Breaking

Railway guns through vintage photographs, 1916-1944


Since the days of catapults and trebuchets, military men have dreamed of the ultimate weapon that could break down an enemy wall, castle or defensive stronghold. For a period of seventy-five years, that weapon was the railroad gun, strong enough to do considerable damage but also able to move wherever railroad tracks could go.

Railroad guns had a short lifespan compared to other practical military technologies that arose during the American Civil War, such as submarines, repeating rifles, and machine guns. Yet from 1862 to 1945, he earned a reputation as a bunker buster without warning, firing on cities alike and terrorizing civilians from afar.

Mounting heavy artillery on mobile railroad cars was first proposed by Russian Gustav Cory in 1847, and was first used in combat in the American Civil War. Confederates bolted a 32-pounder Brooke Naval rifle to a flatcar protected by an iron casemate, the finished car looking like a land version of the ironclad CSS Virginia.

It was engaged in artillery fighting before the Battle of Fair Oaks. The Union used similar railroads during the Siege of Petersburg in 1864.

The most famous of these was the Dictator, a thirteen-inch seaside mortar mounted on an eight-wheeled flatcar. Lobbying a 218-pound shell from forty-two hundred yards, this behemoth bombarded the Southern Battery and bombarded it with impressive effect.


Apart from experiments carried out by Captain John Fisher (of dreadnought fame) of the British Royal Navy in 1870 during the Siege of Paris and in 1881 and 1882, there was some progress in railroad guns until the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when French firms experimented with large artillery pieces—originally designed as the main arsenal of battleships—on large railroads.

The French released not only 320 mm guns and 200 mm howitzers but also smaller pieces of 155 mm howitzers. During the ensuing war, naval or coast artillery contingents would carry many such railroad guns.

German and Austro-Hungarian armies were also experimenting, in the greatest secrecy, on giant siege guns—Krupp's 420 mm Dicke Bertha (Big Bertha) and koda's 305 mm Schlanke Emma (Skinny Emma) howitzers—which were later designed to be of commendable accuracy and was deployed with strength. Belgian and French fortifications.

The limitations of Europe's road network, combined with French experiments in railroad guns, may have encouraged Germany to combine the technical strength of Krupp's Artillery Bureau with the Eisenbahnpeonier, perhaps the most influential and professional military rail service in Europe at the time.

By the end of World War I, railroads were considered the dominant method for fielding super-heavy artillery. By Armistice Day, the US Coast Artillery had deployed seventy-one railroad guns to ten regiments in Europe. They ranged in size from fourteen-inch arms to 190 mm. Almost all were made in France.


The pinnacle of the long-range role of railroad artillery was the pariscon, or paris gun. Misidentified as "Big Bertha" by Parisians, it was officially renamed Wilhelmgeschutz in honor of the Kaiser. Indeed, a series of replaceable gun tubes, the Paris Gun, were developed by Rosenberger's team in collaboration with the German Navy.

With the 280 mm naval gun as a base, each barrel was reduced to 210 mm or, later, 240 mm using reworked barrels. The modified tubes were then extended and heavily braced. Each tube could only fire twenty to fifty shells, before its rifling and accuracy declined significantly.

During World War II, Germany was a major manufacturer and user of super-heavy railroad guns. Allied intelligence identified some twelve different types of German-made railway artillery by 1945, ranging from 150 mm to 800 mm. Captured Czech and French pieces were also widely used.

German based 280 mm guns at Cap Gris Nez on the northern coast of France in 1940 to attack the English coast and to provide cover for the unsuccessful Operation Sealion. Because it was impossible to conceal such weapons well, the Nazis' organization Todd built huge, igloo-shaped bunkers to protect the cannons, which still stand.

Despite the Red Army's advance into Poland, the Germans continued to deploy railroad guns and Karl-series caterpillar-tracked mortars to crush Warsaw during the uprising of late summer 1944.


Perhaps the most successful German railroad artillery was the series of 280mm K5(E) rail guns, of which some twenty-five units were built. Two of these 218-ton mammoths, Robert and Leopold (known to the Allies as the "Anzio Express" and "Anzio Annie", respectively), achieved notoriety during the Battle for Angio in 1944.

Fired 550-pound shells to a range of more than thirty miles, these K5(E) wreaked havoc with beachfront operations, but were only fired sporadically in broad daylight, taking advantage of hiding in railway tunnels. Happened.

Despite intelligence about its position, Allied air power never disabled the gun and only occasionally disrupted ammunition supply trains.

These photographs span the history of railway guns, first used by Confederate forces in the American Civil War, to autochrome photographs of guns on the Western Front of World War I, to the nearly obsolete behemoths of World War II.



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