Germany
38 cm/52 (14.96") SK C/34
Updated 02 April 2009

Used on the famous Bismarck class battleships, this weapon is usually - but incorrectly - referred to as being 47 calibers long, but it was actually 51.66 calibers in length.  It is also sometimes mistakenly described as being a carry over from the 38 cm L/45 guns used on the World War I-era Bayern class battleships.  In reality, these guns were built to a completely new design having little in common with the older guns other than their caliber.

A modified version of these guns known as Siegfried was widely used as coastal artillery.  The best-known of these was Battery Todt with four guns located near Haringzelles which often fired across the Straits of Dover.  Four more guns were used at Oxsby (Denmark), four at Hanstead (Denmark) and three at Kristiansand (Norway).

Besides the Bismarck and Tirpitz, it had been planned to rearm the small battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau with these weapons.  No serious work ever started for Scharnhorst, but three turrets were built during the early 1940s to rearm Gneisenau.  When Gneisenau was badly damaged in 1943, these three turrets plus an additional one originally intended for the Soviet Union were reallocated for use as coastal artillery.  These were to be installed at Cap de la Hague and at Paimpol in France, but this plan was never implemented.  Work on putting two of these turrets at Oxsby in Denmark was well advanced but incomplete by the end of the war.

Constructed of loose liner, A tube with four rings shrunk over it for about two-thirds of the length from the breech, a jacket shrunk over about two-thirds of the ring layer and a breech end-piece, breech block supporting piece and a horizontal sliding breech block.  Later guns had a loose liner that was removed from the breech end, but these were not universally interchangeable.

At least one gun still survives and is on display at Museumcenter Hanstholm.

WNGER_15-52_skc34_Tirpitz_Alta_pic.jpg

German Battleship Tirpitz in Alta Fjord, Norway
Note that the main rangefinders are oriented with their arms fore and aft
U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph # NH 71390

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Click here for additional pictures
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Gun Characteristics
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Designation 38 cm/52 (14.96") SK C/34
Ship Class Used On Bismarck and Schlachtschiff "O" Classes
Gneisenau as planned to be rebuilt
Date Of Design 1934
Date In Service 1939
Gun Weight Including breech mechanism:  244,713 lbs. (111,000 kg)
Gun Length oa 772.8 in. (19.630 m)
Bore Length 724.6 in. (18.405 m)
Rifling Length 629.2 in. (15.982 m)
Number Of Grooves (90) 0.177 in deep x 0.306 in (4.5 mm x 7.76 mm)
Lands 0.217 in (5.5 mm)
Twist Increasing RH 1 in 36 to 1 in 30
Chamber Volume 19,467 in3 (319 dm3)
Rate Of Fire 2.3 to 3 rounds per minute
Notes:

1) The weight figure above was for early production weapons.  Later weapons were 661 lbs. (300 kg) lighter.

2) Siegfried guns built for coastal defense had a larger chamber volume of 22,072 in3 (361.7 dm3) and shorter rifling length of 620 in (15.748 m).

3) Many references claim that this was the fastest firing large caliber gun ever built.  The ROF figures listed above represent generally published data that would support that claim.  However, Krupp official documents cite the ROF as being 26 seconds at a four degree elevation, not notably faster than that of other nations' large-caliber weapons.  Note that at this elevation the range would be considerably less than 10,000 meters.  It is possible that well trained gun crews would reduce this time to the 20 seconds necessary to meet a ROF of 3 times per minute.  A May 1941 report by the German Artillerieversuchskommando - AVSK (Artillery Testing Command for Ships) stated that the turret ammunition hoists on Bismarck were capable of delivering between 23 and 25 rounds per minute (for all four turrets), the equivalent of 3 rounds per minute per gun.  However, this same report stated that design faults in the hoists led to two significant breakdowns during the evaluation, both of which caused long interruptions in the ammunition supply.  Finally, it should be noted that Bismarck fired a total of 91 rounds during her thirteen minutes of firing at the Denmark Strait battle, which is actually less than one round per gun per minute.

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Ammunition
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Type Cartridge - Bag
Projectile Types and Weights Ship Projectiles
   APC L/4,4 - 1,764 lbs. (800 kg)
   HE L/4,5 base fuze - 1,764 lbs. (800 kg)
   HE L/4,6 nose fuze - 1,764 lbs. (800 kg)

Special Coastal Artillery Projectiles
   Siegfried HE L/4,5 - 1,091 lbs. (495 kg)
   HE L/4,4 base and nose fuze - 1,124 lbs. (510 kg)

Bursting Charge APC L/4,4 - 41.4 lbs. (18.8 kg)
HE L/4,5 base fuze - 71.9 lbs. (32.6 kg)
HE L/4,6 nose fuze - 141.5 lbs. (64.2 kg)
Others:  N/A
Projectile Length APC L/4,4 - 65.8 in (167.2 cm)
HE L/4,5 base fuze - 67.3 in (171.0 cm)
HE L/4,6 nose fuze - 68.8 in (174.8 cm)

Siegfried HE L/4,5 - 67.3 in (171.0 cm)
HE L/4,4 base and nose fuze - 65.8 in (167.2 cm)

Propellant Charge Fore:  219.4 lbs. (99.5 kg) RPC/38 (17/7)
Main:  248.0 lbs. (112.5 kg) RPC/38 (17/7)
Brass case for main charge:  154 lbs. (70 kg)
Muzzle Velocity For naval shells:  2,690 fps (820 mps)
For coastal artillery shells:  3,445 fps (1,050 mps)
Working Pressure 20.3 tons/in2 (3,200 kg/cm2)
Approximate Barrel Life 180 - 210 rounds (see Note 2)
Ammunition stowage per gun 108 rounds (see Note 3)
Notes:

1) These guns, like most large caliber German guns, used a "fore charge" which was propellant in a silk bag, and a "main charge" which was propellant in a brass case.  The brass case helped to seal the breech of the gun.

2) With the lighter coastal artillery projectiles, life was increased to nearly 350 rounds.

3) This is the design figure and probably reflects only shell room storage.  "German Warships 1815-1945" says that the actual outfit ranged from 112 to 120 rounds while "German Capital Ships of World War Two" says the outfit was 130 rounds per gun.  These latter figures most likely include "ready rounds" stored in the handling rooms and gunhouses.

4) APC and HE ballistic caps had a radius of 10 calibers.

5) Fore and Main charges were rammed together.

6) Actual Projectile designations were as follows:
   APC L/4,4 - Psgr. L/4,4 (mhb)
   HE L/4,5 base fuze - Spr.gr. L/4,5 Bdz (mhb)
   HE L/4,6 nose fuze - Spr.gr. L/4,6 Kz (mhb)
   Siegfried HE L/4,5 - Si.gr. L/4,5 Bdz u. Kz (mhb)
   CA SAP L/4,4 - Spr.gr. L/4,4 Bdz u. Kz (mhb)

7) These ships did not carry WGr 4592 projectiles with shaped-charge warheads.

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Range
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Elevation
With 1,764 lbs. (800 kg) AP
Striking Velocity
Angle of Fall
2.2 degrees
5,470 yards (5,000 m)
2,385 fps (727 mps)
2.4
4.9 degrees
10,940 yards (10,000 m)
2,103 fps (641 mps)
5.8
8.1 degrees
16,400 yards (15,000 m)
1,864 fps (568 mps)
10.4
12.1 degrees
21,870 yards (20,000 m)
1,677 fps (511 mps)
16.4
16.8 degrees
27,340 yards (25,000 m)
1,552 fps (473 mps)
23.8
22.4 degrees
32,810 yards (30,000 m)
1,499 fps (457 mps)
31.9
29.1 degrees
38,280 yards (35,000 m)
1,516 fps (462 mps)
40.3
30 degrees 
(max elevation of turret)
39,589 yards (36,520 m)
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52 degrees
(as coastal artillery)
45,932 yards (42,000 m)
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Elevation
With 1,091 lbs. (495 kg) HE
Striking Velocity
Angle of Fall
52 degrees
(as coastal artillery)
60,000 yards (54,900 m)
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Note:  Time of flight for APC Shell with MV = 2,690 fps (820 mps)
   10,940 yards (10,000 m): 13.9 seconds
   21,870 yards (20,000 m):  32.0 seconds
   32,810 yards (30,000 m):  55.5 seconds
   38,280 yards (35,000 m):  69.9 seconds
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Armor Penetration with 1,765 lbs. (800 kg) AP Shell
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Range
Side Armor
Deck Armor
0 yards (0 m)
29.23" (742 mm)
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5,000 yards (4,572 m)
24.26" (616 mm)
0.76" (19.3 mm)
19,685 yards (18,000 m)
16.50" (419 mm)
2.96" (75.0 mm)
24,060 yards (22,000 m)
15.49" (393 mm)
4.15" (104 mm)
29,528 yards (27,000 m)
11.98" (304 mm)
5.02" (126 mm)
Note:  The above information is from "Battleships:  Axis and Neutral Battleships in World War II" for a muzzle velocity of 2,690 fps (820 mps) and is based upon the USN Empirical Formula for Armor Penetration.
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Range
Side Armor
Deck Armor
10,936 yards (10,000 m)
20.08" (510 mm)
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21,872 yards (20,000 m)
14.33" (364 mm)
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22,966 yards (21,000 m)
13.78" (350 mm)
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27,340 yards (25,000 m)
12.13" (308 mm)
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32,808 yards (30,000 m)
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about 4.70" (120 mm)
38,276 yards (35,000 m)
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about 6.69" (170 mm)
Note:  The above information is from "German Capital Ships of World War Two" for a muzzle velocity of 2,690 fps (820 mps) and is based upon German face-hardened (side) and homogenous (deck) armor penetration curves.
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Mount / Turret Data
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Designation Two-gun Turrets
   Bismarck (4), Gneisenau (3) and "O" (3):  Drh LC/38
Weight  2,319,253 lbs. (1,052,000 kg)
Elevation -5.5 / +30 degrees
Coastal artillery:  -3 / +55 or more degrees
Elevation Rate 6 degrees per second
Train -145 / +145 degrees
Train Rate 5 degrees per second
Gun recoil 41.3 in (1.050 m)
Loading Angle +2.5 degrees
Notes:

1) These turrets were electrically powered for main training, auxiliary training, auxiliary elevation, auxiliary hoists and reserve power for some of the loading gear, otherwise they were hydraulically powered by two electrically driven pumps in each turret.  Run out was pneumatic.  Emergency hand elevation equipment was provided.

2) As in all large German mountings, these turrets were supported by ball bearings, not the tapered rollers preferred by other nations.  Shell rooms were below the magazines.  Magazines were above the shell rooms.  All four turrets originally had 10.5 m (34 feet 5 inches) rangefinders, but that on turret  Anton was removed following water damage during the winter of 1940/1941.

3) Distance between gun axes was 108.3 in (275 cm).

4) Each gun was served by a shell cage driven by hydraulic cylinders with rack and pinion drive of a wire drum.  The shell cage picked up the charge cage on its way to the gunhouse.  The shell cage carried the main and fore charges end to end on a single tray.  The hoists came up between the guns and the shells were transferred to the loading tray by rammers.  As the shell was transferred, the charges were moved to a waiting cage.  After the shell was loaded, the waiting cage moved down to the level of the loading tray.  The space between them was bridged by a ramp and the charges were then rolled into the loading tray.  Both charges were rammed together.  The auxiliary hoists lifted shells and propellant one after the other in a vertical position and came up to the rear of each gun.  These were transferred to a tiltable cage and could be then loaded by the main rammer.  A manual rammer which required between ten to fourteen crewmen to operate was provided as a backup.

5) There were at least five and perhaps as many as ten ready rounds stored in the back of each turret.

6) RPC was fitted for elevation but not for training.  This elevation control was considered to be unsatisfactory in Bismarck.

7) Turret Anton had a unique rotary cartridge ejection system, an improvement over the simpler flap-cover used on previous designs and on the other three turrets.  The flap-cover designs had proved inadequate on Scharnhorst and Gniesenau, allowing water ingress into their bow turrets during their engagement with the British battlecruiser Renown.

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Data from
"Schlachtschiff Tirpitz" by Jochen Brennecke
"Naval Weapons of World War Two" by John Campbell
"Battleships:  Axis and Neutral Battleships in World War II" by W.H. Garzke, Jr. and R.O. Dulin, Jr.
"German Warships 1815-1945" by Erich Gröner
"Naval Guns:  500 years of Ship and Coastal Artillery" by Hans Mehl
"German Capital Ships of World War Two" by M.J. Whitley
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AVKS Tests aboard Battleship Bismarck at The Battleship Bismarck

Other Resources

Additional information about these weapons may be found in the INRO article, The Loss of HMS Hood


Page History

11 May 2007 - Benchmark
02 April 2009 - Added comment regarding existing weapon