Military


Little David

The 36-Inch Little David heavy mortar is the largest gun ever built, beating the German Dora and Karl. The reality is somewhat less spectacular: during World War II, the US often used phased out large caliber barrels to test bombs, using a small propelling charge to send them on a test target a few hundreds yards away. With the increasing sizes of the bombs, 9.2-Inch or 12-Inch barrels became insufficient, hence the building of this 914mm barrel.

While the mobility of modern armies gave rise to the development of powerful, close-support weapons such as the bazooka and the recoilless rifle, it well-nigh doomed to extinction those types of artillery that by their very size and weight were illadapted to overseas shipment as well as to high-speed, cross-country warfare. In the age of attack and heavy bombing aviation, airborne operations, and, finally, supersonic rockets and guided missiles, the siege howitzer and superrange gun were both too vulnerable and too limited in usefulness to warrant the man-hours and materials that went into making and operating them.

Although the Germans devoted untold efforts to the design and construction of large-caliber railway mounts and oversized mortars, these monsters made little else than good news copy. The 80-cm. "Gustav", for example, a railway gun firing a 16,540-pound projectile over a range of over 29 miles (51,400 yards), required a complement of some 40 separate cars, could move only on double-track lines, and took 45 minutes just for the loading of a single round. Its performance at Sevastopol and Leningrad was disappointing.

The Ordnance Department developed only one superheavy weapon, the 914-mm. mortar T1, "Little David." For sheer size, it topped anything even the Germans had ever attempted. Comprising two major assemblies, the tube and base, it weighed 172,900 pounds. The giant mortar had a rifled, 22-foot, muzzle-loading tube which, with its firing mechanism and other parts making up the tube assembly, weighs approximately 80,000 pounds. The mortar's base assembly, on which the tube rests, is constructed like a huge box and weighs 93,000 pounds.

Despite the necessity of using two powerful tractors to tow tube and base, officers of Research and Development Service quaintly pronounced this giant "highly mobile." While traveling, the mortar's tube and base assemblies each made up separate tractor loads. A complete "Little David" unit also included a bulldozer and crane with bucket shovel to dig the emplacement. The huge mortar could be emplaced in 12 hours, while the largest (820MM) known German artillery weapons were hauled on 25 railway cars and required three weeks to put in firing position.

Its projectile weighed 3,650 pounds, including 1,589 pounds of high explosive, and was fired by a maximum propelling charge of 218 pounds of powder. Its range was roughly 9,000 yards. Five men were needed to load the propelling charge, two to ram the projectile into the muzzle, and two equipped with hand brushes had to crawl into the bore to clean it.

Until October of 1944, it was not a weapon but a test instrument. At that juncture, expecting to encounter very strong fortification on the Japanese homeland, the US planned to turn that instrument in an effective bunker cracker.

Development on Little David began in March 1944 as the result of a requirement for a new weapon to destroy partially buried, reinforced-concrete works that the Army expected to meet in the ETO. By 31 October 1944 the tube and base section of the first pilot had arrived at Aberdeen. Subsequent test firings revealed the need for several modifications in the base components and the method of emplacement because of the severe shock of firing and the heavy recoil. Following numerous test firings and further changes of tube, base, and ammunition, the weapon was demonstrated to General Marshall, General Somervell, and other high-ranking officers on 16 July 1945.

he end of hostilities canceled plans for shipping the weapon to the Pacific and prevented the use of Little David in combat. Studies were still going on when the end of the war put an end to the program. As a weapon, it would most probably not have been satisfying: range and inaccuracy were major hurdles it had not yet overcome.




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