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.

A band saw is lined up to cut the cascabel from the back of the gun at the Naval Ordinance Station in March 1976. [Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston]
A band saw is lined up to cut the cascabel from the back of the gun at the Naval Ordinance Station in March 1976. [Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston]

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.

 

Note the bolt pattern on the back of the gun. [Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston]
Note the bolt pattern on the back of the gun. [Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston]

Naval Ordinance Station staff extended the gun’s bore to accommodate the saluting mechanism.

 

Staff extend the bore at the muzzle of the gun. [Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston]
Staff extend the bore at the muzzle of the gun. [Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston]

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.

 

Naval Ordinance Station staff insert the salute mechanism into the newly reamed barrel of the 24-pounder. [Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston]
Naval Ordinance Station staff insert the salute mechanism into the newly reamed barrel of the 24-pounder. [Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston]

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.

Naval Ordinance Station staff test fire the 24-pound long gun. [Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston]
Naval Ordinance Station staff test fire the 24-pound long gun. [Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston]

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.

Commanding Officer Tyrone G. Martin welcomed Queen Elizabeth II aboard USS Constitution, along with Secretary of the Navy J. William Middendorf (center) and Prince Philip (background), on July 11, 1976. [Courtesy U.S. Navy]
Commanding Officer Tyrone G. Martin welcomed Queen Elizabeth II aboard USS Constitution, along with Secretary of the Navy J. William Middendorf (center) and Prince Philip (background), on July 11, 1976. [Courtesy U.S. Navy]

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.

 

USS Constitution in the midst of firing a 21-gun salute on October 21, 2011 to commemorate the 214th anniversary of her launching. [Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston.]
USS Constitution in the midst of firing a 21-gun salute on October 21, 2011 to commemorate the 214th anniversary of her launching. [Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston. Photo by James Almeida.]

– M. M. Desy & K. Monea

The Author(s)

USS Constitution Museum
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