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

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Railway Guns of World War I

By Marc Romanych and Greg Heuer
Illustrated by Steve Noon
Osprey Publishing, 2017
Peter L. Belmonte, Reviewer

French Railroad Piece Deployed at Verdun

In World War I artillery was truly the king of battle. It inflicted more casualties than any other weapon, and railway guns, although not predominant, were a part of this bloody work. It is fitting, then, that authors Marc Romanych and Greg Heuer have teamed with artist Steve Noon to produce this short but informative book on these interesting rail-borne weapons. The authors are well qualified to produce this book. Romanych, a retired U.S. Army officer, has previously written on fortifications and artillery for Osprey Publishing, and Heuer is a student of the history of technology, to include heavy artillery. Noon has produced artwork for over 30 books for Osprey Publishing.

After a brief introduction and overview of the history of railway guns and an outline of the nomenclature used by each nation, the authors proceed to review the development and fielding of these guns on a year-by-year basis. For each country the authors provide a narrative of the numbers and types of guns produced and general accounts of their manufacture. They also include a table for each year showing, by country, a list of each of the railway guns fielded, giving their designation, range, and number fielded.

There is something here for everyone. Technical enthusiasts will enjoy the descriptions of the development and characteristics of the guns, including recoil and traverse systems, while others will appreciate the accounts of the use of the guns in combat. And everyone can learn about the operations and tactics involved with these guns. Consider the authors' description of the work necessary for computing firing data for the guns. After initial computation taking into account range, azimuth, type of ammunition and charge, other factors had to be taken into account:

At long distance, a minor error could result in a wide dispersion of rounds, so once basic firing data was determined, firing corrections were calculated for the difference in elevation between the gun and its target (determined by map), direction (lateral wind, rotation of the earth), and range (wind, air density, weight of projectile, muzzle velocity, barrel wear, and perhaps even curvature of the earth and displacement of the firing track during multiple firings) (p. 39).

There are many photographs of the guns of each nation, and Noon's excellent artwork helps us visualize these guns in color. This book is highly recommended as a useful introduction to this topic.

Peter L. Belmonte

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this review. It sounds like a reference source that I can use over and over. Cheers