ITELL you, sir, it's the greatest game in the world We were in the fore top of the North Dakota which, having just completed the autumn practice with her 12-inch guns, was steaming in to take a look at the target. The other occupants of the platform had disappeared through the trap door in the floor, and only the Lieutenant who had done the spotting and I were left. A great game, but dangerous I suggested; no protection; ricochet shots; high explosive shells-these masts, if the enemy can shoot like the North Dakota must come down early in the action The officer was removing his telephone headpiece; he stopped, turned, and quick as a flash came the response Then it's the grandest way to die!"-and as he climbed down the chain ladder, leaving me alone, the words of the old Roman passed through my mind Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori (Sweet it is and altogether fitting to die for one's native land). "Yes,” I thought, “there is the whole story: The greatest game—the grandest death-an epitome of the fne spirit of our navy." How has it come about that this target practice, once a drudgery (I had almost said a joke), has become to the officers and men of our navy “the greatest game in the world"-great in the excitement and keen competition of the preliminary training, and great in all that it stands for as the final arbiter, when peaceful means have failed, of the fate of a nation? If the reader of this log would know, let him fellow me, this fine October morning, as I squeeze through a door in the overhanging floor of NO. 3 tarret, and then scramble down, as best I may, until I stand on the double bottom of the ship, 23 feet below the surface of the water, and some 56 feet below the pair of 12-inch guns. Here I find myself in a compartment 20 feet square. Rising from its center is the base of the rotating turret structure, attached to which, and turning with it, are two elevators or “hoists,” whose shell and powder cars stand ready for loading. Water-tight doors lead from this handling-room into several surrounding compartments. At the invitation of the ensign who has charge of the crew, I enter one of these compartments-the shell room. Here I see tier after tier of the huge, 12-inch, 870·pound shells, resting in strong steel racks. Overhead. and leading out to the ammunition hoist, is a trolley rail, carrying a traveling chain hoist. Returning to the handling-room, I enter another compartment, in which, neatly stored in racks, are the powder charges, each sewed up in a silk bag and inclosed in a copper case. The walls of these compartments are heavily lined with asbestos, and refrigerated air circulates throughout them, maintaining the ammunition at a constant, predetermined temperature. I am down here to witness the drill, with dummy shells and dummy bags of powder of the same size and weight as the service shells and powder, which for weeks past has been carried out daily as part of the ship's routine. A dozen or fifteen men stand at their stations. The shell-room door is open; within it the chain hoist hangs ready for service. The powder-room door is shut; it has . circular opening, large enough for the passage of a bag of powder, which is closed by a hinged brass flap-this to prevent any accidental spark or fire from passing to the magazine. The ensign borrows my watch, “Load!” A shell is gripped and hoisted from the rack-three men push it, on the run, to the hoist-a catch is released, and the 870·p:)und mass drops with a crash into the car! Mean while three men grab, in succession, three bags of powder. as they are thrust through the flap"covered hole in the powder room door; run with them to the hoist and drop them into the car, which, with a whirr, swoops up in a swift dash to the guns above. "Rotten!” shouts the ensign; “lads, this will never do; you took 15 seconds; try it again.” Down comes the car and the dummies are returned to their racks. Some changes are made in the stations of the men. “Load!” Anothef wild rush, in which a powder-bag man over-runs himself and sprawls, hugging his bag, causing the loss of a precious moment. “Twelve seconds! that is better; but you won't beat the 'Delaware' at this gait. Try again!' Once more I see these eager young men (they are green hands-not many months ago they were at work on farm and in factory) standing tip-toe with eager excitement. “Load! “-"Ten seconds! Bully, lads-that will do." A day or two later, by the courtesy of the turret officer, I stood within this same turret during the firing with full service charges, on the target-practice run. My position was against the rear wall, immediately back of the right-hand gun. To the right of the gun, at the front of the turret and immediately back of the sloping port-plate, 12 inches thick, stood the gun-pointer, his eye at the eye-piece of a periscope, whose object glass was outside the turret in a little armored hood on the side wall. The pointer's left hand was on a trigger. jf that missed fre, there was another close beside it. Should that also fail, a foot-pedal would do the trick. His work was to keep the horizontal wire on the target. This he did by a lever in his right hand, which operated a powerful and wonderfully sensitive differential oil motor of variable speed. Under his hand the muzzle of the gun rose and fell as though it were a shoulder piece instead of a 50-ton mass of metal. The turret (and therefore the guns) was moved to right or left (trained) by a man whose position was between the two guns. He also was immediately behind the port-plate. He grasped a wheel (much like an auto's steering wheel), and by a differential-gear motor moved the huge mass of the turret and guns, weighing several hundred tons, as swiftly and lightly as though it were a one-pounder. He also saw the mark through a periscope, and he steadily kept the vertical wire of his telescope on the center of the target. Back of our gun-pointer stood the sight-setter, telephone clamped over his ears. To him, from the central station below the protective deck, came the “range” (ele vation) and the “deflection” (corrections for speed of enemy, wind, side drift of shell due to its rotation, etc.). His duty was to turn a disk till the pointer stood at the range as announced to him; and (0 turn, also, a little cylinder, until it registered the proper deflection. Back of the Sight-setter was a lusty and powerfully- muscled young seaman, who grasped the handle of a crank, by which, through a worm gear, the massive breechblock was opened and shut. Next to him was the primer man, with his rows of primers standing conveniently to hand in a case on the turret wall. Immediately back of the breech-block was the turret captain. To the rear of him, sitting on one of a row of 12-inch shells, with his back against the rear turret wall, was I, gathering material for this log. To my left was a junior lieutenant, in charge of the crew. When I. had last seen him he was in his immaculate whites and shoulder straps -now he was in dungaree trousers and a sleeveless undershirt. To his left, in line wi.h the bore of the gun, was the eledric rammer. To the left of the rammer was a man grasping the control of the electric motor that drives the rammer. Ahead of him was another man, with his hand on the control of the ammunition hoist. A steel bulkhead separated the two guns and their crews, placed there so that an accident or a bursting shell in one compartment would not “rattle” the crew in the other. In the extreme rear of the turret, communicating through a small shutter in the door that led to each gun compartment, was a little room (booth) in which was seated the turret officer, a senior lieutenant. He was in telephonic communication with the fire-control officer (the executive officer in the conning tower, who, under the captain, fights the ship). In front of him were some e,j,ectric switches and cut-outs (normally open) which the turret officer closes on notification to be ready to fire. Until he closes them the guns cannot be fired. We are now on the range. The command is given to load. The young Hercules whirls his crank-the breechblock opens-with a rush the ammunition car comes up from below, stopping with the shell opposite the open breech-the rammer jumps forward, thrusting hore and seating the shell-the rammer returns-a bag of powder falls from the car in front of the rammer and is thrust into the open maw of the gun-then another, and yet a third-340 pounds in all. Our young Hercules whirls his crank_again the massive breech-block swings into place, and all is ready for the “buzzer,” sounded from the conning tower, ·at whose notification the gun-pointer will send the shell on its long flight to the mark. Suddenly there came a clash and jar of the turret, not unlike the noise and shock when a train backs up rather briskly to couple up the railroad car in which one is riding; and the huge bulk of the gun jumps back some three feet, and instantly returns with a crash into battery (its normal position), the recoil occupying but a fraction of a second. Then follows a hiss of air-the compressed air-blast blowing the gases out of the gun-and the breech is open for the next loading. Thus, with clock-like regularity we fired-six times in swift succession-and the run was over. At point-blank range, with no delay in waiting for the spotter's corrections, these 12-inch guns can be fired three times a minute. I heard very little of the report of the guns-J was to hear that from the fire-control platform on the next run. Outside of the railroad-coupling shock and the swift recoil and return of the gun, there was nothing to tell me that, at each discharge, 50,000 fooHons of energy had been let loose within a few feet of me-enough to lift that gun 1,000 fee.t into the air! Then I left the turret, went forward anc climbed the chain ladder that zig-zags inside the forward cage mast and lets you through a trap-door onto the fire-control platform. Just here, in passing, let me tell you, fellow landsmen, that if you wish for a really novel sensation in climbing, you can get it when swinging 100 feet in mid-air from an abominably flexible chain ladder, from which you look down into the black hell-mouth of a smokestack, that is doing its best to destroy your fast-expiring sense of balance by belching at you large volumes of hot furnace gas. But, once arrived at the coveted eerie-what a spectacle! Below is the good ship “North Dakota,” her deck, turrets and guns seen in plan, and looking curiously like those line-cut deck plans of Uncle Sam's ships, which you and I have seen at times on the pages of the SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN. All around and gently convexing to the far horizon, is the sea-"calm as” the proverbial “mill-pond” -reflecting in deeper tone the glorious blue of the cloudless heavens. And there, some seven miles away, is the target_a tiny, dull-gray patch, doing its 10 knots some 350 yards astern of the towing ship. The platform is roomy; eight by twelve feet, I judge. What I see is typical of what 1 saw on other ships_ Here, an officer is telephoning the compass readings to the fire-control station below decks. Another stands at the range-finder and calls into his mouthpiece the automatically-recorded distances to the target. A ·seaman at .a kind of typewriter arrangement presses buttons, which serve to display the range in big numbers on the under side of the platform. Here stand the umpires from other ships, and there, glasses on the target, his mouth at the telephone, is the man upon whom, more than any other, depend the fortunes of the day-the spotter. A natural aptitude and long experience enable him to judge with marvelous accuracy by how much the splashes of the shells are short or over, to right or to left of the target. The speed is raised to 15 knots-we are closing in to the minimum range, for reduced charges, 9,000 yards. We may go closer than that, but if we do the results will be penalized. In monotonous tone the ranges are called off, 11,000 yards, 10,000, 9,700, 9,200, and then 9,000. I look over the breast-high rail at the guns, when suddenly there comes the flash of the first ranging shot. Fifteen seconds or so later there is a splash at the target, which, to my unaccustomed eyes, appears to be but a few feet in front of it and, surely, at its very center. I am wrong; for I hear the spotter call into his mouthpiece: “Two hundred Up-t-wo left,” Which means that the shot has dropped 200 yards this side of the target and two “knots” or say about 40 feet to the right of the mark. Down to the centml station, and thence to the gun, go the corrections. Mentally, I can see the sight-setter adding 200 yards to the elevation and 40 feet to the deflection. But there goes another gun. followed by another cry of the shell, and another splash, this time beyond the (Concluded on pale 632.)
This article was originally published with the title "A Landsman's Log Aboard the Battleship “North Dakota”-V."