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280-millimeter Kanone 5 [E] Leopold

By Sakhal

The Allied troops that the 22nd January 1944 landed in Anzio did not think that the German resistance would be so tenacious. There were polemics about the behaviour of General Lucas, about how the Operation Shingle could have been avoided or managed in a different way, or many other arguments concerning those hard weeks. The truth is that the Allied soldiers disembarked in the coast faced situations that reminded the stories told by the survivors of the First World War. There was not a clear division between the frontline and the rearguard, projectiles and grenades fell from everywhere, and there was nearly no shelter outside the craters created by the explosions. In the middle of this hell, at a certain pace a long-range German cannon, probably hidden anywhere on the highlands that the soldiers could see on the horizon, went out of its hideout and fired a couple of heavy shells, before disappearing without leaving a trail. Aerial reconnaissance was not able to find the mysterious cannon. Some fighter-bombers that overflew the beachhead when the projectiles arrived headed towards where they seemed to come, returning later with the comforting news about the destruction of the cannon. But shortly after a new burst would arrive, causing victims among the troops stacked in the ruins of the villages. Soldiers, as it is known, become habituated to everything, and hence they started to name their invisible enemy with the nicknames "Anzio Annie" or "Anzio Express". Week after week the long-range cannon kept under its fire the landing forces at Anzio, but when finally the Allies tresspassed the defenses and advanced towards Rome, its thundering voice vanished immediately.

The mystery was revealed when the Americans captured, inutilized by the very Germans, two huge 280 mm railway cannons, whose barrel was more than 20 meters long. It happened that the Americans had destroyed a sector of the railway that connected Velletri with Rome. In a tunnel nearby to Velletri were sheltered the cannons, one for use and the other as reserve. When the Germans were sure that there was not any enemy aircraft nearby, they brought out one of the cannons, which after shooting its deadly charge returned immediately to the refuge, while outside the artillerymen removed any trail that could reveal the existence of the artillery position. When the railway was damaged, the gunners fired their last "tribute" to Anzio, damaged the cannons and abandoned the site. The Americans, owners of the remainings of both cannons (which they baptized as "Leopold" and "Robert"), transported them to United States. There they managed to reconstruct one of them by taking pieces from the other, and later they tested it. The reconstructed "Anzio Express" was left preserved near the Aberdeen Proving Ground.

280-millimeter Kanone 5 [E] Leopold

Let us see some of the characteristics of "Leopold". Projected in the years 1934-36 by Krupp engineers, the trials started at the beginning of 1936. Accepted by the Supreme Army Command, entered service in 1940 and became soon the standard weapon of railway artillery. It was a piece of optimal ballistic qualities, gifted with notable precision, good rate of fire (it could fire up to 15 times per hour), and in the scope of its natural limits, easily transportable. To aim in azimuth, since its horizontal turn was only 1 degree, were used specially oriented railways, or rotatory railway platforms, which allowed to rotate the cannon in the 360 degrees arc. The Kanone 5 [E], as it was its true designation, was built with four types of barrel: with 10 mm rifling, with 7 mm rifling, with variable step rifling and with smooth bore in the caliber 310 mm. In total, Krupp produced 30 complete cannons, three complete barrels, and 30 revetments ready for lining again the bores worn by the use.

Weight: 218 tonnes

Length (total): 31.1 meters

Length (barrel): 21.54 meters

Maximum elevation: 50 degrees

Maximum azimuth: 1 degree

Rate of fire: 8-15 shots per hour

Maximum range: 52 kilometers

Caliber: 280 millimeters

Weight of projectile: 255 kilograms

Barrel lifespan: 240-550 shots, depending on projectile and propellant charge types

German technicians tried to exploit to the maximum the capabilities of their ballistic masterpiece by developing experimental projectiles propelled by rocket engine, with the purpose of increasing the firing range; this however came at the expense of a reduced precision. The rocket engine, fed with solid propellant and activated by a timer, was able to increase the range of the projectile, which weighed about 250 kilograms, in almost a half of the nominal range, being able to reach 86 kilometers afar. The technicians were satisfied with these results even if the trajectories resulted often imprecise.

280-millimeter Kanone 5 [E] Leopold

The development of more efficient projectiles took place in the research facilities at Peenemunde, provided with the best wind tunnel existing then, dedicated to the investigation of aerodynamics applied to the stabilization of projectiles during flight. A 310 mm barrel was developed for a new type of projectile, a dart-like projectile called Peenemunde Arrow Shell, which was given as dotation for the railway cannon Kanone 5 [E]. This projectile, which measured 1.9 meters in length and weighed 136 kilograms, reached in the trials the incredible distance of 150 kilometers.

280-millimeter Kanone 5 [E] Leopold

Categories: Artillery - World War Two - 20th Century - [General] - [General]


Website: Military History

Article submitted: 2014-10-07

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