|Dear Mr. Guinan
I really LOVE Steampunk. Of course I'm a fan of both "Les Aventures De Adele Blanc-Sec" and "The League Of Exraordinaire Gentlemen - and I resent there is usually little more than that at the book shops. Were FEMOPOLIS and BOILERPLATE your only projects about - or could I keep some hope to see anything else from you on the racks someday? Otherwise, both the esthetical concept and one of the basic premises of FEMOPOLIS (A Victorian-Eduardian matriarchal society!? Gibson Amazons?) really seduce me. On my own account, I've been thinking of a sort of Ruritanian Amazon realm set somewhere over Eastern Europe by the fashionable 1900s or 1930s for years - though I've never had the talent or free time to write anything about...
As for the Paris Gun - this was NOR the Big Bertha NEITHER the railway gun at the picture (which looks better like a "Long Max"). However, such a confussion is very common, even in some History textbooks, Dictionaries and Encyclopaedias - or it is also possible to see the term "Bertha" used as a generic label for any super-gun of the period. Otherwise, all these weapons were designed and built in the greatest secrecy, and after their first shots propaganda mills spread a lot of more or less boastful tall-telling and just brazen fibbing about them - among Germans as well as Allies. Master Gunner Ian V.Hogg referred to it as "soldierly folklore".
From a Steampunk point of view, it must be noted that extra-long range super-guns for strategic bombardment have been already foreseen by JV himself at "The 500 Millions Of The Begum" (matched to a frankly Germanophobic depiction of a character clearly patterned on Alfried Krupp). And if you mount one of those guns on a railway carriage and send it to battle hooked after a steam locomotive...
Both Bertha, Max and the Pariskanone were Krupp products, and an outstanding ballistician called Professor Fritz Rausenberger the "evil mastermind" after them. "Die Firma" had forged, tested and eventually displayed at Universal Expositions mamooth guns since 1867 (a 1,000pdr "Great Gun" which enjoyed of great publicity) but by 1900 it started a methodic and VERY CONFIDENTIAL program with a 35cm howitzer able to fire a 800lb shell (if I'm not wrong, it was labeled "Beta-gerät") - a former 24cm experimental howitzer being re-labeled "Alpha". In 1908 they were approached by the Imperial German Army, which was interested on something to quickly put out of order state-of-the-art fortresses - like those built by Belgians around Liege - and so fit into the "Schlieffen Plan". By 1911/12 there already was a 42cm bore, 2,400lb shell "Gamma-gerät" at the test range - but it would have been carried by railway and mounted on concrete fundations, this being a serious handicap for the app!
ointed task. Krupp made a lighter and more serviceable version, "officially" called "Gamma-M", "M-42" or 42cm "Mörser" (mortar) L/14. They were built two of them, and the unit they were issued was listed as "KMK 3" - "Kurz Marin Kanone" (Short Naval Gun) Battery Nº3. Later, German guners nicknamed them "Dicke Bertha" (and sometimes "Fleissige Bertha") because of Gustav Krupp's wife*. Each "Bertha" was broken down in five loads, each towed by a Daimler-Benz tractor for road transportation. It fired a 1,800lb base-fuzed, concrete&steel piercing shell onto a 3 miles high trayectory, then nose-diving almost vertically on forts, turrets and cupolas.
(*By the way: Bertha Krupp was Alfried's daughter, and Gustav von Bohlen had been purposelly authorized by Kaiser Wilhem to take his wife's surname... supposedly, the von Bohlen were the really blue-blooded Junker family - but Krupp has become quite a surname to carry)
Once static frontlines were stablished and trench warfare turned to be the way, railway artillery (otherwise, premiered during American Civil War) became a very sound fashion - naval and coastal defence ordnance being the usual stuff from which it was usually arranged not only by Germans, but also Frenchmen and Americans. The "Lange Max" was basically a 38cm, L45 gun of the type proyected for the latest "superdreadnought" series - mounted on a very well designed railway carriage, and often fired from an also very satisfactory turntable. It could be asigned to one or another sector of the front, concealed into tunnels or camouflaged hangars and quickly released to aim, fire and hide again, it delivered a very powerful warhead at a very long range, etc. There were made up-to-30 sets of the basic 38cm type and its variants (35/38 and 35.5).
Somehow, the "Pariskanone" was an extreme improvement of the "Lange Max" and it actually shared many parts and elements with it. Sometimes, it was also reported as a "21/35" version of the "Max" - which resulted in further confusion (and perhaps that was what the General Staff wanted!) The 38cm barrel served as outer cover for a 110 ft, 21cm bore inner tube, braced by a characteristic bridge-like system in order to keep it straight. The gun was always fired at 54° elevation, muzzle velocity being about a mile per second, and the barrel had a planned 60-round service life. There was a series of numbered shells assigned to each gun, featuring gradually enlarged driving bands (shell #60 was 222mm calibre). It was even planned to recycle the wasted-out barrels by reboring them to 24cm. There were arranged three mountings (which eventually fell in Allied hands) and several barrels (all them lost or purposely destroyed by the Germans).
At his wonderful Astronautix.com website (http://friends-partners.org/mwade/lvs/parisgun.htm) Mr.Wade appoints the interesting fact that those shells became the man-made objects reaching highest altitude (42km above sea level) for over a quarter a century - their record being beaten by the A-4/V-2 tests in 1942. However, Mr.Wade also gives "Big Bertha" and "Long Max" as alternative nicknames for the PK.
The greatest and most powerful guns ever built were also Krupp stuff - the WWII 80cm "Gustav" and "Dora" designed to shell Maginot Line. Only "Gustav" was actually engaged into action - at the Russian Front, before Sebastopol. They required a special double railway track to be moved, and their shells were about 7 TON WEIGHT. One of them passed through 30 meters of solid rock to hit right on a Russian magazine.
Information and graphics on these and other equivalent weapons can be found at -
http://html2.free.fr/canons/canparis.htm (French only, but very detailed - and good graphics)
http://www.railwaygun.co.uk/ (really impressive images from the "PK" and a "Gustav" color artwork - you must see it to believe such a monster existed)
http://gathmannpast.tripod.com (the American forerunner of Krupp?)
And both Curt Johnson's "Artillery" (Octopus Books Lted., 1975 - artwork by Peter Sarsons) and Master Gunner Ian V.Hogg's "The Guns 1914-1918" (Ballantine Books, 1971) brings not only technical details, but also a critical discussion on Berthas and PK as a topic in "soldiering folklore".
Alejandro Sergio Marí
(The Rememberful Heresiarch of Uqbar)