Stein Collectors International
Featured Stein ~ August 2010

A Mettlach Artillery Stein

By Mark Fiebrandt

This month's stein is a beautiful antique Mettlach pottery beer tankard from Germany with pewter lid and thumb lift. This early 1900's beer mug has a transfer and hand painted scene of a German artillery howitzer known as Big Bertha. Shooting out of the cannon are the words Gruss aus Essen which means, Greetings from Essen. Also in the decoration are hops vines and the Essen city crest with a double headed eagle and sword.

Essen Germany is the town of the German firm Krupp, famous for their steel production and their manufacture of ammunition and armaments. Krupp produced most of the artillery of the Imperial German Army, including its big guns. The name "Big Bertha" (German: "Dicke Bertha"; literal translation "Fat Bertha") was commonly applied to a whole variety of large-calibre German artillery guns. It started in the year 1900 where Krupp armaments factory at Essen built a 350-mm howitzer that could fire an 800 lb shell over 10,000 yards. In 1902, Friedrich Krupp died leaving the Krupp industrial empire to his elder child Bertha Krupp, the sole proprietor. Although she maintained ownership until 1943, it was impossible for a woman to exercise control over the company. Therefore, Kaiser Wilhelm II arranged for Bertha to marry Gustav von Bohlen und Halbach, a professional diplomat of a good family and a familiar figure at the Kaiser's court. He added the name Krupp to his surname and assumed executive control of the company. The big guns most likely derived their nickname from Gustav's wife, Bertha.

The first movable "Big Bertha" was a 42cm howitzer siege mortar, model L/14 designed in the aftermath of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904 on behalf of the German Army. In 1908 the German Army asked Gustav Krupp to build an improved version of this gun with the capability of destroying the heaviest fortification. By 1912 Krupp had produced a 420mm weapon that fired a 2,100 lb shell over 16,000 yards. As it weighed 175 tons, it was designed to be transported in five sections by rail and assembled at the firing site. This concerned the German Army and they asked for it to be adapted to be moved by road. By 1914 the company had produced a mobile howitzer also called Big Bertha. This 43 ton howitzer could fire a 2,200 lb shell over 9 miles. Transported by Daimler-Benz tractors, it took its 200-man crew over six hours to re-assemble it on the site.

On the outbreak of the First World War, two Big Berthas and several Skoda 30.5 cm howitzers were erected outside the fortress of Liege in Belgium. The first shells were fired on the 12th of August at the ring of twelve forts around the city. By the 15th of August all the forts had either been destroyed or had surrendered. News of the success of this new weapon at Liege encouraged other countries involved in the conflict to produce large mobile guns. Although the name "Big Bertha" applied to several models of howitzers, it is commonly thought of as the Langer Max (Long Max) and Paris Gun railway guns. In 1918, the Paris Gun was able to shell Paris from 120 kilometers (75 mi) away.

This is an excellent piece of history commemorated on a Mettlach stein. The stein is marked on the side as a 0.5 liter in capacity. The bottom has the VB mark, mold number 1526, the Roman numeral II (0.5 liters), and 96 (made in 1896). Although the Mettlach abbey mark is not there, these other marks are common for Mettlach as the mold number 1526 was made and decorated later as specialty pieces.

Click here to view a pictorial index of all Featured Stein articles.