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HotShellman

by Willie Lagarde

Hot shellmen were only necessary on the single open 5" guns. On the twin turrets (gun houses) the ready ammunition was stored in the handling room beneath the mount and passed up by hoist to the loaders. Empty brass was ejected to the outside by way of a chute.

After my transfer from 3rd to 2nd division I was assigned only briefly to a twin mount. In my opinion it was a very undesirable battle station. Closed up with almost no room to move around, I was happy to be transferred to an open mount, gladly giving up the protection of the gun house armor for fresh air and visibility.

Initially assigned as powder man I was asked to take the hot shellman position after a man had been transferred and I was tall enough for the job.

Of all the positions in a 5" gun crew, hot shellman was the one nobody wanted. There was no way to practice on the loading machines, the dummy powder case wasn’t ejected, only rolled out the side of the machine.

The twin 5" guns in the turrets were mirror images of one another as were the practice loading machines. We practiced on these machines about an hour a day when on morning gun watch. Rapid fire was important because the guns were designed to bring down attacking planes by shell burst rather than direct hit. A shell bursting within 50ft of a plane would usually bring it down. A well trained gun crew could usually load, ram and fire a 58 lb projectile and 22 lb powder case every four seconds

Also, since the empty brass powder case was hot enough to cause third degree burns, most men would just as soon not deal with anything that hot flying out of the breech. You could only gain experience when the gun was actually firing.

The case was ejected with considerable force and sometimes because of burning grease or residue powder it was like a ball of fire. Wearing elbow length asbestos gloves we deflected it away from the exposed powder cases in the ready box. There was also a danger it could hit the ammo passers or roll around under foot.

When the firing keys were closed for rapid fire, the first shellman, in effect, fired the gun when he pulled the ramming lever. Watching old Rosie (Ralph Rosenfeld) provided a second or two lead time to get set and tuned in to the ram/fire sequence. In any event, I learned to catch the cases and throw them in a corner or the flaming ones over the side. Once anyone mastered this role he was "type cast" and nobody was after his job.

We had a Mark 51 director (the same kind used with the 40MM’s) installed in 1944 that could control both Mt 6 and 8 singly or paired. I don’t ever remember using it (although we may have) but we had a man assigned to it. He was an older draftee who had come aboard in late 1944. He was maybe as old as forty but ancient to us and as you would expect, we called him Pops or Gramps. He was a short and stocky easy going man and although all of us young smart asses teased him, we all liked him.

It was around Okinawa and we were at battle stations. Just moments before, the main fire controller gave the order to "match pointers and switch to automatic". All the starboard guns were firing and apparently radar had detected a target further out on the port side. I grabbed a powder case to hand up to the loader before taking my position on the deck behind the gun carriage and wait for the order to fire. The gun was moving jerkily when I looked up at Pops. He was high enough, being on the Mark 51, that he could see across the flight deck. He was pointing up to starboard like he was in a trance. I moved out a little to see what he was pointing at and saw a kamikaze a few seconds away coming from the starboard side in a steep dive. The starboard guns had hit him but didn’t stop him. No time to even pray. As I hit the deck he exploded close along side the ship. HE MISSED! I saw a geyser of water and black smoke just a little forward of us and I remember seeing pieces of the plane including a wheel flying up in the air.

We never did get the order to fire at whatever the director was tracking. Things quieted down and I thought I would smoke a cigarette but my hands were shaking so much I was having trouble getting it out of the pack so I said the hell with it.

 

 

Crews of Mt's 6 & 8 five inch guns aboard USS Yorktown CV 10 in Ulithi lagoon of the Caroline Islands in 1944. They are being awarded a cake for each gun having logged 1000 rounds fired.                                             Official US Navy Photograph

FIRST ROW standing l to r: William Huff, Highbridge MO; John Walker, Altadena CA; Sidney Allen, Louisville KY (baker presenting cake); Roy Boone, Spuce Pine NC 2nd Div officer. SECOND ROW l to r: William Dale, Bluefield WV (holding cake); Franklin, unknown hometown; James Armstrong, Petersburg IN; Nick Popa, Alliance OH; Edward Simko, Ironwood MI; Junior Provost Midway UT; Phillips unknown hometown. THIRD ROW (sitting on gun barrel) l to R: Eugene Hooper, Coeur D’Alene ID; Hugh Keenan, Philadelphia PA; Warren Holmes, Cambridge MA; Frank Hummel, Johnstown PA (holding dog); Willie Lagarde, New Orleans LA; Kenneth Harriman, Custer WA; Ralph Rosie Rosenfeld Cincinnati OH; Henry Hefti LaCrosse WI STANDING in rear l to r: Adam Check Hudson PA; Trafford Fosnaugh Cleveland OH (wearing the phones).

 

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