Nothing is being talked about at present in Germany but the guns of great caliber that are manufacturing at the celebrated works on the banks of the Ruhr. As our neighbors appear to be elated over this wonderful work, it is expedient to examine the subject, in order to see whether their applause is legitimate.
We have known for a long time that the artillery materiel devoted to the defense of the German coasts consists of a long, stationary 5¾ inch gun; of long 7¾ inch hooped steel guns, closed by a cylindrico-prismatic wedge; of an 8 inch mortar; and of guns of 11¾ and 15 inch caliber. The 11¾ inch gun is 22 feet in length, and, including the closing mechanism, weighs 79,200 pounds. As regards the projectiles that this weapon throws, the ordinary shell is 33 inches in length, and weighs, all charged, 656 pounds, and the exploding shell, of the same length, weighs, all charged, 1,160 pounds. The initial velocity of the latter is 1,600 feet with a maximum charge of 148 pounds of powder.
The 15 inch gun is 32.8 feet in length, and weighs 158,400 pounds. Its projectiles are 3.67 feet in length. The ordinary shell, charge included, weighs 1,400 pounds, and the exploding shell, under the same circumstances, 1,700 pounds, that is, more than three quarters of a metric ton. The initial velocity of this last named projectile is 1,650 feet with a maximum charge of 1,650 pounds of powder. We also know that Mr. Krupp has two models of guns of 13½ inch caliber, and of a length equal to 35 times the caliber, say 39-5/12 feet. The lighter of these models (which was shown at Anvers) weighs no less than 264,000 pounds, carriage not included. Its cylindrico prismatic closing mechanism (Rundkeilverschluss) alone weighs 82,500 pounds. This is the weight of a 5¾ inch hooped steel gun!
FIG. 1. - NEW 52 FOOT KRUPP GUN AND A GERMAN FIELD PIECE FIGURED ON THE SAME SCALE.
We now learn that the Essen works have just begun the manufacture of a 314,600 pound gun. This piece, called "40 cm. kanone L/40," will, of course, be of 15.6 inch caliber, but it will differ from the one above described in that its length will be equal to 40 times the caliber, say 52 feet, or to the space occupied on the maneuvering ground by a field piece drawn by six horses (Fig. 1). This gun will be provided with two kinds of projectiles. One of these, called light, will be 3½ feet in length, weigh 1,628 pounds, and be capable of taking an initial velocity of 2,410 feet and of piercing, on its exit from the chamber, either a hammered iron plate 3¾ feet in thickness or two united plates 1¾ and 2¾ feet in thickness.
The shell called heavy will be 5¾ feet in length, and weigh 2,310 pounds, say more than a 4¾ inch siege piece! The charge employed will be 1,067 pounds of brown, prismatic Dunwald powder. Ten hundred and sixty-seven pounds - nearly half a metric ton, more than the weight of a field piece without its carriage! With this enormous charge, the heavy shell will be capable of an initial velocity of 2,100 feet and of piercing, on its exit from the chamber, either a hammered iron plate 4 feet in thickness or two united plates 2 and 2.88 feet in thickness.
The Cologne Gazette, from which we borrow most of the data just presented, adds that the "40 L/40" piece will be the largest cannon in the world, but that it will not long enjoy the privilege of such pre-eminence. It appears, in fact, that Mr. Krupp is preparing to manufacture a gun of 17½ inch caliber, weighing 330,000 pounds. The projectile for this monster will be 6 feet in length, say the stature of a full grown man, and will weigh no less than a ton and a half. A man of medium stature will measure a little less than this projectile (Fig. 2).
It is possible that all these figures have been slightly exaggerated by the ultra-Vosges journals, who doubtless intend to make an impression upon us; but we shall not dwell upon that point.
As regards the penetrating power of the large "40 L/40" gun, the German press observes that in 1868 artillery was incapable of piercing in one-hundredths of an inch what it is now piercing in tenths of an inch. The principle was formerly admitted, it says, that a shell should by right have a thickness equal to its caliber. Now, "the largest cannon in the world" perforates a plate whose thickness is three times the diameter of the gun's bore. What great progress! exclaim the German journals, and how jealous the French and English are going to be! Jealous of that? Why, indeed? We are not the least in the world so. How could we be? In the first place, we have a gun of very great caliber - a 13¼ inch steel coast and siege piece. This weighs 37 tons, and is 36¾ feet in length. Its projectile weighs from 924 to 1,320 pounds, according to its internal organization. Its conoid head is very elongated, and by reason of this elegant form it always falls upon its point, even at falling angles of an amplitude approaching 60 degrees. The charge used varies from 396 to 440 pounds, according to the nature of the powder. As for the ballistic properties of the piece, they are very remarkable.
Its projectile has an initial velocity of 2,132 feet, and the maximum range is from 10 to 11 miles, say the distance from Paris to Montgeron by the Paris-Lyons-Mediterranean railroad, or from Paris to Versailles. Finally, the accuracy of this gun is much greater than that of the 9½ inch steel one. Now, the accuracy of this latter is such that it is impossible for its projectiles to miss a ship under way, and that we are sure of playing with it against the enemy that game whose device is "We win at every shot!" Well, we do not hesitate to say that these results appear to us to be satisfactory - we mean quite sufficient - and that there is no need of looking for a better gun. If there were, French industry would be capable of producing weapons of any caliber desired. As regards this, there is, so to speak, no limit; moreover, taking into account merely the terrestrial conditions of the problem, we may be satisfied that the great works of our country are more powerfully equipped than those of Essen, and consequently better able to forge large pieces of steel.
Mr. Krupp, it is said, is very proud of his two power hammers, which he has named Max and Fritz. But, on the whole, these two apparatus are only fifty ton ones, and have a fall of but ten feet. Now, Creusot and St. Chamond each has a hundred ton steam hammer with a fall of 16 feet, accompanied with four furnaces and four cranes.
FIG. 2. - 3,300 POUND PROJECTILE OF A KRUPP GUN IN COURSE OF MANUFACTURE.
But why proceed to the manufacture of monstrous guns, like those that Mr. Krupp has just produced, or meditates producing in the future; guns of such a caliber can be used only in special cases - in battery on the coast or on board of a ship. It is not with materiel of this kind that war is waged; it is with field pieces. Our ultra-Vosges neighbors well know this.
One of the reasons that the war that very recently threatened us did not break out, was because the Germans could not fail to see that their field materiel was not as powerful as ours; that the shell of our 3½ inch gun weighs 17½ pounds, while that of their heavy 3½ inch gun does not weigh 15. Now, this difference has its value.
Hunters well know what importance it is necessary to attach to the number of the ball that they use.
This granted, it is well to observe that the net cost of the "40 cm. kanone L/40" must not be less than $300,000 or $400,000. Now, on the interest of such a sum we could have from ten to fifteen complete batteries, that is to say, comprising, in addition to the sixty or eighty guns, all the necessary accessories, such as carriages, limbers, caissons, harness, etc.
Frankly, between the two acquisitions, there is no hesitation possible.
Finally, if we must say so, we do not think that foreign powers, when they believe it their duty to provide themselves with materiel of great caliber, will think of supplying themselves from the Essen works, on account of the memorable accidents due to the imperfection of guns coming from this celebrated establishment. The list of burstings that have occurred, not only in Germany, but also in Russia, Bohemia, Italy, Turkey, and Roumania, is already a long one. To speak here only of what occurred in France in 1870-71, it is certain that out of seventy German guns of large caliber in battery against the southwest front of the wall of Paris, thirty-six - say more than half - were put out of service during the first fifteen days of the bombardment, and that too through firing merely; and it was the opinion of Mr. De Moltke himself that the German siege batteries would have been reduced to silence, had the defenders been able to hold out for a week longer. It is equally certain that, during the course of the Loire campaign, eighty guns of Prince Frederick Charles' were put out of service by the sole fact of their firing. Summing up the history of these many accidents, the Duke of Cambridge asserted to the House of Lords (April 30, 1876) that two hundred Krupp guns burst during the Franco-German war. Have the engineers of the Essen works improved their processes of manufacture since that epoch? It is permissible to doubt it, seeing that, very recently, the Italian navy refused to take from Mr. Krupp some 15½ inch guns whose tubes were but very imperfectly welded.
Must the numerous accidents mentioned be attributed to defects in the metal employed? Were they due to defective hooping? Were they due to some one of the numerous inconveniences inherent to the cylindrico-prismatic system of closing (Rundkeilverschluss)?
They Were Doubtless Owing To Such Causes Combined