Huge gun is on the move

Fort Nelson Railway Gun  Picture: John Paul de Winter, Utrecht
Fort Nelson Railway Gun Picture: John Paul de Winter, Utrecht
Nik Kershaw. Picture by Steve Ullathorne

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A MAMMOTH operation is under way to bring a gun that weighs the same as 17 double decker buses from Holland to its new home in Fareham.

The Royal Armouries Museum at Fort Nelson is expected to take delivery of the world’s largest surviving 200-tonne military gun tomorrow.

If everything goes to plan, visitors to the Victorian fort on Portsdown Hill can see the mighty British 18in Railway Howitzer unloaded onto specially-installed railway track from 1pm, on the museum’s parade ground.

The gun – originally designed for the battlefields of the First World War – is so large it will be split into two sections, barrel and carriage, during transit and delivery.

The logistical operation, involving some of the busiest roads in south-east England, has taken weeks of careful planning.

From tonight and into tomorrow, it will be moved under a special wide-load escort along a route from Harwich in Essex to Fareham – including the M25, Dartford River crossing, A3, A31, A272, M3 and M27.

The howitzer is on loan from the Royal Artillery Historical Trust. It has previously formed the centrepiece of an exhibition at the Het Spoorwegmuseum (the Dutch Railway Museum) in Utrecht.

In a precision unloading exercise, it will be lowered onto the newly-laid tracks, in preparation for it to be moved into the museum’s artillery hall. The massive Howitzer will then take centre stage at the fort throughout the centenary commemorations of the First World War.

Museum director Peter Armstrong said: ‘Fort Nelson is famously known as the home of the big guns – but this howitzer is a whopper, even by Royal Armouries’ and British Army standards.

‘It promises to be quite a spectacle as it completes the long journey from Holland to Portsdown Hill and we are inviting people to come along and watch as it’s unloaded.’

The First World War ended before any 18-inch Howitzers were ready, but five 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, but it was never fired in anger.

Entry to Fort Nelson is free.