Nazi germanyNazi Germany (1942)
SPG – 48 built

The German self-propelled howitzers

There were two main types of self-propelled guns in the German Army during WW2. One was fitted with an anti-tank gun and the other with an artillery howitzer, like the 10.5cm leFH 18 (Sf.) auf Geschutzwagen 39H(f) self-propelled gun. The vehicle fitted with the artillery howitzer was called a ‘Geschuetzwagen’, which is literally translated as a ‘gun vehicle’. The letters ‘SF’ stand for ‘Selbstfahrlafette’ – self-propelled carriage. The letter (f) indicates that the chassis was of French origin.

10,5cm leFH 16 (Sf.) auf Geschützwagen 39H(f) in plain sand livery. Sturmgeschuetz-Abteilung 200, 21st Panzerdivision, Normandy, summer 1944.
10,5cm leFH 16 (Sf.) auf Geschützwagen 39H(f) in plain sand livery. Sturmgeschuetz-Abteilung 200, 21st Panzerdivision, Normandy, summer 1944.

Improvised self-propelled artillery guns were developed to enable fast moving attacks to have artillery support that could keep up with the speed of advancing Panzer Divisions. They could use direct fire mode at targets they could see or, more commonly, use indirect fire at targets plotted on a map.

They were not designed to be in the front line or engage in combat with tanks. They were motorized artillery guns that could fire high explosive HE shells over the heads of friendly troops. Most targets would have been given to the crew as map grid references by forward observation officers or infantry units under attack.

Quite often, the gun crews could not see where their shells landed, as the target was so far away. They would have to rely on the forward observer to tell them if adjustments had to be made.

The open-topped back design of these self-propelled guns had a number of advantages. The elevated commanders position when standing in the crew compartment, behind the protective armored shield, meant that he had a good view on all sides. If there was the threat of enemy small arms fire, then the crew could use a twin lens range finder telescope that could peak over the top of the armored casement.

10.5cm leFH 16 (Sf.) auf Geschutzwagen 39H(f) gun recoil
This pair of photographs shows the 10.5cm leFH 16 (Sf.) auf Geschutzwagen 39H(f) gun recoil after firing a shell

There was enough room for the crew to be transported towards the battlefield whilst protected from small arms fire and shell shrapnel. The vehicle had good mobility and could follow the infantry almost anywhere. The gun was quicker to get ready for action and fire on targets than towed artillery guns.

They were cheaper and faster to build than a new vehicle. They used the chassis of an obsolete captured French tank and an existing artillery howitzer.

Putting the 10.5cm leFH 18 howitzer on top of the Hotchkiss tank chassis was a more efficient use of manpower from the traditional form of German artillery battery transportation. Even in WW2, horse power was still widely used although tracked vehicles were also used when available.

Each field gun would require a six-horse team to pull the gun and limber. The ammunition, supplies and kit would be kept in the limber, which was a very large box on a pair of wheels with seats on the top. Three men would ride on the left hand horse of each pair to control them. The remaining six men of the gun crew would ride on top of the limber. Only a relative few were towed by the 3 ton halftracks.

Operational service

At least twenty four 10,5 cm LeFH 16 and 10,5 cm leFH 18 (Sf.) auf Geschutzwagen 39H(f) self-propelled guns went into action in Normandy in June 1944. They were part of the German Army assault gun battalion Sturmgeschuetz-Abteilung 200, of the 21.Panzer-Division.
Erwin Rommel inspecting a 10.5cm leFH 18 (Sf.) auf Geschutzwagen 39H(f) self-propelled gun crew
Inspection by Rommel

The last ones were knocked out when they were caught in the Falaise Pocket and subjected to intense bombing, shelling and gun fire in August 1944. There is only one original surviving example left and that is a 10,5 cm LeFH 18 (Sf.) auf Geschutzwagen 39H(f) at the French Tank Museum, Musée des Blindés, Saumur, France.

The 10.5cm gun

The 10.5 cm leFH 18 gun was a German light howitzer used in World War II. The abbreviation leFH stands for the German words ‘leichte FeldHaubitze’ which, translated, means light field howitzer. It was fitted with a ‘Mundungbremse’ muzzle brake to allow longer range charges to be fired and reduce the amount of recoil on the gun. This increased the operational life of the gun barrel.

The 105mm high explosive HE shell weighed 14.81 kg (32.7lb). The armour piercing shell weighed 14.25 kg (31.4lb). It had a muzzle velocity of 470 m/s (1,542 ft/s) and a maximum firing range of 10,675 m (11,675 yds). With a good gun crew, it had a rate of fire between 4-6 rounds per minute.

The 10.5cm leichte Feld Haubitze 18 gun was not very useful in the direct-fire mode against enemy armored vehicles. It could only penetrate 52 mm (2 in) of armor plate at a very short range of 500 meters.

The high explosive shell was in two pieces. It was a ‘separate loading’ or two part round. First, the projectile would be loaded and then the cartridge propellant case.

The 10.5 cm leFH 16 gun was a German light howitzer used in World War I. It had a shorter range than the WW2 10.5 cm leFH 18 gun. Its maximum firing range was 9,225m (10,089 yds). As the same caliber weapon was used, it could fire the same ammunition. Its muzzle velocity was 395 m/s (1,300 ft/s).

There were a few disadvantages of an open topped vehicle. The crew was exposed to the elements and were also at risk of injury from enemy thrown hand grenades, mortars and shrapnel from air burst enemy shells. Rain covers were produced. They covered both the crew compartment and the gun. The canvas was attached to the upper protective armour using the small D shaped rings welded to the upper part of the structure.

Because the French Hotchkiss H39 tank chassis was small, there was limited space for the storage of ammunition. Only thirty six 10.5 cm HE two part shells could be carried. The propellant charges were kept on the left of the vehicle whilst the projectile shells were stored on the right.
Sturmgeschuetz-Abteilung 200 10.5cm leFH 18 (Sf.) auf Geschutzwagen 39H(f) self-propelled gun
Sturmgeschuetz-Abteilung 200 10.5cm leFH 18 (Sf.) auf Geschutzwagen 39H(f) self-propelled gun

Shells were carried in the crew compartment via the rear of the vehicle. There were two large hinged armoured doors with a small protruding metal step ladder underneath them at the back.

When the ammunition supply lorries reached each battery they would unload two different types of packing boxes. The propellant charges, that looked like giant tin cans, were transported in protective wooden hinged boxes. The front projectile part of the shell was wrapped in its own individual open wooden crate

A MG 34 machine gun was attached to top right side of the armor casement, on a swivel mount. Spare ammunition 50 round drums were stored underneath the mount. It fired 7.96 mm (0.31 in) bullets.

Identification

One of the easiest ways of telling the difference between a 10.5cm leFH 18 (Sf.) auf Geschutzwagen 39H(f) self-propelled gun and a 10.5cm leFH 16 (Sf.) auf Geschutzwagen 39H(f) SPG is to look at the armoured housing that surrounds the gun’s recuperator mechanisms. On the 10.5cm leFH 18 there are two, one above and below the gun. On the WW1 10.5cm leFH 16 there is only one below the gun barrel.

A recuperator on an artillery gun is a device employing springs or pneumatic power to return a gun to the firing position after the recoil.

The 7.5cm Pak-40/1 (Sf) auf Geschutzwagen 39H(f) anti-tank self-propelled gun version of the Marder I is very similar in looks to the 10.5cm leFH 16 (Sf.) auf Geschutzwagen 39H(f) self-propelled artillery gun. They both have a single armoured housing box surrounding the gun’s recuperator mechanisms which is below the gun barrel.

The 7.5cm Pak-40/1 (Sf) auf GW-39H(f) has a long piece of armor at the bottom of the gun’s Schutzschild (splinter shield) that slopes at an angle towards the armored casement below the gun. This is missing on the 10.5cm leFH 16 (Sf.) auf GW-39H(f)

21st Panzer Division June 1944

Sturmgeschuetz-Abteilung 200
I. Batterie (sf) (1st Battery)
4x 7.5cm PaK 40 (sf) auf GW 39H(f)
6x 10.5 cm le.FH 16 (sf) auf GW 39H(f)

II. Batterie (sf) (2nd Battery)
4x 7.5cm Pak 40 (sf) auf GW 39H(f)
6x 10.5 cm le.FH 18 (sf) auf GW 39H(f)

III. Batterie (sf) (3rd Battery)
4x 7.5cm PaK 40 (sf) auf GW 39H(f)
6x 10.5 cm le.FH 18 (sf) auf GW 39H(f)

IV. Batterie (sf) (4th Battery)
4x 7.5cm PaK 40 (sf) auf GW 39H(f)
6x 10.5 cm le.FH 18 (sf) auf GW 39H(f)

An article by Craig Moore

Specifications

Dimensions (L x W x H) 456 (without gun) x 155.5 x 202 cm (14ft11 x 5ft1 x 6ft7)
Total weight, battle ready 13 tons (28,600 lbs)
Crew 5 (commander, driver, gunner, 2 loaders)
Propulsion Hotchkiss 6-cylinder water cooled 5.97 liter petrol engine, 120 hp at 2800 rpm
Fuel capacity 207 liters
Top speed 36 km/h (22 mph)
Operational range (road)  180 km (111 miles)
Armament 105 mm (4.13 in) leFH 18 howitzer with 36 rounds
7.96 mm (0.31 in) MG 34 machine gun
Armor Front 22-34 mm (0.86-1.34 in)
Sides 34 mm (1.34 in)
Rear 34 mm (1.34 in)
Total production 48

Sources

Panzer Tracts No.10 Artillerie Selbstfahrlafetten by Thanks L. Jentz
Profile AFV Weapons 55 German Self-Propelled Weapons by Peter Chamberlain and H.L.Doyle
Beute-Kraftfahrzeuge und panzer der deutschen Wehrmacht by Walter J. Spielberger
Normandy 1944: German military organization, combat power and effectiveness by Niklas Zetterling
German Artillery at War 1939-45 vol.1 by Frank V.de Sisto.
Musée des Blindés, French Tank Museum, Saumur, France.
www.tank-hunter.com

10,5cm le FH18(Sf) auf Geschuetzwagen 39H(f)
10,5cm leFH 18 (Sf.) auf Geschützwagen 39H(f), Sturmgeschuetz-Abteilung 200, 21st Panzerdivision, Normandy, summer 1944.
10,5cm le FH18(Sf) auf Geschuetzwagen 39H(f)
10,5cm leFH 18 (Sf.) auf Geschützwagen 39H(f) in plain sand livery. Sturmgeschuetz-Abteilung 200, 21st Panzerdivision, Normandy, summer 1944.
10,5cm le FH16(Sf) auf Geschuetzwagen 39H(f)
10,5cm leFH 16 (Sf.) auf Geschützwagen 39H(f) in plain sand livery. Sturmgeschuetz-Abteilung 200, 21st Panzerdivision, Normandy, summer 1944.

Operational Photographs

German Army 10.5cm leFH 18 (Sf.) auf Geschutzwagen 39H(f) self-propelled gun
10.5cm leFH 18 (Sf.) auf Geschutzwagen 39H(f) SPG with gun raised

Camouflaged 10.5cm le FH 18 auf GW 39H(f) SPG
Camouflaged 10.5cm le FH 18 auf GW 39H(f) Self-propelled Artillery Gun

A 10.5cm leFH 18 (Sf.) auf GW-39H(f) self-propelled gun in France
A 10.5cm leFH 18 (Sf.) auf GW-39H(f) self-propelled gun awaiting target information

The Hotckiss H39 tank chassis was used to carry a 10.5cm leFH 18 artillery howitzer
The Hotckiss H39 tank chassis was used to carry a 10.5cm leFH 18 gun

The 10.5cm leFH 18 (Sf.) auf Geschutzwagen 39H(f) self-propelled gun could be fitted with a rain cover
In bad weather a rain cover could be used to cover the 10.5cm leFH 18 (Sf.) auf Geschutzwagen 39H(f) self-propelled gun

Close up of the 10.5 cm gun’s Schutzschild (splinter shield)
Close up of the 10.5 cm gun’s Schutzschild (splinter shield)

Surviving Examples

105mm le.FH 18 (Sf.) auf Geschutzwagen 39H(f) at the Musée des Blindés, French Tank Museum, Saumur, France
105mm le.FH 18 (Sf.) auf Geschutzwagen 39H(f) at the Musée des Blindés, French Tank Museum, Saumur, France

Association de Sauvegarde du Patrimoine Historique Militaire. has rebuilt a 10.5cm leFH 18 auf Geschutzwagen 38H (f) Self propelled Gun
Association de Sauvegarde du Patrimoine Historique Militaire has rebuilt a 10.5cm leFH 18 auf Geschutzwagen 38H (f) Self propelled Gun

Germans Tanks of ww2
Germans Tanks of ww2

Jagdpanther
7.5cm Pak 40 auf Raupenschlepper Ost (RSO)
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4 Responses to 10.5cm leFH 18 (Sf.) auf Geschutzwagen 39H(f)

  1. charles walker says:

    So many great tanks and other armor I use you camo art for my own model ‘s I love this site

  2. Bruce says:

    There is what looks like a french half track mounting a 75mm pak 40? In this video but i cant find refernce to this vehicle in the encyclopedia. Anyone know what it is?

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