Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 90.djvu/427

This page needs to be proofread.

Popular Science Month!)/


��through the trapdoor at its bottom, fasten the lure of the game on you so that you would never forget it. You would wonder if there could be another spot where so much energ>' is crammed into the flying seconds.

The fire control station, down below where the armor belt shelters it from harm, would rival it if you

��could visit its precincts . Here comes word of the varying for- tunes of the game, from turrets and tops, from bridge and engine room. Out from it go the changing range and the orders that shake the big fighter from stem to stern, from truck to keel, with the roar and thunder of salvos.


���The deep keel of the target is all that saves the craft from toppling over when the twelve-inch shells from the enemy fleet pepper it

��The game takes on an even sterner phase when the umpire, from another ship, plays his part. In actual warfare the ship might meet with distressing casualties besides the loss of men struck by shell fragments. A big gun might be put out of action and she would have to fight with the remaining ones. So the umpire plays the part of the enemy's shells and the ship must play the game as he orders it.

When the garne is at its height tons of steel are rushing towards the luckless target at the rate of half a mile a second, and their sudden and almost simultaneous departure creates an immense vacuum. From the depths of the lower decks and the engine rooms below them the air rushes out to fill that vacuum. The sharp blast assaults your ears and tears your cap off your head if you are not vigilant. And when "Cease firing!" shrills out of the bugles you welcome their music. It is strangely quiet now but the ship stills bustles with life.

Bluejackets and maiines are shipping ladders and stanchions, rigging out boats and sweeping down. Uppermost in their

��thoughts is the picture of a shell-torn target, and news of hits, rumors of a winning salvo, stories of a turret's guns obscured by flying spray at an unlucky moment, are told and retold. The decks are thick with cinders and dotted with white sticks that look like toothpicks. They are the un- burnt shreds of smokeless powder that the guns have sprayed from their muzzles. The "black gang." as the crew calls the engine

room force, come up- on deck in little squads, hun- gr\- for news and a draught of fresh air. Fifteen years ago the greatest game of them all was no more like the game you have watched than the first practice of a college eleven is like the champion- ship match that winds up the football season. Ordnance i^tself made seven-league strides from the days when the red-tur- banned pirate of the Spanish Main squinted an eye along the barrel of his Long Tom at a gold-laden galleon but, except for the advance in gun, sights and projectiles, the gunners who swept two Spanish squadrons off the seas in 1898 had made but little progress. Both had relied on their native skill in firing at the moment when the downward roll of the ship would bring the gun to bear on the target.

To-day the American gun pointer, the best in the world's navies, lays the crossed wires of his sight on the heart of the target as soon as it can be seen, and holds it there indifferent to the pitch or roll of a heavy sea. Minute after minute, as the range narrows by thousands of yards, he holds his sight until the bugles end the gan^e. The men who survive this last test make the turret their home for the rest of the cruise and work like a railroad president to cut down the loading time and the firing interval by the fraction of a second. They are the kings of the Fleet.

�� �