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Old 07-07-2009, 01:38 PM
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Default 42cm Mörser L/12 ("Dicke Bertha")

"Big Bertha" (or properly Dicke Bertha, which means "Fat Bertha") is arguably the most famous of all guns used during the Great War. The problem is that very few know exactly which artillery piece this name pertains to. Both the 21cm Cannon used to shell Paris and the Austro-Hungarian 30.5cm Howitzer have been given this name. But in reality there was only one Dicke Bertha, and that was the German 42cm M-Gerät Howitzer.
The M-Gerät started out as an attempt to make a very large mortar, bigger than any of the other Minenwerfers that Germany Army fielded, and also capable at attacking at a much longer range. The German Army already had a very heavy howitzer in the shape of the 42cm Gamma-Gerät, but that piece was extremely heavy and needed 10 railway cars to be transported. The new gun was to use the shell from the Gamma-Gerät, and also be lighter and easier to transport.
The new gun was first tested in 1913, and it weighed only 42.6 tons in firing position. Special motor tractors were built (by Daimler) to pull the gun, that was dismantled for transport into five loads when moved. In June 1914, a second copy was delivered by Krupp, and in September the same year first M-Gerät Battery (of two guns and 283 men) was put into action against the Liége forts. During the war 10 more were produced. These batteries were used both on the Eastern Front and in the West - were they among other things supported the German push against Verdun in 1916.
It was in all respects an impressive gun. It could shoot a 810 kilo heavy HE grenade (Langgranate L/3.6) 9.300 meters. (Later there was also a lighter grenade, the Kurze M-Granate L/3.1, that increased the range to 12.250 meters.) The maximum rate of fire was 10 shots per hour. The M-Grät was used against fortifications and other static targets: its grenades could easily penetrate 1 meter of reinforced concrete. But it was not quite the Wunderwaffe that the German Propaganda claimed. If the grenades exploded prematurely they simply produced impressive craters but often nothing more. But if they entered into the target, the effects could be simply horrendrous, with one well-placed shell capable of knocking out an entire fort. So the respect it commanded was still not unfounded.

Below you can see four photos of the contemporary large-scale Industrial type model of the Big Bertha that could be seen in the Army Museum in Paris - the WW1 department is now closed for complete overhaul. I believe it's the best reference available on this gun - no real guns are longer in existance...
Among the various myths that have arisen about the guns are that only two were built and that none survived the Great War. Both are wrong. First, a total of ten guns with eighteen replacement barrels were built. Second, one gun did survive the First World War. It was captured by the US Army and taken back to the United States, where it was tested and evaluated at the Army's Ordnance Range at Aberdeen, Maryland (see photos).
The other gun was captured by the US Army and taken back to the United States, where it was tested and evaluated at the Army's Ordnance Range at Aberdeen, Maryland (see photos). After that, it became an exhibit at the open air museum there. Sadly, in 1954 it succumbed to a major spring cleaning and was scrapped!
The late Konrad Schreier discussed the gun with Col. George Jarrett, founder of the Aberdeen Ordnance Museum. Jarrett stated that "...the monster was more a curiosity than anything else since, in the eyes of US Army artillery and ordnance officers, it was useless as a field weapon. They... considered it too immobile, and the US Army doctrine then, as now, dictates manoeuvre warfare." He also said that a German officer visiting the US in 1919 told him that there were specially-built railcar firing platforms for them. But of this, as of so much else, there is no other corroborative evidence.
Below can be seen another picture of the "Big Bertha" that was shipped to the USA after the war, and that was on display at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds, until - unfortunately - scrapped in 1954. (Notice the dapple camo!)

Below is shown the M-gerät in disassembled transport state, from left to right: barrel, lavette, cradle and earth spade, general equipment and finally the bedding ("bettung"). It was thus transported in five, tractor-pulled special wagons.
Below you can see the M-gerät being assembled (notice the striking dapple-spot camo on the first photo, and also notice the crane). No.1 Wagon erected the portable hoist at the place of emplacement, and it's tractor then used its cable drum to hoist the other loads in place. No.2 Wagon carried the platform, and No.3 the cradle, which was hoisted clear, and held suspended from the hoist. No.4 Wagon was the carriage, that was hauled up and centered on the platform, and the cradle lowered. The front wheels were removed, leaving the solid steel wheels to support the carriage and howitzer. In actual use and transport, the wheels were equipped with wheel belts (radgürtel).

And finally, some shots of a fully deployed M-Gerät. The first is a well-camouflaged gun from M-Batterie Nr.3 Zacke, in firing position during the Verdun Battle in 1916. The second one shows a gun from M-Batterie Nr.10 Stollberg.

Appendix: The Wooden Big Bertha - by Roger Todd
A modelmaker named Emil Cherubin lived in Vluyn (or Vluynbusch, or Neukirchen Vluyn, I'm unsure as to the distinctions). He served in the Great War and although, as far as I can gather, he wasn't with any Bertha batteries, he was at Namur and so may very well have been impressed by the actions of the Berthas there. Anyway, for whatever reasons, with his brothers he built a full-size wooden model of the Dicke Berta in 1932 and took it around Germany on tour. He also built 1/4 scale models of Bertha and the Paris Gun! There are also photos of Cherubin with Oberleutnant Richard Schindler, who wrote a book on the Berthas ("Eine 42-cm morser batterie im Weltkrieg" - he had served with a battery) in 1934. The photos appear to be of some kind of promotional event in Berlin, with Schindler in his army uniform, a General Muller, and Cherubin with his 1/4 scale Bertha.
Anyone wanting to model the gun should be careful using details gleaned from Cherubins Big Bertha, as it is not fully accurate.

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