March 23

This Day in History

World War I

Mar 23, 1918:

Paris hit by shells from new German gun

At 7:20 in the morning on March 23, 1918, an explosion in the Place de la Republique in Paris announces the first attack of a new German gun.

The Pariskanone, or Paris gun, as it came to be known, was manufactured by Krupps; it was 210mm, with a 118-foot-long barrel, which could fire a shell the impressive distance of some 130,000 feet, or 25 miles, into the air. Three of them fired on Paris that day from a gun site at CrÉpy-en-Laonnaise, 74 miles away.

The gun sent Paris, a city that had withstood all earlier attempts at its destruction, including scattered bombings, reeling. At first, the Paris Defense Service assumed the city was being bombed, but soon they determined that it was actually being hit by artillery fire, a heretofore unimagined situation. By the end of the day, the shelling had killed 16 people and wounded 29 more. It would continue throughout the German offensive of that year in four separate phases between March 23 and August 9, 1918, inflicting a total of somewhere under 260 Parisian casualties. This low total was due to the fact that the residents of Paris learned to avoid gathering in large groups during shellings, limiting the number of those killed and wounded by the shells and diminishing the initially terrifying impact of the weapon.

Almost all information about the Pariskanone, one of the most sophisticated weapons to emerge out of World War I, disappeared after the war ended. Later, the Nazis tried without success to reproduce the gun from the few pictures and diagrams that remained. Copies were deployed in 1940 against Britain across the English Channel, but failed to cause any significant damage.

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