The largest effort ever made by the United States to mount artillery on rail was oddly enough run by the Navy. The project was quickly conceived as a response to the big German guns like Anzio Annie. The original plan envisioned the building of 16-inch guns, however the then new guns were in short supply so plans were changed to use 14-inch battle ship guns since they were readily available.
Since the Navy already had crews trained to operate this weapon they were given charge of the project. Designed by the Navy at the Washington Naval Yard, the railway batteries were meant to be self-sufficient. The design included not only the gun but also headquarters cars, machine shops, ammunition carriers, cranes, barracks cars, and defensive cars and a command train. Baldwin Locomotive Works was contracted to build 5 of the guns. The remaining cars would be built by the Standard Steel Car Company. The first one was due to be delivered on May 15th 1918. With the assistance of the American Bridge Company, The first one, weighing over 260 tons, was finished on April 25th, 1918, only 120 days after design work began. After the first 5, an additional 6 guns were built. After the end of the war an improved mount was designed and two were built.
One might think the sailors would feel out of place on firm ground but over 20,000 Navy officers and men volunteered to be one of the 334 men needed to staff the guns. Originally the guns were to be shipped aboard British ships to the English Channel ports where they would support the British Army. By the time they were ready the Germans threatened the British ports. US Army commander, General Pershing requested immediate delivery of the gun trains. The Navy cargo ship USS Newport News picked up the first of the rolling stock on 20th of June. By the 20th of August, the first two railway gun trains were completed assembly and left St. Nazaire, France, after having been inspected by Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The French had constructed curved railroad spurs behind the front, this compensated for the limited traverse of 3.5° on each side. The maximum elevation was 43° when firing at 15° or more the gun required a pit to allow for recoil. Once dug the pit was lined with a structural steel foundation. These foundations were also made by the Baldwin Locomotive Works.
Guns 3, 4, and 5 were used to support the US Army while 1 and 2 supported the French. On the 6th of September gun 2, located in the Compiègne Forest, was the first to fire. It shelled targets at the German held railroad center at Terginer until the end of the war. Guns 4 and 5, firing at German targets in Longuyon from positions near Thierville.
The Navy guns were able to target airfields, rail yards, troop centers, and other installations that were previously unreachable. The guns were often used to engage troop and rail centers in conjunction with army assaults. The Navy would begin firing several hours after the assault in order to catch enemy reinforcements and supplies being moved up in support of the defenses. For the first time during the war the enemy suffered casualties and traffic interruptions in areas previously safe. The assigned targets were struck frequently. Montmedy was set on fire. Railroad traffic was completely held up, not only during the firing but for hours afterwards. With their main line of supply impaired the Germans could not exert their full strength against our advancing troops.
Gun 4 fired the last round of the war at 10:57:20 a.m. 11 November 1918. It was timed to land just before the armistice commenced. In all, 782, 1400lb projectiles were fired on 25 different days at ranges of 30,000 to 40,000 yards. The 700 inch barrel needed to be lowered after each shot to allow for reloading. Rate of fire depended on how fast the sailors could raise and lower the gun by hand. Typically the rate of fire was once every 3 to 5 minutes depending on the elevation.
Direct observation was not always practical, only about ten percent of the missions were fired with adjustment by aerial observers. Most were fired computing the distance and direction mathematically and applying meteorological data to ballistic tables. Latter when the targets came under the control of allied hands, they were found to have been seriously damaged by the naval shells. One hit was found to have wrecked a railroad line of three tracks for a distance of 100 feet, destroying the rails and ties leaving a large crater in the road bed. In his final reports General Pershing wrote: “The strategical goal which was our highest hope was gained. We had cut the enemy's main line of communication and nothing but surrender or an armistice could save his army from complete disaster.”
Being highly effective the guns received heavy counter fire. Three engineers attached to gun 1 were killed at Sissons. Five non-detachment personnel attached to gun 4 were killed at Charney. At Verdun, guns 3, 4, and 5 were subjected to German shells which landed within 30 feet of the guns. The gun’s Armor was hit by shell fragments. Three gun 4 sailors, were seriously wounded one of whom subsequently died. The headquarters and a berthing car were derailed.
Following the Armistice, the U. S. The Navy was sent back to sea and the equipment returned to the United States. The guns were scrapped in the thirties or immediately following WWII. Only one, which never saw actual combat survives. The gun tube was replaced at some time since the one now on the mount is a 1941 model of the 14- inch gun. It is now on display in front of the US Navy Museum, Washington Navy Yard, DC.
Update: I've added a *.MPD file to the Brickshelf page so you can look at the construction or build one yourself! Construction is not difficult. The model featurs SNOT'ed windows and in order to handel the LEGO curves the center wheel on the three wheel trucks floats.
Great job! Is it just me or is this like the 2nd train for MOTD in the same number of days? Any way, I love it. I never knew about these before, and you really did a good job with the historical notes, which is why I REALLY like this. A very awsome design. Great job. =)
Well done, could I have a link to that brickshelf folder? I really want to build one of these bad boys now:) Also, I really liked how you wrote down the history of the gun, even including the deaths of the brave men who served on them. Well done mate, and congrats on MOTD!
Normally I don't go for modern war creations much, but this impressed me. Lots of information, and it made for an interesting read. The model itself looks a bit plain, but it certainly gets the point across, and is well done.