A brief history by the late Robert D Fritz
Work on the giant weapon begun as far back as 1934, when German army ordnance enquired of Krupp’s the weight and speed required of a projectile to demolish the massive defences of the Maginot line which the French were then in the process of completing. Preliminary blueprints for an 80cm siege gun were compiled by Krupp’s ballistic experts, but nothing more was heard from the authorities about it even during Hitler’s visit to the works at Essen, in March 1936, during which he enquired into the giant guns feasibility, nothing was commissioned. It wasn’t until October, 1939, that Hitler, in preparing his plans for attacking Russia, initiated orders for the production of the 80cm guns.
After orders in 1939 were given to develop and produce the gun, Krupp built a test model (late 1939) and sent it to Hillersleben. After the test programs for the gun were completed (mid 1940) and the results sent back to the Wafruf office in Berlin, the gun and its carriage were removed and presumably scrapped. The test results were favourable and contracts were let to Krupp at Essen for the manufacture of two of the guns in late 1940-41, and a third in 1944. This last one was found unfinished in its shop at Krupp, when the American forces swept through Essen.
Krupp was thoroughly equipped to turn out munitions. Among its facilities were open hearth and electric steel furnaces, foundries, forge and press shops, armour plate rolling mills, plate and spring shops, testing laboratories, low pressure vessel shops, and a large number of machine shops devoted to specific tasks. These buildings and the others were listed numerically in classes: e.g., machine shop 10, 11, 12, etc.; foundry 3, 4, 5, etc.; armour plate mill 1, 2, etc.
It was in machine shops 20, 21 (heavy gun shop and machine shop respectively), that the tube for the 80cm gun was made. The shells for this gun were made in draw and press shop 1; its carriage was made in machine and erecting shop number 1 (for gun mounts and gun carriages).
In machine shops 20 and 21, there were large gun lathes and milling machines for production of heavy gun tubes. In draw and press shop 1, there were three piercing presses from 250 to 1,500 tons, three drawbenches from 500 to 2,510 tons some turning lathes, five furnaces, and one 800 ton vertical drawing press. The power plant which was part of this shop provided the air, water, and electric power for the draw and press shop. Railroad tire shop 3 was also used in producing big shells. In this shop were 25 miscellaneous lathes, grinders, one shell bander, 12 car wheel lathes (not used), and six vertical mills. These two shops turned out the 80cm shells for the Gustav Geschutz and the Dora. In the machine and erecting shop 1 were 90 miscellaneous lathes, planers, milling machines, horizontal boring mills, grinders, and drill presses. This shop machined and assembled the parts for the 80cm gun railway carriage.
The two 80 centimetre guns which Krupp produced in 1941-1942 were the largest guns in the world. They were identical railway pieces but were different from conventional single track railway guns in that a 4 track system was needed for emplacement. The first gun produced was named Gustav Geschutz, after an engineer at Krupp; the second one produced was named the Dora, for the wife of the engineer who built it. Each gun was put under the command of a major general, and crews were selected and trained in the operations of the gun: presumably these crews had nothing to do with the construction of the gun emplacements, for this was probably a job of the German engineers, because of the road bed and track construction involved.
Invasion of Russia
The invasion of Russia started at 3:00 a.m. on June 22, 1941. The Russians were taken completely by surprise, and because of this the fast advancing German panzer columns met little resistance. Counter attacks made by the Russians quickly turned into envelopments by the Germans. But as the germane armies continued to penetrate deeper and deeper into Russian territory, their advance began to slow down. Losses in men and equipment mounted steadily on both sides, although in most cases Russian losses far exceeded those of the Germans. As the war progressed, Hitler decided on a feint toward Moscow, while concentrating his main forces for a push far to the south, through the Ukraine. The Russian high command failed to see through this ruse until it was too late.
As the German forces pushed closer and closer to the Crimea, plans were drawn up for the occupation of that peninsula. Included in these plans were the heavy siege artillery to be used against the fortifications at Sevastopol -and Kerch, the two strongholds in the Crimea.
Sometime in February of 1941, the Gustav Geschutz, one of the siege guns to be used at Sevastopol, started its long ride from Germany to the Crimean front. The train, 25 cars long, included gondolas, special flat cars, accessory cars, ammunition cars, and two cranes for emplacing the gun. The probable route taken was through southern Poland to the Ukraine, using the rail links between captured cities. Along the way in the Ukraine the gun was transported on the new German railway built from the Ukraine to the Crimean isthmus.
The gun reached the Perekof isthmus around the early part of March, 1942. Here it was held with the other siege artillery and ammunition, which were accumulating, until early in April when the siege artillery was moved into the Crimea, to the north of Simferopol (southern Crimea ). As the German forces drew closer to Sevastopol, preparations were made for the coming siege. The port had already been blockaded so that no reinforcements could be landed. As the Germans closed in, the siege artillery was moved into position. A railway spur was built to the Simferopol-Sevastopol railway, ten miles north of the target area. At the end of this spur were built the four semicircular tracks for the Gustav Geschutz. The train was moved down the Simferopol – Sevastopol line and onto this spur. The emplacement of the Gustav was then begun (early May). By June 5 the gun was ready to fire. On June 6 all of the siege guns began the reduction of fort Stalin.
The target area was a line of thick-walled forts built into a steep ridge which overlooked the north shore of Sevastopol bay (two thousand meters to the Southwest, across the bay, was Sevastopol). Immediately north of the ridge, flowing west to the Black Sea, was the Belbeck River with the town of Belbeck on its north bank. The mission of the siege artillery (and the Luftwaffe) was to neutralise all fortifications on the ridge and especially those across the river from the town. A beachhead was to be established on the south bank of the river, from which shock troops and tanks would storm the middle fort on the ridgeline, fort Stalin.
On June 9 the north attack, was started, preceded by strong air and artillery preparation. Meanwhile, Rumanian troops further south were preparing to launch an attack to the west across the Bayadar River. From June 10 to June 13 the north beachhead gained ground until, on June 14, fort Stalin was finally captured. The shock troops pushed over the ridgeline at this point and swept down to the north shore of Sevastopol bay.
On June 15 the Rumanians in the south launched their attack (with air support from the north) westward. They made a deep advance toward Balaklava, on the Black Sea.
On June 18 the breach in the ridge line in the north was enlarged. A heavy bombardment was made against fort Maxim Gorki (really two adjacent forts). There was an internal explosion and the fort was quickly captured. On the 19th Sevastopol itself was brought under fire from the siege artillery. Since there was only a slight increase in range, the siege guns did not have to move their positions. Also on the 19th the attack was begun against the fort on the cape above Sevastopol bay. On June 20 after air force and artillery preparation, the attack was made on fort Lenin. This was the easternmost fort of those on the ridge. Because its bombardment had been thorough, it was quickly captured.
On June 21 the cape fort fell. Now the entire ridge was in German hands. Sevastopol was being subjected day and night to intensive artillery fire. Under the shells of the 80 centimetre gun and the 60 centimetre mortar (Thor) and other guns, the city was beginning to disintegrate. On this day the Russians abandoned their positions north of the Chernaya River to set up a defence line along its south bank.
Consequently, on June 22, 23 and 24, the Germans pushed to the head of Sevastopol bay, reaching Inkerman on the 25th,
In the south during these three days the Rumanians were still advancing on Balaklava. However, the next day they took not only Balaklava but also Kadikoi. On the 27th the Rumanians were driving on mount sapeum at Inkerman; on the 27th the Germans were preparing to attack Southwest toward Sevastopol.
June 28 saw the siege of Sevastopol rapidly drawing to an end. The Germans at Inkerman began their drive toward Sevastopol. At the same time the Rumanians and Germans in the south started their push west. Under both of these drives the Russian lines gave way, allowing the two advancing forces to take considerable gains.
On June 29 the northern and southern armies consolidated along one front. Malakov hill, a flat-topped fortress, in the way of the Germans advancing along the south shore of Sevastopol bay, was shelled by artillery batteries on the north side of the bay. It fell after a short but heavy bombardment. After seizing the entire remaining defence line, the Rumanians and Germans pushed to the eastern city limits of Sevastopol. The city surrendered on July 1, thus ending the siege, although some Russians held out in the Khersones peninsula until July 4. Sevastopol was a vast pile of rubble and of the 80,000 population only 200 were left. In all, over 30,000 tons of artillery ammunition were used in the siege, or 50 tons day and night for 25 days. Twenty-five tons of bombs were dropped during the siege. Three hundred rounds were fired by the Gustav Geschutz alone. One of its gun tubes was worn out, and this was sent back to the Krupp works where a liner was added. This tube came back to the Crimean front, where its parent gun was using the spare tube which was brought along.
Little could be found on the deployment of the Dora at Stalingrad. It was presumably constructed in Germany later than the Gustav Geschutz, and transported to the Russian front. It arrived ten miles to the west of Stalingrad sometime in mid-august of 1942 where it was emplaced and ready to fire on September 13. On September 14 the siege of Stalingrad began. It lasted until November 19, when the German Sixth Army under General Paulus, smashing at Stalingrad with everything it had, was finally routed by the Russian counter offensive which began on November 20. The German left flank was quickly enveloped and the Russian armies driving from the Southeast closed the last possible corridor of retreat, when they met the Russian armies from the north, at Marinovka. Paulus did not realise the strength of the encircling Russians until too late. The German perimeter began to diminish in spite of the stubborn counterattacks. Paulus refused the Russian demand to surrender, and because of this, on January 8 and 9, 1943, his Sixth German Army was annihilated. Paulus himself was captured in the business district of southern Stalingrad, on February 2.
When the remaining German armies began their long retreat from Stalingrad, the Dora was taken from its emplacement and transported west to prevent its capture by the Russians. At about the same time the Gustav Geschutz was dismantled in the Crimea and sent west also. As the Russians swept into Poland and north-eastern Germany, the two guns were moved southward into Germany from their respective positions in Poland and Czechoslovakia.
In April, 1945, the American forces were also making considerable headway against the Germans. The US ninth army was advancing on Magdeburg; the U.S. first army had reached the Mulde river south of Dessau, and was pushing on Halle and Leipzig (which it captured on April 19 and 20, respectively), and the U.S. third army was sweeping through Bayreuth toward Chemnitz. At Oberlichtenau, just north of Chemnitz, the Germans, realising that capture of the Dora was not far off, destroyed it with demolition charges and dispersed the parts.
In early June, 1945, an ordnance intelligence team, upon discovering parts of the Dora in the railway yards at Chemnitz, could only photograph the guns’ wreckage, as the Russians had already occupied the city (given to them by the Yalta conference), and had posted guards around the area of the wreckage.
The third army was pulled out of the Chemnitz region, and redeployed to the south in preparation for an attack on Regensberg.
One of the first Americans to see and examine the Gustav Geschutz was Colonel FB Porter, FA then commander of the 416th field artillery group. On April 22, he was passing along a little used road through a forest ten miles north of Auerbach (about 30 miles southwest of Chemnitz), on his way to assist in the attack on Regensberg, when he came to a small dirt road which led through the forest to the village of Metzenhof (or Metzendorf). There he met an American soldier who said that there were some big guns back in the woods. He followed the indicated route for about a half a mile until he came to a single track railway along which were the remnants of fourteen cars of the Gustav Geschutz. In this train, near Metzenhof, he found the Gustav’s two gun tubes, one cradle, the right bottom carriage half, and other parts and accessories for the gun. One tube was intact (the spare tube), but the rest of the parts had been hurriedly damaged by the fleeing Germans.
He continued on his way south, to the Regensberg area where the 416th field artillery group participated in the capture of that city.
Later in June, when colonel porter moved his group headquarters back to Auerbach, he again investigated the railway spur near Metzenhof. This time he found the other parts of the gun scattered along some fifty miles of railway track. In a further check down the track, on a siding at the village of Vorra, colonel porter found the Gustav’s breech ring, the bronze recoil jacket, the left bottom carriage half, the trunnion bearings, and the second gasoline-electric generator. Investigating further, he found, in a railway tunnel twenty-five miles south toward Weiden, the remainder of the twenty-five car train for the gun. The parts on these cars had been damaged also. It was apparent that the Germans had hurriedly sabotaged the gun, for there were still demolition charges on the various gun parts.
When colonel porter went to Paris, he informed ordnance intelligence of his discovery. With the knowledge of the damaged gun plus that supplemented by a captured German officer (who had been with the Gustav Geschutz in the Crimea), colonel porter wrote reports for the British and French ordnance. When he came back to the United States, he wrote another report which has been published in many of the military and scientific magazines.
What finally happened to these giant guns? The parts of the Gustav Geschutz at Metzenhof were scrapped on the spot and probably sent to German steel mills in the Ruhr. The cars at Vorra and those in the railway tunnel near Weiden were also scrapped and sent to the Ruhr to be melted down.
And the Dora, captured by the Russians? No one knows, except the Russians, what happened to it. It might have been melted down also, or it might have been reconstructed.
Specifications not found elsewhere
weight of gun 1,344 tons
length overall of gun 164 feet (49.98 m)
height overall of gun 35 feet (10.66 m)
weight of projectile with windshield 16,540 lbs
diameter of projectile 31.5 inches (80 cm)
weight of explosive charge 2,400 lbs. of RDX
length overall of projectile 11 feet 6 inches (3.50 m)
weight of propellant charge 2,500 lbs. in 3 increments
muzzle velocity of gun 2,500 ft per sec
maximum range 51,000 yds. 30 miles
maximum elevation 48 degrees
Robert D. Fritz wishes to thank the following
Charles H. Yust, Jr.
- B. Jarrett, (Colonel U.S.A. Retired)
Frederick B. Porter, Colonel U.S.A. Retired
Ordnance museum U.S.A.O.C.& S., Aberdeen proving ground
Imperial war museum, London, England for their kind help in furnishing material for this reconstruction.