Naval History and Heritage Command

National Museum of the U.S. Navy

U.S. Naval Railway Guns:  Assembly

On November 2, 1917, the Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance, Rear Admiral Ralph Earle, USN, ordered that the number of available 14 Inch, .50 caliber guns to be used as armament on battleships now be turned into Naval Railway Guns.  Mounted on railway cars, they could be moved where needed and with a range of almost 24 miles.   Once the order was cut, work on the railways begun.   The guns themselves were reserves, already on hand and used as replacements for those on commissioned ships and those under construction.   With outstanding achievement in speed, Baldwin Locomotive works delivered the first such mount in 72 days following the contract and 120 days after the commencement of the first preliminary design.   The first shipment to France departed on June 29, 1918 onboard the cargo ship USS Newport News and arrived at St. Nazaire, France, on July 8.   The blue prints to the guns for assembly in France were mailed a few weeks prior, but they never arrived.  Either the ship carrying the plans lost them or the ships were sunk by German U-boats.   As a result, the guns were built without blue prints.  An extra set of plans were sent but arrived after the guns were already constructed.    St. Nazaire was an ideal location as the docks had a 150-ton crane and locomotive shops a quarter of a mile away.  

Image:   NH 63236:   14" Naval Railway Gun being placed into its slide at St. Nazaire, France, 1918.  U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.