Model 1937 (ML-20) 152mm Towed Field Howtizer / Field Gun
Nearly 7,000 ML-20 howitzer guns were produced from 1937 to 1946.
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The Russian Empire held a working relationship with French military industry prior to World War 1. This led to development of a 152mm siege gun of French design for the Russian Army which was initially produced in France (by Schneider) and then localized through Russian industry. The weapon became the "152mm Siege Gun M1910" (of 1910) and served the Imperial Russian Army throughout its commitments in World War 1 against the Imperial German Army. The weapon continued its notable service in the new Soviet Empire of the 1920s and, in 1930, it was modernized for the changing battlefield as the "152mm M1910/30". In 1934, another modernization greeted the type. Prior to Soviet involvement in World War 2 in 1937, the gun was yet again modified to produce the "152mm Model 1937" production mark and it was this version that also came to be known under the Cold War designation of "ML-20". The Model 1937/ML-20 went on to become one of the most important Soviet artillery pieces of World War 2, particularly when it responded in force to the German invasion begun in June of 1941. The weapon proved capable of outranging German artillery batteries on a regular basis and, along with the aforementioned M1910/34 models, formed the backbone of Soviet heavy field artillery units for the duration of the war. First use of the weapon began at the Battle of Khalkhin Gol of 1939 against the forces of the Empire of Japan.
German leader Adolf Hitler had always planned on invading his loose "ally" well before his vaunted "Operation Barbarossa" was put into play. The Soviets were taken by surprise despite several obvious warnings passed to Soviet leader Josef Stalin himself. It took the harsh Russian winter and strained supply lines to slow the German advance down to a halt and, during the lull of winter, the Soviet Union amassed fresh troops, mobilized its industry and prepared their historical response. Key to the Soviet counterattacks would be artillery for the Red Army lived and died by their falling shells raining lethality upon the heads of German troops. The Model 1937 was in widespread circulation by this time (2,116 units were completed before 1942) and proved critical in subsequent actions. Its value was such that both the Finns and Germans utilized captured stocks of Model 1937 guns and reconstituted them for use against their former owner.
The Soviet 152mm gun was a rather unremarkable, conventional artillery piece which fit perfectly with Soviet land battle doctrine of the time. The Soviets rarely shied away from large field guns of any type and the Model 1937 was no exception. The weapon made use of a two-wheeled carriage, early forms fitted with spoked metal wheels while more modern forms utilized rubber tired wheels when possible. The design was also noteworthy for its use of "horns", steel encased coil springs installed along the sides of the barrel to help offset its weight upon the carriage assembly. The weapon was traditional in its configuration with a long barrel fitted to an integrated hydraulic recoil mechanism sitting atop a mounting attached to the carriage. The carriage was of the "split rail" type which made up the tow arm for transport and the recoil legs when made ready to fire. The weapon utilized an interrupted screw breech mechanism and elevation was limited from -2 to +65 degree angles - this actuated by a hand wheel. Traverse was limited to 58-degrees. A trained gunnery crew could fire between 3 and 4 rounds of 152mm projectiles upon the enemy or desired target area. Maximum range was nearly 11 miles while sighting was through a combined telescopic/panoramic combination which allowed for direct and indirect firing to be achieved respectively. As such, the weapon could be used to either lob projectiles onto the enemy or engage targets directly as a traditional horizontal-firing field gun - becoming one of the first "cannon-howitzers" in use. The complete system weighed in at 16,000lbs and sported a running length of nearly 27 feet. The barrel was capped by a slotted muzzle brake and guns were primarily moved via Soviet artillery tractors. Additionally, original barrels were L/29 types before being lengthened to the L/32.3 standard.