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 15cm s.FH 13/1 (Sf) auf Geschützwagen Lorraine Schlepper(f) Sd.Kfz.135/1. The vehicle fitted with the artillery howitzer was called a ‘Geschützwagen’, 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.
.This 15cm sFH 13-1 (Sf) auf GW Lorraine Schlepper(f) is from 6th Battery, 2nd Battalion, 155th Panzer Artillery Regiment, 21st Panzer Division (6./Pz.Art.Rgt.155).
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.
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 15cm s.FH 13/1 howitzer on top of captured French Army Lorraine 37L tracked armoured transporter 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.
Sixty 15 cm s.FH 13/1 (Sf) auf GW Lorraine Schlepper(f) self-propelled artillery guns belonging to Gepanzerte Artillerie-Rgiment (Sfl.) on parade on the grounds of the Versailles Palace, just outside Paris, in late 1942. The numbers on the side of the nearest vehicle shows that it is the first ‘gun tank’ of the 2nd Battery (1 Geschuetzpanzer 2.Batterie). Note the bad weather canvas tarpaulin covers.
On the 23rd of May 1942, Hitler attended a demonstration of newly constructed, self-propelled guns, where captured enemy vehicles had been converted to carry artillery howitzers and anti-tank guns. A decision was made to build 160 Selbstfahrlafette (self-propelled guns) based on the Lorraine 37L Schlepper tractor. Sixty would carry the 10.5cm leFH howitzer, forty would carry the 15 cm sFH 13 howitzer and sixty would be armed with the 7.5 cm Pak 40 anti-tank gun.
Rommel’s Afrika Korps desperately needed self-propelled artillery guns that could keep up with the tanks. Hitler ordered the immediate assembly of thirty 15cm s.FH 13/1 (Sf) auf GW Lorraine Schlepper(f) SPGs on the 25th of May 1942. The contract was awarded to Alkett, which were based in Berlin-Borsigwalde. The order was completed in June 1942.
The interior of the vehicle could only hold eight high explosive shells and eight propellant cartridges. The unusual distinct rear overhanging design was necessary because of the location of the engine. This required a retractable hinged spade to be fitted at the rear of the vehicle. It was lowered into the ground when the gun was in action to help support the vehicle when the gun was fired and stop it moving backwards. The howitzer had a very limited traverse of only 5 degrees left and right with a 40 degree elevation.
An additional seventy two were built in France between July and August 1942 by Baukommando Becker, bringing the total made in WW2 to 102. Some sources, that at present cannot be verified, state that a further sixty four were built by Alkett in their factory near Berlin. That would bring the total built to 166. If one studies the operational photos, it will be noticed that there are three distinct models that have different build features. This would match with those sources which state that Alkett built the first batch of 30 then an improved version of 64, whilst Baukommando Becker built 72 slightly differently ones in France.
What are the differences? The first 30 that were sent to the desert have short retractable tail spades at the rear and no metal D shaped handles mounted on the side and bottom of the front armor plate. The second batch have the short retractable tail spades at the rear and now have metal D shaped handles fitted to the side and bottom of the front armour plate. This version can be seen in the photographs of the 60 vehicles on parade in Versailles Palace. The third version has extended long retractable tail spades at the rear of the vehicle.
The initial batch of thirty Alkett built 15 cm s.FH 13/1 (Sf) auf GW Lorraine Schlepper(f) sent to North Africa was divided up between three different Panzer Divisions. Twelve were going to be sent to the 21st Panzer Division. Another twelve were going to be sent to the 15th Panzer Division and the remaining six were to be issued to the 90th Leicht Division.
Unfortunatly for the Afrika Korps, three were sunk in transit in July 1942 and four more on the 4th of August. The remaining twenty three vehicles arrived safely at the Libyan ports of Bengasi and Tobruk. They first saw action during Rommel’s final attempt to break through the Lamein defenses on 30 August 1942. The 15th Panzer-Division reported that three of their 15cm s.FH 13/1 (Sf) auf GW Lorraine Schlepper(f) were total losses during the period from 30 August to 3 September 1942. The remaining nineteen 15 cm self-propelled guns were reported as available on 23rd October 1942, the day the British launched their attack on the German defenses at El Alamein. All were reported as having been lost by 2nd December 1942.
The new batch of sixty 15 cm s.FH 13/1 (Sf) auf GW Lorraine Schlepper(f) was built in France in the summer of 1942 by Baukommando Becker for the “Schnelle (quick) Brigade West”. They differed only minimally from the original Alkett built vehicles, with details like the tailspade and travellock. They were quickly issued to frontline units. Thirty were sent to the Gepanzerte Artillerie-Regiment 1 (Sfl.) and thirty were delivered to the Gepanzerte Artillerie-Regiment 2 (Sfl.). Each regiment comprised of five batteries with six self propelled artillery guns in each battery.
The Gepanzerte Artillerie-Regiment 1 (Sfl.) was disbanded in December 1942, their vehicles were scattered at three apiece to infantry divisions stationed in the West. The Gepanzerte Artillerie- Regiment 2 (Sfl.) was reorganized and renamed Artillerie-Regiment 931 in March 1943 and later Panzer-Artilleric-Regiment 155 which was part of the 21.Panzer-Division (neu). By June 1944, regimental documentation showed it only had twelve of the original thirty 15 cm s.FH 13/1 SPGs it was issued with in 1942.
Other tracked weapons had replaced them and the Regiment now had ten batteries including a rocket battalion. They went into action in Normandy in June 1944. Six were issued to the 6th Battery, 2nd Battalion (II. Abteilung (sf)) and six were issued to the 9th Battery, 3rd Battalion (III. Abteilung (sf)) . The Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 125 was shown as having six 15 cm s.FH 13/1 SPGs and the Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 192 also had six.
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 are only two original surviving examples left. A third was recently destroyed in Iraq. The best example of a surviving 15cm s.FH 13/1 (Sf) auf Geschützwagen Lorraine Schlepper(f) SdKfz 135/1 self propelled artillery gun was captured at El-Alamein and is now kept at the US Army Artillery Museum, Fort Sill, OK, USA. The second is damaged, but is on display at the El-Alamein War Museum in Egypt.
The driver’s compartment is open on this 15cm SPG SdKfz 135/1. Mounted on the front right of the superstructure armour plate is a 7.92 mm MG-34 machinegun with anti-aircraft sight. Notice the D shaped handles on the side and at the bottom of the front armour plate.
The 15 cm sFH 13 gun
The abbreviation “15 cm sFH 13” used in the designation of this self-propelled artillery gun is short for 15 cm schwere Feldhaubitze 13. It was a heavy (schwere) field howitzer (Feldhaubitze). It was towed by horses and used by the German Army in World War I and at the beginning of World War II. When they were available, half-tracks were also used to tow these artillery pieces.
In the 1930s, the longer barrelled 15 cm sFH 18 heavy field howitzer was introduced, that could deliver 150 mm (5.9 in) high explosives HE shells at a longer distance. The older 15 cm sFH 13 guns were moved to reserve and training units, as well as to coastal artillery. At the end of WW1, many of these guns entered service with the Belgian and the Dutch Army. The German Wehrmacht took control of them again in 1940.
The gun was designed by Krupp in 1913 and manufactured at the Krupp factory and also the factories of Rheinmetall and Spandau. Over 3,000 of these guns were produced from 1913 to 1918. The recoil brake recuperator was positioned below the gun barrel to provide maximum possible stability for all gun elevations firing normal charges. 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 HE high explosive shell weighed around 37.92 kg (83.6 lbs) and was loaded in two parts. This is known as a ‘separate loading’ round. First the explosive projectile shell was put into the gun breach and then the separate charge canister was rammed in behind it.
The gunner had seven different strengths of charge canisters to choose from depending how far away the target was. The gun had an effective firing range of 4.7 km (2.92 miles) when charge No.7 was used. It had an effective firing range of 1.4 km (0.90 miles) when charge No.1 was used. It had a muzzle velocity of 381 m/s (1,250 ft/s) and a good gun crew could fire four rounds per minute.
Two types of shell were fired, the 15 cm. I.Gv.33 and the 15 cm. I.Gv.38. They were for all practical purposes identical. Both HE high explosive shells had a percussion fuse. The smoke shell was painted Grey and marked Nb in white letters.
Sixty 15cm s.FH 13/1 (Sf) auf Geschützwagen Lorraine Schlepper(f) SdKfz 135/1 in the court yard of the Versailles Palace, France in 1942.
One of the easiest ways of telling the difference between a 10.5cm leFH-18/40 auf Geschuetzwagen Lorraine Schlepper(f) self-propelled artillery gun and the 15cm s.FH 13/1 (Sf) auf Geschützwagen Lorraine Schlepper(f) is to look at the armored housing that surrounds the gun’s recoil management recuperator mechanisms.
On the 10.5cm leFH 18 there are two, one above and below the gun. On the 15cm s.FH (sf) there is only one below the gun barrel. The 15cm s.FH (sf) gun was not fitted with a muzzle brake. It does have two metal bands fitted around the barrel unlike the 10.5cm leFH-18/40 gun. Both guns were fitted to the same Lorraine 37L tractor chassis.
21st Panzer Division June 1944
I. Abteilung (1st Battalion)
1st Battery 4x 12,2-cm-Kanone 390/1(r) (captured Russian)
2nd Battery 4x 12,2-cm-Kanone 390/1(r) (captured Russian)
3rd Battery 4x 10 cm K 18’s
II. Abteilung (sf) (2nd Battalion)
4th Battery 6x 10.5 cm le.FH 18 auf Lorraine
5th Battery 6x 10.5 cm le.FH 18 auf Lorraine
6th Battery 6x 15 cm s.FH 13 auf Lorraine
III. Abteilung (sf) (3rd Battalion)
7th Battery 6x 10.5 cm le.FH 18 auf Lorraine
8th Battery 6x 10.5 cm le.FH 18 auf Lorraine
9th Battery 6x 15 cm s.FH 13 auf Lorraine
Rocket Battalion (Werfer)
10. Batterie (10th Battery)
2x S307(f) R-Vielfachwerfer
Kampfgruppe Rauch Panzergrenadier-Regiment 192
3x 15 cm s.FH 13 auf Lorraine
4th Battery 3x 10.5 cm le.FH 18 auf Lorraine
5th Battery 3x 10.5 cm le.FH 18 auf Lorraine
6th Battery 3x 15 cm s.FH 13 auf Lorraine
Kampfgruppe Oppeln Panzer-Regiment 22
7th Battery 3x 10.5 cm le.FH 18 auf Lorraine
8th Battery 3x 10.5 cm le.FH 18 auf Lorraine
9th Battery 3x 15 cm s.FH 13 auf Lorraine
Kampfgruppe Luck Panzergrenadier-Regiment 125
3x 15 cm s.FH 13 auf Lorraine
HQ 1x 15 cm s.FH 13 auf Lorraine
3x 15 cm s.FH 13 auf Lorraine
|Dimensions (L x W x H)||5.31 m (4.4 m without gun) x 1.85 m x 2.02 m|
(17ft 5in (14ft 6in without gun) x 5ft 1in x 6ft 7in)
|Total weight, battle ready||8.5 tonnes (18,739 lbs)|
|Crew||4 (commander, driver, gunner, loader)|
|Propulsion||Type 135 Delahaye 6-cylinder water cooled inline 3.56 litre petrol engine, 70 hp at 2800 rpm|
|Fuel capacity||110 liters|
|Top speed||35 km/h (22 mph)|
|Operational range (road)||120 km (74.5 miles)|
|Armament||15 cm (5.9 in) sFH 13/1 howitzer with 36 rounds|
7.96 mm (0.31 in) MG 34 machine gun
|Armor||Front 9 mm, cast nose 12 mm, sides 9 mm, rear 9 mm|
Superstructure front 10 – 14.5mm, sides 8 mm
Panzer Tracts No.10 Artillerie Selbstfahrlafetten by Thanks L. Jentz
German self-propelled guns by Gordon Rottman
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
Restricted July 1944 – Allied Expeditionary Force – German Guns – Brief notes and range tables for allied gunners. SHAEF/16527/2A/GCT
Alkett built 15cm s.FH 13/1 (Sf) auf GW Lorraine Schlepper(f) (SdKfz 135/1) in sand and green livery, North Africa, 1942.
Alkett built 15cm s.FH 13/1 (Sf) auf GW Lorraine Schlepper(f) (SdKfz 135/1) in plain grey livery. Late 1942.
Alkett built 15cm s.FH 13/1 (Sf) auf GW Lorraine Schlepper(f) (SdKfz 135/1) in plain sand and green livery. Normandy, summer 1944.
Baukommando Becker built 15cm s.FH 13/1 (Sf) auf GW Lorraine Schlepper(f) (SdKfz 135/1) in sand, green and brown livery with long tailspade. Normandy, summer 1944.
Alkett built 15 cm s.FH 13/1 (Sf) auf Geschützwagen Lorraine Schlepper(f) awaiting shipping to North Africa
Battle of El Alamein Oct-Nov 1942 Alkett built 15cm s.FH 13/1 (Sf) auf GW Lorraine Schlepper(f) (SdKfz 135/1)
15cm sFH 13 auf Lorraine Schlepper SPG with gun raised and the short ‘tailspade’ deployed at the rear in North Africa.
One of the twenty three 15cm sFH 13 auf Lorraine Schlepper self-propelled artillery guns used in North Africa.
In the background there are 7 captured Afrika Korps 15cm sFH 13-1 (Sf) auf GW Lorraine Schlepper(f) self-propelled artillery guns in a British scrap yard near El Alamein, waiting to be broken up. Photo dated 16th December 1943.
Captured 15cm sFH 13 auf Lorraine Schlepper in North Africa in British hands
A 15cm s.FH 13/1 (Sf) auf GW Lorraine Schlepper(f) (Sd.Kfz.135/1). Notice the rain cover and D shaped handles fitted to the sides and bottom of the front armor plate.
Notice the ‘tailspade’ in the up position at the back of this 15cm s.FH 13/1 (Sf) auf Geschützwagen Lorraine Schlepper(f)self-propelled gun.
15cm s.FH 13/1 (Sf) auf Geschützwagen Lorraine Schlepper(f) in Normandy. Notice the D shaped handles fitted to the sides of the front armour plate and the spare bogie wheel mount on the front.
15cm s.FH 13/1 (Sf) auf Geschützwagen Lorraine Schlepper(f) in Normandy with long extended large tail spade at the rear. Notice the D shaped handles fitted to the sides of the front armour plate and the spare bogie wheel mount on the front.
Rear view of the 15cm sFH 13-1 (Sf) auf GW Lorraine Schlepper(f) with its recoil spade in the travelling position.
Captured at El-Alamein, now kept at the US Army Artillery Museum, Fort Sill, OK, USA, an Alkett built 15cm s.FH 13/1 (Sf) auf Geschützwagen Lorraine Schlepper(f) Sd.Kfz.135/1 self propelled artillery gun (photo by Gordon Blaker)
El Alamein War Museum, Alkett built 15cm s.FH 13/1 (Sf) auf GW Lorraine Schlepper(f) SPG (photo by F.N.A.I.Torino)
This photograph was taken by a Danish Soldier in 2005. It stood as a monument at the entrance to an ordnance factory north of Basra in Iraq, not far from the remains of a Saddam memorial.
This photograph was taken by the same Danish soldier a few weeks later. Local Iraqi people had started to strip the vehicle after the removal of the Saddam Government. Notice that the gun is in full recoil after the breech exploded. Location and condition unknown at present.