USN WWII 5" Drill Round

This 21" tall, 5" diameter brass shell weighing about 50 pounds has been in my family since the end of WWII. Can someone tell me anything about it?

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Very nice projectile! And welcome to the Forum.

Are there any markings stamped in the metal anywhere on the projectile body or base? If so a photo of the markings may help.

Is the bottom of the projectile held in place by screws? Markings on the base?



This dummy projectile was used for “loading machine” drills. It is non-explosive, but is dangerous as you can break a foot or mash fingers if you drop it. It duplicates the weight and balance of a typical 5"/38 projectile, but lacks any rotating band to simplify manufacture. The nose piece is removable as these tend to get battered in use, and can be either the smooth type shown in the photo, or an inert mechanical time fuze.

The loading machine was used to train the gun crew to rapidly and safely do their jobs, which had to be done in exact sequence, in a confined space, with the gun mount moving, and the noise and recoil of the guns. The loading machine was a replica of the breech of a typical 5"/38 gun mount, the main battery on most U.S. WW2 destroyers, and also used as secondary battery on cruisers and battleships, but also used aboard many other types of support ships. The elevation of the loading machine could be changed while the drill was in progress, imitating the increasing elevation needed to fire at an attacking aircraft.

A well trained crew could fire about 15 rounds per minute, but it is hard work heaving around 55 pound projectiles, so much slower rates of fire were normally used. Members of the gun crew would rotate positions so any could do any job when someone got tired, or became a casualty.

In the photo below, you can see the gun crew using these projectiles on a loading machine:

The gun captain at the top right supervises. After the gun is fires and the fired case is ejected, he trips a lever to drop the rammer spade. The rammer is hydraulically operated using the tank his right hand is resting on and the large motor in front of him.
The hot case man at the bottom right is placing the dummy “fired” powder case back in the powder hoist for the next cycle of firing.
The powder man, (to left of hot case man) has just dropped a dummy powder case into the loading tray where it rests against the rammer spade.
The projectile man is in the process of dropping the dummy projectile into the tray ahead of the powder charge. He will then hit the rammer lever (seen just above his left wrist) which will cause the rammer to shove the projectile and powder case into the breech of the gun, and as the rim on the powder case moves the extractors forward the breech block will slide up vertically and when in the locked position the gun is ready to fire. If the firing circuit is closed, the firing pin will fire the gun (either electrical or percussion primed and the combination primers worked either way.)
The loading machine simulates continuous fire, and as soon as the breech is closed, it “fires” extracting and ejecting the case. The projectile drops through an opening in the bottom of the “barrel” into the swinging tray on the extreme left which can hold 3 or 4 projectiles.

The two men on the left are probably part of the handling room crew normally stationed directly below the gun mount where they pull the specified types of powder charges and projectiles from the ready service racks and feed them into the powder and projectile hoists. In this case they take the projectile from the tray and place them nose down in the dummy projectile hoist as the sailor second from left is doing. The projectile hoist has two sides which cycle up and down from the handing room to keep ammo moving rapidly. The point of the projectile rests in a cup in the hoist which indexes on the fixed stud of a mechanical time fuze, and has a separate section which twists the fuze to the desired time setting. This is fed electrically from the fire control system, a complex slectro-mechanical computer full of gears and knobs which tells the gun mount the desired direction and elevation to hit the target, and computes the time of flight for the fuze setting.
The projectile man leaves the projectile in the hoist until the last possible minute to ensure getting the most accurate fuze setting with a MTF. With other fuze types it does not matter.

The gun mount crew would also include a pointer to control the elevation of the gun, a trainer for the left-right direction and they could do this optically using hand cranks, or match up with the direction from the fire control system and switch to let the FCS control automatically. A twin mount would add a Mount Captain (sitting in the back and looking out the protective hood on the top of the mount). In peacetime there would also be a safety check sight observer, so a full crew would be about 12 men.

The dummy powder charges (cartridge cases) used with loading machines were mostly wood with a metal base section and front with a thick rubber pad. Normally they are found in lousy condition as they were not “ammunition” and stored topside, exposed to weather.


Some views of the loading machine aboard USS Cassin Young (DD-793) in Boston.


Wow John great description of how this worked. VERY interesting. I can’t imagine 15 firings a minute (hand loading one every 4 seconds), very, very impressive.

The firing computer sounds a bit like an machine I worked with for a short time in the A.F. For a couple (too long) weeks in 1963? I got assigned inside working numbers on an electrical desk top machine that whirled & clanked & finely spit out a total which I duly recorded in the appropriate space on the paper. Boy was I glad to get back out on the fight line after that & no idea what I did to be assigned to pull that detail.

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Pete- The Mark 1A computer was a monster, about 3’ x 6’ x 4’ high with dozens of knobs, dials and switches, small electric motors, servos, synchros and rheostats. All mechanical, no “memory” with most input for the target manual, with automatic input from the gyrocompass, pit log and stable element for own ship’s course and speed and roll/pitch. To keep it ammo related, I will note that projectile weight, initial velocity (muzzle velocity) considering barometric pressure and temperature was computed separately for manual input. Minimum of 3-4 people to work it.

Here is a photo of one in use (with a couple extra guys who wanted to be in the photo), and one with the cover off.

"The computer is about 3 ft wide, 4 ft tall, and 6 ft long. Looking inside the Mark 1 was like looking into a fine mechanical watch. Everything was very compactly designed and organized. The first look is completely mind bending, making one wonder what is all this stuff and how does it work? How could anyone ever have put together something like this and made it work? Especially in 1930.

The components are so packed inside that you can only stick your finger into the components. There is not enough space for your hand or arm to fit inside. All of the components are either parallel or at right angles to each other.

Each component part is built like the mechanical integrator, all in one piece. The component parts are all reasonably strong and the mounting plate it is built on is usually a sheet of steel 1/2" thick. The component parts are usually mounted using 4 to 6 1/4" socket head cap screws. You do not have to be very careful with these parts, as they do not damage easily.

The component parts have input and output gearing and shafting which connects them to the other component parts of the computer. Most of the shafting is 1/4" diameter, some is a little larger. The shafting is held in place by ball bearings, which are held in place by various mounting blocks. Miter gears are used to make 90 degree turns of the shafting which allows them to connect to the various component parts.

A tool box is furnished with the computer. This tool box contains the special tools necessary to reach inside the computer. Some of the tools have small lights on the end of a rod about 3 ft long. The light can be swiveled on the end of the rod, so you can put it far enough into the computer to see with. Other tools are 3 feet long with 90 degree bevel gears at the end. This might hold an Allen wrench, so you could turn an Allen screw or socket head cap screw deep in the computer. As you can guess, working on the internals of the computer while the ship was moving was quite difficult."

We had one crap out on one of the ships I was on, and I had to sign a supply chit for $100,000 (1967 dollars!), and we were tied up for a week while thy cut a hole in the side of the ship, rigged the old one out and put a new one back in and set it up.

Wikipedia has a good write up on these.

So, practice with the dummy ammunition was all so that when they fired live ammo, and the computer was working they would hit the target, before they hit you.


All I can say is WOW !

That uncovered computer looks like a StarTrek Borg Vessel…
Those guncrews were surely well trained…especiallyto take on determined Kamikaze pilots…
But then look at Doughboy French 75 Gunners in WWI…one shot away, one loaded and fired, third shot ready to chamber…for medium range, possibility of three shells in the air to Target, with a gun (M1897, 75mm) designed by French on a Danish Patent, with help from a Mexican artillery Officer ( Mondragon).

Doc AV

INCREDIBLE, information, John! Thank you so much for this. Just off the charts interesting!

Welcome to the IAA, CIDNBH


cidnbh, welcome to the forum.

The picture below is of the two components that make up a round with the powder charge on the left.


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Just curious do you know the history of how it ended up in your family? My father was stationed at the Hawthorne Ammunition Depot in Nevada in WW2 and he brought home a 3” shell casing. Bill


I’m not sure where it came from. The generation that knew the answer isn’t around any more. It has been in our family’s beach house in the Pacific Northwest since I can remember (I am 64). We also had a bunch of other USN stuff - rations, cans of water, etc. stored under the window seats. My grandfather was in the Navy so I suppose he acquired it. For years, there was controversy about whether it was live or not.


Brian, Here is one view of the base tat you requested.

JohnS, Thank you of the wealth of information.

All, Thank you for welcoming me.



Here is another view of the base

What would that 5" Drill round sell for. Do you have any idea??
Thank you in advance,

These are mainly brass, so minimum would be about what 50 pounds of scrap brass will bring. Collector value will work up from there, with a really pristine example bringing more, but a really beat up one not much more than scrap value.
In my experience, these are slow to sell at any price.