62

In the years after World War One 

thoughts turned to developing a 

new gun for the German Army

words John Teasdale  pictures Archive

I

n the 1920s, as the German Army (Re-

ichsheer) planned to re-equip, thoughts 

turned to putting into service a new standard 

light fi eld gun. The offi cers charged with de-

veloping the gun had recent war experience to 

draw upon. During the war, Germany had fi eld-

ed guns with a bore of 7.7cm and howitzers 

with a bore of 10.5cm. In the future, it would 

ease ammunition manufacture and supply if 

there was only one standard light fi eld gun.

A bore of 10.5cm was chosen as, although the 

shell would be bigger than that fi red by a 7.7cm 

gun, the gun itself would be not very much 

larger and would therefore still be reasonably 

easy to handle in the fi eld. (In due course, 

wartime 7.7cm guns would be re-barrelled to 

fi re a 7.5cm shell, and a new 7.5cm gun would 

be designed and put into service in limited 

numbers from1938 - so much for the idea of 

standardising on 10.5cm.

Having decided on a bore of 10.5cm, the next 

decision was whether the new gun should 

indeed be a gun, or a howitzer. A gun has a 

relatively long barrel, allowing time for the 

propelling charge to impart energy to the shell 

and thus attain a high muzzle velocity and long 

range. Trajectory of a gun’s shell is low; with an 

allowance for the effects of gravity at longer 

ranges, the gun is aimed directly at the target. 

This is ideal when engaging advancing soldiers 

and German fi eld guns were the only effective 

weapons when the British fi rst attacked with 

tanks. A gun was less suitable for attacking 

fi eldworks or entrenched troops however, as 

shells either burst on the breastwork or passed 

harmlessly overhead. In contrast, a howitzer 

has a relatively short barrel and was fi red at a 

high elevation. 

For an equivalent propelling charge as used in 

a gun, the shell did not travel as far but due to 

the high elevation of the barrel it fell out of the 

sky and into fi eldworks or trenches.

Guns and howitzers designed in the early 

years of the 20th Century began to take on 

each other’s characteristics, and it was decided 

that the new gun for the Reichsheer would 

continue that process and be a gun-howitzer. 

Rheinische Metallwaren-und Maschinenfabrik 

was awarded a development contract in 1928, 

and the new gun-howitzer was mass produced 

from 1935. It was designated the 10,5cm 

leichte Feldhaubitze 18 (10,5cm leFH 18, 

10.5cm Light Field Howitzer).

The barrel was long compared with that of 

the 10.5cm howitzer used during the recent 

war; at 2.941m (9ft 8in) it was 28 calibres long, 

whereas the wartime howitzer had a barrel only 

22 calibres long. The total elevation arc was 47 

degrees 37 minutes, allowing both direct and 

high-angled fi re. The barrel and recoil assembly 

was mounted in a cradle which was in turn 

mounted on a split-trail gun carriage running 

on two wheels. Ideally, the new gun would be 

towed by a new gun tractor. 

Such a tractor was in the course of develop-

ment, but, given the size of the army that was 

being planned, there would never be enough 

tractors for all the guns. Most would therefore 

be horse-drawn. 

To make the guns as easy as possible for 

horses to tow across rough ground, traditional 

‘Germany had to 

import most of 

its iron ore from 

Sweden’

63

Young Guns

This leFH 18 is seen on campaign, though the original caption does not say where or when. Note that although 

the gun and limber are heavily camoufl aged, none of the men think it yet necessary to don their steel helmets 

(KRIEGSBERICHTER SCHLICKUM)

large-diameter wheels were fi tted to the gun 

carriage. Initially, these were pressed alloy 

with steel tyres, but traditional wooden-spoked 

wheels would be fi tted from around 1942 in 

order to conserve metal stocks. 

To prevent a gun over-running the horses 

on a gradient, brakes were fi tted; these were 

operated via traces by a gunner riding on the 

limber. Guns that were to be towed by a motor 

vehicle were fi tted with solid rubber tyres, and 

dampers were fi tted to the leaf-spring suspen-

sion to allow towing at higher road speeds. The 

brakes were operated by a gunner riding in the 

gun tractor.

The two trails of the gun carriage were 

brought together for towing, and spread apart 

for fi ring (though for anti-tank fi re the trails did 

not need to be spread). When the trails were 

spread, a cam mechanism locked out the leaf-

spring suspension thus forming a stable gun 

platform.

When the trails were spread, it was a not easy 

to traverse the gun carriage – especially if the 

soft ground spades at the ends of the trails had 

been deployed, and had dug into the soil when 

the gun was fi red. 

So the gun cradle allowed a wide traverse 

upon the carriage: total traversing arc was 

56 degrees 14 minutes, equal both ways, to 

right and to left. The traversing wheel was on 

the left-hand side of the cradle, as was the 

gun sight. The elevating wheel was on the 

right-hand side. Traverse and elevation were 

therefore the responsibilities of two separate 

gunners.

Horse-drawn leFH 18 Batteries

As noted above, most of the guns would be 

horse-drawn. A team of six horses was the 

standard allocation, but in very bad conditions, 

as would be found in the Soviet Union, up to ten 

would be required. When horse-drawn, the gun 

was used with a two-wheeled limber which car-

ried ammunition and members of the gun crew.

Motorised leFH 18 Batteries

Of more interest to us here are the gun 

tractors that were issued to artillery regiments 

allocated to the Panzer and motorised divi-

sions. In 1934, the Reichsheer commissioned 

Krauss-Maffei to design and build a prototype 

light cross-country prime mover; the company 

was already working on a medium cross-coun-

try prime mover. Having built a single semi-

track prototype, development and series 

production was passed to Büssing-NAG which 

built eight more prototypes then revised the 

design for series production starting in 1935. In 

due course, Daimler Benz and Praga would also 

build the vehicle.

The production vehicle was based on a 

pressed steel frame. Its Maybach six-cylinder 

petrol engine was located at the front, its 

weight supported by two wheels fi tted with 

pneumatic tyres. The wheels were sprung, but 

not driven; they were used to steer the vehicle 

when only small turns were required. The 

64

engine drove a four-speed gearbox, two-speed 

transfer box and a controlled differential steer-

ing unit mounted below the driver’s seat. The 

steering unit was operated by the driver’s turn-

ing of the steering wheel. A small turn of the 

wheel moved the front wheels only; continuing 

to turn the steering wheel brought the steering 

unit into play, and it slowed the right track and 

speeded the left (or vice versa, as appropriate 

to the turn). The rubber-shod manganese-steel 

tracks were very sophisticated. The links were 

joined by steel pins, and these ran in needle 

bearings each with its own grease nipple. The 

drive sprocket was raised off the ground, as 

was the return idler at the rear of the semi-track 

assembly – the latter only just. In between 

them, the tracks ran on four sets of interleaved 

rubber-tyred road wheels. The road wheels 

were sprung by leaf springs. An engine-driven 

winch was fi tted towards the rear of the frame.

The bodywork of the gun tractor had three 

rows of seats (including that occupied by the 

driver) and stowage compartments at the rear. 

Military designation was Sonderkraftfahrzeug 

6/1 (Sd Kfz 6/1, Special Motor Vehicle 6/1). 

Early in 1937, it was re-classifi ed from a light 

prime mover to a medium prime mover. In 

November 1937, the semi-track assembly was 

lengthened by the addition of two more sets of 

interleaved road wheels and somewhat later 

the leaf springs were replaced by torsion bars. 

In the years that followed, until production 

ceased in 1943, further detailed design chang-

es took place, but the essential characteristics 

of the vehicle did not alter.

Sd Kfz 6/1 was an excellent gun tractor, 

though expensive to build both in raw materials 

and in workers’ time. With a towing capacity of 

fi ve tonnes, it was also over-specifi ed for the 

leFH 18. So although it was issued to some 

batteries equipped with that gun, the preferred 

tractor was the three tonne Sd Kfz 11.

In 1933, design work began at Hansa Lloyd on 

a small cross-country tracked tractor; this would 

be developed to become the Sd Kfz 11 leichter 

‘To prevent a gun over-running the horses on a gradient, 

brakes were fi tted’

Throughout its service life in the Heer, most leFH 18s would be horse-drawn, as seen here during a pre-war exercise. The gunner sitting front left on the limber has the 

traces connected to the gun’s brakes over his shoulder. The gun is painted in a dark grey/dark brown camoufl age pattern, and has the identifi cation letter ‘B’ painted in 

white top-right inside the gun shield. Riding a white horse is the battery’s senior NCO, identifi ed by the braid on his sleeves

The fi ve-tonne semi-track being deemed 

over-specifi ed, the usual gun tractor 

for motorised leFH 18 batteries was 

the three-tonne Sd Kfz 11 mit normal 

Artillerieaufbau (Special Motor Vehicle 11 

with normal artillery superstructure). The 

storage compartments in the middle of 

the superstructure are here covered by the 

canvas tilt, and members of the gun crew 

are in the rear open compartment

65

Zugkraftwagen 3t (Light Prime Mover three-

tonne). The automotive layout of this vehicle 

was the same as the fi ve-tonne Sd Kfz 6, though 

it was powered by a Hansa Lloyd petrol engine 

and the semi-track assembly ran on seven sets 

of interleaved rubber-tyred road wheels (the last 

of which served also as the track return)..

 Suspension was by torsion bars from the 

start of production. Cost and complication was 

reduced by not fi tting a winch. For use as an 

artillery tractor, a purpose-designed body was 

built with the stowage compartments located in 

the centre of the vehicle rather than at the rear. 

They were built to the full height of the vehicle, 

the roof being extended forward to enclose the 

driver’s cab. Behind the stowage compartments 

was an open crew compartment (though it 

could be enclosed by a canvas tilt). 

Crew access was via an open entrance at 

the rear of the vehicle. Inside were longitudinal 

bench seats each side. However, troop trials led 

to the design of the body being modifi ed. The 

stowage compartments were reduced to waist 

height and the roof over the driver’s cab was 

removed. This became the standard artillery 

body, designated normal Artillerieaufbau (Nor-

mal Artillery Superstructure).

As production continued, the vehicle under-

went changes: various Maybach engines were 

fi tted from 1937, and in 1938 responsibility for 

developing the design passed to Hanomag. 

Production, by a number of different compa-

nies, of the normal Artillerieaufbau gun tractor 

ceased in 1944 after about 4,500 examples had 

been built, though batteries were issued with an 

Sd Kfz 11 having simplifi ed wooden bodywork 

which continued in production until early 1945.

Guns were also hauled by Sd Kfz 11 fi tted with 

bodies comprising four rows of seats and a 

tool storage compartment at the rear; only 146 

examples of this body were built in 1938-1939. 

Some batteries in Panzer divisions were issued 

with the armoured vehicle based on the Sd Kfz 

11 chassis: the Sd Kfz 251. This was normally 

used as an armoured personnel carrier, but the 

artillery units to which it was issued used it as 

a gun tractor. 

A horse-drawn artillery battery pauses by the side of the road; it looks like France or the Low Countries in 

1940. Nearest the camera is a Beobachtungswagen (Observation Wagon), which, as well as its crew, carries 

an observation ladder, telescope, rangefi nder etc. Next is a fi ve-tonne semi-track (Sd Kfz 6/1). Why it is is-

sued to a horse-drawn battery is not known; it may be for use in recovering guns from muddy fi ring positions. 

Behind the semi-track is an leFH 18, hauled by the standard six-horse team. Passing the battery is a 1935 

Ford, impressed from its civilian owner for use by the military

This view shows the divided responsibilities for traversing and elevating the leFH 18. K1 (Kanonier 1, Gunner 

1) stands to the left of the breech, and aims and traverses the gun. K2 stands on the right, and elevates the 

gun. K2 also fi res the gun by pulling on a lanyard attached to the fi ring lever on the right-hand side of the 

breech block. The breech is open in this view 

(KRIEGSBERICHTER GUTJAHR)

ABOVE:

 Members of the SS-Polizei Division man their leFH 

18 during an exercise in 1941. Most men drafted into this 

division were ordinary policemen, though artillerymen 

such as we see here were transferred from the Heer. Note 

the camoufl age material draped over the wheels and the 

nearest trail

ABOVE:

 This leFH 18 and its Sd Kfz 11 gun tractor were photographed during the invasion of the Soviet Union. 

The photograph gives a good view of the gun crew in the compartment at the rear of the gun tractor; the gunner 

facing to the rear is in the open entrance to the compartment. This compartment could be enclosed by a canvas 

tilt when the weather was bad 

(KRIEGSBERICHTER TANNENBERG)

MAIN IMAGE: 

This horse-drawn battery has halted in a wood. Note the leather muzzle caps (each complete with a 

red refl ector) on the ends of the gun barrels; gunners were fastidious in keeping gun barrels clean

66

KStN 434, Bat-

terie leichte Feldhaubitze (motorisiert) (Light 

Field Howitzer Battery, motorised) was issued 

on October 1, 1938. It specifi ed the allocation 

of men and equipment to such as an leFH 18 

battery. A battery comprised four guns, each 

with its own semi-tracked gun tractor; each gun 

was served by a commander 

and seven gunners. The guns were allocated 

to the battery’s gun section, which in addition 

to the gun tractors, had two solo motorcycles 

and four Kübelwagen. One of the motorcycles 

was for an NCO medic and the other for a dis-

patch rider. One of the Kübelwagen was a light 

cross-country fi eld car; cars serving in this role 

were designated Kraftfahrzeug 1 (Kfz 1). 

The car was probably for use by the offi cer 

commanding the section. Two other Kübel-

wagen were Kfz 12, a medium cross-coun-

try fi eld car fi tted with a tow hook. These 

were probably for use by motor mechan-

ics and the battery’s computation party, 

which calculated bearings to intended 

targets. The fourth Kübelwagen was a Kfz 

4, which was fi tted with an anti-aircraft 

mount for twin machine guns.

There were two ammunition sections, 

with a total of eight light cross-country 

lorries, open (leichter geländegängiger 

Lastkraftwagen, offen). This was a 

very specifi c designation, and in 1938 only 

one vehicle met it: the Einheits-Lastkraftwa-

gen (Standard Lorry). The six-cylinder diesel 

engine of this lorry drove its six wheels via a 

four-speed gearbox and two-speed transfer 

box. Each wheel had independent coil-spring 

suspension, and each of the three differentials 

was self-locking. 

67

However, payload was only 2.5 tonnes, and 

the lorry could not cope with overloading. 

Production ceased in 1940 in favour of simpler 

types such as the 4x4 version of the three-

tonne Opel Blitz, introduced in July 1940. 

Batteries attached to Panzer divisions and light 

motorised brigades also had four multi-wheel 

trailers to carry ammunition. Three solo and 

one combination motorcycle, were provided for 

the offi cer in command and senior NCOs. 

Two service sections had a total of four lorries 

to carry such as baggage, food, fuel and a fi eld 

cooker, one solo and one combination motor-

cycle and a fi ve-tonne semi-track prime mover. 

The specifi c purpose of this prime mover is not 

given, but presumably it was used to recover 

broken down or stuck vehicles and guns, and 

could serve as a gun tractor if required.

The battery was led by a command section, 

which had two Kübelwagen – one each for the 

battery commander and the observation offi cer. 

These were both medium cross-country fi eld 

cars, one with and one without a tow hook (Kfz 

11 and Kfz 12). Three dispatch riders were each 

issued a solo motorcycle.

Working closely with the battery commander was 

the communications section. This was issued with 

fi ve Kübelwagen: two light radio cars (Funkkraftwa-

gen Kfz 2); one light signals car (Nachrichtenkraft-

wagen Kfz 2); one medium signals car (Nachricht-

enkraftwagen Kfz 15); one heavy fi eld telephone 

car (Fernsprechkraftwagen Kfz 23). There was 

also a 6x4 observation lorry (Beobachtungskraft-

wagen Kfz 76), carrying a tripod ladder to give the 

observation offi cer an elevated view when required, 

plus telescope, rangefi nder etc.

Ammunition

The 10,5 cm leFH 18 fi red four types of shell. 

Manufactured in the largest quantities were high 

explosive shells. Smoke shells were used to cover 

attacks and withdrawals, and to mark targets 

for aerial attack. Armour-piercing shells were 

fi lled with high explosive, and had a fuse in the 

base so that they would not function until after 

penetration of the target. Armour-piercing shells 

were also fi tted with a tracer element, so that 

the gunner could see where they went and could 

correct his aim if required. During the war years, 

hollow-charge armour-piercing shells would be 

introduced. Hollow-charges focused the power of 

the explosion, and could penetrate up to 7.5cm of 

armour plate. Gas shells were manufactured in 

large quantities, but were never used.

The propellant was loaded separately from the 

shell – it was contained in a stubby brass or steel 

cartridge case. This was to make it easy to vary 

the size of the propelling charge and thus the dis-

tance fi red. The normal charge as supplied from 

the manufacturer was designated Zone 5. 

‘Guns and 

howitzers 

designed in the 

early years of the 

20th Century 

began to take 

on each other’s 

characteristics’

68

Most shells, including armour piercing, were fi red 

with this charge. However, if greater range was re-

quired, a Zone 6 charge was used. To prepare, the 

loader removed the lid from inside the cartridge 

case, and then removed all fi ve bags of propel-

lant. These were replaced by a Zone 6 charge. 

The lid was then put back, and the cartridge case 

loaded into the breech of the gun. Zone 6 charges 

were only used as strictly necessary, as the more 

powerful charge increased wear of the barrel 

and tear of the gun carriage. For reduced range 

fi ring, one or more of the fi ve standard bags were 

removed before loading into the breech. For night 

fi ring, a spun lead wire fl ash-reducer could be 

added to the charge in the cartridge case, though 

its use reduced the range of the shell. Maximum 

range with a Zone 6 charge was approximately 

10,700m (11,700 yards), reducing to 9200 m 

(10,000 yards) with the standard Zone 5 charge.

Consumption of Steel

It is useful here to contemplate the huge 

quantity of steel used in the production of am-

munition. In the 1930s, Germany had to import 

most of its iron ore from Sweden; although Ger-

many did have its own deposits, their chemical 

characteristics were such that they could not 

be used for steel-making using the methods 

employed by German companies. 

In the 1930s, German industry was not com-

petitive on world markets, so earned relatively 

little in foreign exchange. This in turn made it 

diffi cult for the German state to fi nance the 

purchase of Swedish iron ore. Never-

theless, by September 1940 the Heer 

had a stockpile of 21.9 million 10.5 

cm leFH 18 shells, the production 

of which had absorbed in excess of 

250,000 tonnes of steel. (There were 

over 5000 leFH 18 in service at this 

time.) Such a stockpile of ammu-

nition was of course necessary if 

Germany was to wage war on the 

Soviet Union, but allocations of 

steel for munitions production inevi-

tably impacted upon allocations for 

the manufacture of such as tanks, 

guns and trucks.

War Service

The 10,5 cm leFH 18 was an 

excellent gun, and as well as 

being adopted by the Heer (as the 

Reichsheer had become in 1935) 

it was sold to foreign armies. One 

of those was that of the Spanish Nationalists, 

and the gun fi rst saw active service in the 

Spanish Civil War. From  September 1, 1939, the 

Heer was engaged in its own war. The leFH 18 

‘Guns that were to be towed by a motor vehicle were fi tted 

with solid rubber tyres’

ABOVE: 

A motorised leFH 18 battery of Artillerie-Regi-

ment 90, 10 Panzer-Division, Panzergruppe 2, passes 

through a village in the Soviet Union. It appears to 

have been raining recently, as the vehicles have their 

canvas tilts erected. The open entrance to the rear 

crew compartment of the Sd Kfz 11 is seen clearly 

BELOW: 

A gunner sleeps on the trail of his gun, using 

as a pillow the soft ground spade; the spade is in 

its transport position. There was one such spade 

on each of the trails, attached at a pivot. Note the 

handle in the foreground, used to rotate the spade 

through 180 degrees to deploy it when the trails 

were opened and the gun readied for firing. Also 

seen are the wooden rammer and a red/white-band-

ed aiming post. The painted fish on the trail may 

indicate 35 Infanterie Division, though it is facing 

left rather than the more usual right

69

proved its worth. However, it was outranged by 

the British 25 pounder and the Soviet 76.2 mm 

M1939 (though these guns fi red a smaller shell.) 

Longer range for the leFH 18 was deemed there-

fore useful, and in 1941 a revised gun entered 

service, the 10,5 cm leFH 18M. This was fi tted 

with a muzzle brake and a revised recoil system 

to allow the use of a newly-designed long-range 

shell and its powerful propelling charge. Many 

existing guns were re-built to the new design.

Both the leFH 18 and the leFH 18M were 

rather heavy – they weighed very nearly two 

tonnes. This weight proved troublesome in the 

muddy conditions experienced in the Soviet 

Union, and guns were lost when they could not 

be extracted from fi ring positions before they 

were overrun by the Red Army. (The 25 pounder 

weighed about 1.6 tonnes.) In 1942 therefore, 

production of the leFH 18M was augmented 

by that of the leFH 18/40; this gun was an leFH 

18M on the carriage of a 7,5cm Pak 40 (7.5cm 

Anti-Tank Gun 40) running on larger wheels. 

Weight was in fact not much reduced, but the 

carriage was easier to manufacture.

Communications

The range of an leFH 18 being further than it 

was normally possible to see, forward observa-

tion was very important. Each battery was 

responsible for its own observations, and it was 

not uncommon for a battery commander to 

accompany the infantry leading an attack, 

especially if he was unfamiliar with the terrain. 

Communication back to the battery, using 

pre-arranged codes, was initially by radio. 

Man-portable radios were each operated by two 

men; one carried the transceiver and the other 

the accessories, battery and antenna. Once set 

up, a radio had a range of about fi ve miles. Prone 

to waterlogging, the radios had to be kept dry. As 

soon as possible, the battery’s signalers would 

install telephone lines between the forward 

observers and the battery.  

Further Reading

Tactical and Technical Trends, No 6, 27 August 

1942 : Notes on German Divisional Artillery.

Tactical and Technical Trends, No 7, 10 Sep-

tember 1942 : Organization and Identifi cation of 

German Artillery Units.

Tactical and Technical Trends, No 26, 3 June 

1943 : German Radio Communications for 105-

mm Gun Battery.

TM E9-325A : German 105-mm Howitzer Materi-

al, 15 June 1944.

An leFH 18 battery is loaded on to a train – the ends of the wagons have been removed so that the vehicles 

can board the train at one end and drive to the other

ABOVE: 

Kübelwagen served in an leFH 18 battery in various roles. One of these was as a signals car 

(Nachrichtenkraftwagen Kfz 15). Identifi cation is by the telephone cable reel mountings on the front 

wings. (The designation was originally Fernsprechkraftwagen  -Field Telephone Car). This one is 

based on a Horch 830 R, evidently built before 1936 as it has canvas instead of steel doors 

RIGHT: 

This leFH 18 is being towed by a fi ve-tonne semi-track Sd Kfz 6/1. The vehicle is 

painted in a dark grey/dark brown camoufl age pattern 

(B MITSCHE)

BELOW: 

First time on the range for this 10,5 cm leFH 18 battery