Old Projectiles and a Hoosier Spy

Written By: Ted B Markley

In the diamond anniversary year of the Crane Military Complex, it is important to reflect on some of the surviving mementos of Crane’s history. With few exceptions, most of the ordnance relics from Crane’s early years have disappeared. Most have been eliminated due to safety concerns or painted a hideous blue to signify an inert condition.


18 Inch Experimental Projectile

Although neglected, the old projectiles in front of the Administration Building (Building One) are enduring and unique artifacts. It is altogether fitting that a naval activity with its roots in the ordnance business has such a monument at its front door[1].   While the symbolism is apt, the 18 inch experimental projectiles and their associated weapons systems were never used by the U.S. Navy. But, like much of the work associated with Crane, they reflect a world far beyond the installation boundary.

Immediately following World War I, world sentiment recoiled in shock at the carnage created by industrial era weapons. Meanwhile the victor nations sought to reset their armaments. In the early 1920s, the U.S. Navy was in the process of developing a new naval gun system. A prototype of the 18”/48 Mark 1 was about halfway completed when the Washington Naval Limitation Treaty of 1922 outlawed guns larger than 16”.

Giving up the 18” gun systems was less of a sacrifice than it may appear. According to an article in Scientific American[2] the British were having catastrophic problems with their wire-wound gun barrels[3] with the larger bores. All signatory to the treaty experienced unacceptable weight problems with the larger guns. U.S. Navy testing revealed similar problems. The 18” gun was too heavy, the barrel liner wore out quickly, it lacked sufficient angle of descent, and it had a much lower rate of fire.


Herbert O. Yardley

There is an intriguing connection between Indiana and the Washington Naval Limitation Conference, the beginning of the end for battleships. Herbert Yardley a native of Worthington, Indiana was instrumental in intercepting and breaking the diplomatic codes used during the Washington Naval Conference. Representatives of the United States knew the negotiating positions of conference delegates prior to the intended recipient of the cables.[4] Perhaps that is one of the reasons the Navy consented to cap the size of naval guns at 16 inches.

Arguably the father of cryptanalysis in the United States and considered one of the forebears of the National Security Agency, controversy dogged Yardley. MI-8, the organization of codebreakers Yardley created and supervised, was abolished by Secretary of State Henry Stimson at the outset of the Great Depression. Noted for his pithy ill-advised quote, Stimson commented, “Gentlemen do not read each other’s mail”. In an attempt to sustain his family, Yardley turned to writing. Striking a deal with Bobbs-Merrill of Indianapolis he published The American Black Chamber, a memoir of his career as a codebreaker. Fundamentally, it was a very readable basic volume on signals security. The American Black Chamber was an international best seller. It was also an embarrassment to the Herbert Hoover administration. Subsequent books by Yardley on the intelligence craft were blocked from publication. Later in life Yardley published another best seller, Education of a Poker Player, based on his early live in the saloons of Worthington, Indiana.[5] Herbert Yardley was a fascinating Hoosier with an interesting link to Crane’s old projectiles.

Following the demise of the Washington Naval Limitation Treaty in 1936 both Japan and the United States revisited the possibilities of battleships with 18 inch guns. The Japanese were first out of the gates and ultimately completed two Yamato class battleships: Yamato, and Musashi. Both battleships carried nine 18.1 inch guns. Ironically both Yamato class battleships were sunk by U.S. carrier based aircraft not the big guns of surface warships.

Attempting to improve the armor piercing qualities of the 18 inch projectiles, Indiana Head, Lower Station, Dahlgren, VA developed an experimental “super-heavy “projectile like those at Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Crane. The reconfigured weapons system was tested in February 1942 and a few more times until the end of the war. The eclipse of the battleship by carrier aircraft greatly reduced the Navy’s interest in pursuing further development of large caliber weapons and the prototype was finally retired just after World War II. The only remaining 18”/47 Mark “A” barrel is now on display at NSWC Dahlgren and the only known remaining “super-heavy” 18” projectiles are located at NSWC Crane.

In many ways, the old projectiles in front of the Administration Building are a connection to the heritage of the military complex, the State of Indiana and the nation. A unique way to commemorate Crane’s 75th and Indiana’s 200th anniversary!



[1] The 18” experimental projectiles were predated by what appears to be two 16” anti-personnel projectiles (1947 until 1957).   The larger projectiles have flanked the street entrance to Bldg#1 since 1957.

[2] Bywater, Hector. “The First and Last, 18-Inch Naval Gun: the Leading Naval Powers Have Agreed to Build No Guns Greater than 16-Inch.” Scientific American, 01 April 1922, Vol. 126, Issue 4, p. 234 & 292.

[3] Wire-wound Construction – A method of strengthening built-up gun barrels by using long lengths of wire wrapped around an inner tube.  This method of construction was used extensively by the British roughly between 1880 and 1925.  (navweaps.com, “Definitions and Information about Naval Guns.” Retrieved: 08APR16: http://www.navweaps.com/Weapons/Gun_Data.htm

[4] Yardley, Herbert. The American Black Chamber. Bobbs-Merrill Co., Indianapolis, IN, 1931.

[5] Kahn, David. The Reader of Gentlemen’s Mail: Herbert O. Yardley and the Birth of American Intelligence, Yale University Press, New Haven, CT. 2004


One thought on “Old Projectiles and a Hoosier Spy

  1. Ted, about 20 years ago I flew down to McAlister, OK. The sidewalk from the ramp to the FBO had a large projectile on each side. They looked bigger than 16″, but I didn’t have a way to measure them. Any clue if they may have been the 18″ projectile?


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