Ordnance BL 5-in field howitzer

The Ordnance, BL 5in howitzer was the first breech loading howitzer to be used by the British Army, but was obsolete within ten years of being introduced, and was replaced by the QF 4.5in howitzer.

The Royal Artillery had phased out the howitzer after introducing rifled field guns in 1860, but in the 1890s it was decided to concentrate on shrapnel shells for the field guns, and reintroduce the howitzer to fire high explosive shells.

The 5in Howitzer was mounted on a simple steel trail, with wooden wheels. The barrel was carried on a cradle, with large hydraulic recoil buffers and recuperator springs. These provided it with 6in of recoil, which wasn’t enough to cope with all of the recoil forces. As a result it had to be given drag shoes, which were fitted under the wheels and attached to the hubs and rear of the trail by chains. This was still an improvement on earlier British recoil mechanisms, which tended to rely on spring loaded spades placed under the carriage. The sight had to be removed before firing to prevent it from being damaged. It had an interrupted screw breech mechanism.

The 5in Howitzer Mk I was adopted in 1895, and served with the Royal Field Artillery from 1896-1908. Its combat debut came during the Nile campaign of 1897, and a battery of them performed well at Omdurman in 1898. They were also used during the Boer War, where they again performed well.

It was then passed to the Territorial Force, and saw some service on the Western Front, before being completely replaced by the QF 4.5in howitzer. It remained in British service on other fronts into 1918, and was also used in training. Sixty were given to the Russians in 1916, and another 18 to Italy.




127mm (5in)

Barrel Length


Weight for transport


Weight in action

1,212kg (2,672lb)


-5 to +45 degrees



Shell Weight

22.68kg (50lb) HE
40lb HE

Muzzle Velocity

240m/ sec (787ft/ sec)

Maximum Range

4,390m (4,800 yards) (50lb)
6,500 yards (40lb)

Rate of Fire


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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (26 November 2018), Ordnance BL 5-in field howitzer , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_ordnance_BL_5in_field_howitzer.html

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