Ordnance, QF 4.5in field howitzer

The Ordnance QF 4.5in field howitzer was one of the best British guns of the First World War, and was still in service at the start of the Second World War, when many were captured by the Germans.

The 4.5in howitzer was developed in the aftermath of the Boer War, where the existing British howitzers had been found to be too heavy and too slow. The Army asked a number of different organisations to submit designs for the new weapon, and in an unusual move chose the design submitted by the Coventry Ordnance Works.

The Coventry Ordnance Works produced a simple but robust weapon. It used a box trail with a gap below the breach, which gave it a maximum elevation of 45 degrees. The recoil mechanism was carried below the barrel, which was thus unusually high above the axle. It was the first British field gun to use a sliding breechblock. It had variable recoil, ranging from 40in when the gun was horizontal, down to 20in at 45 degrees, to prevent the breech from hitting the ground.

The only change required during the howitzer’s service career was to round the corners of the breech, which was prone to cracking after repeated firing. This produced the Mk II.

The 4.5in howitzer was only slightly heavier than the standard 18-pounder field gun, and could thus be used in mixed batteries. It required a team of six horses and a team of ten crewmen, including the horse handlers. The 4.5in fired a shell nearly twice as heavy as that of the 18-pounder, over a longer range, and was just about the best howitzer of its type in 1914. It could fire HE, shrapnel, parachute star and smoke shells.

During the First World War the 4.5in howitzer was used by the British, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand armies. In 1916 400 were given to the Russians in an attempt to prop up the Tsarist army. These weapons fought in the battles of 1917 on the Eastern Front and during the Russian Civil War.

A total of 182 howitzers had been produced by the outbreak of war in 1914, and another 3,177 were built during the war. Some 25 million rounds of 4.5in ammo were fired on the Western Front. The weapon was also used by the Canadians, New Zealanders, Indians and Russians (who received 400). 1,225 were still in British service in 1918.

The 4.5in howitzer remained in service with the British Army in 1939 and many went to France with the BEF. The main change during the interwar period was to replace the wooden spoked wheels with new wheels with pneumatic tires, to allow them to be towed by vehicles.

The 4.5in howitzer saw service in France in 1940, in Eritrea, and in North Africa in 1940-42. It was withdraw from front line service in 1943, mainly because it no longer had enough range to be useful, and used as a training weapon. In 1944 the supplies of ammo ran out, and the weapon was declared obsolete in September 1944.

The 4.5in howitzer played a part in two political scandals during its service life. The first came in 1915, when a shortage of HE shells led to the ‘shell scandal’, which helped bring down the last Liberal government. The second came after the war, when Krupp sued the British government for royalties for the clockwork fuse used in the 4.5in shells, which was based one of their designs. Krupp won the case.

A number of these weapons were captured by the Germans and pressed into service. Those taken on the Eastern Front became the 11.4cm leichte Feldhaubitze 363(r). Those taken from the British in 1940 became the 11.4cm leFH 361(e). 96 of these were used in the defences of the Atlantic Wall.


Ordnance, QF, 4.5in Howitzer


114.3mm (4.5in)

Barrel Length

1.778m (70in)

Weight for transport


Weight in action

1 ton 6cwt 3qr 14lb


-5 to +45 degrees


6 degrees

Shell Weight

15.876kg (35lb)

Muzzle Velocity

308m (1,010ft)/ sec

Maximum Range

6675m (7,300 yards)

Rate of Fire


The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Weapons of World War I, general editor Chris Bishop. A useful collection of articles on the main weapons of the First World War, based on Orbis's War Machine of the 1980s. Still accurate despite its relative age, well illustrated and supported by some informative general articles, and provides a good overview of the military technology of the Great War. [read full review]
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Books on the First World War | Subject Index: First World War

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (26 November 2018), Ordnance, QF 4.5in field howitzer , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_ordnance_QF_4_5in_field_howitzer.html

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