Coastal gun

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28 cm Krupp cannon in Oscarsborg Fortress

As a coastal artillery or - artillery in is coastal fortifications of enemy ships to combat established artillery referred.

Development until the middle of the 19th century

French muzzle loader at Fort La Latte, Cotes d'Armor, France, 1778

Muzzle loading guns of various calibres were used in coastal fortifications until the middle of the 19th century . They fired in direct judging. In terms of design, these guns did not differ from the ship guns of the time, and the mounts used corresponded to those common on ships at the time. The limited range of these guns required a coordinated system of fortifications , especially in larger natural harbors . The fortification of Grand Harbor or Marsamxett Harbor on the island of Malta can be considered an example of such a system . The construction of a single fort was only sufficient if the geographical conditions were favorable, as in Fort Rammekens (Netherlands). As in other fortresses, these guns were set up in open positions on bastions and so-called batteries. (In this case, the term battery refers to the group formation of guns, but not the tactical unit of the artillery.)

Development 1858–1864

RBL 20 pdr, Fort Lei Yue Mun, Hong Kong

Martin von Wahrendorff developed a breech- loading gun with a rifled barrel in Sweden in 1848 . From 1858, the Armstrong cannon developed by William George Armstrong, 1st Baron Armstrong , became the first breech loading guns with rifled barrel as RBL ( rifled breech loading ) in the British Army , and a short time later in the Royal Navy , put into service. The rifled barrel gave these guns a greater range and accuracy. Nevertheless, it was assumed that the fight against ships would be carried out at distances of a few hundred to a maximum of 2000 m. The advantage of the greater range therefore did not lead to a loosened construction of the fortifications, existing fortifications were basically still used. However, the same effect could now be achieved in the target with fewer guns. The protection of the coast had to be limited to the fortification of the entrance of strategically important ports and coastal sections. Examples of such fortifications are Castle Williams (from 1807) and Fort Sumter (from 1829) in the United States or the Lascaris Battery in Malta. Some of the guns were now set up in casemates . This was made possible because the ramparts or walls of the fortifications only had to protect them against artillery fire, but not against infantry attacks, so they could be loosened up by the casemates arranged on several floors.

However, the rifled barrel also made it possible to fire long bullets, which replaced the previous full bullets. The effect on the target could be increased by appropriate design as an armor-piercing or explosive shell . On the other hand, the ships were protected by better and better armor. After the first monitors could only be used on inland waters and in the coastal apron, HMS Warrior, the first deep-sea armored ship, was put into service with the Royal Navy in 1861 .

At the same time, the importance of port facilities and coal stations for the seafaring nations grew. In the time of the sailing warships, the range of the ship was limited only by provisions and drinking water. With the introduction of the steam engine as a drive, however, coal reserves and boiler feed water had to be replenished relatively frequently. William Francis Drummond Jervois pointed out the resulting loss of mobility of the Royal Navy and suggested the construction of coal stations protected by fortifications at strategically important points. This subsequently led to the construction of fortifications along the main British routes from the British Isles via Gibraltar , Malta, the Suez Canal , Aden to India , the Straits Settlements and Australia .

Other countries made the move to the breech-loader with a drawn barrel later. In the United States, the cast-iron cannons developed by Dahlgren , the powerful Columbiads and their further development, the Rodman cannons , and the Parrot guns designed by Parrott were still in use during the Civil War (1861-1865), although the cannons designed by Parrot were still in use already showed trains . Similar to the Armstrong cannon, the tube construction consisted of a core tube with a shrunk-on jacket tube.

Development 1864–1880

RML 17.72 inch, Gibraltar
Russian 229mm cannon in Fort Suomenlinna, Finland

In the meantime, the Royal Navy and British Army had abandoned the use of the Armstrong breech loaders due to technical problems, but above all for cost reasons. From 1864 their production was discontinued. The barrel of conventional muzzle-loaders, however, could not be equipped with pulls, since it was difficult to insert the projectile into the barrel from the front, and not at all with large-caliber guns. However, Armstrong developed special grenades that could be loaded from the front even with a drawn barrel. In the Royal Navy and British Army such guns were introduced as RML ( Rifle Muzzle Loading - rifled barrel, muzzle loader). Between 1865 and 1874, guns of caliber 178 to 318 mm (7 to 12.5 inches) were produced in quick succession. While the maximum firing range was in the range between 4000 and 4500 m and remained relatively constant in the course of development, the penetration performance could be increased more and more due to the larger bullet weight. Since these cannons were increasingly being installed on newly built ironclad ships, the guns of the coastal artillery also had to be modernized. The highlight and conclusion of this line of development was the RML 17.72 inch gun , which was constructed in 1874 but only entered service with the Royal Navy in 1883 and only produced in 15 copies . With a caliber of 450 mm, she fired shells weighing 910 kg. The propellant charge consisted of black powder . One charge was 399 mm in diameter, 368 mm in length and weighed 51 kg. Usually four or five charges were inserted. The rate of fire was 1 shot every 5 minutes. The maximum combat range was 5,990 m with the highest load and pipe elevation, 394 mm of steel could still be penetrated. However, these performances were not sufficient to penetrate the belt armor and turret armor of the Italian battleship Duilio at this distance, but the cannon was originally designed to combat it. After the Duilio had been put into service, it was feared that in the event of war the ship could break through into the two large natural harbors of Malta and, with the superior range of its guns, switch off the coastal fortifications one after the other without getting within their range. The size and complexity of the weapon systems made it necessary to build a new type of fortification. The fortifications now took only a few guns. The increased range enabled a more relaxed construction of forts and coastal batteries. The positions were arranged isolated from other fortifications in the area. The protective effect against infantry attacks was only slightly pronounced and was realized by walls, trenches and caponiers . The guns fired from an open position. The enormous recoil forces of large-caliber guns now required special mount designs, as powerful barrel recoil devices were not yet available. The jumping back of the guns was too dangerous with weights from tens to one hundred tons, on the other hand loading aids and directional drives required a fixed position of the guns in the position. The guns were therefore mounted on pivot or turntable mounts with a Vavasseur slideway ; for smaller calibers, articulated mounts were also used , which allowed the weapon to be reloaded under protection. Ammunition bunkers, mechanical or hydraulic straightening drives and loading aids were integrated into the positions. Examples of this development are Fort St Leonardo (1875) and the Żonqor Battery (1882, actually already out of date at this point) in Malta. For the RML 17.7, fortifications were built on Malta ( Cambridge Battery , Rinella Battery ) and Gibraltar, each of which accommodated only a single gun.

In Russia there were very similar types of construction as the 229-мм орудие обр. 1867 г. ( 9-inch cannon M1867 ) used. The explosive grenade spread around 1890 . Their destructive power was much higher; brick fortresses such as B. in France the Barrière de fer could now be "shot down".

Development 1880–1900

BL 8 inch, Davenport, New Zealand

From the beginning of the 1880s there was again a switch to breech-loading guns. In the Royal Navy these were listed as BL ( Breech Loading ). In terms of construction, the same types were used here as on warships. Although the existing gunpowder propellants were initially used, the design changes suddenly led to a doubling of the range. Newly built coastal fortifications could therefore be placed further in the hinterland, but the basic features of the construction of coastal fortifications described above were retained. The use of slow-burning propellant charges such as cordite and the construction of guns with longer barrels that this made possible increased the range even further. As before, however, it was assumed that the battle would be fought over relatively short distances. As already 10 years before, a race between the armor of the ships and the caliber of the guns began. The caliber increased from 6 inches (152 mm, BL 6 inch 80 pounder gun , 1880) to 10 inches (254 mm, BL 10-inch gun Mk I - IV , 1885). Range and penetration power increased, but the rate of fire decreased with increasing caliber. The fight against the emerging torpedo boats , however, required artillery with high fire and aiming speeds, the penetration performance was irrelevant, since torpedo boats were not armored. In the Royal Navy, the caliber 6 inch prevailed for fighting against fast moving, small targets and 9.2 inch for fighting larger, armored units. In Russia in 1877 a gun similar in design to the weapons of the British BL series with a caliber of 152 mm and a barrel length of 35 calibers was developed. Known as the 6 "/ 35 морская пушка ( 152 mm L / 35 cannon M1877 ), it was initially used on Russian battleships and was not used in coastal fortifications until 1913. The German 28 cm SK L / 40 (1893) was also only used as a coastal gun from 1916.

While larger calibers were still preferred to be set up in the open, the smaller calibers were also built back into casemates when the natural conditions were favorable. The advantage of the open installation was the large lateral swivel range , which made it possible to cover a large sea area. Similar developments as in the British sphere of influence took place in other countries, for example in Norway (fortress Oscarsborg ) or the Netherlands ( position of Amsterdam ). Oscarsborg Fortress was equipped with three 28 cm guns built by Krupp in 1893, plus a number of small-caliber guns.

Development from 1900 to approx. 1950

Russian 152 mm / 50 in Fort Suomenlinna (Finland), designed by Vickers, built in 1909. Note the carriage compared to the 28 cm Krupp cannon at Oscarsborg Fortress
Fort St. Elmo ; Valletta, Malta. In the center of the picture you can see the observation and fire control stations built during the Second World War.

Effective tube return brakes became available towards the end of the 19th century . With the transition to the cradle mount , mounts could be built lighter and more space-saving. At the same time it was recognized that the gun emplacements had to be protected at least against splinters, but sometimes also direct hits. It had previously been assumed that a coastal fortification was tactically superior to a ship. At the end of the 1870s, when the Cambridge Battery was being designed, it was still assumed that a direct hit from a warship directly into the battery was unlikely. Thanks to the improved fire control, but also the increased cadence, a warship was able to bring more projectiles to the target in a shorter time. In some cases, guns were therefore equipped with protective shields attached to the upper mount and thus swiveling with it, which at least protected against splinters. In other cases armored domes were installed. From the 1920s, protection against air raids became more important. This led to a further loosened up of the guns, adapted to the terrain.

This marked the end of the development of coastal fortifications. Fortifications built in the first half of the 20th century, such as Fort Campell in Malta, were built according to these principles. In some cases, like the coastal battery Maxim Gorki I , complete turrets from disused battleships were used in the batteries .

With the towed breech-loader on a cradle mount, the development of coastal guns themselves has come to a preliminary conclusion. When new coastal fortifications were built, the current models were installed, mostly ship guns. At the end of the 19th century the German Empire had switched to Krupps 35 cm cannons , Italy to 40 cm cannons ; M1919 cannons were used in the United States . In Great Britain the largest caliber was 15 inches (381 mm). The increase in the caliber and thus the weight of the cannons required the construction of special beds. In older systems, the guns that were available from the end of the 1880s remained in service until after the end of the Second World War. It is true that by the turn of the century the distance at which sea battles were fought increased. During the Sino-Japanese War of 1894, five naval battles were fought at a distance of 2,000 m, but in the 1904 Sea Battle in the Yellow Sea the battle began at 6,500 m.

Most of the built-in guns could easily cover this range, however, in some cases, for example in Oscarsborg , the battle could only be conducted over shorter distances anyway due to the geographical conditions. However, the greater range of the cannons - as on the warships of that time - placed increased demands on the fire control. The construction of observation and fire control stations was typical for this period. These were partly built directly in the firing position or in its immediate vicinity, but partly also far away. Structurally, there are mostly from reinforced concrete built bunker .

The use of older ship guns is also typical of this period. Like the Russian 152 mm cannon from 1887 or the German 28 cm SK L / 40 , they were replaced by more modern types on ships, or the older ships were completely retired. The existing guns were used in coastal fortifications. In the United States and Germany, high-angle weapons such as the 12 in mortar or the 28 cm L / 12 howitzer were also used as coastal guns. Their advantage lay in the fact that their grenades did not penetrate the hull walls, which were heavily protected by belt armor, but rather the much weaker armored decks. However, since there were enough used ship guns available, the number of new developments and constructions was limited, and the high-angle weapons could not establish themselves on a large scale.

The importance of coastal artillery was underscored when the German heavy cruiser Blücher was sunk by the cannons and torpedoes of the Oscarsborg fortress in 1940 during the Weser Exercise operation . The conceptual conclusion and highlight of the coastal fortifications and the conventional coastal artillery was the Atlantic Wall built between 1942 and 1944 , cf. Graf Spee coastal battery . Ultimately, however, the landing of the Allies in Normandy in 1944 demonstrated the limited suitability of the coastal fortifications and conventional coastal artillery.

Development from 1950

7.5 cm tornpjäs m / 57, Hemsö Fortress, Sweden

With the increased tactical agility, the development of sea ​​target missiles and the possibilities of electronic reconnaissance of sea targets, conventional coastal artillery lost more and more importance from the 1950s. In some countries, mobile, land-based missile systems for anti-ship missile combat such as the P-15 Termit (Soviet Union) and the RBS15 (Sweden) have been developed, but for the most part the mobile field artillery took over the task of coastal defense if necessary. Only Sweden and Norway produced the 7.5 cm tornpjäs m / 57 (caliber 75 mm) from 1962 to 1975 , from 1962 with the 10.5 cm tornautomatpjäs m / 50 (only Sweden, retired from 2000) and from 1976 (Sweden) and 1989 (Norway) with the 12 cm tornautomatpjäs m / 70 as well as Finland with the 100 56 TK (turret of the main battle tank T-55 , 1961) and the 130 53 TK (from 1971) again stationary coastal guns in service. Currently, only a few countries have independent, usually mobile, coastal artillery. Most of the guns in the existing fortifications were dismantled and scrapped, the systems abandoned or rededicated.


  • Charles Stephenson: The Fortifications of Malta 1530-1945 . Osprey Publishing Limited, 2004, ISBN 1-84176-836-7 .
  • Sir George Sydenham Clarke: Fortifications: It's Past Achievements, Recent Developments, And Future Progress . Beaufort Publishing, 1890.
  • Donald M. Schurman , John F. Beeler: Imperial Defense, 1868-1887, Cass, 2000, ISBN 978-0-7146-5006-7
  • Captain JM Wismayer: British Fortifications in Sliema (1814-1943). In: Kunsill Lokali Tas-Sliema: Lehen il-Kunsill Tieghek, 2007
  • Lawrence Sondhaus: Naval Warfare 1815-1914 . Routledge, London, 2001, ISBN 0-415-21478-5
  • Frank Binder, Hans H. Schlünz: Heavy cruiser Blücher , Hamburg, Koehler, 2001. ISBN 3-7822-0784-X

See also

Web links

Commons : Coastal Gun  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Donald M. Schurman, John F. Beeler: Imperial Defense, 1868-1887, Cass, 2000, ISBN 978-0-7146-5006-7 , pp. 33f
  2. see Wismayer
  3. Sondhaus, pp 170, 171, 189