Saturday 14th June last a small group of Vikings from the northern fiord of Wilfa’s town on the Cale (Wincanton) set off to visit Fort Nelson, the home of the Royal Armouries Artillery Collection. For Martin and Paul it was a first visit, but Jez was a serious recidivist having several visits under his belt.
Over the year there have been many changes to the museum not least an impressive approach past some rather large examples of a naval gun tube and a late Victorian mortar leading to a comfortable entrance area including a snack bar and shop, but NO entry charge. After a cup of tea to fortify us we set out on an amble through the galleries. These have been developed into an excellent series of displays covering both the history of Fort Nelson and the development of artillery over the ages. Whilst the majority of items on display cover the changes in explosive artillery there are, if you look carefully enough in the main hall some reconstructions of a roman ballista and catapulta.
One of the great features of this museum is the ability to get very close to examples of pieces, this allows the collection of a massive range of reference photos (but I can guarantee that you will always miss the one angle that is not clearly covered in the kit instructions!). After examples of some of the most iconic guns ranging from the French 75mm to the Iraqi Supergun, via the Flak 88 the early galleries focus on the history and use of the fort as part of the Palmerston defence schemes to oppose the “perfidious” French. Rooms are set up to show how the Victorian artilleryman lived. Following on from this there is an amazing range of different cannon from all around the world and different periods. Some are complete works of art rather than just simple killing machines and well worth the trip just to see them.
A stroll through the tunnel leading past the main magazine brings you to one of the mortar batteries and the North Capionnier where the design of the fort becomes evident with interlocking fields of fire and a massive killing ground for any French soldier unfortunate enough to get this close to the actual fort. Massive Victorian artillery pieces would have slaughtered infantry wholesale. I suppose that the forts did their job in that an invasion never took place – a sort of 19th Century Nuclear Deterrent.
The parade ground contains a wide range of different guns including land mortars, an Achilles turret, and various naval guns and long range artillery. Additionally there is usually a live firing display using the 25pdr howitzer – a spectacular event. Unfortunately there was no demo of the Victorian RBL cannon mounted on the ramparts. This is an event worth seeing if you can time you visit to coincide with one of the demonstration days.
If this wasn’t enough, we then went into the main artillery hall. Either side of the hall are examples of different pieces lined up, many of which are well known, but some are rare. Again you can get close to them and gain some amazing reference materials for future use. However this gems are NOT what catches the eye. Rather it is the WWI railway gun that dominates one end of the hall. The only way to fit it in a photo is to retreat into a corner and use a wide angle lens. Spectacular is the only word that can describe it. As the photo shows it is a big brute, the scary thing to my mind is that some of the German ones were even bigger!
A return through the galleries was followed by a snack. A very enjoyable day and a visit to be recommended – even if artillery is not your main interest the way everything is put together makes it a worthwhile way to spend a few hours.
A Chinese cannon
I want one for the garden! WW1 British railgun, come on Meng/Takom, lets be having one!
In addition to the above Jez has provided some additional photos taken at Fort Nelson
and as a bonus a selection of his photos taken of some artillery on static display at Aldershot