Saxon Artillery 1810 – 1814.

The Saxon artillery arm was completely modernised in 1810. The new system was designed to be compatible with the System XI/M1808 French equipment. The new Saxon artillery could use the same ammunition as the new French guns.  Like the French, the Saxons opted for three types of gun for their field artillery – a 6pdr. gun; an 8 pdr. howitzer and the 12pdr. gun. I will not go on at length about these guns as Stephen Summerfield has covered the subject extensively and there are now several books and plates illustrating and explaining the system. I have based these guns not only on information supplied by Stephen but also on documents supplied by the Donner Saxon Museum.  I visited the museum some years ago and it was a model of the Saxon howitzer in a display case there that peaked my interest in their artillery system. It was clear just by looking at the model that the parentage of this piece was the French System XI equipment.

There is some discussion at present concerning the Saxon Caisson for this artillery system. Several German contacts have suggested recently that the 1810 caisson was never brought into service and only limited numbers were built. They assert that the previous Saxon caisson, similar to the Gribeauval caisson, remained in service. This may be correct but the information supplied by the Donner museum is that the new M1810 caisson was already in use with the Saxon batteries when they went into Russia in 1812. In fact according to the information supplied by them, the M1810 caissons that went into Russia and those in use in 1813 were slightly different. The earlier versions seem to have had the drivers sitting on a box at the front of the carriage, while the ones built for the German campaign in 1813 had the drivers sitting on the horses in the French style. The most interesting thing about this caisson is that it took the ideas of the French System XI caisson to a new plane. It was a large caisson and all the ammunition stored in it was containerised for easy storage and movement.

When I commissioned the Saxon equipment, Stephen Summerfield was very keen to have models of the 4 pdr. battalion gun and the shell gun made (similar to the Russian licorn). These guns belonged to the artillery system predating the M1810 equipment but remained in use as battalion guns and as howitzers in the horse artillery. I could understand the reasoning behind the 4 pdr. but was less convinced about the  need for the shell gun. What finally persuaded me to commission both pieces was the fact that the carriages for the two guns were almost identical so I could get away with one carriage and two barrels. There was also the fact that the shell gun was in use until 1811 and was obviously considered ‘of use’ as the pieces were not decommissioned. Several were captured when Dresden fell to the Allies.  Stephen believes that the horse artillery used the shell guns until sufficient numbers of the new howitzers became available.

When I did the research for these guns there was a particular part of these guns that I could not understand. Both guns had what looked like a spindle or rolling pin lying on the trail but attached to the rear of the barrel by two cords. An existing example in the Rotunda Artillery Museum in London confirms this odd part of the gun just lying loosely on the top of the trail of the gun. I spent a weekend researching this and eventually found a fascinating answer in a German website. These guns belonged to a family of cannon designated as ‘Quick firing.’ The loading process was hastened by using gravity to help in loading the piece. Apparently the process was as follows –

The barrel seems to have been held in place by some kind of catch. When this catch was released the greater weight of the rear of the gun barrel would cause it to tilt towards the ground pushing the mouth of the barrel skywards. The ‘spindle’ attached to the back end of the barrel would then also be pulled by the cords along the trail until it met a wooden board fixed to the carriage just behind the gun barrel. Once the spindle came up against the board it held the gun barrel in position at an angle of 45 degrees. The charge and ball could then simply be dropped down the barrel without the need to tamp the round into place at the bottom of the tube.   The gun barrel could then be pulled back to the horizontal position simply by grabbing the spindle and pulling back on it.

The Saxon guns were traditionally painted in black and yellow. The woodwork was painted in an oily paint similar to creosote. The metal work was painted yellow. I have visited the Konigstein fortress and I’ve seen the guns displayed there.  I can only conclude that the yellow used to paint the guns nowadays is a modern synthetic substitute for the real thing, as they are painted a startling bright yellow. One of my customers described the colour scheme as ‘bumblebee artillery.’ No, the real colours must have been more muted than this as natural pigments were used. I suggest using a brown ochre for a more natural yellow.

The M1810 guns however, may not have conformed to this colour scheme.  The one surviving gun easily accessible to researchers is displayed in the Copenhagen military museum. From the photos I have seen it is a 12pdr. It has bronze, unpainted metal work. Some have argued that this metal work must have been added at a later stage and is not original. My answer to this is that there is no solid proof for this theory. The M1810 guns were a new artillery system and there is a strong possibility that these three guns may have been designed with bronze metalwork. The bronze only appears on the guns; the caisson and limber for the system conform to the traditional colours that I will discuss in a moment. If the only existing example of a gun has bronze metalwork we cannot dismiss the possibility that this was indeed the way they were designed just because the traditional gun colours were black and yellow.

All the cannon in the M1810 system had brown leather aprons protecting the elevating mechanism for the gun barrels.

A German customer recently informed me that there is a second gun from this system in existence in one of the German army museums. It is supposedly a 6pdr.  gun. I have not had a chance to follow this up but if any of you do have solid information on this ‘other’ gun, I would love to know where it is stored and whether it has bronze metalwork. Until I have solid proof to the contrary, I will paint my M1810 guns with bronze metalwork. The shell gun and four pdr. will have the traditional yellow finish to the metalwork. Note that the bronze metalwork was only on the gun carriage for the M1810 guns. The wheels were all black including the metalwork and the little mudguards over the hub of the wheels. The same is true for the caisson and limber. Indeed the limber seems to have been all black with the exception of the padded seat over the ready box on the limber that was beige.

The caisson had black undercarriage and wheels. The main body of the carriage was mid-blue and the lid of the caisson was a reddish-brown colour.

I have limited numbers of an information document with colour illustrations by Norman Swales and compiled by Stephen Summerfield and Ged Cronin. It runs to three sheets, two with coloured pictures of the equipment and one page with a written synopsis of the system. I’m not sure whether I can get any more copies of these but they are available for £10 each while supplies last.