Indications that the Germans have recently introduced two new specialized
heavy artillery weapons are found in photographs and captions appearing in
a recent number of the German magazine Signal. The two accompanying sketches
have been prepared from these photographs.
a. Heavy Mortar
The mortar piece labelled "Thor" is stated in the caption to have been
used in the Sevastopol siege operations. Other photographs appearing in the same
number of the magazine depict this mortar mounted on a caterpillar tractor,
from which it is being fired. An examination of this photograph
by U.S. artillery and ordnance officers resulted in a consensus of opinion
that the caliber of this mortar was probably between 500-mm and 600-mm. It will
be remembered that at the time of the Sevastopol siege, both the German and neutral
European press printed stories that the Germans were employing successfully
a mortar of 560-mm caliber.
The development of a weapon of this type is to be ascribed to the ever-growing
difficulties the Germans are encountering in mastering the Russian permanent
fortifications. Forts and pillboxes are becoming stronger and stronger
with the passing of each month; in consequence the attacking force is being
required to use ever more powerful weapons of offense.
The mortar pictured has evidently a very short range, certainly not
over 5,000 yards and possibly much less. In consequence, its usefulness
is very limited.
Nevertheless, so important a role are modern fortifications playing in
the fighting now raging in Russia, notably at Stalingrad, that it would
appear probable that, as the war continues to develop, all armies, including
our own, will find a need for artillery mortars of this approximate type in
order to cope with the problem of destroying permanent land fortifications.
b. Railway Gun
The other type of German weapon portrayed in Signal is a very powerful
railway gun. The caption in Signal suggests that this gun is mounted along the
French Channel Coast. The question of the caliber of this weapon presents some
difficulties. Photographs of the shell appearing elsewhere in Signal indicate,
however, that it is at least of 16-inch caliber, but more probably
between 20 and 22 inches. It is quite possible that this is the same
weapon which has been reported on by British sources as follows:
"It has been established that 61.5-cm howitzers, probably on rail mountings, were
used at Sevastopol. This weapon is reported to have 112 grooves in the rifling, and
to fire a base-fuzed 'anticoncrete' shell (Betongranate) which
weighs about 4,400 lbs, is 6 ft 9 in long, and has a copper driving band 2.76 in wide."
The range of this gun is not known, but is doubtless very great. The German
purpose in mounting such a gun in France is not at all clear. It would
seem quite possible that it is primarily intended for the bombardment of London
and other inland British cities rather than for fire against channel shipping.