(Vickers)/Hotchkiss/Nordenfelt 3 + 6 Pounder Guns

The following contribution is by Bob Nicholls (bobnich@ACENET.COM.AU), and is an expansion of a related posting of his on MARHST-L in December 1999.

The (Vickers)/Hotchkiss/Nordenfelt 3 & 6 pdr quick firing guns entered naval service in a number of countries in the late 1870s to 1880s. Their principal role was to act as an anti-torpedo boat weapon. They were introduced to provide a weapon that fired a projectile that could penetrate the vitals of the torpedo boat, which by now were being protected by coal bunkers. The guns were much of a muchness, but of course their ammunition wasn't interchangeable. They fired a round weighing in the order of 3 or 6 pounds.

Gun - Calibre
1 Pdr - 37mm
3 Pdr - 47mm
6 Pdr - 57mm
(Table courtesy of Ed Rudnicki)

A trained man could fire 25 unaimed rounds per minute or 15 rpm at a target. Engagement range was in the order of 1000 yards, when the launch range of a torpedo boat's weapons at that time was in the region of 400 yards. The principal on which they worked was based on the introduction of fixed ammunition, a sort of scaled up rifle or machine gun bullet where the cartridge case and the projectile were one, as opposed as separate, as previously. This solved the problem of obturation because the brass of the casing expanded into the chamber on firing thus making a gas tight seal. Firing was mechanical, by trigger and hammer.

Loading by hand ramming was made easy by the rigid case. A sliding drop breech mechanism was employed. It was operated by a pair of crank handles. Opening the breech extracted the used cartridge case, which thrown clear to the rear.

The propellant was originally gunpowder but was soon replaced by cordite. Improvements in hydraulics also led to recoil being taken up by pistons. The barrel also moved in a cylindrical sleeve, thus in theory doing away with trunnions. However, these were retained in some models so that the gun could be installed in a field carriage for use by landing parties. Although called 'Quick firing', it would be more appropriate to call the guns 'quick loading'.

As torpedo boats got larger and could fire their weapons from a greater range, so the QF principal became adapted to larger guns culminating, as far as 'fixed' ammunition was concerned, probably in the Armstrong 40 pdr, used in the RN as the 4.7 QF.

Thus replaced, the old 3 and 6 pdr went back into various armament stores, to re-emerge as field guns for landing parties as an alternative to the 12pdr, as saluting guns and, at a pinch in wartime, as main armament for small ships when nought else was available.

I seem to recall that in later days a ship's outfit of (say) four saluting guns - two each side one for firing and one for standby - had a supply of caps, primers and saluting charges on board so that the gunners party could make up the charges as necessary, using, shall we say, 50 cases which could be used over and over.

Vickers may have acquired the licences for a QF in the later 1890s/early this century.

Ref : Captain H Garbett Naval Gunnery, London, George Bell 1897.

Last Updated: 15 January, 2001.

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