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Our collection of artillery was enhanced with the addition of a Field Howitzer of 155mm calibre (FH-70). This system was originally a collaborative project between the UK, USA and Germany, all desirous to change older systems, which, in the case of the UK, was the 5.5-inch Medium Gun.

gun loaded on a truck and trailer

FH70 arrives at Fort Nelson

Gun on a trailer

FH70 unloaded onto Fort Nelson parade ground

FH70 gun

Looking along the barrel of the FH70

Rear view of FH70

Operator’s position on the FH70

The FH-70 is able to fire NATO standard ammunition including those with extended range base bleed capabilities and rocket assistance and providing a range of up to 30,000 metres (18.6 miles). The detachment was comprised of eight men and the firing rate between 3 and 6 rounds per minute. It was accepted into British service in 1976 and used until 1999. Several countries worldwide still count it amongst their artillery capability.

This gift comes courtesy of Hesco Bastion Ltd, a Leeds based company who manufacture modern gabions or collapsible wire mesh containers used for flood control or military fortifications.

The FH70 will be included in Fort Nelson’s astonishing collection of different artillery and guns ranging across centuries. Over 700 items of artillery from many countries and spanning 600 years are brought to life whilst sensitively telling the unique stories behind them.

Aerial shot of Fort Nelson

Fort Nelson viewed from the air

Nicholas Hall tells us how the British Army’s biggest gun survived from 1918 until today and why its arrival at Fort Nelson was the highlight of his career.

I heard about the existence of a British railway gun sometime in the late 1980s, whilst development of the Royal Armouries Museum at Fort Nelson was underway. Luckily for me, the Ordnance Society arranged a visit to the artillery ranges at Shoeburyness, Essex, in 1989. A highlight was viewing the last British railway gun to survive — the mighty 18-inch Railway Howitzer. Although no longer used for trials, it was maintained in excellent order as an ‘asset’. Little did I know that one day it would come to Fort Nelson.

Large gun being lifted by crane

The gun arrives at Fort Nelson

But after my trip to Shoeburyness, I never forgot about it and wondered what would happen to the 180-tonne gun when the New Ranges were rationalised. It was transferred to the Royal Artillery Historical Trust and displayed near the Royal Artillery Museum at the Rotunda, Woolwich. When the Artillery Museum moved into the old Royal Arsenal, the Railway Howitzer was taken to Larkhill, the Royal Artillery’s new HQ. It was safe at Larkhill but it was rather tucked away, even from those on site. Before travelling to Fort Nelson, it had formed the exhibition centrepiece at the Het Spoorwegmuseum (Dutch Railway Museum) in Utrecht.

Railway gun on display

18 inch breech loading railway howitzer – on loan from the Royal Artillery Historical Trust, 1918, Britain (AL.387) © Jonty Wilde / By kind permission of the Royal Artillery Historical Trust

The First World War ended before any 18-inch Howitzers were ready, but four were completed soon afterwards.

Some were used for testing purposes on artillery ranges and one had a new lease of life in the Second World War – serving on a railway line in Kent, in readiness to blast the beaches if a German invasion force landed. Each 18-inch shell weighed about a ton but the howitzer was never fired in anger as the feared invasion never occurred.

Seeing the gun’s arrival at Fort Nelson has to be one of the most exciting days of my career and I am thrilled that we had it here for the First World War Centenary.

Soldiers and Royal Armouries team pose with Railway howitzer gun on display

Laying the track into the Artillery Hall at Fort Nelson with the help of members from the 507 Specialist Team Royal Engineers (Railway Infrastructure)

The mighty 18-inch Railway Howitzer is on display at Fort Nelson.