Gunnery in the Royal Navy

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Victorian Era

In his memoirs, Admiral Sir Herbert G. King-Hall recalled an incident from when he was a midshipman in the battleship Alexandra, flagship in the Mediterranean:

From Phalerun the Alexandra was sent on a punishment cruise for ten days, as some gun-sights had been thrown overboard—the orthodox sign of protest over some grievance among the ship's company.[1]

Long Range Gunnery

In 1912 the Director of Naval Equipment, Arthur W. Waymouth, could write of "the sudden rise of long-range gunnery since 1902."[2]

Practice

The Second-in-Command of the Channel Squadron, Sir Hedworth Lambton, wrote to Sir John A. Fisher in November, 1903, of a "most interesting long range competition" where the average range was 3,900 yards.[3]

Battle Practice

In May, 1905, The Times announced new conditions for battle practice:

Each ship firing is to be cleared for action, worked as in action, and steered from the conning tower, all the officers and men being at their proper stations. Sufficient umpires are to be appointed to admit of there being at least one to take times and clock the ranges from the chief umpire's ship, which will lead the firing ship and make the signals for opening fire, altering course, and terminating the practice; at least two more to see that the regulations are followed on board the firing ship; and two more to note the hits on the canvas. The target to be used will measure 90ft. in length by 30ft. in height, and full instructions are given as to the mode in which it is to be moored and approached by the firing ship. Only guns on one side of the ship, and only hits on the canvas or the roping of the canvas sails of the target will be allowed to count. A special speed is denoted for the purpose of the practice, and penalties are to be inflicted for infringement of any of the rules. At the conclusion of the practice the commanding officer of the ship firing is to report to the chief umpire th enumber of rounds fired per gun, the arrangements made for control of fire, any failures or accidents, and the number of hits allowed by the umpires. The new method of procedure is to come into effect immediately.[4]

Under these conditions, the King Edward VII, flagship of the Atlantic Fleet, performed a battle practice with Rear-Admiral Percy M. Scott (the Inspector of Target Practice) on board in October, 1905. The ship was steaming at 15 knots and fired at a range of 6,000 yards. Out of eleven shots fired by her 12-inch guns she made ten hits; from her 9.2-inch she fired thirty-one rounds and made fifteen hits; from her 6-inch guns she fired seventy-one rounds and made twenty-six hits.[5]

In announcing the Navy Estimates for 1907-1908, the First Lord of the Admiralty, Lord Tweedmouth, stated that, "the conditions in the last year were considerably more difficult than before, the mean range being 1,000 yards greater, and the time available for firing one minute less."[6]

Random Thoughts

Admiral Sir Frank R. Twiss, apparently a believer in the ascendancy of the "Pollen system", wrote to Vice-Admiral Sir Louis Le Bailly, "… what, I often ponder is, would not history have been different in World War I had we had in 1905 a few qualified and bright engineers on the staff or on the Board, instead of keeping them 'battened down' and 'out of sight'." Continuing on this theme, Le Bailly claimed that men who assisted the Board, such as Dreyer, "were not educated to take the products of Pollen's fertile mind, adapt them to the very real difficulties of war at sea and thus perhaps revolutionise the striking power of the Royal Navy of that era."

Twiss's comments here revolve around decisions that occurred five years before he was born involving equipment he never used. The brilliant gunners who might have made better choices are not named, and so it is difficult to judge their professional acumen relative to Dreyer's or to gauge what manner of education they might have brought to bear on the problems of the Royal Navy in the dying year of the pre-dreadnought era.

Published Results

  • Gunlayers' test results for 1904 were issued as a Blue Book [Cd. 2511] on 26 May, 1905.[7]
  • Battle practice results for 1905 were issued as a Parliamentary Paper [Cd. 2704] in February, 1906.[8]
  • Battle practice results for 1906 were issued as a Parliamentary Paper [Cd. 3321] in January, 1907.[9]
  • Battle practice results for 1907 were issued as a Parliamentary Paper [Cd. 3943] in March, 1908.[10]
  • Battle practice results for 1908 were issued as a Parliamentary Paper [Cd. 4514] in March, 1909.[11]
  • Battle practice results for 1909 were issued as a Parliamentary Paper [Cd. 5089] on 22 March, 1910, and issued by the Gunnery Branch as No. 470.[12]
  • Battle practice results for 1910 were issued as a Parliamentary Paper [Cd. 5592] on 10 April, 1911, and issued by the Gunnery Branch as No. 489.[13]
  • Gunlayers' test results for 1913 were issued by the Gunnery Branch as No. 549 on 6 May, 1914.[14]

See Also

Footnotes

  1. King-Hall. p. 19.
  2. "Note by the Director of Naval Equipment on Increasing Coast and Finish of the Equipment of Ships." p. 2. The National Archives. CAB 37/114. No. 11.
  3. Lambton to Fisher. Letter of 11 November, 1903. Fisher Papers. Churchill Archives. Centre. FISR 1/3/92.
  4. "Naval and Military Intelligence" (Official Appointments and Notices). The Times. Tuesday, 23 May, 1905. Issue 37714, col A, p. 8.
  5. "Naval and Military Intelligence" (Official Appointments and Notices). The Times. Friday, 20 October, 1905. Issue 37843, col B, p. 10.
  6. Statement of the First Lord of the Admiralty Explanatory of the Navy Estimates, 1907-1908. Cd. 3336. p. 7.
  7. "Naval and Military Intelligence" (Official Appointments and Notices). The Times. Saturday, 27 May, 1905. Issue 37718, col C, p. 10.
  8. "The Battle Practice of the Fleet" (News). The Times. Monday, 5 February, 1906. Issue 38898, col F, p. 9.
  9. "Battle Practice of the Fleet" (News). The Times. Thursday, 17 January, 1907. Issue 38232, col A, p. 6.
  10. "Naval and Military Intelligence" (Official Appointments and Notices). The Times. Tuesday, 10 March, 1908. Issue 38590, col A, p. 12.
  11. "Naval and Military Intelligence" (Official Appointments and Notices). The Times. Thursday, 4 March, 1909. Issue 38898, col F, p. 9.
  12. "Naval and Military Intelligence" (Official Appointments and Notices). The Times. Wednesday, 23 March, 1910. Issue 39227, col A, p. 14.
  13. "Naval Battle Practice in 1910" (News). The Times. Tuesday, 11 April, 1911. Issue 39227, col A, p. 14.
  14. "Naval Prize Firing" (News). The Times. Thursday, 7 May, 1914. Issue 40517, col B, p. 5.

Bibliography

  • Seligmann, Matthew (January 2012). "A German Preference for a Medium Range-Range Battle? British Assumptions about German Naval Gunnery, 1914-1915". War in History 19 (1): pp. 33-48.

Primary Sources