The railway gun proved a sound solution in the fighting of both World War 1 (1914-1918) and World War 2 (1939-1945). The units were behemoth designs, typically mounting massive naval artillery on carriages that ran along an established rail system. Not wholly accurate, these devastating weapons were nonetheless respected and proved great propaganda and psychological tools for all sides of each conflict. In time, however, their usefulness wore off and the rise of the ballistic missile ensured that the era of the railway gun had come to an end.
The French became leaders in the field when The Great War broke out in July of 1914. What started as a mobile, fluid war soon bogged down to Trench Warfare as massive trench networks sprung up about the European countryside. As both sides became more and more entrenched, artillery proved more and more valuable. However, to dislodge the most stubborn of enemies, alternative solutions were sought.
Naval guns held the inherent power and range to make a difference on land, yet there were limitations and restrictions of such weapons on such terrain. Thought was given to fielding these massive guns on mobile platforms utilizing the mature European railway network, transporting the entire system in this fashion while keeping it out of reach of the enemy's return fire.
Schneider of France championed the railway gun even before the start of hostilities and the outbreak of war fast-tracked development of these weapon systems. One of the earlier iterations became the Canon de 274 modele 93/96 "Berceau" which was designed, and first fielded, during 1915. The company would built four to the standard and these saw service through to the end of the war in November of 1918.
The weapons featured a 37.8 foot L/40 barrel assembly mated to its mounting hardware set within an armored housing. The gun was of 274 caliber and fired a projectile weighing between 475lb and 565lb utilizing a separate loading bagged charge. The shells were inserted via an interrupted screw breech design while recoil was handled by the cradle. The inherent elevation span was limited to +25 degrees and traversal was heavily restricted by the armored housing. The carriage included 2 x Four-axle rail bogies, these sections being hinged fore and aft of the gun section so as to better navigate the curves of rail.
A trained gunnery crew could let off one round for every five minutes. These projectiles reached a muzzle velocity of 2,840 to 3,000 feet-per-second and could range out to 14 miles at the full 25-degree tilt. Projectile types included the Armor-Piercing, Capped (ACP) of 562lb, the Semi-Armor Piercing, Capped (SAPC) of equal weight, and the Common Incendiary (CI) variant of 486lb. The universal bagged charge itself added another 187lb.
The guns arrived from the Schneider facilities in mid-1915. In practice, these weapons proved their worth to French authorities who now pushed for newer solutions of greater reach and caliber - giving rise to a whole collection of railway guns originating from the French during World War 1. In time, the original barrel assemblies were worn down through fatigue, forcing the Army to have them rebored to new calibers of 285mm and 288mm (11.2" and 11.3") which then forced the ammunition stock to be revised for the new size.
The Canon de 274 modele 93/96 Berceau project laid the groundwork for other French railway guns still to come, namely the Canon de 274 modele 1887/1893 "Glissement" (detailed elsewhere on this site) and its exposed mounting which gave better elevation spans and, in turn, great engagement ranges by 1917.
1 x 274mm (10.8" / 27.4cm) main gun tube / barrel; barrels rebored after heavy use to 285mm and 288mm requiring revised ammunition stock.
(Not all weapon types may be represented in the showcase above)
Dependent upon ammunition carrier(s); supported types included Armor-Piercing, Capped (APC, 562lb); Semi-Armor-Piercing, Capped (SAPC, 562lb), and Common Incendiary (CI, 476lb) with 187lb powder charge.
Canon de 274 modele 93/96 Berceau - Base Series Name; four examples completed and fielded during World War 1.
Ribbon graphics not necessarily indicative of actual historical campaign ribbons. Ribbons are clickable to their respective campaigns / operations.
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Image from the Public Domain.
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