The 60-pounder Mk. I were formed into “Heavy Batteries” in the First World War operated by the Royal Garrison Artillery and used mainly for counter-battery fire (i.e. suppressing or destroying the enemy’s artillery). When the First World War began a single 4-gun battery was attached to each infantry division of the BEF as available – initial numbers restricted it to the Regular divisions 1 – 6, others were equipped with the obsolescent QF 4.7 inch Gun. From early 1915, 60 pounder batteries moved from Division to Army control. As more 60 pounders became available the 4.7 inch guns were retired.
Writers such as General Farndale occasionally refer to 60 pounders as “medium” guns, but in the First World War they were officially referred to as heavy guns.
From 30 June 1916 the War Office adopted Major-General Birch’s recommendations to increase heavy battery sizes to 6 guns, as more guns with better concentration of firepower were required on the Western Front, while minimising the administrative overhead of more batteries. Batteries in the other minor theatres appear to have mostly retained a 4-gun structure.
In the First World War the Mk I gun could fire the early 60 lb (27.3 kg) 2 c.r.h. shell 10,300 yd (9.4 km), and the later more streamlined 8 c.r.h. shell to 12,300 yards (11,200 m). Weighing 4.4 tonnes, the 60-pounder required a team of 8 horses to tow it, with a maximum of 12 possible in difficult conditions. Mechanical towing by Holt Tractors and later motor lorries took over from horses towards the end of the First World War.
At the end of the war no batteries were based within the United Kingdom, 74 batteries were in service with the BEF on the Western Front, three in Italy, 11 in Macedonia, seven in Palestine, and four in Mesopotamia. In addition 2 Canadian batteries were active on the Western Front and were the only other force using the weapon.
At the beginning of the First World War 60 pounder ammunition scale was 70% shrapnel and 30% HE. The standard shell was 2 crh, but in 1917 an 8 crh shell was adopted.
Picture: British 60-pounder field gun in action, Gallipoli, June 1915
Subsequently, after the First World War a 56-pound 10 c.r.h. shell to 15,200 yards was introduced. However, its HE content was less than 2/3 that of the various 60 lb shells and it was some 3 inches shorter.
Shrapnel was also varied with bullet weights ranging from 35 to 41 bullets/pound and total loads varying from 616 (Mk ID) to 992 (Mk I) bullets.
Chemical shells were used with 60 pounder but not smoke or incendiary.
60 pounder remained in service during the inter-war period and was used in Russia (1919) Mesopotamia 1920-21.
During the Second World War they served with the BEF in France and North Africa in medium regiments, by the South African artillery in East Africa and by an Australian battery at Tobruk. Its last combat action was in the Western Desert. 19 were with the BEF and lost in France and total British holdings were expected to be 134 guns by August 1940, most being reconditioned or repaired guns.