USS Massachusetts


My son in front of big guns of Battleship USS Massachussets. I believe these guns are loaded not with a single entirely contained cartridge (like regular rifle) but with bags of gun powder. At what calibre do artillery rounds switch from entirely contained to separately loaded?



All guns larger than 8 inches usually use bag powder charges. Guns 8 inches and smaller usually use semi-fixed ammunition. But, there is no rule and you may find guns as small as 5 inches or as large as 8 inches with bagged powder charges.

The USS Massachusettes’ main battery was nine 16 inch 45 caliber guns. They were loaded with as many as 6 powder bags, depending on the mission. A full charge was approximately 540 pounds.



I don’t know if there is a hard fast rule for caliber vs bagged or cased charges. The eight inch guns on the old gun cruiser USS Newport News used a case about five feet long while the now retired 205mm (eight inch) Howitzer used bag charges. On board ship there is all sorts of mechanical and hydraulic assistance for handling large rounds while the artillerymen in the field with the Howitzer do much of the ammo handling by sheer muscle power.

I read somewhere that Krupp guns used a case to get a good gas seal, but charges were still bagged and could be varied by adding or removing bags. I don’t know if this was a case that could be opened and adjusted or if the case was empty and bag charges were added in the field. I also suppose a case could contain a basic charge with a system of bag increments that could be added. The german railway guns used huge shells, much bigger than eight inchers, I don’t remember what caliber they were, but bigger than the sixteen inchers.


The largest of the German railway guns, the Dora, was 80cm calibre. The cases were about the size of an oil drum.


To elaborate on the semi-fixed ammunition, lots of artillery that does have cased ammunition still uses bagged charges so that the charge can be varied, normally by removing bags. An example that uses this system is the US M119A1/A2 105mm towed howitzer. We never added bags, but would remove them from individual rounds depending on the range ect. All leftover powder was destroyed by burning. That could be quite fun ;-)

Another interesting German gun/assault mortar was the 38cm RW61 auf Sturmmorser Tiger. It fired self contained rocket-assisted ammunition. The rounds weighed 772 lbs each. Maybe a very early, very big forerunner of the gyrojet? ;-)



That just goes to prove that Navy Gunners Mates are smarter than those caisson pullers. :) :) And when the shootin’s over we go down to the mess and have a cup or two of hot coffee. Slick Rick knows.



I was trying to offer some comment on this, but am smart enough to know I can’t speak to specifics on these guns. I was a GMM (Missiles), so I only got to “play” with the guns, didn’t have to maintain them. Now, when this forum eases into the SAM (Surface-to-Air Missile) realm, I’ll be all over that!


It mostly depends on the gun mechanism. Without at least the stub of a cartridge case to provide a seal at the back of the chamber, the breech has to be very tightly sealed, usually with an interrupted screw mechanism and an obturator pad on the breech face which is squeezed sideways by chamber pressure in order to complete the seal.

German gun designers were unusual in preferring the sliding wedge type of breech for all calibres. This is much faster to open and close and does not have to be made with such precision, but it requires the use of a cartridge case. Which is why the great majority of German guns had cartridge cases regardless of their calibre (including the 80 cm artillery, as mentioned).

In most other nations the changeover from cartridge cases happened at approximately 6 inch/15 cm calibre, but with some significant variations. Naval guns tended to use them more, as they facilitated rapid and partly automated handling, but that’s only a generalisation.



I sure hope nobody here mistakes this former airdale for some black shoe Gunners Mate. I was a Photographers’ Mate on a nuke flattop and on a combat camera team, where my real job was in the portrait studio, since that was early in uncle Ronnie’s first term and there wasn’t much combat yet. A PH1 that I knew had served on the Newport New before she was decommisioned. He had an 8 inch casing that stood in the corner of his room. I tried to talk him out of it several times to no avail. My idiot cousin was in the artillery with the 205’s in Germany at about the same time, and I use him to check facts.


Airdales? PH??? Can’t recall any of them being on a cruiser or a destroyer. Must have been like Marines or something. Part of the Navy, just not the REAL part. And then fess up to it? :-)



Curt - Rick

Speaking of Airdale’s, a guy asked me where the term came from and I didn’t have the answer. I thought maybe it was from those caps that they wear with the floppy ear pieces.

Either of you know??



For those that do not have a Naval background an Airdale is anyone who works in or around aircraft.

Ray–I checked several online Navy Slang Dictionaries. They all defined “Airdale” but none of them provided the source. I think you are probably right about it being a referance to the leather and fleece lined hats worn by aircrew in WW-II with the floppy earpieces like the Airdale dogs ears.


I’m thinking the floppy ears answer is right. Not sure as it had anything to do with a hat though. Snerk.



Now all you old salts are stepping on my Boondockers (define that!) Unless you have been rained on with frendly fire from proximity fuses “seeing” clouds overhead. Fired a flame thrower or a bazooka or carried a satchel charge up to a bunker you have not lived! The newest Navy 5" 55 fixed case fires 34 RPM from a gimbald turret. The WW-1 “Paris gun” because of barrel wear had to have numbered projectiles. According to my books it had bag powder as the breech was from a navy gun and it’s crew was navy.


OUCH! Well, I did get to fire a flame thrower, at Knob Creek. And got sprinkled with shrapnel whilst watching drones get shot at down off Gitmo one night. But the chargin’ up hills, takin’ out bunkers with satchel charges, haven’t had a chance to do that, yet.

Boondockers= shoes. The “black shoes” specicifically, mentioned by Curt in a previous post. Vs the slippers airdales wore. The slippers fit on either foot, so as to simplify the process when they were getting dressed. Except for the AOs, they wore real shoes. With laces! 'til they converted to velcro.


C’mon Gordon, admit it. Those were the best years of your life. I wouldn’t trade my U. S. Navy straight deck carrier experiences for all the cartridges in the world. Of course that’s probably because I only remember the good ones.

Do you know there’s a place on the Alaska Highway called Boondox. Probably named by some cold, tired and wet GI working on the Highway during WWII. There are a lot of other interesting names along the ALCAN Highway. Such as FUBAR, TARFU, and SNAFU Creeks in the Yukon. I have a good story to tell about those three.



Tell it!



I just recently found out that there was a WWII cartoon character called Private SNAFU. The war ended before they finish this cartoon project about an Elmer-Fudd-looking screwey soldier. Ray, I know what SNAFU means. What are other acronyms you are mentioning? Sorry, I was never in any military. My wife was in a P3 Orion squadron though.


I was told that the Black Shoe title came from the fact that Black Shoes (deck, gunnery and administrative ratings) and Snipes (engineering ratings) were reguired to polish their black boondockers, while the men on the flight deck were required not to put any polish on their flight deck boots. The oily polish is a hazard around things like liguid oxygen. Now to make things even more devisive, ships company that lived aboard ship fulltime, refer to the squadron personel, that are onboard only during deployments, as airwing pukes.

Slick Rick: The old gun cruisers may have had one or two Photo Mates on board, The battle ships had a complement of four PH’s. I tried to get on both New Jersey and Iowa when they were brought out on active duty in the eighties, with no luck at all. Guided missile cruisers probably never had any, and tincans never had any. My friend with the souvenier eight inch casing started on the Newport News as a non-designated striker in Deck Division during the Viet Nam era. How he went from there to become a Photographers’ Mate and Air Crew is a story that I don’t know.



The story started many years ago when my wife was much younger than she is now. We lived in Alaska and liked to drive into the Yukon and B.C. to fish. Back then the ALCAN was a two lane dirt road that was either muddy or dusty (or both). A remote area to be sure. Anyway, there were little creeks that crossed the highway every couple of hundred yards that were teeming with wild grayling and trout. One day we stopped at this one creek and I was going thru the brush when I happened upon this wooden post with a signed nailed to it. On the front there was painted in black letters “FUBAR CREEK” I called my wife over to see and, being a lady, she didn’t know what it meant so I explained it to her. Evidently some GI working on the road construction back during WW II had put the sign up, as a joke. We both had a good laugh.

Then later I found another sign at another creek, this one was SNAFU CREEK and farther down the road, another one TARFU CREEK. There were probably others and I wish now that I had looked for them.

Years went by and we seldom went back but then in 1990 we both retired and thought it would be nice to take one last trip up there since we had decided to move back to the real world. By then the highway was paved and all the modern conveniences had sprung up, like gas stations, motels, and traffic. I had long ago forgotten about those signs until we got to Fubar Creek and there, I saw one of those modern green and white metal highway signs, and sure enough it said FUBAR CREEK. And down the road there was SNAFU CREEK and TARFU CREEK. I laughed until tears rolled down my cheeks.

My guess is that some Highway Department employee had those signs put up, not realizing what they meant. He probably thought they were Indian or Eskimo names and wanted to be PC and preserve the history.

That was almost 20 years ago and I wonder if the signs are still there or if someone else noticed them and wrote a nasty letter to the Yukon Highway Department.

Every so often in the Phoenix newspaper I see SNAFU in one of the headlines so one day I wrote a letter to the editor and asked if he knew what that meant. He said he wasn’t sure but thought it meant something that was messed up. I told him to look it up in a dictionary. He later sent me an e-mail saying he hadn’t realized what it stood for.

The dictionary I have doesn’t define FUBAR or TARFU, but for you Vlad they mean F***ed Up Beyond All Recognition, and Things Are Really F***ed Up. And those are the mild ones. Some would make a sailor blush. Almost.

Actually, I wasn’t really fishing in those creeks but was looking for cartridges that the GIs may have dropped. So now this post qualifies as a legitimate “cartridge” discussion.