This book covers a fairly small subject. The authors have focuses on those super heavy weapons over 28cm in calibre, designed or used to destroyer fortifications. This covers three modern weapons built under the Nazis, a collection of older First World War guns, and a number of Skoda guns taken from the Czechoslovaks. The most famous of these guns were the two 80cm railway guns built by Krupp, ‘Dora’ and ‘Gustav’, but these were by far the least effective of the weapons examined here, needed a crew of 500 and requiring several weeks of work to prepare a suitable firing position!
The book is split into two sections. The first looks at the design and development of each of these weapons, taking each weapon in turn. The second looks at their use in combat, this time taking each campaign in turn. I much prefer this to the more common approach, where each gun’s combat record is examined in isolation. With the approach used here we can compare the performance of the different guns present at a particular battle, as well as getting a better idea of which guns were available at any particular time.
I particularly liked the emphasis on the practical aspect of these weapons, from how they were assembled to how they were fired. Each type gets a diagram showing either how it was emplaced or how it was moved (for the modern German guns the 60cm Karl Mortar gets a page showing the gun assembled and how it split down into railway loads, the 35.5cm howitzer gets one showing the road loads and the 80cm Dora gets two pages showing how it was assembled ready to fire)
The authors avoid the common trap of being over-impressed by the scale and complexity of these guns, and instead look at their actual combat effectiveness. This turns out to have been very poor, with none of the heavy guns ever playing a decisive part in a particular battle, and the very heaviest of them all, Dora, was almost entirely ineffective, only seeing action on five days during a thirteen day period during the siege of Sevastopol, and during that time only destroying one target, and that wasn’t a fortification!
I found this to be one of the best books I’ve read on this subject, giving an unvarnished look at the actual usefulness of these massive weapons, along with an examination of how they operated in practise.
The Return of Fortress Europe
Design and Development
Author: Marc Romanych & Martin Rupp