The French 75

French 75mm quick-firing gun

You may recognise the gun in this photo as one of the large objects which confront you as you enter IWM London’s famous atrium. It is our French 75mm quickfiring field gun.

And from summer 2014, it will be in a completely different environment, our new First World War Galleries, and helping us to tell new stories. Crucially, together with other objects large and small, it will show the tremendous shock of the first few months of war and explain why armies took to trenches as a practical response to the destructive power of modern weapons.

Indeed the 75 was the weapon that started trench warfare. The ferocious barrages from these guns caused appalling casualties in the opening months of the fighting in 1914, raining down shrapnel on the Germans in the ‘Miracle of the Marne’ and forcing them to retreat and dig trenches. The Allies, in turn, dug in opposite them. Over three years of trench warfare on the Western Front followed.

But the 75 has other stories to tell – technological, cultural and social. It had a revolutionary recoil system which meant it could fire a then astonishing fifteen rounds per minute. The Soixante Quinze captured the French public imagination, assuming the kind of iconic status we now reserve for the Spitfire. This ‘wonder of the war’ was celebrated in patriotic campaigns, in verse and even inspired a cocktail, the Soixante Quinze, allegedly created at Harry’s Bar in Paris. And as one of my colleagues discovered, a song was written in its honour:
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