The diversity of the German Army is reflected in its different branches. Each of these branches has its very own set of distinct skills and capabilities, yet they are at their strongest and most successful only when they work together. Specialised equipment is used to overcome a wide variety of challenges. Learn more about the Army’s artillery.
The artillery is a combat support branch of the German Army. Its artillery units support the combat forces with long-range artillery fire. The armoured self-propelled Panzerhaubitze 2000 howitzer and MARS II rocket launcher are their primary weapon systems.
Army artillery affords an important contribution in combat actions, whatever the intensity and scenario. It gives combat forces fire support by engaging point and area targets as well as adversarial forces over long distances.
The fire fight is conducted by Joint Fire Support Teams on the ground from forward positions during combat, with artillery observers, forward mortar observers and air control teams forming a team. These accompany the combat forces and are capable of working together with other services, such as the Air Force, Navy and Special Operations Forces and also allied armies, in all employment area dimensions.
The artillery also has diverse possibilities to reconnoitre adversarial forces and is able to engage them at long range at any time of day or night, in any weather conditions.
The artillery currently has a personnel strength of 5,157 soldiers, at whose head is the Director, Artillery, who is also the director of the central artillery training facility in Idar-Oberstein.
Long-Range Weapons Effects
Artillery is the mainstay in any fire fight. Meaning it is able to fire at any time of day or night, regardless of the weather. Artillery renders support quickly and precisely. Great distances, from weapon to target, are the rule. Effects with precision and standoff capability is a term also used. The delivery systems employed for this purpose by the artillery are self-propelled howitzers and rocket launchers.
Reconnaissance and Command and Control
Before a target can be engaged, it has to be identified and clearly designated through reconnaissance. The artillery has numerous reconnaissance resources at its disposal for that task. Radar equipment and airborne systems complement eye spotting, making it possible to locate targets with a high degree of accuracy. Optimum target engagement and command and control of all forces require resources capable of interlinking reconnaissance and effects, for which purpose target data and other information is transferred using ADLER, a radio-assisted artillery command, control and weapon deployment network, and transmitted digitally to the weapon systems, thus significantly facilitating the immediate engagement of targets.
The “Artillery System”
Artillery becomes effective only within an integrated system. This network of command, control, reconnaissance and effects, referred to as an “artillery system”, is what really brings out the arm’s full potential in all operational scenarios. Its tight cooperation with the Air Force, Navy and allied armed forces typifies the artillery as an Army capability geared to joint and combined requirements.
Modernly equipped and fit for the future, artillery will continue to be a key player serving the land forces.
How the artillery fights
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For its tasks the artillery is equipped with a variety of wheeled and tracked vehicles, among them the FENNEK light armoured reconnaissance vehicle and the MARDER armoured infantry fighting vehicle. Its weapon systems include the armoured self-propelled Panzerhaubitze 2000 howitzer and MARS rocket launcher. With the Panzerhaubitze 2000 as their main weapon system, the artillery units of the German Army have one of the most advanced and effective tube artillery systems at their disposal. In addition to these two weapon systems, the artillery includes observation and reconnaissance equipment. Its various radar systems such as COBRA Counter-Battery Radar and ABRA Artillery Observation Radar are complemented by unmanned aerial reconnaissance drones.
History of the artillery
Even in the ancient past there were weapons in the form of catapults, for example. These can be considered precursors of artillery weapons. Complicated and heavy, these siege devices were usually built as and when required and afterwards left at their place of use. The actual history of artillery does not begin until the invention of gunpowder.
The history of firearms begins in 1346 at the Battle of Crécy. Edward III of England confronted his opponent King Philip of Valois with six cannons, which are said to have had such a terrifying effect on the French, causing them to hurriedly flee the battlefield. The cannons fired stone balls from their barrels. Arrows, rocks and barrels filled with filth were also used.
In 1348, several guns were cast in bronze in Frankfurt on Main. Multiple-cannons, also known as “organs of death”, were constructed, comprising as many as a hundred small-calibre barrels, similar to the pipes of an organ, and mounted next to and on top of one another on a carriage. Connected to one another via an ignition channel, they were fired either one after the other or all at the same time, using lead balls as well as bolts as projectiles.
The first cannons also soon made their appearance in pitched battles. They were employed for the first time, and thereafter on multiple occasions, in battles in the Hussite Wars from 1419 to 1436.
Making and operating powder guns required knowledge of various occupations, leading to the emergence of a new trade – the gunsmith. Dukes of Burgundy Philip the Good and Charles the Bold appointed aristocrats as their ‘Maître de l'artillerie’, thus making artillery an organic component of an army for the first time. The name ‘artillery’ derives from the Latin word “ars”, or “art”, and described the art of firing.
While master gunsmiths initially were contracted to warring parties, sovereigns in the 15th century increasingly supported and institutionalised artillery. Training took place at newly founded master gunsmith schools.
Single-axle gun carriages with two wheels and a single trail end for stabilisation purposes replaced bed, frame and box trail carriages. This, in combination with the adoption of front carriage units, later referred to as limbers, led to higher manoeuvrability of the guns. The introduction of trunnions and laying equipment increased the accuracy and further elevated the importance of artillery on the battlefield. Nevertheless, cannons were not yet employed in closed formation. Mathematical calculations of the correlations between guns and projectiles provided crucial impetus for the further development of artillery and it is there that the roots of modern ballistics and of weapon and ammunition technology are to be found.
The Thirty Years’ War with its many battles, long marches and lengthy encampments saw the evolution of new field artillery doctrine. Each campaign of the Thirty Years’ War brought more guns onto the battlefield. Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden was the first commander who can be said to have employed artillery properly as part of his art of war. In the 17th century, mainly bronze was used as the material for casting guns. These were often ornately decorated. The barrel frequently bore the words “Ultima Ratio Regis”, or The Final Argument of Kings.
It was not until the early 18th century that artillery was integrated into every army.
Prussian artillery, too, underwent changes toward the mid-18th century. Frederick the Great, on his accession to power, found that his arsenal of artillery guns had, under General von Linger, been reduced in 1731 to four calibres: three-, six-, twelve- and twenty-four-pounders.
Three- and six-pounders were referred to as battalion or regimental guns, as they were divided up before each campaign among the infantry battalions to provide direct fire support. The artillery was organised into a field artillery battalion comprising six companies, with its strength numbering 789 men. A further battalion was formed in 1741 and amalgamated with the companies of the first battalion to form a field artillery regiment. By the end of Frederick the Great’s reign, the artillery had grown to four field artillery regiments comprising 43 companies. The strength of each company was around 200 men.
The guns of position were organised into brigades of five to ten guns each, corresponding more or less to a battery today, and before a battle would take up position on elevated ground. They had a range of around 1,200 to 1,500 paces, or approximately 900 to 1,125 metres, for all calibres. The artillery was to engage the enemy’s flanks at the highest angle possible. Solid iron balls were employed in an effort to destroy the carriage wheels of enemy battalion guns so as to thus neutralise the enemy artillery. Cavalry attacks in particular were repelled at distances of up to 350 paces, or around 250 metres, using grapeshot comprising small-shot charges. Heavy guns were drawn by as many as 16 horses, while the gunners went on foot, which is also why the name ‘foot artillery’ later came about. Horse artillery was formed in 1759 and, from 1772 onward, became a permanent feature of the Prussian army, employing mounted gunners to increase its mobility.
The rapid technological progress in the age of industrialisation saw pioneering leaps in weapons technology. From roughly 1850 onward, smoothbore guns began to be replaced by breech-loaded guns with rifled steel barrels. The stabilising rifling increased the range and accuracy significantly. This led to the necessity to relocate the artillery’s firing positions away from the front lines for its own protection. In the course of gun development, munitions and propellants also underwent fundamental improvements. The introduction of primers or percussion caps was followed by the advent of grenades with impact fuzes and simplified time fuzes. Impact fuzes now replaced the previous practice of igniting via the barrel and hot propellant gases. When the grenade impacted at the target, a pin shot forward through its inertia onto a percussion cap, causing the charge to explode.
The “spherical case shot” invented in 1784 by British lieutenant Henry Shrapnel (1761-1842) became the main projectile used in combat against exposed living targets. Upon the projectile’s detonation, the outer shell burst open and shot was scattered from its inside like musket balls. To increase this effect, the projectile was designed to detonate not upon impact but above the target. Shrapnel projectiles were fitted with a delayed-ignition time fuze, which was already activated upon firing. The delay setting was also referred to as the “fuze setting”. The artillery’s fragmentation grenades became the most dangerous munitions used on the battlefield. This realisation led to the preferential further development of projectiles that had a longer range, better manoeuvrability, and higher firing rate.
By the time World War I broke out, all the warring parties had significantly built up their artillery forces. Organisationally, Germany made a distinction between light field artillery and heavy foot artillery.
France held initial superiority, rooted in its field artillery being equipped with the M/97, a modern 75mm field gun manufactured by French enterprise Schneider. It was the first gun with a recoil mechanism including gun shields. The gun achieved a much better ballistic performance than that of its German counterpart. The M/97 was so superior in its firing rate that it allowed a reduction in the number of guns per battery from six to four. The better firing performance also allowed a smaller gun crew.
The Germans put their faith in the numerical superiority of their 3,500 medium 105mm and 2,000 heavy 150mm guns. They also had guns in calibres up to 420mm such as “Big Bertha” at their disposal. Its projectiles weighed nearly a tonne and were capable of demolishing the strongest of fortifications, one successful instance being a direct hit on the ammunition store of the Belgian fortress of Liège.
Another milestone in the development of artillery was the introduction of gun firing tables by later General Georg Bruchmüller. These shortened the fire adjustment times and increased the effectiveness of indirect fire. Long-range guns were expected to engage deep hinterland targets, which led to both sides developing railway guns with ranges of 30 to 40 kilometres. In Germany the climax of this development was the “Paris Gun” with which, from 23 March until 12 August 1918, some 360 shells were fired at the city of Paris from a distance of 127 kilometres. The dispersion of hits was so great, however, that deploying the Paris Gun to engage far-off point targets was hardly worth considering. The 289 hits in Paris were scattered over an area 3 kilometres in width and 15 kilometres in depth.
The bulk of German artillery at the start of World War II was still horse-drawn. Only the artillery pieces of the few motorised divisions and tank divisions, the corps and army artillery, and the artillery observation battalion were motorised. The mobile combat operations of the armoured forces inevitably led to the development and fielding of self-propelled artillery and assault guns. These were assigned to infantry and tank divisions and were to accompany and directly support the combat forces. The assault guns had an armoured, fully tracked self-propelled mount without any turret that allowed the gun barrel a small on-carriage traverse for direct firing. They were positioned between the artillery and armoured vehicles and employed at the infantry’s point of main effort.
In the course of the war, more and more large-calibre and long-range guns were developed. They were intended to continue the tradition of the 420mm howitzer and the Paris Gun of World War I and engage strong fortifications such as the Maginot Line, as well as bombard England. One example of such a piece was the K5 railway gun with a calibre of 209mm. Its enormous personnel requirement, maximum number of rounds through the gun (120) and very broad impact point dispersion, however, proved incommensurate with the successes it recorded.
This development found its climax in the Dora railway gun, which was commissioned in 1937. It was as tall as a three-storey building and almost 30 metres long, weighed 1,350 tonnes, and its 47.3-metre-long gun carriage required 40 axles for support. The barrel measured 32.5 metres in length, weighed 400 tonnes, and could be elevated to 58 degrees. With a calibre of 800mm and a projectile weight of up to 7,000 kg including 250 kg of explosive, it had a maximum range of 37 kilometres. Its rate of fire was three rounds per hour. The projectile and its propellant cartridge had a total length of 7.80 metres.
“Dora” was deployed a single time, in 1942, during the bombardment of the fortifications in Sevastopol on the Crimean peninsula. The tactical success of such a development, which bordered on the limits of the possible, remained elusive, however.
Rocket launchers, also referred to as “Do-Geräte” (Do devices) after General Walter Dornberger, were employed for the first time as area saturation weapons. Compared with artillery guns they were very light and manoeuvrable, although their munitions were rather heavy and cumbersome to transport. Their impact point dispersion was huge, but their range relatively short. The Soviet “Katyusha” weapon became the most widely known system, whose rocket launcher was mounted on the bed of a truck, and was employed in high numbers and feared by German troops, who referred to it as “Stalin’s Organ” (Stalinorgel).