Although nothing like these German monsters, the U.S. Navy had some very powerful long range guns as well. Unfortunately, they were mounted on battleships, and the Western Front, where the AEF would be deployed, was nowhere near the waters where this firepower could be brought to bear. But Rear Admiral Ralph Earle, who commanded the Navy's Bureau of Ordnance, had another idea. He suggested mounting 14-inch naval guns onto railway cars.
The idea was quickly approved. Work began immediately on creating these strange hybrids, and then-Captain Charles Plunkett was appointed as the overall commander of this unusual task force. Special railway cars were designed to mount the giant guns-one to a car-along with auxiliary cars that housed workshops, ammunition magazines, radio spaces, offices, and accommodations for the 334 Navy crewmembers who would be needed to serve the guns. More than 20,000 Sailors volunteered for this unusual duty.
In August 1918 the guns arrived at St. Nazaire on the western coast of France. By 6 September the guns were at the front and firing their first shots. Although it had been hoped that these guns would be able to destroy the enemy's Big Berthas, the Germans had removed them from the front by the time the Americans had arrived, presumably because of some mechanical failures. Nonetheless, the American railway guns proved useful. Firing several hundred rounds at distances from 18 to 23 miles, they successfully hit targets at several German-held railway yards and various other enemy positions. The Germans returned fire on several occasions, and one Sailor was killed as a result.
After the war, guns were shipped back to the United States and kept in reserve. The rise of air power made them too vulnerable to ever be used again. Captain Plunkett went back to a more conventional career, subsequently serving as commandant of the New York Navy Yard and retiring as a rear admiral in 1928. He is interred at Arlington National Cemetery, and one of his railway guns is today on display at the U.S. Navy Museum in the Washington Navy Yard.