JF Ptak Science Books Post 1436
One very controlling interest of the naval metal arms race of the 19th century was the thickness of metal armor being carried by a ship of war. The thicker plate on ships made it extremely important to develop cannons that were powerful enough to throw a projectile with enough weight and velocity so that an armored ship could be pierced and sunk.
And such a beast is what is described here in the 1876 issue of the Popular Science Review, addressing "The Eighty-Ton Gun, or Woolwich Infant" (a copy of the original of which is found at our blog bookstore). The first armored ships starting appearing around 1860, and things progressed rapidly enough so that by the time this gun was made in 1876 it was capable of penetrating 20 inches of iron from a distance of 1,000 yards. It was a beast, taking a 240-pound charge to throw a 1,200 pound projectile. It was actually (at least) the second Woolwich Infant, coming after an earlier version of the gun that was 35 tons.
Of course this weapon looked puny in comparison to the Mars Canon, but this didn't exist.
This is the cover art by the fabulous Frank R. Paul for Stanley D. Bell's "Martian Guns" found in the January 1932 issue of Wonder Stories. There's really no way to determine how big the gun is except to say that it is probably "big"--there's just nothing to place the thing in perspective, as the figures in the foreground, being Martian, don't have a specific height. They could be 6' tall, or 60'--perhaps they're only 1/10 of an inch tale, and the projectile they're firing to the earth is so devastatingly powerful that size doesn't matter.
Back here on Earth and in the real world, the Kaiser Wilhelm gun (or "Paris Gun", the Kaiser Wilhelm Geshutz) was
a long-barreled, light shelled monster: its 92' long barrel (plus a 20' extension) launched a 94kg shell about 130 km, reaching a maximum height of 40km (about 25 miles) high. For all of its mass (the gun weighed 256 tons without the railway cars) the shell that it fired didn't weigh much at all....though the shell did reach an extreme height.
The Schwerer Gustav was a 1350 ton beast which fired a 14,000 pound shell (!) about 20 miles. A little later came the Nazi V-3 (the lesser known of the V-weapons), the Vergeltungsewaffe 3, a 130 metre (!) long, 150mm gun built along the side of a hill, launching a 140 kg shell. The Iraqi Big Babylon gun was sort of like this one, though never built--it was to have a 500' barrel and would be supported by a hillside. Then there was the Nuclear Tube: the Atomic Annie (M65) cannon, which was another bruiser, being an enormous 85' cannon that delivered the worst punch of all cannons, a nuclear warhead. The weapon was test-fired in 1953 at Frenchman Flat at the Nevada Test Site and delivered a 15kt explosive device to a target seven miles away. There were 20 of these made, but given their difficult-to-deploy-and-keep-secret status, and the nature of the shells, and the development of more sophisticated weapons, the M65 was obsolete almost as quickly as it was introduced, but was removed from the front line only in 1963.
But this is all getting ahead of ourselves, all in the future. I really just wanted to address the Woolwich Infant and its anti-metal-armor capacity.