The 38cm S.K. L/45 ‘Max’ was Germany’s largest-calibre railway gun. It could fire from the rails as a rolling mount, but only when the barrel was elevated less than 18 degrees. This gun was captured by the Belgian Army.
For long-range fires the German 38cm S.K. L/45 ‘Max’ operated from a fixed ground platform. Here, the carriage is raised on its jacks with the rear bogies removed. After the front bogies are taken away, the crew will lower the carriage and bolt it to the platform.
German Turntable Mount for 38cm S.K. L/45 ‘Max’. German firing platforms permitted railway guns to rotate on the mount, providing a wide field of fire and, in some cases, all-around fire. The most sophisticated of these mounts was a structural steel turntable mount built for the 38cm S.K. L/45 ‘Max’ and later used by the 21cm Paris Gun. Because nearly three weeks were needed for installation, the platforms were constructed well before a railway gun arrived at the position.
In the winter of 1917–18, Krupp built several new models of E.u.B. railway guns for the German Army’s upcoming spring offensives. Most of the barrels used for the guns came from fixed platform artillery or decommissioned warships. Four 24cm K. L/30 ‘Theodor Otto’ guns were made by mounting old 24cm cannons onto the ‘Theodor Karl’ carriage design adapted to accept the older model barrel, and six 28cm K. L/40 ‘Kurfürst’ guns were built by placing old 28cm cannons onto a new carriage design. Both ‘Theodor Otto’ and ‘Kurfürst’ had ‘K.’ barrels, which had a slower rate of fire than the fast-loading ‘S.K.’ cannons of other railway guns, but the difference did not appreciably affect performance. Krupp also converted five 21cm cannons, used by the navy as fixed foundation guns since 1915, into railway pieces designated as the 21cm S.K. L/45 ‘Peter Adalbert’. Despite design differences, all these railway guns were functionally similar, having lifting jacks and a pivot mechanism for attaching the gun to its ground platform. The guns also had an equivalent range of about 18,500m.
Krupp also constructed eight 38cm S.K. L/45 ‘Max’ railway guns, which were much larger in calibre and size than its other railway artillery pieces. The genesis of these guns dated back to 1915, when the army successfully employed 38cm ‘Lange Max’ naval cannons on fixed foundations at Verdun, the Somme and in Flanders. At the end of 1917, when construction of several battleships was deferred in favour of U-boat production, a number of 38cm naval cannons became available for use as either ground or rail-mounted artillery. Krupp put eight of these barrels on E.u.B. mounts and delivered the first gun in January 1918. The 38cm ‘Max’ was the largest-calibre railway artillery gun fielded by the Germans and was employed by both the army and the navy. When fired from railway tracks it had a range of 24,000m, but from a ground platform the maximum range was 47,500m. Because of its weight – 273 tons – ‘Max’ needed a different ground platform than those used for the smaller 21cm, 24cm and 28cm railway guns. Instead of a pivot mechanism, the platform for ‘Max’ had a steel turntable. The first platforms had concrete foundations for the turntables. Later, by May, a more versatile all-steel platform that could be removed and installed at another firing site was provided for the guns.
In 1913, the German shipbuilding industry began construction of Bayern type battleships. In total, it was planned to build four such ships, distinguished by powerful protection and weapons. Two battleships were completed and transferred the fleet, while the third and fourth ships were only launched. Soon it was decided to stop construction, which, among other things, led to the release of a large number of various equipment and weapons. The main caliber of ships in the form of 38-cm guns, it was decided to use on land as weapons of special power.
According to some reports, for the first time, 38 cm SK L / 45 tools were used in the interests of the ground forces at the beginning of 1916. For this purpose, quite complex firing positions were equipped, equipped with massive concrete pedestals and corresponding means of guidance. Such a complex made it possible to attack targets in the entire allowable range of firing ranges, but was extremely difficult to operate. The construction of the stationary artillery complex took several weeks.
The characteristic flaws of the existing system have led to the emergence of a new proposal. An idea emerged to significantly improve the mobility of guns through the use of rail transportation systems. It was originally planned to use the railways only to deliver the gun to the position, but later it was found that a conveyor could be used as a mobile unit capable of firing from the wheels. According to various sources, work on the rail version of the artillery system began no earlier than 1916-17.
A promising railway cannon project was given a designation similar to that used with other developments in this field – 38 cm SK L / 45 (“38-cm fast reloading cannon with a barrel of 45 gauge”). The project was also given the additional name Max (“Max”) or Lange Max (“Long Max”). It should be noted that only an additional name allows to distinguish the railway version of the gun from the base ship. The development of the project was entrusted to the concern Krupp
Transportation of a large and heavy gun was quite a challenge, which required creating an entirely new conveyor with the appropriate characteristics. It was decided to use the already developed version of the transportation and deployment type Bettungsgerüst. In this case, a special complex with a dismantled artillery installation was to be moved along the railways. The undercarriage was required only for delivery to the place of combat work, after which the gun had to be deprived of it. This architecture provided all the required characteristics, but at the same time it allowed to accelerate the process of deploying weapons to the position in comparison with a full-fledged fixed installation.
Later it was decided to recycle the conveyor in accordance with the concept of Eisenbahn und Bettungsgerüst. Now the gun could not only shoot from a previously prepared stationary position, but also be used on any part of the track. In general, this installation option could solve all the tasks, however, it differed with some features. First of all, he had to have serious restrictions on the angles of guidance and firing range associated with the design features of the weapon and associated units.
Artillery installation “Max” was to be built on the already established scheme. Four trucks with four and five wheel pairs on each became its basis at once. Trolleys were locked in pairs and equipped with pivots for connection with the central element of the conveyor. The latter was a large and solid beam of complex shape and design, having all the necessary devices to be placed on the position and installation of the gun. The central beam of the conveyor was a unit of frame construction with a gap between the side elements. This space was proposed to be used for partial placement of the instrument in certain circumstances.
Due to the large mass and power, the gun was proposed to be equipped with a combined recoil damping system. The barrel was to be connected to hydropneumatic recoil devices, which, in turn, were placed on a movable cradle. The latter had the ability to move along the central beam of the conveyor and partially extinguished recoil. On the swinging cradle suspended between the side elements of the beam, placed a large and heavy counterweight. Used long-barreled gun had a tendency to lower the barrel. The installation of equilibrators was considered inexpedient, which is why a counterweight appeared over the trunk, next to the trunnions. It was made of two separate halves, pinned pivotally. In the transport position, they lay on the upper surface of the trunk; in the combat position, they converged and formed a rectangular structure.
As part of the new artillery installation was used naval gun 38 cm SK L / 45. It had a rifled barrel caliber 380 mm long 16,1 m. The total mass of the gun in the ship’s performance reached 80 t. Used wedge gate, moving in the horizontal plane. The gun was charged separately using a variable propellant charge. The latter consisted of a sleeve with the main charge and the required number of additional cards. The gun could accelerate the projectile to a speed of more than 1000 m / s and send it to a distance of 55 km. At the same time, the railway implement could have some limitations on the range characteristics.
380-mm gun could use shells of several types. The largest and heaviest was a fragmentation total weight of 750 kg. It contained 67 kg of explosive and could leave the barrel at a speed of 800 m / s. The firing range of such a projectile reached 32,4 km. Maximum speed and range were achieved using ballistic-cap munitions.
Due to the large mass of projectile and liner, the Max project involved the use of cranes and special vehicles. With their help, the ammunition was fed under the conveyor, behind the breech of the gun, and climbed the dismounting line. Depending on the firing position used, different devices could be used to work with projectiles.
Concern “Krupp” developed two options for the combat use of railway guns, differing from each other in equipping the firing position. The first, Bettungsgerüst, implied a long position preparation, which required up to three weeks. During this time, builders had to dig a pit with a diameter of 22 m and a depth of 3,5 m, and then build a special concrete structure in it. After this, a cylindrical pedestal for the instrument appeared on the position, surrounded by a stepped wall. On the pedestal there was a shoulder strap for mounting a gun mount.
Upon arrival, the calculation of the railway implement, using additional tracks and cranes, was to hang the conveyor platform over the constructed position, and then lower it onto the epaulet. Next, the carts were removed, the cranes were removed, and some other operations needed to start the combat work were performed. In particular, transport carts for projectiles were installed on the corresponding rail tracks.
The 38 cm SK L / 45 Lange Max gun in the Bettungsgerüst version could show the highest possible performance. Tumbovaya installation and epaulet allowed to direct the gun horizontally in any direction. The installation was raised above the bottom of the excavation, so that the elevation angles could vary from 0 ° to + 55 °. The maximum rise of the barrel allowed attacking targets at ranges over 45-50 km. Thus, the full potential of the gun could only be revealed at the cost of lengthy preparation of the firing position.
Work on the method of Eisenbahn und Bettungsgerüst was not so difficult and did not require lengthy preparation. For such shooting, one had only to arrive at the firing position, put the boots under the wheels and prepare the weapon for firing. For horizontal pickup when shooting from the railroad, a special mechanism was used, placed on the front carts. The presence of a movable support connecting them with the central beam, as well as a hinge connection with the rear carriages, allowed the transporter to move within the sector width 2 °. At the same time there were serious restrictions on the angles of vertical pickup: no more than + 18 ° 30 ‘. This restriction was introduced because of the length of the rollback, since at high elevation angles the breech could hit the way. The German military considered it inappropriate to disassemble the rails and cut a hole in the embankment: this method of increasing the pickup angles did not allow the complex to quickly leave the position. By reducing the maximum elevation angle, the firing range dropped to 22,2 km.
Complex Max turned out large and heavy. The total length of the system in the transport position reached 31,6 m. Mass – 268 t, without taking into account various additional means, such as ammunition, trucks for them, transport, cranes and, of course, building materials for the preparation of the position.
The assembly of the first transporters for a new type of railway complex began in 1917. Krupp companies delivered eight ship guns to fulfill the order. Initially, these guns were made to install on new ships, but the construction of carriers was canceled, which forced the commanders to look for a new use for them. The number of rail systems planned for construction was limited by the number of guns available.
In the winter of 1917-18, the army received the first samples of new weapons. In the same period, the construction of future fixed positions began. Flanders was chosen as the first theater of war for the new guns. The weapons were proposed for use in the course of the future Spring Offensive. Preparation of positions had to begin in advance, given the long construction time of concrete structures. Such structures were built until the end of the spring 1918, when a new version of the Bettungsgerüst installation appeared. Now some elements of the position had to be made not of concrete, but of metal, which made it possible to speed up construction work.
For the first time, 380-mm naval guns were used on land in February 1916, at the beginning of the Battle of Verdun. Complexes “Long Max” went to war only two years later. Interestingly, only one such system was transferred to the army, while the others formally remained naval. Nevertheless, despite such an organizational structure, the navy helped the ground forces in their battles. The operation of special-power weapons was conducted only on land as part of army operations.
Due to the high firing characteristics and the available power of the 38 cm SK L / 45 Max shells, they could show the required efficiency even without mass use. Usually no more than 2-3 guns acted on one front. Among other things, this made it possible to disperse railway artillery into several remote areas and use it in various operations. The presence of only a few railway guns on a stationary or mobile base made it possible to cause serious damage to the enemy at great depth without serious risk of destroying the guns by a retaliatory strike. However, only a few months remained until the end of the war, because of which special power tools simply could not participate in a large number of operations.
Probably for this reason, in November 1918, one of the guns was on the territory of Belgium, where it was captured by local troops. The remaining seven units were previously assigned to Germany, where they were planned to be transferred to the coastal defenses. At these places, eight guns met a truce, which accordingly affected their future. Seven guns, planned for the transfer of coastal artillery, could not be saved from disposal: they were dismantled in accordance with the conditions of the Versailles peace. The eighth gun went to Belgium and therefore did not go for recycling.
For several years, the Belgian troops studied and used the captured sample, after which it was decided to sell this instrument to France. In 1924, the only remaining “Max” changed owner. French specialists conducted full-scale tests, during which all the main characteristics of the gun were established. After testing the gun was sent to storage. As far as is known, it was not used by the army. In 1940, Nazi Germany attacked France, and she soon capitulated. Together with other available weapons and equipment, the German troops got the 38 cm SK L / 45 Max complex. Probably, the German troops were glad of such a trophy, but the operation of the captured gun was not planned. The subsequent fate of the sample is unknown.
In 2014, the Lange Max Museum was opened in Belgium, dedicated, as its name implies, to the Long Max tool. The museum exhibits a preserved instrument, dismantled from its installation. In addition, not far from the buildings of the museum is one of the surviving firing positions with a concrete base for the gun.
As part of the 38 cm SK L / 45 Lange Max project, the designers of the Krupp concern were tasked with creating a conveyor belt for transporting existing 380-mm ship guns. As in the case of other similar projects, this task was successfully solved, and the armed forces received the required equipment. Nevertheless, it happened late – in 1917-18, which is why new tools of special power could not have a noticeable impact on the course of the war as a whole, although they showed their capabilities in individual battles. But the late appearance did not allow Germany’s most powerful railway cannon to reach its full potential.