|Deck Guns and the Shelling of Urakawa
I can safely say that most of the people who served on the Thornback were very good
people. But, we did have a couple of a-holes. This was strange because when I first
reported in to the Yeoman's office before the boat was finished I was number 86 on the
roster. I asked the Yeoman what kind of a boat carried that many crew members and he said
not to worry; that when the boat went into commission it would be down to the normal 65 and
it was. They did a pretty good job of weeding out most of the bums...
The only difference I could discern in that photo of the boat taken during WW II (as I
remember it) was the placement of the 5 inch 25 deck gun. Originally it was further aft. I
suppose that they replaced it after we darned near burned it out bombarding Urakawa. I can
attest to the fact that it was one hot piece of steel when they gave us the word to 'cease fire,'
as I had tripped the trigger 100 times and could feel the heat on my right side.
A 5-inch 25 caliber gun is one that fires shells that are 5 inches in diameter and has a barrel
length of 10' 5" ('caliber' is the ratio of the number of inches of bore divided into the number
of inches of length of the barrel). The same gun was used on destroyers but they were 38
What was unique about our gun was they chromed the barrel and the whole breach so you
could just leave it open to the water. All you had to do on Battle Surface was man the gun,
slam a shell in the breach, and let it go.
On the older boats you had a tampion for the muzzle end of the gun and a breech plug in
the breech, both of which had to be removed before loading and firing. This some times
slowed things up to the point of being scary whenever one or the other got stuck which
happened on a regular basis. They were put in at surface air pressure but when the boat
submerged the water pressure seated them and sometimes it took quite a bit to dislodge
them. Meanwhile you are getting shot at!
The ammunition was stored in a magazine under the deck of the galley and was passed up
through the gun access hatch to the loaders who carried them back to the gun. Each loader
would wait until the round was fired, then the breech would eject the fired round and then
remain open. Then he would slam his round in and go back for another one.
The only other guns were the 40 mm that were mounted on the forward gun mount. They
had a "cigarette deck" on which another 40 mm could have been mounted, but we didn't
As you can imagine, after the Urakawa event I couldn't hear a thing for two days. Nobody
told us we were going to drop 100 shells on anything and none of us had any ear protection,
so it was 'commence firing and keep at it' until the word was passed to the gun captain to
---Howard Bowen, Signalman and original Thornback