The Nazi Super-Canon Designed to Shell England
During World War II, the Nazis worked on a series of super weapons. The Germans referred to them as Vergeltungswaffen (vengeance weapons) or Wunderwaffen (wonder weapons). The two that most people know about are the V-1 Flying Bomb and the V-2 missile. Today, we will look at the third weapon in the series: the V-3 cannon.
Before we take a look at the V-3 cannon, let's take a detour to World War I. In 1918, the Germans started shelling Paris with a new weapon. Referred to as the Paris Gun (or the Emperor William Gun), it was the largest piece of artillery used during the war. It was capable of launching a 234 pound projectile 81 miles. The gun was so large that it had to be transported by a special railway carriage and fired from a specially built concrete emplacement.
The gun was built by the Krupp armament company and was based on a naval gun design. Because of the latter, the gun was manned by Imperial German sailors and was under the command of "Vice-Admiral Maximilian Rogge, chief of the Ordnance branch of the Admiralty".
Whenever the gun was fired, the projectiles and propellant damaged the barrel. In fact, the barrel had to be replaced every 65 shots. The barrel started at 211 mm and was later rebored to be 238 mm.
In total, the Paris Gun fired 350 rounds and killed 250 people. In many ways, the Paris Fun failed as a killing weapon, but was more successful as a psychological weapon. (Interestingly, the Allies never captured the Paris Gun. The Germans disassembled it before it could be captured.)
However, the French took the threat seriously and started designing their own super gun to counteract the Paris Gun after it started firing. The French design was unique because it had multiple side chambers to increase the speed of the projectile. The war ended before the French gun could be built. Years later, after they invaded France, the Nazis discovered the design for the unfinished French gun and decide to use it themselves.
The design of the V-3 cannon was based on the work of American inventor Azel Storrs Lyman. In 1857, Lyman applied and got a patent for an "Improvement in accelerating fire-arms". According to the patent, the goal of Lyman's system was "to increase both the weight and the range of the projectile without materially increasing either the weight of the gun or its liability to burst".
The idea was that a small amount of propellant would start the project moving down the barrel. As it went down the barrel, the projectile would pass side chambers. Propellant in these chambers would be fired as the projectile passed and increase the speed it was traveling. Lyman was joined in his efforts by James Richard Haskell.
In 1880, the US Army tested the "Lyman-Haskell multi-charge gun". The gun was so long that it could not use a standard gun carriage and had to be placed on a ramp. According to the report, a similar sized unmodified gun "posses an absolute piercing power of from one and one-half to two and one-half times that of the multi-charge gun."
The biggest problem that the Ordinance Board had with the gun was that it was much heavier than single charge guns. This extra weight was largely caused by the "huge protuberances in which are formed the loading pockets". It also didn't help that firing the first propellant charge set off all the other charges because of a gap between the projectile and the barrel. Needless to say, the US turned down the proposed gun.
The Germans began work on the V-3 project in 1942 after an engineer named August Coenders showed the plans to Hitler. The goal was to build two separate batteries and launch six hundred shells at London 24 hours a day. They wanted to turn the city to powder.
The French city of Mimoyecques was chosen for the location. It was six miles from the coast, so it was safe from the British Navy and commandos. The area was also close to a railroad and has ideal digging conditions. Over five thousand engineers and constructions workers were put to work on the project, creating a large system of underground bunkers.
It wasn't long before the Allies noticed all of the activity. Fearing that the Germans were building something worse than the V-2, they started bombing the area. Between 1943 and 1944, 4,102 tons of bombs were dropped in the area. Unfortunately, the depth of the tunnels and thickness of the concrete protected the weapon.
Interestingly, the V-3 site at Mimoyecques led to the death of President John F. Kennedy's brother, Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Kennedy was one of many pilots on a very dangerous mission. They were flying B-24 Liberators that had been packed with explosives as part of Operation Aphrodite, which targeted the V-3 site. The goal was that a skeleton crew would get the flying bombs into the air and bail out, at which point a mother ship would direct it to its target via radio controls. Sadly, Kennedy's plane exploded just as it lifted into the air in England.
At the time, the Germans were running into technical problems. Initially, the designs would not generate enough muzzle velocity to reach London, which was over 90 miles away. There were also issues getting the material of the barrels right.
The fate of the Mimoyecques site was sealed when a flight of British Lancaster bombers dropped a series of Tallboy bombs. The bombs hit the ground at supersonic speeds, and the resulting shock waves cause several small earthquakes. This caused some of the tunnels to collapse and bring several tons of dirt down onto the unfinished gun. The Germans abandoned the site.
Why It's Cool
War is bad, but it can spawn some strange and cool ideas. It's kinda funny how the idea of a multi-charge gun started in the US, traveled to France, and then wasted valuable Nazi resources. In my mind, it’s doubtful that the V-3 would have worked (especially based on the mainly failed tests over the years). That didn't matter to the Germans. They were willing to try anything that would give them an advantage.
There is currently a museum at Mimoyecques at the site of the V-3 facility. It looks pretty interesting. Maybe if I ever get to France, I'll have to take a look.
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