During the Second World War, 105-mm howitzers were the basis of the firepower of the German divisional artillery. Le.FH18 guns of various modifications were used by the German troops from the first to the last days of the war. In the post-war period, German-made 105-mm howitzers were operated in a number of countries until the mid-1980s. They were also the standard and role model for the creation of their own 105-mm guns in Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia.
105 mm light field howitzer 10,5 cm le.FH16
Until the second half of the 1930s, the main 105 mm howitzer in the German armed forces was the 10,5 cm le.FH16 (German 10,5 cm leichte Feldhaubitze 16), which was put into service in 1916. For its time, it was a very good artillery system. Its weight in the firing position was 1525 kg, the maximum firing range was 9200 m, and the combat rate of fire was up to 5 rds / min.
In 1918, the German imperial army had a little more than 3000 le.FH16 howitzers. After the signing of the Versailles Treaty, the production of these guns was discontinued. And their number in the Reichswehr was severely limited. In 1933, the production of an improved version of the 10,5 cm le.FH16 nA (German neuer Art - a new sample) was launched. By 1937, 980 howitzers had been produced.
German artillerymen halted next to a 105mm field howitzer 10,5 cm le.FH16. Polish company. September 1939
After the new 105mm le.FH18 howitzer went into production, most of the existing le.FH.16 were sent to training units and units of the second line.
Due to the relatively small number and the availability of more advanced models, the le.FH.16 guns were used very limitedly on the Eastern Front.
105 mm howitzer 10,5 cm le.FH. 16 on the fortifications of the Atlantic Wall
A significant number of obsolete howitzers were placed in fortifications on the Atlantic coast in 1941, where they were destroyed or captured by American and British forces in 1944.
105 mm light field howitzer 10,5 cm le.FH18
In 1935, Rheinmetall-Borsig AG launched mass production of the 105 mm 10,5 cm le.FH18 howitzer. For its time, it was a very successful weapon, which combined the low cost and labor intensity of manufacturing with sufficiently high combat and service and operational characteristics.
Calculation of the 105-mm howitzer 10,5 cm le.FH.18 in the firing position
The mass of the artillery system in the combat position was 1985 kg, in the stowed position - 3265 kg. Compared to the le.FH.16, the new gun is significantly heavier. And ideally it should have been transported by tractors. But due to the lack of mechanical traction means, the first serial le.FH.18 were intended for towing by six horses and were equipped with wooden wheels.
Subsequently, the wooden wheels were replaced with light alloy cast ones. The wheels of howitzers towed by horse traction had a steel rim, over which rubber bands were sometimes worn. For batteries on mechanical traction, wheels with solid rubber tires were used.
The standard means of booking 105-mm howitzers in the Wehrmacht were the 3-ton Sd.Kfz.11 semi-tracked tractors and the 5-ton Sd.Kfz.6 tractors.
It is noteworthy that a mechanized howitzer battery in two hours could cover the distance that a battery with horse-drawn teams covered in a whole day.
Compared to the 10,5 cm le.FH16, the 10,5 cm le.FH.18 had a number of significant advantages. After increasing the barrel length to 2625 mm (25 clb.), The maximum firing range was 10675 m.
A fundamentally new, different from the le.FH.16, is a carriage with sliding beds and large folding coulters, as well as a carriage suspension. The combat axle was equipped with springs, which made it possible to transport howitzers by mechanical means of traction at a speed of up to 40 km / h. Thanks to the three points of support, the carriage with sliding frames became much more stable, which was important with the increased muzzle velocity of the projectile.
The horizontal firing sector was 56 °, which made it possible to increase the effectiveness of direct fire at fast moving targets. The maximum vertical guidance angle is 42 °. The horizontal wedge breech provided a rate of fire of up to 8 rounds per minute. The transfer time to the firing position is 2 minutes.
A wide range of ammunition was available for the 105mm le.FH18 howitzer.
In a brass or steel case (depending on the elevation angle and firing range), six numbers of powder charges could be placed. A shot with a high-explosive fragmentation grenade 10,5 cm FH Gr. 38 weighing 14,81 kg, containing 1,38 kg of TNT or Ammotol. On the first number of the propellant charge, the initial speed was 200 m / s (range - 3575 m), on the sixth - 470 m / s (range - 10675 m).
When a high-explosive fragmentation grenade exploded, lethal fragments flew 10-15 meters forward, 5-6 meters back, sideways 30-40 meters. In the event of a direct hit, a reinforced concrete wall 35 cm thick, a brick wall 1,5 m thick, or armor 25 mm thick could be punched.
To combat the enemy's armored vehicles, there were 10,5 cm Pzgr armor-piercing shells. and 10,5 cm Pzgr.rot. The first variant, with a mass of 14,25 kg (explosive weight - 0,65 kg), left the barrel at a speed of 395 m / s and could hit targets at a distance of up to 1500 m.The 10,5 cm Pzgr.rot projectile was equipped with a ballistic tip and weighed 15,71 , 0,4 kg (explosive weight - 390 kg). With an initial speed of 1500 m / s at a distance of 60 m, it could penetrate XNUMX mm armor along the normal.
The cumulative 10 cm Gr. 39 rot H1, weighing 11,76 kg, containing 1,975 kg of TNT-RDX alloy charge. Regardless of the firing distance, when hit at a right angle, the cumulative projectile burned through 140 mm of armor.
The 105-mm howitzer could also fire 10,5 cm FHGr.Spr.Br incendiary shells, 10,5 cm FHGr.Br incendiary shells, and 10,5 cm FHGr.Nb smoke shells. FES.
There is a mention of the 10,5 cm Sprgr sub-caliber projectile. 42 TS. But reliable information about its characteristics and production volumes could not be found.
105 mm light field howitzer 10,5 cm le.FH18M
In the initial period of World War II, the 10,5 cm le.FH18 light field howitzers demonstrated high combat effectiveness.
However, the infantry commanders noted that it would be highly desirable to increase the firing range. The easiest way to achieve this was to increase the initial velocity of the projectile by increasing the volume of the propellant charge. The increased recoil force was compensated by the introduction of a muzzle brake.
In 1940, the 10,5 cm le.FH18M howitzer with a two-chamber muzzle brake replaced the 10,5 cm le.FH18 in production. The mass of the gun increased by 55 kg. Barrel length increased by 467 mm during modernization. For firing at maximum range, a new high-explosive fragmentation projectile 10,5 cm F. N. Gr. Was developed. F. When firing charge No. 6, the muzzle velocity was 540 m / s, and the firing range was 12325 m. The remaining characteristics of the 10,5 cm le.FH18M howitzer remained at the level of 10,5 cm le.FH18.
Since 105 mm howitzers without a muzzle brake and with a muzzle brake were counted in one position in Germany, it is now difficult to say how many guns of a particular modification were produced. It is also known that during overhauls, early models received muzzle-brake barrels. In 1939, the Wehrmacht had 4862 le.FH18 howitzers. According to the reference data, between January 1939 and February 1945, 6933 le.FH18 and le.FH18M howitzers were produced on a wheeled carriage.
The mass production of the le.FH18 family of howitzers was facilitated by their relatively low production costs. The basic modification of the 105-mm howitzer was cheaper and required less labor to manufacture than other German mass-produced artillery pieces of 75-150 mm caliber.
In terms of economic indicators, the le.FH18 significantly surpassed not only the heavier artillery systems, but even the 75-mm cannon. So, in 1939, the Wehrmacht paid 105 Reichsmarks for a 16400-mm howitzer, and 75 Reichsmarks for a 18-mm light infantry cannon le.FK20400.
105 mm light field howitzer 10,5 cm le.FH18 / 40
The firepower, firing range and performance characteristics of the upgraded 10,5 cm le.FH18M howitzers were quite satisfactory for the German gunners. But completely unexpectedly for the German generals, it turned out that in the conditions of the Russian mudslide, the 3-ton half-track Sd.Kfz.11 tractors and even the 5-ton Sd.Kfz.6 tractors could hardly cope with the towing of 105-mm guns of divisional artillery.
Much worse was the situation in the artillery units, in which horse teams were used to transport howitzers, and these were the majority in the Wehrmacht in the first half of the war.
If the front line was stable, this problem was somehow solved. But when the guns needed to be immediately transferred to another area, this was often difficult to accomplish.
Since the horses got tired quickly on a bad road, the crews were forced to walk and even push howitzers. At the same time, the speed of movement was 3-5 km / h.
They tried to solve the problem of improving the mobility and security of the calculations of 105-mm howitzers by creating a lightweight tank Pz.Kpfw. II Ausf F self-propelled artillery installations Wespe.
105-mm self-propelled gun Wespe
However, there were relatively few such SPGs - 676 units. And they could not noticeably press the towed howitzers.
Despite the high priority of work on the creation of a new 105-mm howitzer, which was carried out by several design bureaus, the Germans did not manage to organize the mass production of fundamentally new 105-mm divisional guns. For this reason, the le.FH18M howitzers were mass-produced until production stopped in March 1945.
The crew fires from a 105 mm le.FH18 / 40 howitzer
As a temporary measure, until the new 105-mm howitzer was adopted, the 10,5 cm le.FH18M barrel was placed on the carriage of the 75-mm anti-tank gun 7,5 cm Pak 40. This modification was designated 10,5 cm le.FH18 / 40. The weight of the "hybrid" in the combat position was reduced to 1830 kg, the weight in the stowed position was 2900 kg.
Although the le.FH18 / 40 howitzer was created in mid-1942, the lack of production capacity prevented its rapid serial production. The first batch of 9 "hybrid" howitzers was delivered in March 1943. But already in July 1943, the Wehrmacht had 418 howitzers of this type. Until March 1945, they managed to produce 10245 le.FH18 / 40.
Despite the fact that the horse-drawn guns did not fully meet modern requirements, a significant part of the 105-mm le.FH18 / 40 howitzers were produced in a version intended for transportation by horse-drawn vehicles.
In the mid-1930s, shortly after the start of production of 10,5 cm le.FH18 howitzers, it was decided to abandon cannons in divisional artillery. In the pre-war period, the artillery regiments attached to the infantry divisions were armed only with howitzers - 105-mm light and 150-mm heavy. The main reason for this decision was the desire to ensure superiority in artillery over the armies of neighboring countries: in most of them divisional artillery was represented by 75–76 mm cannons.
Until 1939, two artillery regiments were to provide fire support to the actions of the Wehrmacht infantry division: light (105-mm howitzers) and heavy (150-mm howitzers). After the transition to wartime states, heavy regiments were removed from the divisions.
Subsequently, practically throughout the entire war, the organization of the infantry division's artillery remained unchanged: an artillery regiment consisting of three divisions, and in each of them - three four-gun batteries of 105-mm howitzers.
However, there could be options.
Due to the lack of howitzers of the 10,5 cm le.FH18 family, they could partially be replaced by the outdated 10,5 cm le.FH16, Soviet captured divisional 76-mm cannons F-22-USV and ZiS-3, as well as six-barreled 150-mm rocket launchers Nebelwerfer 41.
Initially, an artillery regiment of motorized (panzergrenadier) divisions corresponded in structure to an infantry division regiment - three three-battery divisions (36 howitzers). Subsequently, the composition of the regiment was reduced to two divisions (24 guns).
The tank division initially had two divisions of 105-mm howitzers, since its artillery regiment also included a heavy division (150-mm howitzers and 105-mm guns). Since 1942, one of the divisions of light howitzers was replaced by a division of self-propelled artillery on the Wespe or Hummel self-propelled guns.
In 1944, in order to improve controllability, the division of light howitzers in the tank divisions underwent a reorganization: instead of three four-gun batteries, two six-gun batteries were introduced into its composition.
In addition to divisional artillery, 105-mm howitzers were used in the artillery of the RGK.
So, in 1942, the formation of separate motorized divisions of 105-mm howitzers was carried out. Three divisions of light howitzers (a total of 36 guns) were part of the 18th Artillery Division - the only unit of this type in the Wehrmacht that existed until April 1944. In the fall of 1944, the formation of the Volksartillery corps began, one of the options for the staff of such a corps provided for the presence of a motorized division with 18 105-mm howitzers.
Since 1942, RSO (Raupenschlepper Ost) tracked tractors have been used to tow 105 mm howitzers. Compared to half-track tractors, it was a simpler and cheaper machine. But the maximum towing speed of howitzers was only 17 km / h (versus 40 km / h for half-track tractors).
By the beginning of World War II, the armed forces of Nazi Germany had 4845 light 105-mm howitzers. These were mainly le.FH18 guns, with the exception of a few old le.FH16 systems, as well as former Austrian and Czech howitzers. By April 1, 1940, the fleet of light howitzers increased to 5381 units, and by June 1, 1941 - to 7076 units.
Despite heavy losses on the Eastern Front, 105-mm light howitzers remained very numerous throughout the war. For example, on May 1, 1944, the Wehrmacht had 7996 howitzers, and on December 1 - 7372 (however, in both cases, not only towed, but 105-mm guns intended for the Wespe and StuH 42 self-propelled guns were taken into account). In total, the industry accepted 19 le.FH104 howitzers of all modifications. And they remained the basis of the Wehrmacht's divisional artillery until the end of hostilities.
In assessing the German le.FH18 howitzers, it would be appropriate to compare them with the Soviet 122mm M-30 howitzer, which is considered one of the best Soviet artillery systems used in World War II.
The Soviet M-30 divisional howitzer slightly surpassed the le.FH18 of the first modification in maximum firing range (11800 m versus 10675 m). However, in later versions, the firing range of the German 105-mm howitzers was increased to 12 m.
The greater elevation angle (+ 63,5 °) of the M-30 barrel made it possible to achieve a greater steepness of the projectile trajectory compared to the le.F.H18, and, consequently, better efficiency when firing at enemy manpower hidden in trenches and dugouts. In terms of power, the 122 mm projectile weighing 21,76 kg clearly outperformed the 105 mm projectile weighing 14,81 kg. But the payment for this was the 400 kg greater mass of the M-30 in a combat position, and, accordingly, the worst mobility. The practical rate of fire of the German le.FH18 was 1,5-2 rds / min higher.
Overall, the German 105mm howitzers were very successful. And they successfully coped with the destruction of manpower, located openly or located behind light cover, with the destruction of light field fortifications, suppression of firing points and artillery. In a number of cases, the le.FH18 light howitzers, set to direct fire, successfully repelled the attacks of Soviet medium and heavy tanks.
The use of German 105-mm howitzers in the Red Army
The first le.FH18 howitzers were captured by the Red Army at the beginning of the war and occasionally used them against their former owners in the summer and autumn of 1941. At the end of 1941 and early 1942, due to the mass death of horses caused by the cold and lack of forage, during the subsequent rapid counteroffensive of the Red Army, the Germans threw several dozen light 105-mm field howitzers.
A Red Army soldier at the abandoned faulty German 105-mm light field howitzer le.FH18. Winter 1941-1942
A significant part of the captured le.FH18 guns were out of order, but some of the howitzers turned out to be suitable for further use. In the presence of ammunition, they fired at visually observed targets.
But it was only in 105 that it came to a full-fledged study of 1942-mm howitzers at Soviet training grounds. From the published archival documents, it follows that the survey was carried out on early-release guns without a muzzle brake. Tests of captured howitzers were carried out independently of each other at the Gorokhovets artillery research range (ANIOP) and at the GAU scientific test anti-aircraft artillery range (NIZAP).
105 mm le.FH18 howitzer at the NIZAP training ground. 1942 year
Soviet specialists noted that the operational and combat characteristics of the gun are fully consistent with modern requirements. Structurally, the 105 mm howitzer is simple and technologically advanced. In its production, scarce alloys and metals are not used. Stamping is widely used, which should positively affect the cost of production. A number of technical solutions have been found worthy of close study. The gun's maneuverability was found to be satisfactory.
After the defeat of the German grouping surrounded at Stalingrad, our troops got several hundred 105-mm howitzers, which are with varying degrees of safety, and a large amount of artillery ammunition. Subsequently, most of the defective and damaged captured le.FH18 guns were repaired at Soviet enterprises, after which they were sent to artillery warehouses of front-line subordination.
Serviceable and restored 105-mm captured howitzers were supplied to artillery regiments of rifle divisions, where they, together with Soviet 122-mm howitzers and 76-mm guns, were used as part of mixed artillery divisions.
Much attention was paid to the training of personnel who were to use German guns in battle. For the training of privates and junior commanders of the crews of captured le.FH18 howitzers, short-term courses were organized in the front line. And the battery commanders underwent more in-depth training in the rear.
Firing tables, lists of ammunition nomenclature were translated into Russian and an operating manual was published.
105 mm howitzer thrown at a firing position
In addition to the training of personnel, the possibility of using guns captured from the enemy was determined by the availability of ammunition that was not produced by the Soviet industry. In this regard, the trophy teams organized the collection of shells and shots for the guns. In the absence of appropriate serviceable captured weapons on this front sector, the ammunition was transferred to warehouses, from where units with captured materiel were already centrally supplied.
A Red Army soldier on Kalwaria Square in Budapest. In the center - an abandoned German 105-mm howitzer le.FH18M
After the Red Army seized the strategic initiative and went over to large-scale offensive operations, the number of captured 105-mm howitzers in the artillery units of the Red Army increased dramatically.
Sometimes they were used supernumerary together with 76-mm divisional guns ZiS-3 and 122-mm howitzers M-30, but at the end of 1943 the formation of artillery battalions, fully equipped with German-made guns, began.
In order to increase the strike capabilities of rifle divisions conducting offensive combat operations, the command of the Red Army initiated the introduction of additional batteries of 105-mm captured howitzers into the artillery regiments.
So, at the disposal of the commander of the artillery of the 13th Army, dated March 31, 1944, referring to the code of the commander of the artillery of the 1st Ukrainian Front, it is said about the need to organize the collection and repair of trophy and domestic materiel in the battlefield and create one 4-gun an additional battery of 105 mm howitzers in each artillery regiment.
Soviet artillery battery equipped with German 105mm howitzers
At the final stage of the war, instructions were received to put forward captured 105-mm howitzers (as close to the enemy's front line as possible) and use them to destroy defense centers, long-term firing points and to make passages in anti-tank obstacles. In the presence of a sufficient amount of ammunition, it was ordered to conduct harassing fire across areas deep in the enemy's defense.
105 mm le.FH18 / 40 howitzers captured by the Red Army in the Seelow Heights
In the process of collecting material for this publication, it was not possible to find reliable information on how many le.FH18 howitzers and ammunition for them were captured by the Red Army. But taking into account the number of guns fired and the saturation of the German troops with them at the end of 1945, the Red Army could get more than 1000 guns and several hundred thousand shots for them.
After the surrender of Nazi Germany, the 105-mm howitzers, available in the troops and concentrated at the collection points of captured weapons, were subjected to troubleshooting. The guns, having a satisfactory technical condition and a sufficient resource, were sent to storage, where they were kept until the early 1960s.
The use of German 105-mm howitzers in the armed forces of other states
In addition to Germany, 10,5 cm guns were in service in several other countries.
In the late 1930s, 105-mm howitzers were baptized by fire in Spain. And until the second half of the 1950s, there was a certain amount of le.FH18 in this country. Even before the attack on the USSR, such howitzers were supplied to Hungary. Slovakia in 1944 had 53 howitzers. At the time of the declaration of war on Germany, Bulgaria had 166 105 mm le.FH18 guns. Finland in 1944 acquired 53 le.FH18M howitzers and 8 le.FH18 / 40 howitzers. Neutral Sweden bought 142 le.FH .18 guns. The last Swedish le.FH18 howitzers were decommissioned in 1982. Germany also exported 105-mm light howitzers to China and Portugal.
North Korean and Chinese forces used a significant number of German-made 105mm howitzers against UN forces in Korea.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the Portuguese army used 105mm howitzers against insurgents during armed conflicts in Angola, Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique.
105 mm le.FH18M howitzer at the Hameenlinna Artillery Museum, Finland
After the end of World War II, the very successful German 105-mm howitzers became widespread. In addition to the above countries, they were adopted by Albania, Poland, France, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia.
105-mm le.FH18 howitzer in the Museum of the Polish Army. Warsaw
In countries that later joined the Warsaw Pact, German 105-mm howitzers served until the second half of the 1950s, after which they were replaced by Soviet artillery systems.
For a long time, captured 105-mm howitzers were operated in Yugoslavia. The first battery of le.FH18M howitzers was captured by the 1st Proletarian Division in early 1943.
Le.FH18M howitzer captured by the 1st Proletarian Division in early 1943
In the second half of 1944, a noticeable number of le.FH18 were captured by the Yugoslavs in Dalmatia, and shortly after the end of the war, another 84 105-mm German howitzers were received from the Allies.
Le.FH18 howitzer, towed by the Soviet Ya-12 tractor. Belgrade, Victory Day parade, 1947
Initially, the command of the Yugoslav army in the future expected to re-equip with Soviet artillery systems of the divisional link, and by 1948 Yugoslavia transferred 55 German howitzers to Albania. But after the break with the USSR, the process of removing German equipment from service stalled. In 1951, Yugoslavia received 100 le.FH18 / 40 howitzers and 70000 rounds from France. The guns delivered from France differed from the German original by the wheels of the pre-war French model.
Moreover, in Yugoslavia, on the basis of le.FH18 in 1951, they created their own 105-mm howitzer, adapting it for firing American-style 105-mm projectiles. The production of this gun, known as the M-56, began in 1956. M-56 howitzers were delivered to Guatemala, Indonesia, Iraq, Mexico, Myanmar and El Salvador.
Battery of 105 mm M-56 howitzers in firing position
M-56 howitzers were actively used by the warring parties during the 1992-1996 civil war. In a number of cases, they played a key role in the course of hostilities. For example, during the shelling of the Croatian city of Dubrovnik in 1991 and during the siege of Sarajevo in 1992-1996.
Taking into account the fact that as of December 31, 1960, there were 216 operational German howitzers in Yugoslavia, and the shells for them were running out, it was decided to modernize them by placing the M-56 barrel on the le.FH18 carriage. The modernized Yugoslav howitzers received the designation M18 / 61.
During the civil war that began after the collapse of Yugoslavia, the M18 / 61 guns were used by all the warring parties. In 1996, in accordance with a regional arms reduction agreement, the Serbian army decommissioned 61 M18 / 61 howitzers. In the army of Bosnia and Herzegovina, four such guns remained, which were decommissioned only in 2007.
One of the largest operators of German 105-mm howitzers in the early post-war years was Czechoslovakia, which received about 300 le.FH18 guns of various modifications.
Howitzer 105 mm H vz. 18/49
Initially, they were operated in their original form. But in the early 1950s, a significant part of the guns were modernized. At the same time, the artillery unit le.FH18 / 40 was placed on the carriage of a Soviet 122 mm M-30 howitzer. This gun received the designation 105 mm H vz. 18/49.
However, by the early 1960s, the Czechs sold most of the "hybrid" 105-mm howitzers to Syria, where they were used in the Arab-Israeli wars.
Howitzer 105 mm H vz.18 / 49, delivered from Syria, in the exposition of the Patriot park
Active exploitation of 105-mm Soviet-German "hybrids" of Czechoslovak production in the Syrian army continued until the mid-1970s. After that, the surviving guns were sent to storage bases and used for training purposes.
During the civil war in the SAR, Syrian militants managed to seize artillery storage bases, where (among other samples) there were 105 mm H vz.18 / 49 howitzers. Several of these weapons were used in combat.
And one 105-mm howitzer was displayed in the Patriot Park in an exhibition dedicated to the local conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic.
To be continued ...