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The Rise of the Big Gun

Catalogue number 119095

A Royal Sovereign class battleship at Kiel, 1895.

In 1895, four Royal Sovereign class battleships were present at the opening of the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal. Here is a detail view of one battleship showing the forward 13.5-inch barbette guns. Note the absence of any protection for the gun crew, very little elevation (shell trajectories were almost flat) and the massive barbette structure. We can also see the five starboard 6-inch quick firing guns (three on the upper deck and two on the main deck), note also the shielded 3 pdr guns in the fighting tops. Just aft of the funnels is the steam pinnace with its funnel hinged back. The fore and aft bridge structures are very flimsy and there is a stern walkway for the captain.

Verso: “Kiel” in black ink

18cm x 13.5cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 118022

S.M.S. Charlotte.

S.M.S. Charlotte was a training ship corvette completed in 1886 with eighteen 15cm ring cannons, so called because the gun mount ran on a metal ring about a pivot. Built by Krupp, the guns had a horizontal sliding breach.

Verso: “Lower deck battery of a battleship” in German

13.5cm x 8.7cm Printed image


Catalogue number 46304

Royal Sovereign class barbette guns.

Aft barbette, close up view of the open breach. H.M.S. Benbow with its foredeck 16.25-inch gun coming up from the stern.

17.3cm x 17.6cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 113048

H.M.S. Ramillies.

This photograph illustrates the massive appearance of the Royal Sovereign class pre-dreadnought battleships. As well as the 13.5-inch breach loading guns, the secondary armement included 6-inch quick firing guns, we can see the shields of these guns on the upper deck. Note the huge anchors.

Recto: “H.M.S. Ramillies” in black ink

12.4cm x 8.1cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 100123

New Navy battleship U.S.S. Massachusetts.

One of the three Indiana class “New Navy” prototype battleships, U.S.S. Massachusetts (laid down 1891) was not the success hoped for, the freeboard being far to low. With maximum bunker capacity and ammunition, the armour belt became ineffective. This problem was compounded by the 8-inch turrets being mounted high up. The 13-inch guns were in covered barbettes.

Verso:Postcard sent to an address in Nantes from Paris, franked 1906

Credit: E. Muller, 1901

14cm x 8.4cm Matt gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 100127

Monitor U.S.S. Puritan, 1898.

U.S.S. Puritan is shown here preparing to leave port to operate around Cuba during the Spanish American war. She had 12-inch guns in two twin turrets and was the largest “New Navy” monitor but the very low freeboard was a problem during active service.

Verso: Postcard sent to the same person as previous photograph

Credit: E. Muller, 1898

8.2cm x 11.8cm Matt gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 118008

The 13.5 inch guns of a Re Umberto class battleship

The Re Umberto class had 13.75-inch armour on the barbettes and here a light canvas cover appears to be in place over gun breach.

Verso: Postcard franked in Italy, 1908 and sent to Miss Ernestine ... at an address in California asking why she hasn't written

13.8cm x 8.8cm Matt gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 117072

Krupp 28cm sliding wedge breech gun.

There is no name on the photograph as to which ship this is in the Austria-Hungarian Navy but there are several indications that suggest the gun is part of the central battery of K.u.K. Tegetthoff, launched 1878. She was the last warship in the navy to be built with casemate guns but was already obsolete when completed, other nations having moved on to housing guns in turrets. If we compare the head of the officer (about 30cm diameter) in the photograph with the gun barrel we can assume a gun of 28 to 30cm. Tegetthoff mounted six 28cm Krupp guns when launched. The gun has a horizontal sliding wedge breech characteristic of Krupp guns and was hand-worked. The gun appears to be on a Vavasseur/Armstrong, Mitchell and Co. Mount - note the grooved track for traversing the gun and the pivot to the front of the mount. The rack and pinion system gives limited elevation because at this period of time, fighting distance were short and shells had an almost flat trajectory.

Verso: “In the battery of a k.u.k. warship” in German

Credit: Anton R….., Pola

13.7cm x 8.6cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 115045

Close-up of a barbette.

The barrel of the French barbette ship Terrible had to be cut back because the barrel failed near the muzzle. Here we can see that the base of the barbette has no amour plating and the barbette cover provides no protection to the gun crew other than from the sun and rain.

13.9cm x 9.1cm Printed image


Catalogue number 109071

H.M.S. Royal Sovereign.

The barbette on the Royal Sovereign class of battleships was sited lower down in the hull compared to the earlier H.M.S. Benbow and Admiral class ships with a subsequent improvement in sea-keeping. The armour went down as far as the armoured citadel that protected machinery and magazine spaces. At the time, typical practice firing ranges were about 1800 meters and the shell trajectory was almost horizontal (elevation about -3 / +13.5 degrees). The gun crew worked behind the barbette wall but as gunnery ranges increased, barbettes gave no protection against plunging fire.

Credit: Gale and Polden

8.2cm x 12cm Printed image


Catalogue number 114048

Elevation of guns, H.M.S. Royal Sovereign.

The limited elevation of the guns on H.M.S. Royal Sovereign is clearly shown here.

12.3cm x 7.6cm Gelatin silver print

8.2cm x 12cm Printed image


Catalogue number 114030

13.5-inch breech-loading gun.

This image gives a good view of the breech mechanism of a 13.5-inch gun. Turning a handwheel – see square shaft for handwheel at the level of the sailor's knees -unlocked the breech screw then withdrew the breech screw into the ring carrier. Whilst still turning the handwheel, the ring carrier swung outwards and the barrel was open for loading. There is not much space in the gun pit and the guns had to be aligned fore and aft for loading.

Recto: “Naval Gunnery. Fore Barbette 13.5 Guns”

Verso: Message to the sailor's mother in Southend-on-Sea, dated October 8th 1906 in black ink and franked Portmouth Oct 8 06

Credit: Gale and Polden

12.7cm x 7.6 Printed image


Catalogue number 116076

Italian barbette.

The Re Umberto class (laid down 1884 - 1885) of Italian battleships mounted impressive barbettes housing 13.5-inch guns. This photograph shows part of one such barbette, the armour was just over 13 inches thick. The gun pit was covered by a metal plate shelter, not yet the armoured turret of later years. The guns were the 13.5-inch built in Britain to a design similar to the Royal Sovereign class.

Credit: Alterocca Terni

14.1cm x 8.8cm Matt gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 52105

R.N. Re Umberto.

Here we can see how the aft barbette is high up on the Italian battleship Re Umberto. Note the very flimsy bridge structure.

Verso: "Re Umberto 1897" in light pencil

25.8cm x 14.7cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 52107

The aft barbette of R.N. Sicilia.

The guns of the aft barbette of R.N. Sicilia are elevated and an idea of the size of the barbette can be had by comparing it with the men sitting around its base. The gun pit is covered by a splinter-proof shelter and another Re Umberto class battleship is to starboard. Once again we can see the very flimsy bridge structure.

Verso: "Sicilia Italie" in light pencil

26cm x 16cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 115043

The 17.7-inch M.L. guns of R.N. Duilio.

R.N. Duilio - completed 1880 - was a first on several points; first battleship rigged with a single military mast, the first Italian 2-shaft capital ship and the first with the immense muzzle-loading 17.7-inch guns in turrets. These 100-ton guns were built at the Armstrong works and could fire one projectile every 15 minutes (cited in Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships 1860-1905). Note the short barrels, calibre 20. Paradoxically, when these guns were sold to the Italian Navy, the British government reinforced the defences ay Malta and Gibralar.

10.2cm x 7.6cm Matt gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 15045

R.N. Lepanto, a central barbette battleship.

R.N. Lepanto, was a central barbette battleship laid down in 1876 and carried four 17-inch guns mounted as pairs en echalon within the 19 inches of armour of a central barbette or redoubt.

13.9cm x 8.8cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 52149

Detail of the central barbette, R.N. Lepanto.

When initially commissioned, Lepanto and her sister ship Italia were the largest and fastest warships in the world, causing considerable concern for the Royal Navy.

Verso: "Lepanto" in light pencil

8.6cm x 6.1cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 114103

H.M.S. Colossus.

In response to the construction of the Italian Duilio class of turret ships, the British embarked on a similar programme of building turret ships although ligher armed with 12.5-inch ML and 12-inch BL guns. H.M.S. Colossus mounted the 12-inch guns as seen here with the turrets pointing to port.

Recto: "A Happy Christmas" embossed in red

Verso: "To Jack With love and best wishes from Aunt Nellie"" in black ink

13.4cm x 8.2cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 114104

The small turret ship H.M.S. Hero.

Armed with two 12-inch breech loading guns, the turret of H.M.S. Hero had 12 inches of side armour and 14 inches on the face. The ship was not adapted to ocean-going being too small but was also too big for coastal defence work and spent most of its time as a gunnery tender.

Credit: Abrahams

13cm x 8.4cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 46312

Improved turret ship H.M.S. Victoria.

After the Admiral class of barbette ship, H.M.S. Victoria was a return to the turret ship configuration with a design that was essentially an enlarged Hero.

Recto: "Victoria Cuirassé Anglais G.J. photo"

27.4cm x 20cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 30012

Arsenal Cherbourg Coastal defence gun, 42cm

Muzzle-loading 42cm cannon. Note the size of the cannonball with respect to the head of the sailor! There is a small crane to load the cannonballs. The recoil system is a sliding rail to which the cannon is attached. In the background we can see the reserve of muzzle-loading cannons. The barrel of this cannon had to be thick to resist the explosion of the gunpowder propellant.

16cm x 9cm Albumen print mounted on cardboard


Catalogue number 36040

French battleship 34cm breech-loading gun.

In the centre of the photograph we can see the toothed mechanism for giving a small degree of inclination. Just above the complex breech mechanism is a plaque with the date 1884. Arc of fire is obtained by swinging the gun mount along a rail system as seen in the immediate lower foreground.The rail system overhead is for moving shells and powder charges..

27cm x 20.5cm Albumen print


Catalogue number 73165

HMS Benbow

Completed in 1888, she carried two 16.25 inch (412.8mm) guns, here we can see the forward gun mounted on a barbette. Apart from the 18 inch guns of HMS Furious and of some monitors, these were the largest guns mounted in a Royal Navy ship. Note the barbette has no cover for the gun crew who are thus exposed to gunfire and shell fragments. We can also remark the flimsy bridge structure. On the starboard side we can see two twin-funnelled picket boats.

13.5cm x 8.5cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 51040

HMS Camperdown

An Admiral class battleship armed with four 13.5 inch breech-loading guns mounted in pairs in fore and aft barbettes. Completed in 1889, she was involved in the collision of 1893 that sank HMS Victoria following a catastrophic signal from Vice-Admiral Sir George Tryon during manoeuvres. The British 13.5 inch gun was also installed in the Re Umberto class battleships (cf below). A tent-like structure covers the breech mechanism and the ship appears to be in the hands of dockyard workers (see man on the barbette next to the gun). Note the massive cranes port and starboard for handling the anchors.

8cm x 11cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 34042

HMS Camperdown

Poor Camperdown ended up as a submarine tender until sold in 1911 and is see here at Harwich alongside HMS Thames and in company with C class submarines C33 and C38. Numerous boats are moving around the two ships. The two guns appear to be at the maximun elevation of about 13°.

Recto "H.M.S. "THAMES" 2nd class cruiser, (1886) Verso "THAMES. H.M.S. (1886) 4050 tons. 2nd class cruiser 300' x 46' x 19'-6" Draught, 5700 IHP 18 knots Built by John Penn & Sons, Greenwich. Here shown lying at Harwich in 1902. To left of group, on outside. 2748"

9.8cm x 7.3cm Gelatin silver print mounted on card


Catalogue number 49004

Regina Nave Castore

The Italian gunboat Castore is seen here during trials of the 400mm Krupp gun. This gun was landed in 1889 and Castore was rearmed with a more reasonable gun. Note the aiming frame to the extreme right of the photograph and the puff of smoke or dust from the funnel provoked by the firing of this huge gun.The crew do not seem to have much faith in the firing of the gun and are all crowded together at the bow of the ship.

Verso "Anglais Castore garde côte pièce de 120 tonnes"

25.4cm x 17.2cm Albumen print


Catalogue number 36039

French battleship 14cm gun battery

The gun mounting rotates about a forward pivot to give the arc of fire, the graduation on the deck give the angle. Note cutlasses at the ready and shells stored nose down against the bulkhead centre right.There is no proper gunsight other than a rudimentary bead sight on the left of the barrel and on the breech.

27.3cm x 20.7cm Albumen print


Catalogue number 52101

Regina Nave Italia

This photograph shows the Italian battleship in its original form with six funnels. The 17 inch guns were sited en echelon in a central barbette amidships. The ship, laided down in 1876, took nearly 10 years to be completed yet, with its sister ship Lepanto, was the largest and fastest warship in the world for several years. Today seems to be visitors day with a host of rowing boats gathering around the gangway. Note the impressive crane and the Captain's sternwalk giving him some degree of privacy and complete with two quick-firing guns.

Verso "Italia" in pencil

26cm x 16cm Albumen print


Catalogue number 22043


Big guns were installed not only in battleships but also in submarines. The M series of British submarines included four boats completed between 1917 to 1918. Each carried a single 12 inch gun that could elevate but the submarine had to turn to change the direction of fire. In company with HM submarines H31, H48 and H43, M1 visited Anvers in 1925. In November of the same year, M1 was rammed by SS Vidar and sank with all hands. The wreck was located in 1999 and this is possibly the last photograph of M1.

Verso "Anvers 5 Oct. 1925 Visite de sous-marins Anglais Dernière photo du M1"

10.3cm x 7.7cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 29027

Marine Nationale Surcouf

The German submarine fleet caused great havoc to the Allies during World War One and almost brought Britian to its knees. The Naval Disarmement conferences of the 1920s and 30s in Washington and London attempted to limit the construction of submarines. The British even called for a total ban on submarines and were concerned about the construction of Surcouf with its two 8 inch guns mounted in a rotating turret. With an endurance of 90 days, the Surcouf was a long range commercial raider and included a small spotter floatplane in a water-tight compartment. Here we can see the mechanism for closing the end of each barrel prior to diving.

16.8cm x 11.7cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 35232

Regina Nave Re Umberto

This photograph clearly shows the forward pair of 13.5 inch guns and the barbette. The Italians were amongst the first to construct a light metal cover over the breech mechanism, sufficient to protect the gun crew from splinters and light arms fire but not yet the armoured turret that was to appear later. The barbettes had 13.5 inch Schneider steel armour. With all this weight high up in the ship, it must have had a heavy role.

Verso "Spezia 28.12.09 Buno 1910 ! Saluti affettuosi"

13.9cm x 8.8cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 80453

Marine Nationale Richelieu

Technology has raced ahead and here we can see the interior of one half of a four-gun, 2,476 tonne turret in the battleship Richelieu. This photograph was probably taken some time after the 1943 refit in the USA. The four 380mm guns from the A turret of the Jean Bart were fitted to Richelieu on this occasion. The Welin screw breech block automatically opened upwards as the gun ran out and was hydro-pneumatically powered. Although mechanised, the rate of fire was between one and two rounds per minute and space was cramped.

4cm x 4cm stereo photograph, positive film


Catalogue number 23018

Marine Nationale Richelieu

After a rather complicated career, Richelieu was condemned and towed to the breakers in 1968 but one of the guns was conserved and in 1974 it was placed on display under the Recouvrance bridge in Brest. We can see the run-out cylinder and the heavy counterweight over the breech mechanism to compensate for the weight of the barrel. The toothed elevating gear can be seen under the breech.

16.7cm x 11.7cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 30040

HMS Resolution

This stereo photograph was taken during the 1902 Fleet review celebrating the coronation of King Edward VII, note the elegantly-dressed ladies to port and starboard as well as the chaplin on the extreme left. The 13.5 inch guns of this Royal Sovereign class battleship were mounted in two heavily-armoured, pear-shaped barbettes and the breech swung up from below the barrel. We can see a quick-firing gun between the two stern guns, probably for ceremonial purposes. Left of centre is the carriage of a naval gun.

16.7cm x 8cm Stereo photograph Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number

HMS Rodney, detail of a barbette

This print shows a sailor using a Nordenfelt twin 1-inch gun mounted on a 13.5 inch gun barbette of the Admiral class battleship HMS Rodney completed in 1888. Compared to the Royal Sovereign class, the guns are more exposed.

Printed image, Office of Naval Intelligence, Notes on Naval Progress, 1899


Catalogue number 46304

Royal Sovereign class barbette guns

The 13.5 inch guns are mounted in a barbette and the cupola to the left is probably the sighting port. Fighting distances at the time were such that the shell trajectory was almost flat and the guns had little elevation. Note the quick-firing gun between the two barrels.

Verso three similar photographs mounted on cardboard
17.3 x 5.3 cm, each photograph Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 52103

Regina Nave Sardegna

This photograph of the British-built 13.5 inch guns illustrates one of the first appearances of an armoured shield fitted to the barbette.This arrangement was the forerunner of the gun fully enclosed in a rotating, armoured turret. Note the extensive secondary armement. The band is on the quarter deck and curious visitors are rowing around the ship.

Verso "Sardegna" in pencil
26cm x 16.7cm Albumen print


Catalogue number 90

Gibraltar coastal defence

Naval guns were landed for use as coastal defence. Here we can see Royal Marines, wearing the characteristic pill box hat posing with both breech-loading (foreground) and muzzle-loading (background) guns. Shells and cannonballs are stacked behind the guns for ready use. The guns are mounted on wooden cradles.

Recto "Engl. Besitz Gibraltar Spanien"

21.5 cm x 16.6cm albumen print mounted on cardboard

Catalogue number 90

Royal Marines and muzzle-loading gun

Here a group of Royal Marines are manhandling a muzzle-loading gun placed on a raft made from wooden barrels lashed to a frame. The gun is mounted on a wooden cradle and the capsquares have been released. The gun is being eased off its cradle and this may be an exercise in moving such a heavy weight. The word "Shoeburyness" appears to be written on a case just right of centre and guns were tested at the time on the Shoeburyness gun range.

26.1cm x 18.4cm Albumen print mounted on carboard