The Gun that Began Two World Wars

On August 5 1914, shortly after the United Kingdom declared war on Germany, the German ship SS Pfalz attempted to leave Port Phillip Bay near Melbourne, Australia.

The gun on August 5 1914, the day it fired the first shot of World War I.

A shot was fired across the ship’s bow from a 6 inch Mk VII naval gun at Point Nepean, near the mouth of the bay, forcing it to return to Melbourne where the ship was commandeered and the crew detained. It was the first Allied shot of World War I.

Twenty-five years later, the Australian freighter SS Woniora failed to respond to a recognition signal as it neared the mouth of Port Phillip Bay. A warning shot was fired from Point Nepean and the ship promptly identified itself. The date was 4 September, 1939, and the Second World War had been declared only hours earlier. Once again, it was the first Allied shot of the conflict.

The two barrels of the gun that fired the first Allied shots of the two world wars (World War I in the centre, World War II on the left).

Incredibly, the shot was fired from the same gun as the Pflaz incident. It was the only time the guns at Point Nepean were fired in anger.

Incidentally, the terms ‘First World War’ and ‘Second World War’ are misnomers. There were at least seven conflicts before 1914 that could qualify as world wars. Genghis Khan fought a war in the thirteenth century that stretched from Japan to Hungary. Between 1602 and 1661, the Dutch fought the Portuguese in the Americas, Africa, India and Europe. The rest were largely the fault of the French.

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2 Responses to The Gun that Began Two World Wars

  1. Dawsr says:

    One of History’s ironies… Thanks for this article!

  2. Peter Evans says:

    I’m sorry but you are not correct. So far as WWII is concerned, Poland was invaded on 1 September 1939 and was fighting back from that date. You could argue that the Point Nepean gun fired the first shot of the British Empire in that War.

    In relation to WWI, Austria declared war on Serbia on 28 July 1914 and began shelling Belgrade on 29 July 1914.

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