At the March 6 meeting in Berlin, representatives of the VMM plant in Prague proposed to develop, in addition to developing self-propelled anti-tank installations based on the 1942 (t) light tank, an SAU armed with a heavy 38 XIGNIGX infantry gun, which was well mastered by the German industry. The towed version of the gun weighed 15 kg. Artillery installation sIG 33 was intended to directly support infantry units on the battlefield. Due to the large maximum angle of elevation - 1700 degrees gun could effectively fire from closed positions, performing the same tasks as the howitzers. In this case, the destructive power of 33-kg high-explosive fragmentation projectile was quite large. To the development of a new self-propelled howitzer based on the tank Pz.Kpfw. 75 (t) designers started in March 30, the German firm Alkett participated in the work on the project. The serial release of the new SAU started a year later in February 38 of the year.
Pz.Kpfw. 38 (t)
When creating this self-propelled installation, two problems were solved at once. Firstly, the chassis of the obsolete light tank PzKpfw 38 (t), well mastered by the Czech industry, was used, the base of which served as the basis for a large number of very different armored combat vehicles. Secondly, at the expense of the new ACS, the Wehrmacht met the ever-increasing need for mobile field artillery. According to the departmental rubricator of the Nazi German Ministry of Armaments, the new self-propelled howitzers passed as Sd.Kfz.138 / 1. The ACS was produced on two types of the chassis of the light tank PzKpfw 38 (t): Sd.Kfz. 138 / 1 Ausf. H "Grille" and Sd.Kfz. 138 / 1 Ausf. M "Grille", which differed from each other and the location of the conning tower.
Sd.Kfz. 138 / 1 Ausf. H "Grille"
The adaptation of the light tank chassis to a self-propelled unit, armed with an 150-mm howitzer, followed the same path as the conversion of the tank chassis to the Sd.Kfz tank destroyer. 139 (Marder III), however, the combat branch of the ACS had a significantly larger size. Chassis ACS fully borrowed from the serial light tank. In relation to one board, it consisted of 4-x support rollers, suspended in pairs on semi-elliptical leaf springs, and two supporting rollers, front leading and rear guide wheels.
The towed version of the heavy infantry guns was modified for subsequent installation in the combat compartment: to simplify maintenance, the cradle was fastened to the barrel with a clamp. If the appearance of the engine compartment during the restructuring of tanks in the 150-mm self-propelled howitzer did not undergo any changes, then the front hull sheet with the mechanical drive viewing devices and the ball gun-gunner gunner-radio operator disassembled therein. So the new self-propelled gun was the first modification of the combat vehicle on the chassis of the light tank 38 (t), which lost the Czech machine gun ZB vz.37. Instead, the car had a German machine gun.
Instead of the upper frontal armor plate of the hull, a sheet of rolled armor was installed at an angle of 17, its thickness was 25 mm, and the height of 150 see. The armor plate also served as a shield for the 150-mm gun. In the lower right corner of this armor sheet there was a molded part covering the viewing slot of the drive, in the middle there was a cutout for the gun barrel, and in the upper left corner there was a hole for the periscope. The place of the radio operator was transferred to the combat compartment opened from above; if necessary, he could perform the duties of the loader.
Two small armor plates fastened to the front armor plate at an angle, the right side had a side viewing slot of the driver, and the left sheet was completely monolithic. The platform, to which the hexagonal armored logging was attached, had a greater width than the width of the tank hull, to the sides of which horizontal metal platforms 10 cm wide were welded. The thinning walls were formed by trapezoidal armored sheets 15 mm thick at inset at a small angle, above the engine compartment two more bronelista trapezoidal shape. In the aft of the open-top cabin there was a double door for the crew’s landing-landing and for loading the ammunition, which consisted of only 15 shells of a separate-cartridge loading.
The crew of the self-propelled howitzer consisted of 4-man, he received a circular defense from the fragments of shells and mines, fire from small weapons. With bad weather on top of the cabin, it was possible to stretch the tarpaulin, which was attached to the sides of the cabin and metal arcs. Like on tank fighters based on the PzKpfw 38 (t), in the stowed position, the howitzer barrel was attached with an H-shaped support-clamp, and the breech was secured with a yoke.
The Praga EPA / 6 2 cylinder engine was installed in the engine compartment located in the stern, which developed the power of the HP 125. at 2200 rpm. The transmission consisted of a planetary gearbox (5 speeds forward and one back) and a multi-disk main friction clutch for dry friction. The mass of the new self-propelled gun, which received the designation 15 cm sIG 33 (Sfl.) Auf Pz.Kpfw. 38 (t) Ausf. H or shorter Sd.Kfz. 138 / 1, did not exceed 10,8 t. It was comparable to the mass of a tank destroyer built on the same base. The speed qualities were good, and the ACS patency was considered satisfactory. In total, more than 200 self-propelled guns were assembled on the chassis of the Ausf tank. H, including prototype. They were assembled from February to June 1943.
Sd.Kfz. 138 / 1 Ausf. M "Grille"
Meanwhile, the designers of the Czech company VMM, in cooperation with the German company Alkett, continued to work on improving the design of the ACS. Their main goal was to reduce labor costs and improve the manufacturability of the structure. Following these principles led to a number of major design changes. The experience of the combat use of tank destroyers Sd.Kfz.139 (better known under the designation Marder III), proved the prospects of the location of the fighting compartment in the stern of the hull. Accordingly, the main changes that awaited the design of the self-propelled howitzer concerned precisely the rearrangement of the hull. In the assembly of new self-propelled artillery installations, welding was more widely used, which at the end of 1943 was introduced into the technological cycle of the assembly of tank destroyers. In general, combat vehicles (tank destroyers and self-propelled howitzers) built on the Ausf chassis. M, were very similar, differing only in the tools and the form of bronelista felling.
New modification of the 15cm sIG 33 (SF) self-propelled gun Pz.Kpfw.38 (t) Ausf.M (Sd.Kfz. 138 / 1 Ausf. M "Grille") with the rear compartment of the fighting compartment and the gun carried a number of significant differences from previous option. So the front location of the transmission remained unchanged, but the engine was moved to the middle of the hull. In addition, in the chassis there was only one supporting roller on board. The upper platform was no longer installed, it allowed to combine the bottom of the crew compartment with the bottom of the case. Due to this, the height of the superstructure, which in the first version reached 150 cm, also decreased; at the same time, such a technique allowed the tool calculation to work in full growth. Also, the designers managed to reduce the number of armored sheets from which the cutting was going. The reservation scheme has also undergone changes - in order to save mass, armor plates with a thickness from 8 to 15 mm were used. The engine compartment was separated from the fighting compartment by a fire wall, the thickness of which was 8 mm. The molded armored cap, located above the mechanical drive point, was 15 mm thick.
The new version of the self-propelled gun received the Praga AC engine, which developed power up to 145 hp. Before the engine was located a small fuel tank, it was intended for direct fuel injection. In connection with the general change in the layout of the self-propelled gun, the air for cooling the engine now entered through the cutouts located in the sides of the hull; they were protected by a grille. The exhaust manifold, designed to emit hot exhaust air, was located on the starboard side of the car. The exhaust pipes of the power plant stretched along the bottom of the hull to the stern, where they were connected to a silencer. Visibility self-propelled guns improved. In a combat position, the crew could use 4 periscopic observation devices (two in the front part of the superstructure and one each along the sides). As on the previous ACS, the crew could shelter from the weather using a canvas awning. It was fastened on four pins located at the corners of the fighting compartment; a metal arch fixed in the middle part of the conning tower was to protect the tent from sagging.
The first prototype of the new ACS Sd.KFz. 138 / 1 Ausf. M was assembled in November 1943 of the year, only until the end of the year only 14 of these self-propelled guns were ready. Priority at this time was given to the construction of tank destroyers on the same base. Due to the small amount of ammunition transported, which was no more than 20 separate charge shots, it became necessary to have ammunition and armored ammunition in the battery. They differed little from the original ACS. The embrasure under the gun in the frontal section of the deckhouse of the conveyor was covered with an armored valve, in the lower part it was attached to the wheelhouse with hinges, and in the upper part - with clamps. From January to May 1944, the 93 ammunition conveyor Sd.Kfz was assembled in Prague. 138 / 1 Mun Ausf. M.
Inside such an armored conveyor were racks for the transport of 40 shots. Armament consisted of a single 7,92-mm machine gun MG34, it was transported in packing. Also in the conveyor there was up to 6000 cartridges for machine guns. If necessary, the ammunition conveyors could easily be converted into a self-propelled howitzer and back even by field repair teams. It was planned that each battery from the Grille 6 self-propelled howitzers would receive an ammunition conveyor for the 2. Production of self-propelled guns of this type continued from November 1943 of the year to January of the 1945 of the year, during which time more than 160 of similar self-propelled guns were produced.
Combat use of "Crickets"
For the first time, Grille self-propelled howitzers were used in the summer of the 1943 of the year during the battle of Kursk. Most often they were used precisely as self-propelled howitzers, firing from closed positions, however, there were cases when the Sturmpanzer 38 (t) was used directly to support infantry, firing direct fire. This combat vehicle had a sufficiently high firepower, but to call it successful was quite difficult. The short and light chassis of the Czech tank was not optimal for the placement of artillery systems of such power, which have a high impact when fired. When firing with small angles of elevation of the gun, the ACS after each shot jumped back (perhaps this is what led to the nickname Grille - cricket). The disadvantages included the small portable ammunition (which caused the creation of a specialized ammunition transporter), left much to be desired reliability of the machine (was largely due to the strong impact when shooting, which was reflected in the chassis). At the same time, given the great need for self-propelled artillery, the Wehrmacht was glad and such an ACS.
For the first time, the Germans used heavy guns on a self-propelled chassis during the battles in France in May-June of the year 1940, then the Buffs were in 6 of the German tank divisions. However, only with the arrival of new self-propelled howitzers Sd.Kfz. 138 / 1, of which a total of more than 1943 units were released in 200 alone, the firepower of the infantry units of the Wehrmacht’s tank divisions increased. The gain happened not only quantitatively but also qualitatively.
According to the staffing of the tank and panzergrenadier divisions of 1943-45, each of them should have been armed with 12 self-propelled infantry guns. These self-propelled guns were not included in the divisional artillery, armed with towed guns and ACS. Units of self-propelled guns were attached directly to the Panzergrenadier Regiments as machines of direct fire support. And motorized regiments on trucks and mechanized regiments on armored personnel carriers should have included 6 such SAUs (organized in the 9 th company). But this organization of divisions was only a theory. In practice, self-propelled guns were simply not enough to equip all the parts. So on 12 SAU Grille got 1-I, 2-I, 4-I, 5-I, 16-I, 17-I, 24-I, 26-I tank, and also 3-I and 29-I panzergrenadirskimi divisions Wehrmacht. In addition, they were fully armed with the Great Germany and Fieldhernhalle panzergrenada divisions, the Das Reich, Adolf Hitler and the Tank of the Dead armored divisions. At the same time, a part of self-propelled howitzers was always in reserve parts and was used in the preparation and training of crews.
150-mm ACS Sd.Kfz, abandoned in Czechoslovakia. 138 / 1 Ausf. M “Cricket” (“Grille”) of the 40 Tank Grenadier Regiment of the German 17 Tank Division, photo: waralbum.ru
All of the above divisions operated mainly on the Eastern Front and in Italy, and from the 1944 of the year, and on the Western Front. Self-propelled guns proved well enough in battles, but they suffered losses and their number in the troops constantly decreased. According to the German side, as of March 1945, the troops still had a total of 173 self-propelled Grille self-propelled guns, without specifying how many ACS and how many ammunition transporters were among them. The last 13 ACS of this type were entered into service by Wehrmacht tank divisions in April 1945: 7 vehicles received 25 divisions, 3 units received 18 division and 20 division. According to the Czechoslovak army in October 1948, there were 13 ammunition transporters from the last released batch in the country, which, if necessary, could easily be converted into self-propelled artillery.
SAU Grille took part in the battles until the end of the war. To date, at least one self-propelled gun Sd.Kfz has been preserved. 138 / 1 Ausf. M "Grille", which is in the museum of the Aberdeen test site in the United States.
Performance characteristics of the Sturmpanzer 38 (t) Ausf. M Grille:
Overall dimensions: body length - 4835 mm, body width - 2150 mm, height - 2400 mm, clearance - 400 mm.
Combat weight - up to 12 t.
Reservations - from 8 to 15 mm.
The power plant - 6-cylinder carburetor engine liquid cooling capacity 145 hp
Maximum speed - 42 km / h (on the highway), to 20 km / h (over rough terrain).
Power reserve - 185 km (on the highway).
Armament - 150 mm howitzer sIG 33, one 7,92-mm MG34 machine gun in piling.
Ammunition - 20 shots.
Crew - 4 man.
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