The Christmas Howitzer

Artill001 copy

I haven’t had a Christmas Howitzer since I was nine – and sometimes I get really nostalgic when I think back to it. It was a lovely piece and I thought the world of it. I wish I had it now

Of course it wasn’t the only artillery piece I owned. At one stage or other I remember a British 3″ AA gun on a wheeled carriage,  a 155mm split-trail howitzer, a 155 M2 “Long Tom” with a towing tractor, and a 13″ Civil War mortar. I remember being outraged when I was compelled to hand the 155 split-trail over to the Mexicans in a good-will gesture but it was a presidential decree on the promise of re-supply and the Christmas Howitzer was the result.

It came from Burlington, Vermont in 1957 and was delivered to Montreal on Christmas morning of that year, complete with ammunition. There must have been very few like it in Canada, and I really never saw an exact copy , though there was a simplified split-trail version several years later. I got the self-propelled variant with a half-track carriage and full remote firing command systems. Of course this meant greater maintenance to make sure that the electrical supply was available, but with adequate forward planning you could get enough supplies.

The operation of the piece was a political nightmare as you had to make sure that there was an adequate international crew to man it-  the US policy at the time was that an American had to be in charge of the ammunition and official permission had to come down a long chain of command before it was fired. The Royal Canadian Air Force had similar restrictions on the Bomarc missile batteries in Quebec and Ontario and the RCAF units that later were tasked with firing Genie missiles never knew if they would be released for their use. As I was born in Maryland but had lived in Canada, I was considered safe to operate it.

In any case firing was possible only after all civilians and animals had been cleared from the range. Given the terrain and nature of Montreal this more often than not meant domestic animals rather than wild ones. I believe this has changed now – I haven’t been in the place since 1959 but I think that with a noticeable increase in Quebec separatists they might not require a clear range before detonation.

In any event the howitzer functioned well – if you had electrical continuity you could lay and train it to a fine degree and the firing interlock never failed. Of course, with the easing of cold war tensions and the removal of Soviet troops from the Fulda Gap, the need for such a piece has disappeared – I hope it has gained a place in the Artillery Museum.

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2 thoughts on “The Christmas Howitzer

    1. Thank you for this. I hope that they at least got to fire them off before the launchers were dismantled. I think it would have been a good opportunity for Ottawa to get extra revenue – they could have held a national lottery with the winners getting to pick the targets. Mind you, if they were to be fired from Quebec, I don’t suppose the people in Toronto would have been very happy…

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