Giant Siege Guns
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
In the opening days of the Great War, German
forces used huge Austrian siege mortars to
smash Belgian fortresses and open the road
to Paris. After the war the giant weapons
had to be dismantled, along with the Empire's
other oversized artillery like the rail-mounted "Paris
When the Nazi regime seized power in a series
of electoral shenanigans and began plotting
aggressive war, this capability had to be
re-created from scratch. France's Maginot
Line fortifications would suffer the same
fate as the fortress of Liege. But modern
concrete-and-steel fortresses built to withstand
the heaviest artillery of World War One could
only be crushed with a much more powerful
siege gun than those deployed in 1914.
The German Army issued its requirements
to the Krupp combine in 1934 for a railway-mounted
cannon capable of penetrating seven meters
of reinforced concrete, from a range outside
that of all known enemy artillery. Krupp
did some limited studies, but did not begin
serious design work until a personal inquiry
from Adolf Hitler about the project's status
sparked more serious efforts.
By the summer of 1937 work was under way
on a giant cannon thought capable of meeting
the design requirements: a 1,350-ton gun
with a bore of 800mm (31.5 inches), requiring
a special railroad track just t bear its
weight. The barrel proved very difficult
to manufacture, and not until the end of
1939 was a prototype ready for testing. Test
firings proved the concept workable; the
gun's gigantic 7 1/2-ton rounds easily broke
through seven meters of reinforced concrete
or one meter of armor plate.
Production proceeded slowly, and weeds had
overgrown the abandoned Maginot Line forts
by the time the cannon was ready for action.
The first production cannon underwent testing
in September 1941, and Schwerer Gustav, named
for Gustav Krupp, was sent into action in
February 1942 as the 672nd Special Artillery
Commanded by a full colonel, the 672nd included
a 500-man gun crew, intelligence section
to plot targets, and railroad specialists.
Krupp sent a delegation of civilian engineers,
and the Army added two anti-aircraft battalions,
more railroad troops, and two companies of
infantry (later replaced by Romanian troops)
to protect the cannon from marauding Soviets.
The Luftwaffe provided a special squadron
of Fi.156 spotter aircraft dedicated to observing
the fall of Gustav's shells.
cars were required just to move the cannon,
its ammunition and its entourage to the Crimea,
where it would bombard the forts surrounding
to Sevastopol naval base, then under German-Romanian
siege. Along the way, tracks had to be strengthened
and curves smoothed out to accommodate the
enormous loads. While the cannon slowly moved
from Essen to the Crimea, work teams began
to prepare a firing position in the village
of Bakhchisaray, the former capital of the
Enormous effort went into preparing the
site. Two pairs of double tracks had to be
laid to hold the big cannon, in a long curve
to allow the gun to be aimed: on its fixed
mounted only the elevation could be changed.
Any traverse was accomplished by moving the
gun along the curved track.
Finally, Gustav opened fire on 5 June 1942.
Eight shells were fired against coastal artillery
batteries in the morning, and six more against
Fort Stalin in the afternoon. The spotter
planes reported all targets destroyed. The
next day, Gustav hurled seven shells at Fort
Molotov, and nine at the White Cliffs ammunition
bunker dug under the waters of Severnaya
Bay. Again, both targets were destroyed.
The day seven shells were fired at a Soviet
fortification in support of an infantry attack.
After firing 36 shells, Gustav needed maintenance
and spent the next four days idle as crews
shored up the rail lines damaged by recoil
and made the big cannon fit for action. On
the 11th five shells were fired at Fort Siberia,
and on the 17th the final five operational
shells blasted Fort Maksim Gorkiy. Gustav
had expended all of its ammunition and worn
out its barrel (which had already fired about
250 rounds of assorted types on the proving
Those 48 shells would be the only ones ever
fired in anger by Gustav and his sister,
Dora (named for Dora Müller, whose husband
Erich designed the gun). After some talk
of deploying one or both to Leningrad, they
remained at the proving grounds at Rügenwalde
where Hitler observed a test firing in March
1943. Enthused, the Führer demanded
that a self-propelled version be developed
for use as an anti-tank gun. Inspector of
Panzer Troops Heinz Guderian dryly pointed
out that the gun's fifteen-minute firing
sequence would make it difficult to hit a
moving target, and the idea was quietly ignored.
Neither gun survived the war; American troops
found parts of both wrecked cannon. Enormous
resources had been expended for the 48 shots
fired at Sevastopol, much better devoted
to more conventional weapons but thankfully
wasted on the big guns. But for Daily Content
we need not hew to strict rationality; after
all, the Germans didn't either.
The Dora Variant
To add the heavy artillery to Third
one unit starts in the German force
pool in the 1939 campaign scenario. The siege
gun costs 5 BRPs and when built is placed
on the turn record track three turns ahead
of the current turn. It may be placed on
the board in that turn’s Production
Segment, in any friendly-controlled city
The siege gun may only move by Strategic
Redeployment (7.1). It may end its SR adjacent
to an enemy unit. To use the siege gun, the
German player expends one BRP during an operations
segment in which the siege gun has been activated
and rolls one die. On a result of 6, one
adjacent enemy fortress is destroyed. The
siege gun may only be used during a Headquarters
or General Offensive impulse (not during
an Attrition impulse).
The siege gun may only make one attack per
turn, and the BRP is expended regardless
of the result.
You can download
the new siege gun counter here.
Take Dora to war! Order