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Mortier de 15 cm Mle 1838 'Crapouillot'

Trench artillery

Contributor :
Luc Malchair      http://www.fortiff.be/
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Location :
Verdun (55)
Coordinates : Lat : 49.15847 / Long : 5.37494
General comments on this surviving gun :

Identical items in the same location : 1
Items covered by this file : 1

Historic and technical information
Denomination :     15cm Mle 1838 Origin :       ( Arsenaux de l'Etat)          

Historic context :

Germany started several years before WW1 to manufacture mine launchers inspired from the learnings of the Russo-Japanese war siege battles. This idea, that gave birth to the famous minenwerfers family (starting with the 250 and 175 mm), was very fruitful for the invading armies but only convinced the allied nations when they were confronted to the destructive power and the high numbers of these weapons on the front starting to stabilize.

As soon as September 1914, the French 5th army and some units around Verdun obtained some very old bronze mortars allocated to the fortresses close defence. These weapons were descendants of the heavy mortars already used in France in Louis XIV and Napoleon armies. They were named mortiers de 15 cm Mle 1838 'à la Gomer', having been designed during the reign of the late king Louis-Philippe. As a light version of their heavier brothers of 22 cm, 27 cm and 32 cm, they had gathered glory during the Sebastopol siege in 1855 at the capture of the Malakoff redoubt..

These rustic mortars were composed with a bronze tube with a truncated cone powder chamber (designed by Mr Gomer) and fired through a hole drilled in the barrel metal/ It was linked by two big trunnions to a heavy wooden platform equipped with a rudimentary vertical aiming system (wedge). The weapon could be transported like a stretcher by its servants with long sticks inserted into side cylinders.

At the end of October 1914, 102 such mortars were firing at a low range (600 m max), low precision (30 m probable error at a 300 m range) and with an indiscreet smoke cloud their 7.6 kg hollow pig iron spherical projectiles charged with black powder that failed too often to explode ! Some improvements were found by using smokeless powders and turning to several other projectiles such as the improvised 'Niicole', bomb (assembly of cheddite high explosive packs between two wooden plates and a thin plate cylinder), the 'Moisson' system (wooden recipient filled with 4 12 cm sperical bombs or 138.2 cm spherical grenades), the Save bomb or the Cernesson one.

The use of the larger and much more cumbersome mortars was planned, but rarely made real for the 22 cm and never realized for the 27 and 32 cm. From the war start, a total of more than 250 such weapons were collected in various fortresses and sent to the fron.

The apparition of the new improvised weapons such as the very light Cellerier mortar then the reglementary 58T mortars allowed the progressive removal of these ancestors from the front where they more and mord often subject to accidents with the use of the new powders and projectiles. Some of them survived until the autumn of 1916, when the decision was taken to forbid their use. However, their old surname of 'crapouillots' (little toad"), already given in the XIXth century and inspired from the smaller size of this weapon of the family of the older and heavier mortars named 'crapauds' ('toads), survived them and remained the emblematic generic name of the French trench artillery weapons.

Technical data :

  • Complete description : 15 cm M 1838 mortar 'Crapouillot' or 'Louis-Philippe'
  • Design year : 1838
  • Calibre : 150.00 mm
  • Weight in firing position : 135 kg (70 kg tube only)
  • Weight for transportation :
  • Tube length in calibres : 0.00 Unknown
  • Grooves : 0 Smooth bore
  • Projectile weight : 7.56 kg (bombe sphérique), 10 kg (bombe Nicole), 25 kg (appareil Moisson), ...
  • Initial speed : 60 m/s (spherical bomb), 50 m/s (Nicole Bomb), 40 m/s (Moisson launcher)
  • Fire rate : 1 shot / 2 minutes
  • Range : 600 m (spherical bomb), 450 m (Nicole Bomb), 200 m (Moisson launcher)
  • Elevation range : 45 degrees
  • Direction range : None

  • Les Crapouillots 1914-1918           Pierre Waline                   Charles Lavauzelle   1965  
  • Les canons de la Victoire 1914-1918 - Tome III - L' Artillerie de Côte et l'Artillerie de Tranchée       Général Guy François                   Histoire et Collection   2010  
  • Les Crapouillots 1914-1918       Général Rouquerol                   Payot   1935  
  • Le Crapouillot, mortier de 15 cm Mle 1838 - Guerre, Blindés et Matériel Nr 108       Général Guy François                   Histoire et Collection   2014  
  • Cours d'Artillerie de Tranchée       Capitaine Bouchon                   Bourges   1918