The Great Panic of 1873 saw Alfred Krupp spread his financial interests beyond the family's steelworks into Spanish mines and Dutch Shipping. While on business in Rotterdam, Krupp's little-known half brother, Wilhelm Krupp, saw an opportunity to combine the family's passion for armaments with the growing interest in clockwork automation among the Clockmaker's Guild in Rotterdam.
Wilhelm had spent time in the Far East and had seen first hand the devastating effect of Richard Gatling's monstrous machine during the Boshin War in Japan. He returned to Europe in time to serve as a staff officer in the war of 1870, and through his connections in the Prussian high command had heard talk of the potential of weapons such as the French Mitrailleuse volley gun (used rather ineffectually in 1870) on dense infantry formations. Krupp spent many a long night pondering the potential of a mobile, rapid fire weapon on the serried ranks for the Poilu when the opportunity came for a return to hostilities.
For years, Wilhelm slaved in his secret workshop in a rat infested corner of Rotterdam perfecting an armoured suit that could deliver the devastating fire of the Gatling where and when it was needed on the battlefield. The need for secrecy was paramount. British spies were everywhere in the Netherlands, so Wilhelm rarely ventured out. His Oriental mistress and his two Bavarian clockmakers, Ernst and Heinrich, were his only companions. Nevertheless, his plans crystallised and slowly, a new machine of war was born.
It was on a grey July morning in 1882, in a secluded polder, that Wilhelm unveiled his ultimate prototype of his Kreighosen to a distinguished visitor – none other than Prince Leopold of Bavaria! The Prince had served alongside Wilhelm in 1870 and had heard of his top secret work. Wilhelm had acquiesced to the Prince's insistence, that he be the one to give the suit it's first field trial. So, after several false starts – the Dutch mud playing hell with the exposed mechanism – the Prince navigated the sodden fields with ease and, despite Wilhelm's protests, insisted in firing a burst of the terrible Gatling Gun.
|Sorry, ghastly photo!|
After a gruelling trip back to the workshop under the cover of darkness, Wilhelm and the Prince toasted their success and made plans for more extensive tests of the Kreighosen, hopefully under battle conditions. The news of the following day, that the British Imperialists had bombarded Alexandria, provided the ideal opportunity. The Prince had a connection in the Suez Canal Company in Port Said who arranged a bogus invitation for the party to inspect the canal. While the Prince called in favours in diplomatic circles, Wilhelm busied himself with packing his monstrosity in grease and arranging for its transport on a Krupp family ship. "On to Port Said", he mused, as he departed on the Krupp family steamer a week later.