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57 mm infantry gun [6-veld]

Introduction

In May 1940 the standard Dutch infantry gun was the so called 6-veld. It was a 19th century light field artillery gun of the first generation of steel guns. Although not utterly useless it was outdated in virtually all aspects in 1940.

Technical description

In the 1880's the Dutch army commissions sourced the military market for new light guns for the field army, based on the new steel designs appearing in that era. Since Krupp-Schneider was the leading manufacturer of quality weapons in those days, the Dutch soon ended up testing the 5,7 cm product of this manufacturer. As off 1894 the 5,7 cm gun - designated as the 6-veld - formed the light field artillery batteries that were designated for close combat support of the infantry and cavalry units.

In the 1920's the 6-veld guns were also incorporated in the highly mobile Light Brigade [which would later be transformed to the Light Division]. The wooden wheels were however not suitable for transport behind a motorised truck. For this reason the wooden wheels of the guns for the LB were replaced by steel wheels with tubeless rubber tires [as would happen with the 7-veld guns of this unit]. As a side-effect the gun looked much more modern.

In the early years the 6-veld was one of the three prominent infantery artillery weapons, together with the 7-veld and 8-staal guns. In the interbellum it was soon recognized that the gun was underpowered and only suitable for light support. As such it was taken out of artillery units with exception of the two batteries in the Light Brigade. The 6-veld gun then became the standard [and for quite a period of time the only] support weapon of the infantry and cavalry field army units. The gun was capable of firing quite an arsenal of different ammunitions, amongst which steel armour piercing rounds.

During the 1930's the Dutch army purchasing commissions realised that a large representation of anti-tank guns would be required in a modern army. Although almost 400 Böhler AT guns would be bought, that was clearly not enough to fulfill the requirements of the army light support and AT capacity.

As a consequence of the dramatic shortage of dedicated AT guns, the 6-veld [like the 8-staal] was assigned an AT role in many outer-defence lines. But still, also in the main defence lines the shortage of modern AT guns forced the army commanders to assign the 6-veld mainly AT roles. The gun was not suitable for this role at all. Apart from the rather underpowered ammo [V0 was around 450 m/s, whereas the Böhler had a V0 of 660 m/s], the gun had a high profile and lacked any armoured-shield for protection of the gunners. These two disadvantages combined are a clear indication of the hazzards gunners had to face once the first shot was fired. Moreover, the gun staggered and kicked-back when fired after which it had to be re-aimed by means of a vizier on top of the barrel. The solid head of the AP projectile was quite blunt-shaped and fabricated of ordianry steel, which obviously did not help improve the penetrating power.

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6-Veld infantry gun

In actual combat circumstances the 6-veld performed relatively well if and when the enemy could be withheld at a considerable distance from the gun point. Although the explosive power of the HE shells was no reason for great content, the weapons were still quite useful in denying enemy infantry units to gain ground. It was capable of producing sustained rapid fire [1 round per 10-12 seconds max.] for quite some time. The high profile, poor traverse capacity and lacking gunner protection did however - also in the infantry role - proof the gun position and gun-crew to be very vulnerable. That was the reason why the guns were usually applied in prepared positions with a limited fire-window. The advantage of better protection was however often less than the disadvantage of a fixed position and a limited firing window. On many ocassions guns were easily outflanked by well trained adversaries.

The armour piercing capacities of the 6-veld ammo proved very poor. In the south-east in particular they managed to take out one or two German armoured cars [which were lightly armoured; max 14,5 mm], but the AP rounds bounced off of the armour of even the lightly armoured German tanks Pz.I and II [20-30 mm armour max.] - even at short distances. Battle reports mention that only dents of the German armour showed the point of impact. Beside a nasty knock on the door such impacts did not worry any tank-commander.

Moreover, the total lack of traverse-capacities [other than levering the gun from side to side] made the gun quite unsuitable for taking aim at moving targets as long as these targets did not approach them in a straight line [which only tends to be the case in fixed positions along a road or bridge]. If the first round missed or lacked sufficient disabling power, the second shot would become much of a challenge, for gun crews had to re-aim and traverse the gun by hand-lever. These actions made it necessary to reveal much of the vulnarable body-parts to the approaching and warned enemy. This was the main reason for plenty quick eliminitations of 6-veld gun in many theatres.

The 6-veld gun was usually transported by two or four horses. In the field the gun was manoeuvrable by four men over short distances. It was fitted with a stiff breech and undercarriage, and therefor the gun would stagger and kick-back with every shot fired. The scoop-break prevented the gun from larger recoil-action. The vizier was mounted on top of the barrel [back-eye and front-stift], which meant that the gun-aimer had to raise to the level of the barrel after each shot fired in order to re-aim the gun. A special vizier-eye was installed during the interbellum for aiming at armoured cars; this was also fixed on top of the barrel. As said, the gun was not fitted with any crew protection against bullets or shrapnel. The profile [barrel to soil] was slightly over 1 m.

The gun performance was quite acceptable for infantry-support fire. It was capable of firing 5-6 rounds a minute for a period of 4-5 minutes. Initially the ammunition rations comprised a large variaty of shells, including canister and canister-HE shells. Later the armour piercing grenade was added. In May 1940 basically two kinds of ammo were used; the HE and the AP shell. The V0 of the AP shell was about 450-480 m/s, which was quite high for a vintage gun like the 6-veld, but still considerable less than dedicated AT guns. The maximum range of the HE shells was 3,500 meter.

May war

In may 1940 no less than 206 pieces were still in use. Usually every infantry regiment had a battery of four guns in its organisation. In the Peel-Raamline the battalions that were left to defend the line [when III.Corps was evacuated to the Fortress Holland at the 10th of May 1940] each had a four gun battery at its disposal. This "reinforcement" was due to the total lack of modern artillery and AT guns in this entire defence-line. A handful of 6-veld guns were assigned in single or twin-gun batteries in the outer defence lines too.

It is very unlikely that the Germans have re-used the 6-veld guns in their ranks. There are no known indications of such use.

Specifications

Manufacturer:  Krupp & Schneider (Germany)
Calibre:  57 mm [25 calibre barrel-length]
Material:  Steel
Length barrel:  1,425 mm.
Fire rate max.:  4 - 6 rounds / minute (max. 5 min.)
Muzzle velocity:  480 m/sec. [AP]
Ammo types:  - Canister [4,5 kg]
- HE [3,91 kg]
- HE Canister [3,35 kg]
- AP
Weight:  Barrel: 186 kg.
  Under carriage: 380 kg.
  Gun: 577 kg.
Max. range:  3.500 m.
Introduction:  1894
Number available in May 1940:  206: 190 in field artillery batteries,
16 in motorised battery
Remarks:  - 2-4 horses were required for gun-traction
- crew: 5 men plus commander