US Military Railway Guns In Action

While doing some research in the US National Archives’ online catalogue I came across a very interesting video composed of footage from a couple of US Army Ordnance demonstrations so I thought I’d take the opportunity to talk about some very big guns.
Railway guns emerged during the late 19th century as a way of moving massive, large calibre guns which had a reach far beyond that of field artillery. Before aircraft were able to effectively attack behind enemy lines railways allowed armies to bring huge guns within range and harass their enemies lines of communication and supply.
This footage comes from Ordnance demonstrations at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in the early 1920s.

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16in Coastal Gun (US National Archives)

First up we have a US-built copy of the French 305mm Canon de 305 modèle 1893/96 à glissement, which according the original footage notes, was a 10in sliding mount for a gun firing a 150lb projectile. I also found some contemporary images of the gun being built at the US Watertown Arsenal, in Massachusetts, which describes it as the Model 1919. It may be the only example built by the US, Schneider built 8 of these guns for France during the war.  When the gun fires we can see the whole gun and carriage recoil back a meter or so. Guns on sliding mounts cant be traversed and have to be aimed with specially laid track.

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M1895 12in Coastal Gun in a ‘disappearing#’ mount (US National Archives)

Next we have a 12 inch M1895 gun, mounted on a M1918 railway carriage which was based on the French Batignolles mount, with 360-degree traverse. Originally designed as a coastal defence gun, here’s a photograph taken in 1918 of the gun firing from a disappearing mount.
The M1895 had long been used as a coastal defence gun, and with US entry into the war surplus or unnecessary coastal guns were remounted as railway guns. The railway mounted M1895s had a large recuperator to mitigate the gun’s recoil. 12 were mounted, however, none reached France before the end of the war. We also get a nice shot of the shell hitting its target in the distance.

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A 14in Railway Gun in Bassens, France c.1919 (US National Archives)

The 14 inch railway guns were the only big US guns to see action during WW1. Taking spare US Navy 14in naval guns, the 14″/50 caliber Mk 4 gun, which had been mounted in the New Mexico and Tennessee-class battleships, and mounting them in a carriage built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works. Once in position the guns had to have a recoil pit dug out beneath the carriage to allow space for the gun to recoil when it was at high elevation. They had a range of up to 25 miles.
Five Mk1 guns made it to France operating as single gun batteries manned by US Navy Sailors. The guns fired a total of 782 shells during the war, with Battery 4 firing its last shell at 10:57:30 a.m. on 11 November 1918.

Unlike the MkI guns that made it to France in this footage we see the gun without an armoured gun house, with the gunners working the gun in the open.

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An M1919 16in Coastal Gun in a Barbette mount (US National Archives)

Finally, we have the truly massive 16 inch M1919 coastal gun . Designed for the Army Coast Artillery Corps to defend the US’ major coastal ports the 16-inch gun could throw a 2,340 lb shell up to 28 miles. In this footage we can see the gun mounted on an M1919 barbette carriage which could be elevated up to 65-degrees.
This second piece of footage dates from between 1929 and 1931, with dozens of West Point cadets gathered eagerly to see the gun in action.

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Bibliography:

Demonstration of Ordnance Materiel at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, 1920-1926 (source)

Railway Artillery: A Report on the Characteristics, Scope of Utility, Etc., of Railway Artillery, Vo.1, H.W. Miller & US Ordnance Dept. (1921) (source)

Railway Artillery: A Report on the Characteristics, Scope of Utility, Etc., of Railway Artillery Vol.2, H.W. Miller & US Ordnance Dept. (1922) (source)

The United States Naval Railway Batteries in France, E. Breck (1922) (source)


 

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