Secondary Battery: Five Inch Guns

Sea Stories

“…This ship is setting records left and right and I am mighty proud to be on it. I wish I could tell you all what these 5 inch guns can do (and did do), but it is a great secret…”

-Ralph Swift, Seaman 1/c
in a letter home, 10/18/1941


Five inch shell casings piled at the entrance to Radio IX following the Battle of the Eastern Solomons.

Five inch shell casings piled at the entrance to Radio IX following the Battle of the Eastern Solomons.

“I was in the upper handling room of mount six. Usually when we went to general quarters, they would cut off all air below decks because of possible poisonous gassing. They cut off all of the fresh air system so it was extremely hot in these handling rooms. I think there were about 12 of us working in there. This was about a 12 by 12-foot square room with all the storage in the upper hoist in it. This left very little space to operate in.

During [an] air attack which lasted 14 minutes, enough sweat came from those of us in this upper handling room that my shoes were just sloshing in sweat. I noticed this after it was all over. I looked on the deck and as the ship rolled you could see the sweat rolling from one side of the room to the other. Now this is the honest truth if I’ve ever told it, I reckon half of it was my sweat. At that time we were expected to get and keep the ammunition supplied to the guns and we did our best to do it. We worked real hard, and by the hard work in the hot room and being scared too, I said I’m sure we can vouch for all that sweat.”

-Willie N. Jones, Gunner’s Mate 1/c


“In connection with the development of procedures, one of our most important ones for the five-inch/thirty-eight battery was Ensign Bill Lemos. We would work hours and hours on the coordination of the directors and fire control with the computers.

One of the most difficult problems to solve was that of what we called dead time. This is the time between when the projectile is taken out of the fuse pot and put into the gun and fired. That depended upon the ability of the loading crew and it also depended on the elevation of the guns. If you varied it two seconds, that would allow a difference of two seconds of motion of your target. It’s things like that that required not only knowledge of how fast your loaders are going to be loading at different angles of elevation, but also the difference in your loading crews.

One of the remedies for that [problem] turned out to be the proximity fuse. There again, it was not a cure-all, because we found from practice that the bursts were confusing to the attacking planes; and instead of going completely to the proximity fuse with the theory that we were going to hit all the planes that were attacking, we had a mix of about two regular time fuses to one proximity fuse. That seemed to work it out quite well.

We figured, and I think it was a sound conclusion, that we were just as happy if the attacking planes would leave us alone; and out second effort, if he didn’t, we would like to see him shot down. But we did know that you can’t always depend on hitting them. So, if they moved away – that’s fine.”

-Cmdr John Kirkpatrick, Air Defense Officer


Bill Taylor, Boatswain’s Mate 1/c, explains how the 5-gun gun was loaded.