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.
|Weight of Gun (Emplaced)||7455 kg (Mle 1915) 7792 kg (Mle 1916)|
|Elevation||-1.3° (Mle 1915) +10° (Mle 1916) to +65°|
|Muzzle Velocity||415 m/sec (with Obus D Mle 1915 Projectile)|
|Propellant Charges||11 giving V0= 181 m/sec to 415 m/sec|
|Max. Range||10.8 km at 415 m/sec|
|Shell Weight||100.5 kg|
|Time to Emplace||Min. 2 Hours|
|Rate of Fire||2 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.
The drawings are from the manual of the 220mm howitzer which can be downloaded from gallica.bnf.fr.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.