Jean Baptiste Vaquette de Gribeauval


Jean Baptiste Vaquette de Gribeauval

Lieutenant General Jean Baptiste Vaquette de Gribeauval (15 September, 1715 – 9 May, 1789) was a French artillery officer and engineer who revolutionized French cannon, creating a new production system that allowed lighter, more uniform guns without sacrificing range. These guns proved essential to French military victories during the Napoleonic wars.

Jean-Baptiste was born in Amiens, the son of a magistrate. He entered the French royal artillery in 1732 as a volunteer, and became an officer in 1735. For nearly twenty years regimental duty and scientific work occupied him, and in 1752 he became captain of a company of miners. A few years later he was employed in a military mission in Prussia. In 1757, being then a lieutenant colonel, he was lent to the Austrian army on the outbreak of the Seven Years' War, and established the Austrian sapper corps. He led the sapping operations at the siege of Glatz and the defence of Schweidnitz. At Schweidnitz, his 1748 design of fortification gun was tested and significantly improved by Master Carpenter Richter. In 1762, he reported back to the Paris authorities on the Austrian artillery system compared with the existing French de Valliere guns.

The empress Maria Theresa rewarded him for his work with the rank of lieutenant field-marshal and the cross of the Maria Theresa Order. On his return to France he was made marchal de camp, in 1764 inspector of artillery, and in 1765 lieutenant-general and commander of the order of St Louis.

For some years after this he was in disfavour at court, and he became first inspector of artillery only in 1776, in which year also he received the grand cross of the St Louis order. He was now able to carry out the reforms in the artillery arm which are his chief title to fame, although he failed to introduce a field howitzer and his system still included 25 wheel sizes. The 'Table des constructions des principaux attirails de l'artillerie ... de M. de Gribeauval' covers all the French artillery equipment in detail. He was also responsible for the "réglement" for the French artillery issued in 1776. Although much of the work is not directly attributable to Gribeauval, these systems of organization and uniformity in ordinance have been called "le systéme Gribeauval".

Gribeauval's primary improvement came in the production of large artillery pieces. Prior to his improvements, guns were cast in a single piece by pouring molten iron or bronze around a clay cylinder. After the metal cooled, the clay was removed, leaving the gun's bore. However, this made guns with imperfect cores, which prevented a tight fitting round. Because cannon balls did not fit tightly, much of the explosive power of the gunpowder was lost. Gribeauval created a new system of production, casting guns as a single, solid block, and then drilling the bore on a large machine. The entire barrel of the gun rotated against a massive drill bit, and the cutting head advanced by means of weight and cogs. The resulting guns had better tolerances between the bore and ball, allowing lighter, thinner barrels without sacrificing any range. Also, because the projectile fit the gun much more tightly, the barrel could be shorter without reducing accuracy. Gribeauval also designed improved carriages which allowed highly mobile fieldpieces.

See Puységur in "Journal de Paris", supplement of July 8, 1789; Chevalier de Passac, "Précis sur M. de Gribeauval" (Paris, 1816); Veyrines, "Gribeauval" (Paris, 1889), and Hennbert, "Gribeauval, lieutenant-général des armées du roy" (Paris, 1896).

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*1911


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