IT'S ONLY FIVE INCHES, BUT THEY'VE NEVER NEEDED MORE
Every one of the Tigers was excited when they told us we could be there when they test-fired the 5"/54 gun.
When I saw this thing, sitting on the deck, I thought that it looked a little bit like one of those small Imperial Walkers
that were in the Star Wars movies before they started to suck so bad, but without the legs, of course. The numbers that make up the 5"/54's name refers to the caliber of the shell (5"), and how many times that number the barrel length is (54 times the 5" diameter. I'll let you guys do the math).
The shell itself is fired electrically. The "primer" is a contact where the electrical connection is made.
The charge is carried along the entire length of the shell by a tube inside the case. This is to make sure that the maximum amount of powder is exposed to the charge, just in case some of it has gotten wet and doesn't want to explode like it should. Seems very practical to me, worrying about water getting inside of a shell that's stored on a ship that travels around all of the world's oceans.
The gun is an actual, real, honest-to-God artillery piece and it's automatically fed from a 20 round drum located under the deck. Realizing that the 5" will do different things if loaded with different ammunition the drum is usually only kept loaded with ten rounds. This way they can have instant ready firepower yet still be able to empty the magazine and be ready to reload with what's needed in about five seconds.
I was on the Bridge when the gun fired. Radar checks, sonar pings and visually scanning the ocean were all done to make sure that there was nothing out there. Then the gun was fired once to check range. It made a really loud noise that I felt deep in my chest and a cloud of white smoke blew over me. Smelled just like going to the shooting range, except a bit more concentrated. The PA came on. "Five seconds to impact. Five, four, three, two, one...Impact!
" Waaay out on the horizon a gout of water lifted from the surface of the ocean. It took almost fifteen seconds before it finally settled back.
"Check fire! Check fire! There's something in the water, halfway between us and the impact point! Get some eyes on it!"
This put my heart in my throat. Someone was out here? But it turned out to be some balloons from a children's birthday party, rolling across the sea. Some bit of trash that the wind carried all the way out there. As soon as they figured out what it was the serious business of blowing up the ocean could continue.
They fired four rounds at a time, with one half second intervals between each round. Artillery crews in the land-based armed forces call this short burst of quick-fire a "stonk". I have no idea what the guys in the Navy call it. Something nautical, probably.
After each sequence of rounds the PA would come on and the same guy would count down the seconds before impact. Then we'd watch a few pillars of water grow from the surface and, slowly, fall back again.
It was very impressive, what with the noise and all. But, impressive or not, the deck guns are some of the least effective ship-to-ship weapons that the McFaul
has in her on-board arsenal. Her most effective weapon against surface ships is probably her Harpoon missiles
, and there's no doubt that the best thing for an enemy submarine are the Mk46 torpedos
that she carries. So why do they still have a gun at all?
The Navy is just trying to save the taxpayers some money. Sure, the robot kamikaze missiles that she's equipped with could destroy any ship that attacked the McFaul
, but the gun is certainly good enough to take care of smaller craft without wasting a million dollars a shot. The gun also has the bonus of being able to provide support to infantry units ashore, as long as they're within range.
After the shoot, spent shell casings were being offered to the Tigers as souvenirs.
And Now for the Rest of the Story
My sponsor, Kathryn, is assigned to Sonar. She was on duty while the 5" was being fired, and she was rather bored. When she heard the PA announce "Impact!"
, she'd start to count to herself. When the sound of the shell hitting the water reached the ship she marked bearing, and the seconds she had counted off allowed her to calculate range. All of this means that she knew where the shell hit to within a few yards, and she can also calculate the distance and bearing to another ship by the sound of the engines. If everything was going wrong, the radar was out and it was too dark to see, she could feed info to the Bridge that would allow them to aim and fire the gun.
Kathryn didn't think that this was all that interesting but I was certainly impressed. I asked her if she could tell where a golf ball splashed if someone hit it off of the Flight Deck. She hesitated, and then admitted that she could if the sea was calm and the engines weren't running. After all, ahe said, a golf ball doesn't make as much noise as an exploding artillery shell.
Considering that I've heard both when they hit something, I have to admit that she has a point.