8 inch/55 Mark 16 (203 mm)

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8 inch/55 Mark 16 cannons on the USS Newport News


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General info

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Available ammunition

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Comparison with analogues

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Usage in battles

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The United States was not idle during World War II in the field of weapons development. When the Invasion of Poland in September 1939 threw the London Naval Treaties out the window, the US ordered the Baltimore-class heavy cruisers. Their follow-up to the Baltimore-class was developed during the war and the Des Moines-class introduced the innovative 8-inch/55 Mark 16 guns into service. Unlike the earlier 8-inch guns mounted on the Treaty cruisers of the inter-war period or the Baltimore-class, the Mark 16 used a separate projectile and bagged charge along with an autoloading mechanism that gave it twice the rate of fire of its older siblings at eight shots per minute per barrel. The Mark 16 was also notable for being the first US Navy gun to use a loose-liner construction and for using a wedge-type vertical sliding breech block instead of the conventional interrupted screw design. The autoloading mechanism also allowed the guns to serve in the anti-aircraft role. The maximum range of the Mark 16 was 17 miles for a 260-pound shell at an elevation of 41 degrees. 

Development of these guns began in 1943 which was the same year the first two Des Moines-class ships (USS Des Moines and USS Salem) were ordered. However, the ships wouldn’t emerge after dry dock until 1948 after the war ended and so only three of the planned twelve ships were completed (the aforementioned Des Moines and Salem along with the USS Newport News). Despite the advent of guided missile ships superseding the existence of heavy cruisers with big gun armaments in the post-war era, the Mark 16 still managed to prove its worth on the battlefield. While the Des Moines and Salem enjoyed relatively quiet careers having never fired their guns in anger, the USS Newport News did see combat using the Mark 16 guns in the role of naval gunfire support. The Newport News first participated in Operation Sea Dragon in October 1967, where it bombarded 325 NVA shore targets in 126 strikes including trucks, bridges, and roads. The ship's spotters recorded the destruction of 17 logistics craft and another 14 damaged. After the end of Operation Sea Dragon, Newport News expended almost 60,000 high-explosive rounds from its guns while supporting the Third Marine Division at the DMZ (De-Militarized Zone). On her second tour, the Mark 16 guns from this ship supported the ARVN forces (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) near DMZ and Vînh Bînh Province on December 25th, 1968. In her last tour of duty, the USS Newport News participated in the bombardment of Haiphong Harbor in North Vietnam during Operation Custom Tailor in 1972. 

Unfortunately, the Mark 16 cannons were also the reason that the USS Newport News was forced to retire. One of the turrets blew up during actions off the DMZ, in October 1972 due to a faulty fuse. As the spare turret guns were already scrapped and it is deemed too expensive to refit the ship with the turrets from her decommissioned sister ships. The turret was therefore closed off for the rest of the ship’s career. Ultimately the development of guided missiles made the role of heavy cruisers such as the Des Moines-class obsolete and the USS Newport News, the last ship in the class to be in service, was decommissioned in 1975. This event was not the end of the Mark 16’s career as the desire for larger naval guns for shore bombardment led to the development of the Mark 71 8-inch gun. A single-gun adaptation of the Mark 16, this cannon was taken from decommissioned Des Moines-class heavy cruisers and mounted on the Forest Sherman-class destroyer, USS Hull as a replacement for the Des Moines-class. The Mark 71 only existed in the prototype stage and was canceled in 1978. 


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See also

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USA naval cannons
20 mm  20 mm/70 Oerlikon Mk.II · 20 mm/70 Oerlikon Mark V · 20 mm/70 Oerlikon Mark 24
25 mm  25 mm/87 Mk.38
28 mm  1.1 inch/75 Mk.1
37 mm  AN-M4
40 mm  Bofors L/60 Mark 1 · Bofors L/60 Mark 2 · Bofors L/60 Mark 3
76 mm  3 inch/23 Mk.4 · 3-inch/50 Mk.10 · 3-inch/70 Mk.37 · 3-inch Mark 10 · 3 inch Mk.33 · 3-inch Mk.34
102 mm  4 inch/50 Mk.9
127 mm  5 inch/25 Mk.11 · 5 inch/25 Mk.13 AA · 5 inch/38 Mk.12 · 5-inch/50 Mk.5 · 5 inch/51 Mk.7 · 127 mm/54 Mark 18
152 mm  6 inch/47 Mk.16 · 6 inch/47 DP Mk.16 · 6 inch/53 Mk.12 · M81
203 mm  8 inch/55 Mark 9 · 8 inch/55 Mark 12 · 8 inch/55 Mark 14 · 8 inch/55 Mark 16
305 mm  12-inch/45 Mk.5 · 12 inch/50 Mk.7 · 12 inch/50 Mk.8
356 mm  14 inch/45 Mk.8 · 14 inch/45 Mk.12 · 14 inch/50 Mk.11