Obusier de 520 modèle 1916

The Obusier de 520 modèle 1916 should become the biggest French railway gun in the First World War, but the first prototype exploded, the second one was not ready in time to be used.

In the course of the continuing war of positions on the western front and the increasingly fortified positions and bunkers of the German army, it became apparent that even the heavy railway guns of the French army which gradually arrived did not have sufficient penetrating power. Thus the French High Command demanded ever larger guns with ever more penetrating power from the economy.

The company Schneider began thereupon in the middle of 1916 with the development of the Obusier de 520 modèle 1916. This railway gun was to receive a caliber of 520 mm and represented thereby the largest gun built up to then. The gun should have fired grenades weighing between 1.370 and 1.654 kilograms to destroy even the strongest German bunkers.

Such a large railway gun, however, required a significantly modified construction of the wagons. Until now only two wagons were connected with a steel scaffold. Now a total of 4 4-axle wagons had to be taken and connected in order to carry and move the weight of 263 tons.



Drawing of the Obusier de 520 modèle 1916



In order to be able to absorb the enormous recoil, the designers used several recoil systems. Thus, a combination of cradle recoil and sliding recoil was used in conjunction with anchoring the wagons to the tracks. After one shot, the gun's recoil system served to absorb most of the recoil, while at the same time the entire gun slid backwards about one meter over the tracks. To insert a new grenade into the breech, the barrel had to be lowered completely and a new grenade could be introduced via a trolley system mounted behind the gun. After loading, the gun had to be re-aligned.



A grenade of the Obusier de 520 modèle 1916



Due to the many innovations and technical adaptations, the construction of the first prototype was delayed more and more until it was finally completed at the end of 1917.

It was not until July 1917 that testing and shooting exercises were carried out until an accident occurred on the test site in Quiberon and the gun was destroyed. A fired grenade exploded early when it was still in the barrel of the weapon.

Although the second prototype was completed during the war, the tests were completed after the German Empire had already capitulated. Subsequently, the railway gun was stored by the French army in one of its depots.



Obusier de 520 modèle 1916



After the outbreak of the Second World War, the railway gun was part of the French mobilization plans. However, it was too late to make the railway gun operational again, so that the German Wehrmacht could capture it after the invasion of France in the factory of the Schneider company before it was even fully operational.

Under the designation 52 cm long howitzer (E) 871 (f) it was put into the service of the Wehrmacht and after the beginning of the war against the Soviet Union it was also brought to the Eastern Front. There it was used from 21 November 1941 for the bombardment of Leningrad after its encirclement. As already with the first prototype also on 5 January 1942 with the second gun a grenade exploded still while this was in the barrel and destroyed thereby likewise the entire weapon. The remains were found by the Soviet army in 1943, but they were no longer used for the destroyed railway gun.




Data sheet:

Designation: Obusier de 520 modèle 1916
Manufacturing country: France
Introductory year: 1917 and 1918
Number of pieces: 2 pieces
Calibers: 520 mm
Tube length: 11,9 meters
Range: Max. 17.000 meters
Weight: 263 tons






You can find the right literature here:


Flesh and Steel During the Great War: The Transformation of the French Army and the Invention of Modern Warfare

Flesh and Steel During the Great War: The Transformation of the French Army and the Invention of Modern Warfare Hardcover – October 30, 2018

Michel Goya’s Flesh and Steel during the Great War is one of the most thoughtful, stimulating and original studies of the conflict to have appeared in recent years. It is a major contribution towards a deeper understanding of the impact of the struggle on the Western Front on the theory and practice of warfare in the French army. In a series of incisive, closely argued chapters he explores the way in which the senior commanders and ordinary soldiers responded to the extraordinary challenges posed by the mass industrial warfare of the early twentieth century.

In 1914 the French army went to war with a flawed doctrine, brightly-colored uniforms and a dire shortage of modern, heavy artillery How then, over four years of relentless, attritional warfare, did it become the great, industrialized army that emerged victorious in 1918?

To show how this change occurred, the author examines the pre-war ethos and organization of the army and describes in telling detail how, through a process of analysis and innovation, the French army underwent the deepest and fastest transformation in its history.

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Breaking Point of the French Army: The Nivelle Offensive of 1917

Breaking Point of the French Army: The Nivelle Offensive of 1917 Hardcover – November 2, 2015

In December 1916 General Robert Nivelle was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the French armies fighting the Germans on the Western Front. He had enjoyed a meteoric rise to high command and public acclaim since the beginning of the war - he was a national hero. In return, he proclaimed he ‘had the formula’ that would ensure victory and end the conflict in 1917. But his offensive was a bloody and humiliating failure for France, one that could have opened the way for French defeat.

This is the subject of David Murphy’s penetrating, in-depth study of one of the key events in the history of the Great War. He describes how Nivelle, a highly intelligent and articulate officer, used his charm to win the support of French and British politicians, but also how he was vain and boastful and displayed no sense of operational security. By the opening of the campaign, his plan was an open secret and he had lost the ability to critically assess the operation as it developed. The result was disaster.

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They Shall Not Pass: The French Army on the Western Front 1914-1918

They Shall Not Pass: The French Army on the Western Front 1914-1918 Hardcover – May 19, 2012

This graphic collection of first-hand accounts sheds new light on the experiences of the French army during the Great War. It reveals in authentic detail the perceptions and emotions of soldiers and civilians who were caught up in the most destructive conflict the world had ever seen.
Their testimony gives a striking insight into the mentality of the troops and their experience of combat, their emotional ties to their relatives at home, their opinions about their commanders and their fellow soldiers, the appalling conditions and dangers they endured, and their attitude to their German enemy. In their own words, in diaries, letters, reports and memoirs - most of which have never been published in English before - they offer a fascinating inside view of the massive life-and-death struggle that took place on the Western Front.
Ian Sumner provides a concise narrative of the war in order to give a clear context to the eyewitness material. In effect the reader is carried through the experience of each phase of the war on the Western Front and sees events as soldiers and civilians saw them at the time. This emphasis on eyewitness accounts provides an approach to the subject that is completely new for an English-language publication.
The author’s pioneering work will appeal to readers who may know something about the British and German armies on the Western Front, but little about the French army which bore the brunt of the fighting on the allied side. His book represents a milestone in publishing on the Great War.

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Artillery in the Great War

Artillery in the Great War Hardcover – May 18, 2011

Artillery was the decisive weapon of the Great War - it dominated the battlefields. Yet the history of artillery during the conflict has been neglected, and its impact on the fighting is inadequately understood. Paul Strong and Sanders Marble, in this important and highly readable study, seek to balance the account.Their work shows that artillery was central to the tactics of the belligerent nations throughout the long course of the conflict, in attack and in defense. They describe, in vivid detail, how in theory and practice the use of artillery developed in different ways among the opposing armies, and they reveal how artillery men on all sides coped with the extraordinary challenges that confronted them on the battlefield. They also give graphic accounts of the role played by artillery in specific operations, including the battles of Le Cateau, the Somme and Valenciennes.Their work will be fascinating reading for anyone who is keen to understand the impact of artillery

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