The railway gun was an important weapon during the First World War, where both sides built extensive rail networks to supply the static front lines, allowing the rail guns to be moved to where ever they were needed along the front. In the more mobile conditions of the Second World War the railway gun was less useful, and in most armies it was superseded by heavy tracked artillery or large guns towed by tracked vehicles, which were more flexibly than the track-bound railway gun. However the Second World War also saw the brief combat career of the largest railway gun ever built – the massive German 80cm K(E) guns 'Dora' and 'Gustav', and every significant combatant used at least some railway guns.
Other books on this topic tend to focus rather heavily on the technical specifications of the individual weapons, and skip over their combat use. This text is rather more balanced, where possible giving just as much attention to the guns service careers as to their specifications (not every country actually used their railway guns in combat – for example the US examples were mainly home based coastal defence guns and thus not called into action).
The main focus of the book is thus on Germany and the Soviet Union, the two countries that made the most use of the railgun. These included improvised weapons produced within besieged Leningrad using old naval guns, and the massive German 80cm guns, which absorbed vast amounts of industrial capacity and required thousands of men to operate them. These later guns were massively impressive, requiring two parallel railway lines to operate and towering over other railway guns, but they were also almost entirely pointless, proving to be far too inaccurate to be effective when Dora was used at the siege of Sevastopol.
The focus on the combat careers of these weapons is a key strength of this book, making it stand out from other books on the same topic. For a fuller picture it is probably best read alongside one of the more technical books, but of the two topics the combat career is the more important.
French Railway Guns
Italian Railway Guns
Japanese Railway Guns
British Railway Guns
US Railway Guns
Railway Guns in Retrospect
Author: Steven J. Zaloga