By Ben Sherman, Fort Sill CannoneerFebruary 1, 2013
FORT SILL, Okla. (Jan. 31, 2013) -- Recently the Cannoneer began a series on World War II self-propelled artillery pieces acquired by the Army Field Artillery Museum at Fort Sill.
The first story focused on the German Sturmpanzer IV "Brummbär" (Grouch) 155 mm self-propelled howitzer, and the Italian Semovente M90/35 90mm self-propelled gun.
In this issue we take a look at two more pieces the German 138/1 "Grille" self-propelled heavy infantry gun, and the German L/28 Heuschrecke 10 self-propelled 105 mm field howitzer on a tracked weapons carrier, called the "Grasshopper."
The first one we will look at is the 155 mm "Grille" self-propelled infantry gun called the "Cricket."
"The Germans were very fond of taking enemy equipment and reusing it, and this is a perfect example of that practice," said Gordon Blaker, Army Field Artillery museum director and curator."They took an obsolete Czechoslovakian tank chassis and put a German SiG 33/2 155 mm gun on top of it to create a heavy self-propelled infantry gun."
Blaker said Germany used these guns on all fronts during World War II to provide heavy fire support for the infantry gun companies of the Panzergrenadier units.
"[These] units were basically mechanized infantry, and the guns could provide direct or indirect fire as needed," Blaker added. "This particular Grille was captured in Italy and is one of only two known surviving examples. The other one was recently pulled out of an Austrian lake and is likely being restored by an Austrian museum right now."
The Germans produced 282 Grilles from April 1943 to September 1944.
The Fort Sill Directorate of Logistics (DoL) paint shop was tasked with restoring these units, and the other pieces previously featured in the Cannoneer.
"It takes about 200 man-hours to complete each vehicle, depending on how bad they were when we got them," said Corey Lejeune, paint shop employee. "Sometimes they have vines and limbs in them. We strip them down to bare metal, replace any rusted metal pieces and then prime them. We get it as clean as possible before painting it."
Lejeune said the "Cricket" took about 80 man-hours just for the painting stage.
The museum acquired the munitions carrier that goes with the "Cricket" from the armor museum at Fort Knox, Ky., in 2010.
"It's known as the "Munitionsschlepper," and I believe it is the only remaining one in the world. So now we have a matched set of gun and munitions carrier. The "Cricket" could carry 18 rounds on its own and had to have the "Munitions-schlepper" nearby to resupply it," Blaker added.
The fourth self-propelled artillery piece is one that Blaker called "bizarre."
"It is a German World War II prototype vehicle called an L/28 Heuschrecke 10 or "Grasshopper." It is a light field howitzer on a tracked weapons carrier. What made the "Grasshopper" strange was that the crew could remove the turret in the field, lift it off of the chassis and set it on the ground like an armored pillbox to fire shells with its 105 mm gun," Blaker said.
"They were also able to set the turret on a two-wheeled cart and tow it behind the vehicle. The chassis could then be used as a munitions carrier to carry more ammunition. It has an ammo capacity of 60 rounds, which was pretty large. Eight were produced, and the one we have is the sole surviving example," he added.
"The Germans tried all sorts of new and different vehicles. That's one of the things that led to their downfall. They were too dispersed and didn't focus on their better designs and just produce those," he said.
Both the "Cricket" and the "Grasshopper" came to Fort Sill from Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., and have been restored by the DoL paint shop.
Each artillery piece presented its own set of challenges to the DoL paint shop crew. They frequently had one or two reference photos, often black and white, of what the vehicles originally looked like.
Blaker provided the color pallets and camouflage patterns so the paint shop could get the look as close as possible when it came time to paint, which helped the painters.
"I mainly paint and some body work," said Robert Baker, a nine-year veteran of the paint shop. "Every piece had a schedule and we usually met the deadlines and finished on time. But there were always deadlines."
"We're really delighted to have these rare and unusual pieces. When I came to the museum, we had no examples of German self-propelled field artillery pieces from World War II," he said.
"Now, we have a nice collection of them. These pieces, along with the "Hummel," "Brummbär" and Italian Semovente will eventually be displayed in Constitution Park, as soon as I figure out where to put them," Blaker chuckled.