Weight: 240 tons
98 feet (travel)
105 feet (combat)
Barrel length: 70 feet 8 inches
Bore: 283 mm
Elevation: 50 degrees
Traverse: 2 degrees
Muzzle velocity: 3,675 feet per second
Maximum firing range: 40 miles
Rate of fire: 15 rounds per hour
First proposed in the late 1840s, the railway gun didn’t see combat until the American Civil War. By World War I all major combatants on the Western and Eastern fronts were using these weapons, the size of the guns they could transport more than compensating for their limited mobility.
In the lead-up to World War II Nazi Germany’s general obsession with advanced “wonder weapons” led to manufacture of the 1,490-ton Schwerer Gustav siege cannon, capable of firing an 80 cm shell up to 29 miles. The Germans only built two such monsters, but they also fielded 25 of the smaller but still formidable Krupp 28 cm Kanone 5(E) guns—the E signifying Eisenbahnlafette (“iron railway”). These fired 562-pound shells containing either 67 or 98 pounds of TNT. A later version, the K5Vz, fired a rocket-assisted shell with 31 pounds of explosive.
Its limited traverse required the K5 to operate along curved stretches of track, from a cross-track or from a Vögele turntable, if available. Late in the war the Germans tried to free the K5 from the rails by replacing its two pairs of 12-wheel bogies with two modified Tiger II tank chassis, but the war ended before they could field-test the concept.
Germany stationed eight of the K5s in France, including three along the English Channel for use against Allied shipping, although they proved unsuccessful. An elusive gun the Allies dubbed “Anzio Annie” bedeviled the Italian beachhead until landing troops tracked down not one but two such weapons, named Leopold and Robert, on a railroad siding in Civitavecchia on June 7, 1944. German gun crews had done extensive damage to Robert. Leopold fared better, and after being shipped stateside and displayed at Maryland’s Aberdeen Proving Ground, it was moved to its present home at the U.S. Army Ordnance Training and Heritage Center at Fort Lee, Va. A second gun survives at the Todt Battery Museum in Audinghen, France. MH