Field artillery

I was reading a thread that answered a question I’ve long wondered about.What is the difference between a howitzer and a gun,eg,88mm howitzer,88mm gun.If I understand it correctly,the howitzer has a shorter barrel,somewhat on the order of a rifle to a carbine or pistol.
My question(s)What are the advantages/disadvantages of both.Also the preferred application of these weapons,eg.higher arc,longer distance,etc.Was the Howitzer named after some gunsmith who discovered it’s unique properties,whatever they are?

Finally what is the purpose of using artillery anyway,since planes can basically do the same job-blasting troops or their hardware to kingdom come,or in the case of jungles,vegetation napalming them-from a somewhat safer distant location.

Howitzers and mortars use a high, lobbing trajectory so that targets behind hills, buildings, earthworks, etc. and be shelled. Rifles, or guns, are more of a “point and shoot” weapon because they have a flat trajectory. Good for tanks that don’t have time to survey their position and that of the target and adjust their fire accordingly.

Artillery is valuable because it is reapeatable while an airplane has to solve the fire control problem anew on each attack. For example, after an artillery piece has been directed onto the target by a forward observer, it can put shell after shell into the same small area because of its low dispersion.

Both artillery and airpower are relatively ineffective without someone on the ground finding the target and correcting the aim point.

There is an artillery tactic that can be devastating. It is called a Time on Target. Guns from numerous different artillery commands are all sighted in on a particular area where it is known that a target will appear, such as a troop movement or supply convoy. The firing times of the various units are computed so as to make all shells land at approximately the same time. This results in a rain of shells with practically no warning (the shells are either near sonic or supersonic) and is exceedingly destructive. This is hard to do with airplanes because a large group of them lets you know they are coming well in advance.

Just to add to David’s reply, airpower is great if you have superiority. But if the complete aerial supremacy witnessed in recent US fights was missing, then artillery would become more useful. In an even fight, you have to have a means of delivering your shells/bombs on target. If the enemy has artillery and you don’t, and neiether do you comtrol the skies, then that’s going to make life unpleasant for you.

Howitzers are artillery pieces in the conventional sense. They fire variable-charge ammunition at high angles and low velocities to ‘lob’ the shells to the target.

“Field guns” like the german 88mm are actually that - guns. They fire a fixed charge round at high velocity. Generally, they are used for ‘direct application’ purposes, such as antitank guns, but some were used in conventional artillery roles, such as the 170mm K18 (I believe) gun of the German Army in WW2. It’s high speed gave it a great range, and it was primarily used for counterbattery work.

As to why artillery is necesary, that’d take quite a while to explain so that you’d intuitively understand. Suffice to say that artillery and air power don’t serve the same mission. Air power is “bonus” damage in most doctrines, but artillery is at the very core of the striking power of any fighting formation. The roles are different, and air power could never hope to replace the role of artillery, unless warfare changed drastically.

Wow, I even previewed that :o .

Why use artillery instead of aircraft? Well, aircraft are easier to suppress - while the US has enjoyed complete air superiority in all recent combat, trying to use aircraft to provide your striking power against an opponent who can contest your control of the air doesn’t work to well. Artillery can operate in worse weather and visibility conditions than aircraft, and artillery is only affected by weather in the immediate area, while aircraft can be grounded by bad weather at their base even if the fighting area is clear. Aircraft need to come from landing fields, while artillery is based near the front and so requires less communication overhead (not much of a problem for the US army of late) and can respond more quickly to immediate problems.

Aircraft take a lot more maintenance to keep fighting - artillery pieces can keep firing and moving with only the half-dozen or so guys on the gun occasionally fixing things, aircraft need ground crews with lots of spare parts to stay operational. Aircraft also soak up a whole lot more fuel (and spare parts in the supply chain), and require special airbases while artillery can keep going with a lot less supply and can ‘base’ anywhere tanks can. Aircraft cost a whole lot more per ton of explosive delivered; while (ignoring politics) it might be possible to outfit every brigade in the US army with air support that can put out as much fire as its artillery, the cost would be absurdly prohibitive.

In addition to all of the well thought out points from Riboflavin, it only takes a couple months to train up a basic rookie artillery crew. It takes years to produce useful combat pilots.

Some artillery physics. (As usual we neglect air resistance in order to simplify things) A projectile fired achieves maximum distance when the elevation of the firing angle is 45 and it will achieve shorter ranges when the elevation is above or below 45. A conventional gun fires below 45 and the shell arrives at the target with a shallow angle while a mortar fires above 45 and the projectile arrives on the target falling mostly vertically. A mortar can hit targets that are protected by the terrain or other obstacles from direct gun fire.

OK-I understand most of the points here-but why do they call in for air support in the movies?Did they run out of artillery shells?Or is that a movie thing?And finally was the howitzer named after someone of the same name that figured out it’s contributions or mechanics?


My suggestion. When watching movies, plays, reading fiction, etc. suspend disbelief, don’t analyze and just enjoy the show as entertainment without trying to equate any part of it to reality.

Though airpower is thought of more as a main battle line weapon now, you’re dead on. Artillery is always useful.

Not necessarily a movie thing.
It can be a lot faster to launch a flight of planes and drop bombs from the air than to move artillery up to where it can hit the same target.
Artillery has to be dragged cross country (and through the forests or jungles) to get with in striking range of the target. An airplane flies over the same obstacles in a much shorter time.

Getting back to howitzers, one advantage is that with a shorter barrel and lower muzzle velocity, a larger caiber weapon can be mounted that is not much heavier than a smaller caliber high-velocity gun.

In addition to the “Don’t believe everthing . . .” thing, you need to specify when and where. Late WW2 movies - total allied air supremacy and (benefit of the doubt) the units are ahead of the main lines. Vietnam, same (and lots of jungle to mess up artillery movement - plus troops were airlifted in in the first place and, even if it wasn’t a jungle, the artillery couldn’t keep up with that).