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Artillery Beasts – Railway Guns in 33 pictures

The idea of creating a huge-caliber gun on a railway platform dates from the 1800s when trains revolutionized the transport industry, but these Goliaths reached their peak in the first half of 20th century.

Despite the fact that every major military power developed their own designs, it was the Germans who became most famous for utilizing the fearsome machines of destruction on the front.

When it comes to heavy artillery and German military efforts, one family name has marked an era of innovation ― the Krupps.

This 400-year-old dynasty and their industrial empire have been involved in all projects concerning Germany’s railroad superguns. The armaments manufacturer was engaged in producing siege mortars before the outbreak of the Great War.

German troops firing a railway gun over the English Channel 1940
German troops firing a railway gun over the English Channel 1940

The weapons were intended to bring down enemy fortifications from a great distance. Their most successful design, nicknamed Big Bertha had its railroad offshoot, the Gamma device, which was a 42 cm gun capable of firing two types of ammunition ― one weighing 886 kg (1,953 pounds) and another 760 kg (1,680 pounds).

The optimal distance for the gun was 370 meters (1,200 feet). It saw action during WWI when it participated near the Belgian forts at Liège, Namur, and Antwerp, and the French fort at Maubeuge, as well as others on the Western Front.

400 mm St. Chamond Mle 1915 1916 french railway howitzer
400 mm St. Chamond Mle 1915 1916 french railway howitzer

In the interwar period, Germany’s neighbors ― France, Belgium, and Poland ― invested in building defensive lines made of complex bunker systems and pillboxes. This further motivated the Germans to develop even bigger railway guns capable of firing from a distance of over 40km.

It was the birth of the Schwerer Gustav. Its manufacturer ― Krupp, of course. Its goal ― French fortifications known as the Maginot Line. Alas, it would prove to be unnecessary, as the Maginot Line was outflanked and rendered ineffective at the outset of Germany’s invasion of France.

Named after Gustav Krupp, the father of Alfried Krupp, who was in charge of the gun’s production, it was a never-before-seen mechanical beast with an 80 cm caliber gun that weighed around 1,350 tons. Firing projectiles weighing 7 tonnes from a barrel 30 meters long, the Heavy Gustav (in English) presented a force to be reckoned with.

Captured 38cm K(E) Siegfried gun named “Gneisenau” of the Eisenbahn-Batterie 698. Montélimar pocket, August 1944
Captured 38cm K(E) Siegfried gun named “Gneisenau” of the Eisenbahn-Batterie 698. Montélimar pocket, August 1944

Schwerer Gustav, saw active service during the siege of Sevastopol in 1942. Manned by a crew of 500 it obliterated the defenses of Sevastopol, knocking down forts and even destroying an ammo depot which was 30 meters under the ground.

Its successor, Dora, was to participate in the Battle of Stalingrad, but due to a risk of encirclement, it was pulled back.

U.S. 7th Army Troops, 3rd Armored Division with captured 27,4cm K(E) 592(f). March 1945 near Cologne
U.S. 7th Army Troops, 3rd Armored Division with captured 27,4cm K(E) 592(f). March 1945 near Cologne
Krupp 28 cm Kanone 5 (E) in action
Krupp 28 cm Kanone 5 (E) in action
Krupp 28 cm Kanone 5 (E) in action
Krupp 28 cm Kanone 5 (E) in action
K5 Leopold captured by the Allies in Citavecchia 1944
K5 Leopold captured by the Allies in Citavecchia 1944
Captured 27,4cm K(E) 592(f) named “Bruno” of the Eisenbahn Artillerie Batterie 692 at La Coucourde, France 1944Captured 27,4cm K(E) 592(f) named “Bruno” of the Eisenbahn Artillerie Batterie 692 at La Coucourde, France 1944
Captured K5 “Leopold” 919 219 of the 712. Eisenbahn-Artillerie-Batterie. Civitavecchia June 1944
Captured K5 “Leopold” 919 219 of the 712. Eisenbahn-Artillerie-Batterie. Civitavecchia June 1944
Captured 38cm K(E) Siegfried railway gun named “Gneisenau” of the Eisenbahn-Batterie 698. Montélimar pocket August 1944Captured 38cm K(E) Siegfried railway gun named “Gneisenau” of the Eisenbahn-Batterie 698. Montélimar pocket August 1944
German troops manning captured ex-French 370mm modèle 1915 howitzer (E) 751(f) Warsaw, December 1944
German troops manning captured ex-French 370mm modèle 1915 howitzer (E) 751(f) Warsaw, December 1944
German soldier fires 28 cm Kanone (Eisenbahn) Kurze Bruno 1940
German soldier fires 28 cm Kanone (Eisenbahn) Kurze Bruno 1940
French railway guns 340mm Mle 1912 Schneider and 320mm Mle 1870
French railway guns 340mm Mle 1912 Schneider and 320mm Mle 1870
Ex French railway gun crew 1941
Ex French railway gun crew 1941
274 mm Mle 1917 Railway gun France
274 mm Mle 1917 Railway gun France
K5(E) “Anzio Annie” of the 712. Eisenbahn-Artillerie-Batterie. Crew cleaning the gun barrel, March 1944
K5(E) “Anzio Annie” of the 712. Eisenbahn-Artillerie-Batterie. Crew cleaning the gun barrel, March 1944
Captured St Chamond 400 mm Mle 1915/1916 howitzer 2
Captured St Chamond 400 mm Mle 1915/1916 howitzer 2
Captured experimental gun 340 mm L/60 Bourgoin 2
Captured experimental gun 340 mm L/60 Bourgoin 2
274 mm Mle 1917 railway gun and locomotive
274 mm Mle 1917 railway gun and locomotive
274 mm Mle 1917 french railway gun
274 mm Mle 1917 french railway gun
28 cm Schwere Bruno railway gun, France
28 cm Schwere Bruno railway gun, France
20 cm Kanone (E) from 685 Eisenbahn-Artillerie-Batterie on the Vögele turntable, France 1941
20 cm Kanone (E) from 685 Eisenbahn-Artillerie-Batterie on the Vögele turntable, France 1941
20.3 cm K (E) captured in Auderville Laye, France 11 July 1944
20.3 cm K (E) captured in Auderville Laye, France 11 July 1944
Wehrmacht Troops with Captured French 320 mm Railway Artillery
Wehrmacht Troops with Captured French 320 mm Railway Artillery
German railway gun in action 1943
German railway gun in action 1943
German 28 cm K5 (E) railway gun Sevastopol Crimea eastern front
German 28 cm K5 (E) railway gun Sevastopol Crimea eastern front
German 27,4 cm Railroad Gun Artillery France
German 27,4 cm Railroad Gun Artillery France
ex French 27,4 cm K(E) 592 (f) railway gun with number 929323 and nickname Casar
ex French 27,4 cm K(E) 592 (f) railway gun with number 929323 and nickname Casar
Eisenbahngeschutz 28 cm K5(E) eastern front railway gun
Eisenbahngeschutz 28 cm K5(E) eastern front railway gun
320 mm Mle 1870 30 railway gun
320 mm Mle 1870 30 railway gun
28 cm Schwere Bruno german railway gun
28 cm Schwere Bruno german railway gun
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