Just before WW1, the French Govt. Commission of new artillery equipment examined the large calibre powerful howitzers produced for export by FAMH (St Chamond) and Schneider. This was an obvious way for the French Army to acquire new guns quickly by avoiding the design and proving process time delays. St Chamond offered a 150mm howitzer it had prototyped with a view to supplying the Mexican Army. As far as is known Mexico did not order any 150mm or the smaller 120mm howitzers from St Chamond. Schneider offered its 152mm howitzer it had sold to the Russian Army.
It was not until after the Battle of Artois in May 1915 that the French High Command ordered the rapid acquisition of new howitzers. General Joffre had analysed the artillery support in this battle and concluded that the 155mm CTR Rimailho howitzer was not satisfactory in the envisaged role of rapid howitzer fire on enemy positions immediately before an attack. The fire had to be compressed in time so that the enemy did not have time to respond to the identification of the point of attack. Gen. Joffre, the Commander in Chief, called for the start of production of new powerful rapid fire howitzers on June 24, 1915.
400 St Chamond howitzers were ordered as the Canon de 155 C modèle 1915 Saint-Chamond but delivery was delayed until the Autumn of 1916. St Chamond produced 50 guns/month until the 400 were delivered. The competing Schneider howitzer had been adopted in the Autumn of 1915 and although the Schneider howitzer was about 400kg heavier the range was 2500m longer. St Chamond developed the howitzer further and in the final version produced a howitzer with a max. range of 12,000m at muzzle velocity 460 m/sec with the FA (Cast Iron) projectile. The French Army did not want to disrupt production of 155mm howitzers and did not adopt the updated St Chamond howitzer. After the order of the 400 howitzers was completed St Chamond produced the 155mm Schneider howitzer until the end of the war.
The St Chamond howitzer used a vertical sliding block breech which was "semi-automatic" - when the breech was opened the cartridge was automatically ejected. The ammunition was "semi-fixed" - the projectile and cartridge were loaded as a single unit but it appears that the propellant load could be altered by removing the projectile from the cartridge. The cartridge/projectile was carried up to the howitzer on a tray which clipped onto the breech ring and the round pushed into the breech with sliding pusher on the loading tray. The elevation system of the Saint-Chamond howitzer was unique for French howitzers. The gun trunnions were positioned on the receiver at the rear of the gun tube. The elevation mechanism was quite complex and rotated the gun tube and receiver around the trunnions as well as moving the gun shield so that the shield was in the same position with respect to the gun tube throughout the range of elevations. With rear-mounted trunnions an equilibrator is necessary to reduce the loads on the elevation gearing. The single St-Chamond equilibrator was positioned below the gun breech in the centre of the carriage. The equilibrator was a pneumatic type rather than the more common spring equilibrators. The advantage of rear mounted trunnions is that the position of the breech does not change, or only slightly, throughout the range of elevation, so the howitzer could be loaded even at high angles of elevation. This is in contrast with centre trunnion guns where the breech "disappears" into the box trail at high elevation angles and can only be loaded after the gun's elevation is reduced to expose the breech. The traverse system was similar to that on other French guns - the carriage was slid across the axle with the spade as a pivot. On the St-Chamond the traverse system used an external worm gear to move the carriage unlike the fairly crude arrangement in the Schneider guns with a gear acting on a threaded section of the axle. The howitzer had a central hydraulic recoil absorber with a pair of flanking concentric springs for recuperation.
The gun shield on the St Chamond howitzer was quite abbreviated, but with capability to move the shield with the barrel it's main role would have been to protect the crew from muzzle blast rather than shell fragments. The howitzer was moved by a team of 8 or 10 horses as a single unit with the barrel pulled back. There is a geared rack on the top rail of the box trail but the details of how the barrel was pulled back are unknown.
The St Chamond howitzer was in service with the French Army for the remainder of WW1 and beyond. 14 howitzers were given to Rumania in 1917 and these remained on strength until WW2 2. A few batteries of St Chamond howitzers were given to the rebuilt Serbian Army in 1917-18. These howitzers remained in service after WW1 and were upgraded in the late 1920s to match the performance of the 155mm Schneider howitzer at the Artillery-Technical Works (ATZ), Kragujevac 3.
|Weight of Gun (Emplaced)||2860 kg|
|Elevation||0° to +40°|
|Muzzle Velocity||370 m/sec (with FA Mle 1915 Projectile)|
|Max. Range||9,300 m at 370 m/sec|
|Shell Weight||40.59 to 43.2kg|
|Time to Emplace||2 to 5 minutes|
|Rate of Fire||3 Rounds/min|
The St Chamond howitzer was in service at the start of WW2, the Wehrmacht captured 200 of these howitzers after the fall of France and designated them as the 15,5cm sFH 415(f). The captured howitzers were mostly used as coastal defence guns. Finland bought 24 St Chamond howitzers in 1939 from France but these arrived too late for the Winter War but served in the Continuation War from 1941-45 as the 155 H/15 Heavy Howitzer. All 24 St Chamond howitzers survived WW2 and were on strength in the Finnish Army until 19624.
Four St Chamond howitzers have survived in Finland, these are located at:
The primary information for this article came from: