I am asking if an offensive has ever succeeded without an advantage in artillery. You can quantify this in any number of ways:

  1. Number of guns
  2. Shell tonnages
  3. Some qualitative technical advantage in artillery

I looked through military history. Most of the wars before the 20th century were poorly documented. As I recall all of the major offensives in WW1 were preceded by a artillery barrage. The other wars were either overwhelmingly one sided and I can't find much details on any tactical engagement were the attackers did not have the advantage in artillery.

Exclude conflicts were one side simply surrendered due to overestimating or misperceiving the opposing force. Include naval fire support, but exclude purely naval engagements.

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    I am pretty sure Alexander the Great never had an advantage in artillery. And of course, even when artillery was a thing, at the very beginning it was very ineffective, often being useful against walls. Maybe you should specify which time period you want to consider. – SJuan76 Jun 4 '18 at 20:59
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    That said, I would look towards the Vietnam War and, above all, the Chinese PLA initial offensive of the Korean War. Or, depending of restrictions (some of the concepts of the question are awfully opinable), the battle of Singapore during WWII, the British had big naval guns but no anti-infantery ammo. – SJuan76 Jun 4 '18 at 21:04
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    @SJuan, Alexander the Great was one of the first military leaders to use siege weapons against enemy troops massed in the field removed from their fortifications, mimicking the effect of modern artillery. – user27618 Jun 4 '18 at 22:50
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    Before the invention of artillery all offenses succeeded without them. Even after the invention of artillery many if not most offenses succeeded without artillery for at least 300 years. – Jos Jun 4 '18 at 23:17
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    All these comments come down to the fact that you have to define "artillery". Are trebuchets and catapults artillery? Ballistae? Bows and arrows? Spears thrown with an atlatl? Spears thrown by hand? Thrown rocks? Poop? – Spencer Jun 6 '18 at 4:09

Too many to list, but here's some samples off the top of my head.

Waterloo, the final defeat of Napoleon, was won with a deficiency in artillery: 250 French guns to 150 allied.

Operation Compass, what was supposed to be a 5 day raid against the Italians in North Africa. turned into a three month rout of an overwhelmingly materially superior army. The British Western Desert Force of 36,000 men, 120 guns, and 275 tanks routed an Italian Army of 150,000, 1,600 guns, and 600 tanks.

The Mahdist War, culminating in the Siege of Khartoum and the Nile Expedition, saw a local uprising defeat the Ottoman and then British government forces. While I don't have exact numbers for artillery, it's safe to say the Mahdists did not have the upper hand. Any number of other guerilla campaigns and uprisings can say the same.

While again, I don't have exact numbers, I'm going to say that during the offensive phase of the Russo-Finnish Continuation War the Finns were very badly outgunned in artillery.

During the Normandy landings, D-Day, the Germans had, on paper, overwhelming artillery support. 170 coastal guns covered the beaches. While the Allies had overwhelming naval and air support, much of it was useless once the landings had begun; they were unable to fire into the close combat on the beaches without risking hitting their own troops. But they weren't idle. Many of the larger ships dueled with the largest gun batteries distracting them from firing on the beaches. And destroyers provided close gun support to the beaches.

During the Yom Kippur War, Israeli artillery was outnumbered 2-to-1 by Egypt and Syria. I'm going to guess much of the Arab-Israeli conflicts saw Israel with a material disadvantage in artillery.

Similarly the First Gulf War saw Iraq with an initial advantage in numbers of guns, but at a severe disadvantage in quality, intelligence, and tactics. The opening barrage of the Battle of Norfolk saw 300 allied guns destroy 400 Iraqi pieces.

  • Victory or defeat are defined by the objectives of the opposing parties. The Egyptian-Syrian coalition did not set the destruction of Israel or the Israeli Army as their goal. They aimed at forcing Israel back to the negotiation table, and at restoring the pride of their own armies (badly depressed from the 1967 fiasco). As they attained both aims, they won the war. – Luís Henrique Jun 6 '18 at 14:38
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    @LuísHenrique I kinda see where you're going. Initial successes of the Arab armies pierced both side's sense of Israeli invulnerability, but that wasn't their goal. It's a retroactive benefit. The question is about the fighting, not negotiations afterwards. Egypt's goal was to reopen the Suez Canal by force and wound up with an army surrounded in the Sinai and Israel with an open road to Cairo. Syria's was to recapture the Golan Heights and wound up with an Israeli army shelling Damascus. They had the artillery advantage in numbers and weight of shell, they lost the fight. – Schwern Jun 6 '18 at 17:19
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    Good examples, but these two are deserving as well: Battle of Teugn Hausen where Davout's III Corps with 47 guns and 39,000 men defeated the Austrian III corps with 84 guns and 45,000 men. Battle of Auerstadt where Davout with 46 guns and 27,000 men defeated multiple Prussian Corps under the Duke of Brunswick with 95 guns and 60,000 men – Pieter Geerkens Jul 13 '18 at 0:37
  • You have omitted the Prussian guns from your Waterloo calculation. Wellington brought 156 guns, but the three Prussian Corps involved brought at least another 100 to the battle even with losses at Ligny accounted for. – Pieter Geerkens Nov 23 '18 at 6:53

An example was Agincourt, where the French had three guns, and the English none. And the English routed the French.

As any other weapon, artillery is only decisive when, besides having guns, the army has the knowledge on how to use them.

  • bows aren't anti infantry artillery? – Clint Eastwood Jul 13 '18 at 21:13
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    @ClintEastwood Artillery are larger weapons designed to go beyond the range and power of a soldier's small arms. Bows are small arms. A ballista is artillery. – Schwern Jul 13 '18 at 22:16

In European colonial "small wars" the Europeans fought everyone from cultures which had been civilized while Europeans were still barbarians to stone age tribes. So naturally the use of artillery by the opponents of the Europeans was not nearly as consistent as the use of artillery by the Europeans, which itself was highly variable.

In "small wars" with relatively small forces engaged each combatant, each musket, each rifle, and each artillery piece was much more important than it would be in a larger combat. So there were battles where the presence of even a single artillery piece gave a decisive advantage to the Europeans.

For example, at the First Battle of Adobe Walls, November 25, 1864, many credit the two artillery pieces with holding off the Southern Plains warriors and preventing the massacre of Carson's entire command.

Thus the victories of the non Europeans over Europeans were often the victories of forces with fewer or no artillery over European forces with more artillery. There were exceptions, like the Battle of Pollilur in 1780, where the Mysore forces won with superior rocket artillery, and the Battle of Adwa 1896 where the Ethiopians with 42 superior artillery pieces defeated the Italians with 56 older cannons, for example.

Some examples of forces with no artillery defeating forces with artillery include:

1) Battle of the Monongahela 9 July 1755 General Braddock's force of over 2,000 men with 10 cannons was crushed by a smaller French and Indian force with no artillery.

2) St. Clair's Defeat, November 4, 1791. The Western Confederation defeats the US forces killing over 800 Americans. The surviving artillerymen spike their cannons and flee.

3) The Dade Massacre December 28, 1835. 110 US soldiers with one cannon are ambushed by Seminoles. 3 soldiers escape but one dies of his wounds.

4) The retreat from Kabul January 6-13, 1842. 4,500 British and Indian soldiers and 14,000 civilians, with 6 artillery pieces, agree to evacuate Kabul, Despite the truce, thousands of tribesmen with muskets constantly ambush and attack the retreating forces. There are not many more survivors than the single man told of by legend.

5) The Grattan Massacre August 19, 1854, the start of the First Sioux War. 30 soldiers and one civilian with 2 cannons are slaughtered. The only soldier who escapes dies of his wounds.

6) The Battle of Pine Creek May 17, 1858. Edward Steptoe and 159 soldiers are trapped on a hillside. The Indians withdraw for the night and the soldiers know they will be slaughtered the next day. They abandon their supplies and two mountain howitzers and sneak away to safety in the night.

7) The Battle of the Big Hole, August 9-10, 1877. The Nez Perce camp is surprised by soldiers under Colonel Gibbon but the Nez Perce rally and keep the soldiers pinned down for two days. The crew of Gibbon's howizter is killed or driven off.

8) The Battle of Isandhlwana 22 January 1879. A large British column is almost totally slaughtered and two mountain guns and a rocket battery are lost.

9) The battle of Laing's Nek 28 January 1881. A British force with 6 cannons is repulsed by Boers with no canons.

10) The Shangani Patrol of 34 men in pursuit of the defeated Matabele King Lobengula was wiped out on 4 December 1893 while other Matabele warriors on the other side of the Shangani River attacked the main column under Major Forbes. Despite having Maxim machine guns, Forbes was unable to cross the river and retreated after the fight, being attacked by the Matabele several times in the 2 week journey back to Bulawayo, with many in Forbes' command believing they narrowly escaped being massacred.

11) The Battle of Togbao October 10, 1898. Lt. Bretonnet with 50 french and colonial troops and 400 Baguirmian allies was defeated by Rabah Zubayr. Rabah's men slaughtered most of Bretonnet's men and captured his 3 canons.

12) The Battle of El Herri 13 November 1914. A strong French force was crushed, with 623 officers and men killed and 176 wounded, by Zaian tribesmen despite the French having two batteries of cannons and 4 machine guns.

13) The Battle of Annual July 22, 1921 was a terrible Spanish defeat by Rif tribesmen, followed by many other Spanish defeats up to August 9. Spain officially lost 13,192 soldiers killed July 22 to August 9, with 171 wounded, but some sources claim the casualties were much higher. The previously poorly armed Rifs captured thousands of rifles, and 60 machine guns and 100 cannons according to one source, or 400 machine guns and 120 to 150 cannons according to another source.


One example may be the Chinese Spring Offensive in Korea. Note that the Chinese sustained massive casualties, and the Chinese did not lack pieces. They obtained 6000 abandoned artillery pieces when the Russians left Manchuria and could not move them across the Yalu fast enough to keep up with the UN retreat.

France in 1940 seems like an example. However the majority of the French army was dislocated and did not fight. The main engagement was the Battle Of Sedan, where the French artillery advantage was slight and Germany had overwhelming superiority in all other areas.

There were also ambushes and raids in Vietnam where the US lost. However the war was dominated by US artillery.

So there are cases where the side with less artillery won, but it is not easy.


Artillery in Korea: Massing Fires and Reinventing the Wheel D.M. Giangreco United States Army


Command and General Staff College

  • Please refrain from posting answers as a response to the other user's answer. If you register an account, you can accumulate reputation which allows you to comment directly on a post. – Semaphore Jun 5 '18 at 8:52

If you extend the definition of a technical advantage not only to technology, but to ergonomy and how technology is used, and you limit your consideration to an actual offensive and not petty wars and colonial wars, the answer to the question "Has it ever succeded" is No.

I will start with the examples given by other answers:

  • Waterloo: despite an advantage in artillery, the Great Army of Napoleon was unable to correctly deploy and aim its gun at the ennemy. Artillery failed to find its target, because British troops hide behind the hill. On the other hand, British artillery was placed to fire on advancing French troops, and did it well. As a result, more artillery fire hit French troops than British troops, and French side lost
  • Operation Compass: Overall, Italians were more numerous in all combat units: infantry, tanks, artillery. But their inferiority in mobility was outstanding: British had a completely motorized army, but Italian had a low density of motor vehicles and did not concentrate them to motorize some units. This is true for infantry, logistics and artillery. In all the fights of the campaign, the Italians never had enough artillery in place to fire on British, while British always had a mix of infantry tanks, artillery and infantry to attack ennemy positions or defend roadblocks: at those time, British artillery was a key to win. Italian army was ultimately destroyed by those columns who ran through its line
  • Russo-Finnish Continuation war: No, the Finns were not "badly outgunned" in artillery. They had more in their offensive divisions than the Russians had in their defensive divisions. With better infantry and artillery mobility, Finns always managed to concentrate artillery when needed
  • Normandy landings: the firepower of the fleet vastly outgunned German beach defenses. And even when troops land, they had artillery support from landing craft-based rocket launchers and selfpropelled artillery (M7 Priest...) firing from its boat or from the beach. Oh, and when Americans at Omaha Beach had no such support, you know how it ended...
  • Israeli-Arab and Gulf wars: massive technical, mobility and accuracy inferiority of the Arab and Iraqi side
  • France 1940: German panzer divisions always concentrate their artillery against French, who had not enough at the right place at the right time. This was a problem of mobility, since panzer divisions concentrated most of the motor vehicles of German army, and even more of command chain: French generals were not able to react in time.
  • Chinese Spring offensive in Korea: Numerous field artillery pieces and mortars to support the fight on the Chinese side, with a better mobility in the hills, while UNO divisions had supply limitations and lacked target acquisition

If you want to go on with examples of success with artillery advantage:

  • Guadalacanal: successful American defense
  • Malaysian campaign: open ground: British medium artillery won, close ground: Japanese light artillery won.

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