During World War Two, Polish, Soviet, German and British armed forces used armored trains. Germany had 21 armored trains in 1942, 29 in 1943, 44 in 1944 and 55 in 1945. The Soviets had a lot more including captured Polish armored trains.
The locomotive would be covered in protective armor plate and pull artillery wagons fitted with howitzers, anti-aircraft wagons bristling with flak guns for self-defence, anti-tank wagons with tank turrets mounted on top of an armoured coach, command and assault wagons to carry troops plus at the back a flat-bed tank transporter with ramps. The tanks could dismount from the train when needed and take the battle to the enemy by out flanking them or using direct assault under the cover of supporting fire from the train.
On 8th September 1944, the German Army PZ32 armored train was captured in St Berain, France. Most German armored trains were on the Eastern Front.
The Lorraine 37L
During WW1, the French and British Army needed a way to transport ammunition and supplies to the front line. Men and horses were getting killed and injured from small arms fire and exploding shell fragments. Tracked armored supply vehicles were developed. This vehicle was developed by the Lorraine company in 1937 as a replacement for the smaller Renault UE. It could transport a heavier load and was faster than the Renault UE. Production began in January 1939. By the time France surrendered in 1940, a total of 432 Lorraine 37L armored supply tractors had been produced.
The Chenillette Lorraine 37L armored tractor unit was designed to transport ammunition and supplies to the front line.
The 10.5cm leFH 18/40 auf GW Lorraine Schlepper(f) and Marder I SPGs
After the surrender of France in 1940, a lot of French Army military equipment was taken into operational use by the Germans. Some of the French tanks and armored tractors, like the Lorraine 37L, were converted into self-propelled guns. These vehicles would be able to keep up with the Panzer Divisions. There were two main types of self-propelled guns in the German Army during WW2.
One, like the Marder I, was fitted with an anti-tank gun and the other with an artillery howitzer, like the 10.5cm leFH 18/40 auf GW Lorraine Schlepper(f) self-propelled artillery gun. A vehicle fitted with an artillery howitzer was called a ‘Geschützwagen’ abbreviated to ‘GW’, which is literally translated as a ‘gun vehicle’. The word ‘Schlepper’ means tractor. The letter (f) indicates that the SPG’s chassis was French.
The 12.2cm FK (r) auf GW Lorraine Schlepper (f)
This vehicle was also built around a captured Lorraine 37L. It was used on the PZ32 German armored train in France. It would be at the end of the train on a flat-bed tank transporter wagon that had ramps. The driver would reverse the 12.2cm FK (r) auf Geschützwagen Lorraine Schlepper(f) SPG up the ramps and onto the wagon.
Many observers have claimed that it was used as an anti-aircraft gun because in many photographs the gun barrel was pointed up into the sky. It was never used to try and shoot down aircraft. It was a long range artillery gun designed to deliver high explosive HE shells great distances.
The gun was fixed into position. It was not in a turret that could turn to face the enemy. It had a limited traverse left and right. It was envisaged that when the train got to the battlefield the 12.2cm FK (r) auf GW Lorraine Schlepper(f) SPG would be driven off the train, down the rear ramps and moved to face the direction of the target.
It could be used in direct fire mode at targets the crew could see, but more commonly it was used for indirect fire at targets plotted on a map. It was not designed to be in the front line or engage in combat with tanks. It was a motorized artillery gun that could fire 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 crew 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.
New Build or Battlefield Conversion?
The origins of the 12.2cm FK (r) auf GW Lorraine Schlepper (f) self-propelled artillery gun are not known. Was a Soviet 122 mm (4.8 in) howitzer M1938 (M-30) used to replace the gun in a Marder I anti-tank SPG or a 10.5cm leFH-18/40 auf Geschuetzwagen Lorraine Schlepper(f) self-propelled artillery gun? Was this vehicle a one off new build?
A company called Alkett, based near Berlin, built the first 10.5cm leFH-18/40 auf Geschuetzwagen Lorraine Schlepper(f) self-propelled artillery guns in 1942. German Army engineer Major Alfred Becker worked with the company to create these conversions.
The following year, he was in Normandy at the head of a Baukommando, a construction command unit. Becker’s men, engineers and mechanics converted more Lorraine 37L tractors into self-propelled artillery gun by fixing 10.5cm leFH-18/40 howitzers onto the top of these vehicles.
The design of the fighting compartment was slightly different on each version. By comparing photographs of the Becker and Alkett built SPG with the 12.2cm FK (r) auf GW Lorraine Schlepper (f) it can be seen that major work was done on the top section of the upper armor.
It looks like the original vehicle was an Alkett built 10.5cm leFH 18/40 auf GW Lorraine Schlepper(f), as the upper and lower armor joints of the fighting compartment are low down. That joint on the Becker built vehicles was much higher.
However, where the fighting compartment upper side armor plates meet the front plates the joint angle is forward not backward as on the Alkett build.
Was it a converted Marder I which was also built on a Lorraine 37L chassis? There was no forward gun lock on this SPG as there was on the Marder I. The angle of the joint between the upper front and side armor was the same unlike on the 10.5cm leFH 18/40 auf GW Lorraine Schlepper(f).
The author of the German book ‘Beute-Kraftfahrzeuge und panzer der deutschen Wehrmacht’, Walter J.Spielberger, had the benefit of an interview with Major Becker after the war and access to all the original documents. There is only one small paragraph about this vehicle in the book.
It does say that only one vehicle was built with a 12,2cm Kanone (r) on a Lorraine-Schlepper tractor. It does not say that the Soviet gun replaced a 10.5cm leFH 18 gun or a 75 mm Pak 40 L/46 gun. This vehicle could have been a new build rather than a battlefield conversion of an existing self-propelled gun.
The 122 mm howitzer M1938 (M-30)
Between 1939 and 1955, Soviet factories produced 19,266 of these artillery howitzers. They were developed by the design bureau of Motovilikha Plants, headed by F.F.Petrov, in the late 1930s. It was used as a towed divisional artillery piece during WW2.
The Finish and German army reused captured guns. The German Army gave them the designation 12.2 cm s.F.H.396(r) heavy howitzers. Germany began mass production of 122 mm (4.8 in) ammunition for these and other captured howitzers, producing 424,000 shells in 1943, 696,700 in 1944 and 133,000 in 1945.
Soviet 122 mm howitzer M1938 (M-30) captured by the Finnish Army. It is now on display at the Hameenlinna Artillery Museum in Finland
The German 10.5cm leFH 18/40 gun had a muzzle velocity of 540 m/s, elevation of 45° and a range of 12,325 m. The Soviet M-30 122mm gun had a muzzle velocity of 515 m/s, elevation of elevation of 49° and a range of 11,720 m. Both guns were similar but the German howitzer had a less powerful high explosive HE shell and its smaller maximum elevation made it less effective against dug-in troops.
The howitzer was designed to fire high explosive and smoke shells. In May 1943, a 122mm High Explosive Anti-Tank HEAT round became available. It only had a range of 2,000 m and the muzzle velocity was reduced to 335 m/s. This was meant for self-defence. This gun was an artillery howitzer not a high velocity anti-tank gun.
The Train – 1964 Film
‘The Train’ was a Hollywood movie starring Burt Lancaster and the PZ32 armored train that was captured in St Berain, France. The story is set in 1944, a German colonel loads a train with French art treasures to send to Germany. The Resistance must stop it without damaging the cargo. The 12.2cm FK (r) auf GW Lorraine Schlepper (f) self-propelled gun can be seen at the rear of the train. It is not known what happened to the train or the SPG after filming had finished.
|Dimensions (L,W,H)||4.22 (without gun) x 1.57 x 2 m (13’10” x 5’2″ x 6’7″)|
|Total weight, battle ready||7.7 tons|
|Crew||4 (commander, driver, gunner, loader)|
|Propulsion||Type 135 Delahaye 6 cylinder inline petrol engine, 70 hp at 2800 rpm|
|Fuel capacity||144 litres|
|Top speed||35 km/h (22 mph)|
|Operational range (road)||137 km (85 miles)|
|Armament||Soviet 122 mm (4.8 in) howitzer M1938 (M-30) – 12.2cm sFH 396(r)|
|Armor (chassis)||Front 9 mm (0.35 in), cast nose 12 mm (0.47 in), sides 9 mm(0.35 in), rear 9 mm(0.35 in)|
Beute-Kraftfahrzeuge und panzer der deutschen Wehrmacht by Walter J. Spielberger
Armored Trains by Steven J Zaloga
Steve Osfield collection
German Army 12.2cm FK (r) auf Geschützwagen Lorraine Schleppe(f) self-propelled artillery gun.
Which one was the donor vehicle?
Or was it a new build?
10.5cm leFH-18/40 auf GW Lorraine Schlepper(f) (Alkett version)
10.5cm leFH-18/40 auf GW Lorraine Schlepper(f) self-propelled artillery gun. (Baukommando Becker version)
7.5cm Pak 40/1 auf Geschutzwagen Lorraine Schlepper(f) Sd.Kfz.135 – Normandy, 1944 Marder I
12.2cm FK (r) auf GW Lorraine Schleppe(f) on the back of an armored train flat truck with ramps.
The ramps at the end of the armored flat-back railway wagon would allow the 12.2cm FK (r) auf GW Lorraine Schleppe(f) SPG to be deployed on the ground to fire at long range targets.