Gun Crew – USS St Louis

Gun Crew

One of the jobs I did while on ship was to work on a Gun Crew. We manned two “Three Inch 50s” located just above and behind the Bridge. It was a dual barrel gun that alternates firing from one barrel to the other – like the anti aircraft guns you would see in the movies. The shells were about 3 feet long and I’m assuming the “bullet” part of the shell was 3.5 inches in diameter.

My job was as an inside loader. Each barrel had two loaders, one on each side of the breach. You were actually loading every other round, and the guy on the other side of the gun was loading the other “every other round”. As there were two guns, the inside loaders worked back to back between the guns. The outside loaders worked on the other side of the barrels and worked on the outside of the gun turret. Directly in front of both outside loaders were the Gun Captain and his backup on the other side of the turret. All of us, and the gun, would turn on that turret as it tracked the target, and let me tell you, it moved fast.

This is the way it worked. We would all be doing anything we wanted to as long as we were at the guns. Some guys would play poker; others would listen to tunes, or talk, whatever. Combat Control would get a blip on the radar, and if they didn’t get a “friendly” signal from them, they would hit the alarm.

As soon as the alarm sounded, the clock started ticking. The six of us who had to man the turret had to leap for our spots and grab hold of something. The rest of the crew stripped the covers off the rounds on the turret and opened the doors to the “powder room” where the shells were automatically delivered from deep within the ship. While we were all piling onboard, the Gun Captain would power up the turret and establish radio contact with Combat Control. “Gun 32 manned and Ready!” Then he would yell out “CLEAR!” and then hit the button that linked the turret to the radar.

I don’t think anyone ever came at the gun head on, because we always went for a heck of a ride whenever the radar took control. Once the gun had settled in a direction, and that direction might still be moving, we would start slamming shells into the loading mechanism. Sooner or later you are going to screw up, but you gotta make sure not to loose a hand when you do, and just get the next one. The best I ever did was 12 shells in a row without messing one up, which was pretty good especially for an inside loader.

One night we set the Fleet Record for response time. It was a quiet night and most of the crew were trying to sleep and the rest were playing poker in the powder room. I was just hanging out at the railing. One deck below us and jutting out from the ship was the lookouts and the two of us got to talking, one deck to the other. He stopped and listened into his headset for a minute. Then he told me that there was an unidentified plane coming in, that they had just seen it.

I ran to where the guys were sleeping and warned them we had incoming. They threw life jackets at me and told me to leave them alone. I went to the powder room to warn them, but when I opened the door, it caused the lights to black out in the powder room. They were not at all happy that their game was plunged into darkness nor interested in hearing any crap about incoming MIGs. So I went back to the turret and sat in the backup Gun Captains seat.

Not ten seconds later the alarm went off. I immediately hit the power button for the turret and ran for my spot. Having just heard my warnings, the guys sprang into action pouring out to the turret. We reported “Manned and Ready” in 36 seconds, a Fleet Record at the time. And we were a Marine Gun Crew, not a Navy Gun Crew. We took a lot of pleasure in that.

I spent 68 days on that rotation. 4 hours on duty and eight hours off, for 68 days. Oh yeah, and I still had to do my work in the office as I was the only office worker in the entire unit.

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