During the Second Boer War (1899–1902) the British government realised its field artillery was being overtaken by the more modern "quick firing" guns and howitzers of other major powers. The Krupp field howitzers used by the Boers had particularly impressed the British. The usefulness of field howitzers and the need for them to form part of an infantry division’s artillery were reinforced by reports from the Russo-Japanese War in 1904. In 1900, cabinet ordered Field Marshal Lord Roberts, the commander-in-chief in South Africa, to send home artillery brigade and battery commanders “selected for their eminence and experience” to form an equipment committee. The committee was chaired by General Sir George Marshall, who had been artillery commander in South Africa. It formed in January 1901 with wide ranging terms of reference concerning artillery equipment from guns and howitzers to harness design and instruments.
The committee swiftly established requirements and invited proposals from British gun makers. None were satisfactory and compared poorly with a captured Krupp 12 cm howitzer. A purchase of Krupp howitzers was discussed including visits to Essen. However, by 1905, the committee was sufficiently satisfied to recommend the production of trial equipments from ordnance factories, Armstrong, Vickers and the Coventry Ordnance Works (a joint venture by several Coventry engineering companies). Testing in 1906 showed the Coventry design was by far the most satisfactory and a battery’s worth were ordered for trials. In 1908, after trials the 4.5-inch howitzer was recommended for service, albeit with a shortened barrel.
The 4.5-inch howitzer was used on most fronts during the First World War. On the Western Front its normal scale was one battery to every three batteries of 18-pounders. Initially 4.5-inch howitzers equipped a howitzer brigade RFA in each infantry division. In the original British Expeditionary Force in 1914 this brigade had three batteries each with six howitzers. Subsequent batteries had only four howitzers. In 1916 all batteries on the Western Front began to be increased to six howitzers and later that year the howitzer brigades were disbanded and a howitzer battery added to each field brigade RFA as the fourth battery. This organisation continued between the wars.
It remained in service during the inter-war period and was used in various campaigns in that time. However, apart from changes to ammunition the howitzer itself remained unchanged except for carriage modifications to enable mechanisation.
During the Second World War they served with the BEF in France and although many were lost they were the most widely available artillery piece until 25-pounder production developed. They were used in the Middle and Far East theatres as well as for training and were gradually replaced by the 25-pounder.