Category Archives: Artillery

All Time Favorite Splodey

I somehow threw out my back, so it hurts like heck, which also makes writing difficult. So I’m not. In the meantime, here’s a repost of a video, pretty much my all time favorite.

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One Hundred Years Ago, Royal Navy Revenge at the Falklands

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On the morning of 8 December 1914 just before 0800, British Vice-Admiral Sir Doveton Sturdee received word that the German ships he had been searching for had appeared in the frigid South Atlantic waters off Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands.   The day before, Sturdee had arrived from England with reinforcements for the remnants of a British cruiser force that had been shattered in the first defeat the Royal Navy had suffered in a century.

Five weeks earlier, Admiral Maximilian Graf von Spee’s Südsee-Geschwader, consisting of the powerful armored cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, along with cruisers Nürnberg, Leipzig, and Dresden, had routed Rear Admiral Cradock’s undergunned and outmanned cruiser squadron at Coronel, off the coast of Chile.  Cradock went down with his flagship Good Hope (which sank with all hands) when, pounded to a wreck by Scharnhorst, her forward magazine exploded.  Monmouth, Cradock’s other armored cruiser, was also lost with all hands under the fire of Gneisenau and Leipzig.

HMS_Invincible,_Battle_of_the_Falkland_Islands_(Warships_To-day,_1936)

Sturdee’s reinforcements were battlecruisers Invincible and Inflexible, 20,0o0 ton vessels armed with eight 12-inch guns, capable of 26.5 knots, and the armored cruisers Kent and Cornwall.  Along with Glasgow and the elderly pre-dreadnought Canopus, Sturdee held a decisive advantage in both gun power and speed over his adversary.  Von Spee was entirely unaware of the presence of the British capital ships, which held a 6-knot speed advantage over Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, both of which were badly in need of overhaul and a hull-scraping.  Spee’s sixteen 8.2-inch guns were more than a match for Cradock’s armored cruisers, but were entirely outmatched by the heavier British batteries of Inflexible and Invincible.

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The opening salvoes were fired by Canopus, masked by the landmass of Sapper Hill.  Unaware as of yet of the presence of two battlecruisers, Spee canceled the planned bombardment, still believing he could disengage and outrun the British cruisers and the elderly battleship.  It was not until near mid-day that horrified German lookouts spotted the distinctive fighting tops of the British capital units.  In a running fight that the German vessels had little chance of escaping, Scharnhorst succumbed to her wounds and rolled over at 1615.  Gneisenau would fight gamely on until the last of her guns were destroyed, and at 1800 she was ordered scuttled by her captain.  Admiral Graf von Spee was not among the 190 survivors plucked from the icy waters.

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The battle had some final acts to play out.  Kent sank Nürnberg at 1930, and in the darkening seas Glasgow and Cornwall hunted down and sank Leipzig.   Only Dresden of Spee’s Südsee-Geshwader escaped, to be sunk in March of 1915.  (Among Dresden’s officers was a young Oberleutnant-zur-see named Wilhelm Canaris, who would go on to famed service in the next war.)

The Battle of the Falklands cost the Imperial German Navy the lives of more than 1,800 sailors.  British losses were ten killed and 19 wounded.  While the victory of Sturdee’s squadron was complete, and avenged Cradock at Coronel, some unflattering issues revealed themselves.  The primary was that British gunnery left much to be desired.  The sinking of Scharnhorst and Gneisenau took more than five hours, and 1,174 rounds of 12-inch ammunition from the battlecruisers.  Even considering Sturdee’s prudent tactics of fighting at or beyond the range of the guns of his opponent, his capital units expended more than half of their ammunition to score fewer than thirty hits on the two German cruisers.  British gunnery shortcomings, the skill and bravery of their German opponents, and the toughness of the German ships, would manifest themselves at Jutland eighteen months later.

In one of history’s ironies, Admiral Graf von Spee’s namesake panzerschiff, KMS Graf Spee, would meet its end almost exactly 25 years later, in December of 1939 in the waters of the South Atlantic once again.  She was scuttled because it was rumored that she was awaited outside Montevideo by British dreadnoughts.

 

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Early Anti-Aircraft Artillery

Even by the middle of the First World War, the threat military aircraft posed to ground forces was recognized, and adaptations of existing artillery pieces were made to fulfill the anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) role. This Signal Corps film, produced in 1935, shows the status of US Army AAA in the interwar years.

The level of sophistication in control is impressive. Predictive director control for guns ranging from 3” down to the multiple .30cal mount. Acoustic locators used to control searchlights.  Of course, during World War II, radar would replace the acoustic locator. But it is important to recognize that the basic architecture behind the organization was already well thought out.

Speaking of acoustic locators, as a long range sensor, Britain built several arrays of very large “sound mirrors” for long range detection to protect the home isles from air raids in the years immediately after World War I. Their remains can still be seen in the southeast.

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The Defense of the West-SeaCoast Fortifications

Unlike the eastern seaboard, the western coast of the continental United States has relatively few major ports. From south to north, the main seaports include San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, the Columbia River, and Puget Sound. There are others, but those are the “Big Five” handling the majority of seagoing vessels.

Interestingly, all five are quite suited to seacoast defense. Depending on the time in question, Los Angeles and Puget Sound might have posed a challenge for the defender, but by the Endicott period, the guns and mines available were quite suitable to close off each port.

Craig has an interesting post on the concerns the Union had for the security of San Francisco during the Civil War. At that time, San Francisco was by far the most significant western port, and as the shipping point for the vast majority of California gold rush gold that was financing the Union, could have made a very attractive target for a Confederate raider, or an adventurous foreign power, say England.

All of this was known by authorities in Washington.  In 1856 a survey of the terrain brought back numerous recommendations to fortify the bay. Those included additional batteries to supplement Fort Point and located on Alcatraz, Yerba Beuna, and Angel Islands, Point San Jose, and, most important to the Golden Gate, Lime Point opposite Fort Point.  I’ve highlighted some of those on a snip from the 1859 coastal survey map (which, by the way, indicates that someone had “cast a lead” into those waters to figure out the depth):

Similarly, last weekend I enjoyed the view from Cabrillo National Monument.  CNM and Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery are today on the grounds of Naval Base Point Loma, but used to be within the confines of Fort Rosecrans, a Coastal Artillery post with several batteries guarding the entrance to San Diego harbor.

 

One of the interesting things about San Diego is that it has only one channel in or out. To say that Fort Rosecrans dominates that channel is something of an understatement. The seaward facing batteries control the approaches, and the channel itself was narrow enough that even a very modest minefield could completely seal the channel.

The Endicott/Taft period batteries consisted of 8 12” mortars, 4 10” guns, 2 5” guns (later replaced by 2 3” guns) and two 3” guns.

A mine casemate for a controlled minefield was also included.

To give you an idea how restricted the channel is, here’s the USS Chancellorsville, CG-62, passing through the channel.

 

During World War II, several additional batteries were added.  The big punch added was a pair of casemated 16” guns at Battery Ashburn (aka Battery 126).

Arguably the most interesting two batteries were Battery Zeilin and Battery Gillepsie. Battery Zeilin was two 7” guns on pedestal mounts, while Battery Gillespie consisted of three 5” pedestal mounts.

Both batteries were originally training batteries for the US Marine Corps. And therein lies an interesting side story.

The US Army’s Coast Artillery Corps was responsible for the defense of the US ports and harbors and those of its overseas possessions. But what of advanced bases?

During the interwar years, having tasted the success of large scale operations in World War I, the Marines were soon relegated back to fighting in banana wars in South America, and providing detachments aboard US capital ships. In search of a raison d’etre, the Marines looked to the Pacific, and like others, saw a likely war with Japan.

They saw that any US fleet movement across the Pacific would entail seizing and defending forward operating bases. And contra our vision today of the Marines storming the beaches, the hope was they would be able to occupy undefended, or lightly defended island outposts, and then defend them against Japanese counterattack. Accordingly, there was a significant slice of Marine Corps doctrine that focused on seacoast defense of forward bases. And Batteries Zeilin and Gillespie were training batteries allocated for Marine Defense Battalions to practice their trades.

And apparently, the instructors at Battery Gillespie did right by their students, as Marines manning 5” guns at Wake Island suceeded in sinking the IJN destroyer Hayatuke during the initial Japanese landing attempt, the first of many Japanese surface ships sunk during World War II.

Batteries Zeilin and Gillespie were turned over to the Army early in the war. And while Fort Rosecrans was never called on to actively defend San Diego, it stood guard throughout the war. Further it was a major training center for the Coast Artillery, providing training in both seacoast defense and anti-aircraft artillery defense.

The age of aviation rendered the seacoast gun obselete by the end of World War II, and Fort Rosecrans was soon surplus to the Army’s needs. Closed in 1948, it was turned over to the Navy in 1959, and continues to this day to be home to significant naval activities, as well as the lovely Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, and the beautiful and popular Cabrillo National Monument.

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The BBC’s 1964 Masterpiece “The Great War”

Of all the events of the Twentieth Century, it is the First World War that has had the most dramatic and longest-lasting impact on the psyche of Western civilization, more so than all the events that followed.   For anyone with an abiding interest in that war, the 1964 BBC documentary The Great War is an invaluable reference to understanding.  Narrated by Sir Michael Redgrave, the 26-part documentary is a superbly-crafted work.  The tenor of the broadcasts reflects the erosion of the naïve hopes of the warring parties in 1914 into the grim fatalism that the years of slaughter evoked, and the upheaval that would ultimately topple the crowned heads of Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungary, and Serbia.  BBC producers make excellent use of voice to read the actual words of the key participants such as Edward Grey, Bethmann-Hollweg, Conrad von Hotzendorf, Joffre, Haig, Falkenhayn, and others.  The series features remarkable and little-seen motion footage of the world of 1914-18, including the civilians, the politicians, the armies, and the great battles of that war.   The battle footage heavily emphasizes the two great killers of that war (in inverse order), the machine gun, and modern breech-loading recoil-dampened artillery.

Of note also are the poignant, and sometimes extremely moving, interviews with the participants of events of the great tragedy.  Some had been in the thick of the fighting, others young subalterns or staff officers at the sleeve of the decision-makers.   Most remarkably, the BBC managed to produce a documentary about momentous events that changed the world and yet also managed to allow the viewer insight into the inestimable human tragedy that these events summoned.   At the time of the release of The Great War, those events were closer in time to the audience than the beginning of the Vietnam War is to our contemporary world.   The twenty-six episodes are around forty minutes each.  Worth every second of the time spent.

Oh, and as the credits roll at the end of each episode, one can spot the name of a very young (19 years old) contributor named Max Hastings.

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Op-For: “Where is the Case for Co – Ed Ground Combat?”

Indiana Guard Fires Historic Artillery Mission Adds M777 Digital Artillery Piece to Arsenal

Alte kamerad LTCOL P, Marine artilleryman extraordinaire, has a great piece about a great piece.   He points out some pretty sobering stats from the continuing effort to make ground combat a co-ed sport.

In the 155 mm Artillery Lift and Carry, a test simulating ordnance stowing, volunteers had to pick up a 95 lb. artillery round and carry it 50 meters in under 2 minutes. Noted the report, “Less than 1% of men, compared to 28.2% of women, could not complete the 155 mm artillery round lift and carry in the allotted time.” If trainees had to “shoulder the round and/or carry multiple rounds, the 28.2% failure rate would increase.”

As LTCOL P points out, such a test is in no way, shape, or form anywhere near realistic.  The HE M107 projectile is 95 pounds, a tad heavier with lifting eyebolt.  I would posit that making the test the moving of ten or twenty of those projectiles over, say, 100 meters, BEGINS to get to what kind of heavy manual labor is involved in being a field artilleryman.  I would doubt severely that any female tested could get anywhere close to passing that particular test.  And that is simply a beginning test.  Try it after several days of 3 hours’ sleep in the snow or in yesterday’s rainwater, or in the 115 degree heat, after displacing twice in four hours and digging in spades each time.

You can be guaranteed the feminists and their spineless apologists in uniform will continue to find ways to obfuscate and slant results such as these and continue to scream for she-warriors who are the physical equivalent of men, when they are not being helpless victims, of course.   Our present and future enemies must be awfully impressed.

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90mm AA Battery in Action

A nice little film of an early 90mm AA battery at practice.  It gives a nice explanation of the director and rangefinder, and how that automatically controls the elevation and traverse of the guns.

Later, the optical rangefinder would be replaced by a radar rangefinder, usually an SCR-584.

Also, this was made before the proximity (or VT) fuze was in use. The time delay setting for each fuze was electrically sent from the director to each gun. On each mount, just to the left of the breech, there was a fuzesetter. Looking much like a cupholder, the ammo man would put the nose of each shell in the fuze setter, which would mechanically turn the fuze of the shell to the proper setting. The ammo man would hold the shell in until the casing of the previous round was ejected, and then pass the shell to the loader.

Obviously, once the VT fuze came into use, the fuze setter no longer had to be used.

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