Page 24 - Moncrieff's Disappearing Guns
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Moncrieff’s Disappearing Guns                                                                            David Moore

           advantage of lateral range was an improbable one,  arguments that indicate a disposition to create
           namely the case of one or a small number of vessels  positions for the use of casemates instead of using
           attacking a number of heavy batteries, was regarded  casemates only where that expensive form of battery
           by Moncrieff as a sweeping condemnation.           is the best alternative. He asked :-
           ‘To admit this ... would be to assume that the fire of  ‘Is the overhead cover of a casemate employed for
           heavy guns in battery can only be advantageous when  coast defence really so important that it justifies that
           delivered to their direct front, a limitation which I  form of battery being generally adopted for sea faces
           deny belongs to the accepted principles of         in preference to a new class of open battery which
           fortification, and which if allowed to have substantial  has greater offensive power by means of increased
           existence in the mind of the military engineer, would  lateral range, and from being less encumbered by its
           render him a very expensive, if not inefficient,   own smoke; is much more difficult to attack by curved
           designer of national works of defence.’            fire than any other open battery, the range of which is
                                                              easily judged; has a parapet which cannot be
           On the subject of the comparative merits of open or  breached by direct fire; in which the men are
           casemated batteries Moncrieff interpreted English to  completely protected from direct fire by having no
           have narrowed the comparison to one between        port; and which, notwithstanding all these
           Moncrieff batteries and casemated or shield batteries.  advantages, is much cheaper.’
           He therefore took this as his own premise.
                                                              One statement made by English prompted Moncrieff
           Naval officers would, he supposed be the best judges  to object most strongly. This concerned his premise
           of how naval artillery can be applied to the greatest  that a 9-inch gun could not be fairly compared with a
           advantage, and they have stated that when land works  shield that had been found by direct experiment to be
           are to be attacked, they prefer to reserve tactical fire  ‘...completely proof against the 25 ton gun’.
           for large objects, such as towns or batteries containing
           barracks and many guns, and when they bring direct  Moncrieff pointed out that this was true as far as the
           fire into play, they like to come to sufficiently close  iron was concerned, but the statement was utterly
           quarters to produce the required effect quickly, and  incorrect and unfair. A shield is no more than a block
           above all, they like to see what they intend to attack.  of iron with a hole in it. It would fall down unless
           Lieutenant English discredited the advantage of    supported. by itself it was of no use. It needed to be
           concealment belonging to the new system for two    fitted into a parapet made of earth and
           reasons, that the newspaper press will give the gun  concrete, or other materials. Only when it is so placed
           positions to 50 yards, and that puffs of smoke are  and a gun and platform, and magazines added can it
           prominent objects in the landscape. The newspapers  be compared with a gun pit which has all such
           may be able to tell the positions of guns to within 50  requirements. A shield battery in that sense had not
           yards, but if that is all they could do the sailor would  been found by direct experiment to be completely
           prefer other sources of information. Surely he would  proof against the 25 ton gun as stated by English. In
           prefer to take aim by laying his guns on the ports of  fact a shield-parapet had not been tested or fired at in
           the casemates or shields and observing the hits and  any way. The vulnerable area exposed to direct fire in
           correcting accordingly. A miscalculation of fifty  such a shield-battery is more than a hundred times
           yards when firing at a casemate would not be serious  greater than that of a Moncrieff battery and yet why
           as the ricochet might give as good a hit as if the range  was there no proposal to try it by firing at it ?
           had been calculated correctly. For a vertical target
           such as a properly constructed Moncrieff pit the error  With obvious ire Moncrieff hits home :-
           either sends the shot clear over the battery or if short  ‘The shield-battery is accepted without a trial as
           causes ricochet, which would amount to the same    perfect, with all its doubtful points, simply because
           thing, that is to say a ricochet from the glacis of a  the iron part of it has shown certain powers of
           Moncrieff pit would send the shot clean over it. With  endurance, while its rival, the pit, with fewer doubtful
           regards to the puffs of smoke Moncrieff stated that he  points, is alone to be tried, and the proposed trial has
           would like to have a sailors opinion as to his ability to  been used as a reason for delay.’
           judge the exact range by taking angles on puffs of
           smoke during an action in which a breeze may be    While referring to the doubtful points which were to
           blowing.                                           be solved by the proposed trial of a Moncrieff pit,
           Moncrieff did not seek to underrate the value of   English was content to allow it to be supposed that
           casemates. He considered them to be applicable to  the doubtful points in a shield battery had been found
           positions where their great advantage, overhead    to be completely proof against a 25 ton gun, whilst in
           cover, made them most suitable. He was adverse to  fact only the iron had been tested.

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