Quick-firing gun

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A quick-firing or rapid-firing gun is an artillery piece, typically a gun or howitzer, which has several characteristics which taken together mean the weapon can fire at a fast rate. Quick-firing was introduced worldwide in the 1880s and 1890s and had a marked impact on war both on land and at sea.



The characteristics of a quick-firing artillery piece are:

These innovations, taken together, meant that the quick-firer could fire aimed shells much more rapidly than an older weapon. For instance, an Elswick Ordnance Company 4.7-inch gun fired 10 rounds in 47.5 seconds in 1887, almost eight times faster than the equivalent 5-inch breech loading gun.


Woodcut depicting Royal Navy gunners in action with the 1-inch Nordenfelt gun, the first practical QF gun. 1-InchNordenfelt4BarrelGunNavalActionDrawing.jpg
Woodcut depicting Royal Navy gunners in action with the 1-inch Nordenfelt gun, the first practical QF gun.

In 1881, the Royal Navy advertised for a quick-firing gun that could fire a minimum of 12 shots per minute. This rate of fire became increasingly important with the development of the first practical torpedoes and torpedo boats, which posed an extreme threat to the Royal Navy's maritime predominance. [1]

The first quick-firing light gun was the 1-inch Nordenfelt gun, built in Britain from 1880. The gun was expressly designed to defend larger warships against the new small fast-moving torpedo boats in the late 1870s to the early 1880s and was an enlarged version of the successful rifle-calibre Nordenfelt hand-cranked "machine gun" designed by Helge Palmcrantz. The gun fired a solid steel bullet with hardened tip and brass jacket.

The gun was used in one-, two-, and four-barrel versions. The ammunition was fed by gravity from a hopper above the breech, subdivided into separate columns for each barrel. The gunner loaded and fired the multiple barrels by moving a lever on the right side of the gun forward and backwards. Pulling the lever backwards extracted the fired cartridges, pushing it forward then loaded fresh cartridges into all the barrels, and the final part of the forward motion fired all the barrels, one at a time in quick succession. Hence the gun functioned as a type of volley gun, firing bullets in bursts, compared to the contemporary Gatling gun and the true machine guns that succeeded it, such as the Maxim gun, which fired at a steady continuous rate.

It was superseded for anti-torpedo boat defence in the mid-1880s by the new generation of Hotchkiss and Nordenfelt "QF" guns of 47 mm and 57 mm calibre, firing exploding "common pointed" shells weighing 3–6 pounds.

Royal Navy deck mounting of the QF 3-pounder Hotchkiss, the first modern QF gun, 1915. QF3pdrHotchkissRN1915.jpeg
Royal Navy deck mounting of the QF 3-pounder Hotchkiss, the first modern QF gun, 1915.

The French firm Hotchkiss produced the QF 3 pounder as a light 47 mm naval gun from 1886. The gun was ideal for defending against small fast vessels such as torpedo boats and was immediately adopted by the RN as the "Ordnance QF 3 pounder Hotchkiss". [2] It was built under licence by Elswick Ordnance Company.

The Royal Navy introduced the QF 4.7-inch in HMS Sharpshooter in 1889, and the QF 6-inch MK 1 in HMS Royal Sovereign, launched 1891. Other navies followed suit; the French navy installed quick-firing weapons on its ships completed in 1894–95. [3]

Quick-firing guns were a key characteristic of the pre-dreadnought battleship, the dominant design of the 1890s. The quick-firing guns, while unable to penetrate thick armour, were intended to destroy the superstructure of an opposing battleship, start fires, and kill or distract the enemy's gun crews. The development of heavy guns and their increasing rate of fire meant that the quick-firer lost its status as the decisive weapon of naval combat in the early 1900s, though quick-firing guns were vital to defend battleships from attack by torpedo boats and destroyers, and formed the main armament of smaller vessels.

Land use

Quick-firing 4.7-inch gun on "Percy Scott" carriage at the Battle of Colenso QF 4.7 inch gun Colenso.jpg
Quick-firing 4.7-inch gun on "Percy Scott" carriage at the Battle of Colenso

An early quick-firing field gun was created by Vladimir Baranovsky in 1872–75. [4] which was officially adopted by the Russian military in 1882. [5] On land, quick-firing field guns were first adopted by the French Army, starting in 1897 with the Canon de 75 modèle 1897 which proved to be extremely successful. Other nations were quick to copy the quick-firing technology.

The QF 4.7-inch Gun Mk I–IV was initially manufactured for naval use and as coast artillery. British forces in the Second Boer War were initially outgunned by the long range Boer artillery. Captain Percy Scott of HMS Terrible first improvised timber static siege mountings for two 4.7-inch (120 mm) guns from the Cape Town coastal defences, to counter the Boers' "Long Tom" gun during the Siege of Ladysmith in 1899–1900. [6]

Scott then improvised a travelling carriage for 4.7-inch guns removed from their usual static coastal or ship mountings to provide the army with a heavy field gun. These improvised carriages lacked recoil buffers and hence in action drag shoes and attachment of the carriage by cable to a strong point in front of the gun were necessary to control the recoil. [6] They were manned by Royal Navy crews and required up to 32 oxen to move. [6]

The first war in which quick-firing artillery was widespread was the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–05. [7]

The quick-firing howitzer offered the potential for practical indirect fire. Traditional howitzers had been employed to engage targets outside their line of fire, but were very slow to aim and reload. Quick-firing weapons were capable of a heavy indirect bombardment, and this was the main mode of their employment during the 20th century.

See also

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Rifled breech loader

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QF 2-pounder naval gun British naval gun

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Hotchkiss gun

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This article explains terms used for the British Armed Forces' ordnance and also ammunition. The terms may have slightly different meanings in the military of other countries.

QF 3.7-inch mountain howitzer Mountain gun

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7.7 cm FK 96 n.A. Field gun

The 7.7 cm Feldkanone 96 neuer Art was a field gun used by Germany in World War I.

QF 4.5-inch howitzer Field howitzer

The Ordnance QF 4.5-inch howitzer was the standard British Empire field howitzer of the First World War era. It replaced the BL 5-inch howitzer and equipped some 25% of the field artillery. It entered service in 1910 and remained in service through the interwar period and was last used in the field by British forces in early 1942. It was generally horse drawn until mechanisation in the 1930s.

QF 4.7-inch Mk I – IV naval gun Naval gunMedium field gunCoastal defence gun

The QF 4.7-inch Gun Mks I, II, III, and IV were a family of British quick-firing 4.724-inch (120 mm) naval and coast defence guns of the late 1880s and 1890s that served with the navies of various countries. They were also mounted on various wheeled carriages to provide the British Army with a long range gun. They all had a barrel of 40 calibres length.

QF 13-pounder Mk IV AA gun Anti-aircraft gun

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QF 6-inch naval gun Naval gunCoast defence gun

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QF 12-pounder 12 cwt naval gun Naval gunCoastal artillery

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QF 6-pounder Hotchkiss *Naval gun *Coast defence gun *Tank gun

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QF 3-pounder Hotchkiss Light 47 mm naval gun introduced in 1886

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QF 12-pounder 18 cwt naval gun Naval gun, Coastal defence

The QF 12 pounder 18 cwt gun was a 3-inch high-velocity naval gun used to equip larger British warships such as battleships for defence against torpedo boats. 18 cwt referred to the weight of gun and breech, to differentiate the gun from others that also fired the "12 pound" shell.

QF 1-pounder pom-pom Autocannon

The QF 1 pounder, universally known as the pom-pom due to the sound of its discharge, was a 37 mm British autocannon, the first of its type in the world. It was used by several countries initially as an infantry gun and later as a light anti-aircraft gun.

QF 6-pounder Nordenfelt Naval gunCoast defence gun

The QF 6 pounder Nordenfelt was a light 57 mm naval gun and coast defence gun of the late 19th century used by many countries.

BL 6-inch Mk II – VI naval gun Naval gunCoast defence gun

The BL 6-inch gun Marks II, III, IV and VI were the second and subsequent generations of British 6-inch rifled breechloading naval guns, designed by the Royal Gun Factory in the 1880s following the first 6-inch breechloader, the relatively unsuccessful BL 6-inch 80-pounder gun designed by Elswick Ordnance. They were originally designed to use the old gunpowder propellants but from the mid-1890s onwards were adapted to use the new cordite propellant. They were superseded on new warships by the QF 6-inch gun from 1891.

Ordnance QF 95 mm howitzer Howitzer

The Ordnance QF 95-mm howitzer was a British howitzer built in two versions during the Second World War. The tank howitzer version was accepted for service use, but the infantry version was not.

8 cm/40 3rd Year Type naval gun Naval gun

The Type 41 3-inch (76 mm) naval gun otherwise known as the 8 cm/40 3rd Year Type naval gun was a Japanese dual-purpose gun introduced before World War I. Although designated as 8 cm (3.15 in), its shells were 76.2 mm (3 in) in diameter.


  1. Spencer Tucker (2012). Almanac of American Military History, Volume 1. ABC-CLIO. p. 1166.
  2. British forces traditionally denoted smaller ordnance by the weight of its standard projectile, in this case approximately 3 pounds (1.4 kg).
  3. Gardiner, Robert; Lambert, Andrew, eds. (2001), Steam, Steel and Shellfire: The Steam Warship, 1815-1905, Conway's History of the Ship, Book Sales, ISBN   978-0785814139 , p. 161
  4. Shirokorad, Aleksandr. "2,5 дм. (63,5 мм.) конная и горная пушки обр. 1877 г." [2.5 in. (63.5mm) Cavalry and Mountain Guns Model 1877] (in Russian).
  5. "История артиллерии с середины XIX в. до 1917 г." [The history of artillery from the middle of the 19th century up to 1917] (in Russian). Military Historical Museum of Artillery, Engineers and Signal Corps.
  6. 1 2 3 Hall 1971.
  7. Bidwell, Shelford; Graham, Dominick (1982), Fire-Power: The British Army: Weapons and Theories of War, 1904-1945, Allen and Unwin, ISBN   9780049421769, OCLC   9687161 , pp. 1113