16mm Projects

Alan Poxon : Affût Truck

An affût-truck hauled by a Péchot-Bourdon locomotive.

The Great War has been variously described by historians as a railway war or an artillery war. Both these designations are probably true, as standard and narrow gauge railways moved vast amounts of men and materials to the Western Front and increasingly large, and numerous, guns were used to try to break the stalemate of trench warfare. An interesting feature of the conflict was the use of more than 600 railway guns, that is, artillery pieces mounted on railway rolling stock.

Many people are aware of the story of Boche Buster and Scene Shifter. This pair of naval guns was built by Armstrong Whitworth for the Japanese Navy but entered service with the British Army in 1918 as railway guns. In four months of service, the guns fired over 235 shells, weighing up to ¾ ton, distances in excess of 19 miles. Famously, King George V supervised the firing of what became known as The King’s Shot that seriously damaged the railway junction at Douai which was a hub for the movement of German troops.

However, these large, standard gauge railway guns were far from the first to enter service. Britain and France, as well as Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy, experimented with railway mounted artillery in the 1880s. Most of these armies were focussed on the idea that the next war would be highly mobile and so it was only France, with a line of defensive fortresses, who adopted railway guns in 1888. By 1900, the French Army had 48 light artillery pieces mounted on 600 mm gauge railway wagons.

These railway guns were stationed on the military narrow gauge railway in and around the fortress complexes at Verdun, Epinal, Toul and Belfort. They carried the French Army issue 120 mm field guns, or the 155 mm howitzer, but required a specially designed TAZ (tous azimuts or omni-directional) pedestal mounts that incorporated a substantial recoil damping system to prevent the railway wagon overturning when fired perpendicular to the track.

The narrow gauge vehicle used for these guns was based on a standard French Army 9 tonne well wagon with Péchot Type One (2 axle) bogies. Known to the troops as an affût-truck, the wagon featured a fold-out firing platform for the artillerymen to operate the gun, four swing-out stabilisers with ground-plates to increase stability when firing and handrails around the elevated ends for the wagon above the bogies to prevent the gun crew from falling off the wagon.

The gun arrangement on the platform wagon is variously called the Schneider-Canet, Peigné-Canet or Schneider-Canet-Peigné in contemporary documents. Schneider was an armaments manufacturer based in the town of Le Creusot whose design engineer, Gustav Canet, developed in 1897 the 120 mm field gun, known to the French military as the 120L Schneider-Canet. In 1893, General (then Colonel) Peigné experimented with the gun platform using a 155 mm howitzer.

It appears that none of these gun carriages have survived into preservation but research identified a surprising number of photographs of the guns in action. However, these images also showed an unexpected variation in design both of the gun and the platform wagon. The construction and operation of the three element recoil system was particularly difficult to understand until a colourised film from WW1 appeared on

YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9e_asl7LBKU)

This was a montage of clips of French artillery in action and it contains a few seconds of a close-up of the affût-truck in action. Slow-motion, freeze-framing and frame-grabbing the clip revealed the necessary detail to allow fellow WW1 military narrow gauge modeller Roy Plum to complete the 3d design and print of the 16mm version. As with all 3d printed models, there is a lot of cleaning up of component parts followed by liberal application of superglue to bring the model together.

This is my fourth piece of French Artillery narrow gauge rolling stock, and the third to use Péchot Type One bogies. A range of other military wagons used the same bogies, so there only remains the flat bed wagon, the large shell carrier, the 9 tonne utility wagon, the rectangular water tanker and the cylindrical water tank wagon to complete the set. But then there a number of improvised wagons, such as the various box wagon bodies, that should provide a few more hours of fun to research and to build.

Ready to start assembly with the fruits of the 3d printer.

Péchot Type One bogies and Schneider-Canet-Peigné TAZ pedestal gun mount.

Adapted Péchot 9 tonne well wagon with folded firing platform and retracted stabilisers.

Affût-truck complete with stabiliser-plates and removable brake handles stored on the elevated wagon ends.

Detail of the 120L Schneider-Canet field gun and Schneider-Canet-Peigné gun mount.

Affût-truck with the same calibre field guns carried on a standard Péchot 9 tonne well wagon and on a specialised artillery platform wagon, all using Péchot Type One bogies

November 2021


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