HMS Sutherland on the gunnery range

HMS Sutherland can’t get enough of laying down the lead on the ranges at Lulworth Cove as she trained the team responsible for the 4.5in main gun and checked the efficacy and accuracy of the weapon.

The 4.5in is a battle-proven weapon from the Falklands to Iraq, used to provide naval gunfire support to troops on the ground by softening up enemy targets.

Whereas some of the mechanics behind the gun haven’t changed much down the years, the targeting system has improved markedly. These days, the gun relies on a computer system for pinpoint accuracy.

It can only be that accurate, however, if the data fed into it is bang on. Hence the shoot at Lulworth for muzzle velocity calibration (measuring the speed of the shell as it leaves the barrel – it should be travelling somewhere around 2,274 feet or 693 metres every second… That’s 1,550 miles per hour… or more than twice the speed of sound).

It’s always pleasing to have the smell of cordite through the ship

Lieutenant Commander George Blakeman RN

Having calibrated the barrel it was time for a concerted shoot. Experts from 148 Meiktila Commando Battery Royal Artillery – a mixed Army-Navy unit – advised on the ‘fall of shot’ (or accuracy) of each round as it crashed down on the Dorset soil first with a thud using surface practice shells, then with a boom and fiery burst as the gunners switched to high explosive rounds.

And in the bowels of the Plymouth-based frigate, assessors from the Flag Officer Sea Training organisation were seeing how the Captain of the Turret (the weapon engineer in overall charge of the 4.5in’s performance) and the Captain of the Gunbay (overseeing the safe transfer and loading of the 80lb/34kg shells) handled things.

In all 45 rounds rained down on Dorset with no stoppages or problems – and with the gunbay team validated by their overseers.

“You can’t beat being on the ‘gunline’,” said Weapon Engineer Officer Lieutenant Commander George Blakeman. “It’s always pleasing to have the smell of cordite through the ship and see ‘brass on deck’” – referring to the pile of empty shell cases accumulated on the Fighting Clan’s forecastle.