Here’s why the Nazi’s greatest weapon failed

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Schwerer Gustav’s cannon was one of the most promising and important projects in military history. Just before the outbreak of World War II, when the military the industry was developing and producing weapons, rifles and vehicles at an exceptional rate, the Gustav railway gun project was proposed. The biggest and most powerful pistol ever created was designed in 1937.

Shortly after its production, it was discovered that the weapon did not perform as Hitler thought it would, and ultimately the project would fail altogether.

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Project development

Gustav Railroad Cannon

Via: Wikipedia

A few years before the start of World War II, the German Army High Command requested a cannon that would be used during the invasion of France. More precisely, the aim of the weapon would be the destruction of the forts of the Maginot Line that the French were building at that time. The weapon was ordered in 1934 and he was sure from the start that due to its enormous mass it would need to be transported by rail.

Among other possible concepts, Hitler chose the design with the 80cm calibers in 1937 and set 1940 as the desired completion date for the project. But, the development faced many different problems. Considering that this gun weighed 1350 tons, the practical needs of the project were very demanding. However, the Krupp of Essen (their company was developing the project) made a successful prototype in 1939 which managed to destroy the walls with the same structure as the French forts. After a year of final development, the last Gustav cannon was introduced to the military in 1941.

The Nazis ordered two weapons in total, but according to Wikipedia, the Krupp company was only paid for the second because the Krupp dynasty supported the Nazi regime. The second pistol cost almost 24 million dollars or 7 million Reichsmark. The Gustav had two different firing options: a concrete armor-piercing shell and a lighter HE shell than the first.

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Why the gun failed

The biggest rail gun in the Soviet Union in 1941

Via: Wikimedia Commons

Theoretically, the huge cannon was successful because it could do what it was built to do. But in action, the first cannon was used only once in a real battle; In 1942, as part of the siege of Sevastopol, the cannon fired 47 rounds in June and contributed to the destruction of the city. After that, the first gun was moved to Leningrad but the planned attack was canceled. The same situation also occurred with the second gun, as the Germans withdrew from Stalingrad before attacking it.

These two situations were not just “bad luck for the gun”. In order to move it to such destinations, a large number of men were needed for its transport, which made the whole operation of the weapon really difficult. For example, in Sevastopol it took 4,000 soldiers to put the Gustav in firing position and also 500 to fire it.

The train that moved the cannon had 25 cars and was almost a mile long! Due to its size, the gun came into battle “too late” and, of course, the overall operation and deployment of the gun simply required too many hands on deck; this was seen as an inefficient use of time and manpower.


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