This 420 mm weapon is not to be confused with the 210 mm gun with a much longer barrel and range, which was also known as Big Bertha. It was built for an entirely different purpose and is more often referred to as the Paris Gun (see that node for further information on this strategic terror weapon).
Since 1900, Krupp had been building larger and larger howitzers with long range and heavy ammunition. In 1908, the German Army, obviously in preparation for a war against heavily fortified France, asked Gustav Krupp to build the heaviest howitzer so far, with the capability to destroy the heaviest fortifications.
By 1912 Krupp had completed a 420 mm weapon that fired a 950-kilogram shell over 14.5 kilometers. It weighed 175 tons, however, and was designed to be transported in five sections by rail and assembled at the firing site.
The German Army wanted the howitzer to be transportable by road. By 1914, the year the Great War broke out, the company had finally produced a mobile howitzer originally called Morser L/14 or Gamma M, later Big Bertha (dicke Bertha), named after Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach's wife (this should tell us something about the conditions in the Krupp family). This howitzer was significantly lighter, 'only' 43 tons, and fired a 1000-kilogram shell over 14.5 kilometers. It was crewed by 200 men, transported by Daimler-Benz tractors, and could be re-assembled in six hours. The specifications were more than satisfactory to the German Army.
During the war the Big Berthas proved extremely effective against Allied fortifications. The forts surrounding Liege in Belgium, which had resisted repeated large-scale infantry assaults, were completely destroyed in less than four days in August 1914 by two Big Berthas and several Skoda 305 mm (Schlanke Emma) howitzers. When only two forts of the original twelve were remaining, the Germans sent negotiators offering a chance to surrender to the Belgian defenders. They rejected the offer, however, and only surrendered after the two forts had been heavily bombarded.
News of the success at Liege spread quickly, and other countries involved in the war quickly began to produce similar weapons. This trend caused huge fortifications to lose much of their strategic value, contributing to the birth of the well-known type of trench warfare we commonly attach to World War I.
The Big Berthas were scrapped after the Battle of Verdun in 1916, since by then they were out-ranged by most Allied heavy artillery.
- Caliber: 420 mm
- Barrel length: 7 m
- Range: 14.5 km
- Weight: 43 tons
- Weight of the shell: 1000 kg
- Crew: 200