Sunday 2 February 2014

Napoleonic Heavy Hardware – British 10-inch Howitzers

Once painted, these will be British 10 inch iron howitzers
Yesterday I finally got around to one of those open-ended refurb projects that seem to hang about for years. There’s always higher-priority stuff to be getting on with – you know the sort of thing.

This follows from a sort of minor-league New Year resolution I made, to get back to some Napoleonic siege games. There are a number of things I need to do for this – one is to arrange for some more satisfactory representation of trenches than my current unpainted wooden blocks. The Really Good Excuse for not doing anything about this at present is that I want to be sure the game is working properly before I commit to a mass of specialized terrain equipment. OK – can’t do anything with that one – put a sort of half-tick in the box.

Next thing I wanted was a hex-free table for sieges (and other things) – well I’ve done that one – the reverse side of my main warboards is now plain green, and sufficiently free of geometric cells of any type to satisfy even the most contemptuous of my correspondents. Tick in box – good.

The third, and most fiddly, thing is to make some sense of the pile of artillery equipment I’ve picked up from eBay and charitable donations, and either make it into proper batteries or get rid of it. Yesterday’s target was a small stock of Hinchliffe 20mm scale British 10” howitzers which I have managed to collect. Some were in poor shape as the result of many years of lying around in someone’s spares boxes, some needed attention because they were acquired from a well-known British eBay seller of whom I haven’t seen any trace for a while, who used to be famous for offering some real gun and wagon rarities, but always with the axles untrimmed (which gives something of the appearance of a pre-war Morgan 3-wheeler), always buried hub-deep in a bed of Evil Tetrion, and always finished in some astonishing industrial varnish which could withstand nuclear attack.

I spent an amusing evening levering things out of Tetrion, snipping and sawing axles to the right length, scraping grunge off wheels, and replacing a few wheels from the spares box if they couldn’t be rescued. A bit of superglue and we are making progress. Now they just need to be painted correctly (iron barrels, please), but there’s no immediate rush for that since I have to paint gun crews for them. Good so far, though – that’s pretty much a tick as well.

The M1800 Bromefield 10” iron howitzer is a bit of a shadowy fellow. If Frank Hinchliffe hadn’t included one in his celebrated 20mm horse-&-musket period artillery equipment (you know – the range that famously vanished – not only did they disappear, but some would have us believe they had never existed) then we might all be happily unaware of the things. Some years ago, with a bit of poking around, I learned that these guns were used at the British siege of Flushing, and then went into store and never saw the light of day until the Crimean War.

A shame for the 20mm Peninsular War enthusiast who would like some for his siege train; it’s an interesting model, with the gun mounted on what is obviously a garrison-type carriage with large wheels mounted at the muzzle end for road travel. Apart from the 18pdr gun available from Finescale Factory (now, heaven be praised, available from SHQ as part of the Kennington range) and also as part of the current Hinchliffe 25mm catalogue (explain the presence of an exact 1/72 model in this range, in your own words…), there is not a lot available for people like me who are weird enough to  wish to try tabletop sieges, so a model of a 10” howitzer – albeit rarer than hen’s teeth – would be a real help.

Well, as a result of further poking about, I have some good news on this front. They were used in the Peninsular. So there. Only a bit, but they were there.

My sources are Major-General John T Jones’ Journal of Sieges (Vol.1) and the appropriate volume of the Dickson Manuscript – both of these gentlemen were present when the Allied siege train at the (unsuccessful) first British siege of Badajoz in May 1811 included, I believe, 4 of these howitzers.

They were not very successful. Their lack of success was rather overshadowed by the failure of the vintage heavy brass guns provided from Lisbon, which drooped badly when they were required to provide continuous bombardment, but they failed nonetheless. Jones notes that two of the howitzers were included in the batteries attacking the fort of San Christobal, and two were in Battery no.5 (I think) attacking Badajoz Castle. He explains that they were removed from the transport carriages when mounted in battery, and were to be used at a maximum elevation of 30 degrees. He also observes that the Portuguese officer in charge of the battery confronting the castle failed to observe the maximum elevation instruction, as a result of which the guns broke their carriages. They are recorded as “damaged by own fire”.

Portuguese officer or not, they did not make any further appearance during the Peninsular War as far as I can tell, so presumably were stored away for 40 years until the Crimean War.

As you will see, I seem to have more of these howitzers than did the Allied army in 1811, but that’s near enough for me. If I am going to enact sieges which did not actually happen, it does not constitute much more of an offence against authenticity if the besiegers have equipment which they could have used if only they had chosen to do so.

You’ll see more of these once I have painted them and recruited gunners.

Pictures from Dawson, Dawson & Summerfield's excellent "Napoleonic
Artillery" (Crowood, 2007) of a 19th Century model of the 10-inch howitzer.
The photos are used without permission - please buy the book!


  1. Nice collections of guns, looking forward in seeing them painted up.


  2. Waiting for your siege games. This is a topics I always wated to play but never actually do it!