Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Schwerer Gustav - The Real BFG

A point that has been commented on many times, by many different historians, is that Adolf Hitler was a complete and utter nutcase. Whilst most of what he did was macabre, evil and beyond even our ability to turn into comedy, some parts were just hilariously insane. The Schwerer Gustav is a weapon used by a man who was not only of touch with reality on a level on a par with Keith Moon, but also someone who is desperately trying to compensate for very small genitals. Or only having one testicle.

The Schwerer Gustave was not only the largest calibre rifled weapon in the history of artillery to see actual combat, but it was also the one that fired the heaviest shells of any artillery piece. Here is a picture of how insane it is:

Measuring over 150 feet long and weighing over 1,300 metric tonnes, this is possibly the closest military history has ever come to actually having a battlemech in terms of both weight and batshit insane weaponry.

In 1934 the German Army commissioned the famous gun-building Krupp family of to design a mammoth gun with a view to destroying the French Maginot Line. The brief was a simple one: the shells needed to be able to punch through up to seven metres of reinforced concrete, or one full meter of steel armour plate, from beyond the range of French artillery.

Engineer Dr. Erich M├╝ller calculated that the task would require a weapon with a calibre of around 80 cm, firing a projectile weighing 7 tonnes from a barrel 30 meters long. Always nice to work with conveniently round figures, isn’t it?

As such, the weapon would have a weight of over 1000 tonnes. The size and weight meant that to be at all movable it would need to be supported on twin sets of railway tracks. In common with smaller railway guns, the only barrel movement on the mount would be elevation, traverse being managed by moving the weapon along a curved section of railway line. In other words the response was “You could build a weapon like that, but it would be so huge, you’d need to lay track to get the thing to be anywhere near workable.”

The German army’s response was “Then we shall lay track!”. Which is a level of commitment and insanity that you have to admire, somewhat.

And here is one of the shells that the Gustav Schwerer fired.

Next to my Dad, for scale.

So, what we have here is a weapon that requires not only its own railway system in order to work, but also:

Two hundred and fifty people to assemble the gun – a task which took them 54 hours.

Two thousand five hundred people to lay track and dig embankments.

Two flak batallions to protect the useless hunk of shit.

All this combined for massive damage, however, when you realise those shells – measuring in at 2.2 Ian Harmers each – were capable of being hurled a staggering 23 miles.

In February 1942 Heavy Artillery Unit (E) 672 went on the march, and Schwerer Gustav began its long ride to the Crimea. The train carrying the gun was of 25 cars, a total length of 1.5 kilometers. Between the 5th and the 17th June 1942, Schwerer Gustav fired only forty-eight shells. Bearing in mind that Schwerer Gustav cost a massive 7 million Reichsmark, that’s a cost of just under 146,000 Reichsmark per shell. That’s a value for money, right?

To be fair, the Schwerer Gustav did more or less entirely destroy the city of Sevastopol, which is no mean feat. And has given Warhammer 40,000 gamers a hard-on since it began.

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