For about the first six centuries of its existence artillery was limited to direct fire.  The cannon was pointed directly at a target that its gunners could see.  The required amount of gunpowder was loaded and some adjustment was made to the elevation of the barrel.  The gunners observed the impact of their cannon ball (not always easy due to the smoke) and adjusted their aim for their next shot.  In essence, this sort of procedure continued until the German invention of the 'richt-fläche' in the early 1890s.  Over the following 20 years or so artillery became an indirect fire system and direct fire was only used in exceptional circumstances or by infantry and assault guns.

In English the 'richt-fläche' was sometimes called 'goniometric' or 'panorama' sight, but became the 'dial sight' (UK) or 'panoramic telescope' (US).  It enabled a gun to be aimed without its target being visible from the gun area.  The original intent of this indirect fire was probably no more than to allow guns to engage targets to their immediate front from behind the cover of a local crest.  Some not very effective methods for this had been devised in the years before 1890s.

However, the effect of indirect fire was that any target that was within range of a gun could be attacked by it, by day or night whatever the weather.  This meant that all guns within range of a target could attack it.  The means for mobile firepower had been created, where the guns of many batteries could attack one target and then a minute or so later attack another many miles away.

Of course making the most effective use of indirect fire meant that a system had to be created.  Apart from efficient communications equipment, most of this was done in World War 1.  The main components of this mobile firepower system are:

Command and control.
Target acquisition.
Ammunition and guns.

In addition the various artillery units have to be suitably organised and equipped with vehicles, fire control instruments and other necessities, and it all requires very substantial logistic support stretching back to the ammunition factories.  Underpinning the entire system are well-developed procedures, effective communications and trained soldiers.  The following figure illustrates the basic process for an attack on a target.

Figure 1 - The Basic System
Microsoft Word Picture

All the components have to be combined in an effective and efficient system, and this does not necessarily mean having the best guns or best target acquisition or best anything else (whatever 'best' means!).  None of these components in isolation or aggregation is the same as having an effective and efficient system.  Furthermore, in effective armies this artillery system does not exist in isolation, it has to be properly integrated with the other fighting elements on the battlefield.

Indirect fire enables clear differentiation of command and control.  Command of artillery concerns the allocation of resources, primarily units and ammunition.  Control is the allotment of firepower.  In an effective artillery system batteries do not have to be transferred between commanders for their firepower to be available to them.

The basic building block of artillery is the battery with between 2 and 8 guns.  Batteries are organised into battalion sized units of 2 - 4 batteries.  Batteries have their own observers who deploy with infantry and armoured units to acquire targets.  There are also specialist target acquisition batteries and air reconnaissance provides a further capability.

Target acquirers may either order or request fire against a target.  Requests always go through a fire control HQ that allots guns to engage the target.  The techniques of gunnery and its control procedures enable targets to be efficiently attacked with controlled indirect fire.

Some armies, including the British, regard the shells fired by the guns as their actual weapons.  The guns themselves are the 'colours'.

It's useful to have an idea about the range to which guns can fire their shells and the weight of these shells.  Figures for range have to be treated with caution.  It can increase or decrease by hundreds of yards depending on the weather conditions and other causes ('non-standard conditions').  Even making comparisons between 'text book' ranges can give wrong impressions because these ranges are based on 'standard conditions', and different armies used different 'standard conditions' in WW2.  The following table shows many of the most widely used guns of WW2, UK used the ones in red, the Axis powers powers those in blue.  These being the map marking colours of the time.

Table 1 - Some Basic Data

Shell Weight
Gun Weight
7.5-cm Gun M95
75 mm
6.5 kg
10,950 m
1,105 kg
75-mm How M8
75 mm
6.3 kg
8,500 m
610 kg
76-mm M42
76.2 mm
6.3 kg
11,156 m
1,115 kg
3.7-in How
94 mm
9.1 kg
5,486 m
840 kg
25-pr Gun
88 mm
11.3 kg
12,253 m
1,825 kg
105-mm How M2A1
105 mm
15.0 kg
11,200 m
2,260 kg
10.5-cm le FH18
105 mm
14.8 kg
10,675 m
1,985 kg
10.5-cm le FH18M
105 mm
14.8 kg
12,325 m
2,040 kg
10.5-cm How M91
105 mm
15.8 kg
10,765 m
1,495 kg
122-mm How M38
122 mm
21.8 kg
11,800 m
2,450 kg
5.5-in Gun
140 mm
36.3 kg
16,400 m
5,784 kg
15-cm sFH18
150 mm
43.5 kg
13,250 m
6,500 kg
15-cm Gun K18
150 mm
43.0 kg
24,500 m
12,760 kg
150-mm How Type 96
150 mm
30.8 kg
11,870 m
4,135 kg
152-mm How M1943
152 mm
39.9 kg
12,400 m
3,600 kg
152-mm Gun How M1937
152 mm
43.6 kg
17,265 m
7,130 kg
155-mm How
155 mm
44.1 kg
15,000 m
5,765 kg
155-mm Gun M1
155 mm
44.1 kg
23,500 m
13,880 kg
17-cm K18
170 mm
68.0 kg
29,600 m
17,520 kg
7.2-in How MkVI
183 mm
91.6 kg
17,995 m
13,220 kg
8-in Gun M1
203 mm
109.1 kg
32,015 m
31,460 kg

 Copyright  Nigel F Evans ©  - January 2001