Canon de 32 modèle 1870/93

The Canon de 32 modèle 1870/93 was a former coastal defence gun that was converted into a railway gun during the First World War and used on the western front.

Heavy guns were used to protect the French coasts even before the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871. These included the Canon de 32C modèle 1870/84 M coastal defence cannons. As usual at that time, the guns had a ribbed barrel and several layers of iron reinforcing tires. Separate charges and projectiles were fired by the interrupted breech. After the lost war, the French army kept these guns.

After the outbreak of the First World War and the beginning of the Positional War on the Western Front in 1915, it became apparent that the light French field guns were no longer sufficient to damage or destroy the increasingly fortified German positions. Therefore the High Command decided to bring the heavy guns from the fortresses to the front. The coastal guns also fell under this arrangement, with many being converted into railway guns because they were more mobile and often too heavy to be constantly transported.

Also the remaining 6 Canon de 32C modèle 1870/84 M coastal defence guns were chosen by the Schneider company to be converted into railway guns. In 1915, two 5-axle railway wagons were connected to a steel scaffold, on which the gun was mounted. As it did not have a turntable itself, the entire construction had to be placed on pre-set tracks for aiming. Wooden beams were then placed next to and on the tracks in order to be able to place the supports.

For the recoil the guns used a sliding recoil system, whereby the gun slipped back a few meters after firing and then returned to its original position. All in all, these railway guns proved to be stable, effective and relatively inexpensive after the first tests. Later Schneider railway guns, however, had an improved recoil system and aiming devices.



A Canon de 32 modèle 1870/93 firing



At the end of 1915 the first of a total of 6 railway guns were delivered to the French army under the designation Canon de 32 modèle 1870/93 and immediately deployed on the western front. The guns remained there until the end of the war.



Canon de 32 modèle 1870/93


A Canon de 32 modèle 1870/93 in September 1917 in Belgium


Several Canon de 32 modèle 1870/93 during bombardment of German positions at the western front


Canon de 32 modèle 1870/93



After the First World War, the 6 railway guns were taken to depots and kept there as a reserve. When the Second World War began these guns were reactivated, whether they were used against the German Wehrmacht is not known.

After the capitulation of France in 1940, the guns were captured by the Wehrmacht and put into service as 32 (K) 65 (f) or 32 cm (E) 657 (f). A gun could be discovered 1945 in a factory of the company Krupp by the RAF Bomber Command.



RAF Bomber Command investigate a found Canon de 32 modèle 1870/93 in a Krupp factory in Essen after the surrender of Germany




Data sheet:

Designation: Canon de 32 modèle 1870/93
Manufacturing country: France
Introductory year: 1870
1915 Conversion to a railway gun
Number of pieces: 6 pieces
Calibers: 320 mm
Tube length: 10,4 meters
Range: Max. 24.800 meters
Weight: 162 tons






You can find the right literature here:


Flesh and Steel During the Great War: The Transformation of the French Army and the Invention of Modern Warfare

Flesh and Steel During the Great War: The Transformation of the French Army and the Invention of Modern Warfare Hardcover – October 30, 2018

Michel Goya’s Flesh and Steel during the Great War is one of the most thoughtful, stimulating and original studies of the conflict to have appeared in recent years. It is a major contribution towards a deeper understanding of the impact of the struggle on the Western Front on the theory and practice of warfare in the French army. In a series of incisive, closely argued chapters he explores the way in which the senior commanders and ordinary soldiers responded to the extraordinary challenges posed by the mass industrial warfare of the early twentieth century.

In 1914 the French army went to war with a flawed doctrine, brightly-colored uniforms and a dire shortage of modern, heavy artillery How then, over four years of relentless, attritional warfare, did it become the great, industrialized army that emerged victorious in 1918?

To show how this change occurred, the author examines the pre-war ethos and organization of the army and describes in telling detail how, through a process of analysis and innovation, the French army underwent the deepest and fastest transformation in its history.

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Breaking Point of the French Army: The Nivelle Offensive of 1917

Breaking Point of the French Army: The Nivelle Offensive of 1917 Hardcover – November 2, 2015

In December 1916 General Robert Nivelle was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the French armies fighting the Germans on the Western Front. He had enjoyed a meteoric rise to high command and public acclaim since the beginning of the war - he was a national hero. In return, he proclaimed he ‘had the formula’ that would ensure victory and end the conflict in 1917. But his offensive was a bloody and humiliating failure for France, one that could have opened the way for French defeat.

This is the subject of David Murphy’s penetrating, in-depth study of one of the key events in the history of the Great War. He describes how Nivelle, a highly intelligent and articulate officer, used his charm to win the support of French and British politicians, but also how he was vain and boastful and displayed no sense of operational security. By the opening of the campaign, his plan was an open secret and he had lost the ability to critically assess the operation as it developed. The result was disaster.

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They Shall Not Pass: The French Army on the Western Front 1914-1918

They Shall Not Pass: The French Army on the Western Front 1914-1918 Hardcover – May 19, 2012

This graphic collection of first-hand accounts sheds new light on the experiences of the French army during the Great War. It reveals in authentic detail the perceptions and emotions of soldiers and civilians who were caught up in the most destructive conflict the world had ever seen.
Their testimony gives a striking insight into the mentality of the troops and their experience of combat, their emotional ties to their relatives at home, their opinions about their commanders and their fellow soldiers, the appalling conditions and dangers they endured, and their attitude to their German enemy. In their own words, in diaries, letters, reports and memoirs - most of which have never been published in English before - they offer a fascinating inside view of the massive life-and-death struggle that took place on the Western Front.
Ian Sumner provides a concise narrative of the war in order to give a clear context to the eyewitness material. In effect the reader is carried through the experience of each phase of the war on the Western Front and sees events as soldiers and civilians saw them at the time. This emphasis on eyewitness accounts provides an approach to the subject that is completely new for an English-language publication.
The author’s pioneering work will appeal to readers who may know something about the British and German armies on the Western Front, but little about the French army which bore the brunt of the fighting on the allied side. His book represents a milestone in publishing on the Great War.

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Artillery in the Great War

Artillery in the Great War Hardcover – May 18, 2011

Artillery was the decisive weapon of the Great War - it dominated the battlefields. Yet the history of artillery during the conflict has been neglected, and its impact on the fighting is inadequately understood. Paul Strong and Sanders Marble, in this important and highly readable study, seek to balance the account.Their work shows that artillery was central to the tactics of the belligerent nations throughout the long course of the conflict, in attack and in defense. They describe, in vivid detail, how in theory and practice the use of artillery developed in different ways among the opposing armies, and they reveal how artillery men on all sides coped with the extraordinary challenges that confronted them on the battlefield. They also give graphic accounts of the role played by artillery in specific operations, including the battles of Le Cateau, the Somme and Valenciennes.Their work will be fascinating reading for anyone who is keen to understand the impact of artillery

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