Krupp 80cm K (E) Schwerer Gustav / Dora gallery

Around 1934 the German Army High Command (OKH) began contacts with the Krupp firm of Essen to begin the manufacture of an artillery piece capable of destroying even the most resistant bunkers of the French Maginot Line. The Germans were aware of the supposed “impenetrability” of this French defense line that extended along the entire border with Germany, so they decided that they had to design a weapon capable of destroying this line of defense far from the reach of French artillery. The Krupp company began its studies and its engineers came to the conclusion that only guns larger than those existing could meet the requirements of the German Army. Krupp engineer Erich Müller calculated that a gun of about 800 millimeters in caliber, with a length of at least 30 meters that would fire a shell of about 7 tons would be necessary to be able to penetrate up to 1 meter of steel armor plate, 7 meters of reinforced concrete or up to 30 meters of compacted earth, as requested by the German High Command.
It was estimated that the total weight would reach 1,000 tons, so a system of railway cars on a double track system capable of supporting the weight of the gigantic gun was essential. Krupp’s team prepared 4 different proposals with guns of 700, 800, 840 and 1,000 millimeters in caliber without going any further at this time. Everything seemed like it was going to remain another of those “fantasy projects” that did not usually get past the drawing board, but during a visit by Hitler to Krupp in March 1936, Gustav Krupp himself showed him the designs of several super heavy guns. Hitler was delighted with the designs, but did not specify or order anything in particular, but Gustav Krupp decided to start manufacturing an 800mm gun that would meet the requirements demanded in 1934 by the OKH. Despite Krupp’s experience in manufacturing large caliber guns, the challenges to be overcome in manufacturing the new 80cm gun would be enormously difficult.
The final design was ready in early 1937 and construction began in the summer. Everything related to the new “super gun” was carried out with the maximum possible secrecy so as not to alert the Allied powers. The Krupp company had to adapt its facilities to handle super heavy steel pieces, so it had to create new tools and manufacture the largest steel press up to that time. In 1939 the German General Staff ordered 3 of these impressive guns, with the intention that the first of them would be delivered during the spring of 1940. At the end of 1939 a model was ready for testing, which was sent to Hillersleben proving ground, proving that it was a formidable weapon. This first gun was baptized “Schwerer Gustav” (Heavy Gustav) in honor of Gustav Krupp, president of the company at that time. The second gun was called “Schwerer Gustav 2” and was identical to the first, but the third was called “Langer Gustav” (Long Gustav) because it was longer but only 520mm in caliber. Within the company these guns were also known as “Gustav devices” and within Werhmacht as “80cm K (E)” and later as “Gustav Gerät“.
Technically, the gun did not represent any technological novelty and its mechanisms and operation were very similar to any other gun. The barrel block and chamber were built in 4 parts that were transported individually. The 80cm rifled barrel measured 32.48 meters long and weighed 400 tons, of which 110 belonged to the breech block and the breech ring. The barrel was 40.6 calibers in length and was carried in two separate halves that were joined in the firing position by a huge locking nut. Behind the barrel was the cradle, which had four hydraulic recoil absorbers. The barrel could be electrically elevated up to 65º. and had a diesel-powered generator to operate its systems. The Schwerer Gustav had a total length of 47.30 meters and a total weight of 1,350,000 kg. The recoil was 3 meters, increased the axle loading to 64 tons resulting in a tracks displacement from 3 to 5 cm.
Before each shot, certain measurements and actions had to be carried out for a correct shot. It was necessary to take the temperature of the projection charges, measure the ambient temperature, measure the wind speed at altitude, chamber pressure, muzzle velocity, time of flight, check the wear of the chamber and the rifling and finally load the shell. and raise the barrel to the firing position. Although most of these actions had mechanical help, the truth is that the sum of all the actions prevented a shot from being fired before 15 or 20 minutes had passed after the order was given. These complex calculations were made to keep the shells on target within a 1% dispersion error.
Schwerer Gustav gun could fire a shot every 45 minutes, and although it may seem like a very low rate of fire, it was not, since the task of loading the gun was not a simple task. The cartridges were stored in air-conditioned cars that kept them at about 15º and were taken to the gun through the main double track. Afterwards they were placed on electric hoists located at the rear of the gun and raised to the firing deck. Normally the shell was placed on one side and the powder bags and a brass obturation case on the other. Subsequently, they were placed on a platform and pushed by a hydraulic ram into the barrel, then the breechblock was hidraulically closed and the gun was ready to fire. Accuracy and effectiveness of the shots was controlled by an observation aircraft and normally the rate of fire was 14 to 16 shells per day.
The Schwerer Gustav fired two types of projectiles, a high explosive (HE) shell and an armor piercing (AP) shell (on the image). The HE shell measured 4.20 meters long (8.26 meters with propellant casing), weighed 4.8 tons and contained 700 kg of explosives. It needed 2,240 kg of propellant to reach a maximum distance of 47 km. The AP shell measured 3.60 meters long (6.79 meters with propellant casing), weighed 7.1 tons and contained 250 kg of explosives. It needed 2,100 kg of propellant to reach a maximum distance of 38 km. Both shells featured an aluminum alloy nose cone that improved their drag during flight. The HE shell had a muzzle velocity of 820 m/s and the AP shell of 720 m/s. The AP shell was constructed of chrome-nickel steel and reached a maximum height after firing of about 12,000 meters.
Krupp had to create a gun carriage that would allow its movement to be able to aim the gun. The barrel was attached to two carriers that rested on 4 railroad trucks (bogies) each, two in the front and two in the rear. Each railroad truck had 5 axles, so in total, the gun was supported by 8 railroad trucks that were arranged on two parallel sets of railroad tracks. Some of these axles had electric traction motors that allowed the gun to make small movements for fine aiming adjustments. In addition, next to the main double track, another set of tracks had to be enabled where the wagons that brought all the parts of the gun were located. Two other tracks were also set up parallel to the main double track where two Krupp 13 meters high 112 ton capacity gantry cranes (on the image) were installed to carry out the final assembly of the gun. The main double track had reinforcements on the inner rails to prevent damage from the gigantic recoil during firing. The gun was moved to the firing area by two double Krupp D-311 diesel locomotives (postwar V-288 class) of 940 hp each.
The trials for the “test model” ended in the mid-1940 but it was not until the spring of 1941 when the first operational gun barrel was ready for acceptance trials. Paradoxically, the French Maginot Line had already been defeated at this time, simply by surrounding it from the Belgian border, so the main reason for manufacturing the Schwerer Gustav had disappeared. Nevertheless, tests of the first commissioned barrel were carried out from September 10 to October 6, 1941 at Hillersleben and then the gun was moved to the Rügenwalde-Bad Proving Ground to continue testing from November 25 to December 5, 1941. Hitler himself attended a demonstration of the monstrous gun in Rügenwalde during acceptance tests in early 1941. Hitler was amazed by the power of the super gun and he could verify the devastating effects of the armor piercing (AP) shells that easily penetrated the 1 meter thick steel plate and the 7 meter thick concrete walls prepared as targets.
Schwerer Gustav was ready for final assembly and ready to go into battle, but…where?. After the conquest of France, the Schwerer Gustav was left without objectives, although another possible one appeared shortly after. On this occasion, Germany looked towards Gibraltar, with the idea of attacking this British base to prevent their passage to the Mediterranean Sea. As Spain was a neutral country, it was necessary to try to get it to join Germany in exchange for some compensation. After intense negotiations, Spain’s excessive requests ruined the future alliance and once again the gun had nowhere to fight.
After the surprise attack on the Soviet Union in mid-1941 and the great German advance, in 1942 another possible objective emerged worthy of the enormous effort and resources necessary to move the gigantic gun such a distance. At the beginning of 1942 Schwerer Gustav was fully operational and was handed over to the “Schwere Artillerie-Abteilung (E) 672” (heavy artillery batallion E 672) organized in January of that same year. This unit was created to operate the “80cm K (E)” gun and in February left for Bakhchisaray in the Crimean Peninsula to participate in the siege of Sebastopol, an exceptionally well protected port. This siege had been going on since November 1941, and it was expected that with the arrival of the Gustav it would finally fall into German hands. From this moment, the gun also began to be known as “Dora“, a nickname applied by the artillerymen of this battalion to the Schwerer Gustav gun.
The Schwere Artillerie-Abteilung (E) 672 was composed of about 1,400 men and was divided into two main units, the headquarter unit and the gun battery unit (servers). The headquarter unit was formed by the headquarters battery with a fire control section, an intelligence platoon, 4 observation units with infrared devices and a plotting unit. The gun battery unit were in charge of the assembly, service and disassembly of the gun, which amounted to a total of 500 men. This unit was joined by 20 Krupp engineers, construction troops, a flak detachment, 2 guards companies, a nebelwerfer detachment, a military police unit and troops of the Luftwaffe to provide air cover. Altogether almost 4,000 men were needed to position and fire the Schwerer Gustav / Dora.
Finally, in March 1942 the Leviathan arrived at Bakhchisaray about 30 km from Sebastopol and a small army of soldiers and civilian workers prepared the firing site for the gun. A 2 km long access track and four semicircular sections of 1.2 km long tracks with a 15 degree curve to allow a wide firing arc were built. The complete gun was transported disassembled in 28 freight cars that made up 5 trains plus another 3 or 4 trains that carried the servers and the rest of the crew. Assembling this formidable gun was a huge job and required almost 5 weeks. During this period, an 8-meter-deep trench was built, which was covered with camouflage netting, to protect the gun from aerial attacks and counterbattery fire. Furthermore, the gun was within reach of some Soviet Navy ships located near Sebastopol, so concealment was essential. The artillery site had the protection of two anti-aircraft batteries and a false artillery position was created a few kilometers away to mislead possible enemy observers.
In June 1942 Schwerer Gustav / Dora was ready to show the world its terrifying firepower. On the 5th the gun fired its first shot in anger and made it clear that it was a devastating weapon. Eight projectiles were enough to destroy some coastal batteries located 25 km away. That same day, the behemoth fired another 6 shells at Fort Stalin which was reduced to rubble. June 6 began with the firing of 7 shells at Fort Molotov, which was turned into dust. But the next fire mission in that day is the most remembered, since 9 shells were used to destroy the most fortified installation in Sebastopol. This was a munition depot known as the “white breakwater” or the “white cliff” that was located 30 meters below the seabed north of Severnaya Bay. In addition, it had concrete walls 10 meters thick and was considered invulnerable to any weapon. The ninth shell penetrated the magazine and caused the explosion of all the ammunition stored there, completely destroying it, quite a feat for the Schwerer Gustav / Dora.
After a four-days rest, on June 11 the giant roared again and launched 5 projectiles at Fort Siberia, which was demolished to the ground. Schwerer Gustav‘s last mission was carried out on June 17, when it fired the last 5 shells at Fort Maxim Gorky I and its attached coastal batteries, completely destroying them along with its twin 305mm guns. On this mission the remaining ammunition was spent and although the siege of Sebastopol continued until July 1, it was time to march for this gargantuan gun. In total, the gun fired 48 projectiles, of which 10 hit less than 60 meters from the target, with a maximum deviation of 740 meters. It is estimated that during the siege of Sebastopol some 563,000 projectiles fell on the port, mainly large caliber and siege artillery rounds, to which rockets, infantry support gun rounds and aerial bombardments should be added. With no doubt, during the siege of Sebastopol the greatest “artillery concert” of all time sounded.
Shortly after the end of the siege of Sebastopol, Gustav Krupp decided to give this first gun to Hitler as a contribution from the company to the Reich war effort. Of course, Krupp received a payment of about 7 million Reichmarks (RM) for the second gun that was being manufactured. After Sebastopol, it is believed that the gun was taken to Leningrad to participate in the siege against the city, but it did not fire since it was dismantled and taken out of that area for fear of a Soviet counteroffensive. In November 1942 the Schwerer Gustav / Dora was again in Rügenwalde for inspection and replacement of the barrel with a new improved one. It had been calculated that the useful life of the barrel would be about 100 shots, but it was found that the barrel suffered enormous wear after each shot. It was found that from shot number 15, wear slowed down the loading tasks and the time between each shot increased significantly. However, the original barrel had fired about 250 shots, including development and testing, without excessive problems, which showed the quality of its manufacture.
After the installation of the new barrel, the gun proceeded to carry out new firing tests, which were carried out between March 17 and 19, 1943. On March 19, Hitler, Marshal Keitel, Armaments Minister Albert Speer, Alfried Krupp and a large group of Wehrmacht generals and Krupp directors attended the test, and once again everyone was amazed by the power of the Gustav Gerät. Once again, not finding suitable targets for the gun, it was decided to modify the two guns to improve their range so that they could participate in the bombing of Great Britain along with the V-1 and V-2 missiles. Despite the intentions to modify the first two guns and to complete the third, installing a barrel 48 meters long and 520mm caliber capable of firing a 2 tons subcalibrated projectile with fins up to 130 km away, none of them were ever modified.
In September 1943 Schwerer Gustav / Dora was taken to Auerswalde, near Chemnitz, where it was stored. It was there until April 14, 1945, when it was destroyed by German soldiers to prevent its capture by American troops. Some parts of this gun ended up in Soviet hands, which took it to Toksovo, near Leningrad, where it remained until 1950. These parts were then taken to Stalingrad, where it remained until 1960, when the barrel was cut and melted down. The Soviets also took some shells, which were finally detonated in 1960 except for two shell casings that are exhibited in the Stalingradskaya Bitva Museum in Volgograd. The second gun manufactured was never operational and was dismantled at Rügenwalde in March 1943. Its parts were taken to Auerswalde in February 1945, but in March they were moved to Grafenwöhr, where they were destroyed on April 19, 1945. However, its remains remained there until 1950. Of the third gun, the 520mm caliber Langer Gustav, only some parts were manufactured and were found by the Allies at the Krupp factory in Essen in April 1945.
(Schwerer Gustav / Dora scale model image). There is a strong controversy regarding the number of operational “80cm K (E)” guns manufactured. According to some sources, there were 2 different operational guns called “Schwerer Gustav” and “Dora” that were deployed in Sebastopol and Stalingrad respectively, but this seems to be wrong information. There is a confirmed deployment of the “Schwerer Gustav” gun, but in the case of “Dora” gun (the second gun manufactured according to some sources) it is said that it was taken to Leningrad, (where it was not fired a single shell), and from here, the gun returned to Germany in mid-1943, which again, seems to be wrong information. Other sources claim that “Dora” is actually a nickname given to “Schwerer Gustav” gun by the artillerymen of the Schwere Artillerie-Abteilung (E) 672 in homage to the wife of the chief engineer of Krupp Erich Müller, and this information seems to be somewhat more reliable since it appears in different publications.
(Schwerer Gustav / Dora scale model image). Reviewing the poor information about it, the most plausible hypothesis is that there was only one operational gun that entered combat, named “Schwerer Gustav or Dora” indistinctly, which due to the few information available about it, confused the researchers by being called by the German artillerymen in two different ways. There is no photograph or report about the second gun manufactured (Dora or Schwerer Gustav 2) deployed in Stalingrad as some sources suggest. There are also no photographs of the first gun during its second deployment in Leningrad, although some information about it is provided, such as this gun was positioned at the Taizy station in the south of the city.
(Schwerer Gustav / Dora scale model image). There has also been a discussion, anecdotal of course, among weapons specialists about whether or not this gigantic gun was useful to the German war effort. There is no doubt that it did the job perfectly during the only deployment in Sebastopol, when it pulverized all the targets assigned. It is said that the price of this weapon was similar to 23 Tiger tanks and that it diverted a good number of troops for its deployment and operation, but it is clear that neither a handful of more tanks nor a handful of more soldiers would have saved Germany from its fate. In the end, we can only evaluate how far technology and determination go in times of war, when everything possible is done to defeat the enemy, even with strange and crazy ideas.

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