15-cm schwere Feldhaubitze 18
Within Germany the two major artillery manufacturing concerns had been Krupp and Rheinmetall since the turn of the century. Both firms survived World War I intact, but with their usual markets shattered both decided to start again with new products. Thus for both the 1920s was a period of retrenchment and research so that by the time the Nazi party came to power in 1933 both were ready to supply their new customer. The new customer was shrewd enough to invite both parties to submit designs for every new artillery requirement made by the expanding German forces, and thus when a call was made for a new heavy field howitzer each company was ready with a suitable design.
The trouble for the army selectors was that the submissions were as good as each other. Thus the eventual equipment was a compromise, the Rheinmetall ordnance being placed on the Krupp carriage. This selection was made in 1933 and given the designation of 15-cm schwere Feldhaubitze 18 (15-cm sFH 18), although the actual calibre was 149 mm (5.87 in). The howitzer quickly became the standard German heavy field howitzer and it was churned out from numerous production lines all over Germany.
The first version of the sFH 18 was intended for horse traction and was towed in two loads, namely barrel and carriage. But before long a version intended to be towed by a halftrack tractor was produced, and this soon became the more common version. It proved to be a sound and sturdy howitzer and served well throughout all of Germany's World War II campaigns. Once the invasion of the Soviet Union was under way in 1941, however, it soon became apparent to the Germans that the piece was outranged by its Soviet 152-mm (6-in) equivalents. Various attempts were made to increase range, including two more powerful propellant charges to be added to the six already in use. These extra charges worked to a limited extent but caused excessive barrel wear in the process and also overstrained the carriage recoil mechanism. To overcome the latter problem some howitzers were fitted with a muzzle brake to reduce recoil forces, but this modification was no great success and the idea was dropped; weapons so modified were designated 15-cm sFH 18(M).
As the war went on the sFH 18 was placed on a self-propelled carriage known as the Hummel (bumblebee), and thus formed part of the artillery component of a few Panzer divisions. Not all were used in the field role, Divisions that found themselves installed along the Atlantic Wall defences used their sFH 18s to bolster coastal defences, usually under German navy control. Some sFH 18s were handed out to some of Germany's allies, notably Italy (obice da 149/28) and, for a while, Finland (m/40).
The sFH 18 was still in use in very large numbers when the war ended in 1945 and for a period the howitzers were used by many armies. Czechoslovakia used an updated version of the sFH 18 until quite recently, and the type was also used by the Portuguese army for a considerable period. Some still survive in parts of Central and South America, and the sFH 18 has surely been one of the soundest and sturdiest of all German artillery pieces.
Specification 15-cm sFH 18
Calibre: 149 mm (5.87 in)
Length of piece: 4,44 m (14 ft 6,8 in)
Weight: travelling 6304 kg (13,898 lb) and in action 5512 kg (12,152 lb)
Elevation: -3° to +45°
Traverse: 60° Muzzle velocity: 520 m (1,706 ft) per second
Maximum range: 13325 m (14,570 yards)
Shell weight: 43.5 kg (95.9 lb)