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The field artillery revolution and the European military balance, 1890-1914

Stevenson, David (2018) The field artillery revolution and the European military balance, 1890-1914. International History Review, 41 (6). pp. 1301-1324. ISSN 0707-5332

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Identification Number: 10.1080/07075332.2018.1476396


This article analyses the origins and Europe-wide impact of France’s Canon de 75mm Modèle 1897 (75mm model 1897 cannon). A beacon of Gallic engineering prowess, it has been considered the first modern field gun. It became the standard field weapon not only of the French artillery but also of the 1917-18 American Expeditionary Force. In 1939 hundreds remained in service. Through a complex of changes – most notably a mechanism enabling the barrel to regain position after recoil while the carriage remained static – the 75mm fired much faster than its predecessors, and better protected its crew. It impelled the other Powers to follow France’s example, straining both their public finances and their manufacturing capacity, and disrupting the balance between the Continental armies. Developed and deployed in secret, it established French superiority over Germany for a decade. In the final pre-war years, however, France’s lead eroded, and the 75mm’s very success arguably became an impediment. Its history therefore illuminates the wider roles of technological innovation, domestic political pressures, and geopolitical rivalries in the pre-First World War land arms race, as well as the connections between that arms race and the breakdown of peace. Whereas in 1905 France’s artillery advantage helped deter a German onslaught, by 1914 France’s vulnerability helped encourage its neighbour to strike.

Item Type: Article
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Additional Information: © 2018 Informa UK
Divisions: International History
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D501 World War I
D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D901 Europe (General)
U Military Science > U Military Science (General)
Date Deposited: 15 May 2018 13:50
Last Modified: 20 Oct 2021 01:27

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