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The Five Inch Gun Battery of the Cruiser Olympia

By Patrick McSherry
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By backtracking from the windlass slightly, and climbing the ladder, the visitor finds himself on the Gun Deck, often called the Main Deck (since it is the highest deck which continues all of the way from the bow to the stern of the vessel. On this level, the visitor will begin seeing the guns which comprise the vesselís main (or offensive) battery. Within the confines of the space around him are the shipís ten five-inch guns. None of these guns, unfortunately, date to the time of the Battle of Manila Bay, with most being from the period of the First World War (1914-1918). The forward, port gun is the closest in style to that which would have been used at Manila Bay. Originally, these weapons were five-inch, forty caliber, Mark II rapid-fire guns.

5-inch gun on the Cruiser Olympia

The forward, port 5 inch gun, with the gunports closed.

These were to workhorse guns of the OLYMPIA at the Battle of Manila Bay. Unlike the eight inch guns, which were difficult to aim and slow to fire, the five inch guns could, in theory fire a fifty pound shell over seven times a minute! At a range of nearly five miles, the shell would penetrate nearly two inches of armor! Each of the five-inch guns had a horizontal range of fire (azimuth) of 113 to 116 degrees. The gunports could be opened to allow for an unobstructed turning radius.

It was at Manila Bay where the weak point of the five inch gun battery was also shown. The ammunition for the five inch guns took up considerable space in the magazines, as did the ammunition for the eight inch guns. However, the eight inch guns fired slowly enough that maintaining a supply of ammunition and a flow of ammunition to the gun was not a problem. For the smaller six pounders, one pounders, etc., the ammunition was quite small, and keeping a supply of it was not difficult. The five inch gun fired a large shell and did it rapidly. During the Battle of Manila Bay, Captain Gridley notified Commodore Dewey that only 15 rounds of ammunition remainder for each of the ten five inch guns. This was the low point of the battle, since the commodore believed that he had, in theory, the ability to fire his most important battery for two minutes, and would then be out of ammunition - and seven thousand miles from resupply. At the same time, the fire from the Spanish vessels had not slackened, indicating that they were not badly damaged. Dewey broke off the battle, only to find that the information was in error, and that only 15 rounds per gun had been fired! This meant his men were firing only at a rate of about one shot every five minutes, taking their time to aim and wait for a good shot on which to expend the precious ammunition. In soon became clear that many of the Spanish ships were lost, but that their crews were bravely fighting to the last.

5 inch gun on Olympia as seen from the deck

The five inch gun battery as seen from the exterior

The five inch gun battery also had a sad memory associated with it. They were the cause of the first death of an OLYMPIA crewmen. Before the OLYMPIA had left for the Asiatic Squadron, it was involved in target practice off San Diego. Coxswain Johnson was serving on the crew of the five inch gun in Battery 4 on the port side of the vessel. Unbeknownst to anyone, the recoil cylinder for the gun had been inadequately filled. When the gun recoiled, it jumped out of its carriage, landing on and instantly crushing him. He was taken to Mare Island for burial. In the vicinity of the location of this gun, all of the way forward on the port side, a copy of a poem written by one of the OLYMPIA's crewmen is posted. It commemorates the life and death of the well-liked coxswain.

From this point, if the visitor was able to proceed forward, he would be find himself entering the forward eight inch turret. Of course, the present turrets are reproductions and cannot be entered. Eight inch guns were the largest guns on the OLYMPIA and the largest size gun used by the American Asiatic Squadron at the Battle of Manila Bay.

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