Core: Often confused with Big Bertha, this rail-based artillery can fire bullets at Paris. They are scary, but they fail to win the war against Entente.
The World War I Deadlock on the Western Front presented various solutions. Allies develop tanks to cross no man’s land to attack enemies. But tanks have errors: Artillery can stop it, as well as mechanical problems and difficult terrain; and they cannot finish work without a lot of infantry.
Across the ditch, the Germans did not care much about the tanks and only produced a few models. The main effort by Germany lies in the application of Hutier Tactics, the forerunner of Blitzkrieg in 1939-1940. Hutier demanded a narrow front, advance without regard to wing security. Follow-up forces are detailed to deal with strong points that have been by-pass. It was an approach that worked well on the Eastern Front, but was less resistant to the strongholds in the West because the French and British armies were more stable and because Germany could never gather enough stormtroopers.
Germany Turns to Heavy Artillery
So since the Battle of Verdun in 1916, the Germans looked into one of their strongest outfits: their ability to produce very heavy artillery with superlative qualities.
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General Erich Ludendorff, head of the Supreme War Council, was approached by naval officers who ordered very heavy weapons on the Western Front (in almost all armies, large-caliber chariot weapons were serviced and managed by naval personnel). Their proposal was to introduce weapons capable of firing bullets 100 kilometers, or 62 miles. Such weapons will require a large commitment in funding, material, personnel and technological resources.
Ludendorff is described as a cold and quiet officer who has no imagination. But in this example, the man immediately understands the possibilities. At that time, Paris was only 90 kilometers, or 60 miles, behind the Allied lines and would be vulnerable to such weapons. It is the center of the French railroad network. It is the main industrial center of the French arms industry and, of course, political capital and the administrative center of the French government. Ludendorff recognized an interesting target when he saw it.
He reasoned that artillery with the capacity to blow up Paris might be the German response to the horror of a frontal attack. Instead of hitting the Allied trenches, punishing Paris would be a means to destroy the heart of France; the rest of the body will wither on the vine. Verdun’s lessons are engraved in the hearts and minds of both parties. The commanders and also the soldiers are increasingly reluctant to launch a frontal attack. Thus Ludendorff was quite stunned by the possibility of crossing the line rather than trying to cross them.
Fascinated by the proposed technological leap, the projected results of such large weapons are widened, and ballistic boundaries are minimized. All artillery manuals contain a “dispersion table” which provides a mathematical calculation of the expected shell pattern. Dispersion is caused by many factors including temperature and air density, propellant temperature, explosive launch age, real and actual wind over the shell trajectory, plus a number of other esoteric variables. In addition, the rule of thumb is that the higher the fill rate, the greater the extent of dispersion. Firing the charge needed to reach Paris will cause an extreme dispersion factor. It is possible to reach a target the size of Paris, but accuracy shows not on the card. However, German planners believe that because France is a volatile person, the effect of Paris being fired on by artillery will be devastating.
Dispersion table assembly is a tiring procedure that requires a large number of hours of work devoted to calculations, which are now carried out by computers. The amount of labor needed to compile a dispersion table manually is staggering, and the end product tends to experience errors.
Dispersion is an acceptable factor, and any battery that serves the target must fire the group of shells to achieve any expectation that the honorable number is on the target. But with long distance as anticipated by the proposed big weapon, new complications must be considered. Germany must take into account the calculations of the French mathematician Gustave Gaspard Coriolis (1792-1843).
Coriolis was an assistant professor of analysis and mechanics at the École Polytechnique, who was appointed in 1816. He won fame as a result of an innovative paper published in 1815 called Theorie Mathematique des Effects du Jeu de Billards (Mathematical Theory of Billiard Games). ).
Coriolis has compiled the basic principle of artillery, namely, “The angle of reflection is the same as the angle of incidence.” This proposition has been clearly demonstrated on a pool table repeatedly, but extrapolating it to artillery is new. As every billiard or billiard table knows, bank shots leave a pillow at the same angle as when they arrived. Likewise, the artillery projectile will return to Earth at the same angle as it leaves its muzzle.
However, this is not Germany’s main concern. After years of diligent research, Coriolis published the actual tour de force, Sur les Equations du Mouvement
In April 1915, Germany placed a long-range naval weapon on the rail stand. It was named Lange Max (Tall Max) in honor of Vice Admiral Max Rogge, who had overseen the adaptation of marine weapons to land use. With a hole of 37.99 cm (14.96 inches), this weapon can load a 30-mile shell. Firing from Lugenboom, shells reach Dunkerque, 23.5 miles away.
The weapons are difficult to service because the loading of projectiles and propellants, with a total length of eight feet, can only be done from a horizontal position. Loading and sending weapons for each shot is a labor-intensive and time-consuming project that limits the rate of fire. On the plus side, the weapon is immune from direct retaliation. Allied forces did not have the ability to send battery replies, because German weapons were out of reach.
The firing site and target are on the east-west axis, which makes the projectile almost unaffected by the Coriolis Effect. However, Professor von Eberhardt, an obscure mathematician who worked for the German Krupp steel and weapons company, had worked on methods to expand the range of artillery, and understood the problems produced by gunfire on the north-south axis. Eberhardt was a very small technician, and despite “von,” his achievements and first name were not recorded.
Set Krupp to Work on Big Guns
Ludendorff’s agreement on long-range artillery had moved the Krupp apparatus. The original specifications set a distance of 60 miles, then increased to 75. Krupp, perhaps the most experienced artillery producer in the world, began to put together such weapons in a way that was usually innovative.
The pistol barrel with a 15.1 inch (38.1 cm) hole is practically an inventory item on the shelf. The design team is aware of barrel erosion due to extreme loads and approaches the problem in a new way. An inner barrel with a hole of 8.26 inches (20.98 cm) will be inserted into a larger hole and will bear the heaviest burden of shooting. When worn due to repeated firing, the subaliber insert can be replaced with relative ease, guarding the outer barrel.
However, the work was a major engineering work. The gun was a composite affair, a complex collection produced by the famous Krupp design team. There is a 36 foot, 1 inch barrel extension, in front of the original snout. On top of this is an additional 19 feet, 8 inch smoothbore extension. The whole affair has an overall length of 112 feet, and weighs 138 tons. A piece of heavy artillery like that needs an external amplifier to keep the barrel from sagging. Supporting the barrel is a cantilever support which transfers a portion of the load to the gun base. The amplifier looks very similar to the half model of the Brooklyn Bridge. Of course, this tool can only be carried with train wheels and requires special construction of a reinforced trackage.
The shell weighs 229 pounds and must be of a new design. Instead of using conventional copper drive tape, it will have two steel mounted to fit the barrel gun. Behind each drive tape there is a narrow copper band to act as a sealing device. The loading drill requires that it be put into rifling. This mandates muscle strength, and lots of it.
Engineer Krupp calculated how much metal would wear from the inside of the barrel with each shot. They determined that the life time of the barrel was 64 rounds before rebuilding was needed. To compensate for such wear, the shells are numbered sequentially and additionally sized to compensate for predicted erosion. Shells must be fired numerically to maintain projectile compatibility in the increasingly worn barrel.
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