Military Gun Salutes

Yesterday I saw that our Prime Minister, David Cameron, was greeted on the White House lawn by Mr Obama, and was given a 19 gun salute. Not so long ago, a 62 gun salute marked the Queen’s 60th accession to the throne, along with the odd 41 gun salute here and there.

What is the protocol behind military gun salutes? Who decides how many guns are fired? Why did the PM get 19 guns, it seems just such an odd-bollock number to me? Was that the only number that were available? Is there any formal code behind it all - like certain numbers for funerary tributes, or more guns for more respect.

I’ve heard of a “21 gun salute”, though admittedly only thanks to AC/DC’s “For Those About To Rock…” and also 41 (though I don’t know why this sounds “right” to me), but all the other numbers…?

Incidentally, I am talking about Field Gun salutes, not Guards of Honour firing rifles.

Gun salutes originate with the Indian princely states, see here:

The head of state of a sovereign nation is traditionally given a 21 gun Salute, but the British Prime Minister is not the head of state, the Queen is, which I guess is why he gets a 19 gun salute.

Thus saving the two shots for …?


Cheers for that.

Wikipedia, why didn’t I think of that? LOL

They do? If you read the Wikipedia article on 21-gun salutes, they appear to originate in the sixteenth or seventeenth century European navies, as a sign that one is unarmed.

One of my pet peeves is people calling the seven gun, three volley salute at funerals a “twenty-one gun salute.”

It’s not.

A twenty-one gun salute is twenty-one separate guns.

You can find several places on the Internet that give the list of people entitled to gun salutes, and how many guns which are to be used.

Your basic military member (non-flag rank) is entitled to seven guns.

The three shots fired at a funeral date back to Roman days, when tradition had people saying “farewell” three times over the grave of the deceased.

AFAIK, the princely states of India are where the association of “21 guns = sovereign nation” became fixed. Gun salutes were used before that, but not with the explicit meaning that a 21 gun salute has now.

A 21-gun salute is accorded friendly heads of state, a 19-gun one to friendly heads of government. 7-, 11-, 13- and so on are given to various other categories, so that the French Foreign Minister might properly be accorded an 11-gun salute, and it would not be regarded as a snub.

A 21-gun salute is also accorded someone honored for serving his/her country at their funeral, as a special one-time mark of respect. ETA: See correction to this made above. Rephrase this to the 7-gun 3-volleyt salute.

The person in charge of ordering such a salute has the privilege of overriding protocol to pay special honor to someone, e.g., the one you mention for Queen Elizabeth’s 60th anniversary on the throne.

Proper protocol is found in Army Regulation 600-25 Salutes, Honors, and Visits of Courtesy. Table 2-1 lays it all out.

People who get the 19-Gun Salute:
Vice President, Speaker of House, Cabinet Member, President pro tempore of US Senate, governor of a state, Chief Justice of the United States, American or Foreign Ambassadors, high commissioner (if in the country accredited to), Premier or Prime Minister, Secratary of Defense, Secrataries of the Army, Navy, or Air Force, Under Secrataries of Defense, Chairman and vice… oh hell, just go pull up the reg.

Entitled to 21-Gun:
President, Former President, or President Elect
Sovereign or chief of state of a foreign country or member of reigning royal family

Yes, which doesn’t answer the question, why 21 for a head of state? Why 19 for a prime minister or premier? And the answer is, to be blunt and pragmatic, it was a useful protocol used to stroke the egos of “sovereign” princely states during the british colonial rule of India, 21 was the highest for nations, but the british emperor at the time got 101 and the viceroy (who was above all local rulers) got 31.

So it’s a hangover of British colonial rule which the US copied.

For reasons explained in the Wikipedia article, the 62-gun salute this year to mark the Queen’s accession was simply the usual number used at the Tower of London. It wasn’t a reference to the number of years.

Not that there will be much point in looking for logic behind the specific numbers. All that is important in such matters is that there is a strict hierarchy and that everyone sticks to it.

“Hey here comes the Prime Minister, Let us shoot Guns!!”

How odd… :rolleyes:

The questions in the OP are:

  1. What is the protocol behind military gun salutes?
  2. Who decides how many guns are fired?
  3. Why did the PM get 19 guns, it seems just such an odd-bollock number to me? Was that the only number that were available? Is there any formal code behind it all - like certain numbers for funerary tributes, or more guns for more respect.

I answered all of these questions. If you want to create new questions (and answers) about the history and origin of this practice, by all means contribute.

Rephrase it further to “5 to 8 gun, 3 Volley”. The firing party may consist of no fewer than 5, and no more than 8 personnel.

He’ll have surrendered by the time the third round is fired. :stuck_out_tongue:

Well, 19 is only divisible by 1 and itself…

You didn’t answer this question? why 19 for a PM? The answer, thats what military protocol says is only half of it.

Snopes attempted to answer this. Not sure if it’s a correct answer though:

Thanks for making me choke on my morning coffee! :smiley:

Not necessarily. The Army’s Old Guard fires howitzer salutes to the newly-inaugurated President of the United States on the Mall, and the guns are reloaded and fired again. There aren’t 21 guns which each just fire once.