Beechworth, in Victoria, is an old gold town, and quite historical.
Hidden in plain sight is a little bit of world war one history. If you go to the public loos from the main street you walk down the side of the RSL which has a couple of old guns on display.
One is a German second world war anti aircraft gun, and the other is a 75mm Krupp field gun made in Essen in 1904. There’s no mystery as to why these weapons ended up in Beechworth – after both the first and second world wars Australia distributed captured weapons to be used as memorials.
Now you might expect that the Krupp gun was captured from Ottoman forces, or possibly from German forces on the western front, but, when you look at it, the markings are most definitely not Ottoman, and simply don’t look right for German weapon – the crown is wrong and no German Kaiser had a name starting with C.
So, what’s its provenance? My first guess was that it had been an AustroHungarian gun and had been captured after being loaned to Ottoman forces in the closing days of world war one – and this was based on the fact that the crown looked vaguely east European and I though it might be one used by AustroHungarian forces.
I was however a bit troubled by the CI cipher on the barrel – Krupp stamped the date of manufacture on all weapons and there was no Emperor Karl until 1916, and anyway, his name starts with a K in both German and Hungarian.
The truth is a little more complex. The cipher is that of Carol I of Rumania, as is the crown. In 1916 Rumania joined the first world war on the side of the allies in order to make a landgrab for territory with a Rumanian majority that was formally part of AustroHungary. It did this because on the southern section of the eastern front Russia was successfully pushing back the Austrian forces.
It wasn’t a particularly successful action and Rumania was defeated by the Central Powers after the collapse and disintegration of the Russian army in the months before the October revolution in 1917.
This meant of course that the Central Powers (Germany, AustroHungary and the Ottoman empire) captured a lot of munitions and weapons from Rumania. Ottoman Turkey had previously purchased a large number of Krupp 75mm guns from Germany that were of the same design as the captured Rumanian 75mm guns making is a no-brainer for the Ottoman forces to redeploy the captured guns – they had the ammunition – they had men trained to use them – they had spare parts, etc etc.
The Ottoman 26th division had been deployed to the Rumanian front, and after Rumania’s collapse was redeployed to Palestine where they met with Australian forces. The implication is that the Ottoman 26th division brought some captured Rumanian guns with them.
At some point the Beechworth gun must have been captured by Australian forces during the end game of world war one in the middle east …
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