No. 1 gun: Artillery Museum rescues historic howitzer
September 19, 2013
FORT SILL, Okla. -- The Pack 75mm howitzer has been a familiar artillery piece at Fort Sill for many years. The weapon was accepted by the Army in 1927 after several prototypes were built in the experimental stage. And, even though it was being used by the Army and the Marine Corps, only 91 were built before 1940. It was not used in combat until the United States entered World War II. After it was accepted into service the early experimental models faded into obscurity, until one was discovered by Zane Mohler, Army Field Artillery Museum exhibit specialist here.
"I went to Fort Meade, Md., to make arrangements to ship a World War I Mörser 16 howitzer back to Fort Sill. I noticed they had a Pack 75mm howitzer sitting in the warehouse. The serial number plate had been painted over and when we scraped that clean, it read 'Watervliet Arsenal, NY, Pack 75mm howitzer, 1923E, Experi-mental Model No. 1,'" said Mohler. "I called our museum director, Gordon Blaker, to let him know they had that prototype model with wooden wheels. So he worked with the folks at Fort Meade for us to acquire this historic artillery piece."
Mohler explained that since it did not meet Meade's requirements they were willing to let it go.
"Fort Meade is downsizing and their mission was not artillery, so the Center for Military History told them to send it to Fort Sill, because artillery is our mission," he said.
"Once we got it back here we disassembled it to begin restoration. We sent the wooden wheels up to Hanson Wheel & Wagon Shop in South Dakota, where they cleaned and respoked our wheels to restore them. We did the rest of the disassembly here," Mohler said. He said they carefully broke the howitzer down to the minimum parts and documented all the pieces.
"It's complete and all the serial numbers match. Every part that had a serial number had EXP1 stamped on it. We only found one unnumbered piece that was missing and that was the shell extractor."
As Mohler and his team disassembled the Model 1923, they compared it to the 1943 Pack 75mm howitzer they use for military history demonstrations and noticed some differences.
"One of the changes they made over the years was in the rifling of barrel. The 1923 model had more lands and grooves in the barrel. By the time they got to the 1943 model there were fewer lands and grooves. I don't know why; they just did," Mohler said. "The outside shape of the breech block stayed pretty much the same, but the chamber was different. The original one had a smoother rounded slope into the bore, whereas the later models were slanted at a 45-degree angle into the chamber."
"The Pack 75mm howitzer was a very effective weapon that could be broken down into seven groups and carried on pack mules. Even when they later began using pneumatic tires, which were heavier than the wooden wheels, they could be loaded on mules. It made it easier to move through mountainous locations," he said. "Four Soldiers can disassemble and reassemble it in less than five minutes. Once assembled, it was light enough that four men could move it around. We have actually disassembled out demonstration piece in three minutes and reassembled it in about two minutes."
Mohler said the Model No. 1 howitzer is now on display in the museum. But before it was put on display, Mohler made sure it was in working order. "Once we got it reassembled we fired two test rounds, just to make sure it worked and we did everything properly. There was quite a bit of nostalgia to be firing the "No. 1 gun" that is 90 years old. That made all the hard work worthwhile," he said.
The Experimental Model No. 1 Pack 75mm howitzer can be seen on display at the Army Field Artillery Museum in the military timeline. The museum is open Tuesdays through Saturdays, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is located on Randolph Road at Fort Sill. For more information call 580-442-1819 or visit http://sill-www.army. mil/famuseum/.