Gentlemen Cordite, Lieutenant Commander Warwick
edited by Nicholas Bracegirdle

A glimpse at Naval Gunnery. (When the Tutch holes were bunged up with fluff.)

By ex Chief Petty Officer Arthur Cooper, Chief Gunner's Mate
(whose duty was the Elevation Officer on the A.F.C. Table M.K.5
of the fighting ship H.M.A.S. Shropshire)

From time immemorial, when prehistoric Cave Man had to chase his quarry with a pointed stick, he learned that he had to throw well ahead of the running animal to score a hit of any kind.   He then made better missiles:  the sling shot, then the bow and arrow.   Through the ages time moved on;  the giant catapult was invented and this speeded up the delivery of the missile but, in each case, a certain amount of calculation had to be made, such as gravity, wind, size of missile, moving target B.T.C.   Civilization gradually spread, and Man began to think more deeply.

The Chinese, a clever race of people, found out that by mixing a combination of saltpetre sulphur and charcoal in the right quantities it would disintegrate or explode immediately when exposed to a flame or fire.   Experiments were soon forthcoming.   Some of the mixture was poured into a hollow tube which had one end closed off except for a very small hole at the closed off end.   A piece of lead was then pushed into the tube and a fire introduced to the small hole.  

There must have been great consternation when the first explosion took place.   But from this first stage of experiments the first GUN was born and from there the carbine-rifle, muzzle loading cannon and present day breech loading weapons.   Field pieces and naval weaponry was borne.

The muzzle loaders were the order of the day and were manufactured by some countries of different materials, some of steel, some of bronze.   They had various uses, some as Forts on shore lines, and as field pieces and also as batteries on ships, turning the ships into Man-of-War ships.  They consisted of a cast hollow tube opened at one end only, but at the rear end a small hole was drilled from the top and down into the inner chamber.   The gun had steel or bronze lugs cast on either side so as to fit into a wheeled cradle.   This was necessary because, as in all guns, the shock of discharge forced the gun to the rear with force.   This is known as 'recoil'.   The method of firing then was as follows:

A gunpowder sack was forced down the muzzle into the chamber.   Next, a round cannon ball was rolled into the muzzle and forced down till it rested on the gunpowder bag.   Then the small hole in the top rear, known as the 'Touch Hole', was filled with loose fine gunpowder.  To fire the weapon, a small flame from a piece of material called a Quickmatch was applied to the powder at the touchhole.   This immediately ignited down to the main gunpowder charge.   A large volume of gas was generated and could only get out by pushing the cannonball out at great speed and force.   The recoil drove the gun and the cradle back several feet. 

That was the general principle of the muzzle loading gun of which hundreds were cast and mounted on ships and many Naval battles were fought.   The English seemed to be to the fore in ship built weaponry but the French and Spanish were not far behind and the sailing fleets of those nations were often engaged in many hard fought battles.   The main purpose of the fired cannonball was to hole the enemy ship and smash the mast.   A smashed mast rendered manoeuvring impossible and so many ships were lost.   The English then brought out an ingenious device called 'A Chain Shot'.   They placed two cannon balls in the gun joined together by about a six foot length of strong chain, and when this was fired it had a devastating effect on the enemy ships and personnel.

On the Kent and County Class 8 Inch Gun Cruisers, the deck below the quarter deck aft is known as the Half Deck.   A sentry is posted there for 24 hours every day.   His duty is to take the magazine temperatures by remote control every hour and to keep a register of all important keys.  

In the year 1930, I was an Able Seaman on H.M.A.S. Canberra.   This ship is now on the bottom of the ocean having been sunk off Savo Island during World War II.  During the 4 hour watch one got to know every nook and cranny of the half deck and I remember well a glass covered frame, about 8" wide by 12" deep, on the bulkhead describing the effects of a chain shot at the battle of Trafalgar.   It described how one chain shot hit a crewman, severed his legs off just above the knees and left his legs standing up just like a pair of sea boots.   I often wonder if that plaque was removed when WW2 broke out.

Man began to think muzzle loading was not so good in an emergency and caused a lot of hazards at times, so experiments were conducted for loading the guns from the rear end.   A brass cartridge with the leaden bullet attached was a huge success for small arms and even up to guns of 4" or so calibre.   The brass cartridge held the new propellant called Cordite and in the base of the brass cartridge was a cap filled with 'fulminate of mercury' which, when struck by a firing pin, gave off a firey jet of flame into the cordite which immediately ignited, thus expelling the missile.   The first missiles caused trouble being pointed at both ends, and as they were driven through the air they toppled end over end and were not accurate.   Experiments proved that a flat base bullet that could be made to spin was the answer, and thus when the barrel was cast the inner barrel was machined with groves which was called rifling and the hollows between called the lands.   To grip the rifling and make the bullet spin, the base of the bullet had a slight bulge or, as it is called, a driving band, when the projectile was driven along the bore engaged the rifling and spun the missile the three or four times necessary to keep it going accurately on its course until expiry.

Now the cartridge case was for easy handling and had its special purpose in different types of guns. but guns above 4" or so the shells were too heavy and had to be put in the rear end separately.   Imagine an 8" or a 16" shell being handled.   Hydraulic machinery was brought into the operation and handling was made easy.

The cartridge case brought its own problems in the disposal of the case after firing so another type of loading the 8" and bigger calibre guns was introduced.   This was the breech loading type.   It consisted of a machined block of steel, fitted with threads which fitted neatly into the corresponding threads at the rear end of the gun and then the block was turned thus locking it in position.   Through the middle of the block was another piece of steel shaped like and called 'mushroom head' which had a small hole drilled through its centre.   Very importantly, directly behind the mushroom head was a gauze copper mesh pad which was made of a composition of mutton fat and tallow, etc.  

This very important piece of equipment is called an 'obturating pad'.   Its duty is to prevent the escape of gasses to the rear when the propellant is ignited.   This is achieved by the mushroom head being driven back just that fraction of an inch to compress the obturation pad against the solid steel of the gun.   To fire the gun a percussion or an electric tube is placed in the rear end of the small hollow in the mushroom head and locked in place.  Thus, in main or director firing when all circuits are closed, the fire gong goes, the directors sights are on the target, the director layer presses his trigger.   This completes the electric circuit right down to the electric tube in the mushroom head.   The tube sends a terrific flash of fire into the fine gunpowder sack in the base of the cordite propellant which ignites immediately, generating a large volume of gas, thus driving the projectile along the barrel and spinning it by engaging it with the rifling.

So much for that phase in gunnery.   All weapons carry the same principles in this way.

During World Wars I and II the Germans produced a very fast vessel among others which was named an E-Boat.   It carried torpedoes as well as guns.   These vessels caused lots of damage among ships and shore establishments around the English Channel.   To counter this menace the English Navy built a series of counter vessels which they called "E or Torpedo Boat Destroyers".   These vessels, now universally called Destroyers, were the utility vessels of the Fleet.   They were called the V and W class as their names always started with a V or W.   This class of destroyers were around 300 feet long and 30 feet wide and were steam driven through geared turbines giving a speed of up to 34 knots.   They were armed as follows:  4-4 inch semi automatic quick firing guns in single mountings, two guns forward and two guns aft.   Some were fitted with 6 torpedoes, some 4.   There were various other small arms but the depth charges fitted on the stern were for anti submarine purposes.   On the gunnery control side, the best that was available at the time, was as follows:  a range-finder was positioned at the back of the upper bridge, the Gunnery Officer was positioned on the bridge and in a room at deck level below the bridge was a small room known as the Transmitting Station (TS). 

Communication was by a series of Voice Pipes, one from the bridge to the TS and a long one from the TS to each gun.   The TS was to be the brains and main control of all gunnery.   It consisted of three instruments:  1.  a Dumaresque (named after the inventor, Rear Admiral Dumaresque;  2.  a range clock and 3. a deflection batten.

The operation was as follows:
The enemy is sighted.   Action stations is sounded.   Crew closed up and reported to the Gunnery Officer and Captain in the bridge through the TS.   The order to engage.   All the information is passed to the TS.   The range-finder range in yards.   The Gunnery Officer then assesses the 'inclination' which is the enemy's for and aft line (or course) through the line of sight and enemy speed.   The enemy course and speed are passed to the TS and set on the Dumaresque.   This instrument is a type of calculator and gives a one figure reading called 'rate'.   The rate is the rate of change of range of the enemy.

The 'Range Clock' is a spring operated instrument which, when wound up, runs for hours and the range from the range-finder is set.   The rate from Dumaresque is then set and kept up to date all the time.   Theoretically this keeps up to date with the enemy's range all the time.  The deflection is estimated all the time.   All this information is passed to the guns via the voice-pipe all the time to the sight-setter at the guns.   When on the sights it alters the angle of the sights and gunlayer and trainer must realign their telescopes on to the target, thus assuring a hit.  Complicated and difficult.   Since then there have been more accurate and better things invented.

After WWI lots of these destroyers were redundant and were put in reserve, unmanned and unused.   Evidently with rumbling thoughts of things to come, the British Navy gave the Royal Australian Navy the gift of a flotilla of these 'V and W' destroyers.   By name they were Voyager, Vampire, Vendetta and Waterhen.   The leader 'Stuart'.   The Royal Navy personnel steamed these destroyers out as far as Singapore and in September 1934 we, of the Royal Australian Navy, went to Singapore, commissioned them into the R.A.N. and steamed them out to Sydney, Australia.

H.M.A.S. Stuart, the leader, was bigger than the V and W destroyers and more heavily armed.   Toting 4.7 inch guns, she was more speedy too and did 35 knots on trials.   On arrival in Sydney they were placed in reserve, only one at a time put in commission.   They were each in turn decked and refitted.   The Asdic Dome underneath gave them that ability to detect submarines, and the radar, a small S.G. set fitted high up the mast, gave us a means of detecting aircraft and surface craft both by day and night.

I served for three and a half years in H.M.A.S. Voyager.   The last two years in wartime, for as soon as War was declared in 1939, the Australian government loaned them back to the British government manned by Australian crews.   Thus we steamed from Sydney the day after War was declared for Melbourne, Fremantle, Singapore, Trincomalee, Aden, Port Said and our base in Malta.

We participated in every battle and event for the next two years from the Battle of Cape Matapan to the eve of El Alamain when, worn out, we were returned to our home base - Australia.

But this is a story about gunnery control.   Now there is an old Scotch proverb which goes as follows:

"The best laid plans of mice and men are oft to go astray".

And the following episode, as related here, just goes to show how 120 men nearly lost their lives through a slip of the tongue.

It happened in North Africa off Bardia.   The British forces had advanced as far as Solom which was about 5 miles from Bardia (which was Italian territory).   Word got through that the Italians were using water-craft, such as 200 to 300 tonne schooners, to reinforce their garrison at Bardia.   Now Bardia had a nice little water inlet which was ideal for this purpose.

Voyager was dispatched to investigate this problem and the plan was to leave Sollum at dusk and, when it was dark, to put on speed for a few hours which took us into enemy territory and, with our radar, search the area.

Thus it was no surprise that about 0200, radar picked up an echo.   It could have been an enemy destroyer, a submarine or a schooner.   'B' gun, just under the bridge, is kept manned and while the hands were closing up at action stations the Captain leaned over the top of the bridge and shouted the orders to the Guns Crew.

"B Gun.  Load, load, load - range 040 - train on green 45."

The searchlight was ordered to be switched on but behind closed shutters as the Voyager rapidly closed the distance.   The searchlight was then order to expose the beam and there, in the full glare of the light, was exposed an enemy schooner.   We were about 800 yards away by this time and the Captain again leaned over the front of the bridge and called out:

"B Gun, do not fire".  

In the wind and heat of the action the gunlayer of 'B' Gun heard only the one word - "Fire" - and pressed the trigger.

There was a blinding flash, a loud bang, a cloud of smoke, and the whine of the 4" shell as it went its deadly way, just over the top of the helpless schooner.

Now the personnel of the vessel will never know how near death they all were and, as it turned out, there were 120 souls on board.   Had our Captain called out the true range, such as 004 which is 400 yards, the 4" shell would have hit the vessel and sunk it.   But by a quirk of fate he had called 040 which is 4000 yards, and the gun was elevated so as to miss just high enough to miss the schooner.   Such is fate.

The Voyager approached the enemy schooner a little too quickly and then, at a distance of a few yards, a figure of a man came from the wheelhouse to the ship's side and called out:

"Inglese prigonere".

Then within a space of a few minutes an Army Sergeant in British uniform came to the guard rail and called out:

"I am Sergeant So and So (he gave his name) Sir!  We were prisoners of war.   There is myself and my platoon of eight men and we have taken charge here now and locked all the crew and the 100 Italian soldiers down below."

Our Captain replied:

"Good.   Steer 0900 due East.   We will be just ahead of you and will show a faint white light.  Follow us."

This was done till dawn came, then we steamed around alongside again and asked the Sarge if everything was all right and if they wanted anything.   The reply was that everything was OK except that they had not had a decent cup of tea for weeks.   We obliged by passing over by line the ingredients for a brew and then proceeded on our way together for Sollum.   The Sarge asked for an old White Ensign.   We gave him one.   On arrival at Sollum we turned our capture over to the Army authorities and went about our usual duties.   The vessel which we had captured was named 'Singarella' and some valuable information was obtained from the charts and maps found on board.

The very next night H.M.S. Dainty and Vendetta went on patrol along the enemy coast and, as a result, captured two enemy schooners and brought them into Sollum.

A few days later we had occasion to go alongside the Shallow Draft Monitor, H.M.S. Terror, and there on deck were the nine soldiers whom we had rescued from being taken POWs.  They greeted us with great acclaim and told us that we were the best ship that they had ever seen.   The Sergeant still had the tattered piece of Ensign under his arm.   He said it was his proudest possession.

Many and varied were the two years that we served in the Med. from Malta, which was our base until Italy came into the war.   We had duties from Gibraltar to Haifa, to Marseilles to Pireaus, to Port Said, to Alexandria, to Crete.   Sometimes taking a convoy of ships and bringing them back.   One night we crept into Nauplia, a bay in Greece, in the dead of night.   Bombed and burning ships were all around and evacuated 150 Australian nurses as they and our troops retreated under the massive thrust of the German push into Yugoslavia.

When Italy entered the war, the eastern Med. Fleet shifted base to Alexandria in Egypt.   Then the German might came into the Med. and hotted up the pace of the war.   Then after a period the Japanese entered the war.   This brought America into the War and with the mighty forces of that country the war in the Pacific became a grim reality to Australia.   The tired Voyager and worn out crew were sent back to Australia.   A change of crew and I was sent to Flinders Naval Base - instructing.

The Japs expanded their Empire into the Pacific but as the Americans gathered their strength some might actions took place.

In one night naval action, just south of New Guinea at Gaudelcanal, the Jap fleet caught us napping and, in a night action, they sank our Australian cruiser "Canberra" and three American cruisers.   This was a great loss to both countries.   The outcome of this tragedy reached the ears of the English Prime Minister, Mr. Churchill, who immediately gave Australia a cruiser of the same class, a Kent class vessel called H.M.S. Shropshire.

The Shropshire was the next up for a refit and docking at the Chatham dockyard.   One day I was sent for by my Gunnery Officer, Lt. Cdr. Bracegirdle, who told me that he was going to Shropshire as Gunnery Officer and he would like me to go as his Chief Gunners Mate.   What did I say to that?  I said "Yes, Sir!"

Having finished the teaching course of the Reserve Officers and others and then in the due time of a few weeks, the notice came out of my draft to London Depot for Chatham and H.M.S. Shropshire.   Within a week we, the advance part of key personnel, were on our way.   At Sydney we joined the American troop carrier which had been the luxury peace time vessel called the "Washington".   It was luxury plus to us.   We called at Wellington in New Zealand, then on at speed to San Francisco, passing under the Golden Gate Bridge.   We secured at a convenient berth and stayed overnight.

The next day a Pullman train pulled in alongside the ship and we all were allocated a berth on the Pullman.   This meant that our carriage and our cabin was made up into beds for sleeping during the night.   Meals were cooked in the dining or kitchen car and brought along in bulk and served in the cabins.   This was satisfactory.   We got under way without any fuss and the next morning when we rose, we were in the snow.   The train had stopped and the boys had a good few minutes having a snow fight.   I know that as I got off the train I got hit with a snow ball.   Getting going again we next saw on the side of the train a sign which said "Reno, the biggest little city in the world".   It was an epic journey in the train, going from West to East across America, especially at Grand Junction in Colorado when the train stopped for an hour.   We were able to mix with the people and never before having met Australians they were eager to hear us talk.   The driving wheels of the engine intrigued us, standing over six feet tall , and beautiful rolling stock pulling over one hundred carriages.  We had six days of this before arriving in Brooklyn when we were transported to an army barracks, and again settled down in luxury.

We were given leave every morning and afternoon and managed to work in a visit to New York, looking at the Empire State Building and Times Square railway station.   We befriended some people and had a nice evening at their place.   The next day the gent showed us around Brooklyn in his motor car.

All good things come to an end.   No leave today.   With our bags and hammocks we were transported to the docks.   Our transport to England was an old, old troop carrier called "Materoa" and, in our opinion, not fit to go to sea.   The Materoa was berthed alongside of the dock and on the other side, and lying on her side, a wreck, was the ex beautiful French luxury liner "Normandy".   A pitiful sight to see.   She had caught fire and they had pumped so much water into her that she had capsized.

We boarded the Materoa and had to man the look-out and other positions.   We left in convoy and circled up around Iceland to dodge the 'U' boat packs, and eventually arrived at Bristol, on the English west coast.   Here we were entrained and took off for the West coast and Chatham.   Arriving at about 1000. we were marched up to the barracks and bedded down as best we could in a billiard room.

The next day we were sorted out.

Within a week or so our newly acquired gift, H.M.S. Shropshire, entered port and was dry docked.   The old crew was dispatched and gradually we Aussies took over and shifted on board.   For the next ten months the dockyard fitted us on board with every modern piece of the latest equipment which was available.   There was the very latest in Radar which, later on in the War against Japan in the Philippines, the Shropshire was accredited with 92% of reports of enemy aircraft approaching.   We were fitted with barrage directors which enabled the 8" guns to be used as anti aircraft guns, and many small A.A. guns were fitted at convenient places.

There is so much to tell that I have digressed from the original theme of a "Glimpse into Gunnery".

Now the operation of Shropshire's gunnery could be likened to a human being.   The operating started at the bridge.   The brains and orders originated and began there.   The Director Tower, mounted in a high position above the bridge and behind to give a clear position all around, was the eyes.   Then directly below decks and in a compartment five decks down, and sealed off by heavy armoured hatches, was the main control.   This was the 'heart' and the main instrument called Admiralty Fire Control Table, Mark 5.  Next were the 'arms'. the four turrets, containing two 8" guns each.   These were the arms that dealt out the 'punches'.

Now from here on it was pure teamwork and co-operation, and all the British warships from the biggest battleships down to destroyers were fitted with this type of gunnery control.   There could be no better way of describing how this system worked for the main gunnery control operated than to describe in detail how this system worked on H.M.A.S. Shropshire during the Battle of Surigao Straits  during WW2.   The Australian fleet, with the American 3rd fleet, had worked its way towards the Philippine islands and had recaptured Leyte Island and we were fortifying our position.   American General Douglas MacArthur had fulfilled his promise to return to the Philippines and the Japanese were determined to recapture it.

There were two Jap fleets - one to the north, and these were dealt with by the American Air Force, while the main fleet, consisting of 14 Jap ships, were to attack our Leyte Force through Surigao Straits.   This Jap fleet was reduced to two Jap battleships, H.I.J.M.S. Yamishiro and Fuso.   The Fuso was disposed of by Torpedoes, but the determined Japanese Admiral on the Yamishiro with her 14" guns, kept coming on.

On Shropshire we had been closed to Action Stations all night.   Our radar had tracked the enemy battleship as it kept coming up the Surigao Straits and at 0345 in the morning the following procedure took place:

On the Shropshire Bridge, Captain Nichols, the Gunner Officer, Lt. Cdr. W.S. Bracegirdle, and Line Officer, Lt. Austin, were constantly watching the Jap lone battleship coming steadily towards us and towards her destruction.   The 8" gun turrets had been ordered, with semi armour piercing shells: "Load, Load, Load".   In the turrets both guns were brought down to ten degrees angle to load.   The tilting tray, with its 8" s.a.p. shell, was tilted over in line with the open breech.   The hydraulic rammer was then forced forward and rammed the shell right forward into the barrel of the gun so that the Cupro Nickel Driving Band, around the base of the shell, was jammed in tightly on the rifling in the gun barrel.   The tilting tray  was still down and the full charge of cordite propellant was tipped over into the tray in line with the breech and then brought forward into the chamber of the gun behind the shell.   The rammer was withdrawn, the tilting tray bought up out of the way.   The breech was closed and locked on its buttress threads.   While it was open the Number 'One' had inserted an electric tube into the aperture in the Mushroom Head at the rear of the breech block and locked it in position.   All that remained now to fire each gun was to close the main electrical circuit, which was called the 'Interceptor'.

The Number One' now released the lever holding the gun to 10 degrees and the two separate gunlayers took over and elevated the guns to the correct elevation.   This was achieved by the following process

In front of each gunlayer in the four turrets (eight men) was a large dial on which were to pointers - one red which was the range, and was the range converted to an angle of elevation as passed from the Fire Control Table, the black pointer was the gun elevation and moved only when the layer turned his handwheel.   When the two pointers were in line the gun was at the correct elevation for that range.   The layers had to keep the black pointer in line with the 'red' until the gun fired.   The trainer of the turret had exactly the same procedure except that the red pointer was activated as the Director Tower Trained.   Any other movement of the trainer's red point was instrumented from the fire control.   The four turret trainers kept their black pointers in line with the red all the time.

So much for the operation in the turrets.   A range-finder in the turret rear kept taking ranges when possible.   The next part of the 'team' was the Director.   Mounted high up above and just in rear of the bridge, the two operators, a layer and trainer, had a clear view from right ahead to well aft, on either side.   Through two powerful telescopes the operators moved their handwheels to get on to the target.  As the trainer trained so the red pointer moved in the turret trainer's dial.  By turning his handwheel and thus keeping the black pointer in line with the red, the turret was turned so that all the guns were all on the target.

On the director layer's side, his duty was to keep the telescopic sight on the target and horizontal all the time.   Sometime using the black horizon in his sight path, a small gyroscope running, and this showing where the horizon was all the time despite how much the ship rolled.   The director layer's duty was to fire all the guns when he was layed and trained on the target and the "Fire Gong" rang.

The next important part of the Gunnery Operation was the 'Fire Control Room'.   Situated three decks down below the bridge through armoured hatches, was a compartment which housed the 'Admiralty Fire Control Mark 5'   Here, on this table, every calculation known that would effect the fired shell and its flight to the target was applied.   The table was operated by the men of the ship's band for the General instruments.   In overall charge was a Warrant Officer Dagger Gunner, in this case it was a Mr. Bill Perrin, a very clever man with figures and slide rule.   The A.F.C. table was in effect a type of computer on an early but large scale.  After all the known settings, such as weight, shape and size and kind of projectile, wind, to and from and across, curvature of the earth etc.  All the corrections and settings applied were directed to one point of the table and that was to a point in front of the main and only executive operator.   That Operator was known as the 'Elevation operator'.

In front of the Elevation Officer on the A.F.C. table was a long roll of special paper fitted to two rollers which were carried at a constant speed from one to the other.   Imposed in the middle of the paper was a graticule containing an inky substance which marked the paper.  The Elevation Operator had two handwheels in front of him.   Every movement of the right hand wheel was the range and moved the red pointer in the 8 gun layers receivers in the turrets.  By putting the black pointer in line with the red the range was converted to elevation.  Movement of the other or left side handwheel was for line or deflection and moved the red pointer in the turret trainers dial, and added to the 'bearing' as being passed by the Director Trainer 5 from the Director Tower.

Now, mounted in front also, at eye level, were two Radar tubes like modern television receivers.  The picture that they showed was a straight line from right to left which was the radar echo going out and was measured in yards.   When the echo hit an object it jumped up to show a white marker and on the scale, which was superimposed, showed the exact range within a yard of accuracy.   Just to the left of these radar tubes was another panel which showed eight small squares for light globes.   These were the gun ready lamps and were the message from the guns in the turrets that that particular gun was ready to fire and as the interceptor was closed, the light came on in its particular frame to let the Elevation Operator know how many guns and which ones were ready to fire.

On top of all that, the Elevation Operator had on a set of telephones and was in direct telephone communication with the Gunnery Officer and the Line Officer on the bridge, the Director Tower and the Captain of each turret and when all had occasion to speak at once it became bedlam.  

Now, last but not by any means least, slightly to the right rear were two highly skilled and war trained Radar Operators.   While they were alongside each other each had a separate radar machine of large scale.   The operators names were Cotter and Ward and deserved great praise for their efficiency, particularly during the Battle of Surigao Straits.

Now to the Battle of Surigao Straits.
The Battle of Surigao Straits and the complete story of all that happened before, during and after the recapturing of the Philippines is told in its full detail in a book called 'H.M.A.S. Shropshire, written by one of the crew, Stan Nichols.  In brief, just a few details:

The Royal Australian Navy joined up with the American Navy's seventh fleet, comprising mostly old American battleships, 39 warship in all.   A large flotilla of fast PT boats carrying torpedoes, 6 old battleships, 8 heavy and light cruisers and 5 destroyers.   We recaptured the Admiralty Islands from the Japanese and made Manus Harbour our base.

From there our forces bombarded, landed and recaptured air bases along the Java coast towards the Philippines.   The Great Day came when the seventh fleet and all the subsidiaries comprising more than a thousand vessels, from motor boats to battleships, left Manus Harbour and made for Leyte Island in the Philippine Group.   This was an epic on its own as most small vessels had to be fuelled under way.   Approaching Leyte Island, H.M.A.S. Shropshire picked up a mine.   It was a good forethought that we had rigged our paravanes (mine sweeping gear) and the mine mooring wire was not severed, and so the mine dangled there all night.   It was disposed of when it was discovered next morning.

All ships bombarded the landing beach and adjacent area for three days or so then the invading barges stormed in with hundreds of troops.   There was some enemy resistance, which was overcome, and then the American General Douglas McArthur carried out his promise and landed.   "I shall return".   Each day our forces consolidated themselves more, but were against a very determined enemy.   It was a frightening phase when the Japs sent in their deadly weapon, the Kamikaze or Suicide Pilots, to crash their planes full of explosives on to the ships and, while many of these suicide planes were shot down by either our fighter planes or naval gunfire, many reached their targets with devastating effect and much loss of life.

It was then that the Japanese Navy was sent to intervene.   There were three Jap fleets.  Two were going to come in from the north and among the northern fleet was the biggest battleship in the world with her 18 inch guns.   This fleet was held in check by the American carrier fighter planes, while the third fleet were detailed to attack in the southern end from Surigao Straits.   Attack after attack by our P.T. boats and determined destroyer force whittled the Jap fleet down to two Jap battleships, Yamashiro and Fuso.   The Fuso was badly hit by a torpedo and her back was broken.   She finally sank.   Despite being the only ship now in the action the Yamashiro was hit by a torpedo which never slowed her down and she kept coming towards the allied seventh fleet.  Shropshire's radar kept transmitting the accurate ranges.   The range was 15-16 thousand yards.   The American cruiser opened fire.   The time was 0346.   One minute past four in the dark of the morning Captain Nichols said to the Gunnery Officer, Lt. Cdr. W.S. Bracegirdle:  "You can open fire now, Guns".   Everything was ready in every department on Shropshire, the gunnery department in particular.

Guns Bracegirdle, in a quiet voice over his telephone said: "Salvoes" and this was repeated to all turrets by the Elevation Operator in the fire control room.   This order meant that only the left guns in the turret were to fire.   All the left gun ready lamps went on.   The two radar operators at the side of the El. Op. kept calling the very accurate ranges and all around the Admiralty Fire control Table the operators, who were the Band Marines of the ship, were attending their duties at the table.   The next order from Guns was "Shoot!".   This was the Executive Order to open fire.   We went into action.

The Elevation Operator gave two rings on the fire gong.   This was the Executive Order to the director layer to press his trigger and he was ON.   The guns went off with their usual roar.   The four gun-ready lamps of the right guns then came on and after a pause so that the Elevation Operator could apply the 'Trend spotting Rules', which were as follows:

"Apply 400 yards up on the accepted range.   When the first salvo had been fired the range was brought down by 400 yards.   When the second salvo had been fired the range was brought up 200 yards.   (It is to be noted here that the average spread of an 8" broadside is 250 yards.   The discrepancy caused by an unknown and known causes.)"   When the shells exploded on impact a series of colours were visible, each Warship being allocated a different colour.   Our colour on Shropshire was yellow.

The four shells from the first salvo took their time in flight of over two minutes and when they landed the yellow flash was visible just to the right of the battleship target.   Guns order "Wait".  The El. Op. held the fire and did not ring the fire gong.   The line officer on the bridge, Lt. Austin, observed that our first fall of shot was slightly out of line and ordered a line correction of "Left Four" over his phone to the Elevation Operator, who applied it immediately to the A.F.C. Table.   Guns then ordered "Broadsides, shoot".

Everything was then in the hands of the Elevation Operator and when the guns in the turrets were loaded and the gun ready lamps came on, he rang the fire gong.   The radar operators were very eloquent in there call of shots.   "Straddle, straddle" as we pounded the big Japanese battleship to a wreck.   It was a hopeless try on the part of the Yamashiro as all the 7th fleet were firing at her, but at the beginning of the action she fired her 14 inch guns at us.   Five of the broadsides just missed Shropshire and these shells were observed by the Elevation Operator on his radar screen as a quick zig-zag flash as the enemy shells passed just overhead.

Sometimes our broadsides contained only four guns as the ship was manoeuvring, but our fire was constant and rapid as well as being accurate.   Out of the 32 broadsides which Shropshire fired, 28 were estimated to be straddles which means that the majority of shells fired in the broadside hit the target.   This was confirmed each time by the two radar operators in the Fire Control Room, Cotter and Ward, calling out as they observed from their separate machines - "Straddle, straddle".

The H.I.J.M.S Yamashiro was blown into a mass of rubble, and her crew with her.

Shropshire contributed in no small way in this major action.  It is now understood that this action, the battle of Surigao Straits, was the last action that would ever take place by ship to ship gunfire, as 'rocketry' now supersedes gunnery in that it is more accurate, longer ranged and has greater hitting power.

Thus passes on to history another epic in the realms of history and time.   Thus this short description of "A Glimpse at Naval Gunnery" comes to a conclusion, and makes the thought that what was it for and was it worthwhile?


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