Naval gunfire support
Naval gunfire support (also known as shore bombardment) is the use of naval artillery
Naval artillery
Naval artillery, or naval riflery, is artillery mounted on a warship for use in naval warfare. Naval artillery has historically been used to engage either other ships, or targets on land; in the latter role it is currently termed naval gunfire fire support...

 to provide fire support
Fire support
Fire support is long-range firepower provided to a front-line military unit. Typically, fire support is provided by artillery or close air support , and is used to shape the battlefield or, more optimistically, define the battle...

 for amphibious
Amphibious warfare
Amphibious warfare is the use of naval firepower, logistics and strategy to project military power ashore. In previous eras it stood as the primary method of delivering troops to non-contiguous enemy-held terrain...

 assault and other troops operating within their range. NGFS is one of a number of disciplines encompassed by the term Naval Fires. Modern naval gunfire support is one of the three main components of amphibious warfare
Amphibious warfare
Amphibious warfare is the use of naval firepower, logistics and strategy to project military power ashore. In previous eras it stood as the primary method of delivering troops to non-contiguous enemy-held terrain...

 assault operations support, along with aircraft
Naval aviation
Naval aviation is the application of manned military air power by navies, including ships that embark fixed-wing aircraft or helicopters. In contrast, maritime aviation is the operation of aircraft in a maritime role under the command of non-naval forces such as the former RAF Coastal Command or a...

 and ship-launched missile
Though a missile may be any thrown or launched object, it colloquially almost always refers to a self-propelled guided weapon system.-Etymology:The word missile comes from the Latin verb mittere, meaning "to send"...

s. Shipborne guns have been used against shore defences since the early days of naval warfare
Naval warfare
Naval warfare is combat in and on seas, oceans, or any other major bodies of water such as large lakes and wide rivers.-History:Mankind has fought battles on the sea for more than 3,000 years. Land warfare would seem, initially, to be irrelevant and entirely removed from warfare on the open ocean,...



NGFS is classified into two types: direct fire, where the ship has line of sight
Line-of-sight propagation
Line-of-sight propagation refers to electro-magnetic radiation or acoustic wave propagation. Electromagnetic transmission includes light emissions traveling in a straight line...

 with the target (either visually or through the use of radar), and indirect fire, which, to be accurate, requires an artillery observer
Artillery observer
A military artillery observer or spotter is responsible for directing artillery fire and close air support onto enemy positions. Because artillery is an indirect fire weapon system, the guns are rarely in line-of-sight of their target, often located tens of miles away...

 to adjust fire.

When on the gunline, ships are particularly vulnerable to attack from aircraft coming from a landward direction and flying low to avoid radar
Radar is an object-detection system which uses radio waves to determine the range, altitude, direction, or speed of objects. It can be used to detect aircraft, ships, spacecraft, guided missiles, motor vehicles, weather formations, and terrain. The radar dish or antenna transmits pulses of radio...

 detection, or from submarines due to a predictable and steady (non-evasive) course.

World War I

In the World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, monitors
Monitor (warship)
A monitor was a class of relatively small warship which was neither fast nor strongly armoured but carried disproportionately large guns. They were used by some navies from the 1860s until the end of World War II, and saw their final use by the United States Navy during the Vietnam War.The monitors...

 based in the English Channel
English Channel
The English Channel , often referred to simply as the Channel, is an arm of the Atlantic Ocean that separates southern England from northern France, and joins the North Sea to the Atlantic. It is about long and varies in width from at its widest to in the Strait of Dover...

 were used by the Royal Navy as artillery. They could fire several miles inland against German positions.

World War II

The practice reached its zenith during World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, when the availability of man-portable radio
Radio is the transmission of signals through free space by modulation of electromagnetic waves with frequencies below those of visible light. Electromagnetic radiation travels by means of oscillating electromagnetic fields that pass through the air and the vacuum of space...

 systems and sophisticated relay networks allowed forward observers to transmit targeting information and provide almost instant accuracy reports — once troops had landed. Battleship
A battleship is a large armored warship with a main battery consisting of heavy caliber guns. Battleships were larger, better armed and armored than cruisers and destroyers. As the largest armed ships in a fleet, battleships were used to attain command of the sea and represented the apex of a...

s, cruiser
A cruiser is a type of warship. The term has been in use for several hundreds of years, and has had different meanings throughout this period...

s and destroyer
In naval terminology, a destroyer is a fast and maneuverable yet long-endurance warship intended to escort larger vessels in a fleet, convoy or battle group and defend them against smaller, powerful, short-range attackers. Destroyers, originally called torpedo-boat destroyers in 1892, evolved from...

s would pound shore installations, sometimes for days, in the hope of reducing fortifications and attriting defending forces. Obsolete battleships unfit for combat against other ships were often used as floating gun platforms expressly for this purpose. However, given the relatively primitive nature of the fire control computers and radar of the era combined with the high velocity of naval gunfire, accuracy was poor until troops actually hit the beach and were able to radio back reports to the ship — usually after sustaining heavy casualties.

The solution was to engage in longer and longer bombardment periods — up to two weeks, in some cases— saturating target areas with fire until a lucky few shells had destroyed the intended targets. This had the unfortunate effect of "telegraphing the punch", alerting an enemy that he was about to be attacked. In the Pacific War
Pacific War
The Pacific War, also sometimes called the Asia-Pacific War refers broadly to the parts of World War II that took place in the Pacific Ocean, its islands, and in East Asia, then called the Far East...

, this mattered little, as the defenders were usually expecting their island strongholds to be invaded at some point and had already committed whatever combat resources were available. Bombardment periods were usually shorter in the European theater, where surprise was more often valued, reinforcement far more likely, and ships' guns were responding to the movements of mobile defenders, not whittling away at static fortifications.

Naval gunfire can reach as far as 10 miles (16.1 km) inland, and was often used to supplement land-based artillery. The heavy-caliber guns of some eighteen battleships and cruisers were used to stop German Panzer
A Panzer is a German language word that, when used as a noun, means "tank". When it is used as an adjective, it means either tank or "armoured" .- Etymology :...

 counterattack at Salerno
Salerno is a city and comune in Campania and is the capital of the province of the same name. It is located on the Gulf of Salerno on the Tyrrhenian Sea....

. Naval gunfire was also used to help curb German operations in Normandy
Operation Overlord
Operation Overlord was the code name for the Battle of Normandy, the operation that launched the invasion of German-occupied western Europe during World War II by Allied forces. The operation commenced on 6 June 1944 with the Normandy landings...

, although the surprise nature of the attack precluded the drawn-out bombardment which could have reduced the Atlantic Wall
Atlantic Wall
The Atlantic Wall was an extensive system of coastal fortifications built by Nazi Germany between 1942 and 1944 along the western coast of Europe as a defense against an anticipated Allied invasion of the mainland continent from Great Britain.-History:On March 23, 1942 Führer Directive Number 40...

 defences sufficiently, a process that fell to specialist armoured vehicles
Hobart's Funnies
Hobart's Funnies were a number of unusually modified tanks operated during World War II by the United Kingdom's 79th Armoured Division or by specialists from the Royal Engineers. They were designed in light of problems that more standard tanks experienced during the Dieppe Raid, so that the new...


Naval gunfire was also useful in a defensive capacity. Older ships were occasionally beached to provide a coastal defence platform, and during the Battle of France
Battle of France
In the Second World War, the Battle of France was the German invasion of France and the Low Countries, beginning on 10 May 1940, which ended the Phoney War. The battle consisted of two main operations. In the first, Fall Gelb , German armoured units pushed through the Ardennes, to cut off and...

 the British discovered effective anti-tank artillery in the form of the four-inch (102 mm) guns from destroyers tied up at the quays of Boulogne
-Road:* Metropolitan bus services are operated by the TCRB* Coach services to Calais and Dunkerque* A16 motorway-Rail:* The main railway station is Gare de Boulogne-Ville and located in the south of the city....



Task Unit 70.8.9, the US Naval Gunfire Support Unit, was made up of destroyer
In naval terminology, a destroyer is a fast and maneuverable yet long-endurance warship intended to escort larger vessels in a fleet, convoy or battle group and defend them against smaller, powerful, short-range attackers. Destroyers, originally called torpedo-boat destroyers in 1892, evolved from...

s, armed with 5"/38 or 5"/54 guns, and continuously patrolled the coast of South Vietnam
South Vietnam
South Vietnam was a state which governed southern Vietnam until 1975. It received international recognition in 1950 as the "State of Vietnam" and later as the "Republic of Vietnam" . Its capital was Saigon...

 to provide NGFS at short notice. If greater firepower was required then larger gunned cruiser
A cruiser is a type of warship. The term has been in use for several hundreds of years, and has had different meanings throughout this period...

s were called in for reinforcements. NGFS was controlled by the United States Marines First Air-Naval Gunfire Liaison Company
Air-Naval Gunfire Liaison Company
ANGLICO refers to several small units of the United States Marine Corps who specialize in coordinating artillery, naval gunfire and close air support for the U.S. Marine Corps, Navy, Army, and allied armed forces. ANGLICO serve as liaison units by providing capabilities normally contained only...

 (ANGLICO) who provided spotters, usually airborne in light aircraft but sometimes on foot, in all military regions.

In the 1982 Falklands War
Falklands War
The Falklands War , also called the Falklands Conflict or Falklands Crisis, was fought in 1982 between Argentina and the United Kingdom over the disputed Falkland Islands and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands...

, the British used NGFS in support of the advance of the British Army
British Army
The British Army is the land warfare branch of Her Majesty's Armed Forces in the United Kingdom. It came into being with the unification of the Kingdom of England and Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. The new British Army incorporated Regiments that had already existed in England...

 and Royal Marines
Royal Marines
The Corps of Her Majesty's Royal Marines, commonly just referred to as the Royal Marines , are the marine corps and amphibious infantry of the United Kingdom and, along with the Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary, form the Naval Service...


In the 1983 actions in Lebanon, fire support was provided on several occasions by destroyers and cruisers assigned to coastal patrol. They supported the US Marines as well as the Lebanese Army.

In the 2003 Invasion of Iraq
2003 invasion of Iraq
The 2003 invasion of Iraq , was the start of the conflict known as the Iraq War, or Operation Iraqi Freedom, in which a combined force of troops from the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and Poland invaded Iraq and toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein in 21 days of major combat operations...

, NGFS was used in support of operations on the Al-Faw Peninsula
Al-Faw Peninsula
The Faw peninsula is a marshy region adjoining the Persian Gulf in the extreme south-east of Iraq, between and to the south-east of the cities of Basra and Abadan ....

 in the early stages of the war by Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

 and Royal Australian Navy
Royal Australian Navy
The Royal Australian Navy is the naval branch of the Australian Defence Force. Following the Federation of Australia in 1901, the ships and resources of the separate colonial navies were integrated into a national force: the Commonwealth Naval Forces...


United States

Naval Gunfire is still used for many of its traditional purposes. In the United States Marine Corps
United States Marine Corps
The United States Marine Corps is a branch of the United States Armed Forces responsible for providing power projection from the sea, using the mobility of the United States Navy to deliver combined-arms task forces rapidly. It is one of seven uniformed services of the United States...

, artillery units have several Naval Gunfire Liaison Officers
Naval Gunfire Liaison Officers
The Naval Gunfire Liaison Officer is a U.S. Navy officer—typically a lieutenant junior grade or lieutenant —assigned to a Marine artillery battalion to assist in providing naval gunfire support. Attached to the Operations Office , the NGLO is responsible for a Shore Fire Control Party that...

 (NGLO, pronounced "no-glow") in each battalion to maintain close contact with the Navy
United States Navy
The United States Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. The U.S. Navy is the largest in the world; its battle fleet tonnage is greater than that of the next 13 largest navies combined. The U.S...

 for amphibious operations. The NGLO is responsible for the Shore Fire Control Party and works in the Fire Control Center with other liaison officers to coordinate naval gunfire with close air support, mortars and artillery. The NGLO joins the others in the planning of fire missions in support of the Marine Infantry Regiment.

Additionally, the United States Marine Corps maintains three active (1st, 2nd, & 5th) and two reserve (3rd & 4th) ANGLICO units. ANGLICO members are temporarily assigned to combat units of the United States and foreign nations that lack inherent fire support capability, such as naval gunfire. The navies of the world have almost universally moved away from the largest caliber guns of the early and middle of the 20th century because the battleships and large cruisers that carried them have been scrapped. The aircraft carrier and sea to land missile have proven to be more cost effective.

Naval guns used on modern ships tend to be smaller caliber weapons but with more advanced targeting systems. It is unlikely that the large caliber guns will make a return and much of the traditional role of Naval Gunfire has been taken over by naval air power.

Within the U.S. there is an ongoing debate over the role naval gunfire support should play in warfare. This has taken on a greater sense of urgency since the removal of the last two battleships from the NVR. In 2007, a thesis report submitted to the Joint Forces Staff College/Joint Advanced Warfighting School by Shawn A. Welch, a Colonel
Colonel (United States)
In the United States Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps, colonel is a senior field grade military officer rank just above the rank of lieutenant colonel and just below the rank of brigadier general...

 in the Army National Guard
Army National Guard
Established under Title 10 and Title 32 of the U.S. Code, the Army National Guard is part of the National Guard and is divided up into subordinate units stationed in each of the 50 states, three territories and the District of Columbia operating under their respective governors...

's Corps of Engineers
United States Army Corps of Engineers
The United States Army Corps of Engineers is a federal agency and a major Army command made up of some 38,000 civilian and military personnel, making it the world's largest public engineering, design and construction management agency...

 analyzed the current capacity for naval gunfire support (NGS) and made several conclusion based on the progress made since the retirement of the last two Iowa-class battleships. Welch's thesis report earned the National Defense Universities award for Best Thesis in 2007, estimates that the full force of DD(X) destroyers needed to replace the decommissioned Iowas will not arrive until 2020-2025 at the earliest, and alleges that the U.S. Navy has not accurately assessed the capabilities of its large caliber gun ships since 1990. The report alleges that the Navy has consistently scaled back or outright cancelled programs intended to replace naval gunfire support capacity, in the process making no significant gains for offshore fire support since the retirement of the last Iowa-class battleship in 1992. This failure by the navy to meet Congressional mandates to improve naval gunfire support has caused a rift with the United States Marine Corps and to a lesser extent the United States Army
United States Army
The United States Army is the main branch of the United States Armed Forces responsible for land-based military operations. It is the largest and oldest established branch of the U.S. military, and is one of seven U.S. uniformed services...

; in the case of the former, the concern is great enough that several three and four star generals in the Marine Corps have openly admitted to the press
News media
The news media are those elements of the mass media that focus on delivering news to the general public or a target public.These include print media , broadcast news , and more recently the Internet .-Etymology:A medium is a carrier of something...

 their concern over the absence of any effective ship based gunfire support, and two separate Commandants of the Marine Corps
Commandant of the Marine Corps
The Commandant of the Marine Corps is normally the highest ranking officer in the United States Marine Corps and is a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff...

 have testified before the Senate Armed Service Committee on the risks faced by the Marines in the absence of any effective naval gunfire support.

Continued naval gunfire support training

Despite the reduction in calibre size to 5 inches (127 mm) guns, even ground-based NATO forces' artillery observer
Artillery observer
A military artillery observer or spotter is responsible for directing artillery fire and close air support onto enemy positions. Because artillery is an indirect fire weapon system, the guns are rarely in line-of-sight of their target, often located tens of miles away...

s (FOs) and Forward Air Control
Forward air control
Forward air control is the provision of guidance to Close Air Support aircraft intended to ensure that their attack hits the intended target and does not injure friendly troops. This task is carried out by a forward air controller . For NATO forces the qualifications and experience required to be...

lers (FACs) are taught the rudiments of calling in and adjusting naval gunfire. With the exception of a few procedures, the controlling principles are quite similar in both land and naval bombardment. While the ground-based FO starts his adjustment mission by saying, "Adjust Fire", the naval gunfire spotter says, "Fire Mission"; from that point on the procedures are almost identical.

Shore Fire Control Parties participate in field operations, often with a Marine Artillery battery to provide simulated Naval Gunfire support. When available, Marine spotters will call the fire missions for Naval Ships undergoing their gunnery qualification tests, to provide both parties the opportunity to practice their skills.

One use of Naval Gunfire in modern operations is to provide Suppression of Air Defense (SEAD
Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses , also known as "Wild Weasel" and "Iron Hand" operations in the United States, are military actions to suppress enemy surface-based air defenses , primarily in the first hours of an attack.One fourth of American combat sorties in recent conflicts have been SEAD...

) for Close Air Support
Close air support
In military tactics, close air support is defined as air action by fixed or rotary winged aircraft against hostile targets that are close to friendly forces, and which requires detailed integration of each air mission with fire and movement of these forces.The determining factor for CAS is...

. Well timed salvo
A salvo is the simultaneous discharge of artillery or firearms including the firing of guns either to hit a target or to perform a salute.Troops armed with muzzleloaders required time in which to refill their arms with gun powder and shot...

s provide covering fire for sorties and prevent enemy troops and batteries from effectively using anti-aircraft weapons.

See also

  • Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company
  • Field artillery team
    Field artillery team
    In the land-based field artillery, the field artillery team is organized to direct and control indirect artillery fire on the battlefield. Since World War I, to conduct indirect artillery fire, three distinct components have evolved in this organization: the forward observer , the fire direction...

  • United States Naval Gunfire Support debate
    United States Naval Gunfire Support debate
    The United States Naval Gunfire Support debate is an ongoing debate between the Navy, Marine Corps, Congress, and independent groups like the United States Naval Gunfire Support Association on the issue of what role Naval Gunfire Support / Naval Surface Fire Support should play within the Navy...

  • 148 (Meiktila) Commando Forward Observation Battery Royal Artillery
    148 (Meiktila) Commando Forward Observation Battery Royal Artillery
    148 Commando Forward Observation Battery is a specialist Naval Gunfire Support Forward Observation unit within 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery of 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines....

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