The Paris Gun – Dialogue & Discourse
Despite the incredible engineering feat of its creation, the Paris Gun was limited in its effectiveness. The Germans hoped this creation would be a weapon that would bring their enemies to their knees. However, these guns never really had the intended effect.
The guns were only used from March through August of 1918. In that time period all three guns only fired 367 shells resulting in 256 deaths. The shell that struck the church was responsible for over 90 of those deaths.
As I explained earlier in this article, just firing the gun was a logistical nightmare. It could only be fired so many times before the barrels would need to be rebored. Accuracy was also another issue. Major Cassels explains in his article that so many factors can influence the trajectory of a shell over a distance of 75 miles it would be hard to effectively calculate them all. He also explains that the walls of the shells fired had to be so thick that only 10% of the shell was dedicated to explosives. This would seriously limit its effectiveness.
The picture above was derived from Railway Artillery: A Report on the Characteristics, Scope of Utility, etc. of Railway Artillery, United States Government Printing Office (1921). It shows where shells landed in Paris between June and August. As you can see, they’re all over the map. There were also shells that fell outside of this map as well. Targeting one specific building or area with these guns would be just about impossible.
Although the gun was limited in its effect. It’s understandable to see the panic it might have caused in Paris. Having an unknown giant cannon dropping shells randomly on your home would be obviously terrifying. According to calculations by Major Cassels, the shells were traveling at 2.5 times the speed of sound when they approached the ground. So, those on the ground wouldn’t have heard them coming either. This might be the reason why it was originally believed an air ship was dropping explosives in the beginning.
The Germans would destroy all three of these guns before the war was over. The Allied powers would never get to examine them personally. Most of the information about the guns was found in the files of German gun maker Krupp. The only thing the Allies did manage to get their hands on was a mounting for one of the guns.