In the waning days of the 1973-1975 restoration of USS Constitution, Commanding Officer Tyrone G. Martin, investigated the possibility of retrofitting for saluting purposes two of the 24-pound American replica guns. When cast for the 1927-1931 restoration, the guns were made from low-grade iron and were never intended to fire. In early 1976, funds were made available for the saluting project and two 24-pounders were sent to the Naval Ordinance Station in Louisville, Kentucky. Once at the facility, the cascabels (back of the gun) were cut off to expose the end of the gun’s bore.
Once the cascabel was removed, the back of the gun was machined flat and prepared for the bolts used to hold the saluting gun in place.
Naval Ordinance Station staff extended the gun’s bore to accommodate the saluting mechanism.
A modern 40mm saluting gun was inserted into the newly reamed barrel of each 24-pound long gun. This enabled the gun to fire a saluting charge.
In late March 1976, the two saluting guns were tested at the Naval Ordinance Station. For each successful test firing, the 40mm salute round used a load of 350 grams of black powder.
The two retrofitted 24-pound American guns were sent back to Constitution in time for Boston’s celebration of the American bicentennial in July 1976. On July 10, Constitution led the parade of tall ships up Boston Harbor, firing minute guns welcoming vessels from around the world. Queen Elizabeth II, aboard HMY Britannia, was welcomed with her own salute. Commander Martin and the crew of Constitution received the following message from the Queen’s yacht: “Your salute was magnificent. Britannia sends.” The next day, on July 11, Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip, and Secretary of the Navy J. William Middendorf were welcomed aboard by Commander Martin. This is the only time that a sitting British monarch has ever stepped foot on the decks of USS Constitution.
On November 11, 1976, Commander Martin recommenced the practice of firing morning and sunset guns from Constitution. Gun salutes are also fired during each underway demonstration in Boston Harbor. The video below shows two USS Constitution crew firing a salute on June 6, 2014 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day. Today, the 40mm shells use 200 grams of black powder. The practice of morning and sunset gun salutes will continue during the 2015-2017 restoration.
Margherita M. Desy
Historian, Naval History & Heritage Command
Margherita M. Desy is the Historian for USS Constitution at Naval History and Heritage Command Detachment Boston.
Manager of Curatorial Affairs, USS Constitution Museum
Kate Monea is the Manager of Curatorial Affairs at the USS Constitution Museum.