Battleship gunnery was one of the most complex problems faced by every navy during the era of the big gun battleship. In order to make effective use of the powerful guns on their ships the gunnery officers had to be able to hit one moving target from another moving target at ever increasing ranges, and when both ships could be manoeuvring. In order to achieve this it was necessary to accurately measure the speed, distance and direction of movement of the target ship, the speed and movement of the firing ship and then predict where the target ship might be by the time the shell arrived. At extreme range a shell could be in the air for more than a minute and a half, so the target ship could move a significant different and make dramatic changes of course.
Over the course of the half-century covered in this book the technology of fire controlled dramatically increased in complexity. Range finders appeared early, as did devices to calculate the rate of change in distance and bearing. By the First World War warships contained some of the most complex mechanical calculating machines yet developed and by the Second World War they contained some of the most advanced mechanical computers. Despite attempts to increase the level of automation involved the control rooms required large numbers of staff, many of them highly skilled.
Friedman has thus taken on a rather difficult task - attempting to explain in an understandable way the development of some of the most advanced technology of the first half of the Twentieth Century - and to a great extent he succeeds. On occasion I had to re-read a section to make sure I had understood the concepts being explained, but that is only to be expected when examining such a complex topic. Friedman explains the principles behind the problems and the technology developed to solve them, thankfully without going into any mathematical detail. The explanations are supported by simple diagrams, while the accounts of the technology are supported by plans showing the layout of the individual machines and later of the complex control rooms that held them.
It quickly becomes clear that gunnery control was one of the most important aspects of warship design in the big-gun era. Without the machines being described here long range gunnery would have been almost impossible, and the limits of the various solutions in use at different times had a major impact on naval tactics. This is a fascinating account of a complex but crucial aspect of naval warfare during the two world wars, and will be of great value to anyone interested in that subject.
1 - The Gunnery Problem
2 - Range-keeping
3 - Shooting and Hitting
4 - Tactics 1904-14
5 - The Surprises of War 1914-18
6 - Between the Wars
7 - The Second World War
8 - The German Navy
9 - The US Navy
10 - The US Navy at War
11 - The Imperial Japanese Navy
12 - The French Navy
13 - The Italian Navy
14 - The Russian and Soviet Navies
Appendix - Propellants, Guns, Shells and Armour
Author: Norman Friedman
Year: 2013 edition of 2008 original