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42cm Type M-Gerat 14 L/12 (Big Bertha) Heavy Siege Gun (1914)

Authored By Staff Writer | Last Updated: 12/26/2013

The 420mm Big Bertha siege gun became a famous World War 1-era heavy artillery piece.

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The Big Bertha was a German initiative set into action before World War 1 (1914-1918). The Germans, like their counterparts in Austria-Hungary, observed the outcome of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 with great interest where German Krupp guns were utilized to good effect by the Japanese in sinking all Russian Navy capital ships from land-based positions during the Siege of Port Arthur. The famous "Big Bertha" would become a child of this observation and research with design, development and manufacture across twelve examples handled by Krupp Armaments Factory of the German Empire. It is believed that the 42cm L/12 nickname of "Big Bertha" was bestowed upon the weapon in honor of Bertha Krupp, owner of the Krupp production empire.

Big Bertha was a 96,000lb (43 ton) system that could lob 1,800lb shells nearly 8 miles (7.8) firing a 419mm projectile. The mounting hardware allowed for an elevation range of +40 to +75 degrees and a traversal of 4 degrees to either side. Muzzle velocity was 1,300 feet per second. Such was the size and weights in play with the Big Bertha that the weapon required a crew of dozens some six hours to assemble and disassemble the weapon. When not transported by Daimler-Benz tractors, the system was broken down and hauled via railway in no fewer than ten transport cars.

The Big Bertha's first notable combat action was against the "impenetrable" series of Belgian forts at Liege on August 12th, 1914. The huge German guns laid waste to the Belgian defenses in four days, demoralizing Allied forces and convincing the Germans to continue exploration into more mobile and powerful howitzers which inevitably included the famous "Paris Gun". Though highly inaccurate due to the distances involved and technology at play, the Paris Gun would terrorize Parisians from a range of 70 miles away showing that even the French capital was not safe from war.

Big Bertha crews could manage a rate-of-fire of 8 rounds per hour. While twelve total units were constructed prior to and during the war, eighteen additional barrels also existed. After the war, the Big Berthas were either confiscated by the conquerors or scrapped and none saw service into World War 2. At least two were outright captured and one sent to the United State's Aberdeen Proving Ground for extensive testing. This specimen was later on display at the US Army Ordnance Museum and, for whatever reason, scrapped sometime in the 1950s. No existing Big Bertha guns are known.

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Specifications for the
42cm Type M-Gerat 14 L/12 (Big Bertha)
Heavy Siege Gun


Country of Origin: Imperial Germany
Manufacturer: Krupp Armaments Factory - Imperial Germany
Initial Year of Service: 1914
Production: 12


Focus Model: 42cm Type M-Gerat 14 L/12 (Big Bertha)
Crew: 200


Overall Length: 19.29ft (5.88m)
Width: 0.00ft (0.00m)
Height: 0.00ft (0.00m)
Weight: 47.4 US Short Tons (43,000kg; 94,799lbs)


Powerplant: None. This is a towed artillery piece. Daimler-Benz tractor for towing in four major components OR across ten rail cars.


Maximum Speed: 0mph (0 km/h)
Maximum Range: 9 miles (15 km)


NBC Protection: None
Nightvision: None


Armament:
1 x 420mm (16.5in) gun barrel


Ammunition:
Dependent upon ammunition carrier.


Variants:
42cm Type M-Gerat 14 L/12 ("Big Bertha") - Base Series Designation; 12 units produced.


Operators:
Imperial Germany