OTO Melara 105 mm Mod 56 light-weight howitzer


The OTO Melara 105 mm Mod 56 light-weight howitzer was the standard artillery piece used and deployed by both the Australian and New Zealand units at the beginning of the Vietnam war.

For its calibre 105mm, the M56 had a couple of unique features, as a pack howitzer it was designed to be broken into 12 components and easily transported. Its compact size and comparative light weight allowed the crew to quickly reposition and manhandle the gun and it had the ability to be used in a direct fire role. The ability of this weapon to be "knocked-down" allowed the different sections to be transported in several ways. The original design was for mule-pack using special pack saddles, and with a well-trained crew the artillery piece could be disassembled into twelve components and re-assembled within minutes. However, during the Vietnam war it was more often towed complete by light vehicles such as the Land Rover. When the shield was removed, it could be carried inside an M113 APC, and due to its light weight could be lifted in one piece by helicopter. This made the gun popular with many light artillery units. Overall, the Mod 56 served in more than 30 countries worldwide.



The gun's light weight however did have a drawback in that it lacked the robustness necessary for sustained operations. Both Australian and New Zealand gunners in Vietnam found that the M56 was not suitable for continuous fire support operations.  After 2 years of service in Vietnam the M56s was replaced by the more robust US-made M101A1 105mm howitzer (M2A2).

M56 105mm Howitzer Vietnam War Deployment

Australian Army 196567 (with very limited use thereafter) by 101, 103, 105, 106 and 108 field batteries.

New Zealand Army 196567, 161 Battery.

Notable engagement The Battle of Long Tan


During the Battle of Long Tan on 18th August 1966, the M56 howitzer deployed with 161 Bty, 16 Field Regiment, Royal New Zealand Artillery, 103 Bty and 105 Bty Royal Australian Artillery and 2/35th Howitzer Battalion, US Army (M101A1) were it played a major role in supporting the outnumbered Australian infantry from D Company 6 RAR helping to hold off a regimental-sized Viet Cong force.


The desperate fighting at Long Tan demonstrated very clearly the value of artillery support to an infantry force in peril. So dire was the situation and so close were the enemy forces to the Australians troops that artillery support was called onto friendly positions. Throughout the hours of fighting, the guns kept up a constant fire as they broke up enemy attacks and struck at likely concentration and forming-up areas. At one point lasting for more than 3.5 hours during that engagement, the gunners firing the M56 averaged 6-8 rounds per minute - 2 rounds above intense rate, effectively firing almost non-stop.


Those who cleared the battlefield the day after the engagement estimated that half of the enemy dead had been killed by artillery. At Long Tan the infantryman fought for their lives with armoured vehicles playing a vital role in the latter part of the battle, but due to the accurate and deadly artillery fire it was the heavily outnumbered Australians who prevailed.  Long Tan showed that if the troops were within range of the guns, patrols could be sent deep into enemy territory and be supported by artillery as an integral part of battalion operations. 105 Australians and 3 New Zealanders (D Coy, 6RAR) fought and defeated 2,500 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong soldiers. 18 Australians and an estimated 500+ VC and NVA were killed during this engagement.



Weapon Specification:

Weight                                 1290 kg / 2840lb

Length                  3.65m / 12ft 0in

Barrel Length     1.47m / 4ft 9.9in L/14

Crew                     7

Ordnance            Semi-fixed 105x372mm R

Calibre                 105mm

Breach                  Vertical                sliding block

Range                   10 km / 6.2 miles

Photograph information (in descending order)

1 War and Peace Revival Show 2014.

2 War and Peace Show 2012 (Best Artillery Award).

3 War and Peace Revival Show 2014.

4 War and Peace Revival Show 2014.

5 War and Peace Revival Show 2014.

6 War and Peace Show 2012 (Best Artillery Award).

Matthew Reynold



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