Big Frenchy boy found lost in Germany, 75 years ago

Original caption, “Mammoth 274-mm railroad gun Captured in the U.S. Seventh Army advance near Rentwertshausen easily holds these 22 men lined up on the barrel. Although of an 1887 French design, the gun packs a powerful wallop. April 10, 1945.”

The men are likely from the 10th Armored and 45th Infantry Division, 7th U.S. Army.

U.S. National Archives photo 111-SC-203308 by T5c. Pat. W. Kohl, U.S. Army Signal Corps

The gun, apparently named “Breslau” began life as a French  Model 1887/1893 10.8″/45cal Schneider naval gun (Canon de 274 modèle 1887/1893) for a series of 1880/90s pre-dreadnaught battleships/ironclads (Charles Martel, Carnot, Jauréguiberry, Masséna, Bouvet, and Courbet).

Bouvet, the large circled secondary gun is a 10.8″/45.

Once these ships were disarmed and relegated to status as barracks barges or hulks, these big breechloaders, capable of firing a 500~ pound shell to as far as 17 miles if given enough muzzle elevation and powder charges, were repurposed during WWI by the French Army as railroad guns.

While it should be noted that almost every country that fought in the Great War (including the U.S.) utilized railway artillery, the French were the biggest fans, accumulating more than 400 pieces in all, including some very large specimens (they captured the only German 38 cm SK L/45 “Langer Max” to survive the conflict.)

At least 16 of these big 274s, mounted on five-axle railroad bogies, would still be in use by the Republic in 1940 when they served against the Boche once again.

Speaking of which, the Germans were able to put at a half-dozen of these monsters in service on the Eastern Front after 1941, designated “27.4cm K(E) 591(f)” with the big “E” being for Eisenbahnartillerie, or railroad artillery and the little “f” as being French.

Der 27.4 cm K.(E) 591 (f)

What became of Breslau?

As the U.S. pulled out of the Rentwertshausen area a couple weeks after this image was taken, it was likely grabbed by the incoming Soviets and hauled back to Russia where it is no doubt sitting in a forgotten tank farm somewhere in the Urals.

Nonetheless, the U.S. did bring home a similar German piece, “Leopold” a Krupp 28cm K5(E) railroad gun, from Italy and it had been at Aberdeen Proving Grounds for 65 years, as Anzio Annie. It was moved to Ft. Lee in 2010.

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