Date:Oct - Nov 1941 Magazine: Science and Mechanics
Biggest of all big guns defending America are the giant 16-inch rifles
used at strategic coastal
defense positions and on board battleships. With a range from 15 to 25
miles, the 16-inchers
can propel a shell weighing more than a ton against a target far
off-shore. These illustrations
show how members of the 245th Coast Artillery received their training on
the battery of two big
guns at Fort Tilden, New York. After weeks of intensive training in
which the men were whipped
into shape to work as a coordinated team, the climax came when 7 shells
were fired from each
gun, once every 90 seconds.
One of the giant 16-inch rifles at Fort Tilden, New York, gets a workout
from Battery G of the
245th Coast Artillery, in Fig. 1. The new coast artillery men are
required to learn the whys and
wherefores of the "big berthas" preparatory to firing actual practice.
The men familiarize
themselves with the parts and mechanism. Each man is issued a manual on
the 16-inchers, for
study purposes. After they have familiarized themselves with the
mechanics of the big 16-inch
rifle, the men receive sub-caliber firing practice, by means of a 3-inch
gun which is fixed
permanently to the barrel of its big brother, Fig 2. The procedure is
the same, except for the
difference in loading operations. Using the smaller sub-caliber weapon
saves wear and tear on
the big gun, also saves cost of ammunition. The men are drilled
intensively until the battery
commander is satisfied they are letter-perfect.
Next, Fig 3, the gun crew learns to elevate and traverse (from side to
side) the huge weapon.
This is usually done by electric controls, although they learn the
procedure manually in the event
of mechanical failure. One man handles the elevation, another the
traversing, upon order of the
gun commander, who is usually a non-commissioned officer.
The boys are getting near the real thing now; they are drilled with dummy
powder. As shown in Fig 4, they roll up a shell for loading. A 16-inch
projectile weighs over a
ton; it needs teamwork to handle these big babies. The powder charge
weighs between 700
and 800 lbs. It is broken down into a number of smaller bags, for
convenience in handling. The
men are drilled and drilled - clocked with stop watches - even the number
of steps each man
takes is figured out in advance. The 40-odd members of a gun crew are
trained in separate
groups; powder detail, breech detail, etc., before they are "teamed"
coordination must be assured.
After consultation with the battery commander, a time is set for firing
practice. The actual firing
depends upon weather. The men are on "alert" status until the practice
is over. A final
"shakedown" drill is run through the day of the firing - the men go
through the entire procedure -
except the actual firing. The powder is kept ready at a safe distance.
A few days previously, a
thermometer is stuck into one of the powder kegs - taken out just before
firing, for a reading.
Powder temperature is extremely important - the higher the temperature,
the more propulsive
The observer "safety detail" takes a position on an elevated spot when
firing is about to begin,
Fig 5. They maintain two-way radio communication with the Army tug that
is towing the
pyramid-shaped raft target some 15 to 25 miles off shore. The safety
detail's primary job is to
determine when the field of fire is safe - that there are no fishing
boats, for instance, in the firing
area - and that visibility is clear. At shorter ranges, they can see the
target and the splash of the
missile, and correct the fire visually. Other observing parties are on
the job at nearby high
elevations. An airplane is also used for "spotting" during practices.
"Neutral" battery people are
on the tug to "umpire." A red flag denotes that firing is going
The "azimuth setter," in non-technical language, actually "points" the
gun, setting it in left-to-right
position, electrically. His partner records the various data received
from the battery commander,
for checking later on. Next to the gun commander, the setter's job is
the most important; his
duties necessitate cool, clam nerves, unaffected by the tremendous noise
and concussion. He
raises his hand to signal "all ready."
"Fire!" The telephone operator, Fig 6, receives the signal from the
battery commander's station
and the gun commander shouts the command to fire. A moment later the big
gun rocks to the
blast of the explosion.
Pressing a lever, the man shown in Fig. 7 fires the big gun. Seven
shells from each of two 16-
inchers were fired at 90-second intervals. The big guns have a 50-foot
barrel and are the biggest
guns in existence.
"On the way!" could be a title for the scene in Fig 8. All stations are
notified - the aerial observer
gets a radio signal; observing parties watch for the 30 to 60 seconds
that it takes for the shell to
travel its 15- to 25-mile journey. Cold air jets are used to blow out
any remaining burning
particles of powder remaining in the chamber. Inside of 90 seconds the
big gun will speak
again. At the moment this photo was taken the shell was about a half a
After the firing schedule has been completed, the batteries clean up
their guns by means of a
long rammer stave tipped with burlap dipped in an oil and sal solution,
Fig 9. This is done every
day until it is certain that no more particles of powder or other
extraneous matter remain in the
barrel. Another "cleaning" operation immediately follows the firing,
when the men of this
particular battery dump the "non-coms" into a tub of water. This is
about the only time when the
men can get away with something like this.
Photo captions: Fig. 1. The business end of a 50-foot coast defense gun. Fig. 2. Practicing with a smaller gun on the big one. Fig. 3. Electricity or manpower moves the gun into position. Fig. 4. Rolling up the one-ton shell and 800 lbs. of powder. Fig. 5. Safety detail determines when field of fire is safe. Fig. 6. "Fire," shouts the gun commander, whipping down his
arm. Fig. 7. And here is the boy who "pulls the trigger." Fig. 8. At this second the shell is one-half mile away. Fig. 9. Cleaning the gun after firing schedule is completed.