Dora, heaviest cannon of World War Two fired 48 times
Before the German attack on Sevastopol, Hitler sent his commander on the scene, Erich von Manstein, the heaviest cannon in all of World War Two which they Germans called “Dora”. She fired an 80cm caliber shell and her barrel was thirty-two meters long. Moving Dora to her specially prepared location thirty kilometers (18 miles) outside of Sevastopol required sixty railway cars.
Once in place and reassembled, the cannon sat on a double set of railroad tracks. Dora could fire a high explosive shell weighing five metric tonnes (five and 1/2 US short tons) a distance of forty-seven kilometers.
The cannon fired forty-eight shells during its existence. Toward the end of the war Dora and other heavy cannon’s under construction or never completed were destroyed by the Wehrmacht.
The 800mm (31.5 inch) Heavy Gustav Cannon Railway Gun nicknamed “Dora” prepares to fire on Soviet positions at Sevastopol… The gun had two types of shells. The armor/concrete-piercing shell weighed 7.1 tons (7,100 kilograms) and could pierce 22.9 feet (7 meters) of reinforced concrete or 3.3 feet (1 meter) of rolled steel armor. The high-explosive shell weighed 4.8 tons (4,800 kilograms) and left a 30 foot (10 meter) wide crater…Dora rolled forward to the Crimea for the attack on Sebastopol on four trains, complete with anti-aircraft gun cars.
Some 450 men crewed the gun. Four parallel rail tracks had to be laid for Dora to be mobile once in place. With anti-aircraft crews and guards, 5,000 men were attached to the gun. Two giant cranes, shipped by Krupp from Essen, helped assemble the gun and then served her with ammunition. The curve of the tracks seen here would allow the gun to be placed by three diesel-electric locomotives.
Photo above and caption courtesy of worldwar2database.com/gallery
Herr Generalfeldmarschall Erich von Manstein
Erich von Manstein remains an enigmatic figure decades after the end of World War Two and of his death in 1973. The only scholarly biography of von Manstein is titled Janus Face. The most revealing and fascinating book about him continues to be: Bounden Duty: Memoirs of a German Officer, 1932-1945 by Alexander Stahlberg.
I’ve read this book five or six times over the years and I give it five stars because it is the only one of its kind. Stahlberg served from 1942 until the end of the war as von Manstein’s adjutant or personal orderly officer as it translates from German. His memoir is the best and only primary source about von Manstein since von Manstein’s family will not release his papers.
Unquestionably, Field Marshal von Manstein was a military genius and the best German commander of World War Two if not the best ground commander in any army in World War Two. Had Hitler put him in overall command of the Eastern Front the Russians would have paid even a higher price than they did pushing the Germans out of their country.
According to Stahlberg, von Manstein had several opportunities to murder Hitler but chose not to. Before Hitler visited von Manstein’s forward headquarters in Russia, a small group of his staff officers entreated von Manstein to allow them to kill Hitler but he refused permission. “Prussian Field Marshal’s do not mutiny.”
While he was acknowledged by the other Field Marshals as “first among equals” and they would have followed his lead had he murdered Hitler and seized power he would not do it. Von Manstein was a great general, perhaps one of the great captains of history. But he could have been a great man and he threw that chance away to the detriment of the world.
One of the more curious aspects of the 20 July 1944 assassination attempt on Hitler was how many of the Field Marshals knew that many officers were working on the plot yet they did nothing to help or hinder. Stahlberg says he told von Manstein a week before the attempt.
Sources: Stopped at Stalingrad: The Luftwaffe and Hitler’s Defeat in the East, 1942-1943 by Joel S. A. Hayward &