Hi again, this is Kurt Robinson, the Museum Collection and Exhibitions intern this semester. You might remember my post about the National Armed Forces Museum Advisory Board Collection and how I got my hands dirty within the many different kinds of mortars we have in the collection. Well now I’ve moved on to the bigger guns and by bigger I mean heavier, longer, and a much larger caliber. These are the kinds of guns that it takes two to four people to move because they are so heavy. These guns are aircraft cannon.
The United States was one of the first, behind Great Britain, to develop aircraft cannon during World War II. The first model the U.S. Navy developed was the U.S. M1 20mm around 1942, but this gun had its problems because it was simply made. The barrel of the weapon was about 65 inches long with a barrel adapter to lighten the recoil. The receiver and trigger mechanism was also rather simple. The receiver was opened on both the top and bottom to allow the rounds to enter from the top and the empty shells eject from the bottom. It fed with a magazine or belt. The trigger was attached to a steel wire with a metal handle, which was attached to the firing mechanism on the plane.
However, that version of the aircraft cannon was very unreliable because it was inaccurate, jammed, and misfired constantly. So, the Navy came out with the M2, which was just as unreliable as the M1. Next was the M3, which was a smaller version of the two and did work better, but also had continued flaws. Finally, after World War II was over the Navy developed the M24. This version was the best of the series because it was finally able to fire continually without any problems.
The M24 was used for years after World War II and was still in use during the Vietnam War. This weapon had an electric or gas powered trigger mechanism with hoses connecting to the airplane and discharged when a button was pressed in the cockpit. It was smaller than its previous versions and the new parts, such as the electric or gas powered triggers, made it much easier to fire during combat. This gun developed very well and became one of the most widely used weapons for Navy planes. The Kentucky Historical Society has three M24s in the collections.
These weapons will be my last to work on this semester, but they were a good transition from smaller weapons like the mortars. Being able to see the change in weaponry in the mortars and aircraft cannon was very interesting and was very exciting to learn. These weapons developed so much in such a short period of time that is was interesting to learn about the amount of trial and error the designers went through, especially in the aircraft cannon.--Kurt Robinson, Collections Intern, Museum Collections and Exhibitions