U-Boat deck gun, the research continues!

Krupp 8.8 cm 30 calibre quick-firing deck gun, no. 1972, produced 1916 Krupp 8.8 cm 30 calibre quick-firing deck gun, no. 1972, produced 1916 (author’s photo)

Sometimes you go about as far as you can researching something, and you still don’t have the answers you crave.  This happens surprisingly often with museum artifacts, as the chain of provenance and the wealth of detail that might have accompanied the artifact breaks down, and what you are left with is partial documentation, rumour, enigma, and frustration!  Such is the case for me when I consider the German Ubts naval gun, 8.8cm, 30 caliber, serial no. 1972, produced in 1916 by Krupp, in their Essen works.  Today this piece is on display in LeBreton Gallery, at the Canadian War Museum.  This is a breech-loading, quick-firing gun that used a vertical sliding breech block.  It was likely an adaptation of a design for torpedo boats and other small craft, and could stand long periods of immersion in salt water. I have now researched this streamlined submarine deck gun 2 times professionally and now lately, because it has become a grudge match.  This gun is unique, and important, simply by its rarity.  There are no others in Canada like it, and indeed, there is not even what you would expect would be more common, a deck gun from a Second World War U-boat.*  There are very few of these in existence, and most were recovered from wrecks.  It may be the only WW1 Krupp gun of its exact type in near perfect condition.  The submarine campaign featured periods of restricted and unrestricted submarine warfare, where the imperial German navy tried to cut the supply lifelines to Great Britain and hamper the Allied war effort in Europe.  Deck guns were used for shelling ships when the sub was on the surface, to save torpedos, or to allow the crews to evacuate.  This gun might have sunk merchant ships and killed their crew members.

Krupp 8.8cm business end, showing the 32 groove right handed twist on the rifling (author's photo) Krupp 8.8cm business end, showing the 32 groove right-handed twist on the rifling (author’s photo)

There are two origin myths connected with this gun: One note in the file gave some fairly recent information that it had been linked to U-91.  In the First World War, there were German subs named U-91, UB-91 (a smaller coastal boat) and UC-91 (a mine-laying boat).  UB-91s gun has actually survived and is on display in Chestow, England.  It is the larger 10.5 cm deck gun.  UC-91 was sunk in the North Sea after the war.  That leaves U-91, which is described in January 1918 as having been armed with the more potent mix of both a 10.5cm and an 8.8 cm gun.**  The second potential provenance is more strange, and features an army unit capturing (or at least laying claim to) the naval gun.  In an inventory of war trophy artillery in Ottawa in the interwar era, this Krupp is clearly IDed, but is listed as having been claimed by the 72nd Infantry Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force (a Vancouver unit, today perpetuated by the Seaforth highlanders of Canada).  This unit’s involvement with the gun is a key mystery.  There are several possibilities, but they all seem a bit unlikely.  Could the 72nd have picked it up somehow after the war from one of the boats being scrapped along the French coast or in England?  Could both these provenance details be linked? For example, did the 72nd organize to have the gun brought back to Canada from where U-91 was being disassembled on the French coast?  The search continues.

*The closest thing to another submarine deck gun is a 76mm Japanese gun captured during the Kiska landings in the Second World War and today on display in Vernon, BC.  This gun was of the right type to have been used on a sub, but was in fact part of a coastal battery when it was found.

**Michael Lowrey, from Uboat.net, contributed many helpful details about this gun, KTB u-boat war diaries, German First World war submarine armament generally, similar survivors, and possible provenance.

Giant German Wooden Trench Mortars! Be Afraid…be very afraid.

This Australian War Memorial image of an Albrecht likely depicts the largest variety (45cm bore) of this odd weapon. (AWM E 02902)

This Australian War Memorial image of an Albrecht likely depicts the larger (35 or 45 cm bore) type of this odd weapon. (AWM E 02902)
Though they would seem to be the product of a deranged cooper, not a highly industrialized nation that produced Krupp super guns and mortars on mass scale, these were terrifying weapons in the trenches. They lobbed a massive explosive tin dubbed a “coal scuttle” by allied troops. It was a very simple cylindrical tin packed with explosives and iron bits. The weapon normally had a maximum range of about 600m. These came in 25cm, 35cm, and 45cm barrel sizes.  The bottom photo shows an erdmorser (buried trench mortar), which was usually buried in the ground with the rails propped against an embankment or trench wall to roughly aim it at an enemy trench.  The other photos are Albrecht mortars, whose barrels are constructed of wooden staves and reinforced by wire wound round them. 
Albrecht 25cm mortar
Albrecht 25cm mortar, Canadian War Museum (Author’s photo)
albrecht barrel with metal sleeve
albrecht barrel with metal sleeve, which should be along the lower interior of the mortar (courtesy Brome County Historical Society)
This strange mortar was not an Albrecht, but an erdmorser (another type of wooden mortar whose breech end was buried in the ground, the long trough was then propped up to fire on the target). This appears to have been placed on a standard Albrecht mounting, but whether this was done in the field or for convenience by archives staff here at the War Trophies Annex is unknown. (LAC photo)

Trench mortars offered artillery support to troops near the front lines, and they were sited close to the firing line, making rapid communication and fire tasking possible (unlike fixed artillery located in the rear).  At the outbreak of war, the Germans could draw on many more well-designed mortars than Allied powers, which scrambled to adapt and improvise close-support weapons. Still, the Germans felt the need to produce these unusual wooden mortars.  In Canada today at least two of these rare and strange mortars exist: The Canadian War Museum had a nice example, and the Brome County Historical Society has an un-mounted barrel in the corner of its displays.  Both these are the 25cm varieties.

Shine on you crazy searchlight!

120cm Siemens Schuckert Searchlight This mostly-intact Siemens-Schuckert unit (shown from rear) was captured on the Western Front by Australians near Roy, Belgium. Photo by Author

One of the more unusual trophies brought back to Canada was this 120cm Siemens-Schuckert German Searchlight captured by Australians near Roy, Belgium (possibly the 14th battalion). It would have been used for anti-aircraft defence at night. This light was put on display in the war trophy exhibits, kept by the public archives in their trophies shed, and today is in the Canadian War Museum’s collection. It is in decent shape but won’t be lighting anyone up any time soon! Below is a photo of it in the Public Archives’ War Trophies Annex building along with a massive SN 1650 lb. British bomb (also now at the CWM) intended for bombing raids over Germany by heavy bombers such as the Handley Page 0/400. There was a similar or identical Siemens-Schukert large searchlight captured by the 31st Battalion (Alberta) during the Amiens Offensive, but this light was described as having not been brought in, and does not seem to have ever been recovered by a Canadian unit (from the War Diary report on Ops. here). The last postcard here also shows a very similar unit (from an Austrian searchlight unit) being towed by mechanical transport with its crew.

War Trophies Annex display, 1920s of large bombs and German Searchlight. War Trophies Annex display, 1920s of large shells (probably naval) and the searchlight. War Trophy records indicate only one large searchlight and several smaller signalling lamps were brought to Canada. (LAC photo)

The tank-man Bumbleth!

One man tank, photo from War trophies Annex building, Ottawa, 1920s (LAC photo)
One man tank, photo from War trophies Annex building, Ottawa, 1920s (LAC photo)

These bizarre pieces of equipment were sometimes called one-man tanks, or mobile personnel shields. They are described in the war trophies catalogs as German but the above model is French (despite the Mauser rifle).  The inspiration for this came from Col. Jean Baptiste Eugène Estienne, The French “father of tanks” who was searching for solutions to overcome devastating German MG and rifle fire.  Both types shown above and below are also found today in Les Invalides’ Army Museum collection in Paris. These were likely gifts to Canada from the French government (along with other material on this website).  These artifacts, in the Public Archives’ Sussex annex building appear to have not survived.  Operationally, they weren’t a great success. They were cumbersome, conspicuous, must have been nearly impossible to navigate through a wire-strewn, pockmarked landscape, and must have been hard to aim out of.  It would also seem like there would be no real way to withdraw in the one-man tank without exposing the soldier to enemy fire.

Yikes! This is the view looking in the shield on display at Les Invalides, Paris. (public domain)
Yikes! This is the view looking forward in the compartment of the shield on display at Les Invalides, Paris. (public domain)

Below there is a larger, up-gunned type that was like a mobile pillbox.  It seems more likely that this may be German, as it appears to be armed with an MG08, and the rifles do not appear to be British or French.

This appears to have been armed with a Heavy MG and had two rifle slits (LAC Photo)
This appears to have been armed with a Heavy MG and had two rifle slits (LAC Photo)

96-year old Vimy Ridge newsreel from Library and Archives Canada

This links to part 2 of a very interesting series about the four Canadian divisions at Vimy, April 1917. Watch out for the map as the Canadians attain their objectives…It becomes rather shocking with shell bursts and advancing dots!! At about 6:00, this reel starts into a series of war trophy captures, with grinning troops nearby 7.7cm field guns and infantry guns, some 17 or 25 cm minenwerfers (trench mortars), one sFH02 15cm Howitzer…a nice series! Enjoy: http://youtu.be/-SHuOLV5UUs!


The remarkable science of reading serial numbers off old, corroded guns!

Good luck with this! Serial numbers on cannon manufactured from the Victorian era until the present are important because they are the key coordinates for tracing actual details about that weapons’ history. Some cannon breeches I’ve seen have featured someone using solvent or abrasive to get through layers of paint, grime, and corrosion. While this may be officially undertaken by the local groups, I’m not sure they would appreciate me freelancing. I try to treat the guns like old gravestones, and do a charcoal rubbing on paper. When it works it is okay, but other times the corroded bumps make it useless. Another deeply-scientific technique is using your camera flash, a flashlight or app on your phone, or just the sunlight to look for different angles, raised ridges and indentations. Most Field Guns and Howitzers had serial no.s that read “Nr. _____” with anywhere from 1 to 5 digits. For other types see my note on serial numbers in the War Trophies database tab. Good searching and interpreting! My advice is, if you know what the gun’s number should be from the ledger or another source, don’t accept it uncritically and see that number. Plenty of these guns, machine guns, and mortars were shuffled around. It helps to go to the sources after examination. Using the rubbing shown below (And the War trophies database), we can determine that the gun no. 438, located in Mt. Stewart, PEI was captured by the 11th British Division, operating with Canadian units on the 27th Sep. 1918, during the first day of the Canal du Nord battle, and originally shipped to Charlottetown on June 21st, 1920 by CPR rail.  Interestingly, the rail ferry service (using the SS Prince Island) between Cape Tormentine, NB, and Borden, PEI, was new at this time, and sections of the line on the PEI side had been built by prisoners of war.

Mt. Stewart FH98-09 rubbingproper This gun is in front of the library/interpretive center, but used to be at the legion.
Mt. stewart FH 89-09 no.438,Author, July 13' Mt. Stewart 105mm howitzer no.438