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    By Alain Huyon
    After a military career of 33 years, divided between stays in staff and troop times, including the command of a regiment, he occupied for 15 years research and writing functions in the Historical Service of the Army where he led, in particular, studies on train badges, conscription, Afghanistan, the Falklands conflict, army inspections.

    This study does not pretend to solve all the puzzles surrounding the myth "Grosse Bertha" but to take stock of known information, to extract the incontestable elements and to eliminate preconceived ideas, legends and other anecdotes. It is essentially based on testimonies, often uncontrollable but which overlap on certain points. These are German officers who participated in the operation, who left stories published ten years after the facts 1, witnesses to the arrangements and the shooting, employees of all levels of the Krupp company and residents of neighboring municipalities of the battery positions. Other accounts were consulted whose authors were unable to assist or participate in the events. The archives of the Historical Service of the Army 2 were not then accessible to the contemporary authors of the operation and the decade which followed. In addition, the German authorities had endeavored to remove all traces of this weapon (archives and materials), which enabled them to deny the existence of it. The return of Germany to the international political scene, then the passivity of the Allied governments to the rise of Hitlerian nationalism finally allowed the revelation of the facts, now presented as a glorious success. However, more recent, even contemporary, accounts take over without control the "novels" generated at the time by the operation "Grosse Bertha", perpetuating untruths which should be refuted. The very name of Grosse Bertha, the characteristics of this extraordinary weapon, the location of the battery positions, the sequence of shots, their results, the counterbattery actions, what remains of this operation comparable for its psychological effects to air raids of the following conflict, everything gave rise to controversy and relationships where the imagination takes precedence over reality.
    1 Kinzel (frigate captain), Auf See unbesiegt (Undefeated at sea), indefinite publisher, 1926. The author participated in the trials and most likely witnessed the first shots at Paris.
    Kunsel (Lieutenant-Commander), War on the Sea, Told by Combatants, date and publisher unknown.He belonged to the ballistic section of the Kriegsmarine staff.
    Eisgruber (Heinz), How we shot on Paris. The novel of a historical reality, Berlin, ed. Vorhut Verlag Otto Schlegel, 1934. The author, a lieutenant at the time, belonged to the crew of one of the piecs.
    2 Of which the current Historical Defense Service is the heir. These are the archives kept by the Department of the Army, series N: funds of the army staff (7 N 1590); GQG (16 N 1694 and 1695); of the Reserve Army Group (GAR) (18 N 461 and 462).

  • #2
    Above all, it should be pointed out that the French and the Germans designate under the name of Grosse Bertha two entirely different canons. For the Germans, the artillery piece baptized Dicke Bertha by reference to madam or miss Krupp (sources differ), was a howitzer of exceptionally large caliber (420 mm) and of weak range (14 km) designed for the attack of the fort. The pieces of this model were successfully used in 1914 in Liège and Maubeuge. Given their range, they were unable to fire on Paris, which was never less than 20 km from the extreme German advance in 1914 and less than 90 km in July 1918. Other pieces of the same sort (very large caliber, very short range) also received the nickname Bertha or Dicke Bertha from the Germans and, by confusion, the inhabitants close to the battery sites concluded after the war that they were the famous cannons firing on Paris.

    With more reason, but still wrongly, the name of Grosse Bertha was given to marine pieces of high caliber (355 or 380 mm), with long range (45 to 62 km) established on fixed concrete bases ( circular or semicircular), sometimes fitted with a metal platform. This was the case, in particular, of Ziellisheim (Haut-Rhin), Semide (Ardennes), Coucy-le-Château and Bois du Châtelet (between Château-Thierry and Fère-en-Tardenois, Aisne) and coincidence , from Crépy-en-Laonnois (also in Aisne) where the first two real Grosses Berthas were installed, in the sense that the French have given to this designation 3. Received ideas die hard and residents of the communes concerned maintain the error: it is historic! As for the municipality of Coucy-le-Château, in 2002, it removed the beautiful enamel signs which, on the edge of the D 934 (Departemental road), identified a so-called location of the terrible craft.
    3 François (Guy), "The 38 cm SKL / 45 Max German naval guns", Bulletin of the Association for the Remembrance of the Battle of Verdun, no 27/2000. The author has identified 26 such gun locations.

    The designation was again thoughtlessly applied during the Second World War to long-range pieces, caliber from 280 to 400 mm, initially built for the Kriegsmarine and finally installed on land as a fixed battery or on railroad tracks. These different pieces, short or long, are not the Grosse Bertha, the real one, that of the Parisians, targets of its projectiles in 1918. They all have two things in common, however: they were designed by the same engineer Rausenberger and built by the powerful steelmaker Krupp. The Germans officially called this giant piece "Parisener Kanone" or "Parisgeschütz" since it was wanted and carried out with the sole aim of bombing Paris, the German command hoping to create a panic in the population which would have pushed the government to capitulate . The never-before-seen tube of this piece was given the name "Wilhemsrohr" after the Kaiser. For their part, the personnel of the Krupp factories baptized the machine "Lange Frederic", in reference to Frederic Krupp. The appellation "Lange Max" is also found. Finally, the man in the street across the Rhine nicknamed him "die Pariserin" or "canon of 30 leagues" 4.
    4 "Ferngeschütz" found in different sources, meant all long-range pieces but not specifically the Parisener Kanone. "Geschütz" = fire mouth. "Rohr" = cane, tube, pipe, rifle barrel. "Lange" = long, tall. We do not know why the 380 mm guns were called Max, nickname, perhaps in reference to Max de Baden, Chancellor of the German Empire, or abbreviation of maximum? Note that "dicke" is not exactly a compliment = swollen, bloated.

    For a long time, the term "Grosse Bertha", used in France, will sow confusion, moreover, maintained by the Germans themselves 5. This is why we will prefer, in the rest of this study, the original designation: "Parisener Kanone".
    5 Revue d’artillerie (française), tome 89 de 1922, page 195 : polémique avec les Allemands au sujet de l’appellation Grosse Bertha.


    • #3

      As already said, this material was built by Krupp in Essen, for the first copies, then by Skoda in Pilsen (Plzen in Czech) then in the Austro-Hungarian Empire 6.
      6 SHD / DAT, 7 N 1590, report of the military attaché in Switzerland.

      It had unusual characteristics:
      • tube length: 34 m, consisting of two equal lengths screwed together: a classic rifled tube 7, with an initial caliber of 380 mm jacketed to 210 mm and extended by a smooth tube of the same 210 mm caliber, guyed to prevent bending.
      • shooting chamber: 5 m long.
      • outside diameter in “tonnerre” (thunder): about l m, the annular thickness of the tube reaching at this point approximately 40 cm.
      • total weight: 750 t including 175 for the tube.
      • maximum projectile weight: 125 kg.
      • weight of the explosive charge: 8 to 10 kg.
      • weight of the propellant charge: 150 to 200 kg (depending on the distance from Paris).
      • initial velocity of the projectile: 1,500 to 1,600 m/s.
      • electric firing.
      7 That of the aforementioned SKL/45 Max marine piece.

      Given the metal tearing caused by the shells, they had increasing dimensions:
      • caliber from 210 to 235 or 240 mm (the shell itself was the same but the thickness of the belts increased to "catch up" on the wear of the tube).
      • length of about 90 cm.

      The shells were numbered from 1 to 65; after 65 shots, the tube had to be replaced. Seven tubes were constructed. Authors give different information which is not justified by any testimony: length of the tube = 30 or 40 m; weight of the shell = more than 400 kg; initial speed = 2000 m/s.

      The "Parisener Kanone" was not a piece on track, but it could only be transported by this means. The tube was conventionally supported by trunnions on a beam, known as a "pendulum", carried by two bogies of five axles at the front, two bogies of four axles at the rear, ie 18 axles. The carriage-truck and the wagons carrying the ancillary equipment (handling equipment in particular) and the personnel constituted a complete train (several photos published in newspapers wrongly present long-range pieces on conventional railroads as "Grosses Berthas").

      Shooting characteristics:
      • firing angle: 50 to 52.
      • trajectory deflection: about 40 km 8.
      • journey time: 3 to 3.5 minutes.
      • maximum range: 130 km 9.
      • maximum rate: 1 shot every 15 minutes approximately.
      8 Which would then constitute the record for a projectile fired from the ground. It was not until the appearance of V2 rockets, also designed by the Germans, that this record was beaten (information not attested).
      9 Estimate. It appears that no shot has exceeded 126 km (in trials in Germany).


      • #4

        The firing carriage, different from the rail carriage (hence considerable handling work) rested on a fixed platform at the origin, pivoting thereafter. Two types of bases were used: on the one hand, a concrete base 12 m² and 4 m thick, poured into an excavation of the same depth; on the other hand, a metal platform, very close to those receiving the 380 mm guns, resting on an obviously prepared ground, even hardened, but not concreted. This form of installation allowed movement of fire in the direction.

        Guy François claims that, from 1917, two metal platforms intended for 380 pieces had been reserved for the Parisener Kanone. It was, however, a concrete base that the Germans had first established at Crépy, and even two, as confirmed late (June 20, 1918) by a prisoner German officer: "He saw two pieces on casemates concreted in a clearing [ the Anchette field, see below] near La Fère [9 km], each with two spare tubes. "

        Of course, shelters were also created for the command of the site, the personnel, the other materials, the electric generators and the shooting room, connected by paths, all underground. Finally, all these installations and surface communications were very carefully camouflaged: nets, velum, renewed vegetation, artificial fog occasionally.


        • #5

          Being the origin of a navy piece, and this one already having the experience of large calibers and awfully long ranges, the implementation of the Parisener Kanone was entrusted to the naval artillery. The first site, that of Mont de Joie, the only one on which German sources give details, was placed under the command of Rear Admiral Rogge, the troops being under the orders of Lieutenant-Commander Werner Kurt. No written information has reached us on the number of staff necessary to implement a piece, but one of the very few photos that survived the operation allows us to count about sixty men posing for the objective, which may include logistics staff: you had to eat well on site. We know, on the other hand, that at the start of preparatory work (spring 1917) "several units of specialists and auxiliaries were assigned to this task" 10.
          10 Eisgruber, op.cit.


          • #6
            THE MONT DE JOIE

            Historians, journalists and novelists (because we have to name those authors with prolific imagination!) have focused on the characteristics of the devices and the analysis of the shots. None have looked at Mont de Joie, the first site of the Parisener Kanone and the only one whose use is known with some precision. Wedged between the N 44 (National road from Cambrai to Châlons-en-Champagne) and the railway from Calais to Dijon, both in their La Fère - Laon section, the Mont de Joie dominates the Laonnois plain like others witness mounds in the region; its central point is 2.5 km north-west and in the Crépy-en-Laonnois region, 1 km north-east of Fourdrain and 3 km south-east of Couvron.

            It is in the form of a bone-oriented northeast-southwest, with the following dimensions:
            • base: 2 km long, 1,350 km at its widest point.
            • summit plateau, which is roughly flat: 1,250 km long, 200 m in its smallest width (in the center) and 300 m in the largest (north end).
            • maximum altitude: 175 m, ie 100 m above the railway line.
            • it is, in horizontal distance, 525 m from the base and 875 m from the plateau.
            • on the side of the railway, the slope between the base and the summit is greater than 20% on average, with sections at 100% (45 °).

            The Mont de Joie is entirely wooded and surrounded by woods, but it is on the side of the railway that this forest crown is the narrowest, 125 m anyway, the rest of the space being made up of brushwood. Today it is mainly occupied, and in particular the plateau, by an Air Force 11 munitions depot which is necessarily very protected (electric fence, corridor for dogs on the loose…) including the peripheral area of safety extends east to the D 26 from Crépy to Couvron. In its northern part, it is shared between two private properties, also inaccessible. Note, incidentally, that the Mont de Joie is bordered by the Bois des Apôtres and Mont Plaisir. The physical characteristics of the Mont de Joie, in particular its altitude above the railroad and the importance of the slope, exclude the installation of a piece on the plateau. To believe that even the least steep slopes of the Mont de Joie could have been climbed by rail is an aberration. To think only that the Germans took the risk and used their energy to hoist a piece on the plateau is unreasonable. The "simple" putting in battery, in the open country, of a piece whose tube weighed of the order of 175 t and the carriage 575 t, required maneuvers of prodigious forces. The same operation performed on the plateau would have been akin to a miracle. And for what purpose? A gain in altitude of a hundred meters is insignificant compared to the trajectory rise, of the order of 40 km. In addition, the position of the installations on this promontory which springs from the northern foothills of the Saint-Gobain massif would have facilitated aerial tracking. On the contrary, the Mont de Joie was a partial mask for the pieces lurking at the north foot.
            11 This depot was created in 1935. It includes not only surface works but very large underground warehouses, in particular very high, opening towards the west (on the road leading from Fourdrain to the railway stop) . The editor was able to visit them in 1949 when the repository had not been reactivated. According to the testimony of depot officers (1980 and 2004), the only remains of installations still visible are a chaos of concrete blocks submerged by vegetation. A Max cannon base remains on private property north of the depot.

            These considerations do not prevent L’Illustration 12 from presenting a battery of three pieces, one of which is established on the Mont de Joie, the others below, each served by a particular spike! The same newspaper bought out a month later 13 by presenting, more seriously, an aerial photo showing two battery locations: none was established on the plateau but at the north and south angles of a diamond-shaped field located at the east of the Mont de Joie, of which they just touch the base, and served by a single spike. There remains the testimony of Eisgruber (op.cit.) Who said of the position: “it was chosen on the edge of a ravine near the village of Couvron.” Ravin obviously presumes a dominant position and there is no ravine in the sector except that which surrounds the Mont de Joie. But the narrator adds: "On one of the slopes is the piece location (...). On the other side of the ravine, hidden by the trees, are the barracks." In fact - there may be an impropriety due to the translation - "ravine" should be understood as one of the very modest thalwegs which cut the base of the mount.
            12 No 3 926 of June 1, 1918, supposedly on the basis of aerial photos.
            13 No. 3,931 of July 6, 1918.

            The result is that the identity of the mound should not be taken literally, but only seen as the most remarkable point of a larger sector. However, all the plots that surround it have a name; thus the aforementioned diamond-shaped field is identified: the Anchette, as also the woods which separate it from the railway: the Bois de Boule, the Champ du Roi, the Bois des Pontoises, the Bois de l'Epine. The Anchette field is perfectly accessible.

            Has a third room been established on a metal platform straddling the main track or on a spur? It is likely, although there is no aerial photo or testimony to prove it. Aulard 14 (who is mistaken about 500 m in the position of one of the first two) locates this third cannon in the Bois de l'Epine, connected by a spur directly to the Crépy-Couvron station. This version has a double disadvantage: the spur crosses a completely uncovered agricultural area and also crosses the D 26. This situation could hardly escape aerial, human or photographic observations. However, a Polish prisoner of the German army (July 4) also mentions that "a spur crossing the Crépy road, taking 100 m before the Crépy station [coming from Laon], leads to installations in a wood 3 or 400 m away. He spent several nights in vast underground galleries that could house a whole regiment.” The Bois de l'Epine does indeed contain shelters, which are still on the maps. But this witness does not say he saw a cannon in this wood. This testimony is apparently in contradiction with the aerial photo which shows that the railway spur serving the two rooms crosses a path, tangent to the Anchette field, but not the D 26, further east. Unless another spur, the one the Pole would then speak of, was previously built to serve the 380 mm Max gun, the platform of which remains, and which was no longer used in 1918 because it was probably spotted. The installation of a piece on the main track, as envisaged by Poirier 15, is plausible. Indeed, in September and October 1916, the Germans carried at normal gauge and considerably reinforced the secondary railroad, hitherto metric, which linked Dercy to Versigny (respectively 16 km north and 16 km northwest of Laon) thus allowing numerous military trains to avoid Laon station, which was then only 18 km from the French lines 16.
            14 Aulard (A.), Political History of the Great War, Paris, Editions Quillet, 1924.
            15 Poirier (Jules), Les bombardements de Paris - Avions, Gothas, Zeppelins, Berthas 1914-1918, Paris, Payot editions, 1930.
            16 Testimony of Suzanne Beck, of Crécy-sur-Serre, who kept a diary during this period. "Civilian prisoners" and 500 Russian prisoners were employed in this work while the Germans annexed the meadows along the Crécy line, to create sidings. The inhabitants of the invaded regions were considered by the Germans as "civilian prisoners". Men aged 17 (then 16) to 50 were required to work for the German army. They were thus sent in working columns, the French equivalent of the German Arbeit Kommando. Suzanne Beck informs us that 50 civilian prisoners were used in May and June 1917 for land clearing in the woods of Fourdrain, Crépy and Couvron, probably in connection with the earthworks preparatory to the installation of the Parisener Kanonen. The area south of the Serre River had been emptied of its inhabitants but prisoners were working there, thus reporting information.

            The main track thus became available and, between Crépy-Couvron and Versigny, it crosses several important wooded areas, which made it unnecessary to camouflage the installation by trees planted in boxes, the piece and the said trees being removed in passing of a convoy, still according to Poirier. What work! And in the passage of which convoys since the line was no longer used? And where were we putting the piece in during this time? All this is utopian.


            • #7
              OTHER SHOOTING SITES 17
              17 Note that Eisgruber (op.cit.) mentions two draft sites that had to be abandoned during the works due to water infiltration, one of which “located one hour's drive from Crépy », when the concrete slab had reached 3 m thick.

              Eisgruber cites, once and only once, a battery of three pieces, without specifying the place. In the remainder of his account, the author confines himself to a single piece which is said to have been moved twice. The first time after May 27, 18 via Soissons and Fère-en-Tardenois, to Bruyères-sur-Fère (5 km west of Fère-en-Tardenois, all these points in the Aisne). There, it would have been put in battery in a wood (which actually exists at the edge of the railway), on a metal platform coming from Crépy or from Germany, formula incomparably faster than the concrete sites of the Mont de Joie. Bruyères is 92 km from Paris (and not 80 km as the author says). The shortening of the range was economically very interesting: lighter shell, less propellant charge, more limited tube wear, making it possible to envisage firing 100 projectiles with the same tube. But the Allied counter-offensive of July 18, 1918, emerging from the forest of Villers-Cotterêts, put an end to the operation premature; unfortunately, the author does not tell us how many shells were fired from this position or even if it was actually used (14 shots on July 15 and 16, 14 shots on July 16 and 17 according to other authors, without evidence).
              18 Beginning of the German offensive on the Chemin des Dames but there is no evidence that this displacement was immediate; no specific date is given by anyone. A map dated June 12, from the 3rd GAR office, gives the objectives to be treated by long-range artillery: none is reported in Bruyères-sur-Fère or in the surrounding area (SHD / DAT, 18 N 461).

              Still according to Eisgruber, this same piece was withdrawn from the advance of the Allied troops in precipitous conditions. Fourteen days had been necessary for its installation 19, 24 hours were enough for its dismantling and its loading on train. Bracketed for two hours by French artillery fire, which finally cut the track near Venizel (6 km east of Soissons) just after its passage, this train reached Beaumont-en-Beine (18 km west-northwest from La Fère, 20 km southwest of Saint-Quentin, all these points in the Aisne). There a site had been in preparation for several weeks, 108 km from Paris and some 40 front lines (July 15). The location is known: Corbie wood (a small kilometer east of the church) 20. The works were identified by French aviation from the start, on June 5, and confirmed on 6, 9 and 12 June 21. But there was not just one site: the Germans had sketched out several fake spurs near Beaumont-en-Beine, including one leading to a completed shooting area which was not used; it had been spotted as the one in activity.
              19 We are far from the few hours of the Artillery Review, no 98 of 1926.
              20 Testimony of the mayor and residents of the commune (2004).
              21 SHD / DAT, 18 N 461-462.

              Eisgruber also affirms: "It was from there that the last shell fired on Paris, on August 9, 1918 at 2 o'clock in the afternoon." A "novelist" practically makes the Parisener Kanone a moving piece. He reports the movement of Crépy's pieces, from May 1, first on Beaumont-en-Beine (but at that date, Beaumont was only ten kilometers from the French lines, the German offensive having resumed only on May 27). From there, they allegedly fired 104 shells from May 27 to June 11. Then, the guns would have been transferred to Bruyères-sur-Fère (which the author describes as "Bois de Bruyères à Fère-en-Tardenois" and which he locates 8 km from Château-Thierry instead of 16!). Finally, they were reportedly redirected to Beaumont-en-Beine to fire another 64 shells there from August 5 to 9. Others move the piece from Crépy-en-Laonnois directly to Beaumont-en-Beine, sparing him the trip to Bruyères-sur-Fère. Note that Kinzel (op.cit.) speaks only "of the surroundings of Laon", where three pieces would have been implemented in two stages: "two from March 1918, the third a little later", without further details. "Around Laon", seen from Berlin, can be applied to Bruyères-sur-Fère (44 km) and Beaumont-en-Beine (38 km) as well as to Crépy-en-Laonnois (8 km).

              Of course, the location of new sites in preparation or already in operation was a major concern, among others, for northern and reserve army groups; they were not the objectives of the Parisener Kanonen but they were in their areas of responsibility. It was the role of the “artillery” sections of the 3rd offices, to exploit the “raw formwork” information that the 2nd office of the GQG assigned to them: it was necessary to analyze this imprecise and contradictory information 22 and try to see clearly . Success has been moderate. No doubt these witnesses were in good faith, confusing Parisener Kanone and any other long-range piece. However, we must not dismiss an intoxication campaign waged by the German command, including for his own troops: he had an interest in multiplying the number of pieces firing on Paris, Pariserin everywhere to grow and cheer them up, and of course to drown the opponent.
              22 Sampling of information disseminated by the 2nd GQG Bureau (the dates are those of the information bulletins). We spotted one or more Parisener Kanonen: "at Neuville-Bosmont, near Laon" [in reality 22 km northeast and more than 140 km from Paris] "from a reliable British source" (20 June ); "Six other pieces are being installed in the vicinity of Crépy-en-Laonnois" (German prisoner, same date); "Near Ham" (Somme) [which is very vague] (spy, June 21); "Near Cappy" [Somme, 14 km west of Péronne and 130 km northeast of Paris] (German prisoner who saw two cannons, July 21); "4 km south of Flavy-le-Martel" [Aisne, that is to say 4 km south-east of Beaumont-en-Beine, in other words the Bois de Genlis cited by another author] (prisoner French who saw four cannons, August 6); "In the forest of Ham/Flavy-le-Martel" [there are 10 km and no forest between these two communes but it can correspond to the site of the Corbie wood or that of the Genlis wood] (German prisoner who specifies that its caliber is 24 cm and that its tube measures 33 m, August 8]; "in a wood of 300 m side west of Noyon" [Oise] (German prisoner, same date). The general artillery reserve of the GQG (August 18) thinks to have spotted a piece “in the south of Jussy” [Aisne, 12 km north-west of La Fère].


              • #8
                SEQUENCE OF SHOTS

                Three shooting campaigns can be determined: from March 23 to May 3; from May 27 to June 11; from July 15 until a date which remains uncertain (around August 15) (contradiction between Eisgruber, Poirier and testimonies of the inhabitants of the Serre valley). For its part, the office of the Minister of War wrote on August 6 that "since yesterday, the cannon firing on Paris has resumed its fire", which indicates that a new interruption had occurred after July 18, corresponding to moving the piece from Bruyères-sur-Fère to Beaumont-en-Beine, and that no other piece was then in working order. The sources agree on the date of the first shot (which would have taken place in the presence of Professor Rausenberger 23: March 23, and about the time: between 7:09 am and 7:17 am. From the first day, the shots continued quarter of an hour to quarter of an hour, or about, until 2 p.m., then the shooting stopped because of the piercing sun, making aerial observations possible. The first shell fell in Paris between 7:12 am and 7:20 am the sources consulted do not agree on the impact situation, but this is unimportant. On the first day, at 3 p.m., the French War Ministry communicated to the press that the shots had caused a dozen dead and fifteen wounded.
                23 But not in the presence of the emperor, which the German authors would not have failed to report. On the other hand, he would have attended a test in Germany.

                To avoid locating the pieces, whether by SRS (Section de Répérage par le Son/sound locating sections) or aerial observation, the Germans had organized a real staging. Several 170- and 210-mm batteries, located near the front in the trajectory plane, had fired simultaneously while 10 squadrons were carrying out sustained activity in the same areas, establishing a curtain in front of the Saint-Gobain forest. The same prisoner officer already quoted reveals: "In the immediate vicinity [of the Parisener Kanonen], four 38 cm pieces [of the Max] were firing at the same time, the six pieces being under the same command." Two other prisoners confirm this: they witnessed, including one several times, the shooting of two of these pieces intended to saturate the sound environment; they were embossed on spurs “in a wood west of Couvron [known as the Queue of Monceau]; they only came out to shoot and returned immediately afterwards; they fired at the same time as the Parisener Kanonen and only at the same time ”. The 2nd office of the GAR reported late (September 10) of one of these pieces spotted at the end of August, which it believed to be the one that shot on Paris (there is no ambiguity about the nature of this piece: "in the west wood of Couvron, 10 km from Crécy-sur-Serre ", therefore the Queue of Monceau) 24. The next day March 24, the shooting resumed in the same conditions as the day before, although the battery had no information on the results of the previous day. It was only around 1:00 p.m. that a phone call from the Supreme Staff announced the operation's success: the Parisian newspapers in the morning reported on the impacts of the previous day and their effects. From the third day, the return of this information to the battery only took four hours, thanks to two German "moles" stationed in Paris who telephoned the information to a correspondent from Morteau from where it was taken to Schaffhausen, in Switzerland (Eisgrube). The shooting continued until May 3, sometimes spaced only five minutes apart, suggesting that three pieces were in battery, interspersed with counter-battery shots from French artillery. On May 3 (and not March 25 as a recent book suggests), a piece was destroyed by the bursting of a shell in its tube, and not by French artillery as reported by several. The accounts of Kinzel and Eisgruber, German authors and necessarily apologetic, could pass over this event in silence but they recognize it: "A burst tube having occurred once, the straightening of the tube was always, thereafter, checked immediately before the loading." A German prisoner confirms this, who perfectly locates the two Parisener Kanonen, who saw them, and says: "Only one was in a condition to shoot, the tube of the other was broken." (June 20).
                24 SHD / DAT, 18 N 462, note for the 3rd Bureau.

                This accident which perhaps caused loss of personnel, despite the buried shelters, was also confirmed by the inhabitants of Crécy-sur-Serre, well placed to feel the effects and who, despite the secrecy which surrounded the whole Parisener Kanone operation, had inevitably relations with some Germans 25. Thorough checks of the surviving piece being essential, the Parisians lived three weeks of calm. On May 27, the shooting resumed and continued until June 11, with one piece (according to Poirier and Eisgruber). Another interruption from June 12. On May 27, the Germans resumed their general offensive, initially successful, towards the south and the southwest; in the first case, it led them to the south of the Marne of Château-Thierry where they settled on June 1; in the second, they occupied Chauny (11 km south-east of Beaumont-en-Beine) on June 2. The command could not take the decision to move a piece from Crépy-en-Valois to Bruyères-sur-Fère only when the positions were consolidated there. Then, it took three weeks to deposit the piece of Mont de Joie, load it on a train, move it via Laon, Soissons and Braine, and reassemble it, this time on a metal platform (reminder: 14 days for this last operation alone). This scenario would explain the second sequence of silence, from June 12 to July 14. But it is in contradiction with the testimonies of the inhabitants of the valley of the Serre who affirmed that the piece of the Mont de Joie had fired until the middle of the summer; it is an imprecise date, of course, but one that cannot be reasonably prior to the end of July. And this would confirm the simultaneous firing of two pieces in the last period: that of Crépy-en-Laonnois and another first in Bruyères-sur-Fère then in Beaumont-en-Beine. In this case, the second intermission would have another cause: new technical incident, waiting for a new tube coming from Germany (priority having perhaps been given to the piece at Bruyères-sur-Fère), site put to sleep due to the actions of French artillery. Which brings us to the next topic: the opponent's reactions.
                25 Let us cite here the only other known incident: on the position of Beaumont-en-Beine, “the metal platform overturned at the first shot; three days of work were necessary to restore it”. Note from the 3rd French army [PC at Clermont-de-l'Oise], undated (SHD / DAT, 18 N 462).


                • #9

                  The first moment of stupor passed, the French intelligence services set to work to determine the nature and the origin of the shootings which reached the capital. In spite of the sound environment which accompanied the first shots, the locating sections by sound very quickly discriminated (according to the acceptance used by radiotelegraphists) the wave of a single piece firing at an initial speed of 1,500 m/s among the crowd of other projectiles which came out at half the speed. However, the day after the first firing, that is on March 24, “at the time when, on the Mont de Joie position, the pieces personnel toasted to the success of the shooting of the previous day, which had just been learned by telephone, a shell of 240 mm falls in the middle of the battery, 250 m from the command post." Several killed and wounded, according to Eisgruber but the pieces are intact. Lieutenant-Commander Kunsel, confirmed by Kinzel, reports: "The glasses were barely filled a second time [early March 24] when a heavy artillery shot fell 250 meters from our post, right in the middle of the battery installation, causing six injuries but no material damage. A few minutes later, a second blow 100 m from the first. No doubt, we were spotted, and we were shot at (…). How thirty hours after our first blow, the French were able, on the one hand to determine our position, (…) on the other hand, to put in battery a heavy piece at a distance of approximately 25 km and to open fire with a such precision?26 And Captain Kunsel concluded, denying the expertise of the SRS, that the information could only come from the inhabitants.
                  26 The Mont de Joie was about 13 km inside the German lines; the French pieces that reached it were effectively 24, 25 and 26 km away.

                  Of course, there were also French agents, residents or infiltrators, in the invaded regions: this was one aspect of the intelligence function, along with the SRS, interrogation of prisoners and aerial observations. As Eisgruber reveals, the hideout of a spy (a cave on the side of Mont de Joie, where a table, mattress, leftover food and French newspapers were found) was discovered several weeks after the first shots were fired. It is evident that the various sources of intelligence have complemented each other as they should; espionage has certainly informed the French command on the installation of large pieces at Mont de Joie, without being able to determine their function; the SRS calculated the origin of the trajectories; aerial observation confirmed the number and position of the pieces. French counterbattery fire continued, causing once seven killed and six wounded, another time one killed, but remained without effect on the functioning of the two pieces Parisener Kanone (although several authors claim the opposite). The artillery’s actions against the Bruyères-sur-Fère piece have already been mentioned. For his part, Poirier reports of shots that bracketed the piece in Beaumont-en-Beine late, which is not confirmed by the Germans. No aerial bombardment was undertaken, although one novelist claims that the location of the cannon has become a prime target for the bombing air force and that other attributes it to the destruction of a piece.27
                  27 Night bombing raids had nevertheless been carried out against several objectives in Germany, but large-scale objectives: factories, railway yards, etc.

                  Make us acquainted with two notes. The first is dated April 16, 1918 and sent by GQG to the northern army group:
                  “The rapid wear and tear of the ALGP [heavy artillery with great power] pieces counter-attacking the pieces firing on Paris means that we have to give up the adopted user manual (...). It is perfectly unnecessary and costly to shoot with 305- and 340- pieces when observation and control [of the results] of the shot is impossible or very difficult (...). Consequently, everything must be prepared to execute a real demolition fire as soon as the atmospheric circumstances are favorable. The 6th Army [CP in Belleu, 2 km south of Soissons, then from May 29, in Trilport, 4 km east of Meaux] will take measures to ensure that aerial observation and control are organized in the most complete way and operate on the first fine day (…). In the meantime, the 145- battery established near the first lines should ensure the energetic neutralization of German long-range pieces. All measures will be taken to protect this battery (camouflage, smoke, counterbattery) that its adventurous situation [near Coucy-le-Château, 17 km from Mont de Joie, according to another note] exposes it to a severe response. »28
                  28 SHD/DAT, 16 N 1694.

                  The second is a response from the northern army group to a letter, probably unimportant, from the President of the Council, Minister of War Clemenceau dated March 31, 1918:
                  "Summary of operations against the long-range gun that bombs Paris. The exact determination of its location encountered quite serious difficulties: the aircraft responsible for research and surveillance was cramped by a large number of anti-aircraft artillery and by smoke bombs; SRS were hampered by confusion with neighboring pieces, resulting in fairly long trial and error. Various means of investigation cross-checked by prisoners have made it possible to consider as three most likely locations for firing on railways already known. In any case, we did not wait for these results to act. As of March 23 afternoon [1st day of shooting], as soon as we were certain that the bombing of Paris was carried out by a long-range gun and that the location was known approximately, the 19th and 20th Batteries of the 78th Regiment of Artillery (four guns of 305 GLt) [pieces on sliding carriages] were called. In position at Vailly-sur-Aisne [14 km east of Soissons] from the 24th, they opened fire immediately. At the same time, the 23rd Battery (two pieces of 340 B model 1912) and the 22nd Battery (two pieces of 340 B GLt model 1893) of the 77th RA were called from Lorraine. The first was in action at Issy-Condé [not determined, probably Missy-sur-Aisne and Condé-sur-Aisne, 7 and 10 km east of Soissons, villages linked by a wooded area] on March 26; the second at Bucy-le-long [4 km east of Soissons] on the 30th, a fairly significant rail detour was necessary. The 6th Army had placed a group of 145- in the front line which has just been withdrawn following the rectification of the front. As for aircraft bombing, there is little to expect. Daytime bombing is not likely to be of sufficient precision and tonnage to achieve any real effect. Even more effective would be bombardment at night against such a difficult target. Our first shots, continuously conducted day and night, were slowed down due to the decrease in activity against Paris and the rapid wear of the pieces. The number of 305- and 340- guns capable of counter-attacking the piece in the Crépy-en-Laonnois region, more than 20 km away, is limited (…). The group of 145- fired 200 to 300 shots a day (…). The use of 194- and 220- pieces, 22 to 24 km in range, is suggested. »29
                  29 SHD/DAT, 16 N 1694.


                  • #10

                    In 46 days of fire, 367 shells reached the capital and its suburbs, according to the Paris police headquarters. Eisgruber announces only 320; another author: 400 shells fired but only 367 impacts. What have become of the others? If the material damage remained relatively limited, except at the Saint-Gervais church which will be discussed below, the human losses are not insignificant. As of the first day of fire (March 23, 1918), 18 shells fell on Paris and 4 on the suburbs causing, according to the official statement which remains imprecise, a dozen dead and fifteen wounded. On March 29, a single shell hit Paris, in this case Saint-Gervais Church during the Good Friday service, puncturing the roof and the vault and destroying the upper half of a pillar. Several contradictory information has been published on the number of victims during and after the war. So, let's stick to the wording of the memorial erected in the church itself: 91 killed (including 52 women) and 68 injured. A total of 256 people were killed and 620 injured. A map showing the location of the impact points was published by L'Illustration in its January 4, 1919 issue.


                    • #11

                      The answer is simple: nothing, if not memories. Even before the signing of the Armistice of November 11, 1918, the Germans had undertaken the destruction of the repatriated pieces, so that no cannon or element of cannon fell into the hands of the enemy and even no trace of the operation itself did not subsist. All the materials and all the archives were destroyed. The Army Museum in Berlin presents a section of the Wilhem-Geschütz volley, but this piece, obviously, does not have the dimensions recognized at the Parisener Kanone: the ring displayed can be 80 cm in diameter (this which would correspond to the end of the striped tube) but the bore does not reach 210 mm, it is necessary. The German command and the staff of Krupp have carefully concealed all that relates to the terrible cannon. Information obtained after the war from engineers and workers at Krupp was secretly collected. However, two workers were reportedly heavily convicted for leaking military secrets.


                      • #12
                        THE “DESCENDANTS” OF THE PARISENER KANONE 30
                        30 Information mainly drawn from the article by Guy François, "Heavy artillery equipment on very long-range railway - 1918-1940", Revue historique des armées, no 4/1988. The author only cites the Parisener Kanone incidentally.

                        From the spring of 1918, the French began to study comparable pieces using the same process as the Germans: tubing at 210 mm of 340- pieces of navy; and secondly, re-boring of some 224 mm caliber. The first tests did not start until 1923 and proved to be disappointing. It was only in 1929, with a piece of 340/224, that ranges of 107 km then 127-128 km, were reached from the Saint-Pierre-Quiberon shooting area. This latter range was again reached during the tests of 1930, the initial speed being 1 530 m/s. The following shooting campaigns, in which projectiles of various new types were tested, were unsuccessful. The program was interrupted by the defeat of 1940. For their part, the British undertook similar research, but their tests were a fiasco and they quickly gave up the use of very long-range guns. Others would have had at least plans Italians, Americans, Swiss ... with all reservations, and of course the Germans, who had the experience, despite the restrictions of the Treaty of Versailles. And was there not talk, during the first Gulf War, of a piece with a range of 1,000 km under construction in Iraq? But then again, should we not see in it the imagination of journalists?


                        • #13

                          The plural is essential because the solution is not unique. Of course, the interested reader leaves dissatisfied with a jungle of uncertain and contradictory information, of which only that coming from actors of the operation is considered here as exact. Let us try to sort.

                          The sources. As laudatory and apologetic as they are, the stories of Kinzel, Kunsel and Eisgruber prove to be the safest. The first two were directly involved in the design of the weapon. It is likely that Einz Eisgruber belonged to one of the piece teams or that he published the testimony of another officer. Jules Poirier, a Parisian journalist, is above all credible for what happened in Paris. The other authors of the 1920s could not exploit the German sources, published after the edition of their works. It is, however, to these that recent publications (2000 and 2002) refer, ignoring the German accounts published between 1926 and 1934. One is illustrated with the photo of a piece on the railway which is not a Parisener Kanone.

                          Facts. They can be grouped into four sets: what is certain, what is likely, what remains hypothetical, what is false, and which should be rejected without hesitation.

                          Which is certain. The philosophy and the prolegomena of the operation: the piece Parisener Kanone, the "Grosse Bertha" of the Parisians, was used exclusively against Paris and its agglomeration, which is why it was designed and produced. In addition, its primary purpose was not to destroy but to panic the population: it was a psychological weapon. The history of its gestation until the tests, its technical characteristics, those of its projectiles, its shooting positions and shots, as they are exposed above, are no longer disputable:
                          • it was a piece with a relatively small caliber (210 to 240 mm) in comparison to other long-range pieces, and it was not a track piece.
                          • the weapon was built with seven specimens for the tube and at least three specimens for the firing carriage.
                          • at least two pieces were established in Crépy-en-Laonnois (Mont de Joie) and were implemented simultaneously (none on the Mont de Joie proper, but only at the foot).
                          • one of the pieces was destroyed by a shooting incident at the Mont de Joie site.
                          • two types of base were used: a fixed concrete one, a removable metallic one.
                          • three shooting sites have been set up, two of which (Bruyères and Beaumont) have received metal platforms.
                          • all the shooting sites are located in the department of Aisne, at a maximum distance of 45 km from Laon and from 92 to 121 km from Notre-Dame de Paris.
                          • impact points are also known as the number of victims.

                          Which is likely. The simultaneous existence of a third piece in or near Crépy-en-Laonnois. At least one of the Crépy-en-Laonnois guns continued to fire during the use of the other sites.

                          Which remains hypothetical. The exact position of the third piece at Crépy; the number of tubes used; the reason for the second "intermission", from June 11 to July 15, and the third, between an undetermined date and August 5.

                          Which is undoubtedly wrong. The existence of a multitude of Parisener Kanonen or Grosses Berthas all along the front line during the First World War and the reappearance of some in 1939. The mobility of the Parisener Kanone, piece on railway track that could be moved like other pieces of this type, in a short time. The destruction of a piece by artillery or aerial bombardment.

                          The real conclusion is on another level. First of all, Operation Parisener Kanone is proving to be a formidable scientific and technical feat, be it in the design, the production of the equipment, the setting in battery and the execution of the shootings. We must salute performance. But this operation can also be defined as a lamentable strategic failure. So much gray matter and material resources consumed without result! The Parisener Kanone was to create in the population of the French capital a psychosis such that it would have influenced the decisions of the government on the conduct of the war and would have led to its capitulation. The physical goal has been reached; the actual final goal has not been reached. So will twenty and a few years later the German bombing of the United Kingdom and the Allied bombing of Germany. Far from demoralizing the population, and despite the suffering and loss of life, they only strengthened their determination to fight. Finally, the third and last aspect of this story is the polemical character it has taken on and preserved, due to the mysteries that remain. Some see it as an outright myth. Others admit the existence of the Parisener Kanone but doubt its implementation. For a long time to come, those who have learned that the term Bertha does not apply to a giant cannon and those who, in good faith, are convinced of the contrary, will throw their knowledge in the face.

                          No offense to the Germans and purists of all stripes, in the collective memory of the French, and particularly of the Parisians, the Grosse Bertha will remain this extraordinary piece which bombarded the capital for more than five months, in 1918, because it is under this name it entered legend, like the Trojan horse.


                          • #14
                            The pieces of this model were successfully used in 1914 Liege and Maubuerg
                            That all depends on the source.

                            I am fairly certain that, in the case of Liege, both Alistair Horne and John Terraine quote Belgian sources that the damage done at Liege, the concrete busting holes in the casemates of the fort, were actually achieved by German dynamite after the fort surrendered. Not sure about Maubuerg, but I have not seen picturwes of pynctured casemates at Maubuerge either.

                            But there are pictures of forts at Verdun that would have undoubtedly come undwer fire from the 420 and 310 mm pieces, and I have never seen a photo of a penetration made to any of the forts that came under fire. The surrounding areas of Douamont, Vaux and Souville show a cratered moonscape, but no actual penetration of the forts themselves. Vaux had to be taken by entering the galleries, and after punishing action, sometimes in total darkness, Vaux was surrendered. Douamont was taken by coup de main, with no comparible struggle as at Vaux, and I'm not sure what happened at Souville.

                            But the fact remains that the vaunted siege artillery of Liege and Maubuerge fame most certainly did not produce the same results at Verdun, which they should have if their ease of success at Liege was anything to judge their performance by. I think also it was Alistair Horne who also wrote that the real fort "cracker", if it existed at all, was in fact the Austro-Hungarian 310mm piece, which had a higher muzzle velocity

                            With all the misinformation surrounding these field artillery pieces, it might very well have been to thwe Germans advantage to exaggerate the effects of these pieces. Were they deployed at Antwerp? And if so, why didn't Antwerp fall in the same quick manner as Liege or Maubuerge?

                            Lookin'g at lack of results, its a large source of wonderment exactly why the Germans tried to field artillery of comparible size and performance for ww2. The "Dora" railway gun was not only innacurate, but also failed to have much in the way of penetrative capability, as it demonstrated at Sevastopol at the end of 1941. So too the siege mortars "Karl" and "Thor", who were not only just as innacurate, but also as had a very limited range (6 to 7 km I believe), limiting their battlefield use to conditions of absolute air superiority and only on railway tracks, just like "Dora".

                            This whole piece is the most I've ever heard of the Parisienkanone", and in the best detail.

                            It reminded me of a an unknown British "Tommy" talking to a journalist of the day, and saying....

                            "There's too much f**king artillery in this war"

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Drusus Nero View Post

                              It reminded me of a an unknown British "Tommy" talking to a journalist of the day

                              "It is a fine fox chase, my boys"

                              "It is well that war is so terrible-we would grow too fond of it"


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