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  © Michał Derela, 2013 updated: 15. 6. 2013

75 mm wz. 1897 field gun
in Polish service

75 mm wz.1897 gun. [artwork A. Jońca]

Note: this page is focused on the Polish service of the gun. You can read more about its development and design in Wikipedia article. Letter W indicates external links to other relevant Wikipedia articles.

Background

Polish wz.1897 gun on the move, before the war.
Above and below: Polish wz.1897 guns in the 1920s, in combat configuration, with caissons on the left. The crews wear old issue French helmets (withdrawn from most units during the 1930s).
[Polish Army Museum collection]
Polish wz.1897 guns with rubber tires on manoeuvres in 1937. Note a three-colour camouflage of motorized artillery. French motorized guns had different spoked wheel discs. A crew wears wz.1931 helmets. [Polish Army Museum collection]
Polish wz.1897 gun captured by the German, towed by PzKpfw-I A. Noteworthy are bullet marks on a shield.

French 75 mm field gun Mle 1897, designated in Poland as 75 mm armata wz. 1897 (1897 Pattern cannon), was one of most important artillery systems ever. Conceived by Major Deport and manufactured by different French arsenals, it is usually associated with Schneider firm (although some claim, that Schneider actually did not produce these guns). Most modern at a time of its design, it remained in a frontline service until World War II. During and after World War I it was commissioned by many countries, including the USA and Great Britain.


The first Polish unit to use this gun was allied General Józef Haller's Blue ArmyW, created in France in 1917. In 1919 it had 171 such guns, in light artillery regiments of five divisions. After World War I, in 1919 the army returned to Poland, with its equipment.

Thanks to further deliveries from France in 1919, on 1 October 1920 Poland had 783 guns wz.1897, what made it by far the most numerous artillery piece at a time of the Polish-Soviet warW. After 1922 it was chosen as a standard gun for a light artillery, subsequently replacing other marks. In 1924-1925, 524 guns were acquired from France. It is not clear, if this number covers 108 pieces received from Romania, in exchange for 76.2mm wz.02 guns[4]. In 1931 there were 1255 guns wz.1897 in inventory.

Because of enough number of imported guns, 75 mm field guns were not produced in Poland, although Zakłady Starachowickie developed own similar prototypes of wz.31St and wz.38St guns (the second one with a split carriage). There were only carried refits of wz.1897 guns, and very limited modernization efforts. A small number of guns (apparently 12) were modified for motorized traction by fitting rubber tires Michelin DS in 1937 and were used in the pre-war 1st Motorized Artillery Regiment (some authors call these guns wz.97/37, but apparently it was not an official designation). Earlier, some guns were used in a motorized artillery on special "roller-skates" with four rubber tires. Shortly before the war it was planned to buy wheels and tractors in France and convert another 60 guns of 5 detachments, but it was not realized.

In late 1930s it was suggested to modify 75 mm guns by fitting optical sights of 37 mm wz.36 AT guns, in order to improve their ability of fighting tanks, but according to one source, only 8 guns were modified this way[4] (possibly motorized artillery ones). Rest of guns could only fight tanks with less precise direct artillery fire. There were available AP grenades, but in a very limited quantity (20 rounds per a battery in June 1939). On the other hand, HE grenades were usually enough to destroy or damage lightly armoured tanks of 1939.

1939 use

In June 1939, before World War II, there were 1374 guns wz.1897 available (153 in reserve), according to a report of General Miller. According to other sources, there were 1230 guns in the Army in August 1939[1] (a difference probably comes mostly from not counting reserve guns). Average condition of barrels was estimated as 70% (7000 shots remaining).

75 mm wz.1897 guns were a mainstay of Light Artillery Regiments in Infantry Divisions. 30 regular divisions had full Light Artillery Regiment, existing during a peacetime, corresponding with a division's number (Nos. 1-30). Further 9 reserve divisions, mobilized during the war, could have incomplete artillery regiments due to problems with mobilization and transport of units (some detachments meant for artillery regiments of reserve divisions fought with other units eventually). Typical regiments had 24 guns, in two detachments (battalions), and the third detachment with 100 mm howitzers. Only 10 regiments had newer organization, with 12 guns and 24 howitzers. Each detachment (Polish: dywizjon, not to confuse with a division) had three four-gun batteries.

Wz.1897 guns were also an armament of 8 detachments of C-in-C reserve, with 12 guns each (Nos. 41, 48, 50, 58, 59, 64, 67, 81). 150 guns 75 mm (including some wz.02/26) remained in a general reserve[1], part of them supplemented combat units or were used in combat in improvised units.

The guns with rubber tires were used in motorized batteries of Polish two motorized brigades - four guns in the 16th Motorized Artillery Detachment of the 10th Motorized Cavalry Brigade (along with four 100 mm howitzers) and eight guns in the 2nd Motorised Artillery Detachment of the Warsaw Armoured-Motorised Brigade. They were towed by C4P and Citroën-Kegresse P17 halftrack tractors respectively.

A separate story are guns of the Land Coastal DefenceW (Lądowa Obrona Wybrzeża, LOWyb), defending an area around Gdynia until 19 September 1939. Two platoons with two wz. 1897 guns each were assigned in the 1930s to two Naval Rifle Battalions (Nos. 1 and 2), enhanced to Naval Rifle Regiments during the mobilization. Seven guns wz.1897 were assigned in 1939 to the Naval Light Artillery Detachment, but their origin was different: they were former naval guns on pedestal mounts, from a Navy stock, fitted with standard land carriages and sights shortly before the war. Reportedly two more such guns were adapted during the campaign from the torpedo boat ORP MazurW (from 8 September). Guns of the Naval Light Artillery Detachment (apart from these, four 105 mm guns) had no dedicated caissons nor own means of transport, and were hauled by few Citroën-Kegresse P17 halftracks from a searchlight company, trucks or even by a requisitioned agricultural tractor. Two more 75 mm naval guns on pedestal mounts were used by the Land Coastal Defence as railway batteries, and several more were used on stationary mounts in a defence of HelW. It could be noted, that also two 76.2 mm wz.02 guns were used by the LOWyb units.

Specifications

Caliber: 75 mm
Maximum range: 11 200 m
Elevation:-11 +18°
Horizontal arc of fire:
Muzzle velocity: 542 m/s
Shell weight: 5.1 - 7.2 kg
Max. rate of fire: 12 rds/min
Crew: 6 (other source: 7)
Length (combat position): 4500 mm
Length with a limber: 8400 mm
Barrel length: 2721 mm (L/36)
Width: 1820 mm
Height: 1470 mm
Height of a line of fire: 930 mm
Wheel diameter: 1334 mm (wooden)
Combat weight: 1190 kg
Transport weight with a limber and ammo: 1938 kg
Barrel weight: 434 kg (without breech)

A protective shield of the gun was 8-mm thick. The gun was towed by six horses, using a limber. Another team of six horses towed a caisson with a limber. The crew travelled on limbers (three upon each), a gun's commander had own horse, and there was a horseman on one horse in each pair. According to a manual from 1921, the gun's crew was six (not including the commander and horsemen). There were 24 rounds carried in each limber and 72 in the caisson (all wz.1897 model). Limbers and caissons wz. 1910 of an ammunition supply column had 40 and 100 rounds respectively.

Ammunition used in Poland (without tracer, indicating and other special purpose rounds):

  Round weightexplosive weight
HE grenade wz.1910 (steel)similar to wz.1915? kg
HE grenade wz.1915 (steel)5.225 kg (without fuze)0.78 kg
HE grenade wz.1917 (steel)5.970 kg (without fuze)0.66 kg
HE grenade wz.1918 (cast steel)6.375 kg (without fuze)0.435 kg
Shrapnell wz.1897 (steel)7.250 kg0.11 kg of black powder, 261 of 12-gram balls
AP grenade wz.1910 (steel)6.400 kg0.09 kg
Semi-AP grenade A.L. R/2 (steel)7.980 kg 0.435 kg

The ammunition was manufactured in France or Poland. In June 1939, Polish 75 mm ammunition stock was 1376 rounds per guns (including wz.02/26 guns, but without reserve guns), i.e. 23 calculated units of fire. In June 1939 there were 41 000 AP and SAP grenades in stock.




Sources:
1. Andrzej Konstankiewicz: "Broń strzelecka i sprzęt artyleryjski formacji polskich i Wojska Polskiego w latach 1914-1939", Lublin, 2003, ISBN 83-227-1944-2
2. Konrad Nowicki: "Artyleria polska oczami jej dowódcy", Poligon nr.2(37)/2013
3. Mariusz Skotnicki: "75 mm armata / cannon wz.1897", Model Detail Photo Monograph No.26, Rossagraph 2005
4. Krzysztof Szczegłow: "75 mm armata wz. 1897", Typy Broni i Uzbrojenia Nr. 123, Warsaw, 1988

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