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Old 04-18-2019, 12:36 PM
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Making howitzers automatic-fire like machine guns


Aside from the issue of overheating, is there a way that large howitzers (i.e. 105mm or 155mm) or tank cannons could be engineered so that they are fed from a belt of artillery rounds and fire rapid-fire in auto mode just like the way machine guns do? (rather than having 10-30 seconds in between shots)
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Old 04-18-2019, 12:45 PM
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How large a round did Stalin organs fire?
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Old 04-18-2019, 02:22 PM
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Well, there is the Vulcan M61 cannon, used in American fighters. It's been fairly successful at shooting down enemy aircraft. It shoots 100-110 shells per second, and is quite reliable.
But it only shoots a 20mm shell -- about 1/5th of your specification.

I think that making larger versions of a Gatling-design gun would not be very productive.
The M61 already suffers from over-firing. A full minute of auto-fire would use nearly a half-ton of ammunition -- too much weight for a warplane to devote to anti-aircraft fire. A larger cannon would have even larger & heavier shells. Not very feasible for planes.

On a land vehicle, the size of the cannon, and the size & weight of the ammunition would be less of a problem. But auto-firing is less important -- you want to wait to see if the first shell destroyed the target before you send more shells at that same target. You want to save the rest of your shells for the next target, rather than over-killing only the first target. So generally, increased rate of fire hasn't been as important for land-based cannons, compared to accuracy and ease of re-aiming.
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Old 04-18-2019, 02:30 PM
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How large a round did Stalin organs fire?
Anywhere between 12 to 30cm rockets depending on the model/truck chassis. They weren't howitzers.
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Old 04-18-2019, 02:31 PM
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How large a round did Stalin organs fire?
Microscopic.
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Old 04-18-2019, 03:03 PM
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And in between is the German 88, smaller than a large howizter shell but capable of rates of fire significantly higher than once every 10-30 seconds: its firing mechanism is described by Wikipedia as "semi-automatic" because once the shell is in place the gun fires and ejects it automatically, allowing the crew to shoot as fast as they can manually load it.
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Old 04-18-2019, 03:11 PM
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Are you asking whether an autoloader can be devised for larger caliber rounds, or whether we could devise one to fire continuously?

The answers are yes, the Russians have used them for decades, and probably, but why? Tanks and artillery are more concerned with accuracy than volume of fire these days, mostly I'm guessing because counterbattery fire is usually quick and accurate. So being able to fire quickly and accurately is more important than just firing off 10 rounds as fast as possible.
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Old 04-18-2019, 03:22 PM
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It seems like the key is how fast can you recover after recoil? I suspect that one cannot simply scale up a machine gun due to the much larger recoil forces. The largest version of a workable automatic cannon I can think of is the 40mm Bofors guns in the navy in WWII. The Luftwaffe built about 300 50mm BK 5 cannons for mounting in anti-bomber fighters. It fired 45 rds/minute but jammed a lot. I don't know how it cycled.
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Old 04-18-2019, 03:26 PM
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The Panzerhaubitze 2000 (PzH) can fire 10 rounds in 56 seconds. It doesn't use a belt. Reloading it's 60 rounds magazine with all the automated assistance takes 12 minutes.

The Swedish Archer has a magazine of ten 155 mm rounds. It can fire it's full magazine of 20 rounds in 2.5 minutes and salvo 3 rounds in 15 seconds. The continuous fire rate is only 75 rounds per hour though thanks to it taking about 10 minutes to reload the magazine. That's back down around more traditional artillery pieces that don't include autoloaders.

It takes a lot of time to move significant numbers of big and heavy artillery rounds to the gun. There's value in being able to fire quickly for a short period, though. Both the Archer and PzH 2000 fire quickly enough to be able to have multiple rounds land simultaneously by firing with different charges and trajectories. That means a lot of firepower delivered before the target has time to react and do things like dive for cover. Once the target gets to cover artillery becomes much less effective at producing casualties. How fast the initial rounds land matters more than the rate of fire at the gun for that.

The Archer and PzH 2000 fire fast enough to achieve simultaneous impact from a single gun in indirect mode. Simultaneous impact is constrained by the discrete options for the charges and the time even automated relaying of the gun takes. Firing faster without relaying would actually reduce firepower in that very short period where it's most effective. Sometimes more is less.

Last edited by DinoR; 04-18-2019 at 03:27 PM.
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Old 04-18-2019, 03:37 PM
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This is the sort of thing the Germans must have had some kooky project for.

I doubt you'll find anything close to a 155mm MFHMG; Even if it were attainable, it would require enough R&D that someone would figure that if you want as much metal downrange as fast as possible, you might as well use a multiple rocket launcher or bombs/missiles with cluster submunitions.
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Old 04-18-2019, 04:05 PM
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The 8 inch guns on the Newport News class of US heavy cruisers should probably be mentioned. Rates of fire, sustained, of 10 rounds per minute. Muzzle velocity much faster than a howitzer, in the 2500-2700 fps range. Maximum range of ~30,000 yards. 260-335 lbs shell weight, with a 21 pound bursting charge for the HE version.

Probably could do 50 percent or more again greater range with the use of rocket assisted projectiles or saboted projectiles.

Be interesting for someone like Poysyn to chime in, but I'm not sure a fire mission of greater than 10 rounds per gun would be feasible in a near-peer environment featuring counterbattery fire. Besides, as mentioned upthread, after the first couple of impacts, your targets are either dead or have found cover anyway.
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Old 04-18-2019, 04:17 PM
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, you might as well use a multiple rocket launcher or bombs/missiles with cluster submunitions.
My bold.

Cluster munitions is problematic for the majority of nations in the world. For them it's a war crime. The Convention on Cluster Munitions prohibits their use, productions, stockpiling or transfer of cluster munitions. 120 nations have committed to it's goals with 106 parties and 14 other signatories. There's a map at that link of parties/signatories along with a link to a complete list.
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Old 04-18-2019, 04:24 PM
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If you want a big aircraft gun, you don't want the Vulcan. You want the GAU-8 Avenger, mounted on the A10. It cranks out 70 rounds a second, each of them 30 mm.
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Old 04-18-2019, 04:47 PM
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Microscopic.
You're thinking of Stalin's violin.
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Old 04-18-2019, 04:52 PM
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Additionally, artillery almost always is in a group. Why bother with one gun that fires fast but is complex and heavy when you can have a bunch of much simpler guns that can salvo fire? FWIW, Russia used to have a 57mm autocannon they used for AAA. ZSU-57/2.



"The guns have a recoil of between 325 and 370 mm. The individual weapons cannot be swapped from one side to the other as they are mirror images. Each air-cooled gun barrel is 4365 mm long (76.6 calibers) and is fitted with a muzzle brake. They can be elevated or depressed between −5° and +85° at a speed of between 0.3° and 20° per second, the turret can traverse 360° at a speed of between 0.2° and 36° per second. Drive is from a direct current electric motor and universal hydraulic speed gears (a manual mechanical drive is also provided in case of electrohydraulic failure; with the use of mechanical drive, elevation speed is 4.5° per second and the turret traverse speed is 4° per second).[3][16]

The guns firing together are capable of firing up to 210–240 fragmentation and armour-piercing tracer (AP-T) shells per minute, with a practical rate of fire of between 100 and 140 rounds per minute.[3] Muzzle velocity is 1,000 m/s. Each clip has 4 rounds, each of which weighs 6.6 kg; the charge in each round consists of 1.2 kg of 11/7 nitrocellulose powder, a projectile weighs 2.8 kg. Maximum horizontal range is 12 km (with an effective range against ground targets of up to 4 km / 2.5 miles. Maximum vertical range is 8.8 km with a maximum effective vertical range of 4.5 km / 14,750 ft). Fragmentation rounds have a safety-destructor which activates between 12 and 16 seconds after being fired to ensure the shells won't fall back to ground, so the maximum slant range of anti-aircraft fire is 6.5–7 km.[16] BR-281 armour-piercing rounds are able to penetrate 110 mm armour at 500 m or 70 mm armour at 2,000 m (at 90° impact angle)"
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Old 04-18-2019, 06:19 PM
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Closest thing to this that I've seen was the Ontos, a light-armored track vehicle used by the Marines in Vietnam. It had six 106mm recoilless rifles mounted on it. While it was loaded manually, it was an ass-kicker.
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Old 04-18-2019, 06:24 PM
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My bold.

Cluster munitions is problematic for the majority of nations in the world. For them it's a war crime. The Convention on Cluster Munitions prohibits their use, productions, stockpiling or transfer of cluster munitions. 120 nations have committed to it's goals with 106 parties and 14 other signatories. There's a map at that link of parties/signatories along with a link to a complete list.
You're right, thank you.

Are there alternatives to cluster submunitions? How good are airburst and thermobaric weapons at covering a lot of area?

Do I remember correctly that some submunitions like guided ones aren't as restricted? Is this still used? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CBU-97...r_Fuzed_Weapon

I guess countries that signed the cluster munitions convention tend to take a more subtle approach than an autohowitzer.


How about mortars? It should be easier to make mortars fires fast than howitzers.

The best I can come up that kinda fits with OP is automatic grenade launchers which are a hybrid between machineguns and artillery.

Last edited by MichaelEmouse; 04-18-2019 at 06:25 PM.
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Old 04-18-2019, 06:37 PM
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Is there not a modern self-propelled gun (I think German) that can time the arrival of its projectiles to impact simultaneously by firing each on a different trajectory or using less propellant (in real time)? They are released in rapid sequence but arrive together, making quite an initial impact on the recipient.

I searched but could not find it.

Last edited by KarlGauss; 04-18-2019 at 06:40 PM.
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Old 04-18-2019, 06:45 PM
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Is there not a modern self-propelled gun (I think German) that can time the arrival of its projectiles to impact simultaneously by firing each on a different trajectory or using less propellant (in real time)? They are released in rapid sequence but arrive together, making quite an initial impact on the recipient.

I searched but could not find it.
Multiple Rounds Simultaneous Impact (MRSI).

CMC fnord!
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Old 04-18-2019, 06:49 PM
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Indeed!
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Old 04-18-2019, 06:59 PM
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Another consideration, possibly the reason European defense contractors have the closest thing to the OP's specification:

Against a peer-level opponent, firing an artillery piece gives an opponent with counter-battery radars a return to sender address. It's feasible for the enemy force to use enough automation to return fire with their own artillery and kill the enemy artillery after it fires the first time.

Thus the need to fire as quickly as possible - and to use a remotely operated artillery device. It's going to die to enemy shellfire regardless, it might as well have an empty ammunition magazine when it gets destroyed.

This would explain why the Swedish and German artillery linked above have only 10 round magazines.
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Old 04-18-2019, 07:46 PM
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Are there alternatives to cluster submunitions? How good are airburst and thermobaric weapons at covering a lot of area?
Airburst munitions significantly predated cluster munitions and nations still developed cluster munitions. There's also a newer problem with airburst artillery. Russia has fielded a new electronic warfare platform in the last few years that can detonate electrically fused detonators like those used in airburst munitions. It's seen some use in Ukraine. Here's a story of Russia considering sales to Iran in 2015. Current airburst fuse designs will become increasingly ineffective if that capability becomes common.

Thermobaric warheads provide similar broad lethal areas. Russia's put a lot of effort into developing thermobaric warheads for their multiple launch rocket systems since the end of the cold war. They've also fielded a thermobaric warhead for the RPG-7 launcher. I don't recall if they have fielded them for their tube based artillery. Russia isn't a party to the cluster munitions convention; they just like thermobaric warheads. I don't recall seeing widespread development efforts or fielding from parties to the convention. ISTR warheads for "bunker busting" and a US mortar round but nothing yet for NATO standard tube artillery.

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Do I remember correctly that some submunitions like guided ones aren't as restricted? Is this still used? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CBU-97...r_Fuzed_Weapon
The US isn't a party to the convention. There's some self imposed limits that take us way down another path. The wikipedia entry on the convention covers allowed exceptions for parties pretty concisely.

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I guess countries that signed the cluster munitions convention tend to take a more subtle approach than an autohowitzer.
NATO parties to the convention have been starting to lean towards procuring new systems like the PzH 2000 and Archer that let them fire rapidly enough to achieve multiple round simultaneous impact. I wouldn't personally call that subtle. IMO it's more like Nuke LaLoush in the Movie Bull Durham - " I want to bring the heater. Announce my presence with authority." ... and then run away. Running away is really important in a world where counterbattery radars and fast digital fire control networks are becoming the norm. Survivability moves are called that for a reason.

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How about mortars? It should be easier to make mortars fires fast than howitzers.
There are breech loaded mortars that accept magazines for ground mount. There are also breech loaded mortars in vehicle mounts. A good crew with rounds prepared can drop a lot of rounds quickly from traditional muzzle loaded weapons. You start running into the same limits of gun heating, the sheer bulk of ammunition needed, and the problem that the effectiveness drops off pretty rapidly after the first round(s) land.

Last edited by DinoR; 04-18-2019 at 07:46 PM.
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Old 04-19-2019, 08:54 AM
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It seems like the key is how fast can you recover after recoil? I suspect that one cannot simply scale up a machine gun due to the much larger recoil forces. The largest version of a workable automatic cannon I can think of is the 40mm Bofors guns in the navy in WWII. The Luftwaffe built about 300 50mm BK 5 cannons for mounting in anti-bomber fighters. It fired 45 rds/minute but jammed a lot. I don't know how it cycled.
There's recovery time, but there's also employment. Machine guns are typically used something more akin to very long ranged shotguns than they are like bullet hoses, a-la Hollywood. 4-5 round bursts, etc...

But howitzers/guns aren't used like that. They're carefully aimed. So that re-aiming time is built into any kind of auto-loader scheme. And yeah, these sorts of things DO exist- the 5" gun on the Burke class destroyers fires 16-20 rounds a minute fully automatic. That's roughly a round every four seconds, most of which I suspect is getting the gun back on target after each round.

That's not the sort of thing you could pack into a M109-sized vehicle though, and the M109 crews get about four rounds a minute anyway (every 15 seconds), and that's accounting for loading varying sized powder charges, etc.... the naval 5" gun fires fixed ammunition, so there's not as much versatility there in terms of shell size, range, etc...
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Old 04-19-2019, 10:03 AM
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Can I toss out the old Mk19 automatic grenade launcher, which fires a 40mm round at a cyclic rate of 400 rounds per minute? It's no howitzer, but those grenades make a reasonable pop when they arrive on target and they can really spray.
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Old 04-19-2019, 10:17 AM
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Aside from the issue of overheating, is there a way that large howitzers (i.e. 105mm or 155mm) or tank cannons could be engineered so that they are fed from a belt of artillery rounds and fire rapid-fire in auto mode just like the way machine guns do? (rather than having 10-30 seconds in between shots)
Various naval guns of similar caliber have fired at rates of at least 45 rounds per minute per barrel, ie loading cycle of ~1.3 seconds. The Russian AK-130 is an example still carried on many ships. Some Western equivalents in that caliber range have disappeared (the widely used US Mk.45 is more like 20 rpm, Italian OTO 127 is close at around 40). Some OTO 76mm shipboard guns fire much faster but that's more in the range in early to mid 20th century field artillery caliber than post WWII standard of 105-155mm.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AK-130

Anyway you could put devices like the 40+ rpm naval guns on a big vehicle chassis. But they are heavy and complicated and need a lot of cooling water (typically high rate of fire naval guns use open circuit sea water cooling, then flush out the system with ship's fresh water after firing is finished). The main need for such a high ROF is for aerial targets. For field artillery use the slower more limited burst capability of many recent gun-howitzers guns is good enough.
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Old 04-19-2019, 10:59 AM
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Here's another interesting candidate, though only 127mm calibre: the British Green Mace


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_Mace
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Old 04-19-2019, 12:56 PM
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I would hate to see the heat created by a rapid fire rail gun. Probably destroy the weapon itself after the second or third shot.
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Old 04-19-2019, 01:02 PM
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The British cruisers HMS Tiger, Lion and Blake all had 3" (75mm) twin mounts that could fire up to 90 rounds per barrel per minute - these were intended for AA but were limited in usefulness because of their fire arc.

The loading machinery looked like a bottle factory with all the rounds shuffling past on to the breech.
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Old 04-19-2019, 02:06 PM
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The biggest "machine gun" I think I've ever seen would have to be the British 1 pounder "pom-pom". It's literally a water-cooled Maxim gun scaled up to fire 37mm shells.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QF_1-pounder_pom-pom
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Old 04-19-2019, 09:44 PM
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Additionally, artillery almost always is in a group. Why bother with one gun that fires fast but is complex and heavy when you can have a bunch of much simpler guns that can salvo fire?
Well, I was wondering if it would be easier to lift one (complex) howitzer into a region and then have it do its own "fire for effect" rather than a bunch of M777s which would salvo fire.
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Old 04-20-2019, 12:29 PM
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Not an answer to the OP. But I just finished Alamein by Jon Latimer. In it he describes how the British 25 pounder howitzer had the same fearsome reputation among Germans that the German 88 anti tank gun did among the allies. The Germans were convinced that it was, as the OP described, a automatically loaded "machine gun" howitzer. POWs who asked to see it were amazed that it was in fact just a manually loaded regular artillery piece.
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Old 04-20-2019, 01:36 PM
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Well, I was wondering if it would be easier to lift one (complex) howitzer into a region and then have it do its own "fire for effect" rather than a bunch of M777s which would salvo fire.
Multiple round simultaneous impact (MRSI) systems are the major route for enabling one gun to do that. They are even heavier mechanized elements where sling loading isn't an option.

I also think in the OP you underestimate just how fast a well trained gun crew can pump out the rounds during fire for effect. Sustained fire takes time. The crew can prepare all the rounds in advance of firing the first round for a fire for effect, though. It doesn't produce the same effect as an entire battery or MRSI since there's still a bigger lag between rounds. It's not 30 seconds between round impacts, though. It's a time gap that lets a troop target throw themselves prone where they are. It's not enough time to sprint to better cover in response to the first round.

Last edited by DinoR; 04-20-2019 at 01:36 PM.
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Old 04-20-2019, 02:14 PM
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Not an answer to the OP. But I just finished Alamein by Jon Latimer. In it he describes how the British 25 pounder howitzer had the same fearsome reputation among Germans that the German 88 anti tank gun did among the allies. The Germans were convinced that it was, as the OP described, a automatically loaded "machine gun" howitzer. POWs who asked to see it were amazed that it was in fact just a manually loaded regular artillery piece.
How did it obtain that reputation?
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Old 04-20-2019, 05:16 PM
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How did it obtain that reputation?
The rate and concentration of fire the Germans experienced.
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Old 04-20-2019, 06:00 PM
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The rate and concentration of fire the Germans experienced.
It's a little surprising that their explanation for that was some advanced weapon as opposed to just having more guns & ammo and tactics that emphasize using firepower rather than manpower.

Last edited by MichaelEmouse; 04-20-2019 at 06:03 PM.
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Old 04-20-2019, 08:13 PM
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The rate and concentration of fire the Germans experienced.
Well, yes, but did the British accomplish that with having many guns, or training to fire quickly?

Reading about the war of 1812 and the battles between the American "super frigates" and the British, the guy who won had either trained his gun crews to perfection, or killed all the officers in his first broadside.

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Old 04-20-2019, 08:58 PM
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Well, yes, but did the British accomplish that with having many guns, or training to fire quickly?

Reading about the war of 1812 and the battles between the American "super frigates" and the British, the guy who won had either trained his gun crews to perfection, or killed all the officers in his first broadside.
Yeah good training and tactics. The point the author was making, was although the British never matched the Germans in armored ground warfare (Alamein was basically a battering ram, which the British and commonwealth troops ground down weakened Germans and incredible cost,), they absolutely did match them, and beat them, in artillery and air warfare. Not just by having more guns and planes (though that helped), but actually with superior training and tactics.
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Old 04-20-2019, 09:05 PM
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It's a little surprising that their explanation for that was some advanced weapon as opposed to just having more guns & ammo and tactics that emphasize using firepower rather than manpower.
To me that's pretty understandable. Its much easier to accept that the enemy has better equipment than you, than to accept that they are "better at soldiering" than you.
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Old 04-20-2019, 09:41 PM
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To me that's pretty understandable. Its much easier to accept that the enemy has better equipment than you, than to accept that they are "better at soldiering" than you.
That's true, thanks.
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Old 04-21-2019, 03:59 PM
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A problem with this is that unlike ammunition for the gatling guns or main battle tank guns, the 155mm ammunition is not one round (i.e. the projectile combined with the propellant and primer) but is a separate shell, a bundle of propellant (which can be adjusted in size) and a separate primer (similar to a blank for a gun)
This means that the loading mechanism is more complicated and slower.
As previous posters have mentioned, the PzH2000 does have such a loading system. While a faster fire rate is certainly an advantage, the main advantage is that you need fewer soldiers to man it.
A well trained M109 crew can put out 3 shots within 15 seconds and a total of 6 below 1 minute. After that, effectivity of the artillery is much lower and danger of counter battery fire increases. That’s when you pack up and go to the next firing position.
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Old 04-21-2019, 08:32 PM
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