The German army ordered three 80 cm K(E) guns in 1937 for the specific mission of demolishing the French forts on the Maginot Line. However, by the time the first gun was delivered in late 1941, France had long since fallen. In January 1942, Heavy (Railway) Artillery Unit 672 was formed to man the gun; the unit moved to the Crimea in April. The gun, nicknamed "Dora" by the crew, was not ready to fire its first round in the siege of Sevastopol until 5 June. Between then and 17 June, it fired a total of 48 rounds in combat. The rounds all landed anywhere from 197 ft to 2,400 ft from their targets. Nonetheless, the shells were large enough that their destructive power contributed to the fall of Forts Stalin, Lenin, Siberia, and Maxim Gorki.
After the fall of Sevastopol, the Gustav gun returned to Germany to receive a new barrel. Plans to send the gun to Leningrad were preempted by the Soviets having raised the siege. Some sources report that the gun fired against the Poles during the Warsaw Rising in August 1944, but that has never been confirmed.
The second 80 cm K(E) was completed and delivered, but the crew was never raised. The third gun was still incomplete when the war ended. In April 1945, the German army destroyed both completed weapons.
The Gustav gun was a technical masterpiece, but it was a tactical white elephant. Under the best of conditions, it never fired more than seven or eight rounds per day. Once the gun reached its designated firing position, it required three to six weeks to assemble and place into battery. Its entire detachment numbered 1,420 men, commanded by a colonel with his own headquarters and planning staff. The main gun crew numbered 500, most of whom moved, prepared, and serviced the ammunition. The remainder of the unit consisted of an intelligence section, two antiaircraft artillery battalions, and two guard companies.
David T. Zabecki
Hogg, Ian V. German Artillery of World War Two. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1975.; Hogg, Ian V. The Guns, 1939–45. New York: Ballantine Books, 1970.; Hogg, Ian V. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Artillery. Secaucus, NJ: Chartwell Books, 1988.; Lewis, John E. Railway Guns. New York: Avalon Books, 1982.