Despite the fact that many artilllery pieces were much larger than the strange device known as 'Little David', the fact remains that this weapon still holds the record of having the largest calibre of any modern artillery piece at no less than 914 mm (36 in), and not even the largest German railway gun, the huge 80-cm K(E), got anywhere near that with its calibre of 800 mm (31.5 in).
Little David was one of the oddities of the artillery world. It had its origins in a device used to test aircraft bombs by firing them from converted largecalibre howitzers at chosen targets. Existing howitzers could not manage to fire the heavier bombs so a device known as the Bomb Testing Device Tl was designed and produced. It performed well enough and gave somebody the idea of using the device as an artillery weapon proper. With the invasion of the mainland of Japan in prospect such a weapon would be ideal for demolishing the expected Japanese bunkers and strongpoints, so the project was given the go-ahead in March 1944 and firing tests started later the same year.
Little David was little more than a large muzzle-loaded mortar with a rifled barrel. The barrel rested in a steel box buried in a deep pit which also contained the elevating gear and the six hydraulic jacks, used to mount and remove the barrel. Some traverse was provided in the box mounting and the barrel was elevated and depressed using a geared quadrant on the breech end of the barrel. There was no recuperator mechanism, the barrel being simply pumped back into position after each firing. Loading was by a special crane which formed part of Little David's equipment train.
The projectile was of a unique form with a long tapered nose and a curved base. It weighed no less than 1678 kg (3,700 lb), of which 726kg (1,600 lb) was explosive. Such a projectile would have had dreadful effects on any target, but Little David was never used in action. During its firing trials it was soon demonstrated that accuracy was poor, and the US Army was less than enchanted by the 12-hour emplacement time required every time the weapon was used. The war ended before the development trials were complete and the US Army promptly put the whole project 'on ice' before finally cancelling it during late 1946. Thus Little David never even left the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland where all its development and firing trials had been conducted, and the weapon promptly became a museum piece for the wonderment of all. Today it can still be seen there, forming part of the extensive ordnance museum that occupies much of the site open to the public. The weapon is still relatively complete. What appears to be a small metal shed is in fact the main mounting which was supposed to be dug into a pit. The barrel rests on its transporter wheels ready to be towed in semi-trailer fashion by a heavy tractor, and one of the oddly-shaped shells is still to hand.
Specification Little David
Calibre: 914 mm (36 in)
Length of piece: with elevating arc 8.534 m (28 ft 0 in)
Weight complete: 82808 kg (182,560 lb)
Elevation: +45° to +65°
Muzzle velocity: not recorded
Maximum range: 8687 m (9,500 yards)
Shell weight: 1678 kg (3,700 lb)