The French 75, Steven J. Zaloga

The French 75, Steven J. Zaloga

New Vanguard 288

The 75mm M1897 field gun that revolutionized modern artillery

The French ‘75’ was one of the most famous guns of the First World War, and the first modern field gun, with a effective recoil mechanism and fast breech mechanism, giving it a much faster rate of fire than its contemporaries, and forcing every other army to modernise rapidly.

We begin with a look at the development of the ‘75’. This is perhaps the most important part of the book, as it was the gun’s novel design that made it important.

The crucial recuperator system, which was in turn the most important feature of the new gun, is explained in a nice simple illustration, showing the gun before and after being fired, and the different positions of the hydraulic fluid and compressed nitrogen that between them gave the new gun it’s impressive recoil mechanism and revolutionary rate of fire. The key element of this recoil system was that it was the first that was small enough to be installed on a field gun –  earlier systems had only been usable on larger coastal artillery guns. There is also a series of pictures showing the Nordefeldt eccentric breech moving from the closed to open positions, a quick process that was another key element in this guns impressive rate of fire.

The combat section covers the 75’s impressive introduction into combat during the Boxer uprising in China, and the high hopes the French had of it in 1914. There is also an examination of the flaws that were revealed after the outbreak of war, including its limited range, and the massive underestimation of the amount of rounds that would be fired in combat.

I must admit I’m rather baffled at the amount of time it took to adopt the most sensible approach to mechanising the ‘75’ – replacing the original wheels with more modern wheels with pneumatic tyres. A whole series of alternatives were tried instead, including the rather odd idea of providing a pair of bogie wheels that would go under the existing wheels!

The 75 had an impressive lifespan, serving as the main field gun with the French and American armies between the wars. Both countries continued to work on the gun, with perhaps the best version being the American 75mm Gun M1897A2 on M2A3, which had a modern split trail and pneumatic tyres allowing for high speed towing.  After all of that work it is somewhat ironic that it was the Germans who got the most use out of the 75 in the Second World War, using large numbers as an improved anti-tank shell.

This book provides a good overview of the development and career of this famous artillery gun, with a clear explanation of how it worked, and an impartial look at its combat career, all supported by the usual high quality illustrations.

Combat use of the Canon de 75mm M1897
The American 75mm Gun M1897
Use of the 75mm gun in World War II

Author: Steven J. Zaloga
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 48
Publisher: Osprey
Year: 2020

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