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Documentary Histories

Report of Commander Richard T. Down


27th June 1917.    


     I have the honour to forward the following narrative report of my proceedings during the period of my residence in the United States from the 6th of May to the present date.1 During this time which embraces that in which the British Mission was also in this place I have been employed exclusively in Washington with occasional visits of from three to four days to the American Fleet at their War Bases.

     I have been questioned by and have given information before the House of Representatives Naval Committee. I have been throughout in constant touch with all heads of Departments and their Staffs at the Navy Department but more particularly with the Ordnance, Material and Gunnery Exercise Sections. I have also been down to the Fleet on three occasions visiting a large number of their latest ships, witnessing two full calibre firing practices besides meeting and conversing with many of their Officers.

     I have invariably met with the utmost courtesy and the keenest spirit of co-operation has been apparent on all sides. Everything that I wished to see has been shown me and my criticism of their materiel, methods and organization has been freely invited in the desire to profit by our experience.

     In the exchange of information I have dealt principally with the following Officers:-

Chief of Bureau of Ordnance and Staff.2

              (Ordnance and Materiel).

Chief of Bureau of Navigation and Staff.3

              (Personnel and Manning Section).

Chief of Bureau of Target Practice and Staff.4

Chief of Staff to the Admiral Commanding the U.S.Fleet.5

Fleet Gunnery Officer on the Staff of the Admiral

              Commanding U.S.Fleet.6

Gunnery Officer on the Staff of Vice-Admiral

              Commanding the Battleship Force.7

All Battleship Gunnery Officers.

Fleet Surgeon and Naval Constructor on the Staff

              of the Commander-in-Chief.8

     For the sake of clearness my report is divided into two main headings, (I) Information given by me to United States Officers. (2) Information which I have picked up and which it is considered might be useful or of interest to our service.

     (I). The following is a summary of the points discussed. Many of them have been gone into in considerable detail according to the requirements of the Officers with whom I was dealing and to the extent of my knowledge and ability to satis[f]y their queries. In all cases I endeavoured to make plain where I was simply expressing my own views or where I believed them to coincide with the confirmed opinion or practice in our Fleet.


     Grand Fleet Bases and Composition of Fleet.

Coaling arrangements and percentage of coal kept on board.

Routine and daily leave.

Refits and Long Leave.

Exercises in the Flow and in the Firth of Forth, day & night.

Exercises in the pentland Firth.

Night and day full calibre firing, towing arrangements.

              and so on.

Base and exercises of pre-dreadnoughts.

Allocation of the flow for practices – System employed.

Daily drills etc at anchor. Spotting table.9

Full details of all gun and searchlight practices and

                        Torpedo <look-out> exercises.

Battle Orders, Cruising formations and General Tactics

                        of the Fleet.

General scheme of training in the Fleet to meet the require-

                   -ments for new construction etc.

Paravanes and how worked and fitted.10


Action. Night Action and Night Defence Organization.

Cruising organization for Night Defence.

Fire and Repair parties for action and “Scout System”, with equipment of these parties, stores, etc.

First Aid men at Fighting Stations.

Food, water and sanitary arrangements in action and while closed up before action.

General question of clothing in action and at other times.

Closing of all doors and ventilation in action.

Permanently closing all ventilation not essential and closing as much more as possible on going to sea.

Necessity to prepare for battle before closing up at Action


Scheme of daily training for all skilled ratings, training classes, ordinary seamen and boys, R.N.R’s, R.N.V.R’s,11 and men for Armed Merchantmen and new construction.


Average arrangement and numbers of personnel in</>each capital


Reduction of Officer personnel due to expansion.

Substitution of “Officers for War only” for properly trained Officers.

Withdrawal of Officers for Specialist courses, other services etc.

Withdrawal of C.P.O’s, P.O.’S and Leading Seamen on promotion.12

Withdrawal of ratings monthly for new construction and other services.


General system with description of instruments.

Standarization of orders for Fire Control.

Concentration of fire and intercommunication between control positions.

New spotting rules; full explan<a>tion.

Point of Aim.


General arrangement of our turrets, loading, etc.

Control instruments and rangefinders.

Our Director system.

Evershed’s Bearing Installation.13

Usborne’s Time of Flight Indicator.14

Dryer’s Plotting Table.

Aid to Spotter.

“Rounds Fired” Indicators.

Secondary Lighting.

Gas Appliances.

Extended Range Scale to increase range of guns to greater


Natures of projectiles and delay action fuses.

Small collision mats to plug holes, damaged hatches, etc.

Manhole escapes in hatches.

Magazine protection and reinforcing armour decks.

Water sprinklers in turrets.

Protective matresses, fearnought screens,15 mantlets,16 fire-proofing solution and their use in isolating secondary gun positions etc.


     Great difference between Target practice at a single target and action at an indistinct line of enemy ships.

Difficulty in designating targets, Captain to Control Officer and Control Officer to Guns.

Supreme importance of Director, both elevation and training for main and secondary armament.

Need of instrument to ensure spotter and Director layer being on the same target.

Importance of Time of Flight Indicator.

Danger of any system of control which places too much reliance on rangefinders and information that is derived from them.

Importance of keeping a check on expenditure of ammunition and fitting electrical instruments between turret, T.S. and Conning Tower to effect this.

Importance of rapidity of fire and early straddling.

Use of Torpedo Look-outs and development of good system of reporting.

Armour piercing shell better than high capacity H.E.Shell.17

All water-tight doors to be securely clipped to localize explosion and maintain water tight integrity.

Secondary battery crews should normally be up at guns, not down below owing to rapidity with which Destroyer attacks develop and danger of opening doors.

Weakness of magazine protection, both deck and via turret.

Necessity of plent<y> of shut off valves in fire main.

Armouring of all unarmoured trunks and fitting of water tight valves in trunks, shafts, louvres, etc., where feasible.

Liberal supply of shores, wedges, small collision mats, in various compartments to effect temporary repairs.

Necessity, for safety, to <effect> compromise in amount of ready ammunition kept up at guns, particularly <secondary> armament, and hoists communicating with magazines to be kept closed until actually required.

Some simple organization necessary to allow M.V’s18 of guns to be shifted in action separately (not collectively) to allow for rounds fired.

Difficulty of fighting ship from Conning Tower owing to restricted view.

Importance of making target practice conditions simulate as closely as possible those likely to be met with in a modern action by introduction into the practice of difficulties and interruptions which might be experienced.

(2). The following is a summary of those points in the mass of general information which I have obtained which it is thought might be useful or of interest to our service.

     A few of them I am confident are worthy of serious consideration.

     Pre-dreadnought ships have not bee<n/>considered.


As mac-hines and taken as a whole I think our turrets are incomparably better that those of the U.S.Navy.

Protection. – In protection – redoubts, barbettes and roof – they are much superior to the majority of our ships, though there is <with> all of this heavy armour one weak spot apparent, even in their latest ships (though to a less extent in these) viz; where the junction of the front and side armour plates of the</>barbette with the floor plate of the turret forms a broard and very indifferently protected glacis. The roof is in all cases considerably thicker than in our contemporary ships and</>is entirely unpierced, the sights and rangefinder being otherwise mounted and the Officer of the Turret relying solely on periscope look-out. The front face plate is less weakened by the embrasure for the guns than is the case in most of our ships and</>it is further reinforced to prevent cracking by a heavy wrought iron backing plate.

Ventilation. – Artificial ventilation is provided for by fans, air being drawn through holes</>in the overhanging rear floor plate.

Sights. – In all American ships the periscope sights are mounted either through holes in the front side armour (as was done experimentally in “TIGER”) or under the chase of the gun. The latter is the present approved method and provides good protection for the sights though possibly more liable to spray and radiation interference from a hot gun than when mounted elsewhere. The blast bags on the chase of the gun have been dispensed with where the sights are fitted underneath.

Slides. – In the majority of their ships the slides are locked together and are incapable of being separately elevated.20 This has the obvious disadvantages that an accident to one gun may disable the whole turret and the rate of fire of the turret is that of the slowest loading gun since the loading position is a fixed one. They always fire “double barrel” salvoes and in practice these disadvantages have not been very apparent though they are alive to them now and in the latest ships building have modified the design.

Breech Mechanism. – The breech</>mechanism is virtually hand, though the closing motion is sufficiently assisted by low pressure air off the air blast system to overcome the weight of the block. The block is flangeless and there is no positive acting rebound arrangement fitted. Consequently if the breech does happen to slam to, it results in the burring of the threads. The mechanism works well and quickly but the locking gear, carrier, and indeed all fittings connected with it appear too weak for rough and continuous handling. The difference in size and weight of mechanism cannot fail to strike very forcibly anyone acquainted with our gear.

Locks and Tubes._ - The lock appears simple and efficient. It is combined electric and percussion as are all their tubes.

Recoil and I and O.21 – The recoil arrangements are similar to ours, the guns being run out by springs and controlled by a ram as in our handworked mountings. They say they have experienced little trouble with this system.

Elevating and Training. – The elevating and training control is on the Williams-Jenny system. It seems to be about equal, but is certainly not superior to our control. It has the disadvantage, particularly when training over large arcs, that the wheel must be continuously operated to keep the turret in motion and that the rapidity of motion depends on that with which the wheel is turned, which implies considerable physical exertion. The delicacy of control is about equal to that in our <own> system.

Air Blast._ - The system is separate from the torpedo charging installation and is a low pressure one, the capacity of the pumps being 400 lbs. per square inch. They deliver into a ring main from which leads are taken off to all turrets and secondary battery guns, reducers being fitted to lower the pressure to I00 lbs. per square inch. The pipe is a larger one than we use and delivers by means of an automatically operated valve into the gun through four orifices. They seem satisfied that the big volume of air used fulfills the same purpose as the high pressure we go in for with the advantage that a break in any one pipe will not endanger the whole system as it would do in ours. They seem much astonished at the high pressure we use.

Loading. – The loading arrangements even in their latest ships are primitive in the extreme and though to all appearances everything works quickly and without hitch it is th<r>ought good drill alone and not through any attempt to utilize modern scientific methods and machinery. All projectiles are stowed on their bases in a kind of hanging chamber under the gunwell corresponding to but at a rather lower level than our working chamber. From this position they are drawn on their bases along the deck by hemp parbuckles, operated by motors, into a vertical hoist which takes them up to the fixed loading position. Here they are tipped horizontal and rolled by hand in</>front of the chain rammer. In the three gun turrets there is a separate projectile hoist for each gun. It is obviously fairly easy work when dealing with the front row or so of projectiles, but farther back the parbucking is likely to prove a more difficult business particularly in bad weather. The charges come up by dredger hoists (quarter charge) to compartments below and outside the guns on a level with the bottom of the gunwell which is deep. From here they are man-handled entirely being lifted or passed in three or four stages to the loading tray and pushed by hand into the gun. For the I4” 45 calibre gun each quarter charge weighs 96 lbs; and it struck me as little less than marvellous how good drill in handling this ammunition made up for defects in appliances. I much doubt if the rate of loading could be maintained in a prolonged action. In the three gun turrets the wing guns have to supply cordite to the centre gun – another defect. The alternative loading arrangements are also poor. The general provision of safety arrangements for magazines had been a matter of long standing and the supply of water and sprinklers is plentiful. The flash tight doors are too flimsy and not sufficiently automatic or positive in operation but these defects are being remedied.

PERISCPOES [i.e., PERISCOPES].- Periscope sights are used exclusively for all guns and more reliance is placed in periscopes for general observation <purposes> than we do. The quality seems to be much the same as our own. Coloured glass shades are fitted and can be brought into use by a milled head which is a better arrangement than supplying detachable shades.

DIRECTOR._22 The Director has not been developed to anything like the same extent as with us and until quite recently its importance had not <really> been fully realized. They have no Director training and the laying arrangements are crude and imperfect. It consists of a fixed periscope sight in the armoured spotting tower and in the control turrets, in no ways connected with the guns. It can be trained and elevated but is normally used as a fixed sight, the guns being layed to a certain elevation through the T.S.23 and fired by the Director Layer24 when the ship rolls his sights on. The instrument can be adjusted to mean the roll in case the ship is not upright but ranges are not set on it.

RANGEFINDERS._ In this respect it seems to me we have a good deal to learn from the U.S.Navy. They have taken rangefinders very seriously and have developed both instruments and training steadily and scientifically.25

     While their control system and organization is in no way dependant on rangefinders they place great reliance on them provided their use is in the least practicable. This is partly no doubt due to the generally good weather conditions obtaining in waters in which they exercise but it is also largely due to the confidence seemingly justly placed in good and</>reliable instruments and training. Without exception they profess the most profound astonishment at our placing any reliance on the 5 ft. rangefinder except as a purely navigational instrument. They maintain that it cannot be considered as accurate for <practical> gunnery purposes at ranges over ten thousand yards.-

     That a I2-ft. rangefinder is accurate only up to I2000 yds.

       "    I5      "           "        "            I5000 "

       "    I8 – 20 ft.  "      "        "          I8 - 20000 "

They mean “accurate” in a very literal sense and the results they get, weather and light conditions apart, certainly justify the assumption that real accuracy under almost all circumstances in which a rangefinder can make observations can be obtained given a sufficiently good instrument with a large base. They contend with much emphasis and practical reasoning backed up by innumerable rangefinder diagrams – many of 20,000 yards and over – that in relying on a 9 ft. rangefinder we are trying to make bricks without straw. The majority of their ships have I8 – 20 foot instruments; the two latest classes afloat 25 foot base, and ships building 30 and 38 foot base rangefinders. The mounting of these long base instruments in turrets appears to be quite an easy matter. They extend across the entire turret at a height of about 3½ feet from the floor and about where the front wall of our O.O.T’s control cabinet would be and extend through holes in the side armour, the projecting ends being protected by armoured hoods. These ends project some two feet each side. They are mounted to elevate and train in a similar way to ours; they are fitted with deflection scales, and a range scale which can be read outside the instrument. Transmission of ranges is electrical and automatic. Accurate internal adjusters are fitted and seem to be almost entirely relied upon for adjusting purposes. The instruments are manufactured by Messrs Bausch and Lomb of New York and are very similar in principal to our Barr and Strouds but the inter-nal mechanism is rather differently suspended. Sweating is experienced and but is partly overcome by lagging the outer body with asbestos. The removal of a defective instrument would admittedly be a rather laborious undertaking but it would seem that trouble is rarely experienced necessitating such action. Prior to the War the firm of Bausch and Lomb worked in conjunction with and was largely controlled by Zeiss.26 It appears, through this source of information, that the Germans have long developed these long big base instruments and American Officers are certain that the Germans are at least as good and probably much better equipped in this respect even than they are.

SPREAD._ The universal practice in the U.S.Navy is to fire Double barrel salvoes. The spread they obtain averages at least 800 yards and I0 or I2 guns.27 Erratic shots seem to be very frequent and would appear to be chiefly due to (I) weakness of turret mountings and excessive clip clearances. (2) Double barrelled salvoes with turrets whose gun muzzles are very close together. (3) Excessive muzzle pressures due to high M.V’s used. They are not satisfied with their spread, particularly as its great variability points to inaccuracy in the gun and mounting. In the three gun turrets a delay action coil has been introduced into the firing circuit of the centre gun but it does not appear to have accomplished anything very definite and I should say that the variation in the resistance of the firing circuit itself would alone ups=et such fine theoretical calculations. They think our spread too small if anything and that of the Germans unquestionably so for practical purposes, though at the same time they are anxious to reduce theirs somewhat lower than at present.


     Their system is generally similar to our own though there is a present considerably less finesse and refinement observable. Practically all control instruments are designed and manufactured by Messers Sperry.28 Compared with ours they appear large and clumsy but are said to work all right and to be reliable. The range and deflection instruments are not step by step and are something like our old Siemens instruments. The rangefinder receivers are spirally graduated dials with double motors to make up for the extra and variable load required to move the pointer in and out along the spiral curve of the dial. Excellent turret bearing indicators are fitted in the Conning Tower and T.S. enabling the simultaneous bearing of all xx turrets to be observed. The instrument consists of from 4 to 6 concentric circles, one per turret, with a zero line on each and the outer rim graduated in degrees. The Sperry Gyro Compass Receiver in the Conning Tower and T.B. is also used as a target bearing indicator, an electrically controlled pointer being fitted in the centre of the instrument and operated by the movement of glasses in the armoured spotting position similarly to our Evershed installation.


     Plotting forms a definite part of the control system but at present exists in a very elementary form and while it seems to do in this way more or less what is required of it, its capabilities are very limited. The system is entirely hand operated and while requiring great/mental concentration and rapidity in the Plotter, considering what is got out of it, it is at the same time slow and innaccurate. The inaccuracies made in practice are readily observable to an onlooker and are more or less inevitable though this defect has been partly lost sight of owing to the big spread usually obtained casting a kindly veil over and swamping all minor inaccuracies in range transmission. In this connection I should here observe that ranges are passed in fifties and not in 25’s as with us. Experiments have been going on for some time in a desultory way with a rangekeeper invented by Mr Ford (of Motor fame).29 The instrument is very similar to Pollen’s Clock and possesses about the same relative merits and demerits when compared with our system.30 Though they thoroughly understand their present system and use well what they have got my general impression is that in this branch of control the U.S.Navy are about ten years behind the times though I hope and believe new impetus is being given in the direction of further trials and improvements. Apropos of this subject I would observe that the influence of the Fleet Gunnery Officer31 exerted directly through to C-in-C seems to me, owing to his strong personality, to have become altogether too potent a factor in making decisions on vital questions, and points to the fact that such influence wrongly exerted may act as a dangerous drag on the progress of the Fleet. This comparatively junior Officer though of unquestioned ability and of perhaps even brilliant organizing capacity would appear to exert his power, intentionally or otherwise, to carry his ideas into practical effect often in absolute opposition to those of all others in the Fleet who by their knowledge, experience or position are best.qualified to express their opinion. I make these remarks as I could not fail to see that it is almost entirely owing to the powerful position held by this Officer in the Fleet, with the views he holds, that the present primitive plotting methods have not been improved upon and that experiments with the Ford rangekeeper and other similar instruments have been so far pretty successfully resisted contrary to the wishes of the majority of expert Officers.

SPOTTING._ The “spotting-on” principle of finding and keeping the target is universally employ=ed and much importance is attached to selecting and instructing spotters to judge distance. Spotting practices with full calibre slugs (similar to those used at proof butts) at long ranges, are a great feature of gunnery exercises. The firing ship is usually an old one and not that from which observations are made. That this is “no system” and as such open to every objection and danger which an absence of system can be, I have emphasized. They fully understand our new spotting system but at any rate at present are not prepared to abandon their own methods in its favour. In this decision they are again influenced by the accuracy of their rangefinders; by the present large size of their spread, either or both of which certainly tend to make straddling easier;and lastly, and most dangerously, by the supposed ability of their present spotters after long training to “spot on”.


     They are very attached to the group system of control for the main and secondary armament. Their T.S.arrangements32 are expressly designed to facilitate divided fire, both groups being controlled through the same T.S. and to a certain extent this is being done to the detriment of perfect arrangement for broadside fire on one enemy ship, controlled from one position. Their ideas were based on the probability of their being opposed in action to a superior Fleet and it is for this reason also and in conformity with the same general idea that their ships mount so many guns as compared with ours. I have emphasized that our ideas in this respect have undergone some modification in-as-much as while we still endeavour to continue to prepare for every eventuality we concentrate most of our attention on perfecting the primary control to work as a whole under normal conditions and thus to ensure early and rapid hitting rather than employing too much time at the expense of the primary system on secondary ones, breakdowns and improbable contingencies. In the same way they appear to me to devote too much time and to complicate their control system unnecessarily whilst greatly detracting from the efficiency of the armament in attempting to deal with the attack of too many Destroyers at a time with the secondary battery. They normally exercise on the assumption that they can repel the attack of four boats each side. This gives an average of about three guns per group. I told them that in the light of what experience we had in this respect I did not think this could be regarded as the best plan and that we worked more on the lines of dealing with one enemy ship at a time and endeavouring to annihilate him as quickly as possible by our volume of fire rather than in over-reaching with the probability of falling between two stools.


     The U.S.Navy does not contemplate the use of searchlights but the disposition of lights and their control is in about the same state as were our arrangements until recently.33


     They contend that while the rate of fire is fully as great the chances of straddling are much increased by this method of fire. The number of hits per straddling salvo would be more than with the single barrel salvo owing to the greater density of the pattern which does not ( or should not with accurate weapons) increase in proportion to the number of guns in the salvo. Also when firing rapidly, owing to the increase in the average number of shots per salvo, the mean point of impact is less liable to fluctuations up and or down the range which might mislead the spotter and cause him to make unnecessary corrections. They do not at all favour our scheme and it appears to me that there is much to be said for the double barrel idea which we may possibly have overlooked. Particularly does it seem to possess advantages for concentration in pairs when the practical difficulties of double salvoes often lead to trouble and to synchronism of salvoes. It would seem worth while to give the scheme a thorough trial by at least one squadron as, if found advantageous, the control, in pair concentration, would be much simplified and straddling and spotting would be made easier without any diminution in the rate of fire. The only practical objection I can see to the employment of this scheme is the limited pumping capacity in the older dreadnoughts.


     The practices are generally similar and are conducted on much the same lines as with us, often at very long range (20,000). Wonderfully good results are obtained but it must be borne in mind that they do not fire unless weather conditions are favourable so that the great accuracy and the development of their rangefinders get full play. They are a little too prone to working on stereotyped and too well known runs to get the full benefit of all the lessons which could be learnt from long range firing where endeavour is made to simulate action conditions. This is partly due to Political circumstances, which have been largely the cause of the introduction of Full Dress Rehearsal Runs which are to all intents and purposes the Battle Practice Runs carried out a few days previously, firing a single gun to represent a salvo. Nevertheless, however well known and easy the conditions, the results at the longest ranges are extraordinarily good and in a few cases I have seen positively brilliant. Cameras with wide angle lenses and moving picture cameras are always used on the towing ship in addition to the Rake which is only regarded as a stand-by. The pictures taken are wonderfully good and furnish a very positive answer to any question as to the accuracy of marking. The length of the tow has of recent years been shortened to 400 yards to enable this camera marking to be developed. The enclosed two reproductions are from the Camera marking in the “PENNSYLVANIA’S” recent Battle Practice, the salvoes being of twelve guns at a range of I9,750 yards. They speak for themselves.34


     In all matters of organization this is enforced much more fully than is the parctice with us, on the assumption that if standardization is first well considered, its enforcement, whilst perhaps acting as a slight drag on a few of the very best ships, will certainly tend to raise the average and will prevent the useless expenditure of energy along unprofitable and incorrect lines.


     The tremendously large and sudden expansion of the personnel of the Fleet and the withdrawal of trained men for armed guards, merchantmen, patrols, etc., has naturally led to the influx into the Battleships of a large proportion of men new to the Sea and Naval Ways. It is most noticeable what an extraordinarily good class of men has been secured judged from the stand point of appearance, intelligence and adaptability, and how very well they compare with those temporarily brought into our own Naval Service under similar conditions. Indeed, on board ship the habits and appearance of the American seamen compares extremely favourably with those of our own. As regards Officer, the general impression left on my mind is that while the specialist Officers (or rather those temporarily employed on specialist duty, since there are really no specialists in the American Navy) are not so thoroughly trained or well informed as to technical details as ours are, the standard of knowledge of the average American Naval Officer is higher than in our Service. The system by which they are liable for employment in any capacity forces all Officers, whether they will or no, to keep up a fair degree of knowledge and interest in all branches of the service and thus assists to maintain a sympathetic harmony and co-operation between all departments which is sometimes lacking with us owing to our very exclusive specializing system.


     As far as vibration when steaming or firing is concerned these masts compare favourably with ours but the entire absence of/the protection to voice pipes against splinters which our masts afford renders the skeleton masts, in my opinion, much inferior to tripod masts.


     The armouring of the secondary battery, or in other words, continuance of the belt armour above the main deck, has been discontinued in their latest ships but I think they are very doubtful as to the wisdom of this policy. No ships have more than a two inch and a one inch deck and several have only the two inch. This seems to be the weakest feature in the general distribution of armour. The funnel casings are all heavily protected up to the upper deck level.


     The five inch gun, firing a fifty pound shell, is mounted in all ships as the secondary battery armament. From eighteen to twenty two guns are placed in all ships. The position of from four to six of these in every ship is such that their utility is very open to question and I think had we guns similarly placed we should have had them out long ago. In all ships the ammunition is supplied to each gun by its own dredger hoists from an ammunition passage communicating with the magazines at each end. I told them that we considered this far too dangerous a system and had entirely abandoned it in all our dreadnoughts. In the latest class afloat no traverses of any sort are fitted to isolate one gun from another.


     The powder used is a Mono Nitrocelulose one, gelatinized and made up in sticks similar to Cordite but perforated through their entire length with 5 small holes.36 The powder is very stable and is often kept on board upwards of I0 years. When returned it is melted down and again made up. Magazine cooling arrangements are not nearly so universally fitted or used as with us and are not considered necessary with this powder, temperatures up to 95°Fah. being considered quite normal. Magazines are heavily lagged and differences in temperature between individual ones is not much experienced. This powder is relatively rather more bulky than cordite. Its erosive qualities seem to be about the same.

     In conclusion I would like to add that, to those who wish to see, there is abundant evidence that for long past the entire American Navy has been thinking War; has prepared trained and organized for it, and their absolute efficiency and readiness in all essential details leaves a very pleasing and wholesome impression on ones mind.37

I have the honour to be,


Your obedient servant,  


  Commander R.N.

Source Note: DTS, UK-KeNA, Adm. 137/1620. Addressed below close: “Vice-Admiral M.E.Browning,/K.C.B., M.V.O./Commander-in-Chief,/North America and West Indies.” Handwritten at the top of the first page of Down’s report: “(copy)/5th July 1917.” Stamped there: “CONFIDENTIAL. Enclosure No. to Submission No. 372/G. 20 from C-in-C., N.A.& W.I.”

Footnote 1: In a cover letter to the Lords of the Admiralty, VAdm. Sir Montague E. Browning explained that Down had been in Halifax, Nova Scotia, awaiting the return of his ship, H.M.S. Carnarvon, from Sierra Leone, when he was ordered to Washington on 4 May 1917. His stay in Washington was extended at the urging of Commo. Guy R. Gaunt, the British Naval Attaché at Washington, so that Down might continue his “advisory Gunnery duties in the [U.S.] Navy Department and the [U.S.] Atlantic fleet.” At the request of Adm. Henry T. Mayo, Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet, Browning had extended Down’s tour yet again until July, 1917. Ibid.

Footnote 2: RAdm. Ralph Earle.

Footnote 3: RAdm. Leigh C. Palmer.

Footnote 4: There was no Bureau of Target Practice. Down may have been referring to the Director of Gunnery Exercises, Capt. Charles P. Plunkett.

Footnote 5: Capt. Orton P. Jackson.

Footnote 6: Cmdr. Donald C. Bingham.

Footnote 7: Cmdr. Gilbert I. Rowcliff.

Footnote 8: Cmdr. Charles P. Kindleberger and Cmdr. William G. DuBose.

Footnote 9: Plotting tables, or Dreyer Fire Control Tables, were early calculating workbenches meant to process data to permit a ship to engage a distant target. They were first deployed on English dreadnoughts about 1912 and by 1917 an improved version, including a clock, was being used., consulted 8 February 2019.

Footnote 11: That is, Royal Navy Reserve and Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve.

Footnote 12: That is, Chief Petty Officers and Petty Officers. Leading Seaman was a junior non-commissioned rank or rate in the Royal Navy equivalent to the rank of Corporal in the army.

Footnote 13: Evershed’s Bearing Indicators were a family of transmitters, receivers and indicators designed to communicate throughout a ship a target’s relative bearing so guns could be trained on it. Generally, the precision of the bearings was only sufficient to establish which ship was the target. The British had started to equip some of their cruisers with this technology in 1916 and by early 1917 had ordered that it be installed in a large number of Royal Navy ships., consulted 8 February 2019.

Footnote 14: More commonly known as the Usborne Fall of Shot Indicator, it was a specialized timer designed to assist spotters by sounding an alarm when a ship’s shots were about to fall about the target., consulted 8 February 2019.

Footnote 15: Fearnought screens were light fireproof doors fitted between gun positions designed to prevent follow-on explosions.

Footnote 16: Mantlets were protective shields designed to minimize the effects of shrapnel.

Footnote 17: That is, high explosive shell.

Footnote 18: That is, muzzle velocity.

Footnote 19: For a diagram of a battleship turret with many of the parts mentioned in this report labelled, see: June 1917 Illustrations.

Footnote 20: Guns in American battleship turrets were rigidly connected, “two trunnions sufficing for all three, to save weight, space, and personnel...In any case no premium was then assigned to independent elevation of the guns.” Friedman, U.S. Battleships, 107.

Footnote 21: Possibly, incoming and outgoing.

Footnote 22: The “Director,” which was short for directorscope was a device that provided a means of “compensating for the roll of the ship. The director was a telescope laid to cross the target at the top or bottom of the roll, and used to gauge an elevation correction for the guns,” which was transmitted to a central fire control station. Jones, “U.S. Battleship Operations,” 155.

Footnote 23: That is, transmitting station.

Footnote 24: On a British dreadnought, the layer controlled the elevation of the guns in a turret. John Brooks, Dreadnought Gunnery and the Battle of Jutland: The question of fire control (New York and London: Routledge, 2005), 19-20.

Footnote 25: The United States Navy had adopted rangefinders developed by Hannibal C. Ford, which, according to historian Norman Friedman, was “largely a pirated version of the Pollen Argo clock.” It was, “in effect, a mechanical model of the motions of target and shooter in order to calculate future range.” After consultation with Arthur Pollen, the inventor of the Argo clock, Ford’s rangekeeper was modified in 1917 to give “present and future bearing” of enemy ships. Friedman, Naval Weapons of WW1, 150. Interestingly, the British had decided not to adopt Pollen’s Argo clock and used the “Dryer Table” for their fire control system. For a discussion of the British adoption of the “Dreyer Table,” see Brooks, Dreadnought Gunnery, 1-18.

Footnote 26: Zeiss was a German manufacturer of optical devices, including rangefinders. For a comparison of German and British rangefinders, see, ibid., 221-24.

Footnote 27: The British were concerned about what they saw as the excessive spreads of U.S. Navy salvoes; for their part, the Americans considered the tighter British spreads too small. Jones, “U.S. Battleship Operations,” 167.

Footnote 28: Down is referring to the Sperry Gyroscope Company founded in 1910 by Elmer A. Sperry to manufacture navigation equipment, including the marine gyrostabilizer and the gyrocompass invented by himself. In the early days, the company was run by Elmer and his son, Lawrence, until the two split in 1918 and Lawrence Sperry founded his own firm that focused on instruments for airplanes., consulted 8 February 2019.

Footnote 29: Downs was incorrect. The inventor of the rangefinder was Hannibal C. Ford, who was no relation to the Henry Ford “of Motor fame.” Hannibal Ford had been chief engineer in Elmer A. Sperry’s company however before establishing his leaving Sperry to found his own firm in 1914. For a short biography of Hannibal Ford and a discussion of his rangefinder, see, Thomas Wildenberg, “Armaments & Innovation – The Revolutionary Rangekeeper,” Naval History Magazine, vol. 29, no. 5 (October, 2015),, consulted 11 February 2019.

Footnote 30: Some historians, including Norman Friedman, believe that Ford’s Rangfinder was a pirated version of the Argo Clock. Others, however, argue that it was “probably a combination of his own experience; memos by Reginald Gillmor, the head of Sperry’s London office; and the specifications in the Navy’s proposal request.” Ibid.

Footnote 31: Cmdr. Donald C. Bingham.

Footnote 32: That is, transmitting station.

Footnote 33: During World War I the Navy did not put searchlights on battleships. Before the war, searchlights had been used. They were designed to defeat night torpedo attacks delivered within 2,000 yards. Beyond that range searchlights could not pick up destroyers and would, according to the thinkers of the time, only serve to attract torpedo fire. Since the range of destroyers’ torpedoes by WWI was well over 2,000 yards, it was decided not to employ searchlights. Friedman, U.S. Battleships, 111, 296-97. They were re-introduced on U.S, battleships during the inter-war period. Ibid.

Footnote 34: The attachments are no longer with the report.

Footnote 35: Presumably, Down is referring to the lattice or “cage” masts, which were a fixture of U.S. battleships in World War I. The design was taken from a Russian engineer, Vladimir Shukhov; its advantage was weight saving. However, their value came into question at this time, particularly after the mast of Michigan collapsed in a gale. Friedman, U.S. Battleships, 177.

Footnote 36: Both nitrocellulose and cordite were “smokeless,” that is, they created much less smoke than gunpowder allowing the gun crews to still see their target.

Footnote 37: This and a subsequent report prepared by Down were circulated within the Admiralty. Impressed by certain technology discussed in the report, British leaders first decided to send a “party of technical experts” to the United States to “obtain information on various points, however, by the time it was decided how many experts should go and who they would be, it was decided that a division of American battleships would join the Grand Fleet and that there would be opportunity for the British to study the American ships and obtain any desirable technical information. There is a series of memos from various British officials on this topic starting in August 1917 and continuing until January 1918 that can be found in UK-KeNA, Adm. 137/1621.

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