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The Rise of the Big Gun

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 the rudimentary rangefinder found in 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