Everyone knows large-caliber guns, such as the 420-mm Bolshaya Berta howitzer, the 800-mm Dora cannon, the 600-mm self-propelled mortar Karl, the 457-mm guns of the battleship Yamato, the Russian Tsar Cannon. and the American 914-mm "Little David". However, there were other large-caliber guns, so to speak, "second-rate", but they made at one time no less than these, which are written and talked about much more often than about all the others.
So, soon after the outbreak of the First World War, it became clear in practice what many military experts had warned about long before it began, but were not heard. Namely, that caliber 150, 152 and 155-mm is the minimum required caliber to destroy field fortifications and create passageways for infantry in barbed wire fences. However, it turned out to be too "weak" against concrete fortifications and dugouts buried in the ground with a roll of three rows of logs and ten layers of sandbags. As a result, behind the drawing boards, in factories and on the battlefields, the competition of heavy guns began, which was temporarily suspended in the world with the appearance of the 75-mm French rapid-fire cannon of Deporte, Deville and Rimaglio and the spread of the far-fetched concept of “a single gun and a single projectile”. However, some of these weapons are heard all the time, while others are not, although their fate is no less interesting.
Well, for example, the 420-mm howitzer "Big Bertha". In the movie "The Fall of the Empire" it is mentioned in the context of shelling the positions of the Russian army, but these howitzers operated on the Western Front, while Austro-Hungarian 420-mm M14 / 16 howitzers were used against the troops of the Russian imperial army. As is often the case, they were created for one purpose, and used for another! Initially, it was … coastal artillery for directing fire on dreadnoughts! Their side armor was designed to be hit by armor-piercing projectiles, but the deck of a sheer falling projectile would not have withstood. Already in January 1915, one of these howitzers was adapted for use in the field and sent to fight in Poland. The gun developed by Skoda is in many ways more effective than the Berta. In particular, the weight of the projectile she had was 1020 kg, while the "Berta" had only 820 … The firing range of this gun was also superior to the German one, but it had no mobility. It took from 12 to 40 hours to assemble it in the field, and when it was firing, to mask it with a “concert” of shots from batteries of lighter guns, so that it would not be tracked down and covered with return fire. The gun was used on the Serbian, Russian and Italian fronts, and as a result, one howitzer survived even until World War II, fell into the hands of the Germans and was used by them. But on the whole, it was “Big Bertha” that made an impression on the allies, and the Austro-Hungarian howitzer remained in its shadow!
Moreover, in addition to this weapon, the Austro-Hungarian army also used 380-mm and 305-mm field howitzers on stationary carriages. The 380-mm M.16 installation weighed 81.7 tons, that is, less than a hundred-ton M14 / 16, and it threw its 740 kg projectile at 15,000 meters. The rate of fire was also higher - 12 rounds per hour versus 5. Accordingly, the 305-mm and 240-mm mortars, also based on it, were less powerful, but more mobile. So Austria-Hungary, one might say, preoccupied with the creation of a whole "bunch" of heavy-caliber guns intended to destroy enemy fortifications, and since they were all produced by Skoda, one can imagine how well she profited from this! The foresight of the Austrian military is evidenced by the fact that they gave the order to develop a 305-mm mortar back in 1907, and it entered service four years later. Its effectiveness turned out to be very high. So, the rupture of a high-explosive projectile could kill an unprotected person at a distance of 400 m. But the range was somewhat lower than that of previous systems, not to mention the weight of the projectiles at 287 and 380 kg. However, even from such shells, real protection on the battlefield did not exist at that time (as, by the way, and now!)!
As for the French, despite their passion for a single caliber, before the First World War they had an impressive line of 155-mm guns, but again with a larger caliber they had problems. Here, first of all, the 220-mm wheeled mortar should be mentioned, but the first 40 guns of this type were made only in 1915! The mortar had a weight of 7.5 tons, a rate of fire of two rounds per minute, a firing range of 10 km, and a projectile weighing 100 kg. At the end of the war, the gun was improved, and the firing range was already 18,000 meters. There were quite a few of these mortars in the army (the Schneider company offered this mortar to Russia, but because of its unusual caliber, our military refused it). Their release continued into the 30s, and as a result, everything that the French had, after the surrender of France in 1940, fell into the hands of the Germans and was used in the German army.
In 1910, Schneider developed a 280-mm mortar, which entered service with the French and Russian armies at the same time. The installation was disassembled into four parts and transported by tractors. Under ideal conditions, it took 6-8 hours to assemble it in position, but in reality (due to the characteristics of the ground) it could reach 18 hours. The range of the gun was about 11 km. The weight of the high-explosive shell of the Russian gun was 212 kg, and the rate of fire was 1-2 rounds per minute. The French version had three rounds: M.1914 (steel) - 205 kg (63.6 kg of explosives), M.1915 (steel) - 275 kg (51.5 kg), M.1915 (cast iron) - 205 kg (36, 3 kg). Accordingly, they also had different range. It is known that 26 such mortars were delivered to Russia before the revolution, and at the beginning of World War II - 25. French guns in large numbers were captured by the Germans in 1940 and were used until 1944. The experience of their use, primarily in the First World War, showed that they are effective in counter-battery warfare, but in an unsatisfactory way, that is, much worse than the German "Big Bertha" (which at that time became a kind of benchmark in its destructive effect on concrete fortifications). destroyed fortified positions.
By the way, the road to this caliber in Europe was not lived by anyone, but … the Japanese, who fired at the Russian fleet from 280-mm howitzers, locked in the bay of Port Arthur. Their installation weighed 40 tons, had a projectile weighing 217 kg, having a maximum reach of 11,400 m. And after studying the experience of using these guns by the Japanese, both Skoda and Krupp just took up their 305 and 420 mm mortars. Moreover, at the beginning, these guns, issued under the license of the Armstrong firm in England by the Tokyo Arsenal, were intended for the needs of coastal defense and only then were they used in land battles under the walls of Port Arthur!
Interestingly, the German artillery had an analogue of the French 220-mm mortar - 210 mm mortar (German caliber 21, 1 cm, designation m.10 / 16) on a wheel drive. Her shell was slightly heavier in weight than the French one - 112 kg, but the range was only 7000 m. On the Western Front, these guns were used in the most active way since August 1914. During the war, the barrel was lengthened from 12 to 14, 5 calibers, the layout of the recoil devices was changed. But early samples have also survived, in particular, one such mortar as a trophy even got to Australia, and is preserved there to this day. Interestingly, for soft soils, the installation of wheels with flat plates on this mortar was provided, which provided them with significantly greater contact with the soil. Anyway, the design of this weapon was very perfect. So, it had not only an elevation angle of 70 degrees, which, however, was understandable, because it was a mortar, but also a declination angle of 6 degrees, which allowed it, if necessary, to fire at targets in the lowlands with almost direct fire.
Interestingly, the Italians also had a mortar of the same caliber as the Germans, but … stationary and not very successful. Its barrel length was only 7, 1 caliber, so the muzzle velocity is low, and the range for a stationary gun is small - 8, 45 km with a projectile weight of 101, 5 kg. But the most unpleasant thing is those 6-8 hours of time that were required to install it in position. That is, both the French and German mortars in this case surpassed her in mobility by almost an order of magnitude!
However, it cannot be argued that, they say, the Germans were so far-sighted that they created their heavy guns in advance, while the allies created their own during the war. After all, the French 220-mm mortar was also created in 1910 and … in the same year, the development of a stationary 234-mm gun was started in England at the Coventry artillery plant. In July 1914, work on it was completed, and in August the first such installation was sent to France. All of it was disassembled into three parts that could be transported by a Holt tractor, or even horses. The combat weight of the installation was 13,580 kg. Its peculiarity was a large counterweight box mounted on the base of the gun. It was required to load nine tons of earth into it and only after that shoot, so strong was its recoil, which, although it was compensated by recoil devices, nevertheless made itself felt. At first, the short barrel of the Mark I installation showed a firing range of 9200 m and this was considered insufficient. On the Mark II modification, due to the longer barrel length, its range was increased to 12,742 m. The rate of fire was two rounds per minute, and the projectile weight was 132 kg. Four howitzers were delivered to Russia and then in the USSR they participated in the shelling of Finnish fortifications in 1940! But again - what could such weapons do in comparison with the "Big Bertha"? And the British quickly realized this and began to increase the calibers of the same installation, imposing larger and larger barrels on it and simply increasing its linear dimensions.
This is how the Mark IV installation, weighing 38.3 tons without ballast, with a caliber of 305 mm and a firing range of 13120 m with a projectile weight of 340 kg, appeared. That's just in the box of this gun, located right in front of the barrel, as in previous models, it was required to load not nine tons, but … 20, 3 tons of earth to better hold it on the base. And after her, and quite already a huge gun weighing 94 tons of 381-mm caliber, throwing 635-kilogram shells at a distance of 9, 5 km! A total of 12 such guns were made, of which 10 were used in battle. In total, until the end of the war, they fired 25,332 shells, that is, they were used very intensively. However, combat experience showed that, due to the relatively short range, this weapon turned out to be vulnerable to return fire.
Finally, in 1916, the French managed to create railway transporters with 400 and 520 mm guns, but again they did not play any special role and were not mass produced.
As for Russia, here in 1915, the 305-mm (precise caliber 304, 8-mm) howitzers of the Obukhov plant on the stationary gun carriage of the Metal Plant in Petrograd entered service. They were produced throughout the war (a total of 50 guns were produced), and then they were in service with the Red Army. But these guns did not differ in any particularly outstanding characteristics. The combat weight was about 64 tons. The mass of the projectile was 376.7 kg. The range is 13486 m, and the rate of fire is one shot in three minutes. That is, it was a gun similar in its characteristics to the English Mark IV gun, but on a heavier installation, which made it difficult to mount it, as well as to transport it to its destination.
The most interesting thing is that it was these guns, coupled with 150-mm howitzers and cannons, that bore the entire burden of combat work in the First World War and fired the bulk of heavy shells, however, it was not them at all that remained in human memory, but single ones, in fact cases, weapons-monsters!