The largest guns built for battle in the First World War do not derive from any sense of personal inadequacy in those tasked with winning the war. These weapons could shoot farther and hit harder than smaller guns, and so gave their possessor an advantage in range and capability. As the war went on, those reasons gave the combatant nations much incentive to develop new technologies to manufacture the largest weapons. Their deployment, on land and sea, faced hurdles, too, as the size of ships and mobile mounts (usually railway-borne mounts) had to be increased to accommodate these larger guns. Not only was the technology of the time pushed to the limit to design useful versions of these weapons, a considerable share of manufacturing capacity needed to be devoted to making the guns, their mounts, and ammunition for them.

Evolution of the largest guns: a schematic as of 1916. Credit: Scientific American Supplement, October 14, 1916


Our full archive of the war, called Scientific American Chronicles: World War I, has many articles from 1914–1918 on the technology of warfare on the Western Front in the First World War. It is available for purchase at