Notes on the Control of Fire at the Battle of the Falkland Islands
Notes on the Control of Fire
Rate of Fire.
A slow rate of fire was almost impossible to achieve for two reasons. First, owing to the great range and fairly frequent alterations of course, I had the feeling that I was perpetually ranging and had no grip on the target; and secondly, the fact of shell passing close made one anxious to stop the enemy firing, and so to fire rapidly seemed logical.
Before going into action, I had informed officers that one round per gun per minute, when at "independent", would be ample till they received the order to hustle.
Actually, the pole halliards being cut two feet above the fore control-top, produced an order to "blaze away". This occurred when we were hitting Scharnhorst hard, but could not stop her fire.
Hits on funnels, masts and upper-works were easy to see; "lyddite" causing a white cotton-woolly cloud, and "common" a dense black one.
Hits on the water-line could be recognized by means of the long low splash raised.
German reports indicate that all shells burst on striking the water, but I am convinced that a certain number did not, since the column of water thrown up was sometimes precisely similar to that caused by practice projectiles, whilst others were as shown.
Holding the weather position as we did caused the spray from shots short to fall on board the enemy, and led one to think one was hitting.
Shots which fell 100 to 200 yards over could rarely be seen, due to enemy's funnel and cordite smoke, and a rule soon established itself that "down 200" was a sound correction when nothing could be seen.
Deflection caused considerable difficulty, and on two occasions one gun fired some five or six consecutive rounds nearly a ship's length astern of the target.
I traced this to a turret and called for the deflection setting, which proved to be correct.
Since this error was intermittent, and always took effect in the same direction, I am convinced that it was due to the gun-layer mistaking the stem for stern, or foremast for mainmast.
The particular cruisers we were engaging made such an error particularly easy, due to the symmetrical arrangements of their masts and funnels.
For myself, I started badly by getting wet to the skin, as the result of a shell falling on the weather-bow. Inability to keep on the target when found, together with irritation at the interruption due to Invincible's smoke, alterations of course, and enemy's short shots, made me first cross, and, then, casual.
I think that I controlled best when the enemy was shooting well, since the importance of the latter became so very obvious.
When we became "leading ship" and after we had separated from Invincible, all difficulties vanished and I should have been quite happy had I realized that we were firing at considerably longer ranges than in previous battle practices, and that a ship takes longer to destroy than does a target.
Communications were completely satisfactory.
When the enemy were firing at one, the discharge of their guns caused a twinkling effect, and this changed to a flash when their fire was directed at Invincible.
Matters of Fact.
(1) That low velocities and high elevation, as found in German guns and mountings, enable an accurate and damaging fire to be opened at a very long range. Their 8.2-inch turret guns put salvos over and across us at the end of Phase II, when we could not reply (16,200 yards on our sights).
(2) That the German semi-A.P., i.e. A.P. shell with H.E. burster is a useful shell and combines the advantage of "common" and "lyddite".
(3) That the small splinters from H.E. shell are easily stopped, and that all control positions and anti-torpedo-craft guns should be protected by thin high-tensile steel plating.
(4) That the space between the turret redoubts and turntable, now covered by the apron, is a source of weakness and that the apron should be protected by horizontal plating. In the battle off Valparaiso the Gneisenau had a turret put out of action from a portion of 6-inch shell from Monmouth entering here.
(5) Respirators were of great value and enabled control parties to remain at their stations; and turrets, where air-blast failed, were able to carry on without opening the armoured hatch.
(6) Heating of paint on gun-jackets seriously inconvenienced gun-layers and trainers by reason of the fumes given off.
(7) The present fire-gong (Siemens' type) is not loud enough and becomes ineffective after much rapid firing, and salvos are difficult to obtain.
Matter of Opinion.
(1) That a senior Officer, Commander or Lieutenant-Commander, should be detailed to watch the fire effect, and decide whether the fire should be fast, or slow, or checked. He should also be responsible for the selection of target. At present the Captain cannot give all his attention to this matter and does not like to interfere with the control officer. Similarly, the control officer, who may be dissatisfied with the shooting, does not like to check fire without orders, or he may become obstinate and continue firing when he should stop. An officer, who is responsible neither for the handling of the ship, nor the accuracy of fire, will have leisure to deal with this problem.
(2) Our system of counting hits on canvas has led us to ignore the virtual and very vulnerable target.
(3) In ships with director-firing, it would be well worth while to wait for the enemy's salvo, and to fire just before their shell arrive. This would take advantage of the smoke protection afforded by the simultaneous discharge of many large guns.
(4) That a time-of-flight instrument is a great help. (We have an electrical machine which operates a rattler in the control position).
(5) That all persons in sighting hoods and look-out positions, who are not using glasses, should wear splinter-proof spectacles as designed for motorists.
(6) That a range-finder without a control officer is of less value than the converse, and that adequate splinter-proof protection should be built in control tops, even if this means the disestablishment of the range-finders.
(7) That a ship without topmasts is almost impossible from a range-taking point of view.
(8) That the dense volumes of smoke caused by the combined use of coal and oil at a speed above the ship's designed one will render the weather position impossible in the case of fleets.
(9) That we must make up our minds that no German ship will haul down her colours, and that to go to the assistance of a disabled enemy will not protect us from the attentions of any others in the neighbourhood.
- Verner. The Battle Cruisers at the Action of the Falkland Islands. pp. 20-23.