USSR 203 mm Howitzer Model 1931
The 203 mm was the heaviest of the field- type weapons used by the Soviets between 1941 and 1945. The 203 mm Howitzer Model 1931 was also known as the B-4 (which I will use in referring to the weapon because I don’t want to type “203 mm Howitzer Model 1931” a dozen times, however the official designation is the title of the node). The B-4 was a very powerful weapon, but also very heavy. The B-4 is easy to identify as it is one of the few heavy weapons to run on caterpillar tracks. The rationale behind such an oddity is Stalin’s lopsided industrialization program. The USSR, prior to World War II was focused on the socialized community farms. The result of this investment in agriculture meant that there was easy access to previously built farm equipment, including tractors, after Hitler invaded Russia with Operation Barbarossa. The German Reichstag took the ill-equipped Russians by surprise. The need for new weapons led to the innovation of using farm-tractor chassis as the frame and mount for the much needed 203 mm howitzer.
There were side effects to such a design innovation. The increased “footprint” of the weapon distributed the weight over a larger area than that of wheeled artillery of similar weight. The result was that the Model 1931 could venture over soft ground where other similar weapons would bog down. The tractor chassis also gave the B-4 the ability to move short distances under it’s own power. However, due to the extreme weight of the weapon, for long hauls t the B-4 had to be broken into as many as six loads and carried by truck or rail.
Movement of the B-4’s split trails (those things that stick out behind an artillery piece that keeps it in place) happened by a number of different means. One version of the B-4 detached the split trails and hoisted them aboard for travel. Other versions had one or two tires on each trail, allowing them to be pulled behind the main chassis. To the operator, these versions were all about the same, as the chassis and main gun remained unchanged.
The B-4 was a rather ponderous weapon, sporting a maximum speed of 15 kp/h (9.3 mph). With a relatively slow rate of fire of about one round per four minutes (although higher rates could be managed), the B-4 did not have the rapid-fire capability of smaller artillery pieces, due to the heavy shell. Not surprisingly whenever mobile warfare was possible, the B-4 was at a disadvantage, and consequently many B-4s fell into German hands. The Germans took great joy in their captured B-4s, not only employing them against the Russians, but shipping some to the Western Front (the captured B-4s were given the designation 20.3 cm H 503(r) ).
But what the B-4 lacked in speed and maneuverability it made up for with hitting power. The Model 1931 could hurl a 100 kg (220.46 lb) shell a distance of 18 km (11 miles). The howitzer was a powerful barrage weapon but was used extensively to pound heavily fortified positions.
After 1945 the B-4 seemed to fade from service, however in recent years many have resurfaced. It is still part of the equipment of the Red Army heavy artillery brigades and is still used for the destruction of strongpoints and fortresses that can still be encountered on the battlefield. The Model 1931 has lost it’s tracked chassis in favor of a wheeled road-wheel suspension with two wheels in tandem on each side. It is this new configuration that allows the B-4 to be towed as a single unit, instead of being dismantled and loaded on flatbed trailers or rail cars. There is the possibility that the Model 1931 will be replaced with a new 203 mm self-propelled howitzer, however the B-4 will likely remain in the service of smaller armies around the world.
- Caliber: 203 mm (8 inches)
- Length: 5.087 m (16 ft. 8 in.)
- Weight: 17700 kg (39,022 lb)
- Elevation: 0 to +60 degrees
- Muzzle velocity: 607 m (1,991 ft) per second
- Maximum range: 18025 m (19,712 yd.)
- Shell weight: 100 kg (220.46 lb)
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Sources: This is a combination of my vast knowledge of useless information, too much time reading various books, too much time watching The History Channel and The Encyclopedia of Weapons of World War II for the particulars.