View Full Version : How Accurate Was WWII Naval Gunfire?
09-03-2004, 05:35 AM
I was reading about the battles of WWII, and recall that there were very few engagements between battleships. And, at extreme ranges (>16,000 yards) it seems that it was very difficult to hit moving targets. This is not surprising, because a gun shell is essentially an unguided missile-you set the range by the gun elevation angle, and the powder charge in the gun.
I recently visited the battleship MASSACHUSETS, which was equipped with 16 inch diameter guns. They had a mechanical computer to figure the proper elevation, but once fired, the shell was on its own.
Very little seems to have been written about this..in WWI (the battle of the Falklands), Admiral Sturdees' 15" guns were fired at the (fleeing) German squadron of cruisers. At ranges on 14,000-15,000 yards, the British estimated that the hit rate was less than 1%! The British would up firing over 1200 shells that day..though they did sink all but one of the german ships.
The Japanese pushed naval gunfire to the limit..the two super-battleships YAMATO and MUSASHI were equipped with 18" guns..though I suspect that they had run into the law of diminishing returns..as the US Navy 16" shell had about the same range and explosive power as the larger Japanese gun. I also understand that the British experimneted with the 18"guns..when fired, they shook the whole ship (and were exceedingly difficult to lkeep aimed, due to their enormous weight).
As for battleship-battleship engagements, , I only know of the BISMARC vs the HOOD, and the Battle of the Komandorski Straights (US vs Japan).
Incidentally, anybody know how many times a 16 inch navalgun could be fired before the internal rifling was shot away?
09-03-2004, 05:52 AM
I have always been under the impression that really big shells could only be fired from ships or a railway car/platform because of the recoil. But what has always intrigued me was how did naval ships get accuracy? On land based artillery you could fire for effect and adjust accordingly. But a ship is always in motion especially after firing a salvo so how could they say up “15 degrees” or what ever and be accurate?
09-03-2004, 06:20 AM
Don't make too much of the battle of the Falklands. It was one of the only major southern hemisphere naval battle. You mentioned the analogue firing computers...well, unfortunately they were designed for northern hemisphere duty and the corriolis acceleration has a different sign in the south (think of how the toilet flush goes around the other way). This made a diff.
Bosda Di'Chi of Tricor
09-03-2004, 06:48 AM
The Bismarck had radar-aimed guns.
09-03-2004, 07:15 AM
This page tactics and technique (http://users.swing.be/naveditoen/edito/1964.html#64499) is part of a large site devoted to WW2 naval stuff. Section on turrets and guns might have some of what you're looking for - describes fire control methods.
There weren't many pure battleship vs battleship encounters in WW2, but there were lots of large ship (cruiser or heavier) encounters. Again, same site lists over 150 battles, such as the Battle of North Cape (http://users.swing.be/baten/bat/908.html#62291) where British cruisers sank a German battlecruiser.
Paul in Qatar
09-03-2004, 07:33 AM
Well, it is a tricky problem, but a solvable one.
We know where we are, we know where they are. We figure in our speed and direction and theirs. We calculate time of flight and wind. We allow for barrel wear and propellent temperature.
Then we pop a cap and use our radar to measure the actual flight path of the shell vice our prediction. We adjust and fire again.
Hitting a moving target is rougher, no doubt, but shells are cheap and sailors have lots of practice.
In WWII, I understand (but have no cite) shore bombardment was accurate to a couple of tens of yards.
09-03-2004, 08:56 AM
Very little seems to have been written about this..in WWI (the battle of the Falklands), Admiral Sturdees' 15" guns were fired at the (fleeing) German squadron of cruisers. At ranges on 14,000-15,000 yards, the British estimated that the hit rate was less than 1%!
That was good shooting. In Manila Bay the US Navy closed with the Spanish at point-blank range and had a 3% hit rate.
The name to google for your answer is Arthur Hungerford Pollen. He was an English linotype technician who took up the problem as a partiotic hobby. It was no simple problem: besides the obvious roll of the ship, the target's direction and speed, wind conditions, humidity, barometric pressure, curvature of the earth, latitude and the ship's position relative to the magnetic pole are all factors.
Pollen came up with an early computer (analog) to deal with all this. The Royal Navy sniffed at his amaturism, and sent over a naval officer to check him out. The oficer, Frederick Dreyer, took extensive notes and then went and stole Pollen's design and was awarded a contract for what proved to be an inferior product.
Pollen used this setback to produce an even better bersion of his original computer. He found one captain willing to give him a fair trial, which went smoothly. Pollen was so grateful that after the gunnery trial, but before the captain could write a detailed report, Pollen sent him a batch of oysters and champagne. The oysters were crawling with typhus, so the report was never written and Pollen spent years in court fighting for his design. By the time he won, the First World War was over and the Second would be fought at sea with airplanes.
09-03-2004, 09:21 AM
Actually, the problem with few battleship vs. battleship encounters in the Second World War was that only in the later Pacific War were there strong battleship forces on both sides.
The Bismarck and Tirpitz were larger and more powerful than any single British or American battleship, but never had the chance to operate together (the Bismarck was sunk before the Tirpitz was battle-ready, I believe before it was even launchable). And except for one ancient training ship they were Germany's only battleships. The Royal Navy so outclassed the German Flotte in numbers and generally in strength that Raeder was loath to ever use his ships in confrontations with their opposite numbers. The Italians actually had a larger and stronger navy than the Germans, but after the air raid on Taranto they were effectively out of the picture -- half their navy was at the bottom of the harbor, and the other half demoralized.
Meanwhile Japan had a large and strong navy -- but after Pearl Harbor the U.S. and the U.K. had no capital ships in the Pacific to confront them. We did build fast and move ships from Atlantic to Pacific, with the result of stopping them at Midway and off Guadalcanal, but in large part these victories were due to air power, and carriers rather than battleships became the decisive factor in the Pacific War.
BTW, there were several battleships involved in the pursuit of the Bismarck, but of them only the newly-launched Prince of Wales fought an actual salvo-vs.-salvo battle with her (and was outclassed and had to break off and proceed for repairs). The Hood, large and strong as she was, was actually a battle cruiser rather than a battleship. And the ships which actually sank the Bismarck after it was disabled by the capital ships were a cruiser and planes from a carrier. (This was more a coup de grace to a mortally wounded opponent than anything else.)
09-03-2004, 12:15 PM
unfortunately they were designed for northern hemisphere duty and the corriolis acceleration has a different sign in the south (think of how the toilet flush goes around the other way). This made a diff.
Thought this was one of those urban legends that died out. I believe that the coriolis force would be a negligible concern given the distances discussed, but apparently would affect trading rocket fire covering much greater distances. As far as the toilet/sink myth goes, check out the PennState University Bad Meteorology page (http://www.ems.psu.edu/~fraser/Bad/BadCoriolis.html).
09-04-2004, 07:23 AM
I know that toilette flow is affected by many other factors. Having lived on the equator, I noted that it didn;t go straight down. But the thing about ULs is that people have heard them and they are possible the *only* exposure to things like corriolis.
09-04-2004, 07:45 AM
I've never heard that the Bismark was exceptionally more powerful than the Iowa-class, though is was more powerful, there were substantial engineering flaws and more importantly, its firepower was not really adequate. That's what I heard.
Paul in Qatar
09-04-2004, 09:57 AM
Well, if it was short in the firepower department, then how could it be 'more powerful?'
09-04-2004, 11:47 AM
Main armament-wise, the Iowas were more powerful:
Bismarck: 8 x 15" guns
Iowa: 9 x 16" guns
This does not mean that Polycarp's statement was wrong, however. The Iowas were not available at the time of the Bismarck's breakout in 1940, the name ship being commissioned on 22 February 1943. Other US 16" gunned battleships available at the time were slower than the Bismarck.
Therefore, the German ship was a combination of speed and strength that had few equals at the time.
09-04-2004, 11:55 AM
The Bismarck and Tirpitz were larger and more powerful than any single British or American battleship I've never heard that the Bismark was exceptionally more powerful than the Iowa-class, though is was more powerful, there were substantial engineering flaws and more importantly, its firepower was not really adequate. Among the many battleship threads that have been posted in GQ, the following site has turned up as a good reference location:
Specifically, for the purpose of comparisons, an excellent page on that site is the Build a Better Battleship (http://www.battleship.org/html/Articles/Features/BuildBetter.htm) comparison of the primary WWII battleship designs.
(The Bismarck did have a design flaw. When Ballard discovered her in the Atlantic, he discovered that her poop had broken off, which mirrored the similarly designed Prinz Eugen heavy cruiser that had its poop break away (although that ship did not sink). However, the Bismarck's guns, while fewer and slightly smaller than those of the Iowa, were supposed to be faster firing, giving it a bit more throw weight. (The linked page gives the Bismarck the highest throw weight of any battleship, ever. At that point, the argument becomes one of whether the test firing speed of the Bismarck was really that fast in combat and whether the radar directors and firing computers on the Bismarck were superior to those on the Iowa class.)
And the ships which actually sank the Bismarck after it was disabled by the capital ships were a cruiser and planes from a carrier. (This was more a coup de grace to a mortally wounded opponent than anything else.)Actually, after the Swordfish bombers from the Ark Royal disabled the Bismarck's steering gear, the battleships Rodney and King George V were the primary combatants with the Bismarck and inflicted the damage that rendered her unfit for battle. The Dorsetshire did fire torpedoes into her, but Ballard's examination seemed to conclude that the Bismarck survivors had been correct that she was actually scuttled and that she was not actually sunk by the Royal Navy. (This last point is simply one of honor; following the bombardment by the two British battleships, the Bismarck was not going to ever be a warship again and the fires would have eventually finished her off.)
09-04-2004, 11:57 AM
And, of course, the U.S. was not in the war when the Bismarck broke out -- we were in a state of armed neutrality, giving Britain "all aid short of war" (the official formula at the time). So unless the Bismarck attacked the U.S. or one of our ships, the Iowa (or any U.S. battleship) even if in existence would have not been the appropriate comparison.
09-04-2004, 12:55 PM
Is there any data on the performance of the 18" Japanese naval guns? As I recall, the superbattleships MUSAHI and YAMATO were carefully kept away from combat (the Japanese feared losing them). The YAMATO was sent on a one-way suicide mission to Okinama , in the last year of the war. Halfway there, she was attacked by US Navy dive bombers, and sunk with all hands.
The Japan3se probably could have built 4 carriers for what these ships cost!
I can also imagine that operating them wasn't cheap-they probably had at least an 800 man crew.
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