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Large caliber German shell casing


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#1 iain mchenry

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Posted 27 September 2004 - 09:04 PM

Hi all,

Recently answered an advert in the local rag by someone claiming to be selling a Big Bertha Shell case. I went around, rather sceptically, to their house to have a look, and was rather suprised. the shell case is about 85 centimeteres high, 232 mm caliber, in absolutely mint condition (although has not been polished for about 10 yrs). The base of the shell case is marked as such:

PATRONFABRIK (Top) KARLSRUHE (Bottom)

1915 (Right Side)

1763 (Left Side)

The center striker piece? huh.gif has the inscription C/12

Am I looking at a Big Bertha shell case? I am aware the Paris Gun was recalibered to 232mm later, after being 210mm.

If it is too early to be a Paris Gun Shell, what artillery pieces did the Germans have to fire such shells, where were they used and were they common?

What sort of value would be on a shell case like this today?

Look forward to hearing from you.

Iain

#2 Aurel Sercu

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Posted 27 September 2004 - 10:58 PM

Iain,

To begin with : I am certainly no expert with regard to ammunition and projectiles, and as to the value of the item you describe, I haven't the foggiest idea.

Just this about the name. And I suppose you already know. There appears to be some confusion as to what "Dicke Berta" exactly was. A lot can be said about this "lady", but with regard to the caliber, I think all agree that it was 420 mm (with 3 different types of projectiles, but all with the same caliber).

So the projectile (or the shell case) you are describing was for the "Paris-Geschütz" or "Pariser Kanone". Its caliber indeed originally was 210, but later recalibered 232 mm (N° 65).

This thing was commonly known as "Lange Wilhelm", or "Lange Berta". It is very understandable that this "lange Berta" was the source of the confusion with "Dicke Berta". As far as I know French and British press used the name "Grosse Bertha" and "Big Bertha" (which were actually wrong).

The article I found about the Paris-Geschütz (in Dutch) indeed seems to cast some doubt on the 1915 you found. I think the Paris-Geschütz" was designed in 1916-1917 ? And did not become operational until March - August 1918 ?

Yes, I know this is not an answer to your question. But I'm sure other members have an answer.

Aurel

#3 iain mchenry

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Posted 27 September 2004 - 11:05 PM

Aurel,

Thanks for the answer my friend. i must say I was a little confused with the date of the Shell casing and something inside me was rather sceptical that it did not belong to the Paris Gun. But who knows! Its still a lovely shell casing and I am interested to hear more about it.

Thanks one again

Iain

#4 Aurel Sercu

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Posted 27 September 2004 - 11:15 PM

Iain,

In the same article about the Paris-Geschütz I read something like :

The type of shell that certainly helped was the already existing 21 cm Spgr. L/4,9 m Bdz. u. Kz. (mit Haube) [ I know what this stands for in Dutch : 21 cm brisantgrantaat, lengte 4.9 kalibers, met bodembuis en kopbuis, but please don't ask me to translate that in English, for right now it's one hour past midnight in Flanders ], for the German "snelvuur (rapid fire ?) marinekanonnen 21 cm S.K. L/40" and 21 cm S.K. L/45", which in 1917 already had a range of resp. 25,58 km and 25,4 km.

Yes, 21 cm (210 mm), and yours is 232. But as 232 is the recalibered version of the 210, I thought that maybe ...

Aurel

#5 healdav

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Posted 28 September 2004 - 06:53 AM

Could this be a shell from one of the guns that bombarded Verdun?

They used 380mm guns, I know - and I can take you to one of the gun sites, but I'm not sure whether they had anything smaller in this role. The site that I know is now a properly recognised hisotrical site, but there is another site nearby of an earlier gun that may have been smaller.

My papers are all at home and even then I'm not sure that I have a lot on them. Have you asked Christina Holstein? She has done some work on this and may know the calibres of the guns

#6 iain mchenry

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Posted 28 September 2004 - 08:57 AM

Healdav,

Thanks for that pointer on Verdun. I didnt even think of that. I will send a pm to Christina today.

Many thanks

Iain

#7 Christina Holstein

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Posted 28 September 2004 - 03:05 PM

Hi Iain,

If it's a 232mm calibre it's definitely not a Big Bertha shell as they were 420mm calibre, as Aurel says. In addition, a Bertha shell is about 5ft. high. There is one in front of the Memorial at Fleury and it's not much smaller than I am (I'm 5' 3").

I don't know why people call the Paris gun a Bertha. It was the Wilhelmgeschütz - I've never heard it called a Lange Berta, Aurel. The 'true' Dicke Berta was the tractor-drawn 42cm howitzer, not the railway gun of the same calibre. The research and development of the long-range guns that eventually resulted in the Wilhelm gun took several years. If your shell was manufactured in 1915 it must originally have been intended for another piece. I'll leave the question of what sort of piece to others.

The Germans did indeed have 42cm howitzers at Verdun, both tractor-drawn and railway guns. I think there were 7 in all but I'd need to check that. There are various sites visible today, the best preserved being in the middle of Spincourt wood - pits, storage pits, traces of huts and railway lines. They're not concrete installations, like those for the 380s, but originally wood-lined pits and by now most of the wood has rotted. The Bertas fired on the forts, notably Fts Douaumont and Vaux, although by the middle of the summer of 1916 they were also being used on infantry positions, which the crews regarded as a waste of ammunition. I think they were all destroyed by explosions in the barrel and not, as Alistair Horne states, by French artillery fire. I've got some photocopied pictures of Bertas with exploded barrels and very dramatic they look.

I've no idea what such a shell case would be worth - and how much would it weigh? I once found half of the base of a 200mm shell - half the base and about 4" in height - and I couldn't lift it (not that means anything!)

Christina

#8 iain mchenry

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Posted 28 September 2004 - 03:56 PM

Christina,

Thanks very much for your informative reply. As for the weight of the shell case, it is very heavy. My mum cant lift it laugh.gif I will have to do some digging around on German Arty pieces to see if they had anything 1915 and before that had a caliber of 232mm or thereabouts.
Once again many thanks.

Iain

#9 Deleted_Chip Minx_*

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Posted 29 September 2004 - 04:51 AM

Just a note about price. An American dealer's catalog came out this week and in it is a German shell case, which he is calling 255mm and over three feet tall (10" diameter, 40-1/2" tall). It has the same maker, Patronenfabrik Karlsruhe, dated July 1918. This is the dealer that bought out the Dadizele museum in Ypres. He says he bought several from the museum and easily sold them in Belgium for over $1,000.00 each. This one came from a museum in Ohio and he is asking $1,100.00 plus shipping.

Regards,
Chip

#10 Christina Holstein

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Posted 29 September 2004 - 07:27 AM

Hi Iain,

Thinking about this again, could it be a German heavy minenwerfer shell case. That calibre is about 9 3/4" (I think, haven't got my inch ruler handy) and the Germans had one about that calibre. That would explain the date of 1915. At 85mm high, it's too short to be for anything long-barrelled.

Christina

#11 iain mchenry

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Posted 29 September 2004 - 06:58 PM

Chip,

Thanks for the information mate.

Christina,

The shell case is 85 cms high (.85m) not 85mm high. Apologies if I put that in my original email to you.

Best regards all,

Iain

#12 Christina Holstein

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Posted 30 September 2004 - 07:59 AM

Iain,

No, you didn't put 85mm, I read your post wrong. Sorry!

Christina

#13 Deleted_Chip Minx_*

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Posted 01 October 2004 - 04:35 AM

I am pretty sure that Minenwerfer did not take shell cases, as they were muzzle loaded, not breach loaded. I have a light MW round and the propellant was situated in the bottom of the round. The "wafers" were put in the compartment and the distance required determined the number of "wafers" inserted. I have seen photos of the medium MWs being loaded from the muzzle as well. I cannot say for sure about the heavy MWs, but I am fairly certain that they did not require a shell case either. The case, I believe, was specifically for breech loaders. So I would count MWs out as possibilities.

Regards,
Chip

#14 Somme1916

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Posted 02 October 2004 - 01:31 AM

QUOTE (Chip Minx @ Wed, 29 Sep 2004 01:51:45 +0000)
Just a note about price. An American dealer's catalog came out this week and in it is a German shell case, which he is calling 255mm and over three feet tall (10" diameter, 40-1/2" tall). It has the same maker, Patronenfabrik Karlsruhe, dated July 1918. This is the dealer that bought out the Dadizele museum in Ypres. He says he bought several from the museum and easily sold them in Belgium for over $1,000.00 each. This one came from a museum in Ohio and he is asking $1,100.00 plus shipping.

Regards,
Chip

Chip,

Is the catalog you’re talking about from “Advance Guard Militaria”?

Jon

#15 Deleted_Chip Minx_*

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Posted 02 October 2004 - 02:04 PM

Jon,

That's the one. Small world huh?

All the best,
Chip

#16 Somme1916

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Posted 02 October 2004 - 09:43 PM

Chirs,

It gets even smaller. Yesterday I met Jeff from Advance Guard Militaria (AGM) at a show/fair in North Carolina. He’s a right nice fellow and we talked at length about our experiences in Belgium and collecting militaria. The items AGM had for sale at the show were quality and the prices were very nice to boot. I hope to make a trip to their store out in Missouri in the coming months.

I also told Jeff about the Baker’s Pals. I think he’s interested in joining the ranks and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him registering in the near future.

Well need to dash, cheers,
Jon

P.S. Sorry Pals but I forgot to ask him what gun the shell casing was from. sad.gif

#17 Deleted_Chip Minx_*

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Posted 02 October 2004 - 11:27 PM

Jon,

I guess there are more Americans on this site than I had suspected. Jeff is a good buddy of mine. We have known each other for many years. I live in Missouri too, but at the other end of the state. He is down south of St.Louis and I am in Kansas City. These days I rarely see him due to his business and the lack of shows here.

Drop me a e-mail sometime, as I would like to hear about your experiences as well.

Best regards,
Chip

#18 Somme1916

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Posted 03 October 2004 - 04:32 PM

Will do Chip and your right it is a small world.

Jon smile.gif

#19 arie

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Posted 11 December 2004 - 12:33 PM

Hi,

I think this is a case for the 21 cm SK L/45 navy gun. SK= Schiffskanone (naval-gun), L/45 is the lenght of the barrel ie 21 cm x 45=9.45 m.

The "C/12" on the primer was used on naval ammunition only.

The dimensions of the case are 210 x 836 mm. in the books but after firing these were different. Some ammunition was also given in a different measurement then it actually was, this for the purpose of reckonising it from ammo that had very similar dimensions.

The case dimensions for the Paris-gun are 210 x 564 mm.

The case dimensions for the Dicke Berta tractor-drawn (M-gerät) are 420 x 429 mm. for the railway version (Gamma-Mörser) 420 x 600 mm.
The M-gerät was called Dicke Berta by the german troops.

None of the german Minenwerfer used cases, even the heavy (25 cm.) version used powderbags.

Hope this was helpfull

Regards Arie

#20 angie999

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Posted 11 December 2004 - 01:49 PM

German practice was different from British and American in using metal cartridge cases for large calibres.

In the British case, if the equipment is designated BL (breech loading), then it used bagged charges. Metal cartridge cases were used in QF (quick firing) field artillery, such as the 18 pr.

There is the basis for a good technical discussion on the advantages and disadvantages of these design differences, but not today. Suffice to say that if you are keen do some research on the issue of "rearward obturation".

However, not all German ammunition had a metal cartridge case which ran the full length of the cartridge. Some calibres used hybrid designs where only the base section of the charge was in a case, the rest being bagged.

It is also not always the case that a cartridge case fitted up tight to the base of the shell in the breech, even when it held the full charge, or that the neck of the case would give you the bore calibre. This is because you have to make allowance for such things as small variations in ramming the shell, allowing sufficient breech clearance for the shell driving band, etc.

In the case of the Paris gun, it fired a propellant charge of about 400 lb which, I assure you, could not be accommodated within the length of the cartridge case.

This variation in British and German practice extended to both land and sea service, which is, in my opinion, one of the reasons why German capital ships were less prone to magazine explosions, particularly when they improved their ammunition handling practices after Dogger Bank.

Mind you, irrespective of the origin of the item in question, these big German cartridge cases are certainly impressive to look at.

#21 tonycad

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Posted 11 December 2004 - 05:37 PM

Herewith a photograph of a large calibre shell at the Memorial at Fleury, on the Verdun Battlefield. I do not think it is the one referred to by Christina, as she compares her shell with her height of 5'3''. This shell is taller than my brother, who is 5'9''

If not, what is it.

Tony

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#22 Deleted_JensF._*

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Posted 16 March 2005 - 10:02 AM

I agree with arie. It must be from the 21 cm SK L/45 naval gun which was used, usually rail mounted, for ground warfare. These types of cases are extremely rare!

#23 MikB

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Posted 17 March 2005 - 09:46 AM

Ian Hogg's informative little paperback "The Guns 1914-18" carries a photo of the Paris Gun round that includes a scale.

It shows the projectile, variable fore-charge and fixed base charge, both bagged, and a case 125 cm long. Only the base charge would fit in the case, which agrees with an earlier posting in this thread.

Hogg explains at some length the requirement to recalculate the fore-charge after each shot to compensate for the enlargement of the chamber and maintain the fixed MV of 5000 ft/sec.

Confusingly, he also says the twin driving bands had to be splined to match the rifling to prevent them getting torn off by the angular acceleration. Quite apart from the fact that the shell in the photo certainly doesn't appear to be splined, this raises quite a few questions: how did they line up the grooves? if they succeeded in doing that, what now defined the limit of ramming so as to calculate the new chamber volume? Answers on a postcard, please.. biggrin.gif blink.gif

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#24 angie999

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Posted 22 March 2005 - 09:38 AM

I know this will provoke howls of protest, but the article in question is a cartridge case, not a shell case. In this context, there is no such thing as a shell case, no matter what dealers and collectors may incorrectly call them.

#25 MikB

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Posted 22 March 2005 - 09:09 PM

QUOTE (angie999 @ Mar 22 2005, 09:38 AM)
I know this will provoke howls of protest, but the article in question is a cartridge case, not a shell case. In this context, there is no such thing as a shell case, no matter what dealers and collectors may incorrectly call them.



Language is a very democratic thing. Words mean what users agree that they mean and usage changes over time. Most people accept a bit of flexibility in definition, so as to avoid fussing over it and thereby failing to communicate anything of value. tongue.gif

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MikB