When the Germans wanted to shell Paris during World War I, they knew exactly what they were doing. The only problem was the Germans just couldn’t quite break through to get Paris in their artillery crosshairs. So they did what any German might do: build a gun that could hit Paris from where they were – 75 miles away.
The Paris Gun, as it was named, had the longest range of any artillery weapon in history.
Here comes the boom.
Nobody really knows what the Paris Gun’s full capabilities were because all of them were destroyed by the retreating Germans. All that was ever captured were fixed-gun emplacements. And since all the men who might have fired one are dead, it’s just a design lost to history. What we do know is that the weapon was able to hurl 230-plus pounds of steel and explosives some 75 miles, over the World War I front lines and into the streets of Paris in just about three minutes. More interesting still is that the rounds flew 25 miles into the air, the highest point ever reached by a man-made object at that time.
The reason the gun wasn’t more popular among the Germans is that it did relatively little damage. It carried only 15 pounds of explosives, and only 20 rounds could be fired per day. Parisians didn’t even realize the shelling was coming from artillery at first – they thought they were being bombed by an ultra-high zeppelin. With some 360 rounds fired, the guns only killed 250 people, mostly civilians. It did not have the terrorizing effect the Germans hoped.
Though one round did collapse the roof of a church during services. Not great PR when you’re trying not to be evil.
To make matters worse, the rounds ate away at the barrel of the gun as they fired, so rounds had to be used in a strict numerical order with ever-changing sizes as the crew fired. Once all the rounds were fired, the barrel had to be removed and sent back to Germany to be re-bored.
Allied forces never captured one of these record-setting artillery pieces, as the Germans either destroyed them as the Entente troops advanced or sent them all back to Germany after the Armistice of 1918. They were supposed to provide France with one of the weapons, as set in the Treaty of Versailles, but never did. No schematics, parts, or barrels survive. Only the static emplacements captured by the Americans in 1918.