Army FA museum adds Soviet artillery piece
March 7, 2013
FORT SILL, Okla.-- The Army Field Artillery Museum at Fort Sill has recently acquired a number of World War II-era artillery pieces from different countries involved in the conflict.
Many of these artillery pieces have been restored over the past year and have been featured in recent issues of the Cannoneer.
The last weapon to be featured in this series is the largest field gun used by America's former World War II Ally, the Soviet Union.
"The Soviet M1931 B-4 tracked howitzer was designed in 1931 and was the principle piece of Soviet heavy artillery during World War II," said Gordon Blaker, Field Artillery Museum director/curator. "It has a 203 mm barrel, the equivalent of the U.S. 8-inch howitzers. People often notice it has a tracked carriage as opposed to wheels, but it has no engine."
Blaker went on to explain that because the Soviet Union didn't have many paved roads most of their artillery pieces were towed behind farm trucks or a heavy artillery tractor built on the same chassis as the famous Soviet T-34 battle tank. The tracks gave the 20-ton howitzer better mobility over rugged roads and in muddy, soft terrain. There were more than 800 built in several different variations, a few with wheeled carriages.
"Overall, the preferred model for mobility purposes had the tracked carriage. It's the model you see in photographs and film footage from World War II, or as the Soviets called it, 'The Great Patriotic War,'" Blaker said. "In addition to its regular role as a frontline heavy artillery piece, the Soviets liked to use it for siege warfare in urban combat situations. They used it a lot during the Battle of Berlin, where they would set them up in the streets and use them to demolish buildings that the Germans occupied.
"Our particular B-4 came from the Ordnance Museum at Aberdeen Proving Ground, where it was brought to the U.S. after the war. It was captured by the Germans from the Soviets in 1941, and then used against its previous owners throughout the rest of the war. So it saw more German service than Soviet use during World War II. It has German labels in addition to the Russian markings to indicate the 'safe' and 'fire' positions and things like that. It could fire a 220-pound projectile almost 20,000 yards, or over 11 miles. It was just a real good piece of heavy artillery that saw service on both sides of World War II," Blaker said.
He said the paint shop at the Directorate of Logistics had quite a task repairing and restoring the artillery piece, since many of the artillery pieces Fort Sill recently acquired had a lot of rust and deterioration because Aberdeen is near the ocean.
"The DoL paint shop guys did a great job on the metal work to replace rusted out or completely missing parts so these artifacts could be restored," he said. "I'm almost positive our B-4 is the only one in the Western Hemisphere, and probably the only one outside the (former) Soviet Union at this point. There are some still in existence in the (former) Soviet Union, but there's not a lot of information on what happened to many of them."
Blaker said Fort Sill is fortunate to have a restored example of the M1931 B-4 in the museum's collection, adding, "Now I have to figure out where to put it on display so visitors to the museum can see this very unusual piece of Soviet artillery."
The Army Field Artillery Museum, 248 Randolph Road, is one of three museums at Fort Sill that preserve historic artifacts from America's military history, from the Revolutionary War era through modern times. The other two facilities are the Fort Sill National Historic Landmark and Museum, 437 Quanah Road, and the new Army Air Defense Artillery Museum, temporarily located at Henry Post Army Air Field in Bldg. 4908 Post Road. For more information call the Directorate of Museums and Military History at 442-0212.