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Three Inch Hotchkiss Mountain Gun

By Doug Howser 

The 3 inch Hotchkiss Mountain Gun

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The 3 Inch Hotchkiss Mountain Gun was a small, breech loading cannon  intended for use as a pack gun or with limber as a light field gun. The gun and accessories could be packed on three mules with the ammunition mules carrying 16 rounds each. A set of shafts and harness was packed with the gun  for pulling in smooth country. A limber containing 32 rounds was available for using the weapon  in a light field gun  role


While the 1.65” mountain gun had proved a successful design for the firm, Hotchkiss set about developing a larger gun capable of firing a shrapnel round. A weapon that could compete in the world marketplace against similar weapons produced by the Krupp consortium of Germany. Tested by the U.S. government, the gun saw no use with the US army intill the Spanish American War. At the outbreak of the conflict, John J. Astor received permission to raise a mountain battery armed with six of these guns to serve in the war. This the “Astor Battery” fought with distinction at the Battle of Manila. Later we used these guns in the Philippine Insurrection.

Previous to our intervention in Cuba, the U.S. based  Friends of  Cuban Libre organization  had been able to acquire a couple of  these guns in the United State. Smuggled in by “filibustering “ expeditions, the guns were manned by North American “Expedicionarios”. These guns fought in battles at Cascorra, Guaimaro, Jiguani, and Victoria de las Tunas.


The 3 Inch Hotchkiss gun was a well made, simple design that proved itself capable on the battlefield. The 3 inch caliber gave the weapon destructive firepower  far greater than the 1.65 Inch gun. Several times  with the Cuban forces it bested Spanish Krupp guns. In later U.S. service some of  these guns were converted from friction primers to center fire primers and smokeless powder propellant.

The guns did, however, have an absolutely vicious recoil. Even with the rope brakes provided to control recoil, these guns were known to turn summersaults. I have examined one of these guns that had the carriage trail starting to break in half at the elevating screw transom. No doubt caused by the stress of recoil.


3 inch Hotchkiss Gun in section

Total Weight:
570 pounds
4000 yards ( 2 1/4 miles)


Total length of tube:
3.76 feet
Length of bore:
3.25 feet
Travel of projectile:
3.02 feet
3 inches
216 pounds
Twist of Rifling, uniform:
1 in 25.59 cals.
Muzzle velocity:
870 feet per second


Weight, complete:
332 pounds
Length of carriage body:
52.75 inches
Weight of carriage body:
205 pounds
Weight of sponge and rod:
4.5 pounds
Weight of two wheels:
123 pounds
Height of trunnion axis above ground:
23.7 inches
Diameter of wheels:
37.4 inches
Track of carriage:
28.35 inches
Vertical field of fire:
+ 20 degrees, - 10 degrees


Shell Types for the 3 inch Hotchkiss Cannon

The 3 Inch Hotchkiss Mountain Gun could fire three types of projectiles: common shell, shrapnel, and canister. Common shell is an explosive projectile that explodes on impact, set off by a percussion fuze. It is used against personnel or fortifications. Shrapnel is an anti-personnel round used at ranges beyond 500 yards. It air bursts after a given amount of time, triggered by a time fuze. Ideally, shrapnel would burst over the enemy troops, showering them with lead balls and fragments. Canister is a close range anti-personnel round. It consists of a brass “tin can” filled with hardened lead balls. When fired canister rips open at the muzzle spraying a fan shaped pattern of canister balls into the enemy. Originally the cartridge was fired by a separate friction primer. Later guns had a firing pin allowing a completely self contained cartridge

Weight of cartridge-case, empty:
1.25 pounds
Weight of charge:
14 ounces
Weight of projectile:
12 pounds
Total weight of cartridge:
14 pounds
Total length of complete cartridge:
14.1 inches
Bursting-charge, common shell:
6.3 ounces
Bursting charge, shrapnel:
1 3/4 ounces
Effective number of balls in shrapnel:
Effective fragments, shrapnel::
Number of balls in canister::


Dyer, Capt. A. B., Handbook for Light Artillery. (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1898).

Disney Collection (Image of gun)

The Hotchkiss Ordnance Company, LTD, Descriptive Catalogue of War Material, (Factory Catalog, circa 1895)

Howser, Douglas J., "Cuban Republic Insurgents Armed Themselves With Hotchkiss Guns, " The Artilleryman. (Arlington, MA: Cutter and Locke Inc. Vol. 15, No. 2, Spring 1994) 14-17.

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