ARTILLERY PART 7:

Super-Heavy Howitzers (203 mm and 210 mm)

Super-heavy howitzers were somewhat specialised weapons for Finnish Field Artillery. For Armed Forces with rather small Air Force, which lacked effective dive-bombers (unless one counts small number of JU-88 as such) they offered the next best thing for taking out fortified pinpoint targets. The method used in this was "tikkaus-ammunta" ("pinprick-shooting"), which was sometimes used also with

203 H/17

(203 mm howitzer model 1917)

(BL 8 inch Howitzer Mk 7, Vickers Mark 6)

(8 in howitzer Mk 7)

PICTURE: 203 H/17 super-heavy howitzer. Note wheel structure. (Photo taken in Tykistömuseo). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (60 KB).

Calibre:

203,2 mm (bagged ammunition)

Barrel length:

L/16

Weight in action:

8700 kg

Muzzle velocity:

388 m/sec

Traverse:

+/- 4 degrees

Elevation:

- 0 degrees, + 50 degrees

Max. range:

9,5 km

Ammunition weight:

90,7 kg (HE), 116,0 kg (APHE)

Ammunition types:

HE, APHE

Country of origin:

Great Britain / USA

Finnish use: 32 howitzers bought from USA during Winter War, they arrived in summer of 1940. During Continuation War the howitzers were used by Super-Heavy Artillery units of Field Artillery.

During the Boer War British military found itself handicapped by lack of effective artillery. To fix the problem they started installing naval guns to gun carriages locally manufactured in South Africa. These guns proved quite effective. So, when during WW1 British military again lacked enough heavy artillery the same basic concept of heavy artillery pieces in gun carriages with tractor tires was reintroduced. This 8-inch Mk 7 howitzer was one of the artillery weapons based to that concept and introduced to use in 1916. When compared to earlier versions it had better recoil system, but still needed under its wheels ramps for controlling rest of its considerable recoil. This version did not anymore see combat use with British Army during World War 2, but the later Mk 8 version did see some action in France 1939 - 1940. After this British Army used Mk 8 howitzer only for training use. In July of 1943 British Army declared the rest of these World War 1 era 8-inch howitzers obsolete. The British also modified quite a few of their old 8-inch howitzers to 7.2-inch (183-mm) calibre during the war. The 7.2-inch howitzer fired 91.7-kg projectile with muzzle velocity up to 518 m/sec all the way to 15.5-km range. The British 8-inch howitzer Mk 6, Mk 7 and Mk 7* were also manufactured under license by Midvale Steel Co in United States for British Army and US Army.

PICTURE: Side profile of 203 H/17. This particular howitzer was made by Midvale. (Photo taken in Yard of Sotamuseo). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (45 KB).

The howitzer had large box trail, no gun shield of any type and recoil system with hydraulic buffer and hydraulic/pneumatic recuperator located below barrel. Wheels were WW1 era tractor wheels made from steel. Breech system used Asbury interrupted screw breech. The howitzers were suitable for both motorised towing and towing with horses, but limber needed to be used for both towing methods. The tractor wheels were 30-cm wide and had 170-cm diameter. Super-heavy was a fitting term for the howitzer: Its barrel and breech weight together 2,978 kg and just screw part of the breech weight 174 kg. Rate of fire was only about 1 shot/minute, this was because weight of the projectiles, which demanded leveling the barrel to zero-elevation for reloading process of each shot.

During Winter War Finland found its Army needing also super heavy howitzers. So, 32 of these howitzers were bought from USA, but they arrived too late for that war. Due to delays the howitzers didn't arrive until summer of 1940. They were very cheap, but also in desperate need of repairs and maintenance before they could be fielded. The howitzers were first issued to three Super-Heavy Artillery Battalions (1st, 2nd and 3rd), but later these units were reorganised to six Super-Heavy Artillery Batteries (11th, 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th). Finnish soldiers liked the howitzer, which they considered durable. Thirteen of these howitzers were lost in battles of summer 1944, eight of these belonged to Super-Heavy Artillery Battery 4 and were lost in Valkeasaari 10th of June, while the other 5 lost howitzers belonged to Super-Heavy Artillery Battery 3 and were lost in north/north-east side of Lake Ladoga. After World War 2 the howitzers remained warehoused for possible wartime use until late 1960's.

PICTURE: Breech and aiming systems of 203 H/17 howitzer. Note most most important piece of breech system made from bronze. (Photo taken in Yard of Sotamuseo). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (64 KB).

The ammunition used with these howitzers was bagged type, in other words: Projectile, propellant bags and primer were loaded separately and there was no cartridge case of any type involved. Propellant charge had four sizes for getting different trajectories. Finnish Army had two kinds of projectiles available for this howitzer: High explosive (HE) and armour piercing high explosive (APHE). The HE-projectile was naturally the usual ammunition used with the howitzer, while APHE-projectiles were for destroying bunkers and other concrete structures. This APHE-projectile was "203 pstkrv 50/59-ps ahps E 50/59", which weight 116.0-kg and contained about 4.9-kg of TNT. According manuals the same projectile was also used in 203-mm coastal guns of Coastal Artillery.

War:

Shots fired:

Winter War (1939-1940)

0

Continuation War (1941-1944)

12784

Total

12784

 

210 H/17

(210 mm howitzer model 1917)

(21 cm Haubits m/17)

(Langer 21 cm Mörser 16)

PICTURE: 210 H/17 super-heavy howitzer. (Photo taken in Tykistömuseo). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (62 KB).

Calibre:

210 mm x 231 R (separately loaded ammunition)

210 mm x 232 R (separately loaded ammunition)

Barrel length:

L/14,5

Weight in action:

7350 kg

Muzzle velocity:

227 - 394 m/sec

Traverse:

+/- 4 degrees

Elevation:

+ 6 degrees, + 70 degrees

Max. range:

10,2 km

Ammunition weight:

113 kg (HE), 113 kg (APHE), 121 kg (APHE)

Ammunition types:

HE, APHE

Country of origin:

Germany

Finnish use: Largest calibre weapon used by Finnish Field Artillery during WW2. Four howitzers were bought from Sweden during Winter War. Due to lack of towing vehicles they didn't see action in Winter War. During Continuation War three of them were issued to 10th Separate Super-Heavy Artillery Battery, which used them until end of the war. The unit was specialised in taking out pinpoint targets.

German companies Krupp and Rheinmetall started developing heavy mortar more mobile then the previous ones for German Army in 1902. The project advanced to prototype-testing stage by November of 1909 and the manufacturing started the following year. The When World War one started Germany had 256 of these "21 cm mörser 10" heavy mortars. German Army issued them to 28 horse-towed Artillery Batteries and these heavy mortars proved extremely effective against bunkers and other fortifications during WW1. During the war the Germans started developing new version with longer barrel and capable firing heavier projectiles to longer range. This development work resulted introducing "Langer 21 cm mörser 16" in year 1916. While the old "mörser 10" was transported dismantled and assembled in its new fire-position the new "mörser 16" could be towed with tractor from one fire-position to another. When World War 1 ended German Army had some 70 Artillery Batteries with old "21 cm mörser 10" and equal number of Artillery Batteries armed with new "Langer 21 cm mörser 16". In peace terms of Versailles treaty ending WW1 Germany was allowed to keep only two of these heavy mortars. When World War 2 started these last "Langer mörser 16" served German military until being replaced with more modern "21 cm Mrs 18" in year 1942. Sweden bought twelve "Langer mörser 16" from Germany in year 1918, they were delivered in 1918 - 1919. Swedish Army issued them for Field Artillery Regiment 10 and Boden Artillery Regiment until they were declared obsolete in year 1950.

The mortar had box trail (with hole in middle of it for gaining more elevation), wheels made from oak and steel and very large gun shield (which was removable, and seemingly was not always used). Breech mechanism used horizontal sliding wedge breech and recoil system with two hydraulic buffers and one pneumatic recuperator was located above barrel. The mortar was originally designed horse-towed, but the ones used in Finland had been modified for motorised towing with suitable heavy motor vehicle. The barrel was removed from the weapon for towing and transported as a separate load. Wheels of the mortar could be equipped with belts, which them wider (and distributed the weapons weight to larger surface) for duration of towing process. Minimum range for the weapon was 2.6 km. Rate of fire was varied around 1 - 2 shots/minute.

PICTURE: Closer look behind gun shield of 210 H/17 super-heavy howitzer. (Photo taken in Tykistömuseo). CLICK THUMBNAIL TO SEE LARGER PIC (61 KB).

During Winter War Finland bought four of these super-heavy howitzers (as Finnish military categorised them) from Sweden with 800 shots. Some Swedish personnel arrived with them and crew training was started in city of Vaasa/Wasa during the war. The howitzer crews were mostly Swedish speaking new recruits from western coast of Coast of Botnia. However, the unit could be sent to front during Winter War because Finnish Army was lacking suitable heavy towing vehicles. In April of 1940 the Swedish training personnel returned to Sweden and the howitzers were warehoused. They didn't stay warehoused for long - in June of 1941 10th Separate Super-Heavy Artillery Battery was established and three of these howitzers were issued to it. The unit was part of artillery reserves directly under command of Finnish Army General HQ. The forth howitzer was warehoused for future use. The Artillery Battery started its part in Continuation War by supporting 19th Division. In August of 1941 it was sent to Carelian Isthmus, where it supported 10th Division. The unit had specialised in destroying bunkers with "tikkaus-ammunta" ("pinprick-shooting"), which was form of indirect fire fired with one howitzer at the time, in this shooting the FO-team seeing the target adjusted fire after each shot until direct hit to target was achieved. The method was quite effective in taking out pinpoint targets without dangers, which using artillery pieces this heavy for direct fire would have caused. Fire-orders teams were much more difficult for the enemy to spot then heavy artillery weapon. The Artillery Battery also learned better and better in using this method - early on some 15-20 shots were needed to achieve direct hit, but after few months the unit usually didn't need more then three shots for hitting the target. Once the attack in the Carelian Isthmus ended the unit was sent to Maaselkä Isthmus where it remained for a long time. The Artillery Battery managed evacuating all its howitzers during retreat in summer of 1944 and fired its last shots in Ilomantsi battles of July - August 1944. Finnish soldiers considered the howitzer very effective, but also very heavy. After the war the howitzers were reserved for possible wartime use until being declared obsolete in late 1960's.

The ammunition for this super-heavy howitzer was separately loaded ammunition with nine propellant charge sizes. Finnish Army used two kinds of projectiles with these howitzers: High explosive (HE) and armour piercing high explosive (APHE). HE-projectile weighted 113 kg and was used against soft targets (non-concrete bunkers, gun placements etc…). The Swedes delivered "210 tkrv 51/65-ps R-/33" APHE-projectiles with the howitzers, these weight 120,75-kg and their dispersion was quite large for shooting pinpoint-targets. Later the Finns managed buying German "210 tkr 56/76-ps Zf" APHE-projectiles, which weight 121-kg and had much smaller dispersion and were more reliable then the Swedish projectiles. These German-made APHE-projectiles seem to have arrived to Finland with S/S Utlandeshörn 14th of June 1941. The German-made APHE-projectile contained some 14-kg of TNT. The destructive power of 210 H/17 howitzer could be considered quite impressive for field piece originating from WW1: Typically its shells created crater some 10 - 18 meters (depending soil) in diameter and about 4 meters deep.

War:

Shots fired:

Winter War (1939-1940)

0

Continuation War (1941-1944)

1409

Total

1409


SOURCES:

Jyri Paulaharju: Itsenäisen Suomen kenttätykit 1918 – 1995.

Unto Partanen: Tykistömuseon 78 tykkiä.

Jyri Paulaharju, Martti Sinerma and Matti Koskimaa: Suomen kenttätykistön historia book series.

Talvisodan historia book series.

Jatkosodan historia book series.

Ian Hogg: Twentieth-Century Artillery.

Ian V. Hogg: British & American Artillery of World War 2.

Article: Sotiemme raskain haupitsi 210 H 17 by Jyri Paulaharju in Ase-lehti magazine vol 2/96.

Military manual: 203 mm:n raskas haupitsi v:lta 1917 lajimerkki VI by Puolustusvoiman Pääesikunta Taisteluväliosasto (printed 1941).

Military manual: Ampumatarvikenimikkeistö by Puolustusvoimien Pääesikunta Taisteluvälineosasto (printed 1941).

Military manual: Kenttätykistön ampumatarvikkeet by Puolustusvoimien Pääesikunta Taisteluvälineosasto (printed 1940, updates added until 1947).

Reply to readers question under headline "Järeät jenkit" in Suomen Sotilas magazine vol. 4/2003.

Documents of Finnish military Archives, archives unit T20207/F16 sal.

Finnish military archives, archive reference T19043/20

Finnish military archives, archive reference T18419

Finnish military archives, archive references T20206/F9, /F10 and /F11

Finnish military archives, archive references T20206/F17 and /F18

Special thanks to Tykistömuseo (Finnish Artillery Museum, Hämeenlinna).

Special thanks to Sotamuseo (Finnish Military Museum, Helsinki).


Last updated 23rd of December 2005
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