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Short Rounds

The U.S.S. Kentucky Takes to the Water

Laid down in 1896, the 11,520 ton battleship Kentucky (BB-6) and her sister Kearsarge (BB-5, the only American battlewagon not named for a state), were among the most powerful warships afloat when they were commissioned in 1900.  The pair toted four 13"/35 guns in two twin turrets, each of which also had a "superposed" double 8"/35 turret on its top, plus a plethora of lighter armament, and could make a respectable 16 knots.

The ships were launched in a unique double ceremony on March 24, 1898, at Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock, which today builds Uncle Sam's aircraft carriers.  And on that occasion, Kentucky definitely stole the show.

On the appointed day, Kearsarge was launched first, christened by Mrs. Herbert Winslow, the daughter of Rear Admiral John Winslow, who had commanded the screw sloop Kearsarge in her famous 1863 duel with the Confederate cruiser AlabamaMrs. Winslow, who had married her cousin Herbert Winslow, also a naval officer, performed her duties properly, wielding the traditional bottle of champagne.

Kentucky's sponsor, however, had a different idea.  Miss Christine Bradley, daughter of Blue Grass State governor William O. Bradley, was a member of the Women's Christian Temperance League.  Spurning tradition, Miss Bradley chose to christen the ship with  bottle of spring water taken from Sinking Spring Farm, the old Lincoln homestead in Hardin County, Kentucky.

Word of Miss Bradley's intentions has been widely circulated.  As a result, many of the guests came prepared to "correct" her heretical proposal.  As Miss Bradley smashed the water bottle and the great ship began sliding down the ways, members of the crowd began hurling the contents of their hip flasks at the ship, and even whole bottles of bourbon, so that when she entered the water, her hull was well lubricated with a considerable amount of good Kentucky whiskey.

Both ships had rather routine careers, taking part in the world cruise of the "Great White Fleet" (1907-1909), for which Kentucky served a flagship, supported various American interventions in the Caribbean, and performing routine patrol and escort duties during World War I, by which time they were very obsolete.  After the war, Kentucky was scrapped and Kearsarge converted to a crane ship under the terms of the naval arms limitations agreements.

As for the sponsors,  Miss Bradley later married John Glover South, a prominent Kentucky politician who served as a member of the Republican National Committee during the 1930s, and died full of years in 1957.  Mrs. Winslow, who was widely excoriated in the dry press for having used champagne, died quite suddenly a few days less than a year after having christened the Kentucky

 

Artillery on the Western Front, 1914

When Germany opened the Great War in northwestern Europe by invading Belgium in order to attack France, thus bringing in Britain as well, there was surprisingly little difference in the artillery parks of the four armies involved. 

In material terms, the biggest technological difference in the artillery employed during the opening months of the campaign was that the French had a very superior field piece, the 75mm M1897 gun, which could fire almost twice as fast as the equivalent Belgian, British, and German pieces.  But technology was not as important as doctrine. 

So while French and the Belgians were equipped almost exclusively with light field guns, and the British had a modest allotment of heavier ones, over a third of the German artillery was composed of heavier pieces.  In addition, the Germans had a small number of very heavy guns, including 84 210mm heavy howitzers, which were allocated to field army headquarters or held, together with a dozen Austrian Skoda 305mm heavy mortars and four 420mm Krupp siege mortars, by general headquarters for use against fortresses.  While most of the artillery pieces indicated above were horse-drawn, the very heaviest pieces in the German inventory were pulled by tractors.

Army Piece On Hand Range Shell
Belg 75mm M05 324 9.9 km 6.5 kg
Br 13-lb QF H.A.G. 245 5.4 5.7 *
18-lb QF Mk 1 1,126 6.0 8.4
60-lb BL Mk 1 28 9.4 27.3
4.5" Hwtzr 182 6.7 15.9
Fr 75mm M97 Fld Gun 2800 (4000) 6.9 7.3
105mm M13 Fld Gun 50 12.7 15.3
155mm Rimailho Hwtzr 104 5.5 45.0
155mm L Hwtzr M77/14 ? 13.6 45.0
Ger 77mm M96/06 3600 (5000) 8.4 6.8
105mm Lt Hwtzr M98/09 1200 7.0 12.7
150mm Fld Hwtzr M02 600 8.5 40.0
210mm Hwtzr M10 84 9.4 114.0
305mm Skoda Mtr M11 12 9.6 630-850
420mm Hwtzr L/14 2 12.5 818.2
Note: Table omits some miscellaneous pieces. Number on hand excludes pieces in storage or on other fronts (approximate grand totals for some pieces are in parens). * While the British 13-pounder shell actually weighed 12 pounds, and the 18-pounder was 18, the 60-pounder was precisely 60 pounds. Most abbreviations should be clear, but H.A.G., horse artillery gun; QF, quick firer; BL, breach loader, which was actually the case for all the guns shown. M, Mk, or L are indications of the model or mark, with the year of introduction or most recent modification, sometimes both. The German 305mm mortar and 420mm howitzers were originally intended as coast defense pieces, and were extremely difficult to move. Note that some data is rather uncertain, various references sometimes giving different figures.

All of these pieces shown could fire high explosive shell.   Those 155mm and smaller usually could also fire shrapnel, anti-personnel explosive shell.  Heavier pieces, such as 210mm the German howitzers and larger, were primarily anti-fortress and were served with armor-piercing or concrete-piercing shells.

None of the countries came close to accurately estimating ammunition requirements.  During the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871), the Prussian field artillery had fired a daily average of 1.9 rounds per gun, a figure was not exceeded in any war before the end of the nineteenth century.  But the new century brought higher rates of consumption; in the Russo-Japanese War the Russian had fired an average of 87,000 rounds a month, and in the recently completed Balkan Wars (1912-1913), Bulgarian artillery ammunition expenditure peaked at over 250,000 rounds a month.  Since conventional wisdom had it that the coming war would not last more than a year, the French began it with a stockpile of about five million rounds, enough to average over 400,000 rounds a month, which could be replaced by planned production, and the stock piles of the other powers were not very different.

When war began, all of the armies had available between 1000 and 1500 rounds per gun.  For  the handful of very heavy guns, far smaller ammunition allotments were maintained, in the case of the 305mm and 420mm pieces only a few dozen rounds each.  Since ammunition expenditure in the campaign often reached a daily rate of 200 rounds per piece, all the armies rapidly exhausted their pre-war stocks.  During the first 120 days of war, the French fired off about 30,000 rounds of 75mm ammunition each day, an average of 10.7 rounds per piece, while the German daily expenditure was nearly 37,000 rounds of 77mm, 7.4 per piece, and 4800 rounds of 105mm, 2.1 per piece.  Even with planned increases, production capacity could not keep up with expenditure.  In the first months of the war French daily production of all types of artillery ammunition was about 10,000 rounds, and British production was apparently almost literally a few score a day.  Nor was it possible to increase production quickly due to short-sighted mobilization policies; in both France and Germany skilled munitions workers were called up with everyone else on the outbreak of the war.  As a result, by the end of November everyone was very nearly out of ammunition.  By December, British ammunition was in such short supply that the monthly allotment for an 18-pounder was 6 rounds. 

This is one reason why the fighting came to a virtual end and trench warfare began.

 


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