Osprey's Railway Guns of WWI


Marc Romanych & Greg Heuer, illustrated by Steve Noon


Osprey Publishing


$18.00 MSRP


Scott Van Aken

Notes: 48 pages, 7 x 9 inches, softbound
ISBN: 978-1-4728-1816-4

Frequently rather far from our radar of war weapons is the Railway Gun. While I doubt if any are still in active service anywhere, the peak of use of these was WWI. This was due as much as the lack of fluid warfare as anything. With both sides on the defensive and the semi-permanent situation of trench warfare, the two sides could bring in heavy artillery that took days to prepare for and was impossible to move on short notice.

Not surprisingly, there was some pre-war development along these lines, but most of it was ad hoc and based on current guns simply put on rail cars. The US Civil War was probably the first use of these sorts of things and it was also used in limited fashion in the other conflicts of the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Indeed, initial rail guns used in WWI were just as mentioned above. For the most part, the guns themselves were extant pieces that were either removed from coastal defense positions or were those used on ships.

At the forefront of development were the French, whose output of rail guns exceeded those of all other fighting powers together. Some guns were so powerful that the special mounts for them could not handle the stress. While the French and British developed guns that were usually fired from the rails, German guns were generally designed to be moved over fixed positions. In many ways the German method was better as it provided the ability to operate the gun at greater elevations and azimuths than those on the rail. In fact, most very large guns were incapable of much if any azmuthal change so the firing areas had to be curved to allow for a change. Even then, the tracks had to be reinforced as the weight of these guns was extreme.

In this book, the authors have done considerable research to bring us the story of these weapons. The book is divided into four major sections that each cover a year of the war and the development of these guns during each year. An overall look at the effectiveness, tactics and operations surrounding these weapons systems is also provided. It makes for a fascinating read, especially for those of us who know so little about it. A book I very much enjoyed reading and can highly recommend to you.

August 2017

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