The "railway gun" had its heyday in the early part of the 20th Century when "Bigger was better" and ever-larger weapons were drawn up as counters to stout defenses and even as terror weapons against civilian areas. The Germans sank considerable resources into the category, both during World War 1 (1914-1918) and World War 2 (1939-1945) with, in the latter, the "Schwerer Gustav" becoming a product of the period. The gun was designed as a counter to the formidable "Maginot Line" series of defensive forts being completed by neighboring France in preparation for another war.
The Schwerer Gustav was built to an 80cm (800mm / 31.5") caliber standard and two guns (of the three planned) were eventually completed by long-time German defense player Krupp. The guns had a gun tube length of 40 calibers, a weight of 1,490 tons (short), and the ability to fire a 10,582lb (4,800 kg / 5.29 tons) shell out to a range of 29.82 miles (48 km) at 2,690 feet-per-second (820 meters-per-second). The platform was given an inherent elevation span of 10- to 65-degrees from centerline for some tactical flexibility though only a single projectile could be fired within an hour. Design work began in or around 1937 with production beginning in 1941.
Before the war, Krupp had already interested German authorities on a bunker-busting weapon to be used against the French centered around the "super-heavy gun" concept. These massive weapons would fire equally-massive projectiles from within friendly territory against targets residing deep within enemy territory. The prospect of such guns proved tempting enough that, throughout the 1930s, the company developed a series of studies centered around various possible calibers. A 1936 visit to the Krupp facility was followed by a 1937 authorization covering two guns under the designation of 80cm K(E).
Eventually three guns - "Dora", Schwerer Gustav 2", and "Langer Gustav"- were developed to varying degrees. In action the initial form required thousands to prepare the weapon before, during, and after transport while some 250 to 500 total men supported the actual firing phase. The guns were not entirely accurate and served more as a psychological terror than a tactical one. Nevertheless, when their massive shells hit, destruction was more or less guaranteed.
Such a weapon required a enormous challenge for engineers to the point that delays in the program were regular. By the time of the German invasion of France in May/June of 1940, the guns were still not operational though not necessarily needed with the quick take-over of Belgium and the Low Countries, leading to the fall of France itself through more conventional means. The fabled Maginot Line was simply bypassed by German ground forces, making their defensive value moot.
Trials involving the first gun prototype was had in 1940 and the completed prototype was under intense scrutiny at Rugenwalde in 1941. The only gun of the three in the series to see combat was the first, "Dora" (completed by February 1942 at Krupp's own expense), as she was featured during the Siege of Sevastopol in the Crimea against Soviet forces.
The gun was readied in February 1942 and arrived on scene in early March by way of a near-one-mile-long 25-car train (this included considerable FlaK anti-aircraft support in tow). Preparation to fire took five additional weeks and the weapon was used from June 5th until June 17th in subsequent actions against Soviet heavy artillery positions and fortified bunker emplacements with dramatic results - helping to lead the attackers to an Axis victory. The gun ended its useful days outside Leningrad by the start of 1943 and was destroyed in 1945 by the Germans near Auerbach out of fear of a Allied takeover of the weapon.
Due to these actions during the war, the design remains the largest and heaviest rifled / mobile artillery piece ever built and used in combat.
"Schwerer Gustav 2", finished in August of 1942, was to be committed to the shelling of Gibraltar from positions within Spain but the operation never materialized between the two nations. It was used for a time at Stalingrad from August until September 1942 before being packed up and relocated in the subsequent German retreat. She was blown up at (or near) Grafenwohr on April 19th, 1945.
The third, and last, gun in the series - "Langer Gustav" - was a proposed refinement of the original and set to feature a longer 52cm (520mm) caliber barrel for an all-new, longer-ranged projectile type. However, this weapon was still under construction in 1944 (it was originally expected in 1943) when irreparably damaged by Allied aerial bombs. The Langer's range would have reached 118 miles (190 km) giving it an excellent "reach".
The base 80cm K(E) gun design was to be featured in the proposed (and highly optimistic) Landkreuzer P.1500 "Monster" self-propelled gun platform (detailed elsewhere on this site) of 1943 which never materialized beyond the paper stage. The 80cm K(E) weapon was to be its centerpiece while this "vehicle" was also set to carry 2 x 15cm sFH 18 series heavy field howitzers and a plethora of MG151 automatic cannons in the air-defense / airspace deterrence role.
The focus on railway guns was eventually dropped by German authorities as the war progressed for they proved a cumbersome, expensive, and resource-intensive weapon to deliver and operate alongside questionable battlefield effectiveness / value - particularly as the war situation worsened. Comparatively, the same power could be had through two-dozen or so German "Tiger" heavy tanks which proved more cost-effective, resource-effective, and were inherently more tactically mobile than the Krupp railway gun. The role of such restrictive guns was eventually was taken over by the "V-2" class of ballistic missiles (though equally lacking in precision but offering excellent range) which terrorized London at-range during the latter stages of the war.
(OPERATORS list includes past, present, and future operators when applicable)
Special purpose design developed to accomplish an equally-special battlefield role or roles.
In-Direct Fire Capable
This system's capability is such that it can engage targets / target areas without Line-of-Sight attained.
Ability to provide lethal, in-direct firepower at range for area saturation; can include nuclear, biological, and chemical agents.
2,976,241 lb 1,350,000 kg
1,488.1 tons HEAVY
(Showcased structural values pertain to the 80cm K(E) production variant. Length typically includes main gun in forward position if applicable to the design)
None inherently; driven by steam locomotive.
29.8 mi (48.0 km)
(Showcased performance specifications pertain to the 80cm K(E) production variant. Compare this entry against any other in our database)
1 x 80cm (800mm / 31") main gun tube.
(Not all weapon types may be represented in the showcase above)
Dependent upon ammunition carrier(s); HE projectile featured.
Schwerer Gustav ("Dora") - Initial Krupp gun; saw action at Siege of Sevastopol; destroyed by Germans.
Schwerer Gustav 2 - Second gun; saw service at Stalingrad; destroyer by Germans.
Langer Gustav - Revised model with longer 52cm (520mm) caliber main gun and longer-range projectile (190km); abandoned after aerial bomb damage (Essen).
Ribbon graphics not necessarily indicative of actual historical campaign ribbons. Ribbons are clickable to their respective campaigns / operations.
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