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.
The navy actually had engaged on the Western Front from September 6, 1918, until the signing of the armistice, five 14-inch 50-caliber guns on railway mounts which were designed and built under the direction of the Navy Bureau of Ordnance, transported to France, erected and put in operation at a time when the necessity for such long-range weapons was vital. The story of this accomplishment is believed to be of interest to all readers of the Naval Institute Proceedings.
From the beginning of the European War the range of artillery both on land and at sea attracted a great deal of attention. Mounts and guns of increasing range were continually being produced by both the Allies and the Germans. At the time the United States entered the conflict, this competition of long-range guns was at its greatest height, with the advantage on land decidedly in favor of the Germans.
In the early part of November, 1917, a report was received from Lieut. Commander G. L. Schuyler, U. S. Navy, giving information concerning the maximum range of German guns, mounted near Ostend, which were firing into Dunkirk. These guns were known as the “Leugenboom” guns, and it was ascertained by the British that they were capable of a range of as much as 50,300 yards, or slightly over 28½ statute miles. None of the British guns in this sector could equal this range, and it was evident that the Germans were making great strides in modifying their naval guns so that they could be used on land for long-range bombardments.
In previous wars, the personnel of the navies engaged gave valuable assistance to the armies by landing parties from ships manning naval guns. During the Mexican War, three 64-pdrs. and three long 32-pdrs. were used by General Winfield Scott in his attack on Vera Cruz. During the Boer War one of the British cruisers was practically stripped of her guns, they being taken to Ladysmith, Colenso, and Spion Kop. Naval guns were used during the Boxer Rebellion in China.
The French, English and Germans in this war manned their naval guns on shore with naval personnel. The traditions and calling of the sea naturally led to this practice, as being the most promising one to adopt to attain the most satisfactory results. The guns and their mounts are heavy and differ in many respects from those ordinarily used by armies. Many different difficulties arise which are recognized by seamen as things to be overcome without outside help. Stress of weather and life at sea have imbued the seaman with the idea that on him alone does his own safety and that of his shipmates depend. He must be a doer, and on the moment. The cruel sea waits for no man. This feeling of self-reliance, instilled in the seaman, makes his character peculiarly suitable for such enterprises as operating naval guns on shore. The Bureau of Ordnance was giving particular study to events of the war, and was continuously endeavoring to formulate some plan whereby the ordnance resources of our navy could be brought into active offensive engagements with the enemy. The Navy Department welcomed suggestions from all of its personnel, and circular letters were sent out to the entire service requesting any person in the service to submit such suggestions as he might have for the improvement of the material of the navy, any ideas for a plan of attack or any scheme for defeating the Germans.
Rear Admiral Ralph Earle, the chief of the Bureau of Ordnance, was so impressed by the progress of the long-range bombardments on the Western Front that, on November 12, 1917, he suggested to the chief of naval operations the possibility of mounting several naval 14-inch guns along the Belgian coast as an answer to the long-range German bombardments of Dunkirk.1
The possibilities of this plan appealed to the chief of naval operations, and he requested that the plan be developed in more definite terms as to the number of guns and mounts available, the probable range, the time necessary to prepare for shipment, and the material required to accomplish such an expedition. The United States Naval Gun Factory, the right arm of the Bureau of Ordnance in the many problems connected with the design and manufacture of naval ordnance, was informed on November 28 of Rear Admiral Earle’s ideas, and was requested to make recommendations concerning such an expedition. The calculations of the Bureau of Ordnance indicated that with the standard 14-inch naval shell then available, a range of about 48,000 yards could be obtained with the 14-inch 50-caliber gun. Figures as to what a light 14-inch shell would do were gone into, and it was indicated that a range greater than that obtained by the German “Leugenboom” gun might be expected. The navy's 16-inch gun could easily have outranged those of the Germans, but it was unfortunate that at that time 16-inch guns were not available in sufficient numbers.
Fourteen-inch ammunition in quantity was on hand, and by the entire personnel of the Bureau of Ordnance it was believed entirely feasible to provide all the equipment necessary for the operation of ten 14-inch guns on shore, if such an undertaking should be decided upon. The shipment of 14-inch 50-caliber guns abroad was known to be feasible, for during the summer of 1917 shipments of 14-inch 45-caliber guns had been made without difficulty to the British Admiralty. It appeared from all investigations made in the bureau that if a suitable shore mounting could be developed the navy could have in operation in France a number of 14-inch guns within a period of six months from the time of approval of such a project.
The Bureau of Ordnance considered the subject from all points of view, and discussed the project with many officers. The deeper the matter was gone into the more enthusiastic they became, and the more certain they felt that if these guns could be placed at some point in Flanders and operated by the navy, a useful tactical result was probable of attainment, and valuable assistance would be rendered to the Allied armies.
The drafting-room force at the Naval Gun Factory, under the supervision of Commander Harvey Delano, U. S. Navy, had been over-worked from the beginning of the war, in developing the vast number of new naval ordnance designs which were under way. Nevertheless, they became so interested in developing a suitable device for countering the long-range bombardments of the Germans that they completed their preliminary investigations on
December 10, and submitted to the Bureau of Ordnance an outline descriptive of a shore mounting for the 14-inch 50-caliber gun, Mark IV.2
The gun factory’s thorough efficiency is demonstrated by its letter, which the bureau forwarded, without change, to the chief of naval operations, urging that an undertaking of this sort be approved.
The chief of naval operations consulted with the various bureaus concerning their part in the plan in furnishing men and materials other than those which could be furnished by the Bureau 'of Ordnance. The entire project appeared to be justified in view of the shortage of long-range artillery, as known to exist in the Allied armies, and, on November 26, 1917, the Navy Department approved an organization of five 14-inch railway mounts, with a complete train equipment for each gun, and a sixth train to accommodate the staff for communication between the five batteries when in action at various positions along the lines.
To Lieut. Commander L. B. Bye, U. S. Navy, fell the task of coordinating all efforts to accomplish the manufacture and shipment of guns, mounts, carriages, cars, locomotives, and all other necessary equipment.
The Bureau of Ordnance was instructed to go ahead. Battleship turret-mount designers, together with other men at the Naval Gun Factory, experienced in bridge and locomotive work, were called into action to develop the detailed plans along the lines of their preliminary investigations. Directed by the superintendent, Captain A. L. Willard, and by Commander Harvey Delano, U. S. Navy, the officer in charge of the drafting room, the work moved forward in spite of all discouragements. Holidays and Sundays were sacrificed, and every effort was made successfully to meet on the drawing board all problems connected with this project. Many problems which had not been anticipated were encountered, and it was necessary to refer to all data on French railways and French railway practice that was available in the United States, and also to communicate with the commander of the United States naval forces operating in European waters, for confirmation of data, for it was found that in many cases reports were conflicting.
The excellent work of George A. Chadwick, leading draftsman at the Naval Gun Factory, during these trying days, was very remarkable, for it is due to his excellent judgment and to his confidence and devotion in the solution of the many questionable points connected with the new features in these railway mounts, that they fulfilled their many requirements for service in France.
The Naval Gun Factory is to be congratulated for its remarkable and prompt work in the completion of the excellent designs, not only of the shore mounts for the heavy guns, but for the equipments and organization of the complete expedition. One hundred thirty-six standard drawings and eleven sketches were ready for submission to the bidders on January 25, 1918.
In order that the immense amount of work in connection with the design and building of the United States naval railway batteries may be understood, it may be generally described as follows: Each 14-inch naval railway battery was a complete self-sustaining unit, designed to operate individually or in conjunction with the several similar batteries. When two or more batteries were cooperating in the same sector, their activities were directed by a single commanding officer, with headquarters on the naval railway batteries staff train. Fundamentally, each battery consisted of a 14-inch 50-caliber naval rifle carried on a special railway mount, together with ammunition cars and auxiliary cars. The gun, with a muzzle velocity of 2800 foot-seconds, had a maximum range of 42,000 yards. Firing could be effected between angles of zero to 43° elevation. At angles of elevation ranging from zero to 15° the gun could be fired with no support other than the trucks. For firing at any angle within the range of 15° to 43° elevation, it was necessary to place the gun car over a suitable pit foundation to allow clearance for the 44-inch recoil of the gun. When on this foundation the mount was fixed, and its position remained the same for successive shots, while, when firing at the lower angles upon the track, the energy of recoil was absorbed by the car which traveled backward on the rails against the resistance of tightened brakes.
The railway battery was designed to provide utmost freedom from difficulties associated with auxiliary power-driven accessories and from dependence upon a supply base. With exception of a small, combined air-compressor and winch, driven by a single gas engine, the mechanical functions of the battery were performed solely by hand power. Compressed air was used in operating the breech mechanism and in the counter recoil cylinders. Each battery train was provided with ample supplies and spare parts, augmented by stores and equipment carried on the staff train. The cars of the battery train provided facilities for foundation erection, repairs and quarters for the officers and crew. The scope of the battery is indicated by the following list of cars which made up a single battery train:
- 1 Locomotive.
- 1 Gun car.
- 1 Construction car.
- 1 Construction car with crane.
- 1 Sand and log car.
- 1 Fuel car.
- 1 Battery kitchen car.
- 2 Ammunition cars.
- 3 Berthing cars.
- 1 Battery headquarters car.
- 1 Battery headquarters kitchen car.
- 1 Workshop car.
The locomotives and all the cars were designed to conform to the regulations of the French State Railways. Exclusive of the gun car, the various cars were standard flat cars, gondolas, and box cars similar to those supplied to the American Expeditionary Forces in France, and they could be used in conjunction with the French railway equipment. The fittings 'of the battery headquarters, berthing and commissary cars, such as bunks, stoves and other appurtenances, were, for the most part, standard naval fittings which could be replenished at any naval base.
While in France the guns were never fired from the rails at low angles of elevation. In all cases the firings were conducted from the pit foundation and at ranges near the maximum. In all cases there was no criticism due to the necessity for installation of the pit foundation. Ample material was provided for the construction of as many as twelve pits, and there was always sufficient time to prepare a firing position in advance of the time set for moving up the gun. In the preparation of a site for firing, the construction cars were brought to the point selected and were used to handle the timbers and steel frame work employed in the foundation. The gun car was pushed over the completed foundation, the truck wheels were locked by brakes, and the weight of the car was transferred to the foundation by means of jacks and lifting screws. In this position a traversing gear provided for 2½° train on either side of the center line of the foundation. During action an ammunition car was brought to the rear of the gun car. Ammunition was conveyed to the breech of the gun by a monorail crane in the ammunition car and a shell tray mounted on a track in the gun car. The personnel of each battery was sufficient to insure satisfactory individual operation. In addition to the officers and crew necessary for the operation of the staff train, its complement included medical and engineer officers and a crew detailed to transportation work among the various batteries as circumstances required. The staff train was made up of the following cars:
- 1 Locomotive.
- 1 Staff quarters car.
- 1 Staff kitchen and dispensary car.
- 1 Spare parts car.
- 1 Staff construction car.
- 1 Staff workshop car.
- 1 Staff commissary car.
- 1 Staff berthing car.
For information concerning the details of the gun car the following brief description is given:
The gun car consists essentially of two longitudinal girders, fabricated of steel plates and structural shapes, and provided with suitable transverse stiffeners. The car is run on two front and two rear-six-wheel trucks. A housing in the form of an inverted “U” is provided at each end of the girders for the forward and rear jacking beams used for raising the gun car off from the trucks and placing the car upon the pit foundation. Beneath the jacking beam a center pin casting serves as a socket for the center pin of the car truck. A little forward of the center of the car is a transom casting, against which the transom bed plate bears when the car is jacked up on the pit foundation. Cast integrally with the transom is the pin which engages the transom bed plate of the foundation and the lugs that support the oscillating bearing of the elevating mechanism. The transom is rigidly fixed to the gun girders and is designed to transmit stresses incident to firing to the foundation through the transom bed plate, secured to the inboard side of the girders immediately above the transom by the two deck lugs that support the gun.
Each truck has three axles turning in 9-inch x 12-inch brass journals; the wheels are 36 inches in diameter. The incorporation of the 14-inch gun into the gun car was done in such a way that navy standard fittings could be used as much as possible and the gun, gun slide, breech mechanism and deck lugs were of standard navy design, except that slight modifications were necessary in order to provide for elevations up to 430. The entire arrangement may be likened to a navy turret installation for a single gun of the Mississippi class, mounted on a railway car in such a manner that it may be transported over railways, and when placed on its foundation, fired repeatedly at elevations from 15°to 43° and with a maximum angle of train of 2½° on either side of the center line of the foundation.
The counter recoil mechanism as used in these railway mounts is of interest; for, as originally designed, it was not intended that it would function at angles greater than 30°. In order to provide the increased energy necessary to return the gun to battery at the higher angles of elevation, the counter recoil spring cylinders were modified so that the action of the springs could be augmented by a pneumatic system designed to act with the springs in returning the guns to battery. Air was furnished by the air compressor for this system of counter recoil as well as for the gas ejector system, and it proved highly efficient even during continuous firing when charged to an initial pressure of about 125 pounds.
The gun was laid in elevation, for firing, by means of a gunner’s quadrant, and for azimuth by a surveyor’s transit mounted on a sight support, which extended out from the trunnion and projected through the side of the car. Except in a very few cases, all firings in France were conducted without observation, and the accuracy with which the guns could be laid in azimuth and in elevation for map firing and indirect firing proved to be as precise as necessary.
|Gun, breech mechanism and yoke||192,500|
|Elevating gear (screw)||650|
|Elevating gear (nut)||2,930|
|Elevating gear details||1,860|
|Deck lugs (2)||10,200|
|Girders, including the braces (2)||135,830|
|Truck beams (2)||33,000|
|Compressor, winch and engine||1,800|
The total weight of the gun car complete is in the neighborhood of 535,000 pounds, distributed as follows:
The pit excavation and gun-car foundation were designed to meet every contingency that might arise in the field. At the same time it was realized that numerous problems of construction and operation impossible to forecast would have to be solved in practice by the personnel. Approximately 103 cubic yards of earth had to be removed for installing the foundation. The pit had to be dug, and then by means of a crane car the timber work and structural steel girders were put in place. The transom bedplate casting by which the firing reactions were transmitted to the foundations was required to be approximately level, and the pit had to be installed so that the axis of this casting or the center line of the foundation was in the approximate line of fire.
It was at first thought that the necessity for this pit arrangement might be a severe handicap for the operation of the guns in France, for it was known that considerable time would be necessary for its installation. It proved, however, that this means of taking up the reactions of the gun while firing was decidedly superior to other methods in use, where the gun car recoiled for some distance along the track after each shot. The installation of the pit required from 30 to 36 hours, while the gun could be placed over it in from one hour to one hour and a half. When the gun car was once locked on its foundation, the entire mechanism was stable and properly lined up for continuous and rapid shooting.
The story of the construction of the 14-inch naval railway batteries indicates the nation’s patriotic speed in manufacturing, machining and assembling material during the war. The most satisfactory feature of the entire project is the manner in which the entire equipment fulfilled all the hopes of the persons who had to do with its construction. The problems that were solved were numerous and their extent is indicated in the preceding pages. In addition to the actual work of construction, a large amount of entirely new and important data had to be obtained by special experimental work. The problem of securing and training the personnel to operate the batteries when completed, and the task of handling the enormous weights and shipping them abroad for reerection in France, the actual assembly work at St. Nazaire, and the difficulties connected with their operations on the Western Front were real ones, and the enterprise was successfully accomplished, not on time, but ahead of time. The guns actually rendered excellent service during the closing days of the great war in firing against the enemy at several important strategic points.
The interval from January 25 to February 13 was consumed in making arrangements for the manufacture of the material. The leading men of concerns in the United States for building railway cars, steam locomotives, and constructing bridges were called together in Washington. The importance of the project was explained to them, to make them realize the necessity for breaking all previous records of war production if they should undertake the work and complete their part in time to enable the guns to participate in the great offensives that were to take place in France during the summer of 1918. To obtain satisfactory bids for this vast amount of work it was necessary, in placing the contracts, to avoid interference with other important war supplies for the U. S. Army, the U. S. Navy and the Allied Governments.
It appeared at first as though the bureau was demanding the fulfillment of impossible conditions. The engineers representing these large manufacturing concerns were thrilled with its extent and appreciated its possibilities; but the task appeared to them impossible, until, during a second conference, Mr. Samuel M. Vauclain, chairman of the Munitions Committee of the War Industries Board, with his customary delight in undertaking problems which to others seem out of the question, assured the Bureau of Ordnance that the Baldwin Locomotive Works would build the gun cars with the assistance of the American Bridge Company in from 100 to 120 days. The president of the Standard Steel Car Company, Mr. J. M. Hansen, was so stirred by Mr. Vauclain’s enthusiasm and patriotism that he also came forward and promised to deliver the entire number of auxiliary cars in the same time. The first step in the actual building of the mounts, therefore, was to award to the Baldwin Locomotive Works the building of the six necessary locomotives and the five gun cars, and to the Standard Steel Car Company the construction of the 72 auxiliary cars. The complete equipment as called for in these two contracts was as follows:
- 6 Consolidation locomotives and tenders (tractive power 35,600 pounds).
- 10 Ammunition cars.
- 5 Battery kitchen cars.
- 5 Battery headquarters cars.
- 15 Berthing cars.
- 5 Fuel cars.
- 5 Workshop cars.
- 1 Staff quarters car.
- 1 Staff kitchen and dispensary car.
- 1 Staff radio and spares car.
- 1 Commissary car (staff).
- 6 Construction cars.
- 5 Construction cars with cranes.
- 5 Sand and log cars.
- 1 Executive officer’s car.
- 1 Staff office car.
- 1 Staff workshop car.
- 1 Set of equipment for staff workshop car.
No time was lost in getting started, for the bids were accepted on the day of this second conference, February 13, 1918, and the awards were made by telegraph.
Actual construction of the railway batteries having commenced, the chief of naval operations, on February 19, directed the Bureau of Navigation to provide the personnel for their operation abroad.3
Rear Admiral, then Captain, C. P. Plunkett, U. S. Navy, was detailed at his own request as commanding officer of the United States naval railway batteries. It was under his supervision that the personnel was assembled and instructed.
The activities of the fleet during these important days made it impossible to take officers and men from the ships, for they were needed for the duties which they were then performing. In order not to interfere with the efficiency of any organization, the personnel was drawn from the naval training stations and rifle ranges, where personnel was being trained preparatory to taking part in the actual operations of the navy. As a result, more than 90 per cent of the complement of the naval railway batteries were men who had no previous experience with naval ordnance material, but they were excellent men who had entered the United States Naval Reserve Force that they might do their part in downing the enemy. They were most attentive in all their instruction, so that with a short course of intensive training, and a little experience on the front, they became imbued with the navy spirit and made good.
The original complement of the batteries called for 449 men and 25 officers. This was later increased to 500 men and 30 officers.
The complement of each of the five batteries was as follows:
- Commanding officer.
- Construction officer.
- Orientation officer.
- Medical officer.
- 1 Chief turret captain.
- 2 Gunner’s mates, 1st class.
- 1 Gunner’s mate, 2d class.
- 2 Machinist’s mates, 2d class.
- 1 Boatswain’s mate, 1st class.
- 2 Coxswains.
- 1 Electrician, 1st class.
- 1 Electrician, 2d class.
- 15 Seamen.
- 1 Chief machinist’s mate.
- 8 Ship fitters, 1st class.
- 8 Ship fitters, 2d class.
- 8 Carpenter’s mates, 1st class.
- 8 Seamen.
One hospital apprentice.
- 1 Ship’s cook 1st class.
- 1 Baker, 1st class.
- 1 Ship’s cook, 2d class.
- 4 Ship’s cooks, 4th class.
The complement of the staff train was:
- Commanding officer.
- 1 Chief yeoman.
- Executive officer.
- 1 Chief yeoman.
- Senior medical officer.
- 1 Chief pharmacist’s mate.
- 3 Hospital apprentices.
- Supply and pay officer.
- 2 Assistant paymasters.
- 1 Chief commissary steward.
- 1 Commissary steward.
- 1 Pay clerk, Baker, 1st class.
- 3 Ship’s cooks, 4th class.
- 1 Ship’s cook, 1st class.
- Transportation officer.
- 100 Men of various artificer ratings.
(These men available for general duty among five battery trains.)
To indicate the type of men would require many pages in describing their capabilities; but their character may be understood from a letter by Captain Plunkett.iv
As the secret of an expedition to send 14-inch 50-caliber naval guns to the front gradually spread, oral and written requests for detail to this organization were received from at least 20,000 different officers and men. Any person who had the slightest inkling of the project was most anxious to become associated with this work which was to take him into the most active sectors of the firing line.
For instruction, the men were divided among the Naval Proving Ground, Indian Head, Maryland; the Naval Gun Factory at Washington, D. C., and the Sandy Hook Proving Ground, Sandy Hook, N. J., where they were given intensive training. They were required to put guns in place, load and fire them, disassemble them after proof and become so accustomed to gun-fire that they lost all nervousness. The handling of heavy weights or the firing of big guns became to them only a routine matter. They were required to operate trains; operate locomotives; to build railroad track, and perform any sort of task which was likely to give them experience that would be valuable while operating against the enemy. A number of men were assigned to the Baldwin Locomotive Works and to the shops of the Standard Steel Car Company, to assist in the inspection of , the material while building. In this way many men became familiar with the smallest details of each and every part. The expedition demanded experienced men to run the locomotives and operate the trains on the railways of France. About 100 skilled mechanics were furnished from the United States Naval Training Station, Great Lakes, and several engineers, firemen, and others to make up train crews volunteered for enrollment upon being informed of the country’s need for them.
Every war seems to possess some creditable record for speed. During the Spanish-American War all records were broken by the Oregon in steaming from the Pacific coast to Cuba. In the Boer War the famous gun “Long Cecil” was built at Kimberly in 23 days. In this war the first 14-inch naval railway mount was completed in 72 days from the award of the contract, or 120 days from the commencement of the first preliminary designs.
From the moment that the bids were accepted and contracts awarded the fabrication of the material moved rapidly forward. The construction of the girders by the American Bridge Company progressed so rapidly that they were delivered to the Eddystone shops of the Baldwin Locomotive Works in less time than had been thought possible. When they were delivered, the shop superintendent was fully prepared to assemble. The trucks, air compressors, winches, castings, and other fittings had been obtained in some manner and assembled at Eddystone, so that when the girders came in, no time was lost in attaching the deck lugs, fitting the elevating mechanisms, placing the girder on its trucks, adjusting the gun slide and putting the gun in place. The Naval Gun Factory furnished for each mount all of the strictly ordnance parts; i. e., the gun, slide, deck lugs, elevating gear, breech mechanism, loading device, etc. And in performing this vast amount of work they were always a few days ahead of time. The first mount was scheduled for delivery on May 15, 1918. Mr. S. M. Vauclain, senior vice president of the Baldwin Locomotive Works, made the schedule out himself only to have it broken, for the first mount was completed at the Eddystone plant of the Baldwin Locomotive Works on the morning of April 25, 1918. The last mount was scheduled for June 15, but was completed on May 25.
There were no changes in the design to delay construction. Plates for the girders were rolled at Pittsburgh and rushed in special cars to the American Bridge Company’s fabricating plant at Pencoyd, Pa. The material furnished by the Washington Naval Gun Factory was sent to Eddystone by motor trucks, and, in fact, every conceivable method of transportation was used in seeing that the material reached the Baldwin Locomotive Works shops on time. Notwithstanding bad traffic conditions and some of the coldest weather and heaviest snow falls that the Eastern States had experienced in many years, the material reached there, and on time.
While one end of the Baldwin Locomotive Works shop was engaged in erecting the gun cars, the other end was erecting the locomotives for the expedition. At the plants of the Standard Steel Car Company located in various parts of the country, the building of the auxiliary cars was pushed so that they too were finished in advance of the delivery schedule. In spite of a severe fire and a young cyclone which destroyed a considerable portion of the Hammond, Indiana, shops the auxiliary cars were completed by June 1.
Among the problems encountered in connection with the naval railway batteries was the field available in the United States for proving such a long-range engine of war. The navy had no suitable proving ground, for at Indian Head the range was limited to a maximum of about 15,000 yards. There was only one proving ground in the United States where the firings could be safely conducted. That was at the Army Proving Ground, Sandy Hook, N. J. The only course open, therefore, was to appeal to the army for permission to conduct the proof of the first mount at Sandy Hook.
Permission to test the 14-inch gun and mount at Sandy Hook was granted, and preparations were made to carry out the work.
The men who were on the station for instruction built a special siding and installed the first pit foundation upon which to test the gun. These men at Sandy Hook had become almost expert in laying new track and making track repairs, for it happened that about two weeks before the first gun was expected to be ready for test, a severe storm raged for several days which caused such a violent sea to beat in on the sandy beach that the government track connecting the proving ground with the Central Railroad of New Jersey at Highlands was badly washed out in many places, and, in ' one place, was entirely destroyed for a distance of about 1000 yards. Sandy Hook, instead of being on a peninsula, for a short time was on an island. The blue-jackets on the station assisted the army materially in making repairs to this government line. They realized that the track had to be renewed in as short a time as possible if the railway mount was not to be delayed in arriving at Sandy Hook.
Arrangements were made with the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad and the Central Railroad of New Jersey to move the mount from Eddystone to Sandy Hook by a special train. Up to this point everything in connection with the project of sending long-range guns abroad had been kept confidential, but on this trip, where it was necessary to pass through Philadelphia and other cities, the nature of the undertaking began to become public. It was impossible to transport such a huge device over the railways without attracting attention. The gun and its mount were covered over as well as possible, and camouflaged in such a manner that at least the details could not be discerned by observers who might be along the tracks while the train was under way.
The movement of this first gun from Eddystone and its test at Sandy Hook were among the most important events in the life of the naval railway batteries, for the entire enterprise depended upon satisfactory results, both in transportation and in firing.
The officials of the Reading Railroad were most courteous in cooperating with the navy in this shipment by special train. They selected one of their most able train crews for the journey. Coaches and a special car were attached to the train, in order that meals could be served and every one made comfortable during the trip.
Rear Admiral Plunkett, Captain T. A. Kearney, assistant chief of the Bureau of Ordnance, most of the officers who were to go abroad with the batteries, and several others from the Bureau of Ordnance accompanied the train to observe its performance in transit. Undoubtedly, in handling the movement of this gun car the Reading and Jersey Central Railroads successfully handled over their lines the heaviest piece of rolling stock ever transported over the railways in the United States, and for that matter over any railway in the world. The mount as it stood when it made this trip weighed over 250 tons; the load between the rails and wheels of each axle on the rear truck being 39,630 pounds, while on the front truck the reaction on each axle was 50,330 pounds.
There had been considerable anxiety concerning these axle loads, for they were criticised by officials at home, and the French authorities were doubtful if it were safe to transport such a concentrated weight over the French railways. The navy’s engineers were confident that the axle loads would not prove excessive, but, in view of the many criticisms, there was the possibility of being mistaken, until the actual tests had shown everything to be satisfactory.
On the morning of April 25, 1918, when the Baldwin Locomotive Works, with one of their own engines, hauled Railway Mount No. 141 out of their Eddystone plant and turned it over to the Reading Railway for the remainder of the journey, that company had completed in the remarkable time of 72 days the greatest engine of land warfare that had been produced in the United States. It was a most patriotic sight, and it was with great pride that he Reading engineer opened the throttle to set the train in motion. It required as much effort to start the gun car as if the engine were hauling a heavy freight, but when once in motion the train rolled along easily and smoothly. The gun car took the curves with no difficulty and passed over the switches as nicely as any Pullman, and every one was elated. Aside from frequent stops made necessary, due to overheating of the journals, which caused hot-box troubles, the facility with which the mount could be handled on the railways was most satisfactory. It was believed that the bearing troubles were only temporary, and to redesign the trucks to lessen the axle loads was out of the question on account of the time necessary to make such alterations.
Highlands, N. J., the station at which transfer was made from the Central Railroad of New Jersey to the government line of about seven miles running into Sandy Hook, was reached at 3 a. m. on the morning of April 27. Upon reaching this station it was decided to inspect the new track that had been put in. The work had not been entirely finished, although the men had worked until late the night before. No heavy trains had passed over the track, and when inspected by the light of a lantern it was believed that the new fill would never support the heavy gun mount while making passage over it. Discouragement prevailed, but Colonel Philips, U. S. A., commanding officer of the Sandy Hook Proving Ground, with the party, again went over the track in daylight, and it was decided to go ahead rather than to wait several days for further track repairs. A government locomotive hooked up to the train and went ahead at slow speed only to find that there was no cause whatever for anxiety; there was no evidence of track failure at any point all the way to Sanely Hook. As far as the question of axle loads or the mobile qualities of the mount were concerned, the Bureau of Ordnance was certain that during this trip from Eddystone to Sandy Hook, the United States naval railway battery mount had been subjected to extreme conditions prevailing in the United States, and it was certain that no troubles would be encountered while moving from place to place along the firing lines in France.
The mount was subjected to firing tests on April 30. The Bureau of Ordnance arranged for a special train from Washington to Sandy Hook to bring representatives of the United States Navy, the United States Army, and various naval and military officers of the nations associated with the United States in the war to witness the tests. Upon the arrival of the train the party proceeded to inspect the various details of this new shore mounting for a large-caliber naval gun; all seemed pleased with its fine appearance and especially with its simplicity and with the ease and rapidity with which the various operations were accomplished. The mount was first run over the foundation, jacked up, and the transom bed plate adjusted to take the reactions when firing at high angles. The gun was loaded and laid at 25° elevation. The primer was inserted and the firing wires connecting with the hand-operated magneto were led out to a distance of about 100 yards. A large party of army officers and men from Fort Hancock had assembled to witness this first shot from the 14-inch gun. There was more or less suspense, for every one appreciated that, when the firing circuit was energized, the 484 pounds of powder would exert its force on the 1400-pound projectile with such an amount of energy that it seemed none too certain that everything would function perfectly. Many comments were heard to the effect that when the first shot was fired the entire gun car would capsize; that the gun-pit foundation would be entirely wrecked, and, in the minds of a few who were waiting to see this first shot, there was a great deal of doubt as topts being a successful piece of ordnance.
While the audience held their fingers in their ears, Rear Admiral Earle grasped the handle of the magneto and operated the lever to fire the gun. Nothing happened! There was a misfire, and the gun did not go off! It was found that one of the firing wires had become disconnected and when the admiral operated the magneto no current had reached the primer. The firing wire was again secured to the firing lock and this time when the chief of bureau pressed the lever there was no misfire, and to the relief of every one, when the dust cleared away, the mount was still there.
There was a grand rush to the gun to see how it had functioned. All the parts were carefully gone over, and there was no evidence of failure of any part. The gun returned to battery properly, the car withstood the firing reaction, and the gun-pit foundation, which had been imbedded in sand, stood up wonderfully. It was apparent to all that on this first shot all the dreams of the Bureau of Ordnance and of the Naval Gun Factory designers had been realized. Firings were continued from the pit foundation at elevations of 25° and 45°. Then the mount was removed from the pit and fired from the rails at elevations of 10° and 15°. On every test the railway mount performed as predicted by its designers, and it was apparent to all that it was a decided success.
The special train returned to Washington the same evening and every one aboard was thrilled with the events of the day. Rear Admiral Earle was congratulated by every one present.5
Rear Admiral C. P. Plunkett remained at Sandy Hook to make arrangements for the return of the gun to Eddystone. To him, it seemed almost as though he were on the Western front, for between daylight and dark on April 30 he had maneuvered the mount into a firing position over the pit, fired several shots, then removed the gun from the pit, fired several more shots, then hooked up an engine and was withdrawing from the scene of “battle.” The train was assembled the same evening, and during the night Railway Mount No. 1 was en route to Eddystone for dismantling preparatory to shipment abroad.
All doubt concerning the proper functioning of these huge pieces of artillery having been dispelled, Admiral Sims was informed of the results of the tests, and was requested to confer with the authorities abroad to determine a port of debarkation, in order that overseas shipments could be arranged. Material for the naval railway batteries at this time was being delivered very rapidly, and it was continually piling up in the Philadelphia navy yard. By May 2, when the first mount had been returned to Eddystone for dismantling, Mount No. 2, had been completed, and the enthusiasm that prevailed in the Baldwin shops when they learned of the satisfactory operation of their first gun may be realized from Mr. Vauclain’s letter to Admiral Earle.6
During the construction period of all this equipment the contractors and all persons having to do with its building were spurred in their efforts by the repeated accounts of the German long-range guns firing into Paris, and the reports of the telling effect of the German long-range guns all along the front. The “German Berthas” were doing considerable damage to material and were having a serious influence on the morale of the French people. The navy’s foresight in preparing the expedition for foreign service was appreciated during May, for it was at this time that the Germans were making rapid advances, and the channel ports were threatened. Through the office of Naval Intelligence information was received that 380-millimeter guns originally intended for the Hindenburg had been mounted by the Germans, one near Lille, to fire upon Dunkirk; one at St. Hilaire-le-Grand, to fire upon Chalons-sur-Marne; the third near Pont-à-Mousson, to fire on Nancy, and four more had been mounted two months before in a wood four kilometers above Crepy, Laon. It was definitely established that 16 heavy naval guns had left Kiel towards the end of May for Belgium. They were believed to be 305-millimeter guns, manned by naval personnel, and were probably attached to the Marine-Sonder-Kommando.
The High Commission of the French Republic in the United States appealed to our War Department for assistance in early deliveries of long-range artillery.7
The Navy Bureau of Ordnance had, early in the war, furnished to the Ordnance Department of the army a considerable number of naval guns varying in caliber from 3-inch to 12-inch, and, by special arrangements, a number of 14-inch 50-caliber guns subsequently were released by the navy for their use during the summer of 1918. While effort was made by the army to place these guns in operation in France, so far as is reported, only a few of the minor calibers were ever shipped abroad, and no successful mounts were fabricated for the larger guns in time to permit them actually to take part in the war. After the Sandy Hook firing of the naval mount, the Ordnance Department of the United States Army requested the Navy Bureau of Ordnance to build three similar mounts for them. These three were completed the latter part of August, and, the rapidity of their construction being satisfactory to the army officials, they duplicated their order for an additional three which were finished by October 1.
As mentioned in the beginning of this article, the original tactical use that led to the building of these mounts was to answer the long-range German bombardments of Dunkirk. By May 15, with the completion of the entire project actually in sight, and at most one or two weeks’ distance, conditions in France had changed entirely. The threatening of the channel ports made it impossible to risk shipment to the British transportation centers. It was decided to communicate with General Pershing to determine if the guns could be of use to the American Army. On May 23 General Pershing showed his appreciation of what the navy had accomplished by requesting shipment of the guns, railway mounts, and rolling stock to France immediately. St. Nazaire was assigned as the port of debarkation, and the one requirement made by the army was that the transfer to France should be accomplished without demand on army tonnage.
Pershing’s word filled the personnel of the naval railway batteries with enthusiasm. Arrangements were immediately made with the Bureau of Supplies and Accounts for the necessary shipping.8
The detail of men at the Naval Gun Factory, the Naval Proving Ground, Indian Head, Md., and the various inspection districts were ordered, by telegraph, to assemble in the navy yard, Philadelphia, preparatory to proceeding overseas.
The first draft of 250 men and eight officers, Commander Garret L. Schuyler, U. S. Navy, in charge, sailed for Brest on May 26, 1918, arriving at St. Nazaire on June 10. The second draft of 207 men and six officers, with Lieut. Commander J. W. Bunkley, U. S. Navy, in charge, sailed on June 15, arriving at St. Nazaire on the 29th. Commander Schuyler commanded the naval detachment in France until the arrival of Captain C. P. Plunkett on July 16.
Besides the usual difficulties connected with the shipment of such heavy material, the journey to France at this particular time was extremely dangerous. It was during this same interval that German seagoing submarines were operating off our coast, laying mines and sinking numerous vessels by gun fire. Every one will recall how persistent these pirates of the sea were in their activities. How they appeared one morning so close in shore off Cape Cod, that, while sinking a number of innocent barges by gun fire, the shells actually fell on the beach. The San Diego was sunk by a torpedo from one of these submarines or by one of the mines laid by them, and even the U. S. S. Texel, which had been designated to carry a cargo of material for the naval railway batteries, was sunk on June 2 while nearing port, so that another vessel had to be substituted. The first shipment from Philadelphia was actually made on the U. S. S. Newport News on June 20, and shipments followed on July 4 by two steamers, the Bath and Pensacola. The Newport News arrived safely at St. Nazaire on July 8, while the two latter ships required until July 21 and July 27, respectively. Other shipments followed on the Malang and Rappahannock, which arrived at St. Nazaire on August 11 and 15.
During the entire construction period of the material for the railway batteries the work was supervised by Lieut. Commander D. C. Buell, U. S. N. R. F. It happened that Mr. Buell was visiting in Washington at the time the contracts were being awarded to the Baldwin Locomotive Works and the Standard Steel Car Company. He appeared in the Bureau of Ordnance one morning and expressed a desire to assist in war work. Mr. Buell was known to be an excellent railroad man, so he was immediately enrolled as a lieutenant and assigned as a special inspector to handle all the material for the expedition. He performed this work most ably, and upon its completion he was sent to St. Nazaire to assist with the work of erection in France, where he remained until the assembly was completed.
Lieut. Commander George T. Ladd, U. S. N. R. F., from Pittsburgh, Pa., gave up his own business and volunteered to take up the inspection work while Mr. Buell was abroad. Lieut. Commander Ladd was familiar with the entire project, for he had assisted Mr. Buell for several weeks during the busiest days as a sub-inspector of ordnance. He was a very competent officer, for under his supervision six railway mounts similar to those with the United States naval railway batteries were built, for the Ordnance Department of the army, and besides, he handled the inspection of a large contract for 7-inch tractor mounts that were building for the United States Marine Corps. Many men of the type of Ladd and Buell volunteered their services to the government during the war, and it is hoped that their assistance was appreciated by others as much as the navy appreciated the services of these two men.
Lieut. Commander Buell arrived in St. Nazaire on June 20. At this time a majority of the preliminary arrangements for the expedition in France had been completed by Commander Schuyler. A site for barracks had been obtained and the construction of the barracks was well under way. Arrangements had been made for mounting the guns in a French shop that was in use by the 19th Engineers, U. S. A. Arrangements had been made with the 19th Engineers for the use of space in their railroad yards for storage and construction purposes. Permission had been granted by them for the use of as much scrap lumber, from locomotive packing cases, as was necessary to complete the barracks. Conferences had been held regarding the movement of the guns over various railroad lines. Many other details were being worked out concerning the general conduct of the expedition after the assembly had been completed.
The 19th Engineers, all railroad shop men in civil life, were very friendly and willing to co-operate in every manner. Commander F. P. Baldwin, U. S. N., naval port officer at St. Nazaire, took keen interest in the work and assisted in every possible manner.
Conditions at the port were not entirely satisfactory. There was shortage of labor and congestion in the yards, due to the vast amount of material arriving from the States.
The first shipment of the navy material "was not expected to arrive for at least two weeks, so it was decided to distribute as many navy men as possible about the port at places where they would be learning the yards, the shops and, at the same time, rendering service to the army. With this in view, an experienced round-house foreman and 15 mechanics were detailed to the 67th Engineers; 50 skilled mechanics to the 19th Engineers, and three switching crews, four engineers and firemen were detailed to work with the army in the yard. All of these men were very badly needed, were eagerly accepted and they made good in every particular. Rear Admiral Plunkett was especially anxious to assist the French and the Americans in every way possible, for he appreciated that by so doing they would reciprocate in granting many favors to the navy while their material was being assembled. As opportunity offered, several trips were made by automobile to points on the railroads out of St. Nazaire to inspect the road bed and bridges, with reference to their capacity for carrying the naval mount safely. These inspections convinced the officers that the road bed was perfectly safe for the guns, and that all the main line bridges were safe for moving at slow speed and, in most cases, were safe for moving at any reasonable speed.
Captain Debonett, a French artillery constructor, who, in civil life, was a bridge engineer, visited St. Nazaire and went into detail in regard to the bridges, axle loads, etc., with the result that he was absolutely convinced of the safe carrying capacity of the French bridges for the naval expedition; but he was somewhat doubtful as to the track holding up under the weight of the gun. So with absolute confidence, on the part of the naval officers, that the French track was entirely adequate, and with full confidence in the bridges, on the part of Captain Debonett, it was decided that there would be no difficulty in moving the guns almost anywhere in France.
When the Newport News arrived, the naval battery was ready and waiting to proceed with the assembly work. The army’s experience had demonstrated that in all cases it was advisable not to start actual erection until all material necessary for a complete unit was actually on hand and in the yard. This proved to be the best practice with the navy material as well, for in making hasty shipments from the United States it was impossible to separate the enormous number of parts into those pertaining to individual trains; and, consequently, at St. Nazaire, when the first ship arrived, it was found that necessary component parts were missing and nothing was to be gained by commencing the erection of material before all had reached port and been unloaded.
The locomotive and car erection began on July 20. The assembly of the first gun was begun on July 26, and the first train was completed and ready to leave St. Nazaire on August 11.
In all the assembly work the men were seriously handicapped for, in some unexplainable manner, all blueprints were missing. The resourcefulness of the American blue-jacket was here again made evident, for those who had been detailed to assist in the inspection work at the Baldwin Locomotive Works and the Standard Steel Car Company had kept individual notebooks. They had taken them to France, and with the sketches that these notebooks contained many an unknown step in the putting together of the gun cars and the various other parts was accomplished.
It is needless to state that the work at St. Nazaire was done under high pressure. Admiral Plunkett was continually receiving urgent requests to expedite the work and get his guns to the front.
Orderly procedure in the work of erection as intended in the beginning was considerably interrupted, in order to comply with these urgent demands. The original schedule was rearranged and special effort was made on the first two trains which made them available for leaving St. Nazaire on August 18 and 19, each with 100 rounds of ammunition per gun.
The manner in which Rear Admiral Plunkett and his men overcame all the difficulties of the complex assembly work did credit to the best navy traditions. Seamen all, they worked till they dropped exhausted, and their night and long day hours of labor were continuous until the guns left for the front.9
The urgent need for the first two guns at the front was in order that they might perform a special mission of firing upon the German long-range gun which, at that time, was bombarding Paris. Admiral Plunkett devoted special attention to the assembly of these two mounts and took personal charge when they moved from St. Nazaire.10
The first train, after being inspected on August 17, 1918, by the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Franklin D. Roosevelt, left St. Nazaire on August 18, 1918, followed by the second train on Monday morning, August 19. The schedule called for the train to pass over the Orleans, Etat and the Nord systems. The total distance was more than 350 miles, and the destination Helles-Mouchy. A speed of six miles per hour was set, for it was considered that, as the material was all new and there was some question about the weights involved and the strength of the bridges, a speed greater than this in the beginning might have involved some questions which it was desired to avoid until it was proven that the French road beds and the naval railway rolling stock were both capable of successfully meeting all situations.11
This first trip in France was a memorable occasion, for many French cities, including Paris, were passed through and the French people on seeing that large American engines of war were actually in France, were happy and encouraged. When passing many troop trains loaded with American soldiers cheer after cheer was given. On all occasions as soon as the gun was seen crowds gathered and went wild with excitement. Word of its coming was flashed ahead of the train so that at many stations people had gathered in curiosity and many had come with flowers and wreaths to decorate the big weapon. Many were surprised and agreeably startled when they found that the wreaths were too small for this gun and would not pass over the muzzle. Information concerning the guns spread over France, and undoubtedly reached the Germans, for when Battery No. 1 arrived at Helles-Mouchy at 8.30 p. m., August 23, and Battery No. 2 on August 24, the German long-range gun had been withdrawn. “The bird had flown." The bombardments of Paris had ceased before the naval guns had taken position to fire a single shot against them.
The cessation of bombardments of Paris gave the naval railway-batteries a few days in which there was no immediate mission for the guns. It was decided to fire a few rounds to demonstrate to the foreign officials what sort of duty these guns were capable of performing, and to test out the assembly work that had been done at St. Nazaire. Battery No. 1 was chosen for the test firing and left Helles-Mouchy at 6 a. m., August 27, from where it proceeded to the French proving ground at Nuisemont on August 28. Battery No. 2 in the meantime proceeded to Rethondes in the forest of Compiègne to fire upon an ammunition dump at Tergnier.
The proving ground test of Battery No. 1 at Nuisemont was most encouraging. The pit was installed in time so that on September 2 four rounds at reduced velocity and four rounds with full charges were fired. The territory available was not sufficient to allow firing the naval guns at their maximum elevation. The gun was laid for a range of 29,000 yards. The shots actually fell at 29,000, 29,300, 29,000 and 28,900, respectively. It is needless to say that the French were very much pleased with this firing, for the low dispersion was declared by them to be most remarkable, and they refused to allow further expenditure of ammunition for demonstration purposes. They concluded that the guns were perfect in all respects, and that the proper place to conduct future firings for demonstration or other purposes was at the Front, smashing German positions.
Meanwhile Battery No. 2 had laid track and prepared the firing position at Rethondes under direction of the 10th French Army. On September 6, 1918, after firing only one shot, orders were received to cease firing for the Allies had captured the village of Tergnier.12 By a peculiar coincidence it happened that Battery No. 2, when firing this first shot from the naval railway battery in France against the Germans, occupied the same position as occupied by the train carrying General Foch and his staff at the time the armistice was signed later on November 11, 1918.
There was continuous demand for the American naval guns; so, as soon as they had concluded their firing at one point they received orders to proceed to another. Battery No. 1 went from the French proving ground to Soissons, where, on September 11, position was taken near St. Christophe Cemetery while Battery No. 2 proceeded to Fontenoy-Ambleny.
While these first two batteries were actually operating, work was continuing at St. Nazaire on the remaining three. Train No. 4 left St. Nazaire for Haussimont (Marne) on September 15, 1918, and was followed by Trains No. 3 and No. 5 on September 16 and 17. They arrived at the railroad artillery reserve base, Haussimont, on September 23, 24 and 26, respectively.
Some delay in the firings of Batteries Nos. 1 and 2 occurred, owing to weather conditions preventing observation by aeroplane or by observation balloon. It was decided to proceed without observation, so on September 14, Battery No. 2 fired 10 rounds at an ammunition dump in Besny-Loisy, which is just west of Laon. Battery No. 1 on September 28 fired its first shots into the German lines by putting 47 rounds over between the hours of 1 and 5.30 p. m., at a range of 34,320 yards. The target was the railroad yard. The retreat of the German forces from Laon began on September 28 while the U. S. Navy long-range bombardments were in progress. Battery No. 1 continued firing until dark, when it was necessary to cease on account of the flashes of the gun being easily seen by the enemy. Enemy bombing operations in the vicinity of Batteries Nos. 1 and 2 were of frequent occurrence. They were successful as far as French material was concerned, but no damage was done to the United States guns.
Battery No. 2 again fired 12 rounds into Besny-Loisy on September 15, making a total of 22 rounds after which the gun was withdrawn and taken on October 6 to Flavy-le-Martel, where they arrived on October 8. Battery No. 1 remained at Soissons until October 24, firing in all a total of 199 rounds from the same, pit foundation. One hundred and twelve rounds were fired at the railroad yards to the northwest of Laon on September 28, 30, and October 2. On October 2 the target was shifted to a point northeast of Laon, where the remaining 87 rounds were fired at ranges varying from 38,000 to 36,660 yards. In all these firings from Battery No. 1, observation of the fall of only 23 shots was possible.
Battery No. 1 had innumerable interesting experiences and narrow escapes while in action at this point. Every one in the vicinity was most anxious to visit the gun, and they gasped in wonder as the weapon hurled the enormous projectiles from its muzzle toward the retreating Germans. French and American nurses from a hospital at Villa-Cotterets took particular delight in going to the front to witness the action of the gun, because the Germans were hurling bombs upon their hospital every night, and it must have been very gratifying to them to witness the retaliation that was being administered by the American blue-jackets. Officers from the Allied armies repeatedly inspected the mount and observed its action. Military visitors were so numerous that the gun’s crew was frequently interfered with, and it was necessary to hold back the more curious by putting up a rope fence. Congressmen who were in France to observe the operations of the American Army also took the opportunity to visit Battery No. i, and in one instance one of these gentlemen wrote his name upon the projectile before it was hurled against the Germans.
Shells from the enemy were continually passing over head, and frequently falling in the vicinity of the battery. On October 5, at about 4.30 p. m., an enemy shell burst directly overhead followed by three other high bursts. Then regular fire began, shells over the train, to the left and in the road. One shell struck 16 feet from the gun. Fragments hit the side plates on the left side, cutting the train air line, piercing the plate close to the left elevating wheel and striking the support to the gas engine, breaking one piece of the casting but doing no injury to the engine. This shell interrupted two men in their daily sanitary operation of scrubbing clothes. These two men had been ordered away from the gun when the commanding officer noted the first high burst. They abandoned their clothes bucket only to have the German shell strike it and the fragments flew in all directions, causing minor injury to the gun mount.
The German retreat from Laon left the former targets of the naval railway batteries in the hands of the Allies. Rear Admiral Plunkett on October 14 visited this sector, going over the ground carefully. It was not difficult to recognize the shell craters formed by the explosion of the 14-inch naval projectiles. They were easily identified by their uniform size and great extent, and, some contained a few fragments of the shells themselves from which identification was made positive. The fragmentation of the shells was most excellent. No “duds” were found. All fuses functioned and the nose of one shell was found five kilometers from the target. General Mangin and the French artillery command were delighted with the work of the guns, for when working with the map only and without aeroplane observation, the shots in nearly all cases were effective hits, and where aeroplane spotting had been possible and the corrections applied on subsequent shots, they had been perfectly placed.
The effect on the railroads leading out of Laon was all that could be desired. One hit from the 14-inch naval guns was sufficient to wreck a railroad line of three tracks for a distance of at least 100 feet, tearing the rails up, shattering the ties and blowing an enormous crater in the road bed. Although the Germans would repair at night the damage done by the guns, and thus maintain some communication, the interruption must have caused them serious concern, both when holding their ground before Laon and also during their retreat.
In the way of concrete evidence regarding the punishment inflicted upon the Germans, Admiral Plunkett learned that one projectile had struck a German moving picture theater during a performance, killing 40 outright and severely mangling at least 60 others. Two other shells struck this same moving picture theater, and it was completely demolished, together with several surrounding buildings. One freight train on a siding had been struck and one car was completely lifted from the track and thrown a distance of about 30 feet.
On October 11, 12 and 13 Battery No. 2, which had taken position at Flavy-le-Martel, southeast of St. Quentin, fired 35 rounds without observation against Mortiers, an important railroad center north of Laon. Nos. 3, 4 and 5 remained at the reserve artillery base of the American Expeditionary Forces at Haussimont until October 12, when they were ordered to take a position at Thierville on the outskirts of Verdun. Three gun pits were put in at this position and two pits put in at Charny, about three miles further north. Attempts were made on several days to get observation, but without success. On October 23 one round was fired from each battery at the railroads passing through Longuyon, 38,580 yards map range. But due to heavy mists the aviator was unable to observe. On October 29, due to the activity of the enemy’s forces coming into Mangiennes (a concentration of troops at this point) Batteries Nos. 3, 4 and 5 kept up an intermittent bombardment of the roads leading into this town. Ten rounds were fired from each gun at a range of 26,000 yards.
Batteries Nos. 1 and 2 after having performed so satisfactorily in the vicinity of Soissons with the French 10th Army, were ordered to join the 1st American Army of the A. E. F. The two guns arrived at Nixeville, just south of Verdun on October 28. Battery No. 2 immediately occupied one of the gun positions prepared at Charny, and Battery No. 4 was moved from Thierville to the other position there.
It was absolutely impossible to get satisfactory aeroplane observation. Six rounds from Batteries Nos. 3 and 4 were fired at open fields near the targets, in order that aeroplane photographs could be obtained and the range corrected accordingly. On the 30th and 31st six rounds per gun were fired on each day. The two guns at Thierville firing at an aviation field south of Longuyon, and the two guns at Charny at points near Montmedy. Aviators flew over the targets shortly afterward, but due to their height, 5200 meters, satisfactory photographs were not obtained.
Battery No. 2 bombarded the railroad yards of Montmedy with 43 rounds on November 1 and 2. At this time General Foch was preparing for an enormous offensive east of Metz, and the French requested that two of the naval railway battery mounts be assigned to take part in this important operation.
It was decided that Batteries Nos. 1 and 2 should be assigned to comply with this request of General Foch, while the remaining batteries would remain at Thierville and Charny to keep up the bombardment of Montmedy and Longuyon. Battery No. 2 left Charny on November 3 and arrived at its firing position at Moncelle-Luneville in the forest of Mondon on November 9; meanwhile, Battery No. 1 had arrived at its firing position in the forest of Velaine via Champigneulles on November 6, the objective being Bensdorf. This latter position was about 20 miles east of the one occupied by Battery No. 2. The target assigned to Battery No. 2 was Saarburg. Both targets were important German railroad centers.
In this territory much more work in the preparation of the gun positions was necessary than at any other firing point that had been assigned. The soil was wet clay, and it was difficult to install the pit foundation. A track for bringing up the gun was not available, and it was necessary to fell trees and prepare the necessary road bed. The entire forest of Champenoux was alive with the preparation of gun emplacements and with the movement of troops preparatory to the great push. The greatest caution had to be taken in all movements of trains, for the Germans were continually opening up with their artillery at the least evidence of a locomotive or other vehicle of transportation. Batteries Nos. 1 and 2 were assigned to positions much nearer to the front lines than customary, and it was apparent from the tremendous array of field pieces, howitzers, mortars, and other weapons that the Allied command contemplated a very heavy movement due east in this sector, supported by the 3d, 7th, 8th and 10th French armies. The artillery in place, and the accumulation of mobile artillery in the rear exceeded all previous offensive preparations of the war, and with the veteran armies which were to make this thrust, it is quite apparent that had the armistice not gone into effect when it did, Metz would have been taken from both the north and the south, and the possible ending of the war would have occurred similar to the French surrender at Metz in 1870, only on a larger scale.
Battery No. 3 was shifted from Thierville to Battery No. 2’s position at Charny, and on November 1 fired one round at the railroad yards of Longuyon, map range 38,380 yards. Battery No. 4 fired 23 rounds into Montmedy, map range, 37,370 yards, and Battery No. 5 fired 44 rounds at the transportation centers of Longuyon. Again, on November 2, Batteries Nos. 3 and 5 each fired 25 rounds at Longuyon, and Battery No. 4, 20 rounds at the railroads of Montmedy. On account of the enemy’s activities at Louppy and Remoiville Battery No. 4 on November 3 fired 25 rounds on a large ammunition dump, and on the cross roads and bridges there. After firing six rounds at the lower railroad garage, at Montmedy, on November 4, Battery No. 4 again took up position at Thierville on account of the weakened condition of the pit, making it inadvisable to continue firing from this point. Battery No. 3 opened fire on Louppy and Remoiville on the morning of November 4, firing 44 rounds at the two targets; 12 rounds were also fired at Montmedy.
All of the firings above mentioned were intermittent, covering a period each day of 6 to 12 hours. In case of a contemplated advance the firing generally began two to four hours before the infantry attack.
To continue the enumeration of all the firings conducted by the United States naval railway batteries would be too tedious, and in order that the offensive measures that may be accomplished by even so small a number as five efficient, high-powered, long-range guns may be appreciated, a summary of their operations follows:
|Date||Battery||Gun position||Objective||No. of Shots|
|Date||Gun||Range||Gun position||Objective||No. of Shots|
|4||38,470||Longuyon.||W. of Verdun.||1|
|5||38,580||Longuyon.||W. of Verdun.||1|
|30||3||36,830||Av. Fld., Longuyon.||Thierville.||6|
|31||3||36,830||Av. Fld., Longuyon.||Thierville.||6|
|3||36,850||Low. Garage, Mont.||Charny.||12|
|4||4||37,670||Low. Garage, Montmedy.||Charny.||6|
|5||3||36,850||Low. Garage, Montmedy.||Charny.||11|
|3||38,200||Upp. Garage, Montmedy.||Charny.||39|
|8||3||36,850||Low. Garage, Montmedy.||Charny.||6|
|9||3||36,850||Low. Garage, Montmedy.||Charny.||25|
The naval railway batteries fired a total of 782 rounds against the enemy. The guns were fired on 25 different days. There was no such thing as lightly and heavily engaged, and the guns did not engage the enemy. They were used for strategical purposes entirely, and fired at ranges between 30,000 and 40,000 yards. Other artillery, of which there was a great quantity, could accomplish with less expenditure of ammunition and expense all the results that were desired at the shorter ranges. The number of rounds fired at any one time or on one day was governed by the results which they desired to obtain.
The ammunition supply for guns to be used in the field of active operations should be measured entirely by the life of the gun. It was not believed that the accuracy of the 14-inch guns would be more than 300 rounds and the navy’s provision for 300 rounds for each gun proved entirely adequate.
In plans for use of long-range weapons under the conditions as they existed on the Western Front, the experience of the United States naval railway batteries demonstrated that it is advisable 38
to provide spare mounts rather than to provide spare guns. All advices received by the Bureau of Ordnance while they were drawing up plans for the naval railway batteries was to the effect that as many as four guns should be available for each mount, the reason being given that the life of the guns was short and after operating only a few weeks it would be necessary to withdraw the mount and replace the worn-out gun with a new one. The actual operation of the batteries in the great war demonstrated that this policy is not an effective one, for repeatedly it happened that the mounts themselves narrowly escaped destruction by shell-fire and by bombs. The effect of these bombs, had the German control been more efficient, would have been the destruction of the mount, but it is believed that the gun itself would have remained practically intact. So the navy, while the batteries were operating in France, decided that it is advantageous in the operation of heavy guns to provide each gun with a mount and not to hold guns in reserve as spares.
Heavy guns of a long-range type cannot be replaced without excessive delay. The replacement cannot be made at the front, and in all cases it is necessary to remove the battery to some distance behind the lines, where a shop with ample crane facilities is available, and during this interval a gap is likely in the lines. The only solution, and the one which is believed to be the most effective and economical for the operation of railway mounts, is to build the entire unit complete without provision for spare guns, to operate on the front as many as possible at one time, and to hold in reserve another complete unit to replace whichever one may lose its accuracy or to withdraw it entirely when it has ceased to be effective.
No observation was obtained at any time while operating in the Verdun Sector, and the only way of obtaining any idea of the results of the firings was through the Intelligence Service. On November 5 the southern part of Montmedy was reported on fire, on November 11 a German prisoner reported that the firing on Montmedy had caused a great deal of damage, one shell landing in the yards and killing all the Germans in two coaches.
The railway batteries at Charny and Thierville did not operate with impunity. They were repeatedly shelled and bombed as was the case at Soissons. On October 30 Battery No. 2 reported firing six rounds into Montmedy with a range of 37,382 yards, the first shot at 12.04 p. m. and the last shot at 12.29 p. m. The enemy at the time was shelling cross roads between the gun and the berthing cars. Three American engineers working on the track nearby were killed. The headquarters and one berthing car were derailed and replaced without damage. Battery No. 4, on the same day, reported five other soldiers killed and others injured by enemy shells which fell near the crossing of the roads (railway and wagon) at Charny. One shell which killed two and injured several others fell within 50 feet of the blue-jacket in the naval railway battery telephone control station. Gas masks were always carried and the men of the railway battery had to be continually prepared for casualties. When off duty the men remained in dug-outs. On October 28 the following men of Battery No. 4 were wounded by enemy shell-fire:
- Guthrie, .K. W., S. F. 2C, U. S. N., wounded on left leg.
- Sharpe, A. P., S. F. iC, U. S. N. R. F., wounded on left leg.
- Burdett, A. J., S. F. 2C, U. S. N., wounded on face.
Two other men received slight wounds; Sharpe died on October 29 while in the hospital at Glorieux, near Verdun.
The importance of the targets under bombardment by the United States naval railway batteries is indicated by the following passages quoted from the secret field orders issued by Brigadier-General William Chamberlaine, U. S. A., Commanding Headquarters 30th Artillery Brigade (C. A. C.):
“October 18, 1918.
“The towns of Montmedy, Longuyon, Spincourt, and Conflans-en-Jarny are among the most important railroad centers of the enemy’s transportation system for the supply of the Western Front.”
“October 18, 1918.
“A group of long-range guns more powerful than heretofore assembled for a single operation is now being emplaced to attack the above centers.
“These centers will be attacked on the first day offering favorable observation. The object of this attack will be the destruction of the railroad yards and the rolling stock therein, the interruption of railroad traffic and the general disorganization of the enemy’s transport system.”
“October 18, 1918.
DETAILED INFORMATION CONCERNING TARGETS—LONGUYON
“Longuyon is an important railroad center, located at the junction of the lateral line from Alsace, through Metz and Thionville to the west and the main line north through Luxemberg. Hirson-Sedan-Metz line is referred to in a recently captured German document as ‘ the most important artery of the Army of the West.’ The cutting of this line would cripple the German steel production.
“Longuyon is a detraining point. The main railway yard contains 15 long sidings and is normally occupied by about 350 cars. Many of the houses in the town are destroyed, but there are numerous large storehouses in good condition.”
“Montmedy is on the main railway line from Metz and Luxemberg to Sedan and Mezieres. The civil population, about 3000, is still in the town. The town has a citadel, large barracks, and is the headquarters of the 7th Germany Army. North of the town the railroad enters a tunnel about 800 meters in length. The railroad yard is large and frequently contains 400 cars. 1500 meters north of the town there is an aviation field which recently contained 7 hangars.”
“Circulation on the line Conflans-Domary-Baron-Court-Spincourt averages one train per hour in each direction. This figure includes both civil and military trains. The greatest circulation is between 10 and 8 hours. Longuyon and Montmedy show considerable night activity.”
After the signing of the armistice on November 11, Montmedy, Longuyon, Mangiennes, Louppy and Remoiville were visited, and some of the results of the firing were obtained from observation and from questioning the civilian population that remained. The guns apparently were firing a few hundred yards beyond the ranges calculated from the range table, but the damage to both material and morale was considerable. The targets were struck frequently, and the traffic was stopped completely, not only during the actual firing but from 6 to 10 hours each day after the firing had ceased. As the railroad running through Longuyon and Montmedy was the only line by which troops could be brought to Sedan other than a railroad running far to the north through Belgium, the cutting of this line was a strategical victory of great importance. General Pershing, in his report, states in his description of the last phase of the Meuse-Argonne offensive, “Our large-caliber guns had advanced and were skillfully brought into position to fire upon the important lines at Montmedy, Longuyon and Conflans—the strategical goal which was our highest hope was gained. We had cut the enemy’s main line of communications and nothing but surrender or an armistice could save his army from complete disaster.13
All of the naval railway batteries were ordered back to the R. A. R. base, at Haussimont a few days after the armistice took effect, arriving there on November 22. On November 28 the staff train left Haussimont for St. Nazaire, via Paris, and the other trains followed, one per day, on the succeeding days. By December 11 all batteries had arrived at St. Nazaire. On the same day a draft of 150 men and six officers left for the United States through Brest. On December 13 and 17 the remainder of the personnel left St. Nazaire for the United States, via Brest, with the exception of one officer and 20 men, who were detailed to remain with the guns with orders to disassemble and ship them home at the earliest opportunity. Rear Admiral C. P. Plunkett, U. S. Navy; Lieut. Commander J. W. Bunkley, U. S. Navy, his executive officer while commanding the United States naval railway batteries, and a majority of the personnel of the railway batteries, arrived in New York on Christmas Eve, 1918, and the entire expedition would have been home before New Year’s except that two or three officers and a number of men were so unfortunate as to be delayed when the Northern Pacific, on which they took passage, ran aground on Fire Island.
This article may have seemed to the reader to contain much detail, but in its preparation it was desired to inform the members of the Naval Institute, and the many friends of the navy, of what was done. It is unfortunate that during actual hostilities the preparation, organization, and operations of projects similar to the above cannot be disclosed; for, during the trying days of the spring and summer of 1918 it would have been most pleasing to the Navy Department if they could have given the facts concerning the accomplishments of the naval railway batteries to the public from day to day, in the form of a continuous story. It would have proved most interesting and inspiring for the American people to have known the rapidity with which the material for the batteries was completed at home; the safety with which it was transported abroad, the speed with which it was assembled at St. Nazaire, and to have heard from day to day of the operations of the various guns while on the Western Front.
Perhaps the navy will gain its greatest satisfaction from the accomplishment of Admiral Plunkett’s expedition in knowing that all of the ordnance material operated without a casualty worthy of mention. To the Bureau of Ordnance it has given the greatest confidence in the ordnance equipment as installed on our naval vessels. On no occasion did the personnel of the batteries suffer from failure of any part of the gun or mount. The total rounds per gun fired were:
|Battery No. 1||199|
|Battery No. 2||113|
|Battery No. 3||236|
|Battery No. 4||122|
|Battery No. 5||112|
When this record of firing from five different guns is known to have been made under service conditions, in the field, without a single casualty to material, it must give the personnel of our entire navy absolute confidence in their guns, mounts, ammunition and ordnance material as installed on the Mississippi, New Mexico and Idaho. There is every reason to believe that the guns on these ships, and on the other ships of our fleet, are sufficiently strong to go into battle and fire continuously until the record of Naval Railway Battery No. 3, of 236 rounds, has been equalled or bettered.
The last shot from the United States naval railway batteries was fired by Battery No. 4, from its position at Charny. I his shot was fired at 10.59 a. m. into Longuyon by James A. Kaffka, S. F., 1st class, U. S. Navy, who energized the firing key and caused the primer to function. This primer is now in the possession of Rear Admiral Earle, chief of Bureau of Ordnance. A copy of Marshal Foch’s letter terminating hostilities follows because of its historical interest.
Note de Service
Le Maréchal Foch télégraphie ce qui suit:
“Maréchal Foch à Commandants en Chef:
“1°/. . Les hostilités seront arrêtées sur tout le front à partir du 11 (Onze) Novembre, 11 (Onze) heures (heure française).
“2° / . . Les Troupes Alliées ne dépasseront pas jusqu’à nouvel ordre la ligne atteinte à cette date et à cette heure.”
Copie conforme notifieé pour execution.
P. O. Le Chef d’Etat-Major,
R. G. A.
Notifié à: Bn Naval Américain No 1.
Le 11 Novembre, 1918,
Le Géneral Cdt. l’Artillerie de l’Armée,
P. O. le Chef d’Escadron R. G. A.
LIST OF OFFICERS ATTACHED TO U. S. NAVAL RAILWAY BATTERIES
- Plunkett, Charles P., Rear Admiral, U. S. N., Commanding.
- Schuyler, Garret L., Commander, U. S. N., Ordnance, gunnery and orientation.
- Bunkley, Joel W., Lieut. Commander, U. S. N., Executive, gunnery and orientation.
- Buell, Dexter C., Lieut. Commander, U. S. N. R. F., Construction Officer (detached September 30, 1918).
- Hayden, Joseph R., Lieutenant, U. S. N. R. F., Train Commander, gunnery and orientation.
- Smith, William G., Lieutenant, U. S. N., Train Commander, gunnery and orientation.
- Martin, James A., Lieutenant, U. S. N., Train Commander, gunnery and orientation.
- Rodgers, James L., Lieutenant, U. S. N. R. F., Train Commander, gunnery and orientation.
- Duckett, Edmund D., Lieutenant (JG), U. S. N., Train Commander, gunnery and orientation.
- Davis, Homer B., Lieutenant (JG), U. S. N. R. F., Assistant to Train Commander.
- Orr, M. B., Lieutenant (JG), U. S. N. R. F., Assistant to Train Commander.
- Grylls, Humphrey M. K., Ensign, U. S. N. R. F., Assistant to Train Commander.
- Allen, Roger, Ensign, U. S. N. R. F., Assistant to Train Commander.
- Raymond, Philip T., Ensign, U. S. N. R. F., Assistant to Train Commander.
- Davis, Winfield C., Ensign, U. S. N. R. F., Gas Officer and Assistant to Train Commander.
- Cheffy, George, Ensign, U. S. N. R. F., Assistant to Train Commander.
- Davis, Parlett L., Ensign, U. S. N. R. F., Assistant to Train Commander.
- Linhard, Leon J., Ensign, U. S. N. R. F., Assistant to Train Commander.
- LeBlanc, Thomas J., Ensign, U. S. N. R. F., Transportation Officer.
- Primeau, Albert K., Ensign, U. S. N. R. F., Assistant to Train Commander.
- Baldwin, Frank, Lieut. Commander (Pay Corps), U. S. N., Paymaster and Supply Officer.
- Stephenson, C. S., Lieut. Commander (Med. Corps), U. S. N., Senior Medical Officer and Gas Officer.
- Morris, Laird M., Lieutenant (Med. Corps), U. S. N., Junior Medical Officer and Gas Officer.
- Bugbee, Edwin P., Lieutenant (Med. Corps), U. S. N. R. F., Junior Medical Officer and Gas Officer.
- Field, Thomas S., Lieutenant (Med. Corps), U. S. N., Junior Medical Officer and Gas Officer.
- Andrews, E. D., Lieutenant (Med. Corps), U. S. N., Junior Medical Officer and Gas Officer.
- Carr, George P., Lieutenant (Med. Corps), U. S. N., Junior Medical Officer and Gas Officer.
- Eubank, Gerald L., Ensign (Pay Corps), U. S. N. R. F., Assistant to Supply Officer.
- Gaffney, Francis L., Ensign (Pay Corps), U. S. N. R. F., Assistant to Supply Officer.
- Anderson, Oscar E., Pay Clerk, U. S. N. R. F., Assistant to Supply Officer.
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.”