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US Davies Gun WW1

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  • US Davies Gun WW1

    Hi

    The Davies gun is a rather obscure piece of WW1 weaponry and not a successful one at that, with only some 149 being produced by time the plug was pulled.

    Its inventor Commander Cleland Davies USN however in 1920 was promoting the gun yet again for an antiship-aircraft that was to designed to carry 30 12Pdr versions of the gun. Thankfully it was never built, but drawings exist for the proposed aircraft, but I've not found it yet! Anyone have a copy of or a link to said drawing?

    For those unfamiliar with the Davies gun, here's a Wiki link
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Davis_gun
    Regards

    Andy H
    "You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life." Churchill

    "I'm no reactionary.Christ on the Mountain! I'm as idealistic as Hell" Eisenhower

  • #2
    An American naval officer one Commander Davis had been experimenting with recoilless weapons specifically for deployment in aircraft. His first attempt was a single shot weapon where the shell emerged frontward and the breech block was fired backwards to cancel the recoil. This was not very practical but by the outbreak of the First World War he had refined the weapon into a gun with two barrels, one facing forward and one rearward with a common breach in the middle. When fired the shell was shot towards the target whilst a counter weight of tallow and lead balls were blasted backwards. The gun was manufactured in Connecticut and came in a number of sizes the smallest being a 1 1/2 pounder with a calibre of about 35mm, this was regarded as a suitable anti Zeppelin weapon whilst the larger guns were regarded as having a potential to be used for ground attack or anti shipping (particularly against U boats).

    Ingenious as it was the Davis gun posed a number of problems the major of which was the need to ensure clear space behind it so that the counter weight did not damage the aircraft – it would discourage pilots if firing the weapon blew off their own aircraft’s tail. Coupled with this was the design of the breach that required manual loading and reloading so that the gun could not be mounted over wing and away from the reach of the pilot or a gunner. Another issue was the fact that the breach was not always completely gas tight so that flames and smoke often spurted from it on firing. The British Admiralty (The Royal Navy was initially responsible for defending the UK against airships) decided that specialised aircraft would be needed to carry the Davis gun into action.

    The first two designs were the ADC Scout of 1915 and the Blackburn Triplane of 1916 respectively. Both were designed by the same person and very similar in concept being single seat with pusher engines and propellers mounted behind the pilot. The tail assemblies were mounted on a spindly looking framework attached to the upper and bottom wings. The nacelle for the pilot and engine was, unlike most pusher aircraft, mounted high up on the top wing, presumably to maximise the chances of the pilot being killed if the aircraft should nose over on landing! This was encouraged in the ADC design by a tall main undercarriage with the wheels extremely close together. Maintaining the engine on both aircraft would have been awkward for the ground staff and the airman who swung the propeller to start the engine must have had an interesting time as he would have needed to do this from a stepladder (and probably been blown off it by the prop wash). Both nacelles had long deep noses to house the Davis gun, these must have greatly impeded the pilot’s forward view. It seems probable that both aircraft were designed without their designer being aware of the full characteristics of the Davis gun.

    If fitted in the Sparrow the breach would have been between the pilot’s legs, giving full scope for the effects of the escape of fire and smoke, whilst in both aircraft the only direction in which the counterweight could be fired would be through the propeller with a high probability that this would be smashed. In fact neither aircraft was fitted with its intended armament and both never proceeded past the prototype stage.

    The Robey Peters Gun Carrier completed in spring 1917 adopted a different approach. This was a large ponderous single engined tractor biplane with two gunners nacelles fitted to the top wing, one port and one starboard. Both gunners would have a clear field of fire and there was no part of the aircraft that would be hit by the counterweight. It would still have been an interesting experience sharing the gunners elevated cockpit with a flame spitting breach of a Davis gun. The pilot however sat so far back in the main fuselage behind the wings that his cockpit was almost in the tail. His view in any useful direction would have been negligible and he had no means of communicating with the gunners. This would have made locating and intercepting any airship problematic let alone taking off and landing on airstrips at night. As it was the prototype Robey Peters Gun Carrier damaged its undercarriage on the first take off attempt and did not become airborne. After repairs were made a second flight attempt was successful in that the aircraft took off and flew round the airfield – before crashing – appropriately enough on the local lunatic asylum. No more Robey Peters Gun Carriers were built.

    The last, and most outré, attempt to produce a Davis gun armed anti airship fighter was made by the newly formed Supermarine company (formerly Pemberton Billings and Co). This was the Supermarine P.B.31.E Nighthawk, a very large twin engined quadruplane. The fuselage, which was mounted between the middle wings, was surmounted by a enclosed cockpit, somewhat reminiscent of a small conservatory, on top of which was built a gunner’s position for the Davis gun and a rearward firing Lewis gun position with a Scarff gun ring. This was level with the top wing. The Davis gun would have a clear field of fire all around the horizon (but the counterweight would decapitate the rear gunner if he was in his cockpit when the main weapon was fired forwards). A second Lewis gun position was stationed in the nose of the main fuselage together with a small searchlight and a 5hp petrol engine to drive a generator for the light and provide heating for the main cockpit that contained sleeping facilities for spare crew members. The pilot was positioned at the rear of the enclosed cockpit doubtless to reduce the possibility that he might actually be able to see an enemy airship whilst at the same time adding extra interest to the process of taking off and landing on ill lit night time air strips.

    The whole contraption was powered by two 100hp rotary engines. It is worth noting that the total power available to the Nighthawk was less than that used by the majority of light two seater aircraft today and with this it was expected to haul a crew of between three and five, two machine guns and a Davis gun (all with ammunition) and up to 18 hours worth of fuel around the night sky. In fact the Nighthawk could take off and climb very very slowly to its cruising altitude, it could then amble slowly (almost gliding) on its patrol. Its top speed of 60 mph was not that much greater than that of the later Zeppelins and its best chance of intercepting one of these was by collision if one accidentally flew into its path. By the time the Nighthawk was undergoing flight trials in mid 1917 conventional aircraft were shooting down Zeppelins using ordinary machine guns loaded with an ordinary round/tracer round combination of ammunition and there was no need for other approaches. The Nighthawk did make one useful contribution to British defence – one of the junior members of the design team was a Reginald J Mitchell and this was his first experience of aircraft design. He later went on to design the Supermarine Spitfire.

    No more aircraft were specifically designed for the Davis Gun although a considerable amount of Allied effort and resource was wasted on trying to devise suitable mountings for existing aircraft to use the weapon for ground and anti shipping use. Only one Davis gun is known to have been used in combat – the crew of an RFC RE8 serving in the Middle East extemporised a simple mounting on the side of their aircraft for a Davis gun at a fixed angle of 45 degrees downward (so that the counterweight exited upwards and rearwards). With this they carried out successful ground attack missions against the Turkish army. It is interesting to consider that a similar (but reversed) mounting on the side of any of the conventional aircraft available for the defence of the UK, allowing the Davis gun to fire forward and upwards at 45 degrees, could have provided a most effective anti Zeppelin weapon.

    Britain and America effectively abandoned the Davis recoilless gun after the Armistice in 1918 but the Soviet Union picked up the baton and ran with the idea of fitting large calibre recoilless weapons into aircraft. The tactical thinking behind this is unclear, military airships by this stage were more or less restricted to long range marine reconnaissance and it didn’t need a large calibre shell to shoot down the heavier than air aircraft of the day. A Leonid Kurchevsky designed a 76mm (3 inch)recoilless gun, little detail is available but it appears to have been based on the same general approach used by the Davis gun and certainly had a similar configuration with a long barrel pointing rearward counterpointing the forward facing barrel. The gun, the AKP-4, appears to have had automatic loading thus allowing it to be used by a single seat fighter. The Tupolev design bureau was given the responsibility of designing a fighter to carry the AKP-4 and Victor N Chernyshov carried out the work. The result was the Tupolev ANT-23 which appeared in December 1931. This was a twin engined monoplane with a push pull arrangement allowed the fitting of two recoilless guns one in each of the tail booms with the counter shot exiting from the tail end. It concealed a major problem for the pilot that came to light during firing trials. The breech of one of the AKP-4 guns burst shattering one of the tail booms. Normally this would be the cue for the test pilot to take to his parachute very promptly, unfortunately in the case of the ANT-23 this would almost certainly mean getting minced up by the rear propeller. The pilot was forced to try and nurse the plane safely down before the entire tail assembly collapsed. He managed to do this although the collapse still came as he touched down. Chernyshov then began to investigate ways in which the rear propeller could be jettisoned should the pilot need to bail out, however the APK-4 was proving unreliable and the ANT-23 was heavier and slower than originally anticipated. The project was abandoned. Kurchevsky continued to develop recoilless guns and the Tupolev Bureau to design aircraft to carry them (although these were now mainly conventional twin engined multi seat fighters and the guns manually loaded). Kurchevsky was never able to resolve the problems with the guns and in the mid 1930s he was suddenly arrested and vanished (whether to the Gulag or the grave is unknown). This ended this particular line of development.

    Last edited by MarkV; 30 Nov 18, 06:27.
    Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe (H G Wells)
    Mit der Dummheit kaempfen Goetter selbst vergebens (Friedrich von Schiller)

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    • #3
      Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe (H G Wells)
      Mit der Dummheit kaempfen Goetter selbst vergebens (Friedrich von Schiller)

      Comment


      • #4
        It's not like as if that was the last time:



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        • #5
          Tested but the photo electric target detection and firing system was never satisfactory and it was not deployed. Another wonder weapon that was anything but.
          Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe (H G Wells)
          Mit der Dummheit kaempfen Goetter selbst vergebens (Friedrich von Schiller)

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Andy H View Post
            Hi


            Its inventor Commander Cleland Davies USN however in 1920 was promoting the gun yet again for an antiship-aircraft that was to designed to carry 30 12Pdr versions of the gun. Thankfully it was never built, but drawings exist for the proposed aircraft, but I've not found it yet! Anyone have a copy of or a link to said drawing?
            I wonder if there was a connection with a proposed version of the Dyott Battleplane This was originally a British twin engined long range bomber, only two prototypes were built but a Davis gun armed variant was mooted. This would mount a battery of guns firing through one side of the fuselage. The aircraft would circle a ground target in much the same manner as mini gun armed C-47s did in Vietnam
            Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe (H G Wells)
            Mit der Dummheit kaempfen Goetter selbst vergebens (Friedrich von Schiller)

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by MarkV View Post
              Tested but the photo electric target detection and firing system was never satisfactory and it was not deployed. Another wonder weapon that was anything but.
              It was truly a "wonder weapon" though... It makes you wonder why they developed such an insane weapon to begin with...

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