Ainsdale Sands Gunnery School

3rd December 2008, 17:47
I don't suppose there will be many SN subscribers who will remember WW2 and the way ships were armed. Most ships carried DEMS gunners ( this stood for Defensively Equiped Merchant Ships). Usually there would be about two or three naval gunners and two or three Maritime Regiment soldiers. The crew provided some men to man the guns too and the 2nd Mate was usually the gunnery officer and directed from the bridge.
I have a couple of dog-eared certificates after doing a gunnery course at HMS Eaglet in Canning Dock Liverpool in 1942 which say that I was capable of taking charge of the defensive armament of a merchant ship. The Eaglet was an old wooden man-o-war with a big shed built on it. Gnarled old RN petty Officers would show us the techniques of gunnery and eventually you would be coached out to the naval gunnery school on Ainsdale sands , near Southport. A biplane from RAF Woodvale, nearby would tow a drogue along above the sea and the guns would blaze away at it. We were warned to fire at the drogue and not the plane, as the pilots at Woodvale considered it a suicide mission as one plane had been shot down.
When I went to sea in 1943 aged 17 I was an Oerlikon gunner for anti-aircraft attack and a sight setter on a 4.7" gun on the poopfor surface attack.
The array of things on ships was amazing - most being pretty useless. For instance there was a device which shot a rocket vertically upwards and a small parachute opened with a wire trailing down from it. The idea ws for a dive bomber to fly into the wire and crash - fat chance as it could not be trained. Then there was a vertical pipe on each side of the bridge with a foot pedal at the bottom and a row of hand grenades in a rack. The theory was that you withdrew the pin, dropped the thing in the pipe and pressed the pedal. This was supposed to hurl the thing in the air, explode , and bring down any plane that just happened by.
I only experienced a couple of ocasions where guns were fired in anger and the biggest danger was from US Liberty ships nearby who were trigger happy.
Happy days

3rd December 2008, 18:26
I was still at school during the last war but my father was a chief engineer with United Africa Co and during his very infrequent times at Liverpool he would take me on board and let me have a run around and explore.While at the time I did not question the value of the bits of defensive equipment, I see now that they would not have been of much practical use.

3rd December 2008, 18:41
Hello Sid,
Much later than you and well after the war (1956 & 1957) I did two MN Defence courses as they were called and its in the old discharge book. To me it was something different and a chance to stay home a bit longer, girls being the main reason. Both courses were sat at HMS President/HMS Chrystanthanum (?) on the embankment in London,think both ships were used.On one of the courses also went to a naval base on the banks of the Thames to do the firing at a plane and drogue just like you,think it was Sheerness near Chatham. One day Lord Mountbatten was due to visit HMS President which was centre for RNR/RNVR when we were on the course. The Officer commanding said get rid of all those merchant seamen whilst he was there so we were sent to the other ship and shown classified films about wartime research into various weaponry & explosives which was very interesting and better than throwing the 4inch dummy shells into the breach. We did 4inch,bofors and orelikons as I recall.
Long time ago eh ? Best wishes
R396040 Stuart Henderson

3rd December 2008, 21:14
Never did an MN Gunnery course, though I was in the Sea Cadet Corps when the Eaglet was at Salthouse Dock SCC217. I can remember the guns that where in the shed alongside which the Eaglet was tied up, that was in 60/61 I was about 12 13yrs old. We never got near them I think the RNR used them for drills etc

4th December 2008, 11:22
My understanding of the M.N. Gunnery courses was a condition of the Grant's made available to Shipowners for "dual purpose" new build ships Merchant Ship's at that time, some of these vessel's having special strengthening built in to carry guns on Deck, We were of course not the only Country to do it, when I worked for Maritime Fruit (before it went down the pan in 1975) some of their Reefer's had the same "modification's" made as well as other countermeasure's they kept on board.

4th December 2008, 20:25
Thanks chaps for your memories of guns on MN ships and HMS Eaglet etc.. The 4.7 gun on the MAIHAR, my first ship had a plate on it showing it was a Japanese gun dated 1914 ! Where on earth it had been since then, the Lord only knows.
One of the smashing things on the gunnery sourse was the "Dome". It was exactly that a dome and right in the centre there was a gun position which we used in turn. A projector threw a film of a dive bomber flying and then diving at you. You fired the gun and a yellow spot which wass invisible to the one firing the gun, would show on the ceiling. Those not firing could see if the gunner was hitting the target.
IT could also fire ball bearings along a shaft of light from the gun , making it just like tracer bullets.
For a17 year old it was just like being in the fairground !!

Steve Woodward
4th December 2008, 23:11
The 4.7" gun ex Japanese gun was originally produced Sir William Armstrong, Whitworth & Company's Elswick works at walker on the Tyne and made for export, in 1914 the RN and the IJN had a good working relationship so this was quite normal for the time, as a demonstration of the future trading patterns the Japanese produced that same gun under license and sold some back to the UK so that is probably how your japanese gun came about

5th December 2008, 14:58
I have heared of "the dome" and was led to believe that there was one (or somthing similar) onboard HMS President in London. Can anybody can confirm or tell me I am wrong?

Similarly did Tay Division RNR onboard the 1824 Frigate Unicorn (or whatever she was renamed) have a similar facility?


5th December 2008, 19:09
I have heared of "the dome" and was led to believe that there was one (or somthing similar) onboard HMS President in London. Can anybody can confirm or tell me I am wrong?

Similarly did Tay Division RNR onboard the 1824 Frigate Unicorn (or whatever she was renamed) have a similar facility?


Hello McC
See my earlier entry re the courses at HMS President. Your entry jogged my old memories and I had forgotten the dome. It was down at Sheerness where we were sent to do actual firing in the fifties not actually on HMS President. It was great fun like being at the funfair but was much harder than it looked which I suppse it would have been in real life if you had Stukas or Zeroes diving at you on a rolling deck.
Stuart Henderson

6th December 2008, 16:27
The dome at Southsea was a concrete structure with a Bofor's in the centre position if remember correctly, it was Hit's, near Hit's and misses or you bloody clown was the usual G,I's comment to those who did not have a shooter's eye. There was an article in the Navy New's sometime back which stated that one of the Bofor's which I think was fitted to one of the Post War "Castle's" started it's life on a gun carriage in the Western Desert Campaign. A lot of post-war newbuilds were fitted with 2nd hand guns each with it's own own record card, when you think of the Bofor's there must have been hundred's in store's somewhere.