Atlantic. The Americans had mastered manufacturing of the ’75’ just as World War One was over, however in the years soon after they employed the weapon as their standard artillery piece. In addition, they utilized it as the starting point for several other designs. For example, when a tank gun was required in the late 1930s the ’75’ was used practically unrevised to equip the new medium tanks, afterwards to become the M3 Lee, Grant and the M4 Sherman.
The concept of a tank-busting airborne gun was mooted by the US Army Air Force so a ’75’ was installed to a North American B-25 Mitchell bomber.
Improvement progressively decreased the gun weight enough where B-25s carried the ’75’ as an anti-shipping gun in the Pacific. The weight of this air­borne gun had been minimal enough for use as a light tank weapon to equip the M24 Chaffee series. And all this took place while the old American ’75’ field guns were used to practice the new US Army prepared for war. Some even saw action during the initial phases of the Pacific war, plus more were handed to the British military during the harsh times of 1940 and 1941.

Consequently, the old ’75’ was still performing its bit in order to save France once again, however this time in different hands. The ’75’ may still be seen in numerous French cities decorating war memorials as a reminder of past glories. It continues to be probably the most popular artillery gun ever developed.

References and literature

Die Geschichte der Artillerie (John Batchelor, Ian Hogg)
Artillery in Colour 1920-1963 (Ian Hogg)
The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Weapons of World War I (Chris Bishop)
An Illustrated History of the Weapons of World War One (Ian Westwell)

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