Wednesday, May 4, 2011

German Artillery Pieces during WW2 and WW1

15-cm Schwere Feldhaubitze 18

The 15-cm schwere Feldhaubitze 18 (sFH 18) became the standard 149mm howitzer for German divisions through World War Two. The gun was originally developed to be horse-drawn (as all German artillery at the time was) but was later modified to be towed by mechanized means. A compromise was met to fit the Rheinmetall gun on the Krupp carriage after several outstanding submissions for trials were submitted by both sides.

The standard 149mm howitzer for German Divisions in World War 2.

The sFH 18's were found to be out-ranged by their Soviet counterparts, yet modifications were made to the charges to help increase range. This provided an ill-effect on excessive wear to the barrel and recoil mechanism. Thus the modification program was abandoned. These modified sFH 18's were designated 15-cm sFH 18(M). The sFH gun system was also mounted on a motorized chassis and became the 'Hummel' - or Bumblebee - and became a self-propelled artillery weapon system. sFH 18's were also present on the Atlantic Wall - Germany's massive fortification project on the French coast between France and Britain to thwart an Allied invasion there.

The image above actually represents one of those guns captured in Normandy in June of 1944. Several countries continued fielding the sFH 18 after the war in large numbers including Czechoslovakia, Portugal and many South American and Central American countries.

Contractor: Krupp / Rheinmetall, Germany
Number Built: 5,403

Big Bertha Siege Gun

The Big Bertha was a German initiative put into action before and during the First World War, where artillery started becoming more mobile than in previous wars. The name itself 'Big Bertha' is usually associated with many World War 1 large caliber guns.

Big Bertha Siege Gun M-Gerat Howitzer.

The female name 'Bertha' comes from the descendant of Krupp Steel - an arms manufacturer. The Big Bertha could lob 2,200lb shells over 9 miles. The Big Bertha took a crew of 200 men over six hours to assemble and disassemble the weapon.

Its most notable action was against a series of 'undefeatable' Belgium forts. The Big Bertha's lay waste to the forts, demoralizing the Allied forces and convincing the Germans to continue exploration into more mobile and more powerful howitzers which included the 'Paris Gun' - though highly inaccurate - the mighty howitzer that terrorized Parisians from over 70 miles away showing French countrymen that their country was not safe from the war.

The Bertha could fire at a rate of 8 rounds per hour with a muzzle velocity of 400 meters per second (1,300 feet per second). Elevation was limited to +40 - +75 degrees with a traverse of 4 degrees. While twelve total units were constructed, eighteen additional barrels also existed.

Specifications for the Big Bertha Siege Gun

Overall Length: 19.29ft (5.88m)
Weight: 47.4 US Short Tons (43,000kg; 94,799lbs)
1 x 420mm barrel
420mm (16.53in) shells of HE 1,807lbs (820kg) up to 2,100lbs (950kg)

5-cm PanzerAbwehrKanone 38 Towed Anti-Tank Gun

While the 37mm PaK 35/36 anti-tank cannon proved a success during its trial in the Spanish Civil War, German authorities knew that the system would quickly become outmoded by heavier armored tank systems (some already in service at the time). Rheinmetall of Germany began work on a towed 50mm (2-inch; 5-cm) caliber version in 1935 with the designation of PaK 37. However, German authorities were not satisfied with the weapon's low-velocity action, forcing Rheinmetall to rework their product. The company fitted a new, longer L/60 barrel and returned with the PaK 38 to which the Germany Army accepted for production. Production began in 1939 and examples reached German troops in 1940, though this was too late to take part in the German campaigns across the West Front. Once in service, the PaK 38 operated as part of dedicated anti-tank platoons though it would not be until 1941 that the anti-tank gun would not see its first combat actions - this as part of the German invasion of the Soviet Union through "Operation Barbarossa".

When the PaK37 failed to impress, the weapon was given a longer barrel and became the PaK 38.

By the time of the German assault into Soviet territories, PaK 38 teams were handed a new projectile - the Panzergranate 40 APCR (or "AP40"). The ammunition was based on captured Czech and Polish ammunition designs reinstituted back into service with the German Army. The AP40 utilized a dense tungsten core, providing for better penetration capabilities at distance and proved particularly effective against the Soviet KV-1 heavy tank. At the time of the T-34/76 medium tanks arrival on the East Front, the PaK 38 and its AP40 round proved the only weapon then in service capable of penetrating its thick armor. However, the PaK 38 was only available in limited numbers and this severely limited her reach on the front, forcing the Germans to bring up old captured French 75mm guns to fill the gaps in their defense. While the T-34/76, in some ways, made the excellent 50mm PaK 38 something of a liability now, the weapon system would still go on to serve through to the end of the war in 1945 - even despite having been replaced by newer, larger-caliber anti-tank guns.

The PaK 38 fielded a maximum range of nearly 3,000 yards.

Caliber was of 50x419mm R and the weapon exhibited a length of 10 feet, 5.5 inches with a 7 feet, 9.7 inch barrel. The barrel sported a baffled muzzle brake to help dispel recoil while the towing carriage served double duty by providing the "legs" to stabilize the weapon when set to fire. The weapon system as a whole weighed 2,341lbs when linked up for travel and displaced 1,000lbs when set down in place. Traverse was limited to 65-degress with an elevation of -8 degrees to +27 degrees. Depending on the ammunition used, muzzle velocity could be rated at as high as 3,870 feet per second for AP (armor piercing) rounds and as low as 1,805 feet per second for HE (high-explosive) rounds. The weapon operated from a semi-automatic action while the feed system was manually operated by the crew, allowing for rates-of-fire around 13 rounds per minute. Sights were Z.F. 3x8.
The PaK 38 presented enemies with a rather small, low-profile frontal target thanks to its well thought-out design.

The crew of five clustered around the rear of the weapon system, protected only by the forward-facing sloped, curving armor plate. The plate was set as two individual components fitted roughly 1 inch apart and were 0.15 inches in thickness. This supplied the crew with forward facing protection but further safety would have to come from the nearby environment in the form of earthen structures, tree coverage, man-made fortifications such as sandbag walls and the like. Steel rubber-tired wheels allowed the PaK 38 to be towed by vehicles at speed. The ends of the trail leg spades featured dolly wheels for additional maneuvering support - though these were often removed. Once in place, the weapon was set in position with its tubular, light alloy split-trail carriage. When opened, the legs locked the torsion bar suspension of the carriage in place for firing. The weight of the PaK 38 ensured that it could be towed into action by a tractor, halftrack or utility truck and that the crew could work together in relocating the artillery piece to a new nearby position.


The PaK 38 proved such a success throughout its tenure that the weapon was designed for use aboard combat aircraft. This particular development introduced an automatic feed mechanism and was showcased in one proposed development of the jet-powered Messerschmitt Me 262 "Schwalbe". The weapon was intended as a heavy gun suitable in downing enemy bombers that were consistently wreaking havoc on German infrastructure and war production facilities. Another proposed development was using this same aircraft-base automatic cannon as a ground-based anti-aircraft gun system. The PaK 38 was also developed into a vehicle main gun armament for use in tanks and many of these eventually ended up as shoreline fortifications along the "Atlantic Wall". In yet another battlefield use, the PaK 38 was fitted atop the rear of tracked Panzerjager carriages to produce a make-shift self-propelled gun (SPG) system to support of infantry actions. So many of these systems were produced, in fact, that the British ultimately captured enough examples to place them into their own ranks as an emergency measure should they be needed.

Some 9,500 PaK 38 systems were ultimately produced before the end of the war and a great quantity were still in use up to the end.

Overall Length: 15.58ft (4.75m)
Width: 6.07ft (1.85m)
Height: 3.44ft (1.05m)

Weight: 1.2 US Short Tons (1,062kg; 2,341lbs)
1 x 50mm (5-cm; 2-inch) main gun
Available in AP and HE warheads. 

3.7-cm PanzerAbwehrKanone 35/36 Anti-Tank Cannon

The 3.7-cm PaK 35/36 ("PaK" for "PanzerAbwehrKanone") was the standard-issue anti-tank cannon of the Wehrmacht by the time of the German invasions of 1939. Like other German systems in development during the 1930's the PaK 35/36 was field tested in the Spanish Civil War and with good results. The PaK 35/36 proved the importance of portable crew-served anti-tank weapon systems, particularly in these early campaigns. But by 1940, progressively thicker armor had begun appearing on British, French and Russian enemy tanks, forcing the light-caliber PaK 35/36 system to quickly fall out of favor as a frontline tank killer. Development by the Rheinmetall company of this dedicated anti-tank cannon for the German Army began as early as 1925. 14,459 PaK 35/36 systems were reportedly delivered with production beginning in 1928.

The Wehrmacht PAK 35/36 anti-tank cannon made its presence felt in the early invasion campaigns, ultimately outdone by the increasing thickness of Allied tank armor.

Its relatively small size also allowed for concealment by her crews, an advantage when ambushing unsuspecting enemy vehicles. The main force behind the PaK 35/36 was its potent 37mm L/45 barrel nestled within an angled armored shield straddled on either side by two road wheels and anchored by two split-trail tubular legs. Wheels were initially of the spoked wheel-type for improved horse traction as the German Army was still relying heavily on pack animal-towed artillery at this point in history but these eventually gave way to steel wheels with pneumatic tires in 1934, now making the PaK 35/36 system suitable for towing via vehicle. The crew of three remained relatively exposed - save for the shield and any other natural protection - when loading and firing the weapon.

The PaK 35/36 was a light battlefield weapon relatively easily maneuvered into position by its crew and towed to hotspots via pack animal or vehicle.

Ammunition types ran the gamut of armor piercing, high velocity, high explosive and hollow charge type projectiles. Elevation was limited to -5 t +25 with a traverse of 60 degrees. Muzzle velocity was a reported 2,500 feet for armor piercing rounds and 3,400 feet for HVAP and APCR projectiles. The effective range was about 2,000 feet (other sources report a much lower effective range).

On the West Front, the PaK 35/36 excelled against the lightly armored vehicles found in the Spanish Civil War and proved equally potent against the Polish defense forces years later.

The weapons reach would soon hit its ceiling when facing off with the British Matilda II and French Char B1 heavy tanks - PaK 35/36 projectiles ricocheting off the thick armor of these steel beasts. On the East Front, the PaK 35/36 was still in frontline service in 1940 despite its official replacement by the 5cm PaK 38 towed artillery series. It did, however, still prove effective against the Russian BT-7 and T-26 series of light tanks but the arrival of the stout T-34 medium series (and even the lumbering heavy KV-1 and KV-2 models) rendered the PaK 35/36's usefulness wholly obsolete. Its ineffectiveness by this point had garnered the PaK 35/36 the adequate nickname of "Heeresanklopfgerat", translating to "army door-knocker".

As a whole, production of the PaK 35/36 was stopped from 1942 onwards though - by sheer surplus - the weapon was fielded in quantity while other larger caliber weapons were being designed and put into production alongside her.

Attempts were made to shore up the ineffectiveness of the PaK system by introducing a new projectile type into the mix - the armor-piercing "Panzergranate 40" featuring a wolfram core. Unfortunately in practice, the new round failed to provide the added punch and so an even newer projectile was devised - the "Stielgranate 41" - this with a hollow charge and stabilizing tail plane. Fielded in 1942 with the PaK 35/36 and its new projectile was of some benefit though the low muzzle velocity of the PaK 35/36 barrel itself meant that the crew needed to be some distance closer to the enemy tank target than was deemed comfortable.

The PaK 35/36 did prove useful in an auxiliary role, specifically when mounted on mobile platforms such as the SdKfz 250 and SdKfz 251 half-tracks (when fielded in the light anti-armor support role). Thanks to the weapon system's portability, Fallschirmjager ("parachute") units were also issued this anti-tank cannon along with garrison and training units. At any rate, the PaK 35/36 secured its legacy by introducing many-a-nation to a proven anti-tank weapon from which to design their own successful versions from.  

Overall Length: 5.45ft (1.66m)
Width: 5.41ft (1.65m)
Height: 3.84ft (1.17m)

Weight: 0.5 US Short Tons (434kg; 957lbs)
1 x 37mm (1.5"/3.7cm) L/45 main gun
Armor piercing, high velocity and high explosive and hollow charge types.

21-cm Nebelwerfer 42

The 21-cm Nebelwerfer 42 (translating to "smoke-thrower" or "smoke launcher" and also known under the shortened designation of "21-cm NbW 42") was a battlefield artillery support system fielded by the German Army in World War 2. The weapon was designed to deliver a salvo of high-explosive rockets against enemy troop concentrations or dug-in personnel with some level of accuracy. Beyond their obvious inherent lethal capabilities, such weapons could also be called upon to unleash unseen psychological effects on those unfortunate to find themselves on the receiving end of a salvo. Eventually, between 1,487 and 1,587 examples were delivered to the German Army from 1942 to the end of the war in 1945.

The 21-cm Nebelwerfer 42 multiple rocket-launching projector had a tremendous demoralizing effect on enemy recipients.

Despite the basic concept of battlefield rockets being around for thousands of years, it would have to wait until World War 2 to see a true resurgence. All major powers delved into the development of such weapons with the Soviets leading the way in their practical frontline use - utilizing rockets from their famous "Katyusha" systems when setting up their massive ground offensives in an effort to "soften up" enemy areas before the initial infantry thrust. However, it was the Germans that were technological leaders in the field who, unlike the Soviets, elected to use their rocket systems as a supplementary weapon to complement their artillery barrages. As such, rockets were utilized to the highest of degrees along the East Front where the German Wehrmacht invaders squared off directly against the Red Army defenders - the pair becoming two of the largest battlefield rocket users of the war.

Despite the advanced stage of warfare in World War 2, the use of barrage rockets had inherent benefits and limitations.

Rocket weapons proved cheaper to mass-produce than other dedicated systems and their psychological effects on the enemy were second to none. Warheads could be adapted to the operator's needs and delivery was quick and violent, littering a target area with explosion after explosion. However, rockets were still nothing more than launched projectiles attached to a basic "Point A-to-Point B" trajectory. As such, this trajectory was always open to outside influences greatly affecting the rockets approach from the moment of launch to the moment of impact. Couple this with uneven burning of propellant and a single rocket nary had the ability to reach a precise target and thusly forced the use of "barrage" firepower through the fielding of multiple rocket "projector" systems.

While the Treaty of Versailles forbade the development of heavy artillery for Germany, it made no impact on the development of rocket artillery. In 1931, German engineers secretly began work on several solutions to deliver explosive-, or even poison-tipped, rockets against expected enemies throughout Europe. The end result became a series of "Nebelwerfer" designs that went on to prove quite effective for the German Army in their near-future conquests. Such was the case with the implementation of the 21-cm Nebelwerfer 42 system. Its use was, on more than one occasion, a deciding factor in German victories throughout World War 2 - in the same way a machine gun in World War 1 could effectively tip the balance in the favor of its owner, so too could systems such as the Nebelwerfer 42 bring favor to the Germans.

The origins of the 21-cm Nebelwerfer 42 lay in the successes the Germans had experienced through implementation their 15-cm rocket weapons. In 1941, the engineers decided to take the 15-cm model and provide the Army with a larger caliber weapon for greater firepower, thusly giving rise to the 21-cm (210mm / 8.27 inch) Nebelwerfer of 1942. The system was ultimately delivered to units of the "Nebeltruppen", the German equivalent to the specialty American "Chemical Corps".

The 21-cm Nebelwerfer 42 utilized a collection of five mounted launch tubes fitted to the top of a carriage and organized in a "star" pattern; two tubes held close together towards the bottom of the arrangement, two spaced well-apart at the middle and the final launch tube set between and slightly above the upper most pairing with a noticeable gap in-between all tubes. The projector stand was initially to be simply an enlarged form of the basic 15-cm projector - complete with six launch tubes - but the larger caliber brought about balancing issues during transport and firing, necessitating the loss of one of the launch tubes. Each launch tube was electrically wired and triggered by way of an explosives "plunger" type activation unit. The unit was given an amount of connective cable to allow for safe firing of the weapon from a nearby, hopefully covered, location. The transport carriage on which the launch tubes sat upon was a modified form of the same one used with the PaK 35/36 anti-tank gun though fitted with a specially designed stabilizer leg at the front for additional support when firing. The carriage was fitted with two large road wheels and applicable tow "arms" to make the system highly mobile when connected to a support truck or similar vehicle. Additionally, the road wheels allowed a Nebelwerfer crew some flexibility in modifying their field-of-fire by simply pivoting the system against a new firing direction. The crew generally numbered four personnel.

Each artillery 21-cm rocket - designated as "21-cm Wurfgranate 42" - was a specially-designed projectile that externally mimicked traditional artillery ammunition. The slim nose cone provided the needed aerodynamic flow and the body was cylindrical in shape, leading to a cut-off base without any noticeable stabilizing fins. However, this external design was somewhat misleading for the warhead, normally contained in the nose cone assembly on an artillery projectile, was in fact fitted well-aft of the tip - the tip instead left hollow. The 14.3lb engine was fitted to the front of the projectile housing while twenty-two angled "venturi" were affixed to the projectile base to give it the needed spin stabilization during flight. These openings were set at 16-degree angles from axis and provided a clockwise "rifled" rotation or spin during flight. Some 22.4lbs of explosive made up the projectile's deadly payload - only high-explosive charged projectiles were ever produced for the Nebelwerfer 42 (no AP rounds were designed). However, special liner rails could be fitted inside of each launch tube to accept the 15-cm Wurfgranate 41 series rockets which, themselves, could be capped with high-explosive, smoke or even poison payloads. Additionally, rockets could be fitted with a delayed fuse or impact detonation as needed.

The firing action required the Nebelwerfer team to remove themselves from the direct vicinity of the readied launch tubes, finding cover wherever possible. When the firing order was given, a crewmember activated the launch plunger and the launch tubes responded, launching one rocket at a time in a predetermined launch order until all rockets were clear of the tubes (it is of note that the system could not single-fire individual rockets, only sets of rockets in this staggered launch fashion). The crew could then displace the projector to another location or reload fresh projectiles into each launch tube for another deadly salvo. A full salvo was unleashed in just eight seconds.

As can be expected, the Nebelwerfer 42 firing action was not without consequence; with each launched rocket there emitted a good amount of "back blast", stirring up a great deal of dust and debris while also producing smoke trails (from the rockets) in the process. This, in effect could supplying the weapon's general location to an observant enemy on the receiving end, opening the Nebelwerfer crew to a heavy artillery or like-rocket response in turn. Additionally, the rocket launch sequence provided a discernable level of noise that could be instantly recognized by the enemy, giving up the initiative to an extent. The enemy now knew the weapon type, ammunition being utilized and the approximate time for reloading. However, no one could discount the power of Nebelwerfer units as a whole, particularly when paired with other like-units or artillery, and its general effectiveness far out-weighed the battlefield dangers.

Along the East Front, Nebelwerfer systems were generally fielded alongside artillery systems for a one-two punch in support of German Army ground actions. Nebelwerfer 42s were issued in groups numbering six launchers with three groups per battalion organization and were fielded as independent brigades. Beyond the East Front, Nebelwerfer teams were unleashed against the Allies across North Africa, in occupied France and across fascist Italy, the latter after the 1943 Allied campaign.

Such was the power of the 21-cm Nebelwerfer 42, in fact, that the Americans captured intact specimens, sending them back stateside for evaluation; America generally lagged behind the other powers in design and production of similar rocket projectors. To this extent, the Americans outright copied the Nebelwefer 42 under the designation of "T36". Though this system was never placed into production, it served as a vital testbed for the US Army.

The German Luftwaffe also found value in the Nebelwerfer 42 rocket and designated it as the Werfer-Granate 21 ("WGr. 21", also "Bordrakete 21" - "BR 21") beginning in 1943. This version differed in utilizing a timed fuse with a larger warhead for affecting the large Allied bomber formations wreaking havoc on German war-making infrastructure through day and night sorties. These rockets were fitted into specially-designed single-launch, firing tubes to be utilized by German fighters, heavy fighters and dedicated "bomber destroyers".

Overall Length: 4.27ft (1.30m)
Weight: 0.6 US Short Tons (550kg; 1,213lbs)
5 x 21-cm (8.3-inch) horizontal launch tubes (electrically-triggered) on two-wheeled carriage assembly.
5 x 21-cm projectiles OR 5 x 15-cm projectiles with special launch tube adapter.
Warheads of HE (21-cm and 15-cm), smoke (15-cm) and poison gas (15-cm).



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