Canada in the Second World War

Arms & Weapons


The artillery available to support the army fell into a variety of categories, including guns, howitzers, and mortars. Guns, so-called, fire projectiles at high velocity over relatively flat trajectories. Howitzers, in contrast, usually fire larger projectiles at lower velocity and higher trajectories in order to clear intervening obstacles. Mortars are basically infantry weapons firing “bombs” at angles greater than 45 degrees over short distances and are mainly smooth-bore weapons where guns and howitzers are usually rifled to impart a spin on projectiles in order to render them more aerodynamic, thus increasing range and accuracy. Most artillery pieces were mounted on carriages and towed between firing positions, but self-propelled guns mounted on tank chassis were also used.

Artillery operated according to two basic methods: direct and indirect fire. Direct fire was directed over open sights against a target clearly visible from the gun. This method was most common with tank and anti-tank guns, where fire had to be aimed to be effective, and could be hazardous as the gun (and its crew) was itself exposed to enemy fire. Indirect fire called for a forward observer, in communication with the guns by telephone or radio, to correct the fall of shot. This method took longer than direct fire to achieve accuracy but the guns could be better protected from counter-battery fire. It was used with heavy, medium and field guns.

Suggested Reading:

  • Leslie W.C.S. Barnes, Canada’s Guns: An Illustrated History of Artillery (Ottawa: National Museums of Canada, 1979).
  • Shelford Bidwell and Dominick Graham, Fire-Power: British Army Weapons and Theories of War 1904-1945 (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1982).
  • George G Blackburn, The Guns of Normandy: A Soldier’s Eye View, France 1944 (Toronto: McClelland, 1995).
  • Ian V. Hogg, British and American Artillery of World War 2 (London: Arms and Armour, 1978).