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US switch to French metric ordnance


RodB
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The US appears to have been content with its locally designed and manufactured inch-designated field ordnance and howitzers up until it was evident it would be going to war... then, about 1916, there appears to have been a sudden decision to switch and re-equip totally with French metric ordnance and technology. All existing US gun technology was relegated to training or the scrap-heap.

Can anybody point me to a source covering the background to this - the decisionmaking process, discussion, etc ? The result appears to have been a US army in France in 1918 with no artillery of its own, having to rely totally on French-manufactured guns. And a domestic ordnance program churning out 75s, 155s etc. which got going just as the war ended. Odd, considering it had long been geared up to produce British 18 pounders, 8 & 9.2 inch howitzers etc. It would have made far more sense to go to war with available British technology and ammunition calibres even if it was perceived to be slightly inferior to the the French. Odd.

thanks

Rod

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The result appears to have been a US army in France in 1918 with no artillery of its own, having to rely totally on French-manufactured guns.

Not strictly true British 8 inch Howitzers were used by the Americans in France

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post-9885-1230896820.jpeg

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Not strictly true British 8 inch Howitzers were used by the Americans in France

I'm aware that the Coastal Artillery got into action with several batteries of British 8 inch howitzers right at the end - about 2 weeks. But most combat appears to have been using French 75s and 155 GPFs & Howitzers. I think the US only used the 8 inch because it didn't have a heavy French howitzer available... what it really wanted was a 240-mm, which wasn't ready until after the war. The 1920 US ordnance manual was not complementary about the 8-inch and 9.2 inch howitzers still in the inventory.

Rod

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I know nothing of US domestic decisions to ' go metric ' but the reason for using French artillery was simply one of transportation. It was thought that the available shipping was best used carrying men rather than equipment. America provided troops, the other Allies equipped them when they got here.

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I got the impression that another reason was that the early US program to produce French ordnance had failed due to mismatch between US mass-production which required fully-detailed and accurate plans, and incomplete French plans drawn up to suit a domestic French manufacturing system which did a lot of on-the-spot customisation. Also US tooling didn't suit metric. The US had already been shipping large quantities of guns & ammo to Britain, to British specifications - hence transport was not the problem. Yet the US army ended up fighting with guns it had not made itself. Memoirs of US gunners read : "we trained on the 3 inch (etc) at home, went to France, got our new French guns, got trained on them, and moved up to the front". So I'm wondering, why switch while a war is on, in hindsight the war was going to be over before the new US guns could possibly be ready. Imagine Britain saying in 1913, we're going to junk all our ordnance and go metric.

Rod

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I'm aware that the Coastal Artillery got into action with several batteries of British 8 inch howitzers right at the end - about 2 weeks. But most combat appears to have been using French 75s and 155 GPFs & Howitzers. I think the US only used the 8 inch because it didn't have a heavy French howitzer available... what it really wanted was a 240-mm, which wasn't ready until after the war.

Rod

No the British 8 inch howitzer (designated M1917 in American service) equipped a number of American artillery regiments in France including the 70th - the photos I attached are of this unit. The M1918 was an American built copy that remained in service until WW2.

The reason for the switch to French field guns was quite pragmatic - the 75 was the only gun available in sufficient quantities in 1917. There had been chronic under investment in artillery so that in 1917 the US army only had some 600 of the 3 inch gun that was the US main field weapon and many of these were committed to service on the Mexican border (and sometimes over it). The British 18 pounder was regarded as superior to the older French 75 (as was the German 77) (see Weapons of Pattons Armies - Green) but it would seem that Britain did not have sufficient of these to spare. I can find no instance of the US " long been geared up to produce British 18 pounders". Where did this come from?

The need to rely on foreign artillery caused considerable embarrassment in the US and in 1919 the Westerveldt Commission was set up and recommended a significant programme of development in the US. By this time metric calibers had become a de facto standard.

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Thanks for that.. that's why I raised the issue, so that I could get educated on the subject.. can you give me the reference(s)so I can dig it up and read it ? Re 18-pounders - I understand the US built about 850 of them by the time it entered the war. So it was tooled up. But they instead converted it to 75mm, which wasn't ready until the war ended. But these are just snippets I have, so I need to read an authortative text on the subject.

thanks

Rod

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No one specific reference (other than the one I've already given) just a shelf in my library of books on artillery and many years of reading them.

If you want to read about the 70th and their 8inch howitzers their history was published in 1919 and is available to down load free somewhere on the web - thats how I got my copy.

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No one specific reference (other than the one I've already given) just a shelf in my library of books on artillery and many years of reading them.

If you want to read about the 70th and their 8inch howitzers their history was published in 1919 and is available to down load free somewhere on the web - thats how I got my copy.

Thanks, there's a lot of US stuff at archive.org. That's where I found the US 1920 ordnance manual and a book by Sevillon Brown "Ordnance in the Great War". There is also a book by Major-General William Crozier called "Ordnance and the World War. A contribution to the history of American preparedness" which I had downloaded and not read... looks like I should have read it.

Rod

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Over on Landships you will find useful material - especially if you use the search on the forum. For example its possible to down load the manual for the US 3inch field gun

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