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SS Youth in
Beyond Normandy




Germany's Giant Siege Guns
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
October 2012

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 Gun."

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.

A Freudian moment: Adolf Hitler and Albert Speer inspect their giant cannon, 1941.


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 Detachment.

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.

Loading one of the 80cm guns on its railway mount, at the Rügenwalde proving ground.


Twenty-five rail 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 Crimean Khans.

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.

The giant cannon up close.


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 grounds).

Dora fires a test shot at Rügenwald


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 Reich, 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 in Germany.

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 Third Reich now.