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.
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.