The 7.5cm Schutztruppe Mountain Gun
Photos by C Dale


In 1904 Ehrhardt designed a new 75mm mountain gun using the world's first variable recoil system. Variable recoil is still a feature of modern artillery pieces. The Ehrhardt 1904 model was never used by the regular German army and its issue was limited to twelve guns for the Schutztruppe of German South West Africa.

Luckily all twelve original guns still survive. Photos of four of the Schutztruppe mountain guns are shown below. Those of Gun No.7 in the Imperial War Museum in London are by Chris Dale, and those of the three guns at Pretoria and the South African National Museum of Military History in Johannesburg are by MC Heunis. Also on this page are contemporary prints showing how the guns were transported and deployed. These were originally published in  "Gebirgs- und Kolonialartillerie" by Generalmajor z.D. R. Wille (Berlin 1910) and have kindly been shown to us by Holger Kotthaus. Please respect the owners' generosity in sharing these images with us by not reproducing them without prior permission. Underneath the photographs, MC Heunis and Vincent Wratten tell the full story of the Schutztruppe Mountain Guns. 

(Click on the pictures to enlarge)






The caption and brief history of Gun No.7 on display at the Imperial War Museum in London.   A view of Gun No.7 showing the the unique variable recoil system. Note that this gun does not have the removable metal gun crew shield as described below.   Another view of the recoil system of the gun.
A view of the length of the gun with the trail extended.   A view of the gun from the rear of the trail.   A close up view of the trail end spade which was dug into the ground to prevent further recoil.
A close up view of the breach of the gun. The brass plate reads "Rheinische - Metallwaaren & Maschinenfabrik - Düsseldorf- Nr.7" meaning it was made at the Rhineland Metalware and Machine Factory in Dusseldorf in 1908, being the seventh breech made there- therefore known as Gun No.7.   A view of the brass plate halfway along the length of the rear trail. The plate reads "Rheinische - Metallw & Maschinenfabrik - M1908 No. 5 - Düsseldorf" meaning it was made at the Rhineland Metalware and Machine Factory in Dusseldorf in 1908, being the fifth similar part made there.   The barrel of the gun showing an engraved imperial eagle.
A view of the gun from the front. Note the rifled grooves in the muzzle.   A view of the gun from the left side. Note the gunners' seats folded on top of each other.   A gunner's view of the gun showing the breech and the folded gunners' seats.
A close up view of the breech system of the gun.   Another view of the breech.   Another close up view of the gun showing the wheel axle.
Gun No.1 on display at the South African Museum of Military History. Note this gun has it's trail in the retracted position and still has its foldable shield. A further optional extension could be added to the top of the shield.   The top of the breech of Gun No.1. The markings read the same as for Gun No.7 above but of course with "Nr.1" instead of "Nr.7".   Another close up view of Gun No.1. The markings "7,5cm. - Gew. m.V. 105 Kg."m refer to the calibre of the gun and presumably the weight of the barrel alone. The gun could be split into five loads for carrying on pack animals such as mules or camels.
Another 7.5cm Schutztruppe mountain gun. This one is on display at the Union Buildings, Pretoria and so may be either Gun No.4, 6 or 10.   Another view of the previous gun.   Another 7.5cm Schutztruppe mountain gun on display at the Union Buildings, Pretoria, which again may be either Gun No.4, 6 or 10. This particular gun looks in a sorry state of repairs. Happily the three guns at Pretoria are currently being restored as this article is being written.
A 7.5cm Schutztruppe mountain gun in firing position with trails extended. These prints were originally published in "Gebirgs- und Kolonialartillerie" by Generalmajor z.D. R. Wille (Berlin 1910) and have kindly been shown to us by Holger Kotthaus.   A 7.5cm Schutztruppe mountain gun in firing position with trails retracted.   A 7.5cm Schutztruppe mountain gun as it would have been towed by a horse with the limber (ammunition cart).
The limber 7.5cm Schutztruppe mountain gun shown with an open ammunition case.   The gun could also be dismantled into three parts to be carried by horses. The first horse carries the wheels, axle, shield, bore brush and gun laying bar.   The second horse carrying the gun cradle and laying instruments.
The third horse carries the barrel, tools and other equipment for laying the gun.   A 7.5cm Schutztruppe mountain gun as it would have been towed by a horse without the ammunition cart.   Another print of a horse carrying the barrel and lighter equipment.

The Story of the Schutztruppe 7.5cm Mountain Gun
MC Heunis and Vincent Wratten

The two small guns in front and one east of the Union Buildings are 7,5 cm Ehrhardt model 1908 mountain guns (German: 7,5 cm Gebirgskanone L/17 M.08, or short: 7,5 cm Geb L/17 M.08), produced by the Rheinische Metallwaaren und Maschinenfabrik of Düsseldorf in Germany. Their German designer, Ehrhardt, was known for his innovative ideas and his 15-pounder Quick Firing (Q.F.) gun was the first long recoil gun issued to the British Army. The Imperial German Army, although it possessed no mountain artillery units in Europe, found a use for such units in the German colonies and purchased mountain guns from both Krupp and Ehrhardt for this purpose. In the colonies these guns proved of great value in mountainous terrain and were also later pressed into normal field gun and infantry support roles during the First World War.

In 1904 Ehrhardt produced a very advanced design - a mountain gun which had a ‘variable recoil’ mechanism, possibly a first in the world of artillery. By the early 1900's, most guns produced had some sort of recoil mechanism which greatly increased the rate of fire by not only absorbing recoil, but also bringing the barrel back to its original firing position ready for re-loading. A problem was however encountered when a high elevation was demanded, as the breech would recoil into the ground or the trail of the carriage. Ehrhardt realised that the higher the angle of fire, the less the recoil and came up with a solution, variable recoil, which is still a feature of modern artillery pieces. In other words, the distance the barrel of the gun recoiled was determined by the angle of elevation, which resulted in a versatile and stable firing platform. Further stability was obtained by using the weight of two gunners who were given small metal folding seats each side of the trails.

Ehrhardt seemed to favour pole trails for his designs, and these little mountain guns were no exception; its trail consisted of three tubular sections, two at the front and one at the rear. This arrangement made for lightness and if the rear part was folded up, a pair of shafts could be inserted into the Y of the frame for horse towing. Another reason for this arrangement of the carriage was to allow more elevation if the rear pole was left disconnected. Should the gun be towed over long distances, then a small limber was provided and provisioned with some ready rounds for quick deployment. The gun could also, as with most mountain artillery, be carried on the backs of pack animals and for this function it could be broken down into five subassemblies. A closer look at the carriage will reveal several quick release points.

Because of the recoil mechanism, the crew could remain next to the gun throughout firing and protection was given to them by a large folding shield. This shield could also be disassembled and consisted of seven pieces. There is photographic evidence of a shield extension on at least one gun, but this might have been a field modification. At first the shields had a thickness of 3.5 mm but this was later reduced to 3 mm to save on weight

In total twelve guns of this design was supplied to the Schutztruppe in German South West Africa and were grouped into three batteries of four guns each. Reports also exist of two more pieces being in reserve in Germany, together with a further gun that was used for test purposes at the factory. The 7,5 cm (M.08) replaced older mountain guns of 7,0 cm (M.98) and 6,0 cm (C75) calibre. In German hands they saw action during various engagements and were found to be a very useful addition to their artillery park which mostly consisted of older types. Guns of this type were also supplied to the Portuguese colonial forces in Angola (1906) and to the Dutch East Indian Army. A later development, the M.11, was supplied to Norway and was still in service when that country was invaded by Nazi Germany in 1940. An interesting occurrence happened at the battle of Naulila in Southern Angola during December 1914 when German M.08s came up against similar Portuguese weapons. The artillery of both sides was reported to have performed well.

All twelve German guns were surrendered to the South African Union Defence Force (UDF) at Khorab in July 1915 and were brought to South Africa as trophies. At this juncture it came to light that light artillery pieces were needed for the UDF’s campaign in German East Africa and of the twelve, six pieces in better condition were selected and sent to fight against their former owners. In German East Africa they were used until 1917, when they were withdrawn due to poor condition and returned to South Africa.

Fortunately, possibly due to their small size, all twelve guns have survived although most are not in a very good condition. It is thought that they were originally painted in a sand colour when delivered to the Schutztruppen, but most now sport other colour schemes. Their current locations are as follow:

Nr. 1 South African National Museum of Military History, Saxonwold, Johannesburg (ex Durban)
Nr. 2 Bloemfontein Law Courts
Nr. 3 Was seen at the Alte Feste, Windhoek, Namibia in the early 1970's, it has since been reported to be at the Museum of Military Technology ("Wehrtechnische Studiensammlung") in Koblenz, Germany
Nr. 4 Union Buildings, Pretoria
Nr. 5 The View, Transvaal Scottish HQ, Parktown, Johannesburg
Nr. 6 Union Buildings, Pretoria
Nr. 7 Imperial War Museum, London, United Kingdom
Nr. 8 Bethal Museum
Nr. 9 Bloemfontein Law Courts
Nr. 10 Union Buildings, Pretoria
Nr. 11 Warrior's Gate MOTH Shellhole, Durban
Nr. 12 Ermelo War Memorial

To conclude this brief survey, it can be stated that these guns were "state of the art" pieces when introduced in the early 1900's and represent an important milestone in Twentieth Century artillery development. An up to date breech mechanism, advanced recoil system and a well thought out carriage ensured that they stood out above other mountain artillery of the period. They might not have been as large or as powerful as the field artillery of the day, but used within their original role they would have been exceptional weapons.

The following specifications apply to this gun:

Calibre: 7.5cm
Barrel Length: 127.5cm
Depression/elevation with folded trail: -7 to 38.5 degrees
Depression/elevation with extended trail: -7 to 30 degrees
Traverse: 2.5 degrees (left and right)
Weight in firing position: 529 kg
Weight of projectile: 5.3 kg
Muzzle velocity: 300 m/sec
Maximum Range: 5,750 m

Chamberlain P. & Gander T. Infantry, Mountain and Airborne Guns (World War 2 Fact Files) Macdonald and Janes's, London, 1975
Hall D. D. German Guns of World War I in South Africa S A Military History Journal, Vol. 3 No. 2, December 1974
L'ange G. Urgent Imperial Service South African Forces in German South West Africa 1914 - 1915 Ashanti Publishing, Pretoria, 1991
Monick S. Dan Pienaar Gun Park Launches Museum into 21 st Century Militaria 22/2, 1992

Many thanks also to the SANDF Archives and the South African National Museum of Military History Library for their assistance.


Please contact me here if you have more information or photos on this topic, especially if you have photos of the other surviving Schutztruppe Mountain Guns. 

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