In contrast to most of the artillery involved in World War I, the German 15-cm pieces were not howitzers. With their long range, the weapons were feared in the counter-battery role, and could only be opposed by much larger and less mobile Allied weapons.
The 15-cm Kanone 16 was manufactured by both Krupp and Rheinmetall, the latter (as seen here) being made in smaller quantities. The equipments were still in limited use during the early campaigns of World War II, as it was one of the few military items permitted to Germany after Versailles.
The inclusion of a gun with a calibre of only 150 mm (5.9 in) may seem out of place in a description of heavy artillery, but the German 15-cm (5.9-in) guns were really in a class above that of normal field artillery. Quite apart from their size and weight, they were intended for use as corps artillery capable of long-range counterbattery and ‘interdiction’ employment, and thus came into the heavy artillery category.
By 1916 the long-range German artillery in use on the Western Front was mainly of a makeshift nature, being derived from a policy of placing coastal defence or naval gun barrels on to improvised field carriages. While this was adequate as a stopgap measure, the gunners needed something more suitable and manageable for their long-term equipment, and consequently the German general staff made a special plea to its artillery designers for a world-beater, Both Krupp and Rheinmetall took up the challenge, and as things turned out their individual submissions were virtually identical. Both guns were named 15-cm Kanone 16 or 15-cm K 16, but in the long term it was the Krupp 15-cm K 16 Kp submission that was produced in the greater quantities. The Rheinmetall 15-cm K 16 Rh was produced in some numbers as the demands from the front were so great, but never in the numbers that Krupp was able to churn out.
The 15-cm K 16 was along and large gun. The overall design was entirely orthodox for the time apart from the fact that the barrel was extraordinarily long (L/42.7 in the Krupp design and L/42.9 in the Rheinmetall offering) for the size of the wheeled carriage. The carriage was a fairly simple box-trail design fitted with a large shield for the gun crew. Heavy spoked wheels were fitted as the gun had to be towed by horse teams as motor traction was by that stage of the war (it was 1917 before appreciable numbers of the guns actually reached the front) at a premium and reserved mainly for the really heavy guns. The weights involved meant that the 15-cm K 16 had to be towed in two loads, the barrel and the carriage. The carriage was usually towed on a special four-wheeled limber which also had some seating for the crew members, who also operated the brakes.
On the Western Front the 15-cm K 16 became one of the most feared of all the German counterbattery guns. The long range (22000 m/24,060 yards) of the gun meant that it could reach well into the rear areas behind the Allied lines to destroy gun batteries, road and rail junctions and generally to lay down harassing fire that could not be countered by anything other than the heaviest and longest-ranged Allied guns (railway artillery or specially emplaced weapons). This entailed a great deal of effort on the part of the Allies, for despite its weight and bulk, the 15-cm K 16 was still more mobile than its potential opposition.
After 1918 numbers of 15-cm K 16s were handed out to various nations as war reparations (Belgium was a major recipient) but the gun was one of the few allowed to remain on the strength of the small post-Versailles German army, Thus for nearly two decades it acted as a training weapon for a new generation of gunners who, reequipped and with a new military philosophy, went to war once again. Even then the 15-cm K 16 was used during some of the early World War II campaigns.
15-cm K 16
Calibre: 149.3 mm (5.88 in)
Length of barrel 6.41 m (21 ft 0.4 in)
Weight: in action 10870 kg (23,964 lb)
Elevation: -3’to +42″
Muzzle velocity: 757 m (2,484 ft) per second
Maximum range: 22000 m (24,060 yards)
Shell weight: 51.4 kg (113.3 lb)