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Railway Guns...



...British and German Guns at War, from Pen and Sword


Title: Railway Guns

Author: John Goodwin

Publisher: Pen and Sword Books

ISBN: 978-1-47385-411-6

The subject of railway guns is an interesting one, though I suspect for many that might be prompted  by knowing little more than the famous German K5 weapon, made famous as 'Anzio Annie'.  This gun is still intact, and on show for many years at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Maryland in the USA.  Here in Europe there is another, on display at the Batterie Todt Museum in the Pas de Calais.  There are also models of these guns available in 1/144, 1/72 and 1/35 scales.  There is of course much more to the story of railway guns than that of course, a story well illustrated in this new book from Pen and Sword.  While it concentrates on British and German railway guns, it does also include French and American weapons as well.  One of the most interesting photos in the book, well, as I though, shows an old muzzle loading 32 pounder, protected by large wooden beams and mounted on a railway wagon, in use by COnfederate forces as far back as the American Civil War.

In Europe, a well developed railway system meant that in WW1 it was quite practical to develop rail mounted heavy artillery, even though it took a couple of years for the weapons to be developed, particularly in the UK.  As trench warfare developed and the countryside was devastated to the extent that moving heavy artillery in the conditions was very difficult.  So, mounting heavyier guns, particularly ex-naval weapons, was a solution with the benefit of mobility.  The book examines the issues in operating these weapons, such as their weight and strain on the rail lines, the awkward size of some and a need to have trained engineers to support them not only in travelling around the rail system but also in emplacing and operating the guns.  After the end of WW1 the railway gins were soon withdrawn and no further development when costs needed to be cut.  It was the start of WW2 that saw them come back into use once more.  Particular weapons were used for siege operations, and among perhaps the best known, both the British and German guns which were used to fire across the English Channel around Dover.

The book is heavily illustrated with some excellent archive photos, plus some scale drawings.  I found it an interesting book to read, covering the period from WW1 through to the end of WW2.  To give you an idea of the course of the story it tells, the 10 chapters are The First Working Railway Gun in Britain: The Short Active Life of British Railway Guns 1916-1918: American, French and German Railway Guns in WW1: Gunners and Sappers: The Return of Railway Guns in 1940: Train Working for Railway Guns: Railway Gun Positions in Kent and Sussex: Command of the Dover Straits: German Railway Guns and Cross-Channel Bombardment Batteries: and to round things off, The Final Salvoes of Guns on the Coast.  Add a number of maps and data tables there is a lot of work in here.  The size of the weapons meant they are very impressive.  Whether they were a good return on their investment is I think still a potential discussion topic for historians.  For modellers, both military and railway, then I think there is plenty of inspiration in here to spark off a new project or two.


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