Doing Dora

The 80-cm railway gun, Dora, was developed by the German army to penetrate the thickness of concrete of the newly completed French Maginot Line. It was the largest artillery piece ever to see action.

The 80-cm railway gun, the Schwerer Gustav was developed for the German army in order to penetrate the thickness of concrete of the newly completed French Maginot Line of fortifications. In 1936 Krupp AG began design on the gun and by early 1937 this was shown to Hitler who ordered the gun be built and be ready to attack the Maginot Line defences by the spring of 1940. The manufacture of the cannon encountered many difficulties, especially around the forging and machining of the enormous barrel and it wasn’t until late 1940 that the gun barrel alone was ready to be test fired for the first time on the Hillersleben range near Magdeburg. In early 1941 at the Rugenward range on the Baltic coast the entire gun was assembled for the first time and given its final firing tests in the presence of Hitler. The gun was officially given the name Schwerer Gustav in honour of its originator, Gustav Krupp von Bohlen, but the German artillerymen soon irreverently began calling it "Dora". The different names led to some confusion regarding how many guns were built and when they were used.

Although termed a railway-gun, the sheer size of Dora meant that it actually travelled in sections to meet the loading gauge on German railways. Obviously it could not be transported in one piece. The gun itself was broken down into five units; breech ring and block, the barrel in two halves, the barrel jacket, the cradle and the trunnions. The rest of the mounting was split lengthwise so that as well as being dismantled from the top down, it was also broken into two halves for movement. All these components were carried on special flat-wagons, except for the bogie units which ran on their own wheels. The whole process of assembling Dora took about three weeks and a force of 1,420 men commanded by a Major-General. When fully assembled it would be 141 feet long, 23 feet wide, and the axis of the barrel some 25 foot above the track. She weighed some 1,350,000 kg and her 4,800 kg shells had a range of just on 47 miles. A special four-track section had to be laid to put the gun into action; on the inner tracks the gun bogies were assembled and linked together, and on the outer pair ran a gantry crane for assembling the rest of the weapon. Various parts of the mounting were then built up on top of the bogies; the barrel was assembled by inserting the rear half into the jacket and then fitting the front half on and locking everything together with a massive junction nut. The barrel was then fitted into the cradle and the whole assembly hoisted up and lowered onto the mounting. After this the breech ring was fitted to the end of the barrel by another huge nut and the 20-ton breech block slid into place.

In February 1942, the gun was sent to Bakhchisaray in the Crimean Peninsula to be used on the port city of Sevastopol which had been under siege by German forces since November 1941. On 5 June 1942, the Dora fired its first round at Sevastopol, and 13 additional shots followed that day. On the next day Dora achieved the highpoint of its career. An ammunition magazine at White Cliff suffered a direct hit. The magazine was buried 98 ft (30 m) under Severnaya Bay and had 33 ft (10 m) of concrete protection. The armour piercing round passed though the water, ground, and concrete before detonating the magazine. At least one ship was also sunk after being damaged by blast waves from the impact of nearby shells. The gun was used on three additional days before its ammunition was exhausted. Dora fired a total of 48 shells at the city causing immense damage.

After Sevastopol, Dora was taken to the besieged city of Leningrad, but the Russians had pushed the German army back before the Dora could be made ready. Its only other recorded appearance was outside Warsaw in 1944 when some 30 shells were fired into the city during the abortive uprising. After that Dora vanished. Numerous reports of its discovery in pieces, its scrapping, its capture or abandonment have been suggested but none of them stand up to very close examination. Spare barrels and ammunition were found, but the gun itself was never seen again. It seems likely that it was simply scrapped some time during late 1944.

Deciding to build this kit is a bit like deciding to get married. You know that it is going to take a sizable portion of your lifetime, tons of patience, oodles of tender care and once complete it will be an imposing presence in your home. The box itself could comfortably house a small dog. Fortunately for me I am building this and will eventually display it in the shop so I don’t need to think about extending the house – yet. It comes with it’s own 9 section railway base but with the length and weight of the kit that alone would never be capable of supporting the gun when finished. So once that was painted, which took several part-time days by itself – there are lots of sleepers to paint – I fixed it all to a nice thick piece of melamine shelving measuring about 4 foot by 1 foot. This gives enough space alongside the kit’s base to fashion some foliage and a roadway. The creating of the road base itself was simply to spray the shelf top with Tamiya Dark Earth and then coat that with Testors Createfx Texture paint – Dirt 79600 to create a gravelly appearance.

80cm Railway gunA grass verge was created by a liberal coating of Woodlands scenic glue topped with Heki’s No;3383 foliage flock – woodland green. Topping that in broken up clumps was some Woodlands Scenics light green underbrush to provide areas of weed and low shrubbery. A couple of JTT Pro-Elite HO scale trees were then placed at one end of the shelf top to complete the “nature” portion of the base. As it is rare for any road to run alongside a railway line without any electricity poles I raided a couple of boxes of Italeri’s Battlefield Accessories to make 5 poles which are simply joined by thin black cotton as the wires. As you don’t want to see any dried glue here I used Testors canopy glue which although it dries clear, takes a while to set properly so the stringing of 8 wires via 5 poles took plenty of time and patience. Needless to say the next morning when I thought that it would be a good idea to move the base out of the shop proper and into a back room so no children would touch it and break things I managed to put one of my ham-hock fingers straight though the cotton wires and tore many of them off the posts. My language at that point was less than subtle but an hour or so later all was repaired.

Even with the poles and trees I think that by itself the gun would just look like a large, but not gigantic, railway gun. Sort of like Leopold. So I am putting some extra vehicles along the roadway to give Dora it’s rightful perspective. For this I have chosen 2 old Airfix kits. The German Reconnaissance Set (A02312) which includes both a Kubelwagen and a SD.KFZ.222 Armoured car and (A02303) the SD.KFZ.7 half track towing the 88mm anti-aircraft gun. It may be basic but I have always liked the Recon set as it really is very well moulded and goes together beautifully. The quality of the half track for the 88 may not be quite so good but the 88 itself is a nice build and most kits of the 88 have them only in a firing position, not being towed. At this moment the Recon set has been built, although not decaled or weathered and the 88 is under way. I won’t go into detail about the build of these as again, they are just there to give the beast which is to follow some perspective. I hate to think just how much German Grey I will get through before this odyssey is complete.

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