Nazis Built Biggest Artillery Piece of World War Two


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


Zentralbild Generalfeldmarschall Erich EGE von Lewinski genannt von Manstein, geb. 24.11.1887 in Berlin Oberbefehlshaber der Heeresgruppe S¸d im II. Weltkrieg. Ritterkreuz mit Eichenlaub und Schwertern. Von einem britischen Milit‰rgericht zu 18 Jahren Haft verurteilt, 1953 jedoch bereits freigelassen. UBz.: von Manstein als Generalmajor im Jahre 1938

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 &

Artillery Killed 50% of soldiers in World One and Two


British Artillery in action at Gallipoli



A British 60 pounder Mk I battery in action on a cliff top at Cape Helles, Gallipoli, possibly in June 1915. The unit might be the 90th Heavy Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery, located forward of Hill 114. The gun has the inscription “Annie” painted on the barrel.

(photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)


The industrial age gave generals the ability to pound their enemies with greater and greater artillery barrages. In both World War One and World War Two, over 50% of casualties were caused by artillery. I was reminded of this anew last night when I was reading The German Way of War: From the Thirty Years’ War to the Third Reich by Robert M. Citrano. These statistics from his book will give you a sense of the pace of escalation of shells fired in just a brief time frame:

…during the Russo-Japanese War (1904 to 1905), the Russian artillery expended an average of 87,000 rounds a month, seen then as an incredible figure. Less than a decade later, in the First Balkan War, the Bulgarian Army’s monthly rate had grown to 254,000 shells. By 1916, the French were averaging 4,500,000 rounds a month. During the week long battle for Messines Ridge (June 3—10, 1917), British guns fired 3,258,000 rounds.

[Source: The German Way of War: From the Thirty Years’ War to the Third Reich by Robert M. Citrano.]

In preparation for the First Battle of the Somme, Allied artillery pounded German lines for a week before the attack, firing 1.6 million shells. This barrage had almost no effect on the German troops who were waiting out the massive artillery fire in very deep shelters.

On 1 July 1916, the young officers leading the troops blew their whistles at 0730 and the British troops “went over the top,” that is over the top of the trench. German troops, almost untouched by the artillery barrage, emerged from their dugouts, brought up the machine guns and mowed down the British soldiers. By the end of the day, British and Imperial troops had taken 60,000 casualties with 20,000 killed. (source BBC)

While the BBC website says 60 per cent of all officers in the attacking divisions were killed, I’m not sure that figure is correct since I have read in numerous academic histories that “only” 40% of officers were killed.

 Artillery on somme

Mark V 8 inch howitzers in action on the Somme, 1916. During the preliminary bombardment leading up to 1st July the British artillery fired more shells at the 16 mile length of trenches to be assualted than on the entire Western Front over the preceding 12 months.

(Photo courtesy of the 6th Battalion, Royal Berkshire Regiment)





20,000 British Soldiers Killed on First Day of Battle of the Somme



British troops negotiate a trench as they go forward in support of an attack on the village of Morval during the Battle of the Somme. Photograph: PA. Courtesy of the Guardian of London


 ‘The most gigantic, tenacious, grim, futile and bloody fight ever waged in the history of war’

Secretary of State for War and subsequently Prime Minister, David Lloyd George.

At 7:30 am on 1 July 1916, subalterns blew their whistles and one hundred thousand British soldiers, each carrying 60 pounds of equipment, climbed out of their trenches and began to plod as quickly as they could toward the German lines. Preceding the attack had been a staggering artillery barrage of a million shells fired over the course of a week.

Unfortunately for the British,  this had little effect on the Germans who had dug very deep bunkers in the hard chalk soil. A creeping artillery barrage preceded the British troops as they attacked but it went too fast and left the men exposed. The Germans mowed down the attacking British. Literally. It was a slaughter. I’ve been re-reading John Keegan’s excellent history, “The First World War” which I recommend most fervently.

Of that horrific day Keegan writes that of the 100,000 men who advanced into no man’s land, 20,000 were killed, 40,000 wounded. It was the bloodiest day in British military history and haunted the survivors till the end of their days. To make it worse, if that is possible, Keegan says, “in offensive terms, the advance had achieved nothing. Most of the dead were killed on the ground the British held before the advance began.”

Field Marshal Douglas Haig, the British commander, felt the Germans had been shaken by the attack. This was before he knew the full extent of the disaster which had befallen British arms that day. Writes Keegan, “if the Germans had been shaken, it was by the amazing spectacle of unexampled gallantry, courage and bulldog determination….”

Once many German units realized their lives were no longer at risk and the British were falling back, they ceased fire so the more lightly wounded British soldiers could make it back to their own lines. “60% of all officers involved on the first day were killed,” according to the BBC.

Incredibly, the British and French regrouped and attacked at different places along the German line for another almost five months. The Battle of the Somme, which encompasses all twelve battles in the area associated with the campaign, began on 1 July 1916 and ended on 18 November 1916. The British Army suffered 420,000 casualties (that is killed and wounded) and the French Army suffered over 195,000 casualties making a total of 615,000 casualties for the Allies. The horrific slaughter accomplished almost nothing.



A British trench near the Albert-Bapaume road at Ovillers-la-Boisselle, July 1916 during the Battle of the Somme. The men are from A Company, 11th Battalion, The Cheshire Regiment

The Germans took more than 650,000 casualties making a total of more than 1.2. million men killed or wounded on all sides. (Figures from the BBC).  Hence, the Somme goes down as one of the bloodiest battles in the history of the Western world.  Truly, it would have been far better for Western civilization if Imperial Germany had knocked France out of the war in the first few months, which she almost did, and negotiating a peace agreement. So many lives would have been saved.

The catastrophe of the Somme led to the collapse of the Asquith government in Great Britain and Asquith was replaced as Prime Minister by David Lloyd George on 7 December 1916, twenty days after the end of the battle.


The Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme

bears the names of more than 72,000 officers and men of the United Kingdom and South African forces who died in the Somme sector before 20 March 1918 and have no known grave. Over 90% of those commemorated died between July and November 1916. (photo courtesy of

The Breakout Of The 1st Marines From The Chosin Reservoir: An American Epic Of Courage – Part 23

Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10Part 11Part 12Part 13Part 14Part 15Part 16Part 17Part 18Part 19Part 20Part 21Part 22Part 23Part 24Part 25Part 26Part 27Part 28Part 29Part 30

Air Artillery, Italy. American Piper Cub observation plane flying over Allied territory in the Cassino corridor of battle as it searches for German gun emplacements & enemy troops so that the Allies can adjust their gun fire on them. Location: Italy, Date taken: February 1944 (Photographer: Margaret Bourke-White)

Planes such as the one above were used in World War Two and Korea to correct artillery fires. It was a highly effective system. No less effective was the ground to air system with forward air control officers controlling US fighter bombers.

In a battle with the Chinese in the Korean War, recounted in David Halberstan’s The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War, a well-trained US Army regiment with re-enforced with combat units of the French Foreign Legion, were surrounded by tens of thousands of Chinese troops. During a massive human wave attack the Chinese were held off by machine gun fire but more critically by a large number of US ground attack aircraft vectored onto the Chinese by US forward air control officers.

Vought F4U-4B “Corsair” Fighter (Bureau # 62924) Landing on USS Philippine Sea (CV-47) after attacking targets in Korea, circa 7 December 1950. This plane belongs to Fighter Squadron 113 (VF-113). (Official US Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives)

[Source: The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War by David Halberstam. Image courtesy of Life Magazine and the US Naval History & Heritage Command.]