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Old 07-07-2009, 04:36 PM
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Default Obice da 280 K

In 1904 Japan went to war against Russia, the culmination of some years of jockeying for position in Manchuria and Korea. Few expected the Japanese to last long in battle, let alone win. As everyone knows, the war ended in humiliation for Russia the following year, with two of her fleets destroyed and her army battered. That the Japanese were victorious was partly due to Russian military ineptitude and logistical inefficiency, and Japanese acceptance of horrific casualty rates. But the Japanese were also innovative in their use of heavy artillery.
They laid siege to Port Arthur in early May 1904. In June, eighteen coastal defence howitzers of 28 cm calibre were dismantled and loaded on a ship bound for the besieging armies. Unfortunately for the Japanese, in one of the few Russian successes of the war, the ship was sunk, taking its precious cargo of artillery and hundreds of troops to the bottom of the sea. It was not until October that they succeeded in transporting another eighteen howitzers to the battlefield. After seizing a tactically vital hill near Port Arthur, during which shocking troop losses were incurred, the Japanese finally were able to shell the Port into submission, also sinking the Russian Pacific Fleet which had been bottled up for months by the Japanese Navy.

Information as to the origins of these guns is vague in most modern publications, with some sources claiming that they were of Krupp design, and possibly manufacture, despite the most un-German interrupted screw breech. It can now be shown that they were, in fact, manufactured in Japan from the start, to a British design which had originally been drawn up for the Italians! The story is as follows…
As Japan embarked on its frenetic modernisation programme after the Meiji Restoration of 1867, two arsenals were set up for the manufacture of weapons: the Tokyo Arsenal, which specialised in small arms, and the Osaka Arsenal, which specialised in artillery. In line with their policy of employing foreign specialists, the Japanese engaged the Italian Major Pompeio Grillo in April 1884 to teach them gun making. Meanwhile, the armaments firm of Sir W G Armstrong, Mitchell & Co had been producing 28cm rifled breech loading howitzers for Italy, the ties between British arms manufacturers and the Italian military and navy being particularly strong (just as similar ties were to be forged with Japan).

Consequently, the Japanese began to manufacture howitzers to the same design, presumably under license, at the Osaka Arsenal. Trial examples were started in June 1884, and production began in earnest in August 1886. This explains why the same design of 28cm howitzer was to be found with such ubiquity in the coastal defences of both Japan and Italy. In the latter nation, the weapon was designated Obice da 280. It was employed, not without effect, on the static front at the Isonzo, at least up until 1917, when several, if not most, were captured in the famous Caporetto Offensive.
Stubby, bottle-shaped weapons, their carriages were mounted on slides to absorb the recoil. These slides were, in turn, mounted on turntables, giving 360 degree traverse. In the manner of the time, they were installed in batteries to protect ports and naval bases. The prevailing thought was that their high-angle fire and 217 kg shells would be devastating against the thin deck armour of enemy battleships which, because fire-control and aiming were poor, would have to approach quite close to the coast. However, that same poor fire control makes one wonder how useful indirect-fire coast defence guns would be against moving targets, even if those targets were relatively slow battleships. What cannot be doubted is that against stationery targets, the guns were appallingly effective.

This use of such heavy artillery in the field was a new development, and called into question European strategies of relying on fortified defensive networks, particularly in Belgium and France. These had been built at great cost in the 1880s and 1890s, and were based on the assumption that the heaviest mobile siege artillery was limited by being horse-drawn, with an upper limit on calibre of around 21 cm. By dint of stupendously hard work, the Japanese had demonstrated that much larger weapons could be used on the battlefield. Yet hardly anyone in Europe took note of this - apart from the Germans and Austro-Hungarians. Japan's lesson merely spurred on their experiments with large calibre field artillery, culminating in the infamous 30.5cm Skoda Mörser and the 42 cm Big Bertha.
As for the Japanese 28 cm howitzers, they continued to be used for coastal defence, and were again pressed into service in the field when Japan rather opportunistically, and with British help, seized Tsing-Tao from Germany in 1914. After that, the guns appear to have remained in their shore batteries in Japan, mainly used for training purposes, before fading from the scene completely.

The technical performance of 28cm Siege Howitzer was as follows:
Calibre Length12
Weight of gun40.02 tons
Weight of shell215kg
Elevation-5˚ to +60˚
Traverse180˚
Max Range11.400m
Min Range1.250m
Muzzle velocity430m/sec
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