The Guns of Fredericia

Pictures and text by 1JMA co-founder Friis

The guns of Fredericia

Disclaimer: I’m not even close to being a “nerd” on this military timeframe, so the article below might not be the most accurate information around. I got interested in the subject as my father in law lives in Fredericia, have a huge historical library and I see the guns every time I take a walk on the ramparts. So, this is as much for my own sake, to learn more about the weapons of this period.


The siege of Fredericia in 1849 is one of the more famous Danish battles. Describing the actual war and battle in detail will be beyond the scope of this small article, instead I will point towards the excellent homepage of : Danish Military history

This short work will focus mainly on the guns used by the besieged Danish army and on the siege warfare.
The fortress city of Fredericia was heavily fortified by high ramparts and a good position with it’s back towards the water. But the fortress had been neglected and was in a sad state of disrepair

Picture 1: The walk along the Ramparts today. In 1849 they were in good fighting shape.

During the fighting of 1848 the city was occupied by Prussian troops. After the cease- fire the war started again in 1849 and by now the fortress was being put back into fighting shape by the hard working Lieutenant Colonel Lunding. The ramparts were put back in shape, gun positions were prepared and moat was, at least partially, filled with water. The german troops went up Jutland, and while the german troops marched north, the schleswigholsteiners could not just pass a fortress like Fredericia as a possible source for future counter attacks, so a siege was imminent.

The city of Frederecia lies with it's back to the small water between Jutland and Fyn, and the habour is the lowest point, so the habour is pretty good covered by the city's ramparts.

At the southern front of the city, that was particular threatened, a dam was build to make a flooded area, and a heavy blockhouse was build.

The rampant was supplied with arty. It was a huge job, as the garrison itself only had little, so most of the guns were moved in by ship from Copenhagen. It was hard work, but Lunding had a large manpower reserve that was put into good work. A large amount of inf. soldiers were transferred to the arty, as there was a lack of trained gun crews.

When the attacking army closed in, the Danish army had 6800 troops and 132 guns, but only a few of those were heavy guns. As new supplies continued to enter the town, there was a gradual change of arty on the rampant towards heavier models, and the lighter guns were put into reserve. In the end the Danish army had 175 guns inside the fortress.

The fortress was supported by heavy batteries at Strib Odde on the other side of the water and by light gunboats that operated in the shallow waters. Although far away from the site of fighting, the Strib Odde batteries heavy weapons were to be an important part of the fighting to come, as the water only is about 1300 meters from shore to shore.

The Schlesvigholsteiner army by Bonin arrived at 7 may. The besieging army lacked heavy siege guns, but started digging in. But slowly more guns arrived and a 7 week struggle between the 2 armies guns started. It was a particular siege, as the besieged army was better armed and supplied than the besieging, and continued to grow in strength during the siege.

The Danish army had a reform of the gun-park in 1834, the so called system 1834 or Fibigrers system. The experiences from the Naopleonic wars showed the Danish field arty to be way to heavy. Jacob Fibiger was, for good reasons, called the father of artillery science in Denmark. His 1834 system was the perfection of the smooth barrel muzzle loading cannons, and there was a large amount of standardisation in the equipment that made the amount of spare parts needed substantially smaller. In this system the field arty was given 3, 6 and 12 and 24-pounder iron ball guns and 12 and 24 pound shell firing guns, the fortress arty was given 24 pound iron ball guns and 84 pound shell firing guns, and the coastal arty had even heavier 36-pounder iron ball guns and 168-pounder shell firing guns. Mortars were standardised in 24, 84 and 168-pounders and a 15 inch stone mortar.( a sort of high angle shotgun, launching grapeshots of rocks, about 50 1 kg rocks, or a shower of handgrenades. ) But older weapons, dating back to 1756, were also used in the 1848-50 war.

For the 1834 system only 4 shell types were manufactured. Iron ball, canister, grenade-shells (Common shells) and incendiary shell.

The weapon systems used by both sides were quite similar, so similar that iron balls fired by one side often could be reused by the former targets.

Mortars:

The Danish army had several mortars, as did the opponents. The Schlsvigholsteiners put the mortars into better use, as they were good for area effect fire against a town, where they were less effective used by the defenders against the attackers point targets. The heavy mortars used by the Schlsvigholsteiners were the most destructive of the siege weapons, and the shells caused heavy damage to the town. But most of the civilian population was evacuated, so the effect on morale and the loss of human life of those heavy weapons was less than expected.

The besiegers tried to use their heavy mortars with increased charges to hit the harbour, but this caused breeches in the barrels of the weapons, so this method did not work.

The heaviest Danish weapon in action was the 168-pounder

Picture 2 and 3: The 168 pound Mortar

 

It was a 290 mm weapons (other sources say 280 mm). It had a max range of 1883 meters and weighted 1067 kg and it’s barrel length was 3,55 times the calibre.

A few 100 pounds, and 84 pound mortars were also used. So was 50 pound mortars. One of those stand today at the ramparts in good condition.

 


Picture 4 and 5: The 50 pound mortar

In the beginning of the battle the Danish army also used older light 10 pound mortars, but they were removed from the ramparts again and put in reserve as heavier weapons arrived.

2 light 24-pound mortars were conquered from the Schlsvigholsteiners by the 6. of July

Numbers:
When the siege started the garrison only had 20 light 10-pound mortars. When the siege was broken there was in active service 2 168-pounders, 3 100-pounders, 2 84-pounders and 5 50-pounders. In reserve was kept 4 100-pounders, 20 light 10-pounders and 5 of the heavy 15 inch rock mortars

Guns:

The fortress was supposed to have 6 of the heavy 36-pound iron ball guns, but none arrived to the city itself.

The main iron ball shooting gun of the defenders were the 24 pounder (150 mm) gun. The defending force had 10 of these heavy weapons.(although none when the siege started, they arrived later) The besiegers had 9 when they had the largest amount.

The 24-pound weapons had a max range of 1569 meters and weighted 2209 kg and the max powder charge was 4 kg. It’s barrel had a length of 17 times the calibre.

Picture 6 and 7: 2 of the 24 pound guns

The Danish forces also had lighter weapons as the 12-pounder, 6-pounder and the even lighter 3-pounder . Some of those 12 pounders were older weapons of the 1753 system. The modern 12 pounders had a maximum range of 1569 meters, weighted 781 kg and had a barrel length of 17 times the calibre. It used a max powder charge of 1,5 kg


Picture 8 and 9, The lighter 12 pounder weapons

Shell guns/howitzers.

The Danish army had 19 84-pound (230 mm) shell guns that proved highly effective in the defence. Especially in the heavy shell department, the Danish army had a large advantage, as the Schlsvigholsteiners only had 8 heavy 84-pound and 4 light 24-pound shell guns,

The 84-pounders had a max range 3138 meters and weighted 2216 kg. It was of the so called light 84 pound grenade firing gun. (there was a heavier version with a slightly longer barrel and range). Effective range was quite shorter than the maximum range, as the 84 pounders only had 30% chance of hitting a ship-sized target at 1130 meters. The max powder charge was 2,5 kg. The barrel had a length of 10 times the calibre.

 

Picture 9 and 10. The 84 pounders. The mounting for the weapons is quite clear on the last picture

Numbers:
In total amount of guns, when the siege started the Danish army had: 12 84-pound shell guns, 28 12-pound iron ball guns and 52 of the light 3-pound guns. In reserve was kept 8 6-pound field guns and 12 light 3-pound guns.

When the siege ended, there was 19 84-pound shell guns, 10 24-pound iron ball guns, 2 12-pound shell guns, 15 12-pound iron ball guns, 2 6-pound field guns, 58 light 3-pound guns and 16 espingol automatic weapons. In reserve was kept 5 84-pound shell guns, 13 12-pound iron ball guns, 4 6-pound field guns and 6 light 3 -pound guns.

The heavy battery at Strib odde that also supported the Danish operations had 8 84-pound shell guns, and 4 of the heavy 36-pound iron ball guns.

The heavy guns used on the ramparts had a maximum rate of fire of 12 rounds pr. Minute, but it was rarely that this volume of fire was used. Most guns of the fortress fired about 7-8 times a day, and 20 rounds pr day was normally the largest volume.

It was clear that the metal making skills were good by this time, as it often was the wooden carriages and not the chambers or barrels that broke due to the effect of firing heavy charges.

The Schlsvigholsteiners had quite some trouble with their shells as the 84-ponders fuse on the shell was too short so they often exploded in the air before doing damage to the fortress. The 24-pounders worked better, but did substantial less damage. But the time delay fuse ( a slow burning wooden inset in the grenade wall) was not easy to set.

Fighting

The opening bombardment by the Schelsvigholsteiners only had little military effect, but did cause quite some damage to the town. The Danish return fire was quite weak. 1045 rounds were fired into town, but the Danish guns only fired 285 rounds back. Still, the bombardment, apart from setting some houses on fire, had no military value. The Schlesvigholsteiners could not really see the effect of their fire, so they gave up on the mass shelling of living quarters.

Then the Schlesvigholsteiners tried to break the life line of the fortress, the naval supply. To do this, the Schlsvigholsteiners build new batteries, and there was heavy fighting around the Blockhouse that eventually fell. The new Schlesvigholsteiner batteries came under heavy counter battery fire by the fortress arty. The battle continued with new positions being dug closer to the fortress and heavier bombardments and counter battery fire, that according to some sources were quite lethal, and the fortress arty often proved to be stronger in these duels.

While the fortress could make due for the losses in guns and ammo, the besiegers were more in trouble and often re-used danish iron balls, as their ammo supply was quite reduced after their ammo factory in Rendsborg had an accident.

The amounts of killed and wounded by the arty would seem small by todays account, with only a few killed, on average, each day, with several more put out of action by wounds. This relatively low effect was both due to the nature of the shells fired and to the relatively long range (compared to the nature of the weapons) that the duels were fought at. The fight was a fight for arty supremacy and position, one the besieging Schlsvigholsteiner army was ill equipped to win.

Picture 11. 2 24 pounders on the ramparts

The Danish troops could move troops in and out of the city by sea as they pleased.(since the Danish Fleet commanded the sea ) This made the siege more and more like a defensive operations for the Schlesvigholsteiner army, andopened the possibility of a counterstrike.

The siege ended as a huge defeat for the Schlsvigholsteiners, as the bombardment didn’t break the fortress or stopped the naval supply. There was a small Danish breakout by 30 of June that destroyed materials for the besieger’s batteries. The army in the fortress was heavily reinforced from sea by general Rye and de Meza , who pulled in substantial amounts troops in from other locations to give a huge supremacy in fighting troops. By the 6 of July the Danish army made a large breakout and defeated the opponents in the field.

This offensive is by many seen as one of the most beautiful fought battles in Danish military history. The monument “The brave country soldier” was raised as a celebration of this, and even today the 6 of July is celebrated in Frederica.

Picture 12, the monument "Den tapre landsoldat" /"The brave country soldier"

As a interesting side note it can be mentioned that during the break out, the Danish field forces used, with success, Espingol weapons, a kind of roman candle type light automatic weapon. There was a battery with 16 weapons in the town. They were loaded with several barrels that contained between 16 to 32 small calibre balls (around 15 mm), with charges of gunpowder in between. (not far from the modern metal storm type weapons) Once a barrel was lighted, it fired all rounds rapidly. For reloading, the barrel was changed. The Espingols were quite short ranged, with a effective range of about 125 meters (between 375 and 500 meters for the more advanced types with rifles barrel) , but the rate of fire was for it’s time, quite ferocious.

Again, I would like to point to the excellent homepage of Danish Military History Where this article can be found.

Also, the Danish army’s rocket arty was in use on the 6 of July and fired approx. 10 warheads from an 8-barrelled launcher. The infantry of this time was also equipped to some degree with primitive rifle grenades, the rifle incendiary warhead.

After the battle, the Danish army conquered 5 168-pound mortars, 2 24 -pound mortars, 8 84-pound howitzers, 3 24-pound howitzers, 7 24-pound Iron ball guns and 5 light field pieces.

Sources:

1) A.Hemmingsen: Fredericias belejring og befrielse
2) Ove L Farntzen: Dansk landartilleri 1400-2000
3) Tøjhusmuseets bog om treaarskrigen 1848-49-50
4) Generalstabens bog af 1877 om den Dansk Tyske krig
5) Politikens Danmarks historie
6) Danish Military History Homepage

 

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