Why was USN cruiser shooting so poor?

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Dave Saxton
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Why was USN cruiser shooting so poor?

Postby Dave Saxton » Mon Jul 21, 2014 1:13 pm

Why was USN cruiser gunnery so poor during WWII?
Entering a night sea battle is an awesome business.The enveloping darkness, hiding the enemy's.. seems a living thing, malignant and oppressive.Swishing water at the bow and stern mark an inexorable advance toward an unknown destiny.

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Re: Why was USN cruiser shooting so poor?

Postby pgollin » Tue Jul 22, 2014 10:04 am

.

A simple answer is that it wasn't - all navies' shooting was poor in WW2, it is just that the theoreticians/wargamers have skewed many peoples' perception of what was achievable - the worst example being people who take training shoots as some direct indication of what would happen in a real battle (as has been indicated elsewhere these were, in general, NOT meant to be realistic representations of real life).

There was a late war meeting between Admiralty gunnery experts and USN experts - they might as well have been talking different languages, SIMPLISTICALLY, the USN saying we can hit anything at any distance at any speed on or above the surface, whereas the RN said, many things are possible, but natural factors still intervene too much (especially varying wind speeds), real opponents will not act just as we want them to, and future opponents will be able to neutralise our technological advantages.

IF you cherry-pick one can find "wonderful" RN cruiser shooting and truly abysmal RN cruiser shooting - overall the RN wasn't too concerned and didn't expect their shooting (by any class of ship) to match practice shoots - and by wargames standards the RN's shooting was poor - but real.

When they brought in radar jamming and anti-radar shells they expected other to follow suit. They didn't get to be optimistic about surface firing IN ALL WEATHERS AND AT ALL TIMES AGAINST ALL OPPONENTS until the mid-50s, by which time almost all need for it had disappeared.

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Re: Why was USN cruiser shooting so poor?

Postby Byron Angel » Tue Jul 22, 2014 11:17 am

Dave Saxton wrote:Why was USN cruiser gunnery so poor during WWII?


Dave,

Please define what you mean by "poor". Are you referring to hit percentages? If so, I suspect that the performance of the 6in/47 armed light cruisers probably skewed that figure. USN 6in/47 gunnery doctrine was not terribly concerned about hitting efficiency per se or ammunition expenditure; the goal was to obtain the earliest possible hits. The target would immediately be engaged at a rapid rate of fire right from the start under radar FC , using a rocking ladder to resolve salvo MPI variations and any possible ranging errors.

Also (to the best of my recollection), USN cruiser surface gunnery actions took place almost totally at night, apart from Casablanca and the Komandorskis.

B

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Re: Why was USN cruiser shooting so poor?

Postby Dave Saxton » Tue Jul 22, 2014 2:46 pm

@ Phil, Yes I know that perceptions and expectations have been skewed. Nonetheless, compared to average RN and KM cruiser shooting, which was almost invariably at night and/or foul weather, USN cruiser shooting was consistently sub par. Even compared to IJN cruiser shooting in the same battles it was usually not as good. There is no significant improvement between Mk-3 ranged shooting to Mk-8 directed shooting that I can see as well.

@ Byron, It is not really the hit % that is so striking, although it is abysmal, but the sustained effectiveness. Often the cruisers started out with straddles and in some cases hits but that was it. It was a flash in a pan followed by very inconsistent and inaccurate follow up. I suspect that it was the new practice to shoot to hit with first salvos followed by ranging on shell splashes. I sought the opinion of one with more knowlege than myself on this topic and received this reply:

You have to study US gun performance to understand how awful the cruiser shooting was. The 6"/47 was a terrible weapon, prone to wide dispersion when used in combat situations--and especially at moderate ranges. It was a very short gun and was mounted in batteries that were tightly packed. I think delay mechanisms prevented mutual interference, but US CA/CL gunnery would certainly not win any awards.


It wasn't just the high ROF 6"/47, but the 8" shooting was sub par as well.

You make a good point about mostly fighting at night, as I can see a marked improvement of when the USN could see the target compared to when they couldn't- even with radar. Once again, however, the poor visibility and radar directed shooting doesn't measure up compared to RN and KM shooting in poor visibility (And I'm not implying that USN radar wasn't as capable).

Night fighting is the rule post 42, not the exception. By late war any surface combat will likely happen at night if it happens at all.
Entering a night sea battle is an awesome business.The enveloping darkness, hiding the enemy's.. seems a living thing, malignant and oppressive.Swishing water at the bow and stern mark an inexorable advance toward an unknown destiny.

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Re: Why was USN cruiser shooting so poor?

Postby Dod Grile » Wed Jul 23, 2014 12:08 am

The answer is: it really wasn't that poor during the war...It was quite poor before the war, I mean.

Even in short & medium-range practice shoots the numbers for 8" cruisers were often dismal.

However, the idea that 8" guns would be accurate at medium to long ranges (and at
night to boot--as so many critical encounters in the Pacific were) is not very realistic.

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Re: Why was USN cruiser shooting so poor?

Postby Matrose71 » Wed Jul 23, 2014 2:26 pm

1939 Battle of River Plate
Weather: 3/8 Visibility: Excellent Sea State: calm
AGS fired 405 11" shells at distances between 19,000 and 13000 yard for 9 hits =2.22%
EXETER fired 200 8" shells at distances betwwen 18,000 and 13000 yard for 3 hits =1.50%
AJAX & ACHILLES fired 2065 6" shells at distances between 17,000 and 7000 yard for 17 hits =0.82%

1940 Battle with JERVIS BAY
Weather: 6/8 Visibility: decreasing from 24000 yard Sea State calm to medium
AS fired 335 shells (including an unspecified number of 5.91") and attained no less than 8 documented hits at ranges from 16,000 yard to 9,000 yard >2.39%

1940 Hipper vs Berwick
Hipper got four hits on British Cruiser HMS Berwick with 185 shells. = 2.2%

1941 Battle of the Denmark Strait (ranges 26,000 yard down to 16,000 and up again to ~20,000 yard before general disengagement at good visibility and medium seastate):
NORFOLK fired 12 rounds and attained no hits =0% (note, the rounds fired is statistically not large enough a sample)
PRINZ EUGEN 157 rounds fired and attained six hits =3.8% (note, some say five hits, depending on how You rate PoW damage assesments)

1942 Battle of Barent Sea
Weather: mixed with intermittent snow storms Visibility: max 14000 yard, min 1500 yard Sea State: large swells
Hipper fired 120 8" shells at distances between 20,000 and 11,000 yard for 3 hits =2.50%

1942 Battle of Java Sea, February 27th, 1942
Weather: Fair to poor Visibility: good to small Sea State: moderate swells
The japanese cruisers fired 1619 8" rounds at distances between 26,000 yard and 15,000 yard in the long range part of the action for 5 hits =0.31% hit rate
Allied cruisers fired an unspecified number of shells at distances between 20,000 yard and 13,000 yard for one hit = <0.1% hit rate

1943 Battle of the Komandorski Islands, March 26th, 1943
Weather: Clear, light breeze from SW, high overcast. Visibility: Excellent Sea State: Glassy
USS SALT LAKE CITY fired 832 8" shells (all AP + 26 HE) at distances between 22,000 yard down to 13,500 yard for 3 hits attained = 0.36%
USS RICHMONT fired 271 of 6in at distances between 17,000 yard down to 9,000 yard for 4 hits =1.47%
IJN NACHI fired 707 8" at distances between 22,000 yard down to 9,500 yard for 3 hits = 0.42%
IJN MAJA fired 904 8" at distances between 22,000 yard down to 9,500 yard for 6 hits = 0.66%

1944 Battle of the Suribao Strait, Octobre 24 - 25th, 1944
Weather: partly clouded, wind 7kts 40 deg. Visibility: 4000 yard Sea State: smooth
American Cruisers expended 553 x 6-8” shells at distances between 16,000 and 8000 yard, attaining 11 hits =1.989%

The difference of the data allows for some variances. If I take the mean, which approximates the performance of HIPPER at Barent Sea (~2.5%), this is within the 2% to 3% range suggested for 1939 to 1942 (valid). The performance of 1.98% as of late 1944 at Suribao Strait comes from US cruisers at this engagement (one template). Roughly 26.26% worse hitting rate than HIPPER at Barent Sea and 60.6% worse than PE at DS 1941. The US CA improved much in long range gunnery. from Java Sea (<0.1% hitting rate) to Kommandorski Islands 0.36% hitting rate -an improvement of roughly four times compared to 1942) to Suribao Strait (=1.98%, an improvement of five times compared to 1943), possibly by the adoption of better radar FC and training?
My understanding is that the Hippers and PBB's were given full BB´system firecontroll gears, rather than derated cruiser FCS versions. Somehow similar to the USS ALASKA´s, which hadn´t received CA firecontroll gears but battleship type ones.

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Re: Why was USN cruiser shooting so poor?

Postby Steve Crandell » Wed Jul 23, 2014 4:53 pm

I think it is surprising how well the US military did in general, when you consider that most of the people involved were raw recruits. The tremendous expansion of the US military in just a few years from Dec '41 on made this inevitable. I think the fact that the Japanese didn't completely dominate the war in the Pacific was remarkable, especially if you consider the relative experience of the respective air crews early on.

Is there any statistically significant measure of USN 8" cruiser gunnery? The only example I can see is an old tin clad cruiser (USS Salt Lake City) with 8" guns sleeved together in an installation we know from pre-war practice had terrible dispersion problems. I think that single battle can hardly be used as proof that USN cruiser gunnery was terrible. Gunnery results can vary a lot between individual ships of the same class, but I would expect that class of cruiser to turn in a sub par performance in any case.

The 6"/47 wasn't a good long range gun, but if the USN's inexperienced leadership managed to get it in a position where it could be employed to good effect it could give good results. The 8" gun would have been sub optimal in almost any close range night engagement like Guadalcanal. In any case, the USN was completely unprepared for night fighting at the beginning of the war and everything had to be learned on the job, often resulting in terrible casualties. Often ships were thrown together right before an engagement and just tried to do their best against an experienced foe. Again, I think they did almost amazingly well under the circumstances and its amazing some of the ships managed to stay afloat.

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Re: Why was USN cruiser shooting so poor?

Postby Dave Saxton » Wed Jul 23, 2014 8:43 pm

Dod Grile wrote:The answer is: it really wasn't that poor during the war...It was quite poor before the war, I mean.

Even in short & medium-range practice shoots the numbers for 8" cruisers were often dismal.

However, the idea that 8" guns would be accurate at medium to long ranges (and at
night to boot--as so many critical encounters in the Pacific were) is not very realistic.


Perhaps if we throw out the Hipper class combat shooting.
Entering a night sea battle is an awesome business.The enveloping darkness, hiding the enemy's.. seems a living thing, malignant and oppressive.Swishing water at the bow and stern mark an inexorable advance toward an unknown destiny.

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Re: Why was USN cruiser shooting so poor?

Postby Dave Saxton » Wed Jul 23, 2014 8:47 pm

Matrose71 wrote:1942 Battle of Barent Sea
Weather: mixed with intermittent snow storms Visibility: max 14000 yard, min 1500 yard Sea State: large swells
Hipper fired 120 8" shells at distances between 20,000 and 11,000 yard for 3 hits =2.50%.


I have some detailed information on Hipper’s shooting at Barents Sea at the British destroyers via a 1980s official West Germany Navy analysis and battle map.

0941 hours Hipper fired five salvoes at Achates scoring at least one hit with the first salvo. “ The enemy cruiser picked us out for his early fire. We must have been conspicuous. The German cruiser got us the first time.” The range was 14,900 meters (16,600 yards). After five salvos the forward radar set lost power from a fault in the ship’s power supply and the IFF equipment was destroyed by gunfire shock. This forced Kummetz to re-call his destroyers and Hartman to cease fire.

Between 0945 and 1016 hours Hipper fired four salvoes at long intervals attempting to force the convoy to turn away to the south, where the Luetzow group was located, while the Hipper drew away the British destroyers to the north. The British did as hoped. No hits were scored.

At 1016 Using the aft radar set Hipper erupted with forty eight 8” rounds (six full broadsides) at the Onslow from 11,400 meters (12,475 yards), scoring four 8” hits.

At 1030 hours Hipper engaged minesweeper Bramble at 5500 meters out to 10,000 meters. Hipper expended 51 rounds of 8” here for an unknown number of hits.

At 11:17 hours With the forward radar restored, Hipper engaged the Achates once again, and once again scored a hit with the first salvo. This shell hit the bridge killing the captain and others. Two other hits were subsequently scored on the forecastle and through the boiler room. The range was 17,700 meters (19,360 yards). Hipper then shifted fire to the Obedient at 11,600 meters (12,700 yards) wrecking the wireless office and knocking out the comms (believed to be splinters rather than a direct hit).

The Hipper scored at least eight 8” hits between 12,000 and 20,000 yards not counting the unknown number of hits scored on the Bramble. The polar night prevails for 24 hours on Dec 31 at those latitudes of course.
Entering a night sea battle is an awesome business.The enveloping darkness, hiding the enemy's.. seems a living thing, malignant and oppressive.Swishing water at the bow and stern mark an inexorable advance toward an unknown destiny.

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Re: Why was USN cruiser shooting so poor?

Postby Dave Saxton » Sun Jul 27, 2014 7:02 pm

Matrose71 wrote:The US CA improved much in long range gunnery. from Java Sea (<0.1% hitting rate) to Kommandorski Islands 0.36% hitting rate -an improvement of roughly four times compared to 1942) to Suribao Strait (=1.98%, an improvement of five times compared to 1943), possibly by the adoption of better radar FC and training?


I’m not sure that we can point to a significant improvement from mid war to late war shooting for the 8” either. Surigao is impossible to determine hit counts for and it was a perfect set up. Both Fuso, and Yamashiro mainly, were sunk by torpedoes, and Mogami and Shigure escaped. However, there was high seas action the next night off Cape Engano which was not a perfect set up that can tell us something and it is not as good. In this action cruisers under command of Rear Admiral DuBose were sent to mop up the cripples from Ozawa’s decoy force. This force included the 8”/55 armed Wichita and also some 6" armed Cleveland class cruisers. After Wichita helped to send a light carrier cripple to the bottom, radar contacts were made on three more ships. The Japanese made radar contact as well and began to flee. Wichita undertook shooting at the largest pip but was unable to score any hits before it pulled out of range. It took 20 minutes before the first hit was scored on one of the other radar contacts (a DD), and then it took a stern chase of more than two hours to finally bring it to heel.

IJN NACHI fired 707 8" at distances between 22,000 yard down to 9,500 yard for 3 hits = 0.42%
IJN MAJA fired 904 8" at distances between 22,000 yard down to 9,500 yard for 6 hits = 0.66%


There is an improvement of Japanese 8” shooting between Komandorski Islands and Empress Augusta Bay. O’Hara wrote that once the American cruisers were illuminated by star shell that the IJN shooting became very accurate with consistent straddles. Denver was hit during three successive salvoes totaling four hits from more than 13,000 yards. All the hits were duds or exited the ship before they exploded. The other two cruisers were also hit (all duds) and the Americans then sought to break off the action when the battle range had closed to 13,000 yards.

Why the big improvement at more than 13,000 yards anmd at night to boot? Probably radar ranging. Brown wrote that it was at Empress Augusta Bay that the Japanese Type-22 radar made a good name for itself within the IJN, but only in the context of navigation. Type 22 in terms of firecontrol could only be used for ranging only, but the ranging accuracy was within 100 meters. A few weeks earlier a PT boat squadron was under taking a test run of the brand new SO radar when they got ambushed by two IJN destroyers who were able to follow them with their shooting, ranging accurately through smoke screens and against agile maneuvering.

Empress Augusta Bay was also probably the combat debut of the Mk-8 firecontrol radar for the Americans. The American cruisers were all equipped with Mk-8 during this battle. Despite this Morison had to write:

The results in terms of hits, showed that the accuracy of 6-inch cruiser fire had not improved since the battles up the slot. It is not known how many hits Sendai took at the start of the action, probably not more than five, since her fighting ability was not greatly impaired and only the fact that her rudder was jammed allowed the (USN) destroyers to sink her with gunfire and torpedoes……
Entering a night sea battle is an awesome business.The enveloping darkness, hiding the enemy's.. seems a living thing, malignant and oppressive.Swishing water at the bow and stern mark an inexorable advance toward an unknown destiny.

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Re: Why was USN cruiser shooting so poor?

Postby Dod Grile » Thu Aug 07, 2014 3:19 am

Hi,

"1942 Battle of Java Sea, February 27th, 1942
Weather: Fair to poor Visibility: good to small Sea State: moderate swells
The japanese cruisers fired 1619 8" rounds at distances between 26,000 yard and 15,000 yard in the long range part of the action for 5 hits =0.31% hit rate
Allied cruisers fired an unspecified number of shells at distances between 20,000 yard and 13,000 yard for one hit = <0.1% hit rate"


These figures are not entirely accurate, as both the CSF heavy cruisers (Exeter & Houston) fired at greater ranges by far, as did the Japanese ships of Sentai 5. That is, both in excess of 30,000 yards. And there were many near-misses and straddles as well (admitted by both sides.) While IJN gunnery doctrine did not advocate salvo-chasing, the ships of Sentai 5 in fact did just that in this engagement's early phase. Later, Houston was compelled due to the loss of her aft turret to make larger course changes in order to clear her firing arcs for the Japanese heavy cruisers when they were off her port quarter in the distance. It was at this stage--and at very long range--that Houston was struck by two dud 20cm shells.

Finally, visibility was quite good.

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Re: Why was USN cruiser shooting so poor?

Postby delcyros » Fri Oct 10, 2014 3:24 pm

The post from matrose is a repost of data, I tried a couple of years ago to collect for a discussion on another navweaps thread.
I am aware that some of the data need update (HIPPER has been mentioned, but AS is another example).
The collection was done in order to explore real service hit rates at long and medium range cruiser action.
For the US cruisers, a post war assessment -based upon training data with a fudge factor to similuate real action- assumed at roughly 16000 to 20000 yard range a hit percentage of 2.5%. Such a hitting rate was never obtained nor approached by in any ww2 cruiser action by US forces.

Higher hit rates of german cruisers may -speculation on my part- be explained by the higher aloft mounted and longer baselength RF gears, allowing them to be effective at longer range, by the complete BB-style firecontroll gears (the first US cruiser to get a full BB firecontroll gear was ALASKA), the accurate shooting 8"L60 in twin mounts. But certainly also factors of tactical conditions which saw their enemies only rarely trying to zigzag out of fire.

But what is more compelling, the old 8.3" armoured cruisers SCHARNHORST & GNEISENAU obtained at Falklands at ranges varying between 11,000 and 17,000 yard in a tactical chase situation -without computing firecontroll gears, long baselength RF and central controll- a noticably higher hit rate than 2.5%, despite a worse gunnery setup (casematte and turreted guns) and inherent worse ballistic performance of the old model L3.1 Psgr fired by the 8.3"/L45.

That´s a very credible performance in this tactical set for ships not yet fitted with cross levelling gears...

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Re: Why was USN cruiser shooting so poor?

Postby dunmunro » Fri Oct 10, 2014 3:56 pm

Exeter at Java Sea.

Exeter's AFCT had broken down and she was using a dumaresq for firecontrol.

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Re: Why was USN cruiser shooting so poor?

Postby Dave Saxton » Fri Oct 10, 2014 4:13 pm

dunmunro wrote:Exeter at Java Sea.

Exeter's AFCT had broken down and she was using a dumaresq for firecontrol.


This is good to know, because it puts Exeters' shooting at River Plate into context. Exeter scored only two hits during the battle, but they were scored early on (at the eighth broadside) before the reception of disabling battle damage, and at long range.

delcyros wrote:Higher hit rates of german cruisers may -speculation on my part- be explained by the higher aloft mounted and longer baselength RF gears, allowing them to be effective at longer range,

The problem with this line of thinking is that almost all the cruiser shooting by both German and American cruisers during WWII utilized radar ranging. This includes AGS at River Plate.
Entering a night sea battle is an awesome business.The enveloping darkness, hiding the enemy's.. seems a living thing, malignant and oppressive.Swishing water at the bow and stern mark an inexorable advance toward an unknown destiny.

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Re: Why was USN cruiser shooting so poor?

Postby alecsandros » Fri Oct 10, 2014 4:56 pm

Dave Saxton wrote: The problem with this line of thinking is that almost all the cruiser shooting by both German and American cruisers during WWII utilized radar ranging. This includes AGS at River Plate.

... The 4 double turrets arrangement along with the SKZ allowed German cruisers to fire in tighter patterns , and more importantly, more consistent patterns then their 3 triple turrets counterparts.
Good rangefinders and radars, along with the 6.5km longer range (for 20.3cm guns) then their enemies helped in obtaining hits at longer range.


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