Really Big Guns
Big Guns of World War II - Sometimes, you just want a little gun fun. Believe me, I know how it is. Teacher got you down? That boss acting crabby and demanding? Spouse or sibling just needs to be taught a lesson? This is a fun page to just let it all hang out.
|Coastal gun blasting away. Note the ships in the distance. I think this is a scene from 'The Guns of Navarone'|
Well, here you go. Almost all of these are German weapons because, frankly, they were into it more than the other combatants.
|A Krupp K5 railway gun fires off a 255 kg shell from its 21m long barrel. The shells could reach up to a distance of 64km. This is circa 1944.|
The propaganda department worked overtime fetishizing the muzzles and poses - see above - of these monsters.
But there are some Allied big guns, too, though the Allies tended to be more practical in this area.
All you need to know about Germans and their big guns was that they were the only army who named theirs. "Dora," "Gustav," "Ziu," "Bruno," on and on. Have you ever heard of a US artillery guy naming his artillery piece or mortar "Betsy" or "Albert" or "Johnny"? I haven't.
|No, we're not talking about these big guns|
Some of these pictures aren't actually of the biggest guns - the U-boats, for example, didn't have huge guns - but those are included because the camera really catches them in all their mammoth glory. You'll be just as dead if one of those hits you. These go all the way up to 280mm railway guns - those are big guns. In general, the biggest guns were naval artillery on battleships, but it's only when you put them on land and stand a man next to them that you get the sheer impact. And, believe it or not, the Germans had plans to put the the biggest naval artillery onto tanks. Yes, the Germans thought big.
|USS California 14 inch main guns|
If you ever go to a German military museum, seek out the cannon shell for a Schwerer Gustav railroad gun. The shell is as big as a Russian T-34 tank! The Germans destroyed their big guns at the end of the war to prevent their capture, so very few survived intact, and none of the very biggest.
No museum would be big enough to show the biggest anyway - and you'd have to build two parallel tracks for it to sit on. Probably just as well. Just keeping it from rusting away would require a team of men.
|Elevated 16" guns of battleship HMS Rodney. The very guns that were used against the Bismarck.|
A lot of the biggest guns are on the bottom of the Atlantic and Pacific. Or, they have been melted down into scrap. On the whole, I'd rather be on the bottom of the Atlantic or Pacific.
We all know the story that the big guns were useless and immobile and bomber fodder and all the rest. The biggest required thousands of men to set up and operate and were rarely used. General Heinz Guderian knew that during World War II, too, he wasn't a fool, but there was nothing he could do to stop the foolish mis-allocation of resources.
The biggest guns undeniably were not worth the cost. In fact, the results achieved generally were not even worth the cost of the shells fired to achieve them, let alone factoring in the cost of building, manning, protecting and maintaining the monsters. However, used properly, the big guns could achieve results. These useful situations involved investment of well-defended fortresses such as at Sevastopol, where they helped defeat the Soviets, and Leningrad, where they didn't.
|ISU-152-1 (ISU-152 BM) armed in 152,4 mm gun BŁ-8/OBM-43. Only one prototype was built, in factory number 100 in Chelyabinsk.|
When the Allies invaded southern Italy at Salerno and Anzio, the Germans hemmed them in for a while and brought up the big guns. There is film of the German gunners happily firing away their big guns at the Yankees on their beachhead. Obsolete or not, you didn't want to be sitting on the coast with a railway gun firing at you.
|Splash from the Anzio Express. Anzio had the war's highest psychosis rate - i.e., battle fatigue. That was largely due to being pinned down for months while Germans fired shells like this at random, with nowhere to hide.|
Big guns didn't disappear after World War II. Gerald Bull, a Canadian designer, kept alive the faith into the 1990s. He even wanted to launch satellites into Outer Space using big guns. The truth is, though, that technology already had passed the biggest of these guns by in the 1940s. They were better targets than weapons. That didn't stop the Germans, though. Hitler liked his big guns.
|Another view, years later, no sentry, but big gun.|
|The big German gun in the earlier pictures did not go unchallenged. Here is one of the big British guns place right across the Channel at Dover. This one was called "Pooh."|
|Berlin flaktower anti-aircraft. These bad boys were still in operation when Berlin surrendered. The flak towers were basically impregnable and simply bypassed.|
|Bismarck main guns. One shell sank a British Battlecruiser.|
|Nagato, 1942. The Japanese battleships don't get a lot of attention, but some of them had the biggest guns of any warship.|
|The 600 mm Mortar "Karl." German heavy self-propelled mortar during World War II. One of the most powerful artillery pieces of this period. They were used in the storming of fortresses and heavily fortified enemy positions, such as Sevastopol.|
|German railway guns|
|A 16-inch coastal defense gun. Somehow, they look bigger on land than they do when in place on a battleship.|
|Elefant with 88mm main gun|
|A Soviet 203 mm howitzer M1931, manned by its crew in a well-concealed position on the Russian front on September 15, 1941. (AP Photo)|
|German "Bruno" 280mm railway gun. Look at how affectionately the soldiers are patting it. Railway gun prepares for the invasion of Poland, September 1939|
|Normandy coastal gun. One of the reasons that Cherbourg was so important to capture was the presence of coastal guns there.|
|Canons du Deutchland classe Lützow. Egal sur Amiral Scheer et Graf Spee (Big guns of the Deutchland of the Lutzow class, same size as the Admiral Scheer and Graf Spee) (Ang, Federal Archive).|
|Another view of the 800mm Schwerer Gustav Railway Gun, giving a sense of its size. Note that it appears to have been pulled forward from the position of the previous photo. The curved track is hot it was aimed.|
|They sure got excited when they went off. You wouldn't want to be about 29 miles away in that direction right about now.|
|Heavy German railway-gun, Anzio Annie, Italy 1943. On a turntable for easy aiming. Protecting it from Allied air assault was a major project, note the rail track to take it to a tunnel.|
|Tiger II 120mm main gun.|
|London anti-aircraft. London was notorious among Luftwaffe pilots for having some of the densest anti-aircraft fire anywhere. Leningrad also had a lot.|
|Marder 4.7cm PaK: not very agile, but once positioned - better get out of the way.|
|The German biggie.|
|Sd Kfz Pak 40|
|German Stug - the most-produced German mobile artillery weapon. This looks like one in Finland.|
|Mörser Karl (Gerät 040/041) / Heavy Railway mortar "Adam" in Kubinka / Russia|
|Tiger I 88mm.|
|US 240 mm Howitzer Motor Carriage T92. Developed late in the war, but never saw service. It was a big gun on a Pershing chassis. Distinguish this from the much later T92 light tank, which had a somewhat similar profile.|
|U-172. U-boats liked to use their deck gun in order to conserve torpedoes, and for anti-aircraft defense.|
|The Boche-buster 18 inches (457mm) railway gun 1942, Boche is french slang for German.|
|USS Missouri main battery at the Japanese surrender|
|V-2, a ton of Amatol fun in the nose.|
|Waffentrager 88mm PAK gun.|
|12,8 cm Selbstfahrlafette auf VK 30.01 (H) « Sturer Emil ».|
|"Ziu" used against partisans at Warsaw August/September 1944 (Lehner, Federal archive).|