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Where DID they get the steel?

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  • Where DID they get the steel?

    Hi All

    I have been watching a BBC TV series called "Battleships". This is a fascinating program, showing the development of the Battleship - from the very early years. I have three questions that have been prompted by the program ... How did they cast and machine those HUGE guns (calibre as large as 18")?, How long did it take to produce ONE 18" gun barrel? and where on earth did they obtain SO MUCH steel?

    Those were certainly the days of some amazing engineering :-)


    Kind regards


  • #2
    Peter Sanders:

    Ever hear of Canada or the USA? Steel. Lots & lots of steel.

    Those 18" guns Canadians used to use for gopher hunting, then the war came along and the motherland called so we packed our single shot pistols up and shipped them to England. It is not our fault they could not handle the recoil and put them in battleships. The British are not big on guns you know. They like to club people to death - far more civilized than shooting them! And "The Club" for battleships was not due to be invented for at least 50 years. So that is really how they ended up on British Destroyers.

    Hey, can I have my medication now?


    • #3
      Do a Google search on "Battleship gun manufacturing" for a bunch of hits covering some of this. Someone posted a link last yr
      on RCM to a Fed auction of surplus tools one of which was a lathe used to finish such gun tubes: 60-80' long beds.
      In the 50's and 60's battleship steel was much desired for building rooms that shielded against cosmic rays and background radiation for sensitive experiments with radiolabeled substances. Pre WWII ships had steel with particularly low intrinsic radiation emitters. Steel after 1945 did not. Steve

      [This message has been edited by sch (edited 06-27-2002).]


      • #4

        The barrels for the Dreadnought 'Queen Mary' (WWI) were made at the Ordanance factory in Red Lane, Coventry. My father worked there during the First World War as an Office Boy and he told me about the lathes used (3 toolposts each cutting a section of barrel); the 'chips' used to fall into the 'chip tray' with a resounding 'clang'.

        The guns were made in three sections; an inner barrel, which was then wire wound, with an outer sleeve shrunk on. The pits used for heating the outer sleeve to red hot were vertical and had 9 foot diameter gas rings. The inner barrel was also heat treated this way and oil quenched (whale oil being used in those days). My father told me of the skinniest apprentice being sent down the inner barrel to check the rifling by imprinting with a lump of plasticene (model clay for our N.A readers!) I have a book about the industry of Coventry which shows a picture of these three toolpost lathes at work on the 18" barrels. I'll try to get a scan and post it for all to see. The Red Lane ordanance works survived the blitz during WWII and is one of the few historical industrial buildings still standing in Coventry (most have fallen to the demolition balls). The last time I managed to get in there the whale oil pits and heating rings were still intact. They also made field howitzers which were test fired in a tunnel below the factory which exited into a disused clay pit some 1/2 mile away. All this less than 2 mile from the centre of the city!

        The railways had special naval gun carriages to get these guns from the factory to the test firing range, and then onto the dockyards.

        BTW I believe the guns outside of the Imperial War Museum are those from the Queen Mary (the dreadnought - not the liner!)


        [This message has been edited by Ragarsed Raglan (edited 06-27-2002).]


        • #5
          Damn I love the big machines. I would be eternally greatful if you could post a picture.



          • #6
            C Tate: Me too.

            When I was in Korea, 1950 the big guns fired over us. The roumour was each shell weighed as much as a car and cost as much a new Cadillac (2,000- 3,000 dollars ???). I suspect a 16" shell weighed much less. I understood they wore the rifleing out in a few (mabe 100 rounds) and the inner section was replaced by heating and shrinking.
            I have no idea, but I have but several iron sleeves in aluminum blocks. Stuck a couple.
            How would you explain a inner barrel sruck half way into an out er barrel? Time for coffee?


            • #7
              Steve, what does that term "roumour" refer to? Is that the casing... or charge, or sump'n else (typo for example). I've never seen that word before, but then I know next to nothing about artillery.
              Lynn (Huntsville, AL)


              • #8
                Hi Ragarsed

                Thanks for that info, very interesting :-)

                I would also like to see the pictrue if you can post it somewhere.

                A google search on "battleship gun manufacturing" found over 1300 references!

                I was less specific than I should have been in my original message, I was wondering where the UK sourced their steel for both their battleship guns and the 32,000 tons of steel ship hull?

                As mentioned in a reply, the USA suplied some guns, did they also supply all the hull steel?

                Thousands and thousands of tons?

                BTW this is inreference to WW1 battleships, and as far as I know, the UK has (had) no local steel (iron ore) resources?

                Kind regards


                [This message has been edited by Peter Sanders (edited 06-27-2002).]
                Kind regards



                • #9
                  During the war iron and steel were sourced from many places.
                  A lot of scrap was reprocessed to make these things.
                  A lot was commandeered. All iron and steel railings, gates etc from parks and private houses were removed and melted down.
                  There are still 1,000's of houses in the UK that still have the railing stubs sticking up from low walls where they were removed.
                  We live on a street of old Victorian houses and many of these have the stubs showing.
                  I have actually replaced ours by copying a old picture of the house when it was built in 1901.

                  John S.

                  Sir John , Earl of Bligeport & Sudspumpwater. MBE [ Motor Bike Engineer ] Nottingham England.


                  • #10
                    Lynn: you asked "Steve, what does that term "roumour" refer to?,,,,"

                    Its a typo- meant scuttle butt.
                    Speaking of where steel came from, As a child I saw several ships being loaded with scrap iron at Corpus Christi Texas. All bound for Japan. Thats where Japan got some Iron from.

                    But didn't England have Iron ore around Birmingham? One of stories I was raised on was that the impurities in the ore or coal were reason why English iron was worlds best.

                    And during WWII they lauched aship a week at engales ship yeard in Mississippi- Mother was a welder there. Ship Yard was in a swamp
                    hard to keep the rail roads running with the steel loads they hauled in. Pilings kept sinking. One of those ships was sunk this month in south florida to make reefs. They hadtrouble getting it wet all over (would not sink as commmaneded )


                    • #11
                      Peter Sanders:

                      Sorry about the trip, I could not help myself.

                      England still makes some great seamless tubing (or as the Iraqi's tried to claim - oilfield equipment).

                      Most of the new guns are all smooth bore with self stabilizing ammo. It makes the gun makers life much simpler.


                      • #12
                        You need to read up your history of the beginnings of industry in Gt. Britain. Highly recommended, see where todays industrial society has its roots. Lots of iron ore and coal available in GB. As far as I know there are still plenty of minerals in the UK, but it is cheaper to import, eg import coal from France (subsidised mining) or Sth America and close down local mines...
                        (not to mention labour problems, but lets not get into that).

                        There is a museum at Sheffield where they steam a 1905 12000 hp Davy Brothers engine that drove an armour plate rolling mill. Was used to supply armour plate to WW1 Battleships and later, shielding for Nuclear power station. Apparently they show a good video of the mill in operation.


                        The UK may have imported some armour from Krupp in the the early years of that process (1896?-), but I think that they used the Krupp process in UK mills, not sure about that. The Krupp process is incredibly tedious and time-consuming, very expensive steel! Was developed and improved by UK. Look for books by David K. Brown eg "Warrior to Dreadnought" for good technical details on armour etc.

                        I have seen the 18" guns mentioned outside the Imperial War Museum at London. They are truly awesome , includes a shell alongside. From memory they were on a battleship, but later put on some sort of gun barge, used for shelling shore positions.

                        In East London there was the Woolwich Arsenal, established about 1518, 40,000 workers in WW2, now closed and largely cleared. I have a picture showing the huge pits used for annealing gun barrels at Woolwich. These are vertical holes in the ground, covered by very tall building and overhead cranes.

                        Peter, yes a good question - how long did it take to produce a large barrell? I would also like to know more about this process.

                        You mention casting gun barrels, but I would be very surprised if this method was used in the 20th century. Even in the 19th century cast steel was considered unsatisfactory for guns. It is interesting that the steel we take for granted, came about because Henry Bessemer was seaching for a better material for making gun barrels. He wanted something comparable to wrought iron, but capable of being cast. Achieved this by 1856, the Steel Age had begun.
                        Gun makers found that if the inside pressure on a barrel (ie when fired) exceeded the tensile stress of the barrel material, it would permanently deform the barrel. In fact, you couldn't exceed about 2/3rds of the tensile strength of the material used, and it didn't matter how thick you made it.
                        Armstrong (British) invented the 'wire wound' method of increasing steel barrel strength. Onto a relatively light barrel they wound a square-section wire under high tension. This pre-stressed the barrel to approximately the compressive stress allowable on the barrel. Thus during discharge the expanding gases had to overcome the pressure forces pressing inwards, and only then was the inner barrel exposed to tensile stress.
                        Krupp came up with a similar idea, but using a jacketed technique. You had an inner tube (rifled) and over this was cold or hot pressed an outer jacket, the interference fit giving the required pre-stressing of the inner tube. Actually the jacket consisted of several parts. Looking at a cross section of a 1930s-WW2 era Skoda 240cm cannon, the jacket is made up of about 12 different pieces. This type of gun could also have its inner tube replaced when the rifling was worn, but this was a big job, ie return to manufacturer.

                        I don't know what construction methods were used on the last of the big guns, would be interested to hear.

                        Another interesting connection between guns and industry is the importance of gun-boring machines in Gt. Britain in the 18th century, I believe these machines were used to bore the cylinders of the early atmospheric and steam engines.

                        Talking about sources of steel... It is interesting to read about the salvage of the WW1 German High Seas Fleet, 74 ships scuttled at Scarpa Flow in the Orkneys, 1919. 10 Battleships, 6 Battlecruisers, 8 Light Cruisers, and whole lot of others all lying in fairly shallow water. Last ship raised in late 1930s, some other salvage done since then by explosives. Some ships still there. Must have been a a good source of special steels.

                        [This message has been edited by Peter S (edited 06-27-2002).]


                        • #13
                          I caught a program on the Discovery Channel awhile back on building aircraft carriers. In one part they show one of the main drive axles being turned on a lathe. It must have been at least 4' in diameter and the chips being made would balance a couple horseshoes easy.

                          The tape is available here:


                          • #14

                            The first battleship armor and gun barrels
                            for the U.S. Navy were forged in Bethlem Pennsylvania at the Bethlem Steelworks, BS for many years had the world's largest drop forge and produced many innovations in metallurgy.
                            Battleships in the U.S.N. carried armor in relation to the gun size,i.e. 14'' gun, 14'' armor belt. I can remember Water tight doors that required two men and a counterwieght system to open them. The last ship I was on before retirement was the same class as the U.S.S. Cole, the hull was 1/4'' plate, quite a difference from the old days.
                            Non, je ne regrette rien.


                            • #15
                              There was a naval rifle barrel plant in, of all places, Pocatello, Idaho, during WW2. Their lathe for turning the outside contours of these barrels was built into a cast in place steel reinfoced concrete frame. The faceplate was 11 feet in diameter. The machinist rode in a seat on the carriage. I was never lucky enough to see it in operation and it has since been destroyed.