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|Charles Ragon de Bange|
||French Army (Artillery)|
Charles Ragon de Bange (1833–1914) was a Polytechnician and a French artillery colonel of the 19th century. He invented the first effective obturator system for breech-loading artillery. Its basic principle of functioning is still widely in use to this day. He also designed a system of field guns of various calibers which served the French Army well into World War I: the Système de Bange.
Many attempts had been made at developing breech-loading cannons, but had only partial success sealing of the breech. When fired, hot gasses and burning gunpowder could escape, losing power and potentially burning the operating crew. Rifles, with smaller loads and thus less stress, were able to use rubber in O-rings as on the Chassepot rifle. The same principle of breech sealing applied on cannons was not as easy to develop . Several materials were able to hold the pressure and heat of cannon fire, but did not expand like rubber, thereby failing to provide a tight seal.
However, in 1872, de Bange successfully designed the De Bange system, a new type of obturator for cannons. His system used a breech block made of three parts; an interrupted screw locking mechanism at the rear, a doughnut-shaped grease-impregnated asbestos pad that sealed the breech, and a rounded movable "nose cone" at the front. When the gun fired, the nose was driven rearward, compressing the asbestos pad and squeezing it so it expanded outward to seal the breech. The French referred to the shape of the breech's nose as "mushroom like", as it resembled the cap of a mushroom.
The action was controlled by a handle, normally mounted vertically on the right side of the breech. When lifted, the handle operated a cam that forced the breech to rotate counter-clockwise, unlocking the interrupted thread. The entire breech was then pulled rearward with the same handle, sliding on a ring-shaped holder. The breech holder was hinged on one side, normally the left, so when the breech block was slid all the way to the rear it could be rotated out of the way for loading.
The only major advance on the original de Bange system was the introduction of the stepped screw in the Welin breech block of 1889, which greatly increased the load-bearing surface of the breech, allowing them to be made shorter, simpler, more secure and faster to operate. Other block mechanisms are also used, but the de Bange obturator remains widespread even on these.
Between 1877 and 1881, de Bange developed several artillery pieces, such as the De Bange 90 mm cannon (field artillery, 1877), the De Bange 80 mm cannon (mountain artillery, 1878), the De Bange 120 mm cannon (siege artillery, 1878), De Bange 155 mm cannon (siege artillery, 1877), as well as mortars for siege warfare, such as the 1880 De Bange 220 mm mortar, and coastal batteries such as the De Bange 240 mm and De Bange 270 mm. Several of these weapons were used during the colonial wars of the end of the 19th century, during the First World War and also sometimes during the Second World War. As with other cannons, the de Bange cannons had the disadvantage of being slow to fire, as they were affected by recoil, and thus had to be re-aimed after every shot. This inconvenience would be solved with the onset of the famous Canon de 75, that had a hydro-pneumatic recoil mechanism, which kept the gun's trail and wheels perfectly still during the firing sequence.
From 1882 to 1889, de Bange was Director of the Cail Manufacturing Corporation (Société Anonyme des Anciens Etablissements Cail), the forerunner of the Société française de constructions mécaniques, where he worked on weapon design and trade, selling guns to such countries as Serbia.
A street is named after him (Rue du Colonel de Bange) in the city of Versailles.
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