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Schneider 120mm field howitzer


Hoplophile
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Here are some questions about the Schneider 120mm field howitzer that I am hoping to answer.

In July of 1914, on the very eve of the Great War, French War Minister Adolph Messimy gave a speech in the French Parliament in which he said that the French Army would have 200 120mm field howitzers by the end of 1917. (I've seen many references to this speech in both the French press - le Figaro and le Temps - and the Militärwochenblatt (Issue 100 for 1914). Does anyone know if this order was ever placed with Schneider or if the purchase was included in the supplemental appropriation passed by the French Parliament that summer?

In sources dealing with events in the summer of 1915, one often sees mention of 12 batteries (48 pieces) of Schneider 120mm field howitzers that had been ordered by Greece before the war but, because of the outbreak of the war, had not been delivered. This mention, in documents signed by Generalissimo Joseph Joffre or Parliamentarian Etienne Clémental, is often associated with the notion that these howitzers should be requisitioned for use by the French Army. One later sees mention of the purchase, by the French Army, of 11 batteries (44 pieces) of Schneider 120mm field howitzers that had originally been built for Bulgaria. Can anyone tell me if these are separate batches of weapons or if there was but one lot of 120mm howitzers that Schneider had built for export and a bit of confusion about its exact destination.

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Hoplophile,

I found this article, which details transactions with Bulgaria for the Schneider 120mm Gun, perhaps it will be of interest to you.

Also, a technical drawing of the Schneider 120mm, and a period photograph.

Regards,

LF

"After having equipped the artillery with quick-firing field guns, the Bulgarian Army felt the need to purchase also modern field howitzers. At that time European Armies did not agree about the calibre to adopt. Germany and Austria-Hungary chose the lighter 105mm, while Belgium, Japan and Russia preferred the more powerful 120mm.

In Bulgaria on 20 – 28 November 1906 the Artillery Committee met to solve the question and, after a detailed analysis, decided in favour of the 120mm. Since the Bulgarian Army had already adopted this calibre for its howitzers, the Committee that was not opportune to introduce a different calibre. In addition the 120mm howitzer could replace the 105mm, and, unlike it, could be employed effectively against heavy fortresses, like Odrin. Therefore it suggested to upgrade the existing 120mm howitzers, and to purchase other 4 batteries (24 howitzers). The improvements were the adoption of new sighting devices with dial sight, battery telescopes, elastic trail spades, traversing movement of the axle, charges of smokeless powder in cartridge-cases, higher wheels. In addition the number of ammunition wagons should be increased to 3 per howitzers, and their ammunition with 100 torpedo shells per piece. But again political problems arose.

In January 1907, the negotiations about Bulgarian artillery and ammunition were connected to a project of conversion of loans emitted in Vienna and London in 1888 and 1889 at an interest rate lower than the 6 percent they carried, whose execution would be entrusted to a group of German (Disconto Gesellschaft, Deutsche Bank, Bleichröder) and Austrian banks (Länderbank, Bank Verein), leaded by the French Banque de Paris et de Pays Bas. The French did not require a guarantee for the loan, and they offered terms more advantageous than the loans of 1902 and 1904. This conversion to 6% into 4.5% would make available a share of the budget of the Debt, which would be used to guarantee a new loan of 68,000,000 francs.

On 23 February 1907, the Artillery Committee charged to negotiate with Schneider, and composed by major gen. Radko Dimitriev, major gen. Georgi Vazov, col. Ilya Dimitrov, col. Dimitar Geshev, col. Stoyan Zagorski, col. Kalin Naydenov and maj. Stefan Slavchev, changed its previous decision, accepting the adoption of a 105mm howitzers, since at that time Schneider had not a 120mm howitzer. Nevertheless the Committee spoke out against signing a contract with the French firm for 21,000,000 francs, stressing that the difference in price between Schneider and Krupp for the whole order was 1,528,930 francs. In fact Schneider charged Bulgaria 290 francs for 150mm shells, while Krupp asked only 150 francs, and 62 francs per 75mm shrapnel for quick-firing field guns, while Ehrhardt asked only 45 francs. The price demanded was even more outrageous, since the Bulgarians discovered that during the war against Japan the Russian government had paid Schneider only 54 francs per shell. Even the Bulgarian foreign minister Dimitar Stanchov declared to the German ambassador Falkenhausen that “the guns would definitely not be ordered from Creusot, but rather would be placed with Krupp.”

The War Minister major general Mihail Savov submitted the decision of the Committee to the Council of Ministers that decided to pass the report to the Sobranie for examination. Fearing that the order might not be given to Schneider, the French warned the Bulgarian government that until the contract was concluded there would be no loan on the Paris Bourse. The Sobranie understood that the loan contract with French banks forced Bulgaria to place the bulk of the orders in France, and approved the command to Schneider. A special credit of 32,000,000 francs was placed at the disposal of the Ministry for the War and 25,000,000 of them were reserved for French industry.

A first the sum of 17,200,000 francs should be share out in the following way :

-
6,000,000 francs for 100,000 shrapnel for the 75mm QF field guns ;

-
7,500,000 francs for 12 – 105mm howitzer QF batteries;

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2,500,000 francs for 3 – 150 tons torpedo boats;

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1,200,000 francs for various kinds of equipments (mainly tents and medical supplies).

The remaining 7,800,000 francs would be reserved for 18 / 27 field gun batteries.

The whole order was assigned to Schneider that would sub-contract at the firm Lefèbvre the 1,200,000 francs for the equipments.

Since Schneider had become the obliged intermediary of all the French firms in their business in Bulgaria, he claimed to them a sales commission of 20%, which burdened their prices : consequently the French companies withdrew and left him the free market. The Bulgarian government had to accept the obligation to make purchases in France by loans emitted in France, but objected to the program of armament and supplies which was dictated by Schneider.

Nevertheless, owing to the monopoly conceded by the banks to Schneider, on 5 March 1907 the Bulgarian Army signed with Schneider alone a command for :

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9 105mm field howitzer QF batteries : each battery was equipped with four guns and 2000 shells (they were delivered in 1910, but with a different calibre);

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9 75mm mountain QF batteries : each battery was equipped with four guns, 3200 shrapnel and 800 H.E. shells (the last delivery arrived in spring 1909);

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6000 shells for the 120mm Krupp howitzers;

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3 ammunition wagons for every 150mm howitzer (72 ammunition wagons with 7200 shells);

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117,100 shrapnel for the 75mm QF field guns.

The total cost was 21,004,993 leva; guns and ammunition should be delivered within two years. To complete the sum of 25,000,000 leva the Bulgarian government ordered to Schneider engineer’s equipment (tools, cars, bridging material, telephones, telegraphs, balloons) for 2,000,000 leva and to the firm Lefebvre tents for 1,500,000 leva. Great part of this supplementary order was delivered in 1911 and included Decauville railways with wagons, trucks Brillié, optical signalling instruments system Mangin, projectors, barbed wire and bicycles.

In summer 1907 a Bulgarian delegation went to Creusot to test the weapons proposed by Schneider : the mountain gun was immediately accepted, but the howitzer was not found fully satisfying. The French firm had offered the light field howitzer OC 105 n° 3, that Romanian Army adopted in 1910, and on 26 July, col. Zagorski conceded that had proved to be good, except for minor details, but stressed that it was possible to adopt also a more powerful howitzer. Actually Schneider was manufacturing for the Russian Army a 122mm howitzer with rear trunnions and constant long recoil gear, which was more sophisticated than the 105mm. It was simpler and not much heavier than the latter, but the weight of its explosive charge was double (5 kg against 2.34 kg) and its range greater (8500 m against 6600 m).

After having examined the reports of the tests carried out in the presence of the Russian and Serbian commissions and of col. Zagorski himself, on 23-24 January the Artillery Committee decided definitively for the 120mm, and the execution of the contract signed in 1907 could finally start. The acceptance tests were carried out in December 1911 in Creusot and were conclusive. The howitzers were delivered in 1912. After the beginning of the Balkan Wars further 11 batteries were ordered, but at the outbreak of World War 1 the French Army cancelled the contract, and in 1915 seized the howitzers that were assigned to the Armée d’Orient. Still in 1912 also 36 – 75mm field guns were ordered.

In 1911 the War Ministry requested the funds to purchase some horse artillery batteries to support the Cavalry Division, but only 16 machine guns were authorized and assigned to the first four cavalry regiments. The outbreak of the Balkan War kept from carrying out the original plan. During the war the lack of horse artillery was regarded as a great fault for the Bulgarian cavalry. Therefore 1st battery of 5th not quick-firing artillery regiment was rearmed with Turkish horse artillery guns and assigned to the Cavalry Division. With the Edict N° 39/8 August 1914 the first horse artillery battery was officially created, followed by a second one in 1915.

In order to simplify the question of ammunition supply, at the beginning of 20th Century studies began to produce an Eihnheistgeschoss (universal shell), a projectile combining both the effects of shrapnel and H.E. shell. For this purpose Dutch 1st lt. Pieter Daniel van Essen thought to add a high explosive head to the shrapnel and to fill the shrapnel body with Trotyl placed between the bullets, where until then only a filling producing smoke, called colophony, had been placed in order to make easier the observation of the fire. The van Essen patent was bought by the German firm Ehrhardt (Rheinmethall), that introduced the Brisanzschrapnell Ehrhardt-van Essen, a H.E. shrapnel, soon followed by Krupp, that produced two different kinds of universal shell, the Granatsschrapnell (with separate head containing the high explosive) and the Schrapnellgranate (with no separate head, and the explosive shared into five different charges), and finally by Schneider. They were equipped with special fuzes working on four different ways : time for shrapnel, percussion for shrapnel, percussion for H.E. shell, and percussion with delay for H.E. shell.

In 1909-1910 a Bulgarian commission tested on an extensive scale the universal shells produced by various firms both abroad, in Germany and France, and at Sofia. On 9-10 December 1911 the Artillery Committee examined the different models produced by Ehrhardt and Krupp and suggested to buy the Krupp shells for field guns, and the Ehrhardt ones for mountain guns and field howitzers. The War Ministry approved this suggestion and on 31 December 1911 a contract was signed for 10,500 Krupp universal shells for 75mm field guns, 7700 Ehrhardt Brisanzschrapnell for mountain guns and 1100 for 120mm field howitzers. However the latter could not be delivered for technical hitches and were replaced with as many rounds for mountain guns. Unfortunately they arrived in Bulgaria only at the beginning of 1913 and could be used after the first armistice (20 November 1912 – 20 January 1913).

In 1912 the Artillery Committee decided that from then on the field and mountain artillery would be equipped only with universal shells, but later the pressing requirements of the Balkan war forced to buy also common shrapnel. In October-November 1912 the Bulgarian Army ordered 50,000 Brisanzschrapnell (half Ehrhardt and half Krupp) for field and 10,000 for mountain artillery, along with 23,000 shrapnel for field artillery.

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