The centenary of the Great War seems an apt time to look back at “Kaiser Bill’s Trains”, as displayed at the Cheltenham GWR Modeller’s Exhibition in October 2007. The fighters and bombers of the German Imperial Air Service at the front of the diorama have been described elsewhere on this website and I would also like to thank my good friend Wolfgang Ewers for helping to write this article.
The German rail-mounted gun depicted here to represent the so-called Paris Gun of the Great War was made from the Hasegawa 1/72 scale “Leopold” kit by Ron Brooks, who has kindly loaned it for the Cheltenham GWR Modeller’s Exhibition in October 2007 before presenting it to me along with many other of his rare and fascinating models. However, as is related below, the gun that shelled Paris and “Long Max” were the basis for a whole family of later artillery pieces, Leopold included.
THE GUN THAT SHELLED PARIS
The earliest recorded use of railway artillery was by the Confederate Army in 1862 during the American Civil War. However, railway artillery came of age in the 1914-1918 war when both sides made use of railway mounted heavy guns.
The most notable was the so-called “Paris Gun”, used by the Germans to shell Paris from a distance of up to 107 km. The gun, of which five pieces had been built, is often confused with the 420 mm heavy mortar “Dicke Bertha” (also known as “Big Bertha”), which was fired from fixed gun emplacements or from conventional undercarriages.
Dicke Bertha ( literally translated from German as “Fat Bertha”) was in fact the L/14 model of heavy mortar-like guns designed and built in 1904 by the Krupp factories in Essen. The L/14 howitzer could fire 820 kg shells to a maximum distance of 12 km, with a maximum elevation grade of 80 degrees. It was available as a mobile “M-Gerät” mounted on wheels, and as railway-mounted “Gamma-Gerät”.
This howitzer may have been named after the wife of Gustav Krupp, in the same way that later the Schwerer Gustav named after himself. Alternatively, it could simply been alphabetically numbered designs according to the German phonetic alphabet, which contains Berta, Dora and Gustav, but not Adolf, Karl, Leopold, Max or Robert as other big guns were baptised.
Only 6 L /14 guns were available at the beginning of the Great War, but were used to destroy Belgian forts in Liege, Namur, Maubeuge and Antwerp, and French forts in northern France. The design proved very effective against older constructions, destroying 10 forts in a few days, such as Fort Loncin – which exploded after taking a direct hit into the ammunition chamber.
Due to its early impressive successes that were exploited by propaganda, “Big Bertha” gained a strong reputation on both sides of the lines. It is said that surrendering enemies claimed that resistance was futile to her, even when not having been attacked with the “Big Bertha” Howitzer model at all. In the same way, German pilots of the Second World War would often claim to have been shot down by a Spitfire even when one of R.J. Mitchell’s Merlin-engined fighters was nowhere nearby!
On the other hand, when used during the German assault upon Verdun from February 1916, Big Bertha proved ineffective as the newer construction of this fort, made from concrete reinforced with steel, could withstand much larger shells.
Even though all active-duty Big Berthas had been destroyed in or after the Great War, one of them survived on Krupp’s test ground, and was used again in World War Two in the Battle of Sebastopol, along with the even larger, modern Schwerer Gustav. The Sturmtiger and the Morser Karl were two other machines that re-introduced the concept of the siege mortar.
However, the name “Big Bertha” is often mistakenly applied to other railway guns, like the battleship guns of “Langer Max” or the long-distance “Paris Gun”.
Known in German as Paris-Geschütz or the “Kaiser Wilhelm Geschütz” (Emporer William Gun), this railway gun was used from March to August 1918 and was the largest piece of artillery used during the Great War
As a military weapon however the Krupp built canon was not a great success. The payload was minuscule, the barrel had to be regularly replaced, and the accuracy was only good enough for city-sized targets. However, the German objective was to build a psychological weapon to attack the morale of the Parisians; not to destroy the city itself.
Designed and operated by the German Navy, the Paris Gun was capable of firing shells from locations as far as 131km from Paris. Some seven 210mm guns were made using bored-out 380mm naval guns, each fitted with special 40 metre long inserted barrels. However with only two railway-gun mountings actually available just three of the guns were ever in use at any one time, fired from the Forest of Coucy.
Such was the rapid wear and tear of firing its 120kg shells, each requiring a 180kg powder charge, that the gun’s lining required reboring after approximately 20 shots. Indeed, after every firing the succeeding shell needed to be of slightly greater width. Once fired, a shell took 170 seconds to reach Paris, rising as high as 40 km above the earth into the stratosphere.
An undoubted sensation when first deployed – at 7.18am on 21 March 1918 – the appearance of heavy shells in Paris caused initial and widespread alarm among its inhabitants. Parisians believed that they were being bombed by a new type of high altitude Zeppelin because neither the sound of an aeroplane nor of a gun could be heard.
For all its power the gun had little actual effect on the course of the war, with just 367 shells fired between March and August – a figure disputed by the French who cited 320, of which 183 landed within the city’s boundaries. Casualties of the gun’s use ran to 256 deaths and 620 wounded, with 88 killed and 68 wounded on Good Friday 1918 alone when a shell landed on the church of St. Sepulchre, causing its collapse while a service was in progress.
The Paris Gun was nevertheless a notable propaganda success at home in Germany. The Allies searched in vain for the guns during the German retreat of August 1918 onwards and after the Armistice but in vain. No example of the Paris Gun has been located then or since although U.S. forces located one of the gun’s spare mountings.
When Germany re-armed under Nazi leadership from 1933, the designs of “Max” and “Langer Max” (“Long Max”; the heaviest German railway guns of 380 mm calibre) formed the basis for such new types as the 240 mm “Theodor Bruno” ( range 20 km ), 283 mm calibre 21.539 m long “Leopold” K5 E ( range 62 km ) , 380 mm “Siegfried” K ( range 55.7 km ) and 800mm “Dora” ( range 47 km ).
The “Leopold” K5 E was used as a coastal defence gun, often being hidden inside a tunnel against air attacks when not in use. Design work began in 1934 with eight trial examples being built by the end of February 1940 and 25 production variants by 1945. The two six-axle bogies had an axle loading of 18 tons and Leopold itself would form a train with ammunition, stores, personnel and equipment vehicles. A 40-ton diesel locomotive would haul the rake, which would carry about 113 shells.
Maximum gun elevation was 50 degrees, muzzle velocity 1 120 metres/second, firing rate 8 shells per hour – or 7 minutes 30 seconds between shells. One example has been preserved at the Aberdeen Proving Range Museum in the USA.
The Prussian mixed train running alongside The Paris Gun ( really Leopold ) belongs to what German railway modellers refer to as Epoch 1, lasting from the first German steam train – hauled by the British built locomotive “Der Adler” between Nuremburg and Fuerth on 7 December 1835 – to 1920 and the creation of Deutsche Reichsbahn Gesellschaft (DRG), the nationalised German railway demanded by the 1919 Treaty of Versailles.
Similarly, Epoch 2 covers the turbulent years of 1920 to 1949 while Epoch 3 is characterised by the division of Germany into West (served by Deutsche Bundesbahn) and East (served by the Deutsche Democratic Republic version of Deutsche Reichsbahn) More specifically, Epoch 3a applies up until about 1956 and the term Epoch 3b continues until a time of radical renumbering in 1968 (DB) and 1971 (DR).
Then came Epoch 4, which ended with the fusion of the East and West German state railways in 1993. Epoch 5 also marking the beginning of privatisation of what was by then known simply as “Die Bahn” – “The Railway”. Today Germany has dozens of train operating companies, most of which are engaged regional passenger transport or in the freight business, contributing to a rather colourful picture of German railways in these days.
Back in Epoch 1 however, all the earliest German railways were private companies. Only after the formation of the German Reich under the guidance of Prussian Prime Minister Prince Otto von Bismarck – after the Franco-German War of 1870/1 did a period of nationalisation lead to the state railway systems – which essentially still exist today.
The largest state railway system was the combined Prussian and Hessian system. The term Königlich Preußische Eisenbahn-Verwaltung – Royal Prussian Railway Administration or K.P.E.V. – was coined around 1882, when the carriages received a crest with that abbreviation. However, an administration with that exact name never existed! But the abbreviation stuck and was used until 1920 when DRG took over all the former state railway systems of Prussia/Hessia, Bavaria, Saxony, Oldenburg, Württemberg, Baden and Mecklenburg.
A freight train of the KPEV that also carried passengers was known as a GmP or Güterzug mit Personenbeförderung. Like the traditional pick-up goods on a British branch line, the GmPs stopped at stations and uncoupled or attached vans if required. Slow and inconvenient because of the shunting operations, but sometimes the only means to get from A to B, GmPs survived into the 1970s, as did the less common passenger orientated Personenzug mit Güterbeförderung.
GmP motive power is provided here by “Stettin 7316”, one of the last of the numerous Prussian T 9.3 class. In German railway parlance, T stands for “Tenderlokomotive”, or tank engine. “Stettin 7316” was built as Works Number1555 by Union Gießerei (Königsberg) in 1913 and became DRG 91 864 in 1925.
There were three main types of Prussian T 9 with two different wheel arrangements. In Whyte notation these would be classed as 0-6-2T and 2-6-0T. Within the sub class of T 9.3, only a few locomotives ( but not “Stettin 7316” ) were fitted with superheaters ( invented by German engineer Wilhelm Schmidt ) and piston valves in place of the standard slide valves. However the designation T 9.3 was not changed, though odd class numbers were generally reserved for engines using saturated steam.
The T 9.3 engines were a standard design built by a large number of manufacturers. It was developed by Union Gießerei in Königsberg in 1901 for freight and passenger trains running over branch lines, but could also occasionally be found on mainline duties. Until 1913, 2055 T 9.3 engines were built. A further development of the T 9.3 was the externally very similar but larger and more powerful class T 11, which appeared in 1902. Again the development was undertaken by Union Gießerei. Altogether 471 engines were built until 1909 and chiefly used for working short-haul passenger trains and S-Bahn trains in Berlin.
During World War I several engines were pressed into military service in the West. They had an axle load of just 15 tonnes and were thus well suited for running over light track. According to an official source, out of 1 780 standard gauge German engines stationed in occupied Belgium and France on April 1st 1915, 10 were T 9s of all varieties. On July 1st 1918 there were only six (most engines were goods engines of classes G 5 and G 7, which were also quite light) from a number of 2 005 altogether. At least one T 9.3 was fully armoured and fitted with an auxiliary tender.
Following the 1918 Armistice and 1919 Treaty of Versailles many T 9s had to be handed over to the former enemy (notably France and Belgium) or were incorporated into the railways of newly formed Poland and the Baltic states.
Only about 1.500 were taken into Deutsche Reichsbahn Gesellschaft stock, becoming Class 91.3-18. In the 1920s and 1930s they were slowly replaced by DRG standard designs, such as Class 64 2-6-2s. From that time on they were often used for shunting or at Reichsbahn works for internal use. Some were sold to independent or private lines.
Massive withdrawals took place after World War II. The last engine operated by Deutsche Bundesbahn was 91 1595 at Krefeld depot, withdrawn in July 1964. Only four engines were numbered into the new DDR-Reichsbahn scheme of 1971 (although this may have been a paper transaction only) and around 1971 the last example was removed from DR service.
All German T 9.3s were scrapped and according to the Polish publication “Atlas Lokomotyw”, the last Polish (PKP) example was withdrawn in 1969. After World War I there were about 310 T 9.3s in Poland, of which 236 remained with PKP after 1945. Out of these, 59 locomotives were converted into fireless engines.
Two engines were preserved in Poland. The National Collection in Warsaw has TKi3-119 (built by Union Gießerei as Works Number 2049 in 1913) and a second engine (Tki3-87, also built by Union Gießerei; works no. 1652 from 1908) owned by the Poznan Model Railway Society is stationed at Wolsztyn.
The chassis of former T 9.3 “Danzig 7224” (later DRG 91 1708), an engine, which had been converted into a fireless engine (PKP class TKi 3b) was acquired by “Museums-Eisenbahn Minden” several years ago with the aim to rebuild it into a conventional steam locomotive. Following long negotiations with the Polish authorities the fireless engine was finally transferred from Poland to the private Klostermansfeld works (i. e. “MaLoWa”). When completed it will join T 11 “Hannover 7512” and T 13 “Stettin 7906” (a 0-8-0T of the same period) at Minden. The three tank engines will then be the only operable examples of their class in Germany. As the “Museums-Eisenbahn Minden” also possesses a growing number of matching coaches and vans from Epoch 1, railfans have the unique chance of riding aboard an authentic Prussian GmP on that preserved railway, which operates over three different lines in the Minden area (Northern Germany) and celebrated its 30th birthday in 2007.
However, KPEV T 9.3 “Frankfurt 7265” ( built by Hohenzollern of Dusseldorf in 1903 as Works Number 15 ) is now preserved in the Deutsche Technikmuseum in Berlin. This remained a PKP locomotive after 1920 but was reintroduced into DRG stock after the German invasion of Poland in 1939. As such it became 91 936 (II), the first DRG locomotive numbered 91 936 having already been withdrawn. After 1945, the 2-6-0 once again became Polish property with the PKP number Tki3-112 but was sold to Huta Poraj ( Poraj Smelting Works ) from whence it was taken to Berlin in 1986.
Two engines exist more or less as wrecks at the St. Petersburg Railway Museum in Russia. These should be TT-1770 (possibly built by Jung at Jungenthal as Works Number 1935 in 1913, former 91 1770) and TT-3415 and are said to have wheelsets for 1.435 mm ( 4’ 8 ½” ) gauge. It could be however that they are stored in a depot outside the museum.
The Fleischmann model of KPEV T 9.3 2-6-0T “7316 Stettin” is seen above shunting the wagons comprising its Güterzug mit Personenbeförderung before departure. As well as being finely detailed, this model works well too!
More information about T9.3s can be found at