Big Bertha

In the last months of the First World War, Parisians lived under the menacing shadow of a long-range German artillery gun, the Paris Gun. The French nicknamed it Big Bertha, after the powerful German howitzer, whilst the German’s gave it the sycophantic title of the Kaiser Wilhelm Geschütz (the Emperor William Gun).

The original ‘Big Bertha’ (Dicke Bertha in German) was one of the most powerful guns built by the Krupp armaments factory in Essen. Its proper name was L/12 42-cm Type M-Gerät 14 Kurze Marine-Kanone, which explains the adoption by German troops of the nickname. But why Bertha? Many sources agree that it was named after the heiress of the Krupp dynasty, Bertha Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach. Bertha was the eldest of two daughters of Friedrich Alfred Krupp and inherited the company in 1902.

Big Bertha was too good a name to stay behind German lines, and soon any particularly large heavy artillery piece attracted the name. The Paris Gun was also built by Krupp, but was quite different from Big Bertha in most other respects. It delivered a relatively small payload, but did so from a distance of 120km away. The French capital was thus in range of the German lines, and the psychological impact made up for limited damage it inflicted. The distance was so great that the earth’s rotation had to be factored into trajectory calculations thus overcoming the Coriolis effect.

In total, between 320 to 367 shells were estimated to have been fired. The gun could cope with a maximum rate of around 20 shells per day. Approximately 250 people were killed 620 wounded, with substantial damage to property. The weapon was specifically banned in the Treaty of Versailles.