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Naval guns, manufacture and mounting

Catalogue number 64001

Steel works at Saint-Chamond 1916

The start for all naval guns is molten metal, the characteristics of which are closely controlled to give the properties required to produce a strong and reliable gun barrel. The strategic importance for major nations to have an armament industry meant that several companies existed in each country. In this series of photographs, we illustrate the process to produce an ingot of metal that could be worked and formed into a weapon. Here we can see molten metal being poured to a mould to produce a metal ingot at the Aciéries de Saint Chamond in France. The date is January 1916, the First World War is in full swing.

17.9cm x 12.8cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 104090

Raw ingot for muzzle-loading cannon

This 100,000kg ingot was made at Saint-Chamond and will be turned and bored out to produce a muzzle-loading 50 tonnes cannon.

Recto A steel ingot of 100 000 kilogrammes. - initial state after being removed from the mould at the Saint-Chamond factory. This monster ingot, which weighs 100 000 kilogrammes, represents a cannon in its initial state, coming out of the forge. Turning on a lathe and drilling the barrel will reduce its weight by half. (Translated from French)

13cm x 9,2cm Printed image


Catalogue number 105003

Forging a gun

To produce a breech-loading gun, a hole was bored through the cold octagonal ingot and a round former was inserted into the hole. A powerful hammer or forging press was then used to form the reheated and trepanned ingot into a round tube. Here we can see the former in the bored ingot. The continuous chain system hanging from the gantry is used to turn the heavy ingot and former whilst the hammer shapes the ingot. In the foreground, just left of centre is a roughly formed ingot waiting to be bored and behind the left leg of the gantry is a bored ingot in an advanced stage of preparation.

Verso Postal franked "Chamond 1917"

13,9cm x 9,1cm Printed image


Catalogue number 92077

Building up a gun barrel

British naval guns during the period of around 1880 to 1925, unlike other countries, were wire wound such that the jacket was first wrapped in an outer casing of rectangular section steel wire. Elsewhere, strong steel hoops were heat-shrunk directly onto the monoblock jacket to strengthen it. This photograph shows the built-up gun on a lathe to be planed and smoothed using hardened machine tools. Midway along the length of the gun is the holder for the machine tool and towards the right we can see the lathe operator holding a gauge to measure the diameter of the planed gun.

13,6cm x 8,7cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 41129

Making a 12-inch naval gun

This image shows the built-up gun in a lathe with the hoops for the gun mounting in place.

12,6cm x 7,7cm Printed image


Catalogue number 104119

Gun assembly shop

In this posed photograph of the navy steel works at St Chamond, we can see all the components that go together in making a naval gun. Middle left is the inner tube that forms the rifled barrel, above it is the recoil system that holds the gun and to the centre is the gun mounting. To the right are two finished guns with the breech in place.

Recto A hand-written message in French from a man to his wife saying that the factory is increasing its production facilities, that for the moment he is just a workman but when the new steam hammers and presses are in place, he hopes to have a better job. He says that in peacetime, the factory employs 5000 workmen and by the end of the month there will be 10 000 so we can presume that the postcard was sent during the First World War.

14cm x 9cm Printed image


Catalogue number 27031

The Navy yard, Washington

Guns in all the different stages of production can be seen in the 1898 stereo-photograph of the gun shop at the Navy yard, Washington. There are lathes for boring and planning the jackets, machine tools equipped to cut the rifling inside gun barrels and outer jackets ready to be heat-shrunk onto the inner barrel. In the late 1800s, the US Navy embarked on a massive programme of naval modernisation and rearmament and this is reflected in the scale of this gun shop - 647 feet long and 135 feet wide.

Verso Extensive text describing the impressive machinery at the Navy yard and the functions of the lathes. "The guns are forged at Bethlehem, Pa., and brought here in their rough state to be finished."

15,6cm x 8,2cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 44271

Vickers gun mounting erection shop

Once the gun and its mounting are ready, they are brought together to be installed in a turret. Here we can see, in the foreground, steel plates cut out to form turrets and a turret with its mounting in place and guns to the right. Behind the turret are two shell hoists on their side, a partially completed turret and finally, a twin gun turret with its guns and armoured plating in place, only the turret roof is missing.

Recto Vickers' naval construction works, Barrow. Gun mounting erection dept. No 12 bay

13,3cm x 7,5cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 40288

Gun erection at the Krupp's factory

Once the turret had been assembled at the factory and all the functions had been tested and passed, the turret was take to pieces and shipped to the shipyard to be reassembled and fitted into the warship. This image of the erecting shop at the Krupp's factory around 1911 shows a full assembled 21cm gun turret in the foreground, the shell hoist is in a pit below the turret. Behind it is another twin gun turret without its roof and in the background and to the right are two shell hoists. The postcard is franked 1911, rearmament and the naval race were in full swing in Germany.

Recto Essen, Krupp's steel factory. Erection of mountings for ships. (Translated from German)

13cm x 8cm Printed colour image


Catalogue number 35028

Erecting pits, Vickers

This is a photograph of the gun mount erecting pits, No 1 bay at the Vickers works in Barrow-in-Furness some time prior to the First World War. The brick pits were up to 50 ft deep, about 15 ft wide at the bottom and up to 40 ft wide at the top. A pit could take a full shell hoist with the turret and guns being at floor level. Once the gun turret had been tested and everything worked, it was taken disassembled for transport to the shipbuilders.

13,8cm x 8,6cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number

The building up of a 12-inch Vickers naval gun

This series of line drawings show the make-up of a 12-inch gun and its installation in a complete twin gun barbette/turret.
Drawing 1. This cross-section shows the five layers of steel that go to make up the barrel - from the inside out - the inner rifled tube, a first jacket, a wire-wound layer then two overlapping jackets.

From Notes on the Year's Naval Progress. Office of Naval Intelligence, Washington 1892.


Catalogue number

The building up of a 12-inch Vickers naval gun

Drawing 2. The shell hoist rests on a rotating base close to the bottom of the hull at the level of the shell magazine. Above this is the powder magazine where the cordite charges are stored. On the next floor is the engine for training the guns, to the left, and a hand-worked gear in case of a hydraulic failure, to the right. The working chamber is directly below the gun mounting and receives the shells and charges coming up the ammunition hoist.



Catalogue number

The building up of a 12-inch Vickers naval gun

Diagram 3. The system for handling shells and charges can be seen in the cross-section. Shells and charges held in the working chamber are sent up to the gun house using a system of trays and mobile cages. The gun turret and the working chamber revolve together so it is possible to load each gun at any angle of training. Shells and charges were stored in the working chamber and this gave a more rapid rate of fire because it took time to bring ammunition up from the two magazines. Also, the separation of the magazines from the working chamber and gunhouse improved safety in the case of a fire.



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The building up of a 12-inch Vickers naval gun

Diagram 4. This birds-eye view shows the position of the loading cage bringing a shell up from the working chamber to the open breech, lower gun, and, upper gun, the hydraulic rammer system which led to a more rapid rate of fire that with the previous manual loading.



Catalogue number 90 F8

14-inch US Navy gun

The battleships USS Texas and USS New York were designed to carry a new 14-inch gun in twin mountings that was brought into service in 1914. In these two photographs, probably taken at Bethlehem Works, we can see the guns and parts of the turret mechanism as well as the turret armour. In the upper photograph, bottom left, we can see the lower part of the power hoist for bringing shells and charges up from the magazine. The upper part of the hoist with the tilting shell bucket can be seen to the rear of the partial built-up turret at centre right. We can also see the side-swinging breech plug of the early mark guns but after mark 5 a down-swinging breech was adopted to give more space in turret. The maximum range of these guns at 15° elevation was over 20 km but initially there was a wide range of dispersion at extreme range.

Verso Erecting 14" Gun Turrets #2 Machine Shop

28cm x 23.1cm Gelatin silver print

Catalogue number 90 F8

14-inch US Navy gun

In the lower photograph, we can see the construction of a gun turret prior to fixing the armour plate. Extensive riveting of girders and plate make a structure on to which the armour plate is bolted. The turret shield was 14-inches thick at the face, 9-inches on the sides, 8-inches at the rear and the roof was 5 3/4-inches thick (data for USS New York). The full turret without shells weighted 532 tons and revolved on a roller system that can be seen at the base of the completed turret

Verso Assembling 14" Gun Turret #2 Machine Shop

31.5cm x 24.1cm Gelatin silver print