The ‘Waterloo’ Gun
Bronze Light 6-Pdr Smooth Bore Field Gun, 1796
A light gun with a long history
The first light pattern of bronze 6-pdr dates back to as early as 1757 when Colonel William Belford of the Royal Artillery proposed a new design. Appointed Commandant of the Royal Arsenal the following year, Belford rose to the rank of general before his death in 1780, by which time his light 6-pdr guns were the standard field pieces, serving alongside the even lighter 3-pdr. The design evolved further under Major (later General) Thomas Blomefield, who was appointed ‘Inspector of Artillery and Superintendent of the Royal Brass Foundry’ the same year Belford died. A stickler for rigorous quality control, one of Blomefield’s first acts was to inspect and condemn 496 newly cast pieces as unsuitable for service, which represented almost a quarter of Britain’s annual production.
This piece follows the Blomefield Pattern and was cast in 1796 by Francis Kinman, at his foundry in Shoe Lane in the City of London, which was contracted to cast guns for the Board of Ordnance. Blomefield’s design was very similar to Belford’s, with both being 5 feet (1.52m) in length, but Blomefield subtlety changed the proportions between the reinforces and astragals (decorative rings) arranged along the barrel. The lack of an ogee (a moulded ring) on the front of the first reinforce ring, rising immediately after the Royal Cipher, indicates this is a Blomefield pattern piece. The 6-pdr’s barrel changed little throughout the Napoleonic Wars, and even the Crimean War (1854-55), with the last known barrel being cast in 1862.
The barrel may have remained consistent, but it was a change in carriage design that would make the 6-pdr one of the most useful pieces in the British armoury. The block-trail system was introduced by General Thomas Desaguliers and included a complementary limber and ammunition wagon, all with large wheels of a common size. His concept was based on a French gun carriage captured in 1761 and gave significant advantages over the then current British bracket carriage system.
Replacing the two parallel trail sides, linked by cross pieces, with a single baulk of timber in line with the gun barrel, the block-trail’s reductions in weight and obstructions gave greater ease of movement for the gun detachments. The system was tested in 1776 and first applied to a light 6-pounder the following year. So successful was the basic design that, with improvements, it became the universal pattern for all British field artillery and that of many foreign armies, lasting into the 1870s when steel began to replace wood in carriage construction.
No lightweight on the battlefield
When the first troops of the Royal Horse Artillery were formed in 1793, the light 6-pdr on a block-trail carriage system proved ideal, providing a piece manoeuvrable enough for gun teams to keep pace with the galloping cavalry they were intended to support. The 6-pdr remained the standard British piece for both Field and Horse batteries until the gradual introduction of the 9-dr in the Peninsular War of 1808–1814.
Frequently referred to as ‘The Waterloo Gun’, this 6-pdr is certainly representative of the guns that faced the massed French columns across the valley on the 18th June 1815. By the time of Waterloo, the light 6-pdr was largely restricted to the Royal Horse Artillery, but there was a great deal of variety amongst the 6 troops of the RHA present on that day. The standard complement of a troop was 5 guns and 1 howitzer, but Major Bull’s I Troop was equipped solely with 5.5inch howitzers, which he used to great effect in the defence of the farm of Hougoumont.
The gun components of the G and H Troops (under the famous Captain Mercer and Major Ramsey respectively) were issued with the heavier 9-pdrs, leaving just three troops (F, E and 2nd Rocket Troop) with fifteen 6-pdr guns between them. Records indicate that both light and heavy patterns of 6-pdrs might be issued to a troop simultaneously, (the difference in length was little more than 2 inches / 50mm), so the number of Light 6-pdrs present might have been reduced still further. But there still remains the tantalising prospect, that this piece helped Napoleon meet his Waterloo.
Classification: Field Gun
British Service: 1793 - 1862
Calibre: 3.67 in (93 mm)
Action: Muzzle loading
Ammunition: Round shot, Canister and Spherical Case
Rate of fire: 2 rounds per minute
Effective Range: 800 - 900 yards (732 – 823 m) with Round Shot
Maximum range: 1700 yards (1554 m)
Carriage: Block trail