par Jean-Louis Vial

The platform of battery

During sieges the batteries of mortars were installed on wooden platforms and protected by a parapet as built for cannons but without embrasures.

The construction of a mortar battery began by the construction of the parapet that measured 3 toises thick and 7 1/2 pieds high. This parapet was made of earth and bundles of wood called in French "fascine", the workers took the earth in the front of the battery making there a small ditch and they made alternately a coat of fagots and a coat of earth. The pioneers laid down the bundles of wood according to their length in the width of the parapet, they fixed them with stakes, likewise they put fagots in cuff, that was to tell laid down according to their length along all sides of the parapet equally fixed with stakes.

To construct the platform the workers began packing the earth to give a slope of four pouces from front to rear. The floor was usually composed with wood beams in 7 or 9 pouces square and 6 to 10 pieds length ( according to the piece) redoubled in cross, beams were fixed by wood stakes and interstices were filled in with earth just above girders level. The distance between two mortars was of 15 or 16 pieds.

Loading implements for a mortar

A rammer witch had the same gauge than the mortar to force earth and forage which covered the powder.
A iron scraper of 2 pieds length with at the other end a small spoon to clean the bore and the chamber of the mortar.
A small spoon to clean more particularly the powder chamber.
A wooden knife of 1 pied length to squeeze earth around the shell.
A gimlet to clean the vent of the mortar.
Some wooden quoins.
Two shot firers, called in French "boutefeu", that had wick lightened on both ends.
A spade.
A stretcher to carry shells or hooks with a wooden stake to carry shells by its "ears".
Five good handspikes to serve quickly the mortar in battery.

Loading implements were tidied ahead the mortar against the retaining wall of the parapet. On right hand three handspikes, a stretcher, a spade and a rammer. On left hand two handspikes, a scraper, a wooden knife, aiming quoins and a hoe peak. The two shot firers were raised back of the mortar at 9-10 pieds of the platform.

Shell was a hollow iron globe filled with a powder bursting charge that was exploded by a time wooden fuse.

Loading implements for pierrier

The implements used for pierrier were the same as for mortar, it was necessary to add baskets of 15 to 20 pouces in diameter by 20 pouces in high and wooden trays that had a slightly inferior diameter than the caliber of the pierrier, and at 10-15 pas behind the battery four dump wagons filled with stones to fill 60 baskets that were necessary for each pierrier.

Firing manoeuvre

Within each artillery battalion or brigade were constituted companies of bombardiers specialised in the implementation of mortar and pierrier pieces.
In December 1756 there existed 30 bombardier companies of 50 men each, in November 1758 the companies were reduced to 16 but their strength raised to 100 men by company. November 1761 saw the creation of 3 brigades for the service of the navy to secure coasts, each of these brigades had a bombardier company.

To serve the mortar the crew was of five men including the officer.
The officer having ruled the powder charge which was necessary, the soldier at left and ahead went to get the black powder to the reserve, he transported it in a small bag or his hat, he put this powder in the chamber of the mortar, after that the officer ordered to cover it with forage that he made packed it with a rammer, the soldier covered forage with two or three earth shovelfuls also packed. Meanwhile the two bombardiers placed at the rear were going to get the shell with a stretcher or a stake with a hook to hang it by its "ears", they put down the shell into the bore of the mortar, placing it straightest that it was possible, the fuse up. The first soldier at right put earth in the mortar while the soldier at left with a knife squeezed the shell to fix it in the right position. After that each men took a handspike to install the mortar in the firing axis. The officer ruled the tilt of the mortar, the two soldiers ahead passed their handspike under the bulge of the mortar to lift it or to decline it, the soldier at left and rear took aiming quoins to put them under the bulge of the mortar following indications of the officer. After that a soldier pull back the protection of the fuse, another cleaned the vent of the mortar with a gimlet and filled it with very fine black powder. Then the two soldiers at the right took shot firers, the first lighted the fuse while the second lighted the mortar. Immediately after the shot the soldiers at ahead straighted up the mortar vertically with handspikes, and the two soldiers at rear clean promptly the bore and the the chamber of the mortar, the officer having ruled the powder charge which was necessary .......

To aim mortar the officer used a quadrant with a pendulum to measure the degree of elevation of the mortar, the soldiers passed their handspike under the bulge of the mortar to lift or to decline it, they put aiming quoins under the bulge of the mortar following the indications of the officer. To kept the firing axis despite the height of the parapet there were two small stakes sticked at the top of the parapet, after each shot the men put this landmarks and the mortar back in alignment swinging the mortar on its platform with handspikes.

The powder reserve was placed at 15-20 pas behind the battery the soldiers accessed there by a trench protected by wooden boards or fagots and covered with earth or skins from oxen that the army ate and that artillery officers took care to salvage. Shells were tidied near the powder store at 5-6 pas.

The service of pierrier pieces required only three men, the sequences of firing maneuvres were similar that of mortar.


Jean-Louis Vial