Canon de 155 Mle 1917 Schneider C – who used them?

During 1941 Vichy France supplied 20 heavy howitzers of the type Canon de 155 Mle 1917 Schneider C to the Axis forces in North Africa. It is possible that at least part of these were in action during CRUSADER.  This particular gun was a very popular gun, in use by many armies between the wars, and also serving with the US Army in the late 1930s and early 40s (although I am not sure if any saw service overseas).  It was however obsolete by 1940, due to the very short range it had (only 11,900 metres), compared to more modern guns such as the Soviet 152mm gun-howitzer ML-20 (>17,000 metres) or the British 5.5″ gun which entered service in 1941 (about 15,000 metres). Shell weight at 43kg was similar to the German sFH18, as well as the Soviet and British guns.

The French army, after mobilisation in 1940, had 535 of them available for service, according to David Lehmann’s PDF document 1939-1940 French Armament (available at this link).  After the end of the campaign, and the conquest of Greece and other countries using this gun, it was put into German service as sFH15,5cm 414(f) (heavy field howitzer 155mm 414(f) where the (f) indicates the country of origin.  It was also in use by the Regio Esercito as Obice 155/14, where 14 indicates the barrel length in multiples of gun calibre diameter.  Since both Axis forces active in North Africa were familiar with this gun, it is not clear to me who would have used it.

Request for information:

I would appreciate any information on:

1) which army received the guns;

2) which units used them;

3) where they were used; and

4) for how long they served the Axis forces in North Africa before they were lost.

Many thanks in advance!

Update: According to Jason Long on the Italianisti Group, 12 of the guns served in Heereskuestenartillerieabteilung 533 in North Africa. While the choice of such a short-ranged gun is unusual for a coastal defense purpose, I guess it comes down to beggars not being able to be choosers. The use in coastal defense is also confirmed by Jeff Leser.  From looking at Jason’s Gazala battle OOB, it appears that by May 42 many more of these guns had made their way to Libya, but on the other hand, HKA 533 by this time did no longer have any of them on strength, instead it was equipped with captured 25-pdrs. Whether that meant they had lost them in the retreat from Tobruk, or whether they had traded them in, is a mystery at this stage.

Update 2:

Today I came across an ULTRA intercept stating that on 17 Nov. 41 4 of these guns left Tripoli for the front on 4 lorries of supply column 2/148.

A picture provided by Manuferey from the AHF below, the picture my late grandfather took outside Leningrad could no longer be linked. The picture shows that these guns were not modernised for motor towing. Instead they had to be loaded on the back of a heavy track using ramps.

155mm Schneider C howitzer imported from Tunisia, in use by German artillery in the desert

33 thoughts on “Canon de 155 Mle 1917 Schneider C – who used them?

  1. Hallo,

    This is one of many enigma of NA campaigns…

    I found only two evidences that such guns was used in NA : a Gliederungen of 1942 showing that the Heeres-Kusten-artillerie-Abteilung 523 has 8 – 15cm Haub. 414 (f) and 4 – 10cm Kan. 35 (t). This Gliederungen is a “Soll” one (3 batteries of 6 heavy guns each 15,5cm (f)), with manuscript modification hard to read. this modification is referencing to a document Anlagen 1472 (or 1972) of 24.4.42…

    Hard to believe that such unit was sent with these guns were sent in NA. Perhaps it was a unit by this time in Italy with such guns, waiting for guns and ships to be sent in NA ?

    The second evidence is a document showing that the MS742 was loaded the 25.07.42 at Brindisi (to Tobruk) with one s.F.H. 414 (r) (error of the report of course).

    So only one gun sent in NA…

    I found also a lot of evidences of deliveries of french Heavy guns 15,5cm (ex – GPF) called 418 or 419 (f) by german, from Tunisia to Libia, by french vichysts forces… These guns were called “tunis-geschutze” in the Arko 104.

    But nothing sure.

    Last word, I found also a document showing that Ankara loaded in the 17.06.42 and transfered to MS 743 two guns K 425 (f) of 15,5cm… Never see such guns in NA ?

    I found also a lot of s.F.H. 13 Sfl. or not loaded for NA…

    Without pictures, all these datas are for me doubtfull.

    Unfortunately, these documents came to me from NARA after the first part of my article…. sad and shame…

    regards,

    CM

  2. Salut Cedric

    The information is from Louis, so I think it is very reliable, and these guns had come from French North Africa through 1941 (via Gabes). On the other hand, the 155mm GPF did not come from French North Africa, as I understand it. I wonder how these did acquire the nickname ‘Tunisgeschuetze’, since I doubt they had come via Tunis?

    Bit of a mystery here, you are quite right.

    Very good article though!

    All the best

    Andreas

  3. It is impossible to have an Obice called 155/49. It is too long a tube for an “Obice” it should be a “Canone” and a big one at that. But i don’t have that weapon in my lists. Only 155/14 and 155/36.

  4. Ahhh… yes… quite right. Many thanks for the correction. It is the 155/14. Corrected it now. Must have been confusion with the 149/40 canone.

    All the best

    Andreas

  5. Hi Dili

    Many thanks for this. From the info I have the guns went to North Africa, not Greece, so these are probably other 155/14s.

    All the best

    Andreas

  6. 523,528,529,533 were the Heereskuestenartillerieabteilung in North Africa, they were later integrated into Arko2. All of them had initially French 155mm Guns(and it seems now Howitzers), so it is possible that researching this units you might find more Howitzers.

    • The interesting question is then where did all these other sFH 414(f) come from? Also, when did they arrive? I am having an issue though with the Gazala OOB indicating that these battalions were horse-drawn? I never heard of anyone using horse-drawn anything in the Western Desert.

  7. Just e few precisons :

    all the Heeres-Kusten-Artillery-Abteilung were not sent in NA at the same time. So not easy to be sure of anything.

    I am not sure that 155 C Schneider were really sent in NA (it may be in a HKAA in Italy before being reequiped with 155 GPF). No horse-drawn guns in NA of course, but event the ammunition were really different between the two guns. The GPF needs special ammunitions.

    According to my documents, I have this schedule :

    HKAA 533 (3 batteries of 6 guns 155 GPF) loaded the 25.5.41
    HKAA 523 (3 batteries of 6 guns 155 GPF) loaded the 21-24.6.41 (for 3.battery and Stabsbatterie), the 28.6.41 (for 2.batterie), and the 17-23.9.41 (for 1.batterie).

    I found also the II./ AR 115 (with 2 batteries of 3 Morser M18 21cm, with the 4. batterie sunken in july 41 with Preussen), the 5. batterie (21 and 28.6.41) and the 6.batterie (14-17.7.41), and the s.Art.Abt 408 (3 batteries of s10cm K18 loaded 14-21.6 for 3. batterie, and 14.9 for 1. and 2.batterie).

    the Arko 104 was sent in october with Stab/artillerie-regiment 122 and le.beo.Abt 11.

    I found also the 4./H.K.A.A. 772 with 3 guns of 17cm sK18.

    Replacement for 4.batterie (3 Morser 21cm M18) were sent in the Duisburg the 24.10 but sunk again…with some personal for Stabsbatterie and vehicles for 6.batterie. So the 4.batterie was equipped with heavy italians guns (149 ? 105 ?) captured in Bardia.

    In december, there is the III./ AR 155 with (7., 8. and 9. batteries with 12 le.F.H. 18 10,5cm).

    That’s all for Sidi Rezegh.

    I found others 15,5cm sent in NA in 1942 (HKAA 529 only, the HKAA 528 arrival in NA is unknown for me) and in 1943, but I am nearly sure that some others guns were sent via Tunis (with Darlan “Protocole de Paris”) with ammunitions. The African Vichyst Army used not have such guns in NA, but may have sent it for german use from Southern France. I have pictures showing 2 155 GPF towing from Tripolitania to the Tobruk’s siege (no shots of disembarking scene), and called by the the artillerymen “Tunis-geschütze”. At this time, such nickname must be an evidence to something that French mustn’t be proud of and hided to everyone…

    For the Schneider gun, the only “loading report” I have mentionning the sFH 414 (r) was in july 1942… and I am not sure that the MS succeeded to reach NA (I have only the loading document not the disembarking one ;-)). The performance of this gun (made for trench warfare) may be usefull for the siege, but not in 1942… The GPF has more strategical mobility ability than the Schneider.

    So without pictures, we must be very carefull on effective action of such heavy howitzer in Libia.

    last words, I found in Tunisia (as I am working on it) two former frenc 75 “guntrucks” (autocanons), captured and used by IV/ Afrika-Artillerie-regiment 2 with Division von Broich.

    CM

  8. a few comments to this article.

    HKAA 533 used to have 18 15,5cm FK 418 (f) (or perhaps some 419 wich was the GPF-T version).

    Not 12 15,5cm FH 414 (f).

    Only a few of them were lost during Sidi Rezegh (about 2-4 guns), so the HKAA 533 used to have his guns for Gazala. These guns were very mobile on strategical movements (tactical mobility was not good at all, for example on allroad), especially because it was heavy and resistant, and towed with only one heavy arty tractor (usually a SdkFz 7 or 9).

    For example 17cm or 21cm, it was towed in two pieces (sometimes the 17cm were towed for shorts travel with one Famo).

    The last 15,5cm K 418/419 were used during Tunisian campaign.

    For me, no HKAA were reequipped with 25 Pdrs in long times, but with s10cm K18 (for example in Tunisia). These Abteilung weren’t “field units” but trained and equipped for heavy guns.

    regards,

    CM

  9. May I ask you in what documents you found 20 howitzers 155 C Schneider (15,5cm FH 414) ?

    I never heard about it, especially for HKAA 533. I have Gliederungen of Arko 104 which shows always this unit with a “Soll” of 18 15,5cm sK 418 (f).

    Regards,

    CM

  10. Well chaps…

    I am asking for document, not a forum… I am looking for the source of this info as I usually have german documents showing a different composition… Remember that a lot of “urban legends” still existed on the composition or actions of Afrikakorps… So we must be very carefull.

    Thanks at all for the link, This orbat has a lot of error but used to be usefull as a base for research…

    So what is the original source for placing HKAA 533 with howitzers ? I gave mine and I hope there is something else to support the presence of 20 or 12 155 C Schneider in NA.

    Do you know any picture of such gun in NA ?

    Regards,

    CM

  11. You have to ask Louis.

    the Vichy’s documents are a bit confused, as a lot of instructions or plans were made, but a few were executed (especially for weapons delivery to germans, as the Northe Africa french army was really reluctant to reinforce the ennemy).

    It is important as nothing can be found in german documents.

    I gave you all what I had for 1941, and no Schneider Howitzer in NA then…

    Hope this will help your big “opera” 😉

    CM

  12. It does.

    Further update. In the ULTRA messages for late October 41 there is a request by the artillery department of the Panzergruppe staff that the sending of these guns from Tunisia be expedited, a response that they have not been released, and shortly after on a request for range tables for the short-barreled M17 guns. I guess that settles a number of things:

    a) the m1917 was in use in North Africa
    b) it was the Germans who used it.

    Furthermore I have an OOB that shows HKAA 533 had the guns in early February 42, presumably after having lost the GPF guns they were equipped with in mid-November.

    All the best

    Andreas

  13. Further update: The war diary of Division z.b.V. states that they expected to receive 8 of these guns with 1,600 rounds each between the 18 and 22 November. So now I have to wonder if they ever arrived.

    All the best

    Andreas

    • Good !

      Unfortunately, I have nothing on january-february 42.

      But no guns like this in december 41, nor in may 42…

      Thanks,

      CM

      • Salut Cédric

        My guess is that they were stuck in transit/training far back when CRUSADER started, so never made it to the front until 90th Light retreated to el Agheila. That would explain why they only showed up much later.

        All the best

        Andreas

  14. A BATTERY OF Canon de 155 Mle 1917 Schneider C, WAS COMMANDED BY MY FATHER IN 1942-43 IN LENINGRAD (S. PETESBURGH), BELONGING TO DIVISION 250 “BLAU”. THEY HAD BEEN CAPTURED DURING THE 1940 FRENCH CAMPAING AND SUBSEQUENTLY SENT TO RUSSIA.
    I HAVE SEVERAL FOTOGRAPHS AND I REMEMBER HE HAD THE HIHGEST OPINION ON THEM, AS EXCELLENT “PIECES”. EVEN THOUGH HE PROUDLY FOUGHT WITH THE WEHRMACHT, HE COULD NEVER HIDE A SWEET SPOT FOR THE L’ARTILLERIE FRANÇAISE, WHOSE TACTICS AND MATERIALS WERE QUITE “EN VOGE” WHEN HE WAS IN THE SPANISH “ACADEMIA DE ARTILLERIA DE SEGOVIA”.

  15. Hello Javier

    That’s quite a co-incidence. I wonder if my grandfather ever spotted for your grandfather. I also wonder if the Canon de 155 in the picture above (taken by my grandfather outside Leningrad) is from your grandfather’s unit.

    All the best

    Andreas

  16. Javier

    My wife’s uncle served with Heeres-Küsten-Artillerie-Abteilung 289 in late 1942-early 1943 near Krasny Bor, south of Leningrad. Abt. 289 was equipped with 15.5cm sFH 414(f) howitzers.

    For years I have been looking for information about Abt. 289 and its role in the combat in January-February 1943. Do you have any information about the unit? Is your grandfather still alive?

    best regards

    Tom
    Columbus, Ohio, USA

    • Hi Thomas

      Very interesting. It is quite possible then that the picture of the gun on this site is from your wife’s uncle’s unit. Quite the co-incidence. Is he still alive?

      All the best

      Andreas

  17. No, he was killed Feb. 17, 1943, during the fighting around Krasny Bor. The family never knew the circumstances of his death. In fact, they didn’t know what unit he was with or even know how he died until a few years ago when I discovered a report saying he was a gefreiter with H.Ku.Art.Abt.289 and had been killed by a massive chest wound through-and-through.

    That’s one of the reasons I’m doing this research. To me it’s a very compelling story, because he didn’t believe in the war or the Nazi cause, and only went to war because he knew his family would be killed if he didn’t. His father, in fact, helped Jews escape Germany.

    Is your grandfather still alive?

    • Ah, sorry to hear that. I have the history of the Blue Division, and there is a lot on that fight in there. Do you or does your wife speak German?

      My grandfather unfortunately passed away last year in November.

      All the best

      Andreas

  18. Pingback: French 155mm Schneider guns – revisited « The Crusader Project

  19. Andreas

    My wife speaks German. I do not.

    In what language is your history of the Blue Division written? I would be very interested to know if there is any mention of Heeres-Küsten-Artillerie-Abteilung 289 in there. I saw in another discussion forum that one battery of Abt. 289 was placed in Krasny Bor during the Feb ’43 battle.

    http://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic.php?f=55&t=142132

    Unfortunately there was no other information provided.

    Sorry about your grandfather. I would have loved to correspond with him about his experiences.

    Tom

    • Hi Thomas

      Apologies for the very late reply. This history is written in German. My copy is currrently in storage. Prompt me in two months when I should have it unpacked.

      All the best

      Andreas

    • Yep, and just checked, no mention of specific German artillery units, other than a thankful nod to the batteries which supported the division during the battle.

      Sorry not to have more.

      All the best

      Andreas

  20. Hi There
    As to captured French weapons sent to North Africa – most are either 47mm AT guns (usually as PzJgr Mk1) or Canon de 155mm GPF (whatever odd expression that the Germans use for them). This last weapon is a “long” gun – not a howitzer, and was issued to 523, 528, 533 HKAR – probably 12 guns per battalion although this as ever with the HKAR is a bit iffy. I would strongly advise referring to the Bundesarchiv and or Georg Tessin to look at this (Tessin is my prime source for Battalions on up), and an email to Dr Niehorster may also help clarify issues.

    Note that there is also 4.149 allegedly equipped with a 17cm Kanon but I am seriously dubious as to the thought that this would be a 17cm K18 Mlffte. I strongly suspect that the 17cm guns available early on would be 17cm SK L/40 deployed as bodenstandige units (static – but not really – they could well be on a wheeled carriage, and most static units have sufficient prime movers and logistics vehicles to move half their supplies and artillery weapons about). This gun is an ex naval weapon, formerly the secondary weapon on the Deutschland and Braunschweig pre-dreadnaughts. As most of these ships survived WW1, and many were scrapped interwar – and critically after the Allied Armistice Commission had left Germany, it is entirely probable that 50 odd barrels were available to assemble coast defence weapons from.

    Back to French 155mm. No data in my possession indicates the availability of a 155mm Howitzer type weapon from the captured stocks in France – but I have seen some pictures that indicate that either the 155mm howitzer or the 105mm Gun (I can look this up) were possibly shipped over mounted on Lorraine tractors (essentially as a SPA). This did not as far as I can tell happen in large quantities, and did not occur prior to El Alamein. These would be assigned to 10th Pz and potentially to the 15th or 21st (more likely the 21st as it was “refreshed” in early 1943 in Africa.

    Furthermore you should be looking during the very last period of the winter campaign for sv288 – which is a bit of a mess to say the least. Star weapon is 3 x StugIII (7.5cm kz) sent over for artillery support. I can find the variant if I dig a bit more – but most likely Stug III D or F. 2 survived to be surrendered to the Allies in May of 1943. One was destroyed at Gazala.

    • Hi John

      Thanks for the comment. Some responses:

      The 17cm Kanonen were the K18 in Moerserlafette. This is based on pictorial evidence. See e.g. http://www.deutsches-afrika-korps.de/viewtopic.php?f=68&t=3263

      You are correct no 155mm Schneider howitzers were delivered from France or Europe in 1941. They were bought in Tunisia in 1941 by the Waffenstillstandskommission, together with 1,000 or so trucks. Unlike the trucks they were actually useful. They came with the original wooden wheels, which must have made transporting them… interesting…

      I have a separate entry on SV288. The Stugs didn’t come over in 1941, no capacity to transport them. I think they may have made it in March 42 or so. They were short-barrelled, but not sure which specific letter.

      All the best

      Andreas

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