80cm Kanone (Eisenbahn)

The 80cm Kanone (Eisenbahn) was the largest artillery gun ever built, and was a vanity project that consumed far more resources than its limited impact could possibly justify.

The weapon was originally considered in 1935 as a way to break through the Maginot Line, but was rejected by Krupp as being impractical. However in the following year Hitler saw the plans, and they appealed to his taste for the gigantic. Work resumed on the project, and the German Army placed an order for three weapons, to be delivered from 1940.

The development of the massive gun was a complex task, but Krupp managed to finish the first barrel by the end of 1940, and the first complete weapon was ready for tests in 1941. The weapon was massive in every way. The 80cm barrel was 29.9m long and far too large and heavy to be carried on a conventional railway carriage. Instead it was carried between two carriages, each bigger than most large railway guns. As a result it required a two track railway to be used. The barrel was carried between the two carriages, with a fighting platform behind the breach.  The entire thing was the size of a large multi-storey building. It took between three and six weeks to move the gun into place and prepare it to be fired. The weapon couldn’t be moved for any distance when it was assembled, and instead had to be moved in two-dozen train loads.  

Only two were completed - ‘schwere Gustav’ (Heavy Gustav) and ‘Dora’. The third was destroyed in the Allied bombing of the Ruhr.

The gun could fire two main types of ammo. The HE shell weighed 4,800kg and the concrete piercing shell a massive 7,100kg. It could take up to three propellant charges, which were fitting into a brass case. With a full charge it had a range of 47,100m. The propellant casing was 1.3m long, while the completed concrete piercing shell put on end was twice the height of a standing man!

The 80cm Kanone had a very limited service career. The first gun was taken to the Crimea in the autumn of 1942, and took part in the siege of Sevastopol. It needed thousands of workers to prepare the site and assemble the gun, and 500 men to actually man it! After all of that effort it proved to be very inaccurate, and had very little impact on the events of the siege. The unit operating the gun, Artillerie Abteilung (E).672 contained 1,420 men, although that did include a wide range of support staff and even an anti-aircraft detachment. In May 1942, 1,500 Soviets and 1,000 German workers prepared the site. The last of the two-dozen train loads of parts arrived by 1 June, and it was fully assembled by 5 June (presumably work began as soon as the earlier loads arrived). Dora opened fire on 5 June 1942, when she fired 15 rounds of which  only one was believed to have hit its target. On 6 June seven rounds were fired against Fort Molotov, but all missed. Later on the same day Dora finally achieved some accuracy, scoring several hits on an ammo dump. On 11 June three shells were recorded on Fort Siberia. Finally on 17 June five rounds were fired against Fort Maxim Gorkiy, but without any hits.

One plan had been to use the guns to bombard Gibraltar from Spain, but that was cancelled along with the entire invasion project. Dora was moved to the Leningrad front, where she was fully assembled, but never actually opened fire.

At the end of the war both guns were wrecked by their own crews, and then scrapped. Overall the project had been a massive waste of effort, with almost no actual impact on the war.

Name

80cm Kanone (Eisenbahn)

Calibre

80.0cm (31.5in)

Barrel Length

28.957m (95ft 0in) (L/40)

Weight for transport

 

Weight complete

1,350,000kg (2,976,190lb)

Elevation

10 to 65 degrees

Traverse

0

Shell Weight

7,100kg (15,653lb) anti-concrete
4,800kg (10,582lb) HE

Muzzle Velocity

820m/ sec (HE)

Maximum Range

47,100m (51,510 yards) with HE shell

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]
cover cover cover

 

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (25 July 2018), 80cm Kanone (Eisenbahn) , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_80cm_kanone_eisenbahn.html

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