World of Warships

The United States Tests the Swedish Bofors 40 mm AA Gun — And Other Things Found In the National Archives

WorldOfWarships5 - The United States Tests the Swedish Bofors 40 mm AA Gun -- And Other Things Found In the National Archives

A few weeks ago, I had the great opportunity to spend several days in the Washington, D.C. area to peruse the National Mall and the Smithsonian Museums. While I only had around 3 days to tour the downtown D.C. area itself, I made sure to spend some time in College Park, Maryland. Aside from being the home of UM (University of Maryland), it also has the "Archives II" building. This is the National Archives and Records Administration building and is the second building in the greater D.C. area (there is one in the heart of the city, hence the designation between I and II). A bit off the main road and with a not super inviting air around it, you can find what is the largest archival building in the world. Finished in 1993, it stands at around 1.8 million square feet (just under 170,000 square meters) and
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has a dominating facade.

The archives are operated by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), an independent agency of the US Government that is tasked with the curation and preservation of government and historical records. However, a growing mission of NARA is to allow the public to learn more from the documents held within their vaults as well as to give people the ability to perform research with the primary documents in their care. The base requirements are rather simple, one only has to be a legal citizen of the United States and be willing to be given a long list of what is allowed and not allowed within the Research Rooms they have available. The list of rules is long, and they may seem strange at first, but once you are in the rooms and are handling the documents it all makes much more sense. You must apply for a Researcher's Card in person at the archives, sit through a slideshow presentation of the major rules and guidelines, and then state a general outline of your business. Any paper notes you bring in must be examined and stamped as inspected before entry.

Once you get through the several scanners and guards, you enter into the Research Rooms. All items not permitted in the rooms must be stored away in lockers: anything considered "outerwear" like jackets, coats, backpacks of any kind, storage containers over a certain size, anything adhesive, etc. The archives at College Park has six floors, with rooms on floors two through six. Floor two is by far the largest and busiest, as it houses the Textual Records division. Anything that involved drafts, reports, telegrams, memos, or bills of sale (and a few dozen more other things) are all held there. These Research Rooms open at 08:30 and the first time that records can be pulled out for viewing is at 09:30. In the meantime, you can either view records that you had put on hold (and are therefore not refiled back away to their original resting place) or you can make pull requests in order to have the NARA staff retrieve what it is that you want to view. You must know the archives identifier code as well as some internal locators in order to submit the pull request, but the staff can assist you in finding out what it is you want (as you may not really know for sure what it is you want). This can be done in a consultation room that is located on each floor, where NARA staff are available to help you locate records or to provide guidance on where a record may be located based on general (or specific) queries. Once a pull request is submitted, it will be processed at the specified times (generally on the hour starting at 09:30 and ending at 16:30 with a gap around the lunch hours). Note that this is when a pull request is executed, so it still will take time to locate your requested documents and then procure them for you (in on of my cases, it ended up taking about an hour).

Once your records are ready, you can ask for them to be checked out to you and then will be wheeled out on a cart for you to take back to a research desk. A large portion of records will be found in the official boxes,
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as seen here in this image (they are the white/grey boxes near the center). On the end is all of the relevant information relating to that box, including the title of the record, the record group it is found in, the box number, as well as a range of what can be found in that specific box (sorted alphabetically). Some records can take up only a box or two, while others can be any wild number you can think of. There are limits to what you can request and have out on the floor at one time though, so you can't have it all. Once at your desk, you can have one box at a time and one folder at a time. You are given a placeholder card to put it the box when you remove a folder, and you can only be handling one paper at a time. At any given time, you will have a staff member walking around every 90 or so seconds monitoring you and they are not afraid to point out anything they notice as being out of place.

Why is it that I bore you with all of this detail? Because the Archives at College Park have a lot of military records, which was the focus of my time spent there. I was there at the opening and stayed there until around 17:00 (closing time at 17:45), and only viewed a total of five records (it was about 16 boxes, of which I looked through maybe half). The first that I looked through was some of the machinery engineering plans for the USS Timmerman and USS United States, specifically the boiler arrangement, specifications and the piping layout and exhaust systems. These were "oversize" drawings, and actual blueprints drawn and signed by General Electric and Westinghouse Company. Unfortunately, I do not have any pictures of them as it would have been a headache to unfold and refold them (and I wasn't entirely aware of the rules regarding cellphone pictures at that time). The next record that I looked at was from the Ordnance Department, and it was mostly a shot in the dark as I was looking for something specific but found nothing related to what I wanted. A lot of what was in there (only two boxes) was about ammunition (Ordnance Department code S78) from 1940, ranging from .50 cal all the way to 18". That's right, there is a single document in the folder for 18" guns in 1942, titled
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"Ballistic Estimates – Powder for 18" Gun." It covers details about the composition of the powder charge and estimated muzzle velocities for the 18"/47 Mark A, the same gun used on the in-game Georgia. If you match up the information, the 2,400 fps (732 mps) MV is the same as the historical gun but the listed powder charge is less (804 lbs vs 890 lbs). Given that this is a document from early 1940, some of the calculation would be off and the actual test firing of the gun would not take place until almost exactly 2 years later.

There were some rather chuckling exchanges between departments that I had found, such as requests from the War Department for 16"/50 Mark 2 shells in 1940 (to which a response was sent stating that "none were available for transfer" but that blueprints could be sent over), as well a lot of requests for paint and updated wrenches. I stumbled across a single document that was stapled together that caught my attention, when it had a title named
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"SWEDEN Manufacture of Arms and Ammunition, Bofors Plant." It was an attache's report dated June 1940, where a Navy representative had visited the plant and taken down extensive notes about their time there and then sent it back to the US. It is stamped confidential and is is the extremely thin carbon copy typewriter paper (which is why you are able to see through all of the pages). The report is roughly 5 pages long but I do suggest you read it at some point, as it has some interesting observations in it. I will simply copy the included brief:

BRIEF: Test firing of 40 mm AA gun observed at Proving Grounds. Results excellent. Results of firing same gun on built up armor plates, and fast moving target also observed. Turret mount for 20 mm gun for use in airplanes. Mechanics competent but not organized effciently for maximum output. Stabilized 40 mm AA guns and mounts. AlsO hand-operated one plane stabilized gun shown. Output of plant now 80% guns for Swedish Government. No self-propelled bombs or any other secrete equipment manufactured.

This was all just from the Textual Reference branch (floor 2), but I later made some requests from the Still Pictures Division (floor 5). One thing that I found was a collection of prints taken by Aberdeen Proving Grounds during tests done in late 1954 and 1955. Hoisting an M48 onto a rail car, firing an 8-inch gun at 90 degrees vertical, a jeep with dual tires, and all of the specifications for the transmission of the M103 were found. Apologies for the excessive glare on the pictures, as they were taken with a phone and the prints are super glossy (and I was not going to try and press them onto a flatbed scanner, if that was even allowed). The last thing I looked through was a series of photographs taken in the 1930s of Rock Island Arsenal showing the shop floor and the use of new automated welding machines as well as a report on how they were using new welding machines to improve their work.

This post has gone on long enough, and I took my time writing this one (but that doesn't mean it won't have dumb spelling errors), so I will finish it up here. Here is the link to the full album of my visit to NARA so have fun looking through it. I am enjoying watching the everlasting fire that goes on new updates and this sub, but my actual time available now is reduced to almost nothing due to summer work, but I am trying to keep up with new developments. I will be heading back out to the DC area in a few more weeks as a vacation and will try to make another visit to the Archives, looking for more things with a much firmer grasp on how to maximize efficiency while there.

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