The carriage of the prussian breech-loader field cannon c/61

I. What were the technical features of the c/61 field gun carriage?

When the prussian army introduced the field cannon material c/61 in 1861 she made a big leap towards the artillery as we know it nowadays. This happend in a time when it was unknown which artillery system – rifled muzzle or rifled breech loader – would be the best answer on the challenges of the mid-19th century warfare. The British Royal Army and Navy exempted their breech loader made by Armstrong again after few year in service and reverted back to a muzzle loader system, while the french and the austrian army simply adapted rifled muzzle loaders right from the beginning.

Artillery c_73

German field artillery piece type c/73

The development and introduction of the breech loader by prussia of course attracted scholary research. But some questions weren’t asked yet. One of the parts mostly overlooked is the carriage of the field gun and while the barrel is the integral part of a gun – for throwing explosives on the enemy – a barrel lacking a carriage is of little use. The question I’m interested in is the on which carriage type the first breech loading guns were moved into battle. Since the carriage design influences the mobility of a field cannon material to an extent, we can’t research the effectivness of a field gun during combat without taking the carriage into consideration. But answering the question about the carriage design of the field gun c/61 turned out to be rather difficult.

For the prussian case the research is hindered by the fact, that most documents of the prussian army were destroyed by fire when the army archive in Potsdam was hit by an british air raid three weeks before the end of the second world war in Europe. This mostly also applies for the historic guns still existing in museums till 1945. Also the technique and development of carriage systems is barely mentioned in the literature or wikipedia.

The book of choice for the artillery technique of the wars of the german unification is „Witte, W.: Die gezogenen Feldgeschütze nach ihrer Einrichtung, Ausrüstung etc. nebst einigen Regeln für die Behandlung des Materials, Berlin 1867“, which describes the technique of the rifled field guns of the prussian army in detail. But regarding the carriage systems of the first breech loaders in service you only find this short sentence:

The existing carriages, limbers, and wagons of the material c/42 were adapted adequately. (Witte, Feldgeschütze, S.1)

But what exactly were those adequate changes?

Wikipedia does help, but still not enough. As additional information it is mentioned (see the article on the c/61 field gun material in the german version) that the carriage system also holds the denomination „c/56/61“, which indicates that the carriage of the field gun material c/42 was already changed once in 1856. But it is not mentioned what was changed. On the wikipedia page you can find images of an c/61 field gun, but those do not answer my question either as I will show in the next chapter.

II. The c/61 field gun in Saarlouis – proper barrel but incorrect carriage


The c/61 gun as it is presented in Saarlouis/Germany. The barrel is correct, the carriage not. Image by Piusfuchs, Lizenz CreativeCommons

The pictures above shows a field gun as it is presented in the german town Saarlouis (Saarland). It is said that this is an prussian c/61. It looks like a very well preserved field gun, and in fact the barrel is indeed the barrel of an 6lb field gun c/61. But the carriage is most likely not historic correct.


The converging carriage walls is very untypical for german field artillery in the 19th century. Image by Piusfuchs, CreativeCommons

As you can see the walls of the carriage converge, which is rather unusual! As far as I know all german armies of the 19th century used a carriage design where the walls were parallel and not converging. Eventually one of the tiny duchies used a different carriage design, but the prussian army definitly did not use this design as shown on the exhibited field gun. Also unusal are the boxes on the axle tree, which were often used in british and french carriages, but not on german ones. Because of this historic mistakes the c/61 as shown in saarlouis does not answer the question, how the carriage c/42/56/61 looked like.

III. The c/42/56 field artillery material

As the name c/42/56 already indicates, the new carriage was an evolution of the c/42 carriage design. It is unlikely that the prussian army went through the hassle of developing a new carriage design (this was done for the c/64 material), therefore it is safe to assume, that the c/42/56 carriage mostly looked like the c/42 one, with few changes. Therefore it helps if we take a look at this older carriage design first.


Die technische Zeichnung stammt aus „Kameke, H.F.: Die preussische Feld-Artillerie nach der Construction vom Jahre 1842, Berlin 1847, Blatt 2“

Remarkable is, that neither the barrel nor the carriage are special. In fact the technique of this field gun material is mostly identical with the artillery of the napoleonic wars 30 years before and even then the artillery did not much differ from the artillery pieces of the seven years war. The barrel is still a smoothbore muzzle loader but lost its representative ornamentation and the carriage with the stabilising iron bands was thinned to save weigth. Also note the paralled carriage walls.

But how can we deduce the changes made from the c/42 carriage to the c/42/56? Thankfully I made a lucky find in a museum in Berlin – The Zitadelle Spandau – which also has a nice exhibition on historic field artillery. In one of the vitrines you can see the scale model of  a c/61:

Such models where made by the artillery arsenals (one was located in Spandau near Berlin) to present their portfolio. Those models often closely represent their bigger counterparts and therefore can be used as historical source. As you might notice not everything was represented in proper scale – like the wheels which look far to thick. Also the metal parts were normally blackend and the carriage was painted in a middle-blue colour. But the look of the carriage most likely represents the facts quite well.

One of the most striking changes is the addition of two seats fixed on the axle tree and on which two canoneers could sit during driving. To keep both axle trees stable two steel bars were added. With adding those axle seats the carriage c/42/56 first introduced a feature which would become standard for most field artillery pieces in europe at least from 1870 on. Why those seats where added can’t be said at the moment – I think that the tactics of the field artillery changed to a more offensive usage and so it was necessary to quickly redeploy the pieces more often. Now instead of walking besides the gun the canoneers had a more comfortable and quicker way to travel.

What also was changed is the „Richtmaschine“ and a carriage storage box was added. According to the model I assume that both details are identical with the later carriage type c/64. The carriage storage box was made of iron sheets and was used to store smaller accessories like oil cans and rags.

Richtmaschine c/64

The Richtmaschine of the c/64 guns. Source: Verlag von August Stein, Potsdam – Zeichnungen zur Waffenlehre. 4.Auflage, Blatt 11, Figur 23. Public Domain

But here the differences already end. Since the carriage c/42/56 was only a further development only few parts where changed and added, but mostly the carriage was still the same compared with the field artillery material c/42. Since the new carriage c/64 was introduced from 1864 on the carriage c/42/56 as it described here was also the standard carriage of the prussian field artillery during the war against denmark in 1864.

IV. Conclusion

The carriage c/52/56 was a combination of mostly old elements and few new features. It connects the artillery technique of the seven years war and of the napoleonic wars with the refined technique of the second half of the 19th century and defined typic features of the further developments of artillery technology in prussia. From a military historic viewpoint the tender changes reflect the slow developing changes of the tactical usage of the field artillery on the battlefields. Lighter carriages and improved mobility allowed for a more offensive use of the field pieces which should become a deciding factor during the franco-prussian war of 1870/71.

V. Literature

  • Kameke, H.F.: Die preussische Feld-Artillerie nach der Construction vom Jahre 1842, Berlin 1847
  • Witte, W.: Die gezogenen Feldgeschütze nach ihrer Einrichtung, Ausrüstung etc, nebst einigen Regeln für die Behandlung des Materials, Berlin 1867