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Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, May 26, 2019

More Cow gun

There has always been an appeal to military types of the ability to place the firepower of artillery on the mobility and positioning of aircraft. The idea of being able to use direct fire artillery from above to destroy enemies is certainly an attractive one. Early planes, however, were flimsy things and woefully underpowered. This meant that almost all attempts failed. In July 1913 the Coventry Ordnance Company decided to make another attempt. They obtained a Shorts Brothers Ltd pusher plane and mounted a naval 2-pounder quick firing cannon to the front of it. Once done they suspended it from the ceiling of a hangar and fired a few rounds from it to see what effect the recoil would have. The plane seemed, to an extent, act as a recoil buffer. The next logical step was to fire the plane in flight, but whom to fly the plane? Every previous test had resulted in the plane being disassembled in mid-flight due to the recoil of the gun firing, usually with fatal results for all aboard. Luckily, this was before the Great War thinned out the numbers of Edwardian manhood, and so a product of Empire was found to fly and fire this contraption.

Robert Clark-Hall was born on 21st June 1883 and had enlisted in the Royal Navy aged just 14. A year later he was attached to the China Station as a Midshipman, then posted to HMS Aurora. During the Boxer Rebellion he was part of the Naval Brigade detached to Tongshan, and may have been back on board HMS Aurora for the battle of Tientsin. In 1907 he qualified as a gunnery officer and would go on to serve as gunnery officer of HMS Illustrious. In March 1913 he was attached to the Central Air Office for armament duties with aircraft, and in July he took the modified Shorts Brothers aircraft up into the sky and opened fire.
HMS Aurora
There was a blinding flash, and the plane seemed to stand still in mid-air, Clark-Hall later reported, but otherwise there was no damage to the plane. As the weapon was just a deck cannon off a ship it had to be manually loaded in mid-flight, after firing several rounds Clark-Hall landed successfully.

Clark-Hall would go on to serve in the First World War, with posting amongst other things, as commander of a seaplane tender at Gallipoli. In between the wars he would retire and emigrate to New Zealand. At the outbreak of World War Two he re-enlisted and served in several staff posts throughout that conflict before retiring in September 1945.

The next round of tests was less successful, although why is not recorded. This was a shame for the Coventry Ordnance Works, as there was an observer from the US Navy in attendance. The company stopped work on the 2-pounder and instead concentrated on a lighter, semi-automatic, 37mm gun firing a 1lb shell.
The Cow gun loaded and ready for action.
Once completed the weapon was handed over for testing at Shoeburyness. Here at the end of a pier, three guns were elevated to 85 degrees and fired, out of three, two functioned perfectly and fired their entire five round clip. In the other example the gun jammed as the spring proved insufficient to return the gun to battery. Now the same tests were repeated with the two remaining guns pointing straight down. Unsurprisingly each shot at point blank range into the water threw up plumes of water and drenched everyone on the pier. Despite this soaking the guns performed perfectly. Unsurprisingly the personnel who became involved with the gun took the initials of the Coventry Ordnance Works and called it the 'Cow Gun'. Work would continue on the weapon throughout the First World War, with the weight of the projectile increasing to 1.5lbs.

During the war the Cow Gun was fitted to several aircraft experimentally. One early version of the weapon was mounted on a Voisin III plane for testing. During the initial burst the plane’s wings detached and the aircraft plummeted to the ground killing all on board. However, by the end of the Great War plane development had improved to the point that it was able to enter service on a DH.4. But after two guns were so fitted, the armistice was signed and the project halted.
Westland's Cow gun fighter

Vickers Cow gun fighter
The Cow Gun next appears when Westland and Vickers decided to fit it in a bomber interceptor to meet the Air Ministry's specification F.29/27. The Cow Gun was fitted pointing upwards at an angle, next to the cockpit. Thus, the pilot of the interceptor would fly underneath the bomber and smash it with several 37mm rounds, shooting it down. However, the idea was dropped
 In 1933 the Cow Gun was more successfully fitted to the Blackburn Perth flying boat, which served until just before the start of the Second World War. The Cow Gun would find its final service as an airfield defence weapon with the RAF in the Second World War. Several RAF Armadillo armoured trucks would be fitted with them.
A Bedford Armadillo, armed with at least two Lewis guns as well as the Cow gun. Protected by slabs of PPP and armour plate portions of this vehicle would have been able to happily resit 20mm cannon, and even 28 mm panzerb├╝chse 41 rounds. Making it a perfect weapon for use agaisnt any German fallschirmjagers or strafing attacks from aircraft.
While the Cow Gun does keep appearing until the mid 1940's, the weapon played a more important part than it would first seem. At some point it seems that Vickers obtained a copy or details of it. This may be linked to the closing of the Coventry factory in 1925. From the designs that Vickers obtained they produced the 40mm S-Gun. In 1938 this was chosen as a bomber defensive weapon and was planned to be fitted to power operated turrets on Wellington bombers. While this never came to fruition, Coastal Command took an interest in the S-Gun and continued to fund its development. It eventually was fitted to some coastal commander B-17's.
Meanwhile the Ministry of Aircraft Production issued a requirement for one of the world’s first tank busters. It was a single engine monoplane, with a Rolls Royce Model 45 low-altitude engine. This engine was to be mounted in the rear of the plane and act as a pusher arrangement. The entire plane was to be encased in as much armour as possible and have a speed of just 250mph. The main weapons would be a pair of S-guns in the nose, each modified to be belt fed.
This project never seems to have materialised, and with the less than perfect results from the Jeffries 9lb Anti-Tank bomb, named Puffball, the RAF turned to mounting a pair of S-guns in the Hawker Hurricane. These served throughout the war in Africa and the Far East.

Image credits:
www.gracesguide.co.uk, www.quarryhs.co.uk and www.ibiblio.org

2 comments:

  1. "this was before the Great War thinned out the numbers of Edwardian manhood" What a lovely turn of phrase!

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    1. All credit to AJP on the Tanks Encyclopedia discord, he gave me the idea.

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