German WWII Super Heavy Guns


24cm Kanone 3

When rearmament began the Germans decided to design and develop a series of super heavy guns. These large guns built in a gun mounted mortar (Mörser) style were primarily designed for high-elevation, long-range, counter-battery fire. One of the first of these guns to see its debut during the war was the 17cm Kanone 18 in Mörserlafette or 17cm K 18 in Mrs Laf (Matterhorn). This gun was introduced in 1941 to replace the 15cm weapons, which by then had shown their performance to be insufficient on the battlefield. The 17-ton gun was a long range, counter-battery gun with its carriage designed to allow high elevation. The carriage itself included a sophisticated dual-recoil system where the platform could be lowered to the ground whilst going into action. The weight of the entire gun system was then transferred to the platform by jacking down three castor wheels, which in turn lifted the gun wheels from the ground. This allowed the gun to be rotated through 360 degrees and be fired with full recoil without making the platform unstable. The 17cm K 18 Mörser proved to be one of the best guns in service and had an impressive range, but it was never a common weapon.

Another very large impressive artillery piece to see active service during the war was the Lange 21cm Mörser 18 or 21cm Mrs 18 (Brümmbar). It utilised the same carriage as the 17cm K 18, but in service its range was significantly less than its smaller sister. The gun was regarded as a good weapon but not good enough to warrant volume production, especially as the 17cm K 18 had almost twice its range. As a consequence production ceased in 1942, and designers concentrated on 24cm weapons instead.

The first 24cm gun to be introduced into limited service was the 24cm Kanone L/46 or 24cm K L/46. The general design of the gun was very similar to a scaled-up version of the 15cm K 39. Only a few of these large guns were ever built and none of them survived the war.

The next 24cm gun to be introduced was the 24cm Kanone 3 or 24cm K 3 (Petersdorf). This 83-ton weapon was massive and because of its size could only be transported in six loads. The transport system was regarded as cumbersome, and the fact that it took 25-crew almost 90-minutes to get the weapon ready for action was more than enough reason for it not being practical in terms of manpower and time.

A gun very similar to that of the 24cm K 3 was the 35.5cm Haubitze M1 or 35.5cm H M1. The weapon was introduced into service in 1939 and could also be broken down into six loads. Six 18-ton three-quarter tracked artillery tractors transported the load. On arrival at the front the crew took about two hours to assemble the gun. The weapon’s elevating gear and the ammunition hoist were operated by electric power from a generator. The gun fired a standard high explosive projectile weighing over half a ton with a range of some 20,000 metres.

Another super heavy gun that was introduced into service was the railway gun. Although the Germans never extensively used the railway gun they nonetheless saw it as a useful addition to coastal defences, and the fact that it could be used at convenient rail centres and rapidly deployed to a threatened sector of the front. One of the first railway guns to enter service was the 21cm K 12 V (E). This gun with its exceptionally long 109.25ft barrel was fitted to a simple box-girder structure carried on two sub frames that were mounted on double bogies. The front sub frame was on ten-wheels and the rear on two eight-wheel bogies. Altogether the weapon weighed a staggering 313-tons. Only two of these guns were ever issued to service in the summer of 1940 and were used to fire their 107.50kg projectiles across the Channel.

Other railway guns also saw service in a similar role, but again in limited supply. These included the 24cm Kanone in Eisenbahnlafette `Theodor Bruno’ or 24cm Th Br K (E). There was the 24cm Kanone in Eisenbahnlafette `Theodor’ or 24cm Theodor K (E). Another of these massive weapons was the 28cm Kanone in Eisenbahnlafette `Kurz Bruno’ or 28cm Kz Br K (E). This was followed by 28cm Kanone in Eisenbahnlafette `schwere Bruno’ or the 28cm s Br K (E) and 28cm Kanone in Eisenbahnlafette `Bruno neue’ or 28cm Br N K (E).

Of these entire railway guns ever manufactured it was the 28cm Kanone 5 in Eisenbahnlafette or 28cm K 5 (E) that became the best railway gun ever built. The first gun entered service in 1936 and from then on it remained in production throughout the war with some 28 weapons having been made by 1945.

The manufacture of further railway guns continued with the production of a super heavy 38cm Kanone in Eisenbahnlafette `Siegfried’ or 38cm Siegfried K (E). Four of these huge weapons were taken to Norway for coastal defence. These were also used for a short period as coast defence guns on the Hel Peninsula in Poland, protecting Danzig. However, by early 1942 they were withdrawn and redeployed as coast defence guns on turret mountings on the French coast.

Another design of the super heavy railway gun that was also employed as a coast artillery weapon was the 40.6cm Kanone in Eisenbahnlafette `Adolf’ or the 40.6cm Adolf K (E). This was an ex-naval gun, but production was delayed with only one ever being built.

The largest of the railway guns ever to be manufactured was the 80cm Kanone in Eisenbahnlafette `Gustav Gerat’ or 80cm K (E). This monster gun weighing in at 1350-tons was capable of firing a 7-ton concrete-piercing shell some 23-miles.

In June 1942 `Gustav’ was sent to the Eastern Front to Sevastopol where it fired 48 shots at various targets, all of which were totally destroyed. When the siege ended the gun was withdrawn and shipped back to Germany to have the barrel relined.

An identical 80cm K (E) gun code-named `Dora’ was sent to southern Russia to Stalingrad in August 1942, but as fierce fighting grew it was soon withdrawn as the Red Army threatened the area with a counterattack.

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