10.5cm leFH 16 Geschutzpanzer Self-Propelled Howitzer (SPH)
The British Light Tank Mark VI series was the basis for the German early-war 10.5cm leFH 16 Geschutzpanzer gun carriers.
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In May of 1940, Axis forces had pushed the Allies all the way to the English Channel resulting in the Battle of Dunkirk which spanned May 26th to June 4th, 1940. Any and all manner of naval vessel was called upon to save the beaten men on the French shores and return them to the relative safety of Britain to fight another day. In the wake of the fighting remained thousands of vital military vehicles, artillery pieces and small arms - such was the haste in their departure.
From this collection of newly-captured vehicles was a stock of British Light Tank Mark VI systems, lightweight fighting machines built during the latter half of the 1930s. These light tanks featured a crew of three and sported all-machine-gun armament while being powered by a Meadows 6-cylinder gasoline-fueled engine of 68 horsepower output. As proved common for the Germans during World War 2, these tanks were selected for modification into Self-Propelled Howitzers (SPH), a gun carrier intended for in-direct fire against soft targets and target areas. The Mark VI in this form became the "10.5cm leFH 16 Geschutzpanzer" and at least six of the tanks were converted as such.
The conversion process was relatively simple for most of the original chassis, running gear and hull structure remained intact. Surplus German 10.5cm (105mm) leFH 16 field howitzers, growing obsolete by this point in history, were fitted to mountings and these complete systems affixed over the rear of the Mark VI tank hull. An open-air superstructure was then added to protected the gunnery crew's workspace - though they remained exposed to the elements and battlefield dangers. The operating crew, including the driver in the hull, numbered four and only the driver had the benefit of all-around protection for his position was within the front hull. The Fu.Spr.Ger radio set was installed for communications. At the rear of the hull a ground spade was added to be lowered prior to the vehicle firing - intended to deflect some of the violent recoil forces of the howitzer. Since the gun lay in the fixed superstructure, the entire vehicle needed to be turned into the direction of fire. The vehicle was not given a self-defense machine gun - the crew instead relying on personal arms for protection.
The changes resulted in a weight increase from 5 tons to 6.5 tons though dimensions remained largely the same with a reported length of 4 meters, a width of 2.2 meters and a height of 2 meters. Armor protection amounted to 15mm along the sides and up to 22mm at the front facing.
The Meadows engine was retained and this provided the drive power to the track-and-wheel arrangement. The Geschutzpanzer was able to make 31 miles per hour on road and reach a range out to 174 miles. Cross-country travel range was reduced to 112 miles.
This fleet of six gun carriers was in service by October of 1941 and proved themselves viable gun carrier conversions, offering decent working space for the three-man gunnery crew. The leFH 16 howitzer, though nearing the end of its useful service life, still held plenty of punch when firing High-Explosive (HE) rounds at unprotected targets. The compact vehicles were low-risk and cost-efficient which made them sound investments at this point in the war. Their road speeds were also good as the battlefield quickly had turned to a mechanized one in short order.