When the history of the great war is written, the various activities of the United States Navy in co-operating with the Allies and in contributing in various ways to the offensive measures which finally caused the downfall of the enemy, will be disclosed. The navy’s work in transporting troops, the operations of the destroyer flotilla, the convoy system, the activities of the naval bombing squadrons, the success of the North Sea mine barrage, and the many other naval operations conducted at a distance of 3000 miles through Vice Admiral William S. Sims, commander, United States naval forces operating in European waters, will emphasize the fact that the United States Navy was a big factor in overcoming the submarine menace and causing the ignominious surrender of the demoralized German fleet. This article will describe the navy’s contribution ashore in the great battles during the closing days of the war with Germany.
1 November 12, 1917.
From : Chief of Bureau of Ordnance.
To: Chief of Naval Operations.
Subject: Long-range bombardments.
1. From reports of activities, dated September 29, 1917, along the Flemish dunes, the Bureau notes:
“On the Dune Sector, the British naval guns were unfortunately considerably outranged by the German guns. There are no British guns larger than 12-inch mounted on shore here. The big German gun which fires into Dunkirk is generally referred to as a 17-inch. . . .Its range has been measured as 50,300 yards.”
2. The above suggests the possibility of our mounting several naval 14-inch guns along the coast, fitted with high angles of fire, and with specially formed shell, fitted with delayed action fuses, in order to outrange these German guns. Manned by our seamen, a battery of four of these guns might not be a bad answer to the long-range German bombardment of Dunkirk. Of course, in order to develop this range the bureau must have its auxiliary proving ground granted and operating.
3. Even were the guns mounted on vessels off the Belgian coast, and there given a range of over 30,000 yards, considerable damage may be done to German positions. Such a vessel fitted—as it would be—with our new, smoke-producing apparatus, might materially assist Admiral Bacon’s monitors in their operations.
(Signed) Ralph Earle.
2 Bureau of Ordnance
December 10, 1917.
Subject: Shore mounting for heavy guns.
Inclosure: Description of above mounting for 14-inch 50-caliber gun, Mark IV.
1. There is forwarded herewith a description and accompanying plates of the proposed railroad mounting for the 14-inch 50-caliber gun, also a description of the train carrying the .personnel and equipment necessary for the operation of such a gun in the field.
2. It is the intention to use the 14-inch 50-caliber gun, Mark IV, mounted in slide Mark IV. In order to mount this gun and slide on the proposed railroad car, it will be necessary to make a new deck lug and jacking mechanism for raising the gun from the stowed position necessary for transportation to its firing position. A new elevating gear of the arc and pinion type will be required, as the screw type now used will require raising the gun too high from the tracks for stability in transporting.
3. The railroad mounting and equipment for a gun of this size will be of great value in assisting “to overcome the fire from large German guns now being used against the lines of the Allies “on the Dune Sector” in Belgium. In addition to this advantage such a railroad mounting would be of considerable value in this country as a mobile battery to act in conjunction with the army in case of invasion.
4. It is estimated that four gun cars and their accompanying trains can be constructed by contract within 90 days after the receipt of drawings, provided the work can be given government priority, both in securing the material and the manufacturing work involved. It is estimated that by giving this work precedence in the drafting room, and with the hearty cooperation of all concerned, the drawings and necessary specifications can be completed by the 1st of February.
5. It is recommended that four gun cars and their trains be manufactured, making four complete batteries of the type described in the accompanying description, and that the six remaining 14-inch 50-caliber guns with the slides be held as spares to replace any of the guns in the battery when worn out or injured
(Signed) A. L. Willard.
3 February 19, 1918.
From: The Chief of Naval Operations.
To: The Chief of Bureau of Navigation.
Subject: Personnel for Naval Batteries for Operation Abroad.
1. The plans, as approved by the Department, for sending five (5) naval batteries to operate overseas contemplates the following personnel:
- 1 Commanding officer.
- 1 Aide (liaison).
- Medical officer.
- 1 Supply and pay officer.
- 1 Clerk.
- 5 Battery officers.
- 5 Fire-control officers.
- 5 Gunners.
- 5 Machinists.
The following enlisted personnel:
- 5 Chief gunner’s mates.
- 15 Gunner’s mates.
- 5 Machinist’s mates, first class.
- 5 Carpernter’s mates, first class.
- 5 Blacksmiths.
- 1 Cooks.
- 16 Assistant cooks and Mess attendants.
- 12 Radio operators.
- 1 Hospital steward.
- 6 Hospital apprentices.
- 6 Locomotive engineers.
- 6 Firemen.
- 6 Trainmen.
- 60 Fire-control observers.
- 35 Seamen (gun crew)
- 115 General ratings, artificer branch (construction crew).
3. Captian Plunkett, U.S. Navy, has been directed to confer with the Bureau of Navigation and Ordnance with regard to the assembling of the personnel and material for purposes of training previous to departure from this country. He will confer with the bureau as to the time and places where this personnel will be needed.
(Signed) W. S. Benson
4 “Select a detachment consisting of the officers or petty officer (in charge) whose name appears in parenthesis above and 30 other men, for most important duty.
“This detachment should include only excellent men. It should include several men who can do machinist work, electrical work, radio work, concrete work, signalling, locomotive engineers and firemen, trainmen, carpenters, painters, plumbers, blacksmiths, automobile men and an assortment of men of various trades.
“It is not intended that all men should be men of trades; the majority of them should be intelligent and active young men, preferably those with some education. It is not necessary that the men have ratings indicative of their trades. Select excellent all around men without regard to rating. Hold this detachment in readiness for orders.
“Submit to the Director of Gunnery Exercises and Engineering Performances a list of the men showing their rates, branch of service, small arms’ qualification, the place from which received, the various duties each has performed at your range and a brief statement of his former occupation, education and things he can do.
“Hold this party as a separate detachment. Have it begin an intensive course of training, covering all the navy small arms’ courses, including daily firing for each man. Give plenty of practice with pistols and revolvers, or both, and especially plenty of machine-gun practice, each man with each type of gun. Have plenty of practice at 600 and especially at 1000 yards.
“Every man must have a thorough knowledge of the mechanism of the pistol, rifle, and each type of machine gun. Include no man who is unable to qualify as sharpshooter or higher. Have daily instruction in signalling, including semaphore, blinker, buzzer and radio, if possible.
“Every night (except Sunday) have instruction. Intensify the work and eliminate all men unable or not disposed to undergo incessant work.
“Make daily report of range practice and of the other instruction to the Director of Gunnery Exercises and Engineering Performances.
“This is for most important and desirable duty.”
Washington, May 2, 1918.
My dear Admiral Earle:
The two French artillery officers sent to Sandy Hook to witness the trials of the 14-inch guns on rails, at which I was unhappily unable to assist on account of Admiral Crasset’s presence in Washington, have reported to me the complete success with which they have met. They consider that the Bureau of Ordnance has accomplished a marvellous feat in the rapid construction of these trucks and that the trials have been entirely satisfactory; there is no doubt that they mark a considerable progress and will prove to be a most remarkable weapon for long-range bombardments.
Will you accept my best thanks for having allowed us to be present at these interesting experiments and also for the courtesies extended to the French officers.
Believe me, my dear Admiral Earle,
Yours very sincerely,
(Signed) B. A. Blaupre.
British War Mission, Munsey Building
Washington, D. C., May 1, 1918.
I wonder if you have got a spare copy of the particulars (two blueprints) of the 14-inch mounting, which you showed me yesterday, that you could let me have?
I am sure my people in England would be immensely interested, and I should like to send them as much information as I could with my reports of the trials yesterday. If you have drawings showing the general arrangements of the elevating, traversing, and recoil arrangements separately, they would also be much appreciated.
I must again congratulate you, and your Department most warmly, not only on the complete success of the trials but on the extraordinary quick time in which you have got these mountings out—not to mention the excellence of your arrangements for the comfort of the spectators.
Yours very sincerely,
(Signed) John Headlam.
Rear Admiral Earle,
Chief of Naval Ordnance,
State, War and Navy Building,
Washington, D. C.
6 The Baldwin Locomotive Works, Philadelphia, Penna.
Washington, May 13, 1918.
Rear Admiral Ralph Earle, U. S. Navy, Chief, Bureau of Ordnance, Navy Department, Washington, D. C.
My dear Admiral Earle:
I spent yesterday (Sunday) morning in the Baldwin Locomotive Works at Eddystone, Pennsylvania, and am glad to advise you that the five (5) large gun mounts will be finished complete in every respect ready for shipment Saturday, May 18, or about two (2) weeks ahead of time originally contemplated.
Our people at the works are most enthusiastic over the standard of workmanship on the parts furnished by the Washington navy yard to go on these mounts. The last piece arrived at 6.40 Saturday evening last.
This has been a most delightful task. The designs were thoroughly worked out before hand. Your Department knew exactly what it wanted. The parts furnished by the navy yard came through on time and in the best possible shape. Not a single difficulty was experienced and I trust that the service rendered by the Baldwin Locomotive Works may prove satisfactory.
Work has been begun on the three (3) additional mounts and a schedule of delivery will be sent you at an early date.
Very truly yours,
S. M. Vauclain,
Senior Vice President,
Baldwin Locomotive Works
7 Extract from the letter of the High Commissioner of the French Republic in the United States, dated May 30, 1918:
“On account of the present circumstances which render more and more urgent the necessity of a long-range artillery, able to reciprocate the firing of similar guns to those which fire actually on Paris, the organization on 340-millimeter carriages of 14-inch guns already existing, or the manufacture of which is under consideration, as expressed in my letter of the 14th instant, takes every day an increased importance.”
(Signed) High Commissioner of the French Republic.
8 To: The Bureau of Ordnance.
1. In accordance with cablegram, War Department, copy of which has been handed Lieut. Commander Bye this date, instructions have been issued by the navy to ship material for the 14-inch new railway battery by the first available naval transport.
2. It is expected that part of this material will be loaded on the U. S. S. Bath, sailing for St. Nazaire direct; also other shipments on the U. S. S. Newport News, and on the U. S. S. Texel, sailing direct.
3. It is requested that the bureau issue any instructions which they may consider necessary to safeguard the handling and shipment of this material to the Bureau of Supplies and Accounts, with a request that they immediately inform their representatives at Philadelphia to exercise proper precautions in the loading of these vessels.
4. It is also requested that the allowance of ammunition be divided among the above-named vessels and shipped at the same time as the material.
5. A large part of the personnel will precede the material with instructions to make all necessary arrangements for the proper reception and erection of the bureau’s material on the other side and for such temporary or permanent storage of the ammunition allowance and reserve as may be determined from time to time.
6. Any suggestions which the bureau may have to make in regard to the handling of this whole situation are earnestly requested, in order that no stone may be left unturned to insure the safety of this material from the time of departure until active operations begin, and as far as possible, thereafter.
(Signed) C. P. Plunkett
9 Extract from Lieut. Commander Buell’s letter to Captain Kearney, dated 8/28/18:
“We have had no construction difficulties of any kind, other than lack of material when we needed it. The ships were all loaded upside down, and we were not able to get started on the construction job until the last of the stuff on the second ship was unloaded and on the ground in the yard. From that time on we have made good speed . . . .
“On the selection of men I was very fortunate. There has been only one thing in the whole project that we were not able to find a competent man to handle, and that was the job of putting the lagging on locomotive boilers. We borrowed a man from the army and made out all right. I thought I was out of luck for a man to do lettering and stenciling of cars, but on combing the outfit I found three experienced lettering and sign painting men and had no further trouble on that score.”
10 Extract from Naval Railway Battery Report on Material for week ending August 17, 1918:
“I will proceed with the first train to the front to-morrow morning, establishing a “garage” on the railroad near Creil. The French naval batteries were already there when I visited them this week. It is about 45 minutes automobile run from La Morlaye, a French General Reserve Headquarters. The gun positions were determined during my recent visit there, but a new position, I understand, has been selected and I will inspect them on arrival of the first train.
“In connection with the anxiety of the axle loads involved in our gun mount, it may be of interest for you to know that we have tried all the tracks in St. Nazaire, culminating in a passage over a temporary crib work which rather shocked the railroad people, but demonstrated that this mount of ours negotiates things that were never contemplated in its original design.
“(Signed) C. P. Plunkett.”
11 Extract from Admiral Plunkett’s letter to Commander U. S. Naval Forces Operating in European waters, dated August 27, 1918:
“Both guns arrived at Helles-Mouchy ready for action, but upon arrival a change in the original plan for the guns was made by the chief of French reserve artillery and I was requested to take one of the guns to Haussimont, the A. E. F. reserve artillery base (and the base to which the remaining guns will be sent in accordance with request from commanding general, A. E. F.). The situation, then, is that we have one gun at Helles-Mouchy which can be used for operation in the original sector as contemplated by the French and the other gun at Haussimont, which will conduct some trial firing at Mailly and then be available for service as may be requested by reserve artillery command. I shall proceed to St. Nazaire at the end of the week ending August 31, for the purpose of conducting the movement of the remaining guns, together with the supplies and material, to Haussimont.
“It has been a matter of great satisfaction that we have fully demonstrated to the French authorities that these guns and mounts can be moved over the standard railway tracks and bridges at speeds which are safe, and without damage to the right of way. I was always of the opinion that would be the case, but in some unaccountable manner, before my arrival in France, this question of the safe transportation of the guns, as mounted, over the French railroads had become a matter of official correspondence between our army and the French military and railway authorities. As soon as I could locate all the threads of the matter I personally took the matter up with the French authorities, and, as a result, have succeeded in carrying out movement of two guns to a designated position 350 miles from St. Nazaire, and have further transported one gun immediately from behind the Allied line from Creil to Chateau-Thierry and along the Marne to Epernay and thence to reserve artillery base, A. E. F., Haussimont. It has been a most valuable experience for our personnel, and has given us an opportunity to breathe the atmosphere surrounding that part of the front where our own naval forces made their famous stand, and also to move over lines which were once destroyed and since rebuilt. In fact, as I write this report the movement of the train is held up, pending the ceasing of enemy operations, either by gun fire or bombing, in the immediate vicinity of the train. All of this is of the greatest value in preparing young material for active work, and I shall endeavor to take the remaining guns over the same route as the first gun, in order to give them the same opportunity of observation and experience.”
12 Extract from Schuyler’s letter of Sept. 24/18:
“Finally we were all ready to fire at Tergnier, and the spotting plane was up, but could not observe and failed to give us one signal, and then ran out of gasoline, and anyhow the French troops at the time were capturing the town. As the gun was loaded, however, they let us fire it. The sand packing behind the back timbers had not been very well done in this pit, so it came back one-half inch. This would not have been serious, but we profited by it in subsequent installations. We never learned where the shot fell, but I think it went its 41,000 yards all right, and that it was the longest-range shot that had so far been fired at the Germans.
“Then they moved us up the track at night to a place called Fontenoy. They have lots of air raids and bomb the tracks, so that at least every 100 yards has at some time been hit and repaired. There was an air raid just before we started which cut all the telephone lines, and we had to crawl along slowly to see whether the track had been cut, and to get permission from each station to proceed to the next. Fontenoy was in the hands of the Germans during the last push. Our target there was an ammunition dump at about 38,600 yards. The first time we fired we got off two rounds, but the plane could not see them. There were woods near the target, so we changed the range of the second 1000 yards to get it out in the open. Still the aviator could not see it and he ran out of gasoline. We had t6 wait for another occasion because of bad weather, but then got hurry-up orders to fire 10 rounds without observation. We do not know how we came out on this, but they could hear us all over the front. Four of the observation balloons in front of us were burned down in two days. They could not have seen our shots anyway, however.
“The next day we tried an observation shot again and could pick up nothing for the first two rounds. The aviator spotted from a height of 6000 meters and had a gale of about 90 kilometers an hour, blowing him towards the German line. He got his hand and his face frozen. On the third round, he saw our burst about 1000 yards to the left. I had jacked over about 600 yards when we got the signal to fire again, so let it go at that, and was given OK in direction, but 1300 yards over. We were firing purposely 1000 yards beyond to register in a clear spot, if possible. On the next round, I brought it down 1300 yards and left the direction unchanged. Fie reported that he could not see the bursts well at all from this height, but is sure that we hit some ammunition on the third round. We were told to finish out our 10 rounds, so we shot the last seven rapidly. We knew we were on in direction and were 1300 yards over while intending to be 1000 over, so we felt quite pleased with the probable accuracy of the estimated range of the remainder. The last seven shots (six intervals) we got off in 25 minutes.”
13 Extracts from Confidential Bulletin No. 231, November 7, 1918, from Vice Admiral Sims, sent to Bureau of Ordnance by direction of the Chief of Naval Operations:
“The 14-inch 50-caliber United States naval railway guns have done very excellent and valuable work, particularly in the recent pushes. Three of these guns have been in the sector opposite Mezieres, and have had the railways to and from that place under effective gun fire for some time.
“The accuracy of these guns has proved greater than was expected. With a gun that had fired 150 rounds, 24 observed rounds were fired at a range of 35,800 yards. The mean dispersion obtained was plus or minus 151 yards in range, and plus or minus 51 yards in deflection. The ballistic correction in this case was about 2800 yards. The shots were fired about 5 minutes apart.
“Considering the relation of the total pattern size to mean dispersion in a salvo, it is estimated that these results would work out, in the case of a 12-gun salvo, to a pattern of about 650 yards in range and about 220 yards in deflection at 35,800, the guns being all considered as having fired about 150 times since proof. A careful analysis of the results obtained under existing conditions appears to indicate that a gun may shoot accurately while both muzzle erosion and considerable coppering exists.”