Mortier de 220mm TR modèles 1915 et 1916 Schneider
by Charlie Clelland

220mm Schneider TR Mle 1916 1

Once the Western Front had become static at the end of 1914 the French Army found that the projectiles from their heaviest field howitzer, the 155mm Rimalho Mle 1904, were unable to destroy German field fortifications. The only heavier howitzers available were obsolete 220mm De Bange howitzers from the 1880 which required a wooden platform and the 1891 updated de Bange with a steel carriage and platform. Neither of these howitzers were satisfactory since they required an enormous effort to emplace the howitzers, they were slow firing, 1 round in 3 minutes, and the max. range was limited to about 7000m.1

Two solutions were adopted to address this deficiency in the French artillery park. The mobility of the de Bange howitzers was improved by a new mobile platform developed by Schneider and a new 220mm howitzer was developed.

Fortunately, for the French Army, Schneider had built a 228mm howitzer for the Russian Army in 19092. The calibre was reduced to 220mm for ammunition compatibility with the older howitzers and the interrupted screw breech block modified with a de Bange obturator to use bagged propellant. The weight of the howitzer (7455 kg) was far beyond the towing capability of horse teams so it was designed to be transported as two loads - barrel plus carriage. The design of the barrel and carriage transport vehicles was unusual for the time. Rather than use a simple wagon to carry the barrel Schneider designed a small frame with a pair of wheels to carry the barrel and another pair of wheels on a swivelling frame to balance the barrel. The carriage transport was somewhat more conventional with a frame with a pair of wheels inserted under the end of the trail.

The projectiles for the 220mm howitzer weighed about 100kg (21kg explosive) which made shell handling a major issue for a man serviced gun. The Schneider solution was to have a pair of folding rails which ran from the end of the trail up to the breech. The stretcher carrying the shell could be run up these rails to the breech before ramming. It seems that the Schneider howitzer had to be loaded with the barrel at low elevation in common with most of the heavy howitzers of the period.

Performance 3
Calibre220mm
Barrel LengthL/10.6
Weight of Gun (Emplaced)7455 kg (Mle 1915) 7792 kg (Mle 1916)
Elevation-1.3° (Mle 1915) +10° (Mle 1916) to +65°
Traverse
Muzzle Velocity415 m/sec (with Obus D Mle 1915 Projectile)
Propellant Charges11 giving V0= 181 m/sec to 415 m/sec
Max. Range10.8 km at 415 m/sec
Shell Weight100.5 kg
Time to EmplaceMin. 2 Hours
Rate of Fire2 Rounds/min

The first orders for 40 howitzers were made in October 1915 with first deliveries roughly a year later in 1916. The performance of the howitzer was a considerable advance over the old de Bange howitzer with rates of fire roughly twice that of the old gun and the max. range improved to 10,800m. However, it was found that axle of the howitzer was quite fragile and care had to be taken when towing it even at slow speeds.

A number of attempts were made to improve the mobility of the howitzer included adding a spring suspension, replacing the curved axle of the Mle 1915 with a straight axle, increasing the number of wheel spokes from 12 to 14 and adding rubber tyres to the wheels in the Mle 1916. The 40 Mle 1915 howitzers were progressively upgraded in 1917-18 with the Mle 1916 suspension and wheels but retained the curved axles. Problems with low towing speed, no faster than walking speed, persisted throughout the howitzer's life and was its major deficiency. With the increase in the availability of heavy towing vehicles in the French Army the howitzer was often towed in a single unit with the barrel pulled back and pair of jockey wheels under the end of the trail.

The Schneider howitzer was a successful gun while the front remained static but once mobile warfare resumed in the last months of the war the difficulties caused by the slowness of transporting it meant that it had little impact on operations. At the time of the Armistice the French Army had 272 220mm howitzers on strength.

220mm Schneider TR Mle 1916 2
220mm TR Mle 1916 Schneider in support of US troops in 1918 - note the raised loading rails.
220mm Schneider TR Mle 1916 3
220mm TR Mle 1915 Schneider - note the 12-spoke wheels
220mm Schneider TR Mle 1916 4
Barrel transport vehicle
220mm Schneider TR Mle 1916 5
Carriage transport vehicle
220mm Schneider TR Mle 1916 6
Ramming the projectile - note the man with the propellant bag beside the howitzer (Wehrmacht service).
220mm Schneider TR Mle 1916 7
220mm TR Schneider in Wehrmacht service.
220mm Schneider TR Mle 1916 8
220mm TR Schneider towed as a single unit (Wehrmacht service)
220mm Schneider TR Mle 1916 11
220mm TR Schneider vehicles towed as a train (Wehrmacht service).
220mm Schneider TR Mle 1916 10
The muzzle brake was introduced as an option in the 1928 upgrade of the 220mm howitzers. It appears the muzzle brake was introduced to allow firing at larger propellant charges.
220mm Schneider TR Mle 1916 32

The drawings are from the manual of the 220mm howitzer which can be downloaded from gallica.bnf.fr.

220mm Schneider TR Mle 1916 25 220mm Schneider TR Mle 1916 26 220mm Schneider TR Mle 1916 27
Postwar Service

In spite of the development by St Chamond of a superior 220mm howitzer (the 1918 model had a max. range of 18000m) the French Army retained the 220mm TR Schneider and built up stocks of this howitzer after WW1. Eight 220mm Schneider howitzers4 were sold to Belgium. At the outbreak of WW2 the French Army mobilised 376 220mm Schneider howitzers out of 462 available5. The Wehrmacht, which was short of heavy artillery, captured a large number of these guns after the invasion of France and used them throughout WW2 as the 220 mm Mörser 531(f). Some of the images of the 220mm Schneider are from service with the Wehrmacht.

Survivors

There appear to be three surviving 220mm Schneider TRs. One survivor is at the Musée de l'Artillerie at Draguignan, Southern France. The website6 the images came from appears to be defunct - they didn't respond to emails requesting permission to publish.

220mm Schneider TR Mle 1916 12 220mm Schneider TR Mle 1916 13 220mm Schneider TR Mle 1916 14 220mm Schneider TR Mle 1916 15 220mm Schneider TR Mle 1916 16 220mm Schneider TR Mle 1916 17 220mm Schneider TR Mle 1916 18 220mm Schneider TR Mle 1916 19 220mm Schneider TR Mle 1916 20 220mm Schneider TR Mle 1916 21 220mm Schneider TR Mle 1916 22 220mm Schneider TR Mle 1916 23 220mm Schneider TR Mle 1916 24

Another surviving howitzer is in the grounds of the Colegio Militar de la Nación, Buenes Aires, Argentina7,8. The howitzer is a 1928 modified howitzer apparently sent by Schneider in 1928 along with a number of other types of artillery pieces as samples for evaluation. The Argentine Army did not acquire any more 220mm howitzers and the single howitzer was taken on strength until at least 1959.


220mm Schneider TR Mle 1916 28 220mm Schneider TR Mle 1916 29 220mm Schneider TR Mle 1916 30
The howitzer sits on a circular traverse plate which has a slot in the centre to accomodate the howitzer's loading ramp at high elevation.
220mm Schneider TR Mle 1916 31
Inscription reads: "Mro / 22 L.10,35.SCHNEIDER Modelo Argentino 1928. Nº1"

The third surviving howitzer is in the backyard of the Artillery Museum, St Petersberg 9. The howitzer was captured from the Wehrmacht by the Red Army outside Leningrad (St Petersberg in Communist times). The first two images are about 10 years old, the final image is recent after the guns had received a superficial tidy.

220mm Schneider TR Mle 1916 33 220mm Schneider TR Mle 1916 34 220mm Schneider TR Mle 1916 35

Notes
  1. P.Touzin & F.Vauvillier, "Les Canons de la Victoire 1914-1918, Tome 1", pp.38 - 39
  2. I haven't found much on the 228mm Russian howitzer although it is recorded in Kosar's "Artillerie im 20. Jahrhundert" - it fired a 135kg projectile to a max. range of 6600m
  3. Data from "Les Canons de la Victorie 1914-1918 Tome 1" and "Artillerie im 20. Jahrhundert"
  4. Franz Kosar "Artillerie im 20. Jahrhundert" p.131
  5. From http://www.tarrif.net/wwii/pdf/DL%20-%201940%20French%20Armament.pdf
  6. http://alase-maquette-club.jimdo.com/
  7. Thanks to user "Barbanente" of the Landships forum for alerting me to the existence of the Buenes Aires howitzer.
  8. Images of the Buenes Aires howitzer courtesy of Professor German Carrillo Noble
  9. Thanks to user "Feodor Jirnovsky" of the Landships forum for alerting me to the existence of the St Petersberg howitzer and for providing the images of the howitzer.
Acknowledgement

The primary source for this article is F.Vauvillier "Le Mortier de 220 TR Schneider" in "Histoire de Guerre Blindés & Materiel" No. 79, Oct-Nov 2007, pp.32-37. Any errors of translation and interpretation are mine alone.