The QF 12-pounder and the Naval Gun Salute
Photos by John O’Byrne
We have been asked about the artillery pieces that took part in gun salute during the 75th anniversary of the Naval Service on 1 September. The guns are a QF 12-pounder 12-cwt. The Irish Defence Forces (Óglaigh na hÉireann) operate two saluting batteries: one on Dún Laoghaire East Pier and one on Spike Island in Cork Harbour.
The photograph by John O’Byrne shows 2nd Brigade Artillery Regiment firing a 21-gun salute to L.É. Samuel Beckett (P61) as she leaves Dún Laoghaire Harbour in honour of 75 years of the Irish Naval Service. The 3-inch QF 12-pounder 12-cwt were originally a naval gun produced by Armstrong Whitworth, Elswick in 1894. They served with several navies around the world on vessels and as part of coastal defence emplacements. The guns looked after by the gunners of the Defence Forces are in pristine condition for 100-year-old guns.
The photograph by John O’Byrne shows 2nd Brigade Artillery Regiment firing a 21-gun salute to L.É. Samuel Beckett (P61) as she leaves Dún Laoghaire Harbour in honour of 75 years of the Irish Naval Service. The Naval Gun Salute has a long tradition dating back centuries. The salute has evolved from when foreign naval vessels entered a foreign port or passed a foreign naval vessel and needed to demonstrate they were not hostile. Vessels would ‘clear their guns’ with blank charges to indicate they were empty and posed no threat. In return the saluted vessel or shore defence battery would do the same. By the 18th century a 21 round salute had become common with Royal Navy. The figure 21 comes from the ratio of 1:3 by 7. Naval vessels could only fire off one round compared to the 3 rounds a shore battery could. There are several citations for seven. Some state biblical reference while other state astronomical origins. Gun salutes consist of an odd number of rounds; the firing of an even number of rounds in the past was reserved for occasions of mourning. The 21-gun salute is the highest honour.
A famous incident involving a naval gun salute misunderstood is recorded during the Spanish-American War 1898. On 20 June, the USS Charleston and three transport vessels approached Guam with the intention of capturing the island. Officials and the people of Guam took no notice and went about their business. The Charleston fired 13 rounds at the Spanish fort. Officials on the island believed the U.S. Navy had just rendered honours and prepared to return the salute. Little did they know they the USS Charleston was actually firing on them with live rounds. They had no knowledge the Spanish-American War had started on 21 April; some two months prior. They and Guam were soon guests of the United States.