Something Most Uncommon on the Common

The small central Massachusetts town of Uxbridge, nestled in the Blackstone Valley about twenty minutes south of Worcester, is one of the older towns in the area, incorporated in 1727, and has a town common of exceptional beauty and historical note.  Buildings from as far back as the 18th Century surround the picturesque green, which, like so many thousands of New England towns, carries an impressive collection of memorials to Uxbridge’s sons (and now daughters) who have fought in our nation’s wars.   Alongside the beautiful Great War monument stands the cannon you see pictured above.

After a number of years researching off and on (most of it pre-internet!), a couple years ago I was finally able to identify the model of field piece that has adorned the center of my hometown for almost a century.   The gun on the common is a 10.5cm Kanone 1917, otherwise abbreviated K17.   The weapon is not a howitzer but a field gun, which fired a flatter trajectory, and was a modification of the successful 10.5cm K14.  A demand for greater range necessitated replacing the 35 caliber barrel of the K14 with a very long 45 caliber tube in the K17.   The longer and heavier barrel made movement of the gun in one piece a difficult proposition.   March ordering the K17 was accomplished by removing the tube and transporting it separately on a second limber, known as a “barrel cart”.

The K17 was a rugged and robust field gun, with a horizontal sliding block breech very similar to the venerable American M101A1 105mm howitzer (which served with the Marine Corps from before World War II into the 1990s).  The box trail, common to the period, limited traverse, but the weapon was capable of elevation to 800 mils.

The K17 proved extremely effective in combat, having a high rate of fire, and a range of nearly 17,000 meters.  It was employed extensively in the counter-battery role (artilleriebekämfungsartillerie, or AKA) as well as against infantry.   The gun was capable of firing all types of 10.5cm ammunition, including gas and chemical munitions.  Fewer than 300 were produced, and several sources list only a handful of surviving examples.  (Interestingly, none list this specific one.)

This particular piece is No. 278, as the photos show, and was manufactured by the famous Krupp firm in Essen in 1918.  The three interlocking rings, the Krupp symbol, are stamped in the upper corners on the rear of the breechblock (top image).

The K17 was among the “heavy artillery” pieces forbidden the Reichswehr by the Versailles treaty in 1919, but some apparently survived and proved effective enough as coastal artillery weapons in the Second World War.

I spoke last year with the chair of the Uxbridge Town Common Commission, who is trying to raise funds for a second repair and restoration of the cannon.   I know where a few of my dollars are going in the near future.   It is the least I can do for having crawled all over that cannon in my callow pre-artillery youth!