28cm Kanone 5 (Eisenbahn) - ‘schlanke Bertha’ (slim Bertha)

The 28cm Kanone 5 (Eisenbahn) (schlanke Bertha or slim Bertha), was one of the most effective railway guns ever produced, and was large enough to have a major impact on the fighting, without being so large that it became too cumbersome to be used effectively.

Most German railway guns of the Second World War were either products of the 1936 emergency programme (the 15cm K (E), 17cm K (E), 28cm kurze Bruno K (E) and 28cm lange Bruno K (E) or vanity projects (the 21cm K 12 (E) and the massive 80cm K (E)), but the 28cm K 5 (E) was a new design, produced by Krupp between 1934 and 1936. The extra time this allowed meant that the 28cm K 5 (E) had a good balance of range and payload (in comparison the 15cm K (E) and 17cm K (E) were really too small to be worth mounting on a railway carriage and the long range 21cm K 12 (E) fired a shell with very little payload in order to achieve its impressive range).

The K 5 (E) was carried on a purpose built railway carriage. The gun itself was carried on a large central section that was supported by bogies at each end, each with six wheels on each side, for a total of twelve wheels per side. The carriage carried ammo handling equipment, which made it easier to load the large 28cm shells into the weapon. The gun itself had a long slender barrel, which earned it the nickname ‘schlanke Bertha’ (slim Bertha’, presumably a reference to the First World War era ‘Big Bertha’ (the 42cm kurze Marinekanone 14 L/12 in Räderlafette (Short Naval Cannon 14 L/12)).

Krupp began tests with a 15cm version of the barrel, before producing the first 28cm K 5 (E) in 1936. It was soon placed into full production, but this was a slow process, and only 25-28 had been completed by the end of the war. Production was shared with the Hanomag factory at Hanover. By February 1940 eight were in service, but an unexpected problem them appeared, in the shape of a series of barrel failures. Eventually this problem was solved by producing a barrel with shallower groves for the rifling, and the K 5 (E) became a reliable weapon.

The 28cm K5(E) was normally used in two-gun batteries. These required 230 men, including 5 officers and 56 NCOs. The battery was split into three sections - one for the supply and support train and one each for the two guns.

The K5(E) was often used with the Vogele turntable, a much more flexible system than the firing platforms of the First World War. The Vogele system was essentially a light-weight version of a standard railway turntable. It consisted of a circular rail which was built over a section of railway track. A special railway carriage was positioned over this rail, and could rotate through 180 degrees, using wheels mounted sideways at each end. The entire gun was then pushed up a ramp onto this lower carriage, and could rotate with it. It still took two days to assemble this turntable, but that was quicker and required less resources than the concrete or steel models.

In service the weapon required a dedicated train, which carried the crew, one or two of the guns, and a series of ammo trains. The K 5 (E) saw extensive service throughout the war. In the west some were used on the Atlantic Wall while others took part in the cross-Channel artillery duel around Dover. On the Eastern Front two were used at the siege of Leningrad while others took part in the battle of Stalingrad. There was even a plan to ship one to Tunisia, but nothing came of this. Instead the gun remained in Italy, where it was famously used at Anzio, becoming known as ‘Anzio Annie’. Two K 5 (E)s were available at Anzio, but only one was used at a time. The gun was kept in a railway tunnel near Albano, on the Rome to Nettuno line. The gun emerged from the tunnel to fire, and then withdrew to protect it from Allied counterbattery fire. Between them the two guns fired 700-800 rounds during the battle. When the Allies finally broke the Gustav Line they outflanked the two railway guns, and cut their escape route. One of the two was captured intact and taken to the US, where it was taken to the Aberdeen Proving Grounds.  

The K 5(E) was used during the battle of Normandy. Some were used to fire on Gold and Juno beaches in July and two fired on Allied forces as they advanced towards Rouen in August 1944. Two batteries took part in the fighting on the Cotentin peninsula. Most were lost during the retreat from France, although a handful of remaining guns were used during the battles on the German frontier.

The K 5 (E) was used for a series of experiments. One was given a screw type breech instead of the normal horizontal action breech. Another was given a muzzle brake. Tests were carried out with a series of experimental types of ammunition, and a rocket propelled shell actually entered service. These shells had a reduced payload and a rocket that fired just as the shell was slowing down, giving it a massive range boost, but at the same time reducing its impact, making the experiment rather pointless. One example was produced with a smooth barrel and was used to test the long range Peenemünder Pfiel (Peenemünde Arrow), and at least one more example of this variant was completed, as two were used to shell Maastricht from a position near Bonn in 1945.

Name

28cm Kanone 5 (E)

Calibre

28.3cm (11.14in)

Barrel Length

21.538m (70ft 8in)

Weight for transport

 

Weight in action

218,000kg (214.59 tons)

Elevation

0 to 50 degrees

Traverse

2 degrees

Shell Weight

255kg (562lb)

Muzzle Velocity

1128m/ sec (3,700ft/ sec)

Maximum Range

62,400m (68,240 yards)

Rate of Fire

 

Railway Guns of World War II, Steven J. Zaloga. Although the heyday of the railway gun came during the First World War, the most famous example of the type, the massive German 80cm K(E) guns 'Dora' and 'Gustav', came from the Second World War. In reality these were useless vanity projects, but as this book makes clear every major combatant used a least a handful of railway guns during the Second World War. This book combines  brief technical descriptions of each country's railway guns with a look at their combat service [read full review]
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (5 July 2018), 28cm Kanone 5 (Eisenbahn) - ‘schlanke Bertha’ (slim Bertha) , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_28cm_kanone_5_eisenbahn.html

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