Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Weapons of War — The French 75mm Field Gun

This was the French Army’s main artillery gun during World War I. It was introduced in 1897 and was the first fully integrated quick-firing gun. It also had an innovative recoil system that made for a smoother operation. 

Its great moment of the war may have been during the retreat after the colossal French defeat in the 1914 Battle of the Frontiers in slowing the German advance into northern France. This allowed General Joffre to regroup and prepare his counterstroke.

As a German soldier wrote in his diary during the Battle of the Marne:

"September —. The attack is violent on the outside; we remain close together, man to man, inundated by the shell from the French artillery. It is a fire of hell." 

When the U.S. became involved in World War I, space on ships was limited and manpower had priority over heavy equipment, so American troops often used French heavy equipment, including this 75mm field gun. An early adaption of the weapon was for anti-aircraft purposes. Interestingly, the German Army, which had found their comparable field piece unsuitable for this purpose, used captured French 75s to defend against Allied aircraft.

After World War I, it was upgraded with pneumatic tires and improved ammunition and was still the French Army’s main artillery gun until the 1940s. France also exported this gun to many other counties in the 1930s, and it was used in 1941 in World War II against the Japanese in the Philippines and in North Africa against the Germans. Erwin Rommel who had come to respect French artillery during the 1914 march to the Marne faced the weapon in both World Wars.

German Civilians Examine a Captured French 75

Some Details:

Country: France
Year: 1897
Caliber: 75mm
Shell Weight: 5.55 kg
Muzzle Velocity: 625 m/sec
Maximum Range: 6860m
Produced: Over 17,000
Maximum Rate of Fire: 15 rounds/minute

Source:  First Division Museum at Cantigny


  1. Let us not forget this is the gun for which the French 75 cocktail was named. Pilot Raoul Lufbery is popularly credited with its invention — reportedly plain ol' champagne just didn't have enough kick after those sorties over the Western Front. A good splash of gin (some claim brandy, but that's more of a champagne cocktail) gave it the strength needed to be dubbed the French 75.

    1. Kimball, I was going to make this comment when I saw the headline but you beat me to it!

    2. Interesting how the French would use that most British of beverages in this a signature drink. Could it be they were paying homage to the Brits for pulling their bacon out of the fire? I've heard stories that Napoleon, an artilleryman by the way, when returning with the Grande Armee after a successful campaign, would along with his troops celebrate with knocking off the tops of champagne bottles with their sabres. One can imagine the commotion that would have ensued had they quaffed down some English gin along with it. Alas a 100 years does change some things.

  2. on ships had nothing to do with what artillery the Americans used. Fact was the Americans lacked field artillery comparable to what was used in Europe, and could not gear up manufacturing fast enough to supply guns to the field.

    The innovative point to the "soixant-quinze" was that its hydraulic recuperator returned the piece to exactly the same place after firing, negating the need to re-aim the gun after each round. That's what enabled it to fire so quickly and accurately

  3. A remarkable gun. It was used by the French in 1940 as an anti-tank gun as well. The U.S. also adopted the 75 as an anti-tank weapon

  4. Dear Friends,

    We are looking for good photographs of a WWI-era 75 mm artillery shell. We have a piece of trench art that we would like to match to the shell. This link shows the trench art:

    We have seen many photos that seem to match our trench art, but we'd like to have a simple straight-on shot in good resolution. Can you help?


  5. I saw one of these French 75s at the Fort Sill Artillary Museum in Lawton, Oklahoma. A pretty hefty piece of equipment.