Weapons of World War Two
28 cm Kanone 5 (E)
The Allied troops that the 22nd January 1944 landed in Anzio did not think that the German resistance would be so tenacious. Even decades after the war polemics still arose about the behaviour of General Lucas, about how the Operation Shingle could have been avoided or managed in a different way, or about many other arguments concerning those hard weeks. The truth is that the Allied soldiers disembarked in the coast faced situations that reminded much the stories told by the survivors of the Great War. There was not a clear division between the frontline and the rearguard, projectiles and grenades fell from everywhere, and there was nearly no shelter outside the craters created by the explosions. In the middle of this hell, at a certain pace a long-range German cannon, probably hidden anywhere on the highlands that the soldiers could see on the horizon, went out of its hideout and fired a couple of 280-millimeter grenades. Then it disappeared without being possible to localize it.
Aerial reconnaissance was not able to find it. Some fighter-bomber which overflew the beachhead when the projectiles arrived headed towards the alleged direction from where the fire seemed to come, and later it returned with the comforting news about the destruction of the cannon. But after a while a new burst would arrive inexorably, causing new victims among the troops crowded in the ruins of the villages. Soldiers, as it is known, become habituated to everything, and so they started to name their invisible enemy with the nicknames "Anzio Annie" or "Anzio Express". Week after week the long-range artillery piece kept under its fire the landing forces at Anzio, and when finally the Allies could break the situation and advance towards Rome, its thundering voice vanished impromptu.
The mystery was revealed when the Americans captured, inutilized by the very Germans, two huge railway cannons of caliber 280 millimeters, whose sole barrel had more than 20 meters in length. It had happened that the Americans had destroyed a sector of the railway that connected Velletri with Rome. In a tunnel nearby to Velletri were sheltered the cannons, one for utilization and another in reserve. When the Germans were sure that there were no enemy aircraft nearby, they brought outside one of the cannons which, after shooting its deadly charge, returned immediately to the refuge, while outside the artillerymen removed any trail that could reveal the existence of the artillery position. When the railway was damaged, the gunners, fired their last "tribute" to Anzio, destroyed everything and abandoned the position.
As a curiosity, it is worth of mention that the Americans, owners of the remainings of both cannons (which the Germans had baptized as "Leopold" and "Robert"), transported them to United States, where they managed to reconstruct one of them, by taking pieces from the other, and test it. Nowadays the reconstructed "Anzio Express" remains preserved near the Aberdeen Proving Ground.
Now let us see some of the characteristics of "Leopold". Projected in the years 1934-36 by engineers from the omnipresent Krupp, the trials started on the beginning of 1936. Accepted by the Supreme Command of the Army, it entered service in 1940 to soon become the standard weapon of the railway artillery. It was a piece of optimal ballistic qualities, gifted with notable precision, good rate of fire (it could fire up to 15 times per hour) and, within its natural limits, easily transportable. To open fire, since its horizontal firing arc was of only one degree, they could be used, when that was insufficient, specifically built and properly oriented railways, or a rotatory railway platform Vogele, which allowed so to fire in the full 360 degrees arc.
The 28 cm Kanone 5 (E), as it was its true denomination, was built with four types of barrel bore: with 10-millimeter deep rifling, with 7-millimeter rifling, with variable step rifling and with smooth bore of caliber 310 millimeters. In total, Krupp produced 30 complete cannons, three complete barrels and 30 revetments ready for lining again the bores worn out by the firing.
Weight: 218 tonnes
Total length: 31.10 meters
Barrel length: 21.54 meters
Elevation arc: 50 degrees
Horizontal arc: 1 degree
Rate of fire: 8-15 shots per hour
Range: 52 kilometers
Caliber: 280 millimeters
Weight of the projectile: 255 kilograms
Barrel lifespan: 240-550 shots, depending on the type of the projectile and propellant charge
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