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800 mm Kanone

By Sakhal

In 1935, one of the military objectives of prime importance for the German Army was the Maginot Line. To achieve a solution for the problem of neutralizing such an exceptional stronghold of the potential adversary it was decided to search for a weapon in the genre of the supercannon Bertha, which in the First World War had bombarded Paris with optimal results. The specifications indicated for the new artillery piece were: firing range of 35-45 kilometers, maximum elevation of 65 degrees and penetration of one meter of steel armor, seven meters of reinforced concrete or 30 meters of compact terrain. The company that managed to present the project for a weapon with such requisites was the omnipresent Krupp, with a team of technicians led by engineer Erich Muller. The result of the studies was a gigantic cannon mounted on a railway carriage sustained by four platform wagons, that would be kept dismounted in a deposit and issued for assembly to the site where it would have to be deployed. This artillery piece was the largest-caliber rifled artillery piece ever built, having a caliber of 800 millimeters, and also the heaviest mobile artillery piece ever built in terms of overall weight; it fired as well the heaviest shells of any artillery piece. Out of three units ordered, two were completed, baptized as "Gustav" and "Dora".

The ensemble reached a weight of 1350 tonnes and was moved by two Diesel locomotives with 1000 HP each, along a twin set of railway tracks. Elevation and charge mechanisms were electrically operated, while for horizontal orientation it was necessary to build a large platform with a curved railway path on which the cannon was moved along until achieving the desired position, since dispositions for horizontal orientation were non-existent in the artillery piece itself. To transport the materials were needed at least three trains and almost 1000 specialists. For building the artillery position was provided the employment of about 1500 workers that were recruited on the way. Preparation of the artillery position delayed about 3-6 weeks and two bridge cranes capable of lifting 10 tonnes had been prepared specially for assembling the artillery pieces, being assembly time about three days for 250 men. The facilities, commanded by an enginner Colonel, were composed of General Headquarters, a section for fire control, another one for security service and another one for emergency and gunners; in total about 500 men. As support and protection, apart from the technical personnel, was provided a Flak (anti-aircraft artillery) detachment, a Nebelwerfer (rocket artillery) detachment, 20 engineers from Krupp, two guard companies, one unit of military police equipped with dogs and one section for aerial cover and reconnaissance provided by the Luftwaffe. In total, almost 3870 men.

For firing the cannon were necessary 350 men. The maximum shot dispersion was one percent and firing range was certainly limited by the huge caliber. It was planned a special rocket projectile to achieve the exceptional range of 150 kilometers, that would require the barrel being extended to 84 metres. "Gustav", due to the quick neutralization of the Maginot Line by very different means, was not used against these defensive positions in France, but later in the early 1942 was sent to neutralize the fortifications at Sevastopol (Ukraine), firing there 48 shots in five days, while "Dora", sent to Stalingrad, would never see action. To give an idea of the power of these cannons, will suffice to say that during the siege of Sevastopol an ammunition magazine which was sited 30 meters underseas protected by at least 10 metres of concrete, was ruined after nine shells were fired. "Gustav" was later set up ready for the siege at Leningrad, but the attack was cancelled. Later in 1944 these cannons would be hypothetically employed during the revolt in Warsaw.

This project was one of the most awesome creations of the German war industry but also an useless effort that wasted large amounts of time and materials just for firing 48 projectiles against some obsolete fortifications in Crimea. With such action "Gustav" had worn out its original barrel, which had already fired around 250 rounds during development and testing. The cannon had been then fitted with the spare barrel while the original one had been sent back to Krupp for relining. Albeit these artillery pieces mostly complied with the requisites demanded, it was a mistake from the German Army to order a weapon in base of the success of a similar weapon in a very different war. Such an artillery piece would have been an awesome museum piece, but both pieces had been destroyed before the war ended, "Gustav" by the Germans themselves in its emplacement near Leningrad, and "Dora", that had been moved to the west along with the German retreat, dismantled and lost in unclear circumstances, possibly destroyed as well by the Germans.

800 mm Kanone

Weight (total): 1350 tonnes

Weight (barrel): 400 tonnes

Length (total): 42.97 meters

Length (barrel): 32.48 meters

Caliber: 80 centimeters

Width: 7 meters

Height: 11.6 meters

Weight of armor-piercing projectile: 7.1 tonnes

Weight of high-explosive projectile: 4.8 tonnes

Weight of propellent charge: 1.85-2 tonnes

Length of armor-piercing projectile: 8.26 meters (including propellent charge)

Length of high-explosive projectile: 6.79 meters (including propellent charge)

Maximum elevation: 48 degrees

Rate of fire: 1 shot every 19-45 minutes

Maximum range (armor-piercing projectile): 38 kilometers

Maximum range (high-explosive projectile): 47 kilometers

Barrel lifespan: about 300 shots

Categories: Artillery - World War Two - 20th Century - [General] - [General]


Website: Military History

Article submitted: 2014-10-08

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