The Paris Gun

The Paris Gun

From Pierre and Luce

The Paris Gun, named after its sole purpose of shelling Paris from extreme distance began firing on the morning of 21st March 1918. The Gun holds a significant place in the history of astronautics as its shells were the first human-made objects that reached the stratosphere. Shells took 170 seconds to reach Paris, rising as high as 40 km above the earth. Parisians believed they'd been bombed by a new type of high-altitude zeppelin, as neither the sound of an airplane nor a gun could be heard. It was the largest piece of artillery used during the war and is considered a supergun.
When first deployed the shells caused widespread alarm among inhabitants which quickly subsided. A weapon like no other, its capabilities are not known with certainty, due to the weapon's total destruction by the Germans in the face of the Allied offensive.
The effects were without military importance, the results being some destruction of property and the killing and wounding of a number of harmless citizens, including women and children. However, the objective was to build a psychological weapon to attack the morale of the Parisians, not to destroy the city itself.

Designed and operated by the German Navy and manufactured by the firm of Krupp, some seven guns were made using bored-out 380mm naval guns, each fitted with special 40 metre long inserted barrels. Just three of the guns were ever in use at any one time, fired from the Forest of Coucy.
Such was the rapid wear and tear of firing 120kg shells, each requiring a 180kg powder charge, towards Paris that the gun's lining required reboring after approximately 20 shots. After every firing the succeeding shell needed to be of slightly greater width
The Paris Gun was a propaganda success in Germany. The Allies searched in vain for the guns during the German retreat of August 1918 and after the armistice, but in vain. No example of the Paris Gun has been located then or since.
The church of St-Gervais-et-St-Protais is one of the oldest in Paris, mentioned as early as the fourth century. Dedicated to Gervasius and Protasius, the church was the seat of the brotherhood of wine merchants. The square, Place Saint-Gervais, located at the foot of the steps outside the church, was for a long time called the Crossroads of the Elm. Since the Middle Ages, a venerable monarch of an elm grew at its center. The inhabitants of the neighborhood would exchange money there.


The American Ambassador in Paris, William Graves Sharp on the Paris Gun
"So full was each day's account of tragic events during this period of the war in particular, that nothing, however unusual in its every phase, seemed to startle Paris. The most notable exception to this statement was the horror of Good Friday, the twenty-ninth day of March, 1918, at the church of St. Gervais, which was occasioned by a shot from one of the long-range guns. The loss in life was indeed so great, the circumstances so tragic, that, in addition, because of the sacred character of the day itself, I felt impelled, in giving an account of this event to the Department of State, to characterize it as the most destructive of any single shot that had been fired by the enemy during the war. It was at the same time most costly in consequences, for it had its echo throughout all Christendom. As the details of this horrible catastrophe came to be known, the list of the dead mounting to nearly one hundred, a wave of indignation and horror swept over the city.

Visiting the church with Mrs. Sharp as soon thereafter as we were permitted, I beheld a scene of wreckage such as would seem inconceivable for a single shell to cause. Striking at a point high in the vaulted roof near the front of the sacred edifice, an almost incredible displacement of the heavy stones of solid masonry, of which the columns and arches were constructed, had resulted. Many stones from this débris had fallen upon the heads of the congregation. The destruction of life was appalling, and the scene was that of a veritable shambles. Though all the bodies of the poor unfortunates had by that time been removed, yet in many places on the floor were blood stains of the innocent victims ; in places the gruesome sight of human brains could be seen. Rich and poor had gathered there that afternoon, not alone for purposes of worship, but also to hear the organ music for which the church was famed. Among those who lost their lives that day were a number of Americans. The full meaning of the horror was brought nearer to us because some of them at different times had been our guests at the Embassy. One of these, Madame Landon, was a niece of former Vice-President Levi P. Morton, who, in the early '80's, was American Minister to France.
The fact that the Counsellor of the Swiss Legation, M. Stroehlin, together with his wife, met their death at that time created a marked impression upon the public mind. He was not only in the diplomatic service of a neutral Power, but was then engaged in looking after German interests. Many years before, he had been a Secretary of the Swiss Legation at Washington. He was very popular in Paris, and his taking away in this cruel manner came as a great shock to those in diplomatic circles. So horrible indeed had been some of the circumstances connected with the death of M. and Madame Stroehlin, that not until many hours thereafter were the mangled remains of the wife discovered beneath a great pile of fallen stone.
On calling a day or two later upon my colleague, M. Dunant, the Swiss Minister, to express my sympathy, he voiced the greatest indignation at such an act. I am sure that in so doing he echoed the sentiment of not alone the Allied Powers, but of all neutrals. The answer of the German Government, that of necessity it could not direct its shots so as to avoid places of worship, contained in itself its own condemnation. The fruits of such a crime could only in the slightest and most indirect manner be of any military advantage."

Steven Wlazly
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