Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Paris Gun

The Paris Gun of World War I (called by the Germans the Kaiser Wilhelm Gun and — as shown above — often incorrectly termed Lange Max or Big Bertha, two completely different guns) was  34 meters long and weighed 125 tons. Its 180kg powder charge could hurl a 120kg shell with 7kg of explosive to a range of 131km (81 miles). During the 170-second trajectory the shell reached a maximum altitude at the edge of space — 40 km. This was the highest altitude attained by a man-made object until the first successful V-2 flight test on 3 October 1942.  

Remains of Paris Gun Mount (Location Shown Below)

Seven 21cm guns were made, using bored-out 38cm naval guns fitted with special 40m-long inserted barrels. After 65 shots the barrels were removed and re-bored to 24cm caliber. At the end of the war one spare mounting was captured by American troops near Chateau-Thierry, but no gun was ever found.

Distribution of "Hits" on Paris

From March through August of 1918, three of the guns shot 351 shells at Paris from the woods of Crepy, killing 256 and wounding 620. As a military weapon the gun was a failure — the payload was miniscule, the barrel needed replacement after 65 shots, and the accuracy was only good enough for city-sized targets. But as a psychological tool it was remembered when the V-weapons were being developed two decades later.

Photos from Steve Miller
Text from Encyclopedia Astronautica


  1. The late Gerald Bull, the long range artillery expert behind Saddam Hussein's SuperGun, wrote a book on the Paris Gun, "Paris Kanonen-The Paris Guns".

  2. Thank you for this article. I note the size of the concrete gun mount to be smaller than I would have thought for a gun of this size. When hurling an object whether it is a fired projectile, a sling shot, or a baseball, the angle to achieve maximum range is 45 degrees or 0800 mils. The size of the mount suggests that to fire at 0800 mils would have produced a violent rearward force that would have knocked the gun right off the mount plowing the ground behind it, burying the tails if it had any. Hence the piece had to use a higher barrel elevation to direct the re-coil force downward rather than rearward. To achieve the desired range, more propellant would need to be used, resulting in a trajectory maximum ordinate (max ord) of 25 miles and a 3 minute time of flight. Notice that its propellant charge was 1.5 times the weight of the projectile which explains why the barrels were burning out after 60 or so firings. All this to hurl a projectile with only 15 pounds of explosive; not militarily effective, though striking fear in the civilian population.

  3. what ever happened to the spare mount found near the chateau-thierry ?