The biggest guns in stories... Dora is a unique weapon. The super-heavy 800 mm railway gun was the crown of the development of the artillery of the German army during the Second World War. Developed by the engineers of the famous Krupp company, this weapon was the most powerful artillery weapon in Hitler's arsenal.
As is often the case with German weapons during the war years, "Dora" shook the imagination, but the real effectiveness of the weapon, and most importantly, the resources invested in its creation did not justify themselves in any way. In part, the weapon repeated the fate of the superheavy tank Mouse. It was not a weapon for war, but for propaganda. And after the war, and for encyclopedias, reference books, fiction and popular science literature.
Best of all, this development is described by a winged expression that has come down to us from ancient literature: "The mountain gave birth to a mouse." Hitler and his generals had high hopes for this gun, but the results obtained from the use of Dora were negligible.
How did the idea of creating Dora come about?
The Dora was originally designed as a super-powerful artillery piece, placed on a railway platform. The main targets for the 800-mm cannon were to be the French line of fortifications "Maginot", as well as the border forts of Belgium, which included the famous fort of Eben-Emael.
The task of developing a weapon for crushing the fortifications of the Maginot Line was personally set by Adolf Hitler during a visit to the Krupp plant. This happened in 1936. It is worth noting that the Krupp company had vast experience in creating super-powerful artillery since the First World War, so the choice of the developer of a new super-powerful gun was obvious.
Installation of "Dora" at the position in the Crimea
An 800-mm artillery gun, throwing projectiles weighing about 7 tons at the target, which was comparable to the weight of light tanks of those years, was supposed to receive vertical guidance angles of up to +65 degrees and a maximum firing range of 35-45 kilometers. The terms of reference issued for the creation of the weapon indicated that the projectile of the new gun must be guaranteed to penetrate armor plates up to a meter thick, concrete fortifications 7 meters thick and solid ground up to 30 meters.
The work on the creation of a unique railway gun was supervised by Professor Erich Müller, who had extensive experience in creating various artillery systems. Already in 1937, the Krupp company completed the development of a super-powerful cannon project. In the same year, the military gave the firm an order for the manufacture of a super-powerful weapon.
It is worth noting that despite the developed state of German industry, there were problems in it. Including the effect of several financial crises that swept through Germany before the war, as well as the effect of the restrictions in force after the First World War during the existence of the Weimar Republic. The German industry systematically disrupted the supply of even small-caliber anti-aircraft artillery, let alone a super-heavy gun, which simply did not exist in the world.
Dora was fully assembled only in 1941. By that time, the Maginot Line, which her 7-ton shells were supposed to destroy, had long been taken. And Fort Eben-Emael, which before the war was the cause of the headache of German generals, was taken in a day. The main violin in this operation was played by only 85 paratroopers who successfully landed in the fort on gliders.
In total, two guns were fully assembled in Germany: "Douro" and "Gustav". It is believed that the second gun was named after the director of the company, Gustav Krupp. This order cost Germany 10 million Reichsmarks. For this amount, 250 15 cm sFH18 howitzers or 20 240-mm long-range K3 cannons could be built for the army at once. For the Wehrmacht, these guns would be much more useful.
The largest artillery crew in history
The Dora heavy-duty railway gun was a construction of gigantic proportions and proportions. Throughout the literature, the caliber of the gun is usually indicated as 800 mm, but to be absolutely precise, the gun had a caliber of 807 mm. The barrel alone of this gun weighed 400 tons with a length of 32,48 meters. The total weight of the entire gun on a specially designed railway platform was 1350 tons.
800-mm shell of the gun, in the background there is a T-34-85 tank
The total length of the artillery mount was 47,3 meters, width - 7,1 meters, height - 11,6 meters. To better understand the size of the installation, it can be noted that it was slightly lower than the standard five-story Khrushchev. At the same time, only the barrel of the gun weighed more than 8 Soviet KV-1 heavy tanks of the 1941 model.
The shells with which Dora had to hit its targets were also huge. The weight of the high-explosive projectile was 4,8 tons, the weight of the concrete-piercing shell was 7,1 tons. This was comparable to the combat weight of one of the most common pre-war tanks in the world - the famous Vickers Mk E (aka 6-ton Vickers). The firing range of high-explosive shells reached 52 km, concrete-piercing shells - up to 38 km.
The artillery mount itself was transported to the location only in a disassembled state. At the same time, a marshalling yard had to be built at the deployment site of the 800-mm gun. The first train delivered 43 carriages to the station, which were carried by service personnel and camouflage equipment. This is the number of wagons required when the gun was only used in hostilities, delivered to Sevastopol in 1942.
The second train consisted of 16 cars, which delivered an assembly crane and various auxiliary equipment to the site. The third train of 17 cars delivered parts of the carriage and workshops to the site. The fourth train, which consisted of 20 cars, carried a 400-ton barrel of the artillery system, as well as loading mechanisms. The fifth train of 10 wagons carried shells and charges for firing. In the carriages of the last train, the set air temperature was artificially maintained - no more than 15 degrees.
The equipment of the firing position alone took up to 3-6 weeks, and the assembly and installation of the railway artillery installation took about three more days. The assembly of the tool was carried out using railway cranes with 1000 hp engines. At the same time, specialists from the Krupp plant, up to 20 civil engineers, were nominally attached to the artillery mount.
Although the installation was railway, it could not move along the usual railway track. The installation could move and shoot only from a specially built double railway track. During the assembly, a giant railroad conveyor was obtained with 40 axles and 80 wheels (40 on each side of the double track track).
More than 4 thousand people were involved to equip the position and maintain the installation near Sevastopol. This is an unprecedented figure. This, in addition to the direct calculation and people assembling the tool - 250 people, included several thousand workers who equipped the position and carried out excavation and engineering work.
About 400 people were in the attached anti-aircraft battalion. According to Manstein, the installation near Sevastopol was covered by two divisions at once, armed with 88-mm anti-aircraft guns and rapid-fire 20-mm machine guns. Also, up to 500 people of the military-chemical unit were attached to the gun, which could put a smoke screen and hide the installation from the eyes of the enemy.
Dora's effectiveness is in doubt
The most powerful artillery installation at Hitler's disposal played almost no role in World War II. The firing effect was impressive, but the exhaust was minimal. After the shot, the dishes on the tables trembled at a distance of up to three kilometers, but it was almost impossible to achieve direct hits from such an installation at the maximum range.
It is estimated that Dora fired 48 regular shells at various fortifications of the besieged city near Sevastopol. The shooting was carried out from 5 to 17 June 1942. It is believed that only 5 concrete-piercing shells hit the target (10,4 percent); German observers did not record the fall of 7 shells at all (14,5 percent). For 36 projectiles recorded (excluding hits), the spread reached hundreds of meters: flights were 140-700 meters, undershoots - 10-740 meters.
Five more shots with experienced high-explosive shells were fired on June 26, the result of these firing is unknown. It is believed that Dora's only successful hit was the destruction of a large ammunition depot nestled in the rocks on the northern shore of Severnaya Bay. The warehouse, located at a depth of 30 meters, was destroyed with one shot, in particular, Manstein wrote about this in his memoirs after the war.
At the same time, the top military leadership of Germany rated the effectiveness of the gun firing at Sevastopol extremely low. Hitler ordered the installation to be used to suppress forts and coastal tower batteries under the city, but the only tangible result was the covering of the warehouse.
Later, Colonel-General Halder, Chief of the General Staff of the Wehrmacht, summed up the results of the use of Dora. He called the railway artillery installation a real work of art, but at the same time useless. Fortunately for the USSR, the Germans spent 10 million marks on something that could be used for propaganda, not war. If German factories produced an extra 250 heavy 15-cm howitzers, then Soviet soldiers on the fronts of the Great Patriotic War would have had a harder time.
According to some reports, Dora could have been used a second time during the suppression of the Warsaw Uprising, but this information is fragmentary and episodic. Most likely, the installation was not used near Warsaw, or the effectiveness of its use was zero.
Of the two built installations, only Dora took part in the hostilities; Fat Gustav never fired at the enemy at all. The third unit under design and construction with a new 520mm long barrel, known as the Long Gustav, was never completed until the end of the war.