42CM "BIG BERTHA" AND GERMAN SIEGE ARTILLERY OF WORLD WAR I
MARC ROMANYCH & MARTIN RUPP
OSPREY PUBLISHING, 2013
QUALITY SOFTCOVER, $17.95, 48 PAGES, ILLUSTRATIONS, PHOTOGRAPHS, CHARTS, BIBLIOGRAPHY, INDEX
Perhaps the most dramatic demonstration of the increase in the sheer force that could be unleashed on the battlefield due to technological improvements of the early 20th Century can be seen in the development of the large-scale artillery pieces up to and during the time of World War I. The "big guns" of the time period were immensely heavy, needed to be transported in multiple parts (each part often occupying the equivalent of several train wagons) and time-consuming to assemble on the site of firing. Nevertheless, their range, far exceeding the extent of a human being's sight and reaching many miles past the enemy's front line, as well as the sheer impact wrought by their massive shells, was thought to compensate for their size and awkwardness.
The most famous of the big guns of World War I were employed by the German Army and manufactured by the Krupp family firm, the largest German weapons producer and one of the wealthiest families in the world at that time.The Krupp firm produced numerous models of howitzers or long-range, large caliber artillery capable of firing both at high and low trajectories.
The famous howitzer, Big Bertha, was designed in 1911 for the Krupp firm by the inventor Louis Gauthmann. The Big Bertha was a movable siege mortar capable of firing projectiles weighing 800 kilograms as far as 9,300 meters at a trajectory of 65 degrees (thus explaining the mortar designation). Four Big Berthas were manuafactured and used in the German offensive of 1914. Their most distinguished use, however, was in August, 1914, during the German assault on the twelve-ringed fortifications that protected Liege, Belgium. Over the course of three days (12-15 August), two Big Berthas were installed within firing range of the fortresses and inflicted such massive devastation as to bring about either the destruction or surrender of all the Belgian defensive positions in the area. By the war's end in November, 1918, Krupp had manufactured and delivered 12 M-Gerat "Big Bertha" howitzers.
42CM "BIG BERTHA" AND GERMAN SIEGE ARTILLERY OF WORLD WAR I is a well-written and organized book. The bulk of the book describes the organization of batteries, operational conditions, and the use of siege artillery during the battles of 1914, the Eastern Front in 1915, Verdun in 1916, and the last years of 1917 and 1918 as well as the aftermath of World War I. Only three of the siege guns survived World War I-two were captured by the U.S. and eventually scrapped while the third one was hidden by Krupp and used by Germany in early World War II. The book aptly describes the use of the guns in operation and while being transported by tractors and other transport vehicles. Complete with historic black and white photographs and color illustrations, this excellent account gives the reader a clear and concise representation of the siege guns used by the Imperial German Army.
As with any book of this type, there will be mistakes and they are listed below:
*Page 4-Her full name was Bertha Krupp von Bohler und Halbach.
*Page 4-This is a photograph of a 30.5cm Skoda not a 42cm M-Gerat "Big Bertha".
*Page 6-That is Generalfeldmarschall Helmuth von Moltke the Elder. He was appointed to Chief of the General Staff on 16 June 1871 and retired on 9 August 1888.
*Page 7-According to the chart, it took the 42cm Gamma-Gerat 24 working hours to emplace. That's wrong, it should read 36 working hours.
*Page 8-Generalfeldmarschall Helmuth von Moltke the Younger was appointed Chief of the General Staff on 2 January 1906 and resigned on 13 September 1914.
*Page 11-Gamma howitzers were disassembled into seven loads with the heaviest load at 26 metric tons not 20 and 25 metric tons. The 42cm Gamma-Great weighed 175 metric tons not about 150 metric tons.
*Page 18-The heaviest vehicle to transport the 42cm M-Gerat was 18 metric tons not between 16 and 20 metric tons.
*Pages 18 and 19-Prior to the 1950s, Benzene was added to gasoline in order to increase the octane rating and reduce engine knocking.
*Page 24-To be more specific, the firing was originally done precisely as with other guns; the shields protected the crew, so that they felt the blast less than others standing near. It wasn't until 1916, that orders were issued requiring that the piece be fired from cover by means of a long lanyard; and this wasn't on account of the blast, but because there had been several cases of bursts in the bore. Extraordinary accuracy was attributed to the big mortars. In deflection, this was to a certain extent justified; the guns responded accurately to changes of two minutes of arc. In range, they shared much the same dispersion as other guns, and this dispersion increased materially during the war by reason of the wear on the guns and the falling off in the quality of ammunition. It has been very commonly reported that the 42cm batteries each had a lighter gun for fire adjustment. This is false because adjustment was made with the heavy caliber gun.
*Page 26-The Skoda batteries requested used Austro-Hungarian crews to emplace and fire their guns. No German crews were used because none of them had been trained how to fire the Skoda guns.
*Page 35-An observation made by Imperial German officer Captain Becker was that the ruins of the fortifications made excellent machine gun nests. He stated further that if the enemy abandons the fortifications during the bombardment and then is given time to re-occupy it before the infantry assault; no amount of destruction would do any good.
*Page 36-In October, 1914, it was revealed to Captain Becker, a participant in the attack on the Belgium fortifications by an Imperial German Army pioneer officer that these forts were constructed using poor concrete upon inspection by German engineers. Further, he stated that the Belgium government had been shamefully defrauded by its own contractors.
Lt. Colonel Robert A. Lynn, Florida Guard