Fortress artillery

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Hemispherical M9 tower howitzer at the Verle plant

The fortress artillery is a branch of artillery that has been used as stationary in fortresses to repel sieges. The guns used for this purpose are called fortress guns or defensive guns if they could only be used stationary. In addition, field-moving artillery of all kinds were often used here.


Guns of all calibres were used as fortress guns. That ranged from wall rifles to 32 pounders with full bullets, from the 6 cm rapid fire cannon in a throat case to the 34.5 cm cannon in the Turkish fortress Chemenlik in Çanakkale .

Weapons were used that were freestanding on the ramparts above the bank or in open boiler beds (the latter, however, was practiced almost exclusively for coastal defense until the end of the Second World War - this type of gun was often mounted on a disappearing carriage that held the barrel after the shot by the recoil absenkte by means of a complicated mechanical system under the cover depth) and those fired by nicks or tank towers and cupolas. Entire battleship turrets were also built into fortresses, for example four twin towers 30.5 cm in the Sevastopol fortress as Maxim Gorki I and Maxim Gorki II . After the Second World War, Maxim Gorki I (now referred to as Battery No. 30 ) was rebuilt and equipped with two 30.5 cm triple towers from the battleship Poltava . '. Such towers were also used in the fortress of Toulon .

Fort Bourgignon in Pula . Originally equipped with block mounts.

Construction method and possible uses

In the case of notches , it was initially essential to keep them larger than necessary in order to allow the gun barrel the necessary vertical and lateral direction. Then came the idea of ​​the minimal charter cannon , with whose technology the breakthrough in the wall or armored armor could be reduced to the lowest possible level.

Destroyed gun turret in the fortress of Toulon

In the fortresses from the first years of the 20th century, the main armament guns increasingly disappeared under armored domes , as in the Austro-Hungarian fortifications on the plateau of Lavarone / Folgaria . A novelty was used there in the construction of gun turrets : With the 10 cm tower howitzer THM9 , as a minimal chart cannon in the fine alignment area, the entire tower did not have to be moved every time.

The retractable armored domes in the forts of the fortresses Verdun and Metz were also new at the time . Here the armored dome was guided in vertical rails and balanced with one or more counterweights. The dome could be extended and retracted by one man using a handwheel. The towers in Verdun ( Fort Douaumont , Fort Souville, Fort Vaux and the other modern works) nestled flat against the concrete ceiling, while in Metz (fortress Kaiserin) and also in the fortress of Kaiser Wilhelm II in Mutzig, the armored domes also followed the lowering still stood out blatantly. In both systems, however, the dome was only raised so far that the gun muzzle of the howitzer (a longer barrel length was not possible due to the design) just came free over the armored armor . These extremely short-barreled howitzers (caliber length L13 or L14) were set up in some defense systems in such a way that they could repel infantry attacks with shrapnel directly in the fortress apron with the weakest charge (1st charge) . The disadvantage of the retractable towers was the severely restricted elevation range, which allowed these guns, known as howitzers because of the length of the barrel, to fire only in the lower angle group.

The guns - known in Germany as a “ battery of traditors ” in Austria-Hungary and a battery of traditors - are also among the fortress guns. They were mostly of medium caliber (7.5 cm or 8 cm) and the cannons, which were usually set up behind armored slits, covered the spaces on the flanks that were not visible to the main artillery. They were concealed in the main plant for enemy inspection and could not be fought directly by artillery.

15 cm position mortar Ord 1882 L 25, location Vaudois Military Museum Morges , Switzerland

For the mortars still used in older fortresses, there were mortar batteries, usually housed in the tip of a caponier . They are easy to recognize by the large, arched reject openings. This type of fortress was originally equipped with cannons on the so-called block carriage (the same as on sailing warships). For reasons of both cost and practicality, they then switched to setting up field guns wherever possible.

Ball mortar 12 cm Ord 1888, location Vaudois Military Museum Morges , Switzerland

The Ord 1888 12 cm ball mortar manufactured by the Magdeburger Grusonwerk was used in Swiss fortifications for close-range defense. With an elevation of 30 to 60 degrees, it could be used for all-round defense in all directions up to a shooting distance of 3 km. He fired the shells of the 12 cm Ord 1882-1891 guns. Without a mechanical tube return, the recoil was absorbed by the mount and the armor plate surrounding the bullet.

Gun material

Due to the fact that fortresses were relatively rarely involved in combat operations, the gun material was neglected over the years and not infrequently outdated. The Italian coastal howitzers that were used against Austria-Hungary in 1915, for example, were all without return pipe and completely out of date when the war broke out. It also happened that outdated field artillery had to replace the even older pieces in the fortresses.

With the dwindling importance of fortresses, the fortress guns have essentially lost their function, although there may still be some countries with fortress-like structures.

Situation in Switzerland

The fortress artillery of the Swiss Army experienced its greatest expansion during the Second World War as part of the Swiss Redoubt . From 1995 two weapon systems were still in use: the 15.5 cm fortress cannon 93 L52 BISON and the 12 cm twin fortress mine launcher . In 2011 the fortress artillery was decommissioned for reasons of cost and because of its ever decreasing military use.


  • Rolf Hentzschel: Fortress war in the high mountains. Athesia, Bozen 2008, ISBN 978-888266-516-6 .
  • AE Grestenberger: The Kuk fortifications in Tyrol and Carinthia 1860–1918. Publishing house Austria, Vienna 2000.
  • Albert Molt: The German fortress construction from the Memel to the Atlantic 1900-1940. Podzun-Pallas [o. J.], ISBN 3-86070-905-4 .
  • Frank Gosch: Fortress construction on the North Sea and the Baltic Sea. Mittler, Bonn 2003, ISBN 3-8132-0743-9 .
  • John Batchelor and Ian Hogg : The History of Artillery. Heyne, Munich 1977, ISBN 3-453-52068-8 .
  • Martin Rickenbacher: Fortress maps - maps for the Swiss national defense. In: Cartographica Helvetica Heft 29 (2004) pp. 17–26 full text

Web links

Notes and individual references

  1. (coordinate: 44 ° 39 ′ 50 ″  N , 33 ° 33 ′ 33 ″  E )
  2. These turrets are still in place today
  3. Such an interstice can be found as Casemate de Bourges next to Fort Douaumont