Naval gunnery is one of the many aspects of warfare that is almost a science in itself. The fact that your artillery piece is now mounted on board ship means that there are a whole new set of problems that need dealing with. It also means that you are no longer tied down to having to move your gun and ammunition wherever you go, instead you get to take the whole fort to where the action is. I am not going into the mechanics and technicalities of gunnery, I was a mechanised infantryman, and our lives really revolved around our personal weapon and vehicle.
There are three specific examples I am interested in, and they really come from the age of the battleship. When large ships traded fire with equally large ships at long distance. What I find very interesting is the sheer size of these guns, and some of the statistics relevant to them.
The gun on the left came from HMS Ramillies
, and was mounted on the ship in 1916 and saw action in 1920 and 1940. It was removed from service in 1941. My handy naval gunnery book lists this as a 51 inch Mk I gun,
The right hand gun originally comes from HMS Resolution
, and was mounted on that vessel from 1915-1938. It was removed and remounted in HMS Roberts
, and saw action at D-Day. It was removed in 1945. Both were mounted outside the Imperial War Museum in 1968
Both guns are 15 inch and were developed in 1912, seeing service in 22 ships. Each weighs in at a hefty 100 tons, and fired an 876 kg projectile at a maximum range of 29 kilometres.
The next example I photographed at Fort Nelson
This example is 14 Inch MK VII, (number 136) and was made by Vickers-Armstrong in 1946, and is the last of her type. These were destined for ships of the King George V class battleships, although this particular gun never went to sea. The gun with its counterweight weighed in at 91 tons and the maximum range at 40 degrees elevation was 35,4 kilometres. The counterweight would have shifted the centre of gravity towards the breech and allowed a greater angle of elevation.
Projectiles weighed in at 660 kg with a propellant charge of 153 kg of Cordite. 1000 projectiles were taken to sea. These huge guns are very impressive to see, and when you consider that they were usually mounted in pairs, or triples in a turret (or even a quadruple turret), it makes you wonder what size the ship was!. They were also not the largest guns to go to sea, the Japanese battleships Yamato
and Musashi had 9 x 18,1 inch guns and they were the largest of naval artillery ever fitted to a warship.
Fortunately a number of these guns still survive in some form or another, although the United States probably has the largest collection of big guns still around, and I speak under correction but I think 16 inchers are the biggest naval guns still around today. An 18 inch railway gun still survives in Britain and that has been relocated to Fort Nelson where the 14 inch gun is. Unfortunately that happened after I visited the fort in May 2013
The British did produce an 18 inch weapon and it was called a “15 inch B” and 2 (plus one spare) were constructed for fitting on HMS Furious. The guns were 40 calibres long and weighed in at 149 tons including breech, and the intention was to have one gun forward and one aft in an adapted 15 inch gun house. Only the aft gun was mounted, and it was removed when Furious was converted into an aircraft carrier. It was proposed to use the 3 guns in a shore based role, but they were re-allocated to 3 monitors (General Wolfe, Prince Eugene and Lord Clive), although only two were ever in service, albeit for a very short time.
Cruisers usually mounted smaller guns, although these were no less deadly than their much bigger sisters. HMS Belfast on the Thames has a wonderful set of turrets mounting mounting 12 x 6 inch guns which gave her quite a punch. Although, taking on a battleship would not have been a good idea.
The workings of the turrets and their shell and charge handling equipment is really fascinating to see, but in a static role it becomes almost mundane. In the heat of battle it must have been a totally different story altogether.
Turret interior, with the breech of one of the guns.
Shell hoist with ready use ammunition
Todays modern warships lack the massive gunfire capabilities, but then given their ability to fight it out over the horizon with an opponent using anti-ship missiles, those heavy guns are no longer needed. The capital ship was rendered obsolete by the aircraft and submarine, and with their demise the big gun left centre stage and was relegated to museum piece or as part of a preserved warship.
Twin 4″ gun turret.
© DRW 2013-2018. Images recreated 11/04/2016