Every so often, a book is published that will prove the definitive work on its subject. This is such a book and fully justifies its cover price, although Pen & Sword are famous for their discounts and special offers for on-line purchasers, so a real bargain is possible. The full cover price will not deter an enthusiast or a naval professional and copies are likely to fly off the shelf for private and professional libraries around the world. Hopefully, the readership will be even wider, because this is a book that covers naval anti-aircraft weaponry and systems comprehensively and with integrity.
NAME: Naval Anti-aircraft Guns & Gunnery
CATEGORY: Book Reviews
AUTHOR: Norman Friedman
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword
BINDING: hard back
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: WWII, World War Two, Second World War, aircraft, naval aviation, AAA, anti-aircraft guns, anti-aircraft gunnery, defensive fire, machine guns, canon, medium guns, HA, High Angle, DP, Dual Purpose.
DESCRIPTION: Every so often, a book is published that will prove the definitive work on its subject. This is such a book and fully justifies its cover price, although Pen & Sword are famous for their discounts and special offers for on-line purchasers, so a real bargain is possible. The full cover price will not deter an enthusiast or a naval professional and copies are likely to fly off the shelf for private and professional libraries around the world. Hopefully, the readership will be even wider, because this is a book that covers naval anti-aircraft weaponry and systems comprehensively and with integrity.
For more than five hundred years, the gun was the supreme naval weapon. Each new generation of gunners sought to increase the range and accuracy. At what was to prove the end of the gun as the primary naval weapon, it had been married to radar, high definition optics and fire control computers. It still continues on, but now as CIWS to defend against unmanned weapons systems and in medium calibre to take on lower value targets or targets too close for safe missile lock. It has almost entirely been superceded by aircraft and missiles.
The Royal Navy appreciated the coming changes very early on. In 1911 formal training of British naval aviators had begun at a training field initially operated free of charge by the Royal Aeronautical Society, before being purchased and run by the Admiralty. The first pilots to complete their flying training were tasked with writing the first manuals and tactical notes. This resulted in recommendations on the use of bombs, depth bombs and torpedoes. The RN successfully made the first drop from an aircraft of a torpedo just weeks before the outbreak of WWI. Through WWI, the RNAS expanded rapidly and demonstrated the power of the military aircraft, with parallel development of aircraft carriers and anti-aircraft gunnery. The move of all British aviation assets into the newly formed RAF in 1918 was to prove damaging to naval interests and the RN, in common with other navies, was poorly prepared to defend its ships against the aircraft and aerial weapons becoming available in 1939, simply because they had spent the period between 1918 and 1939 dependent on the RAF with its obsolete marine aircraft, facing inadequate training for anti-aircraft gunnery crews. This was both a lack of days in exercise against aerial attackers, and in a lack of aircraft with greater potential than the aircraft of 1918.
Some development by several navies did advance anti-aircraft gunnery between the World Wars, but the major advances came from bitter experience after 1939. The Royal Navy had prepared to launch a strike from carriers on the German High Seas Fleet in port in 1918. The attack plans were set aside when the RN lost its aircraft to the RAF. In 1939, the plans were dusted down and later used in a strike on the Italian Fleet in its homeport, giving the RN a six month advantage in the Mediterranean. The success of the raid encouraged the Japanese to make their own plans for a strategic strike on the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbour. It was only bad luck for the Japanese that the US carriers were at sea and escaped the attack. Had they been tied up in harbour, the Japanese would have secured a six to eight month advantage and that would have allowed them to land troops in Australia and probably to negotiate an armistice that allowed them to keep most or all of their annexed territories. They also demonstrated the superiority of aircraft when their bombers caught HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse. Although Repulse was a WWI design, Prince of Wales was the latest RN KGV Class battleship. Although the war emergency battleship Vanguard was built, with second hand guns taken from ships converted to aircraft carriers, the KGV Class was the last full class of battleship built by Britain, and the British design ultimate for that type of warship.
By 1939, almost every warship carried at least some machine guns to defend against aircraft. The British Army mounted two Bren Light Machine Guns (license-built from a Czech design for an infantry squad support light machine gun), on post mounts that could be elevated almost vertically, in their small Derby Class Motor Launches that had been constructed primarily to provide fast targets for gunnery training. Even the largest battleship carried machine guns as part of their anti-aircraft armament. These weapons were hand operated in the main and single gun locations. They depended on the human eye and the web sight for defending against fast attack aircraft. Some small patrol and SAR motor boats carried machine guns in aircraft turrets, but these were still controlled manually and depended on the human eye and the skill of the gunner, although some had the more sophisticated reflector gun sights fitted to contemporary fighter aircraft.
The modern cannon began to be added to warships from the early 1930s and the Vosper prototype private venture torpedo boat MTB102 was equipped with a single 20mm cannon for operation against aircraft and other warships. By the end of WWII, fast patrol and attack craft were fitted with a number of cannon and some were mounted on power carriages that were designed to carry two cannon. Some patrol craft had also been upgunned to 40mm cannon on powered mounts. The cannon proved to be a very effective dual-purpose weapon for small craft, being effective against aircraft and surface targets. Even so, the cannon fitted to small warships were still manually operated even when the warship was fitted with radar. The gunner was a potential risk to friendly vessels and it became normal practice to have a seaman assigned to each cannon gunner to strike him in the back when his fire stated to come close to friendly warships or to his own craft. This was because the gunner became fully concentrated on aircraft targets and could follow them through a friendly warship without realizing what he was doing.
The major advances were to be with larger guns. By definition, a larger gun was almost always a dual-purpose weapon, sometimes a single mount but usually a twin gun mount. The innovation was to enable the gun to achieve a high angle of fire, but also allow it to aim at surface targets. These larger guns were frequently mounted in enclosed turrets and provided with the ability to move automatically against the rolling of the warship. This ability was frequently independent for each barrel on a mount or turret. The German Navy was to fit guns with this ability to their capital ships and the system proved very effective in removing one factor that could reduce accuracy.
The increasing sophistication of gun mounts was also a weakness. Once a mount was powered by hydraulics or electrics, it could be put out of action by a power failure. One factor noted in the loss of HMS Prince of Wales was failure of power to anti-aircraft mounts, although another story was that the multiple 2 pounders or Pom Pom guns suffered a simple but devastating mechanical failure. The feed trays on these guns were designed to hinge for cleaning and were secured by a bar and split pin. The split pins were often not refitted after cleaning, the bar being held in place only by gravity. During the air attacks, the guns were firing continuously and bars vibrated out, allowing movement of the feed trays, which caused the guns to jam.
Multiple mounts like the British Pom Pom were popular and used with guns from rifle calibre to 40mm. And with four or eight barrels per mount They were also large enough to consider introducing radar control, which was routinely being added to larger guns up to 16 inches.
Prior to 1939, gunnery on larger warships depended on high grade optical rangefinders in gunnery control posts. This was augmented by spotter seaplanes that were particularly important for maximum range fire by the heaviest guns that reached over the visual horizon. As radar became more dependable during WWII, it began to replace the spotter plane. In the same period, development of gunnery computers was moving from mechanical, to electro-mechanical, to electronic.
For anti-aircraft gunnery, the number of these guns dramatically increased on all classes of warship. Development work was also directed into the munitions issued for anti-aircraft use.
The author has examined the development of anti-aircraft guns on warships from the first weapons systems, through to the late developments in WWII. This inevitably means a weighty book and the division by country is helpful in considering development of technology and tactics. There are a great many illustrations, including many rare photographs. Highly recommended