152 Mm Howitzer-gun M1937 (ML-20) - Summary


The ML-20 was one of the most successful Soviet artillery pieces of World War II. Its characteristics positioned it between classical short-range howitzers and special long-range guns. Compared to the former, the ML-20 has better range (e.g. the German 15 cm sFH 18 had range of 13.3 km), which often allowed it to shell positions of enemy artillery while remaining immune to enemy fire. Its advantage over the latter was in weight and cost, and therefore in mobility and production rate. For example, the German 15 cm K 39 with range of 24.7 km weighed 12.2 tons and only 61 pieces were built; of the excellent 17 cm K 18 (23.4 t, 29.6 km) 338 pieces were manufactured; lighter 10.5 cm sK 18 (5.6 t, 19.1 km) was more common (2,135 pieces) but its 15 kg shell was much less powerful than a 44 kg shell of ML-20. German attempts to produce an analogue to the ML-20 were unsuccessful. The 15 cm sFH 40 was never produced due to construction defects; the 15 сm sFH 42 had insufficient range and only 46 pieces were built. In 1943 and 1944 Wehrmacht announced requirements for a 15 cm howitzer with a range of 18 km, but none reached production.

Of other guns with more or less similar characteristics, there were French 155 mm guns model 1917 and 1918 with longer range, but some 3.5 tons heavier (as was the US 155 mm Long Tom). The Czechoslovakian howitzer K4 (used by Germans as 15 cm sFH 37(t)) was about 2 tons lighter, but with range more than 2 km shorter and only 178 pieces were built. The British BL 5.5 inch (140 mm) Medium Gun probably had the closest characteristics; weight slightly over six tons and range of 18,100 yd (16,600 m) with an 82 lb (37 kg) shell.

The main shortcomings of the ML-20 were its weight and limited mobility. As the experience of the ML-15 project suggests, the gun could be made somewhat lighter and more suitable for high-speed transportation. The use of a muzzle brake can be seen as a minor flaw: while softening the recoil and thus allowing the use of a lighter carriage, a muzzle brake has the disadvantage of redirecting some of the gases that escape the barrel toward the ground, where they can raise dust, potentially revealing the gun position. But when the ML-20 was developed, muzzle brakes were already a common design element in artillery pieces of that class.

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