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An exhibition at Fort Nelson

2022 marks 40 years since Argentine and British troops fought to gain control over the Islas Malvinas or Falkland Islands. The ten-week conflict started on 2 April 1982 and ended on 14 June when Argentina surrendered.

There is a new temporary exhibition at Fort Nelson which marks the 40th anniversary of the Falklands War. This exhibition depicts Portsmouth during the war from the point of view of the local Portsmouth newspaper, The News and features moving stories from Falklands war veterans.

HMS Intrepid in the water with a group of boats

HMS Intrepid returns to Portsmouth from the Falkland Islands. Credit: The News

What Portsmouth saw

Portsmouth played a significant part in the Falklands War. Thousands of Portsmouth dockyard workers rallied to prepare ships that carried British troops to the Falkland Islands.

Later, images of the Dockyard became front page news as huge crowds flocked to welcome the ships and troops back once the war was over. They show some of the scenes that played out in 1982 as the ships of the British fleet returned from the Falklands to Portsmouth Dockyard after the war.

The homecomings

Late last year the Royal Armouries team made contact with the Portsmouth City Archive. We were looking for photographs of Portsmouth at the time of the Falklands War. We found a treasure trove of negatives containing images of the Dockyard. The negatives, taken by journalists for local paper, The News, featured families, crowds, ships and homecoming banners.

Every emotion was visible on the pictures, and we knew we would like to share them with our visitors to help us tell the story of the part Portsmouth played in the war.

View a selection of photographs from the Falklands 40: What Portsmouth Saw exhibition.

The weapons of the war

As a much richer and more powerful nation, Britain entered the war with more and better aircraft, ships and missile systems than Argentina.

Despite this, the soldiers fighting on the ground were armed with weapons that were virtually identical and equally effective. Even the same ammunition was used.

This meant that firearms were not a deciding factor in this conflict, but they did create common ground for the soldiers of each side. They knew exactly how their enemy’s weapons worked and what their capabilities were. If necessary, they could even pick them up and use them.

Weapons of the war will be on display in the exhibition at Fort Nelson. The images below show similar firearms from our collections website.

L1A1 Self-Loading Rifle

The powerful and tough Belgian FN FAL rifle was adopted by many nations during the 1950s. This is the British version, known as the L1A1 ‘Self-Loading Rifle’ or ‘SLR’. Argentina’s version could fire automatically, like a machine gun, but it kicked so hard that it was hard to control.

To see a similar example, view the Centrefire self-loading military rifle – SLR, L1 A1.

Centrefire self-loading military rifle - SLR, L1 A1

Centrefire self-loading military rifle – SLR, L1 A1

Ametralladora Tipo 60-20 (FN MAG) Machine Gun

This FN MAG was the main machine gun used by both sides. Still in service today, the British L7A2 version was nicknamed ‘Jimpy’ from the initials ‘GPMG’ (‘General Purpose Machine Gun’). Soldiers on both sides knew that the gun could fire 850 rounds per minute and kill at a range of 1,000 metres.

A similar example is the Centrefire automatic machine gun – GPMG, MAG 58.

 Centrefire automatic machine gun - GPMG, MAG 58

Centrefire automatic machine gun – GPMG, MAG 58

Sterling Patchett Mk.5 submachine gun, (L34A1) commercial model

On 2 April 1982, Argentine Marines used silenced British-made ‘Sterling’ submachine guns in the night attack and capture of Government House, the British Governor’s property in Port Stanley in the Falklands. The Sterling’s built-in silencer made the gun much quieter and the Marines harder to spot as they approached. The British surrendered after around 3 hours of fighting.

Visit our collections website to view the Centrefire automatic silenced submachine gun – Sterling Patchett Mk.5 (L34A1).

Centrefire automatic silenced submachine gun - Sterling Patchett Mk.5 (L34A1), skeleton

Centrefire automatic silenced submachine gun – Sterling Patchett Mk.5 (L34A1), skeleton

Pistola Browning PD Pistol

This is the Argentine version of the popular FN Browning GP35 pistol, known as the ‘Pistola Browning PD’. The same weapon was also the standard British service pistol, designated ‘L9A1’. Like all pistols, it was used for self-defence at close quarters.

A similar example is the Centrefire self-loading military pistol – Pistola Browning PD (FN Browning GP35).

Centrefire self-loading military pistol - Pistola Browning PD (FN Browning GP35)

Centrefire self-loading military pistol – Pistola Browning PD (FN Browning GP35)

Falklands veterans’ stories

In April 2022, 10 Falklands veterans came to Fort Nelson and shared their stories with us. We spoke about their time in combat and the return home. Some sailed into Portsmouth and were greeted by tens of thousands, others had smaller welcome parties. All told fascinating and moving stories, some of which can be seen as part of the exhibition and in these videos.

Connect with us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and use hashtag #RoyalArmouriesFortNelson.


The News logo

Artillery gun

25 cm Trench Mortar M1916 sMW n/A (Schwerer minenwerfer neuer art or new model) XIX.953. 

This “Trench mortar” is on display at Fort Nelson in the Voice of the Guns gallery.

Tucked away in an unobtrusive corner of the Voice of the Guns Gallery at Fort Nelson lies a German First World War trench mortar. Apart from its obvious interest as an artillery piece it has two great stories to tell with regard to its acquisition and its restoration.

I was first alerted to the potential offer of its donation in 2004 from a lady in the Midlands. The story went that it had been brought back from the Western Front after the war by her father, a Lieutenant Colonel A. W. Brewill who had commanded the Robin Hood Rifles, Nottingham’s Territorial Army Battalion of the Sherwood Foresters. According to the regimental history, he had enlisted as early as 1878 and although well over the accepted age for military service by the time of the First World War, led the battalion on the attack of the Hohenzollern Redoubt in October 1915. Luckily, he survived the war and was able to return with this trophy before passing away in 1923 when aged only 61.

Artillery gun

Once on the farm, the mortar had apparently remained in the same place for around 85 years and the donor remembered playing on and around it as a small girl. More recently, it had first been offered to the modern descendant her father’s regiment, the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters, based at Chetwynd Barracks, Chilwell, Nottingham, who, as it transpired, had neither the financial resources for its restoration and on-going care nor a suitable location in which to display it. Fortunately for the Royal Armouries and the national collection, their commanding officer recommended Fort Nelson as the proper repository for such a weapon. When I saw a picture of it for the first time, my heart sank and I wondered what we might be letting ourselves in for.

Artillery gun

The gun was in bad condition when Royal Armouries staff came to collect it

Would its delicate condition permit transport without causing it further damage and deterioration? As can be seen in the picture, it was looking very sorry for itself surrounded by a ring of rust that had accumulated over the years. Undaunted, myself and a colleague ventured north in a Luton van to collect it once the formalities had been completed. As I recall, after the mortar had been carefully manoeuvred onto the van’s tail lift, it failed to operate! Luckily enough, a friendly neighbourhood farmer watching the proceedings was able to bring a JCB in to complete the lift! Once safely delivered to the fort, the project was not started immediately due to other conservation work in progress at the time. When eventually it did, it occupied our conservation technician, Mick Cooper, for around five years of painstaking application to bring it to completion.

Perhaps one of the trickier aspects of the work related to the replacement of several of the wheel’s wooden spokes without upsetting its balance and visual appearance. In addition, small areas of the metal bed had completely rusted through and flaked away. Building up progressive layers of filler was also a challenge requiring patience and consuming a great amount of time. The elevating gear was missing which we decided not to replace. As Mick and I gave great thought to these and other difficulties we wondered how many rounds this weapon had fired and how it came about?

Germany was amongst several countries to notice that one of the principle artillery failings during the 1904/5 siege of Port Arthur in the Russo-Japanese war, was the age-old one of heavy artillery’s inability to reduce fortifications. What was required for the future was a short-range weapon such as a mortar capable of delivering a heavy explosive charge onto a target with relative accuracy – and plenty of them. Further, if that could also include the destruction of barbed wire obstacles which field artillery found difficult to clear then so much the better. In Germany, a committee of engineers was formed to seek a solution by devising a suitable launcher. Their objective was aided immeasurably with their alignment to the new German arms manufacturer Rheinmetall rather than with their rival, the long-established firm of Krupp. Three models were planned: heavy, medium and light with the former receiving attention first and introduced in 1910 as the sMW a/A (alter art or old model), heavy mine launcher. It had a rifled bore of 25 cm (9.84 in), was muzzle-loaded with a recoil mechanism and the laying facility of a gun. Its 97 kg (215 lb) shell, with an explosive charge of 50 kg (110 lb), equated to the bigger-bored mortars of 28 cm (11 in) and 30.5 cm (12 in) yet was a tenth of their weight. Regarded therefore as portable with a mass of only 768 kg (1693 lb), the five man detachment could emplace it in a trench and expect to fire up to 20 rounds a minute to a range of 880 m (960 yd).

Artillery gun

This new model was manufactured in 1916 with a longer barrel for further range – which was always a desirable characteristic in any artillery piece. It meant that the mortar did not need to be deployed in the trench but emplaced further behind the lines to prevent the counter battery fire that it usually always attracted. Its range therefore increased to 1250 m (1368 yd).

It is curious to note that the trench mortar found little favour in both Britain and France during the early stages of the First World War. That was until Sir Wilfred Stokes, Managing Director of Ransomes & Rapier of Ipswich, managed to persuade the Minister of Ammunition at the time, David Lloyd George otherwise, following a favourable demonstration of his Stokes mortar in June 1915. He was sufficiently impressed to order one thousand paying for them with money donated by an Indian maharaja! The sMW was powerful and robust and could also deliver a phosgene gas D-Mine. As a measure of its importance to the Germans during the First World War, 44 examples were available at the commencement of hostilities which, by the war’s end had grown to 1234 in service.

More information about the gun can be found in our Collections Online.

This British artillery piece, dated 1979 and currently to be found on the Parade at Fort Nelson, is not to be confused with the nearby, earlier and similarly sized, British 7.2-inch Howitzer on the American M1 carriage. Can you spot the difference?

Mounted Howitzer

7.2 in Howitzer (Dated 1944) A British 7.2 inch howitzer on the American 155mm carriage.

Mounted Howitzer

Artillery – Field Howitzer 70

Designed for the 1970s it was the first operationally towed artillery piece to move short distances under its own power – almost a self-propelled howitzer – and notable in that it was the last generation of artillery before the advent of computer assisted firing and the use of global positioning systems. Interestingly, the unit could be fitted with a digital display unit which was favoured by Germany and Italy but not by the Royal Artillery.

The Field Howitzer 70 concept was born in 1962 with a NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) requirement for a common howitzer involving America, West Germany and the United Kingdom agreeing on a joint venture – the first two countries both wishing to replace their 155 mm field howitzers and the United Kingdom its 5.5-inch Medium Gun (an example of which can be seen in the Artillery Hall). America soon withdrew however when their operational requirements for the unit differed too drastically for the Europeans. They required a lighter unit for helicopter transport and were not at all keen on the towed facility so they decided to develop their own system which become the M198.  This left West Germany and the UK in 1964 to design and build a new weapon with the following characteristics. A continuous high rate of fire with a burst fire capability; high mobility with minimum effort for deployment and increased range and lethality with a new family of ammunition as well as being able to fire all 155 mm NATO munitions.

Following the completion of the first six prototypes, Italy joined the collaborative project in 1970 which was good news since they were prepared to fund a quarter of the project costs. Then a second batch of eight more units was completed between 1971 and 1973 with extensive trials commencing in 1975. These, involving nineteen units in all, were successful and the weapon was accepted into British service in 1976 but was not fully operational until 1980.

Model Howitzer

This model Howitzer shows the structure of the gun.

The trilateral production committed the UK to manufacturing the carriage, traversing mechanism and propellant charge at Vickers Shipbuilding Group Limited, as it was then known. In West Germany, Rheinmetall manufactured the barrel, loading mechanism, auxiliary propulsion unit (APU), sights and illuminating ammunition and in Italy, OTO-Melara made the cradle, recoil system and elevating gear.

The gun was mounted on a split-trail carriage fitted with small guiding wheels on the trail ends with the APU a Volkswagen 1800 cc diesel engine capable of driving the unit at a maximum road speed of 16 km/h (10 mph) as well as powering both the hydraulics and electrics.

In the Royal Artillery it was deployed in regiments of eighteen guns, six to a battery. The first British regiment to receive its full complement of weapons was the 1st Regiment, Royal Horse Artillery, based in the UK, with the second regiment stationed in Germany with the British Army of the Rhine.

The new family of ammunition included a thin-walled, high fragmentation effect High-Explosive (HE) shell weighing 43.5 kg. A base ejection smoke shell and an illuminating round. Additionally it could fire the American M549A1 Rocket-Assisted Projectile (RAP) and the American M712 High-Explosive, terminally laser guided,  Anti-Tank ‘Copperhead’ projectile. The maximum range for the standard HE round was 24,000 m (15 miles) and for RAP 30,000 m (18.7 miles). Its firing rate was between 2 and 6 rounds per minute, the detachment numbered eight men and for towing its 9300 kg (9.15 tons) weight, the Royal Artillery used the Foden (6 x 6) Medium Mobility Vehicle.

Although ballistically successful, the weapon had an apparent reputation for unreliability particularly with respect to the high levels of maintenance required for the APU and the complex hydraulics. It was found to be prone to dust contamination in the field and suspect when experiencing the rough handling typical of a NATO exercise – conditions not accurately simulated in testing. An internet source states that its system reliability in 1981 was only 51%. Nonetheless, over a thousand units were constructed between 1977 and 1989. The Royal Artillery possessed 397, Italy 162 and West Germany 150. Eight other countries were sufficiently impressed to place orders, with Malaysia, the first non-NATO country, ordering 15. Saudi Arabia utilised 72 units, 40 of which remain in service today. Estonia originally purchased 32 units, 24 of which were in service in 2010 and Morocco maintain the 30 today they originally ordered. But it was Japan who became the largest single user of this artillery successfully negotiated permission to manufactured 480 under licence by Japan Steel Works.

This example was donated to the Royal Armouries in 2016 by Hesco Bastion Ltd of Leeds who manufacture specialist units for protection against small arms fire and/or explosives. FH-70 155 mm Towed Howitzer – DITCHED BY AMERICA? by Matsimus.

Railway gun on display

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

This “Railway Gun” is on display at Fort Nelson in the Artillery Hall.

Getting up close is the best way to comprehend its size and to appreciate the manufacturing expertise expended in the construction of this super-heavy monster artillery. The barrel weighing 86,364 kg (85 tons) was designed to throw a shell of 1135 kg (1.12 tons) containing a bursting charge of 78 kg (172 lb) of T.N.T. to a range of just over 20 km (13 miles). To achieve this the barrel had to withstand around 25,401 kg (25 tons) of pressure per square inch around the charge of 120 kg (265 lb) of cordite. The reason for this was to bring an even greater weight of firepower down on the German Hindenburg defensive line on the Western Front than had been possible with two naval 14-inch guns. These were also railway mounted, made by the Elswick Ordnance Company (EOC) of Newcastle and named ‘Boche-Buster’ and Scene-Shifter’.

Responding to a request from General Headquarters in France for bigger artillery, the Munitions Council, probably towards the end of 1917, invited both EOC and Vickers Ltd to submit designs based on a bore of 18 inches. Eventually EOC built three, including the one we have today, and Vickers two but none of them were finished before the end of the war! However, they were put to very good use thereafter as will be revealed below. Introduced into British service on the 8th May 1920, this barrel, designated L1, had been proof fired and had its charge determined in April 1919 at Woolwich. Soon after it was sent to the Proof and Experimental Establishment at Shoeburyness in Essex for further proof firing and other firings to enable the compilation of its range characteristics, that is, the relationship of barrel elevation and propellant charge to range – vital information for a Battery Commander. The mounting upon which L1 sits is much older.

Mountings such as these were constructed by the Royal Carriage Department, Woolwich, solely for the proof firing of heavy calibre naval guns between 12-inch and 16.25-inch. This example as number 10 was built in 1886 and weighing 96,525 kg (95 tons) spent most of its working life at either Shoeburyness or Woolwich oftentimes ferried between the two on War Department barges.

In the years following 1918, most of the heavy artillery barrels and railway gun rolling stock was moth-balled at various Royal Army Ordnance Depots. The commencement of the Second World War in 1939 focussed attention again on the nation’s available artillery. Moves were made to locate, classify and note its condition and one of the experts called upon to help was none other than Major S.M. (Monty) Cleeve, Battery Commander of 471 Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery, who, with a 14-inch Mark III gun upon ‘Boche-Buster’ gave a demonstration firing to King George V on an official visit – the so-called ‘Kings Shot’ in 1918. Cleeve found four 18-inch barrels including L1 and four mountings at Chilwell, Nottingham. Could such important artillery be brought back into service? Winston Churchill certainly believed so following his coming to power as Prime Minister in May 1940 and the fall of France one month later. This allowed the Germans to commence emplacing powerful coast defence guns in the Pas de Calais region opposite Dover quite capable of cross-Channel bombardment. The Kent coast defences in particular needed strengthening and Churchill’s view was that these old guns and mountings could help but not before much inspecting, maintenance and railway line preparation. Eventually, barrel L2 and ‘Boche-Buster’ were united in October 1940 but the journey to Kent was not started until February 1941.

Large artillery gun firing from a railway carriage and track in 1941

18-inch Howitzer on ‘Boche-Buster’ firing a ranging round in Kent, May 1941.

Although operated by the 11th Super Heavy Battery, Royal Artillery, and housed in Bishopsbourne Tunnel on the Elham Valley Line, this unit was never called upon to engage an enemy target and was therefore regarded as somewhat of a white elephant by the other coast defence detachments. Nevertheless, Churchill enjoyed showing it off to visiting VIP’s when visiting that part of Kent. Its relatively short range meant that at best it would have been able only to cover the approaching shoreline in the Dover vicinity. By 1943 it had been withdrawn to Salisbury Plain to continue further investigative firing trials into concrete penetration.

These had started at Shoeburyness in 1943 involving L1 on No.10 with twin objectives in mind. Firstly, to use one or more 18-inch Howitzer in subsequent operations in France following the invasion of Europe specifically firing a shell of modified design strong enough to penetrate concrete and secondly, research into strengthening air-dropped rotating and non-rotating 454 kg (1000 lb) bombs when targeting concrete. It was far cheaper and simpler to use a gun rather than attempt to hit a target from an aircraft flying at height. It avoided taking an aircraft and its crew from front-line service and the post-strike recovery of the bomb was much easier. It is believed by the author of this piece that Barnes Wallis was involved in this research in order to help with the construction of his 5080 kg (5 tons) Tallboy and 10,160 kg (10 tons) Grand Slam earthquake bomb. Interestingly, L1 fired its last round, a 1000 lb bomb, as late as the 27th November 1959.

Large gun mounted on a railway carriage and track

18-inch Howitzer on Railway Proof Carriage at Shoeburyness, Essex on 7 June 1990. Crown Copyright.

For some years afterwards, both gun and carriage remained at Shoeburyness somewhat neglected in a remote siding. Apart from an occasional coat of paint and several attempts to pass the unit on to other defence establishment, it was not until 1979 that it was refurbished and moved to a more visible location there. Full retirement came in 1991 when it was gifted by the Ministry of Defence to the Royal Artillery Historical Trust and placed on public display outside the Rotunda at Woolwich. There it lay for seventeen years until 2008 when it was moved again, this time to the Royal Artillery Barracks at Larkhill where it was set-down on a section of railway line adjacent to the sports field. In 2013 permission was granted for it to star in the exhibition ‘Tracks to the Front’ at the Dutch National Railway Museum (DNRM) in Utrecht, Holland detailing the story of trains in wartime as part of the 300th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht. A clause in the six-month loan agreement committed DNRM to meet the expense of its relocation to an English site which, after a short period of negotiation, was agreed to be the Royal Armouries (RA) Museum of Artillery at Fort Nelson. Its transport by road and sea to Holland and back was of sufficient interest to feature as a documentary in the Monster Moves television series for Channel 5. The loan to the RA was originally for five years but this was extended in 2018 to 2023.

18-inch Railway Howitzer and Railway Proof Carriage arriving at Fort Nelson

18-inch Railway Howitzer and Railway Proof Carriage arriving at Fort Nelson on 17th September 2013. © Philip Magrath

More information about the gun can be found in our Collections Online.

Field gun carried royalty

15-pounder Mark IV Gun of 7 cwt on a Field Carriage Mark IV

This field gun conveyed the mortal remains of both Queen Victoria (1819-1901) and King Edward VII (1841-1910) on one of the short three legs of their funeral procession. The silver plaques on the carriage trail tell us more specifically that for Her Majesty it involved the start of the ceremony from Osborne House to Cowes quay on the 1st of February 1901 and for the latter, in London, from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Hall on the 17th May 1910.

Silver plaques on the gun

Queen Victoria’s final journey

At 13.30 on a Friday afternoon the Queen’s coffin was carried out of Osborne House by men of the Highland Regiment and sailors of the Royal Navy and placed on the gun-carriage prepared to receive it. It was covered by a white silk pall and the Royal Standard. On a crimson cushion at the head rested the crown, and on an azure cushion at the foot lay the sceptre and the two orbs. As the gun-carriage moved off, drawn by eight horses, immediately behind walked His Majesty the King as chief mourner, accompanied on his right by the German Emperor and on his left by the Duke of Connaught all wearing the uniforms of a British Admiral. Behind them in procession followed the Crown Prince of Prussia, Prince Henry of Prussia, Prince Christian, the Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Prince Arthur of Connaught, Prince Charles of Denmark and Prince Louis of Battenberg. Then came the Queen and the Royal Princesses and finally the Osborne tenantry and the Household servants.

Once the procession had reached Cowes pier, the silken pall was removed and ten strong bluejackets carried the coffin to a dais prepared for it on the deck of the royal yacht Alberta. At this point, the 15-pounder gun-carriage had served its purpose and was most likely returned to store at the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich. Then the royal mourners were conveyed in pinnaces to the Victoria and Albert and at five minutes to three in the afternoon, the Alberta slipped slowly away from the pier, while the troops presented arms and the massed bands played “The Saints of God, their conflicts past”. Alberta’s destination was Portsmouth Harbour and an overnight berth at the Royal Clarence Yard with a guard of honour mounted in the on deck pavilion. Early the next day the coffin was removed to the royal train for the journey to London.

At Victoria station, another gun-carriage was ready to repeat the process on a short circuit around the city before ending at Paddington station for the train trip to Windsor. Here, a further gun-carriage conveyed the coffin on the last stage of its journey to St. George’s Chapel but not before a mishap with a broken carriage harness hit and felled a horse resulting in a restive horse team refusing, unsurprisingly, to move. Whilst the horse was recovering, the sailors forming the nearby Naval Guard of Honour unharnessed the horse team and with the aid of an improvised rope drew the gun-carriage onward themselves. Such quick-thinking by the sailors was later to earn them a special message of thanks from the King. They were thus granted the honour of drawing their deceased Sovereign through the gates of Windsor Castle to the door of St. George’s Chapel. Here a service was led by the Bishop of Winchester before the coffin was moved to the Albert Memorial Chapel to await its final entombment at Frogmore.

This gun-carriage was then used again nine years later to convey the mortal remains of Edward VII from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Hall. Here it lay in state for three days allowing the populace a last opportunity of showing their respect. The coffin was covered with the same white silk pall and Royal Standard as used to cover his mother’s coffin. Interestingly, for the first and probably the only time in its history, the bell of Big Ben was tolled four times a minute from the moment at which the funeral procession left Buckingham Palace until the time at which the coffin was set in its place at Westminster Hall. Thereafter, the journey progressed from Westminster Hall to Paddington station for the trip to Windsor but this time drawn by an 18-pounder field gun currently in the possession of the Royal Artillery Historical Trust. Finally, a further gun would have been used between Windsor station and St. George’s Chapel and finally to the place of internment below in the Albert Memorial Chapel.

18-pdr gun with coffin bearing platform which carried royalty

The 18-pounder field gun, currently in the possession of the Royal Artillery Historical Trust, that carried Edward VII from Westminster Hall to Paddington station. Image by permission of the Royal Artillery Historical Trust Trustees.

None of the guns and carriages involved in these two funerals ever fired a shot in anger. This type of gun, as the Mark I, was introduced into the service in 1883 as the 12-pounder of 7 cwt to form the armament of the Royal Horse and Royal Field Artillery. With the introduction of the more powerful cordite propellant in 1889 it was found that it could fire a heavier projectile of 15 pounds and as a consequence was designated the 15-pounder. This non-modified Mark IV utilised wire-winding to strengthen the barrel and was manufactured by the Elswick Ordnance Company of Newcastle in 1901. The single trail carriage fitted with rubber wheels for funerary service in order to promote greater silence and to avoid jolting was made at the Royal Carriage Department, Woolwich in 1900 – the last carriage to be fitted with seats for the gunners to ride on when travelling. Both gun and carriage became the British Army’s field gun during the Second Boer War (1899-1902). Here, 349 were in service and said to have fired 166,548 rounds out of a British total of 233,714. A few remained in limited use in remote First World War theatres. The ammunition available to the six-man detachment was shrapnel and case shot but range was limited to 3749 m (4,100 yards) by the No. 56 time and percussion fuze which could only burn for 13 seconds. This was soon improved with the No.57 fuze which with a longer burn time gave a 5,304 m (5,800 yards) maximum range. It was of course to be the 13-pounder and 18-pounder quick-firing field guns of 1904, the former for the Royal Horse Artillery and the latter for the Royal Field Artillery that proved to be the successor of the 15-pounder.
1029 words.


The Illustrated London News, No.3224A, February 7th, 1901.
The Illustrated London News, No.757, May 21st, 1910.

These guns were recovered from the wreck of the Royal Navy ship HMS London and are interesting guns for several reasons. They were acquired by the Royal Armouries in 2017 and form part of a major conservation project at Fort Nelson known as the 17th century Marine Salvage Project. There is a third gun in this project, a 17th century composite drake gun.

Visible corrosion damage

Deterioration on the rim of the gun

Conserving a piece of history

Understanding the object’s history is important as it can affect the condition of the object and, in turn, the conservation treatments required. These guns are a very good example of how this works. The London guns have an interesting history. Divers began salvaging treasures from the wreck of the HMS London in 2007, however due to an incorrectly completed declaration there was a subsequent court case. The guns have since been acquired by the Royal Armouries with assistance from the Receiver of Wreck.

The first question to ask is where and which HMS London? This might seem an obvious question, however there have been 13 ships called HMS London. The guns were in fact recovered from the second HMS London, which is often confused with the first. The second HMS London was built in Chatham in Kent for the Navy and captained by John Lawson. She was a 76 gun second-rate ship of the Royal Navy, built in 1656, one of three second-rate large ships built between 1642 and 1660. She gained some of her fame as one of the ships that escorted Charles II from Holland back to England during the English Restoration. The huge vessel sank in the Thames Estuary after mysteriously exploding on a journey from Chatham, Kent. It is believed a sailor took a candle below deck, sparking an explosion in the ship’s gunpowder stockpile. Three hundred people died when she sank.

The famous diarist Samuel Pepys, who was also an administrator of the navy of England and Member of Parliament, recorded the loss of the London on the 8 March 1665 in his diary,

‘But a little a’this side the buoy of the Nower, she suddenly blew up. About 24 men and a woman that were in the round-house and coach saved; the rest, being above 300, drowned; the ship breaking all in pieces, with 80 pieces of brass ordnance’.

On the 11 March Pepys recorded, after the results of an inspection of the wreck, that the hull was lost but the guns could be got. Treasury papers from May 1694 show that the guns were still a subject of some interest, almost 30 years after its sinking.

The rediscovery of the wreck

The wreck of the London was rediscovered in 2005 and the Port of London Authority changed the shipping route to allow archaeological investigation of the site. On the 24 October 2008 the site was given protection under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973.

This information tells us that the guns have been underwater for over 300 years and out of sea water for approximately 10 years. During the past 10 years we are aware that the guns were not stored in desalination tanks. This puts the guns at an increased risk of bronze disease and alters the condition as it makes the details less sharp, for example any lettering on the guns (image 1).

Visible corrosion damage

Deterioration on the rim of the gun

The conservation treatment for these guns will be a diffusion process then a barrier treatment. This prevents oxygen entering into the gun after treatment reduces the risk of bronze disease, followed by a light polish and then a drying process. The conservation is expected to take about five years as the diffusion process alone will take approximately 24 months.

Cannon in water tank

The Gill gun positioned in the conservation tank

Another area of information that the conservator will be interested in is the markings on the guns. Markings provide an indication of how important the guns are. This information can be used by conservators to aid in acquiring objects for the museum’s collection and to obtain funding for the required conservation treatments; this is particularly helpful when budgets are under pressure.

The marking on the London guns indicate that they are highly important. One of the guns is stamped ‘Peter Gill’ and the other has the harp of Commonwealth on the chase.

Peter Gill

This gun is stamped ‘Peter Gill’.

Harp of the commonwealth

Marked with the harp of Commonwealth on the chase.

Marked with the harp of Commonwealth on the chase.The 17th century Marine Salvage Project focuses on three guns recovered from the river Thames and Goodwin Sands, off the Kent coast, all of which require technical conservation treatments.

This project has been made possible with funding from The Arms & Armour Heritage Trust, The Radcliffe Trust and The Leche Trust.

To commemorate the anniversary of Queen Victorias funeral, this blog post takes a look at an object from our collection with a distinguished place in history, the gun carriage that carried the late Queen on her final journey from Osborne House.

The day of Queen Victoria’s funeral, Saturday 2nd February 1901, came with excellent weather. Reporting from Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, The Times noted that ‘the sky was cloudless and blue; the Solent looked like the Mediterranean itself.’ [1] Outside the house had quietly gathered leading members of the European aristocracy, local school children, Isle of Wight dignitaries, leading members of the staff of the Commander-in-Chief of Portsmouth, convalescing soldiers, and tenants of the estate. The paper continued;

‘Then, quite suddenly, the note of a naval and military ceremonial seemed to break silently. The gun carriage and horses and men of ‘Y’ Battery, Royal Horse Artillery, took up their position and the bearer party of bluejackets marched in from the left, and were drawn up.’

The Royal coffin was slowly brought

‘outside upon the gun carriage, with the Highland servants and pipers in full dress. Almost at the same moment, the Grenadier Guards received the word of command, and slow-marched, wheeling to the right, until they stood, a sinuous avenue of scarlet, with towering bearskins, followed the curved lines of the road from the Quadrangle into the drive. All eyes were fixed upon the coffin as it moved slowly forward on the gun carriage and on the drooping Royal Standard that draped it partially’

as well as ‘the little group of Royal personages, so small it seemed, but yet so great, who walked sadly behind’.

15-pounder field gun

From here the funeral cortege proceeded slowly down the hill into Cowes and to Trinity Pier from where the Queen’s coffin was passed into the custody of the Royal Navy for conveyance to Portsmouth and then to London.

The gun carriage referred to is a 15-pounder Field Gun and carriage and currently on display at the Royal Armouries, Fort Nelson.


[1] No. 36369, The Times, Monday February 4th, 1901, page 5. ‘Funeral of the Queen‘.

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.

Field Howitzer of 155mm calibre (FH-70)

The arrival of the Field Howitzer of 155mm calibre (FH-70)

Field Howitzer of 155mm calibre (FH-70)

The FH70 included in Fort Nelson’s collection

FH70 gun, Fort Nelson

Looking along the barrel of the FH70

Rear view of FH70, Fort Nelson

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. Visit our Collections Online to read more about the FH-70.

Aerial shot of Fort Nelson

Fort Nelson viewed from the air

In 2004, a former member of the Royal Armouries staff collected this German 25 cm trench mortar from a farm in Norfolk, where for a number of years it had been exposed to the elements and was in need of some tender loving care.

German 25 cm trench mortar
On site at Royal Armouries Fort Nelson in Portsmouth, the trench mortar remained in the Artillery Hall, where it continued to suffer from the adverse conditions until Fort Nelson technician, Mick Cooper, began the lengthy conservation process last year. Mick jumped at the opportunity to restore the rare object, and was not deterred by its level of degeneration.

A badly corroded and neglected German 25 cm trench mortar

Conserving the mortar

On initial inspection, due to the extensive level of corrosion, the mortar had completely seized.  To aid in the dismantling process, a releasing agent was used. The mortar was dismantled into three main sections: the gun, the chassis and the wheels. PH neutral chemicals and sensitive abrasive cleaning techniques were primarily utilised to remove the corrosion, however due to the extent of the decay, grit blasting was applied to larger areas. The chassis had deteriorated extensively, both the rear end and the middle section were missing. New rear chassis sections were reconstructed out of fiberglass.

The wheels comprised of different sections and materials, including a metal tyre and wheel hub, and wooden spokes and fellies. Once removed from the metal tyre, the wooden spokes were initially rubbed down and put in the freezer for a minimum of one month to kill all bugs and termites.

Mick sourced wood to manufacture the five fellies and two spokes which had rotted and obtained a high level of satisfaction in applying his previously learnt wheelwright carpentry skills into practice. The metal tyre and wheel hub were fortunately intact. Sensitive abrasive techniques were used to remove any traces of corrosion.

When all areas had been successfully stripped back and restored where appropriate, a zinc phosphate primer and authentic paint was carefully applied to all metal and wood surfaces.

Front view of a fully conserved German 25 cm trench mortar
Rear view of a fully conserved German 25 cm trench mortar
Now, fully reconstructed, the 25 cm Minenwerfer looks robust. It is carefully positioned in the Voice of the Guns gallery to prevent future risk of corrosion. Visit our Collections Online to read more.

fully reconstructed gun on display in the Voice of the Guns gallery

25 cm trench mortar (Minenwerfer )

The 17th century Marine Salvage Project focuses on three guns recovered from the river Thames and Goodwin Sands, off the Kent coast, all of which require technical conservation treatments. Fort Nelson Conservator Matthew Hancock’s paper titled ‘Do nothing or go the Full Hog and build a Replica’, investigates the current treatment trends in conservation, the options available to this gun and the issues arising from managing complex conservation projects. The paper was presented at the triennial Institute of Conservation conference in Birmingham in 2016.

Corroded cannon being prepared for conservation

The Dutch composite gun (XIX.983) sometimes known as a Minion Drake being lowered into the desalination tank.

Composite minion drake

The presentation used one of the Fort’s most interesting acquisitions, a mid-17th century composite ‘minion drake’ as a case study. This composite gun was chosen because a minimum of two different conservation techniques could be utilised to conserve it. Due to the history associated with the gun, it would also be desirable to build a replica for preservation of skills and historic research.

There are pros and cons behind administrating different conservation treatments. For example, in certain situations building a replica which conserves skills may outweigh moving the gun from storage in a desalination tank  for future generations to enjoy. Frequently a combination of different treatment techniques are utilised.

This image captures the level of corrosion on the composite gun. Treatment methods to conserve the intricate design would include washing out the chloride ions; pacifying the corrosion using either a pH neutral chemical or sensitive abrasive treatment. Finally a protective wax would be applied.

corrosion on canon

Many levels of corrosion shown on the gun’s intricate decoration

There was also a case of identifying the authenticity of the gun. Science combined with historical research was used to establish that the gun was in fact genuine. The combination of historical and scientific research is another current treatment trend within conservation. In this case, forensic XRF (x-ray fluorescence) technology was used to identify the different types of metal that make this gun a composite gun.

This project has been made possible with funding from The Arms & Armour Heritage Trust, The Radcliffe Trust and The Leche Trust.