Military Review

"Big Bertha", who did not shoot at Paris

"Big Bertha", who did not shoot at Paris
"Big Bertha" at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in the USA

Great praise and he is worthy in the war,
Whoever fights with the enemy in thought is calm;
Calm scolding leads the art of cunning hands,
Preparing fear for enemies and deadly sound.
Without that, courage is heroic,
Nor the firmness of strength, the countless army
Stand against a stubborn enemy.
Here the need requires thunder to reflect,
So that before we, not disgusting, reach us,
And we would crush their regiments into pieces;
And the flame would be enemies in a sudden hour
From the Russian army, without giving birth, it went out.

A. Lomonosov “To the cheerful announcement of superiority
newly invented artillery before the old one", 1760.

German guns of the First World War. "Big Bertha" 42 cm M-Gerät Mörser ("Big Bertha") - perhaps the most famous artillery piece used during the First World War. Today, however, few people understand what "Big Bertha" really was; it is often confused with a number of long-range artillery pieces, including the German 21 cm cannon used to bombard Paris and the 11 cm Austro-Hungarian M30,5 mobile mortar.

In fact, the 42 cm L/12 or M-Gerät gun was a very massive and at the same time mobile 42 cm (16,5-inch) howitzer, specially designed to destroy concrete fortifications.

History This weapon began with the need that arose in the German army for a siege weapon capable of destroying fortifications that blocked the invasion of Belgium and France. Looking for the right one weapons The German army, in collaboration with Krupp, developed a number of large-caliber siege guns, including two prototype 28 cm howitzers (L/12 iR and L/14 iR), three versions of 30,5 cm guns (Beta-Gerät mortar, Beta- Gerät 09 and the Beta iR howitzer) and the monstrous 150-ton 42 cm Gamma howitzer. However, these artillery pieces, each impressive in their own right, lacked the right mix of mobility and firepower, and were paramount in quickly destroying French and Belgian forts.

Then, after about fifteen years of developing siege weapons and just before the war, in December 1913, Krupp introduced a new siege weapon, the mobile 42 cm howitzer M-Gerät. In a combat position, it weighed 42,6 tons, and for transportation it was disassembled into five parts, which could be transported on five conveyors towed by gasoline motor tractors.

The second howitzer was presented to the German army in June 1914. When the war began, both guns were still in the Krupp factory.

It remains to put on an armored shield ...

After the start of the war, both howitzer prototypes were hastily “brought to mind” and brought into a battery (KurzeMarinekanonenBatterie 3 or KMK 3), after which they were sent to Liege, in Belgium, where they easily destroyed two forts - Fort Pontisse and Lonsin - and effectively completed their siege.

Over the next few weeks, two M-Gerät KMK 3 howitzers, along with other siege artillery, bombarded the forts at Namur, Maubeuge and Antwerp. And it was there that they received the nickname Dicke Berta from their calculations.

During the war, ten more M-Gerät howitzers were produced, that is, there were twelve in total. Production models had several modifications that distinguished them from the prototype guns. Changes included solid wheels, additional crew platforms in front of the armor shield, and a modified breech.

These guns were organized into five batteries and were used on both the Western and Eastern fronts. Moreover, the German offensive near Verdun in 1916 was supported simultaneously by eight howitzers. The Battle of Verdun proved to be a swan song for Big Bertha and the German siege artillery in general. Despite the large numbers, the 42 cm howitzers could not penetrate the reinforced concrete of the modernized French forts, especially the forts of Douaumont and Vaud, which were the main targets for the German army.

At Verdun, two important changes were made to the operation of M-Gerat howitzers and other siege weapons.

Firstly, guns that were outside the range of Allied counter-battery fire, but available for observation from the air, were required to be masked without fail.

Secondly, since the M-Gerät howitzer, like many other German heavy artillery guns, began to explode shells in the barrel, artillery crews were ordered to move away from them before firing. However, this is easily explained: the explosion of such a heavy projectile in the barrel of such a gun was like a real disaster, and their fragments scattered in all directions for kilometers around.

What all-terrain wheels ...

As already noted, the Berts were a miracle weapon for their time. Built with the utmost secrecy, they successfully bombarded French and Belgian forts in 1914 and Russian forts in 1915. The maximum range of the "Big Bertha" was 9 meters, which was more than that of the Belgian, French and Russian fortress artillery.

The maximum rate of fire was eight rounds per hour. The howitzer fired three types of projectiles - armor-piercing and high-explosive fragmentation, and later in the course of the war - a "semi-circular" projectile, or Haubengranate, which was designed to increase the maximum range of the gun by reducing weight.

Model of "Big Bertha" at the Army Museum in Paris

The heaviest projectiles fired by M-Gerät weighed 810 kilograms and had enough kinetic energy to penetrate twelve meters of concrete and earth. Funnels from high-explosive fragmentation shells reached 6 meters deep and 9 meters wide. The effect of shelling the permanent fortifications with M-Gerät howitzers is best illustrated by the complete destruction of Fort Loncin in Liege, where a 42 cm shell penetrated the concrete roof of the casemate, hit one of the fort's ammunition depots and killed about 350 soldiers of the fortress garrison.

Studies of captured Belgian forts during the war showed that the shells of the 42 cm M-Gerät and Gamma-Gerät howitzers penetrated concrete fortifications much more effectively than the shells of the same German or Austrian 30,5 cm guns.

"Big Bertha" - right side view

Barrel "Bertha" had vertical guidance angles from + 35 ° to + 65 °, and -20 ° horizontally. The shells had a weight: 810 kg and 400 kg. The initial speed was 333 m/s (projectile 810 kg) and 500 m/s (projectile 400 kg). The maximum firing range of the first projectile was 9 m, while the second, lighter one was 300 m.

Transportation of howitzer parts did not cause any particular problems. But assembling it required a large gantry crane moving on rails. True, the gun, fully assembled and put on wheels, could be transported further assembled, although not at a very high speed. To increase the cross-country ability and at the same time greater stability of the gun at the time of the shot, the wheels of the "Berta" were equipped with flat "shoes". They also limited the speed of transportation, but on the other hand, the gun could not stall on them even in rainy weather, as well as in autumn and spring.

"Big Bertha" in detail

Only two M-Gerät howitzers survived the war. Both guns were handed over to American troops near Verdun shortly after the armistice on 11 November 1918, after which they were sent to the Aberdeen Proving Ground, where they were tested and stored there until one gun was decommissioned in 1942 and the other in early 1950 -s years.

Of course, it was a great stupidity to send these truly priceless creations of the "gloomy Teutonic genius" to the metal, but you can't turn back what has been done.

However, practical Americans thought otherwise, for them this

“... the monster was rather a curiosity ... because in the eyes of the artillery officers of the US Army, it was useless as a field weapon. They ... considered him too inactive, and the US Army already at that time, as now, was guided by a maneuver war.

But, of course, such a weapon today would decorate any military museum and by its appearance alone (and the opportunity to take pictures near it!) Would attract thousands and thousands of visitors!
21 comment

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  1. bionik
    bionik 30 December 2022 05: 34

    On August 4, 1914, German troops moved to the Belgian fortress of Liege. Among the 124 guns given to the German units in Belgium were two Big Berts. Starting from August 5, they fired at the forts of the Liege fortress, which were already obsolete by the beginning of the First World War. Despite the fact that they were built relatively recently (between 1880 and 1892), the unreinforced concrete of their monolithic artillery blocks was not strong enough to withstand the penetrating and destructive power of the concrete-piercing projectiles of the new German artillery systems.

    To disable the fortifications of one fort and completely demoralize its garrison, which in typical Belgian forts reached a strength of 1000 people, two "Berts" needed an average of 360 shells and only one day of time. After the first battles on the Western Front, the Allies began to call the 420-mm German mortars "fort killers". The stunning success of the "Big Berts" was achieved during the assault on the Belgian fort Lonsin, the concrete monolith of which exploded and fell to pieces after a direct hit by a concrete-piercing projectile in its powder cellar. After that, shells detonated in some towers of the fort. The concrete used in the construction of the Belgian forts was of poor quality, not reinforced with rolled steel, and was laid according to an outdated multi-layer technology, where each layer had a different composition and had different physical qualities. Such concrete fell apart into pieces under the influence of direct hits of 420-mm shells from German mortars.

    During the battles in Belgium, "Big Bertha" received worldwide recognition. Twelve forts of the Liege fortress were taken in ten days, largely due to the effectiveness of its fire. Liege fell on August 16, 1914, then the "Big Berts" no less triumphantly dealt with the forts of Namur and Antwerp. During the fighting in France, they made a significant contribution to the assault on the fort at Maubeuge and other northern French forts.
  2. Andrey Moskvin
    Andrey Moskvin 30 December 2022 06: 44
    But Tsiolkovsky was already thinking about missiles. laughing
  3. Catfish
    Catfish 30 December 2022 07: 51
    Good morning everyone!

    Vyacheslav, thanks for the article. A little addition from me. smile

    In conversations among themselves, the engineers called the project "Big Bertha" or "Fat Bertha" (German: "Dicke Bertha") in honor of the sole owner of the concern at that time, the granddaughter and only heiress of Alfred Krupp - Bertha Krupp.

    And, not quite a decent caricature, either on a gun, or on a Frau, or on both of them combined. laughing

    And this is the work of "Big Bertha" - An overturned armored turret for two 120-mm guns and a monolith of the Belgian fort Lonsin destroyed by the explosion of a powder magazine
    1. setter
      setter 30 December 2022 15: 52
      Bertha Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach - a woman without a doubt
      outstanding and deserving of a separate article. Suffice it to say that the Reich Chancellor, Fuhrer and Supreme Commander of the armed forces of Germany, Adolf Hitler, having arrived at her residence at the Krupp Hügel without an invitation in 1934, received a turn from the gate and silently swallowed this embarrassment.
      1. Catfish
        Catfish 30 December 2022 21: 58
        Rough woman. smile Yes, and how a lady with the name Bertha Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach could receive some rogue corporal in her house. belay
        Nevertheless, she supplied him with weapons quite regularly - "nothing personal, just business." request
        1. setter
          setter 31 December 2022 01: 16
          Probably not normal, because in 1943 Hitler took away the company from her.
          1. Catfish
            Catfish 31 December 2022 02: 06
            Revenge, scoundrel. laughing "Revenge is the lot of small and vile people." (C) yes

            Happy New Year! drinks
  4. Korsar4
    Korsar4 30 December 2022 08: 01
    Thank you.
    There was information that after the Treaty of Versailles, the Big Berts were disposed of. This is true?
    1. Catfish
      Catfish 30 December 2022 08: 46

      "Big Bertha" at the Aberdeen Proving Ground November-December 1928.

      Hello, Sergey. smile
      1. Korsar4
        Korsar4 30 December 2022 08: 57
        Hi Constantine!

        in Scotland, respectively. Did you take it as a memento?

        There was one Gamma-type mortar. A little easier. She got lost at the range.

        And they say, even during the siege of Sevastopol, it was used.
        1. Catfish
          Catfish 30 December 2022 09: 13
          Aberdeen Proving Ground - a test site in the United States, Harford County, Maryland, on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay, in the vicinity of Abingdon

          "Gamma" will be heavier, but it was used near Sevastopol - for sure.

          420-mm mortar "Gamma" (Gamma Mörser kurze marinekanone L / 16) at a position near Sevastopol.
          1. Korsar4
            Korsar4 30 December 2022 10: 37
            They called synonyms. I confuse those who are not knowledgeable in geography.
            But still they took it, it turns out.
            1. Catfish
              Catfish 30 December 2022 11: 11
              So americans laughing they are economic. request
    2. Luminman
      Luminman 30 December 2022 10: 47
      Quote: Korsar4
      after the Treaty of Versailles, the Big Berts were disposed of. This is true?

      According to the Treaty of Versailles, Germany was generally forbidden to have guns with a caliber of more than 100 millimeters (or 105) ...
  5. mmaxx
    mmaxx 30 December 2022 08: 56
    What's the beautiful! This thing was both necessary and effective. Here the Germans did not fail.
    She paid tribute to the current filmmakers. The comrades fired from these howitzers at Sherlock Holmes. laughing
  6. setter
    setter 30 December 2022 09: 21
    Beta-Gerat mortar

    In this case, kill translated as mortar.

    German mortar 30.5cm schwere Küstenmörser L/8 or Beta-Gerät.
  7. setter
    setter 30 December 2022 09: 53
    The M-Gerät Dicke Bertha howitzer had the Bèta-M Gerät or Schwere Karteune variant.

    A 305 mm L / 30 barrel was placed on the M-Gerät carriage. It was an attempt to get a more long-range weapon.
  8. Aviator_
    Aviator_ 30 December 2022 16: 48
    And it was there that they received the nickname Dicke Berta from their calculations.
    Actually, "Dicke" means fat in German. I remember that the author taught from the second grade not German, but English, but still ...
  9. Luminman
    Luminman 30 December 2022 18: 26
    Quote: Aviator_
    Actually, "Dicke" means fat in German.

    This is a literal translation. "Big" - a more literary translation
  10. vladcub
    vladcub 30 December 2022 18: 44
    V. Oh, they surprised me: I always associate "Caliber" with knights and small arms.
    And here is the art. Pechalka: ran out of small arms?
    1. kalibr
      30 December 2022 18: 59
      Quote: vladcub
      And here is the art. Pechalka: ran out of small arms?

      I had to confirm permissions to use the photo.