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On the move again, the 200-ton railway gun that could fire a shell 13 miles

  • Breach Loading 18inch Rail Howitzer will travel 300 miles to the Netherlands
  • Gun will be in exhibition to mark end of Spanish War of succession in 1713
  • Short range weapon was last used as coastal defence in Second World War

The Daily Mail  /  March 25, 2017

Britain's largest surviving artillery piece is due to make an historic journey to the Netherlands to mark the 300th anniversary of the Treaty of Utrecht.

The Breach Loading 18-inch Rail Howitzer gun serial number L1 is one of just twelve railway guns left in the world. It was manufactured by the Elswick Ordnance Company set up in 1864.

The gun, which weighs 200 tons, has been on display at Larkhill, Wiltshire, since 2008 but today it began its 387-mile journey to the Dutch Railway museum.

There, the gun will be displayed as part of their War and Peace exhibition to commemorate the end of the Spanish War of Succession in 1713.

In preparation for the move the artillery piece, which was in service between 1920 and 1945, has undergone restoration work after a campaign to return it to good condition.

Sergeant Maj Nick Shipton told the BBC it took up to five hours to get the gun off the carriageway and onto a truck.

'It's a complex beast. The size, weight and the fact that it has been together for a few years causes its own issues. But we've done a lot of pre-preparatory work to make sure it can be split,' he said.

'It's most certainly going to be an abnormal load.'

Howitzer artillery pieces typically have relatively short barrels and use comparatively small propellant charges to propel missiles high into the air.

The barrels were built during the First World War but were completed too late to see action.

They were later used to test the accuracy of the 18-inch Howitzer in Shoeburyness, Essex.

Their relatively short range of around 13 miles meant that after the First World War the five guns produced were put into storage because longer range weapons were needed.

The Howitzer's range was insufficient for cross-Channel firing and hence it was never fired in action.

In late 1940 one 18-inch howitzer was brought out of retirement and fitted onto its 95 ton proofing sleigh.

It was deployed on the railway mounting Boche Buster which had been used in the First World War to carry a 14-inch gun.

The gun was stationed at Bishopsbourne in Kent on the Elham to Canterbury Line as a coast defence gun.

It remained there until 1943 as a precaution against possible German invasion.

Barrel No L1 was the only one of Britain's railway guns to avoid being dismantled and scrapped in the early 1960s.

It was was sent back to Shoeburyness to test fire the efficacy of 1,000lb Bunker Buster Bombs before finally being retired in November 1959.

The Howitzer and proofing sleigh were moved to Woolwich, the then home of the Gunners, in June 1991, where it was gifted to the Royal Artillery Historical Trust.

After 17 years it was moved to Larkhill in 2008.

In the Netherlands the gun will form the centrepiece of the exhibition, to open on March 30 in a grand official opening ceremony involving many dignitaries.

It will remain there until September this year, before returning to the UK to a location yet to be confirmed.


  • The Breach Loading 18-inch Rail Howitzer gun serial number L1 was in service from 1920 to 1945.
  • It was one of five made in Britain by the Elswick Ordnance Company.
  • It weighs nearly 200 tonnes and its barrel measures 52ft.
  • The gun's shells weighed nearly 180 stone.
  • Elevation varied between 0° - 40° and its effective range was 13 miles.
  • It takes five hours to shift the gun from its carriageway over to the truck which transports it.



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