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US Navy Railway Guns France 1918

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Percy Toplis

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BerichtGeplaatst: 13 Mei 2010 21:43    Onderwerp: US Navy Railway Guns France 1918 Reageer met quote

US Navy Railway Guns France 1918
14-inch naval rifles served ashore with the AEF in World War One

When the United States entered World War I in 1917 it was severely under equipped. The young country had fought nearly continuously for its 140-odd years of existence but its military had never fought a European war in Europe. A scramble was underway to get the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) organized, armed and sent to France. The area that needed the most attention was artillery. The US Army quickly adopted several French designs including the 75mm field gun and 155mm howitzer, but was still lacking in heavy artillery. German long range artillery was quite effective during World War I. German cannons reduced Liege, attacked allied coastal ports, and even bombarded Paris itself. Rear Admiral Ralph Earle, of the US Navy Ordinance Bureau recommended to the Chief of Naval Operations in November 1917 mounting naval 14-inch guns on trains to give the AEF long-range firepower. Two weeks later the Navy Department approved construction of five guns as well as a command train. In May 1918 the Navy offered to turn over to the Army the trains along with naval crews. It was estimated 30 would be completed by March of 1919.

The Naval Gun Factory turned over 14inch/45calibre guns for the project. Baldwin Locomotive Works received the award for the gun-mount cars. The Standard Steel Car Company provided locomotives and staff, kitchen, fuel, workshop, radio, ammunition, office, and workshop cars. For crews, 20,000 Navy officers and men volunteered for the 334 spots needed in the railway gun batteries. Captain Charles Peshall Plukett, a 54-year-old career officer was given command of the unique detachment. Plunkett, born in 1864 in Washington, D.C., was appointed to the United States Naval Academy in 1879, two years behind the infamous Philo Norton McGiffin. He was a well known gunnery officer who had fought in the Spanish-American War and had commanded the battleships USS North Dakota and USS South Dakota. He was the director of target practice competition for the navy before World War I. In July, 1918, he assumed command of the five naval railway batteries and sailed for France after being inspected by then-Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt.

In August the guns arrived at St. Nazaire and by September 6th were firing their first shots. It was originally envisioned that the guns would attack targets deep in the enemyís rear, such as railway yards, army headquarters, airfields, ammunition dumps, and bridges. They were also given the mission to destroy the ďBig BerthasĒ (also called the Paris guns) that were raining shells on Paris. Before the American guns could be brought to action the Germans pulled back their Big Berthas behind the lines due to mechanical failures. The guns however did fire 782 (some sources state 872) shells at distances from 18 to 23 miles at the German-held railway yards and positions at Laon, Terginer, Montmedy, Longuyon and Conflans. Gun #4 fired the last railroad battery round of the War at 10:57:20 a.m. 11 November 1918. It was timed to land just before the armistice commenced. In the course of their short time in combat the guns were taken under counter-battery fire by German long range guns on several occasions. One sailor and eight attached army engineers were killed during the War.

Captain Plunkett, retiring in 1928 as a rear admiral in the position of Commandant of the New York Navy Yard, died in 1931. He is interred at Arlington National Cemetery, Section E, Lot 1152 alongside his wife. The guns themselves were withdrawn back to the United States and kept in reserve for use as mobile coastal artillery. Accounts vary but it is known that at least two guns continued in this service through World War II, although they never fired again in anger after 1918. The rise of the airplane effectively ended the usefulness of the railway gun. Like the battleship, they were massive, expensive, and easily destroyed from the air. Of the five guns that went to France in 1918, the only 14-inch Navy railroad gun existing today is on display in front of the US Navy Museum, Washington Navy Yard, DC.

The United States Naval Railway Batteries in France, Navy Department, Office of Records and Library. . (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office)
US Navy Railway Guns France 1918: 14-inch naval rifles served ashore with the AEF in World War One,

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BerichtGeplaatst: 04 Nov 2010 19:28    Onderwerp: Reageer met quote

Navy 14 Inch Railway Guns in France, 1918
Rare original footage shot in France in 1918-shows the actual US Naval Railway Battery firing on German positions. A total of nearly 900 rounds were fired, each round weighing 1400 lbs.
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