The Book of Armaments:
Soviet 76.2mm Guns, Part One
The arrival of the French-made Schneider 75mm Model 1897 quick-firing field gun revolutionized artillery design around the world. The new weapon had recoil-absorbing hydraulic cylinders that allowed the carriage to remain in place after each shot, vastly increasing its rate of fire and accuracy. While the Imperial German Army tried to make do with a modified version of its standard 77mm field gun, in Russia the Imperial Army turned to the Putilov Works to design a new weapon to replace its existing park of light field guns, most of them Krupp-designed pieces dating from the 1880’s (the last time artillery had been revolutionized). The new weapon would also replace the new, but unsatisfactory, 76.2mm Model 1900 cannon.
Putilov exceeded expectations, and the new field gun reached front-line batteries in time to see action in the Russo-Japanese War in 1904. There it performed very well, with great range, accuracy and explosive power. After the war existing guns were re-fitted with a splinter shield which became standard on new models.
Balancing those good qualities, the gun had a very low-slung carriage that could not be moved very rapidly. Worse, it was lightly-built and subject to frequent breakdowns. That gave the gun a very low silhouette on the battlefield, but also limited its elevation to just 16 degrees and assured that its field of fire could easily be masked by intervening terrain. Despite its hydraulic shock absorbers, it had a violent recoil that often required the gun to be re-positioned after firing, and a large muzzle flash that made its use at night rather dangerous.
By 1914 the Model 1902 equipped all Russian field gun batteries, with over 14,000 of them produced by 1918. The 800 Model 1900 cannons still in the inventory were assigned to fortress batteries along with other older weapons, though some were removed and saw wartime service in the field.
76.2mm Model 1902 divisional guns of the Finnish White Guard. Helsinki, 1918.
Production continued after the war, as the new Red Army took delivery of 152 new pieces in addition to those scavenged from the old Imperial Army’s stocks. Their opponents - White, anarchists, national minorities - used them in great numbers as well. Foreign interventionists supplied ammunition from the stocks manufactured in Western plants for the Imperial Russian Army. After the Russian Civil War, the Red Army standardized the Model 1902 as their field gun. Hundreds of them also ended up in Finnish, Polish and Romanian service.
The Russian Army referred to the Model 1902 as a “divisional gun,” a designation continued by the Red Army. It usually served in the artillery brigades of infantry divisions, but its size and weight made it difficult to deploy for direct fire support of the infantry. That became obvious even during the Russo-Japanese War, and the Imperial Army ordered a new weapon, the Model 1909 76.2mm mountain gun. The Model 1909 proved too heavy for its role - it could be broken down for transport, as required, but most of the segments were too heavy to be carried by a pack horse.
Despite those flaws, the Imperial Army took delivery of about 1,300 guns, with the Red Army receiving 700 more between 1924 and 1939. While intended as a “regimental gun” for the infantry, the stubby cannon was often issued to field gun batteries during the Great War thanks to shortages of the Model 1902.
Still dissatisfied, the Imperial Army asked for a new regimental gun, this time a shortened version of the Model 1902. The Model 1913 “Short” cannon entered service in 1914 and was judged a better weapon than the Model 1909, though it weighed almost exactly the same as the mountain gun and could not be as easily dis-assembled. It served in the Great War as an infantry gun, but was taken out of service after the Russian Civil War and eventually issued to the Red Navy’s marines and naval infantry just before the Great Patriotic War broke out.
This Bobby served the North Korean People's Army until his capture by the U.S. Army.
The two smaller weapons would be the first replaced with a newly-designed gun under the First Five Year Plan. The Model 1927 regimental gun, known to the troops as a “regimental” or a “Bobby,” was a stubby little cannon with a large splinter shield, with metal wheels holding foam-filled rubber tires. The design was complete by the end of 1925, the first new artillery piece accepted by the Red Army. It was heavier than the old regimental guns, and its metal wheels meant that it could not be pulled by horses anyway so this was acceptable. A horse-drawn variant with wooden spoked wheels eventually followed it into production. The gun could also be transported by air.
The gun had good elevation, range and accuracy, but its very low muzzle velocity kept it from having much anti-tank capability until the arrival of shaped-charge and other special munitions during the course of the Great Patriotic War. Attempts to increase the muzzle velocity ruined the gun’s accuracy, and the Artillery Technical Office made some minor alterations but accepted the low velocity. A tank-mounted version would arm the T35 heavy tank, T28 medium tank and “artillery tank” variants of the BT-7 and T26 plus river gunboats and armored cars.
As in many armies and eras, the small cannon was popular with the infantry, who liked having their own artillery. Soviet doctrine called for Bobby to be deployed directly in the front line with the riflemen, in order to counter enemy machine-guns. That led to heavy losses of the weapons. But over 18,000 of them were manufactured, and despite their replacement by a new model in 1943 they continued in action throughout the Great Patriotic War.
The 76.2mm Model 1902/30 divisional gun, from a Red Army artillery handbook.
With an effective, or at least acceptable, replacement for the 76.2mm regimental gun, the Artillery Technical Office turned to the artillery’s mainstay, the 76.2mm Model 1902 divisional gun. The low-slung carriage proved a tremendous problem, both limiting the barrel’s elevation and the towing speed for the weapon. After a lengthy trials period for multiple designs, the Artillery Technical Office chose the more expensive option, which limited the gun’s elevation to 27 degrees (still far better than its original 16 degrees) but did not require a muzzle brake to control its recoil and could be easily adapted to a longer barrel.
New examples of this Model 1902/30 were produced between 1930 and 1937, while existing Model 1902 cannons were converted to the new standard. When the Axis launched their sneak attack in June 1941 the Red Army had 4,356 Model 1902/30 guns in its inventory, almost the exact same number as the new Model 1936 and Model 1939 76.2mm divisional guns that were rapidly replacing the aging cannon in front-line service.
Th Model 1902/30 was only a stopgap, and as such it was a successful short-term solution to the Red Army’s needs. But it lacked the range to give adequate fire support and in particular the muzzle velocity to act as a heavy anti-tank gun. And it still could not be towed at any speed unless it were loaded onto a special cart. The new divisional guns would fill all of these needs extraordinarily well.
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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and NASA Journalist in Space finalist, he has published eleventy-million books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog Leopold.
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