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A howitzer is a type of artillery piece characterized by a relatively short barrel (barrel length 15 to 25 times the caliber of the gun) and the use of comparatively small propellant charges to propel projectiles at relatively high trajectories, with a steep angle of descent.

In the taxonomies of artillery pieces used by European (and European-style) armies in the eighteenth, 19th, and 20th centuries, the howitzer stood between the "gun" (characterized by a longer barrel, larger propelling charges, smaller shells, higher velocities, and flatter trajectories) and the "mortar" (which could fire at even higher angles of ascent and descent). Howitzers, like other artillery pieces, are usually organized in groups called batteries.



The English word howitzer originates ultimately from the Czech word houfnice.[1][2][3] Czech houfnice is derived, through the addition of the suffix -nice, from the word houf, "crowd", suggesting the cannon's use against massed enemies,[4][5] and houf is in turn a borrowing from the Middle High German word Hūfe or Houfe (modern German Haufen), meaning "heap". Haufen, sometimes in the compound Gewalthaufen, also designated a pike square formation in German.[citation needed] In the Hussite Wars of the 1420s and 1430s, the Czechs used short barreled houfnice cannons[6] to fire at short distances into such crowds of infantry, or into charging heavy cavalry, to make horses shy away.[7] The word was rendered into German as aufeniz in the earliest attested use in a document dating from 1440; later German renderings include Haussnitz and, eventually Haubitze, from which derive the Swedish haubits, Finnish haupitsi, Italian obice, Spanish obús, Portuguese obús, French obusier and the Dutch word houwitser, which led to the English word howitzer .

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