The New 75-Mile Gun
[The Literary Digest; April 6, 1918]
When the Germans at home read the official announcement, "We have bombarded the fortress of Paris with long-distance guns," and remembered that their lines were nowhere within sixty miles of the French capital, they doubtless concluded that their God and their Kaiser had really won the war at last. "A gun that shoots seventy miles!" Why, says the Philadelphia Tageblatt, proceeding to utter typically Teutonic thoughts the very day after its editors were acquitted of treason, "it is plain that a party which can shoot three times as far as its opponent has an enormous advantage." Such a gun as that supposed to have fired on Paris from the Forest of St. Gobain, seventy-six miles away, it went on, "can demolish the trenches, the dugouts, and the fortresses of the opponent without danger or sacrifice to itself; it can destroy the munition-dumps and communications behind the front over a wide distance; it can make the movement of enemy troops behind the front very difficult; it can make almost impossible the approach of enemy fleets to its coast." And in consequence the Tageblatt warns the Allies against trying further to prolong the war. Dispatches from Germany hint at a cross-Channel bombardment of England. But editorial opinion here generally agrees that the long-distance firing on Paris was a military achievement only in so far as "terrorism" in some form is always incorporated in the plans of German strategists. Since people are naturally awed by the unknown, the mysterious, and the monstrous, shelling of this kind would supposedly "create a panic among the French, with a consequent humiliating collapse like those witnessed in Russia and in northern Italy." But here, The Wall Street Journal points out, "is where the German psychology falls down." For, we are reminded, a shell is much like a bomb dropt from an airplane, and both French and British are accustomed to that sort of warfare, while our American soldiers "will view such devices with interest and even amusement."
Paris, as we gather from the dispatches, instead of falling into a panic of fear, developed a curiosity about those shells that dropt at such regular intervals. What are they made of? Are they shot from a cannon or launched from aircraft? If from a cannon, how is it constructed, and what is the explosive? Just where is it hidden, and how long will it is before our airmen discover it and put it out of business as they did that 380-millimeter gun that fired on Dunkirk? Frenchmen asked these questions, and noted that the gun or guns did little execution as compared with air-raids. They could see slight military value in them and agreed with L'Echo de Paris that it was simply "a political cannon," intended "to give the civilians the impression that Paris is under the German guns."
When the news first came to this country, it was generally received in military circles with open incredulity. It was widely asserted by men cited as "authorities" and "experts" that no gun could be made to shoot a nine-inch shell seventy miles. Later news confirmed earlier reports and it was learned that the shell fragments bore signs of rifling. The important thing, according to The World, is not the spectacular bombardment of Paris, but "the latent possibility of a new weapon and the question of its capacity for development into a portentous implement of warfare."
An authoritative description of the shell fired by the new German gun appears in Premier Clemenceau's paper, L'Homme Libre (Paris). Its diameter is said to be about nine inches and its length about twenty. It weighs at most two hundred pounds and contains something like twenty pounds of explosive. The shell is divided into two compartments, thus producing two successive explosions, a peculiarity which led Parisians to think they were being fired upon by two guns. This projectile, we are further informed, "is fitted with a long pointed nosecap in thin sheet iron, which probably increases the range of the shell."
© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013
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THE HEADLONG FURY
A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald