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Railway gun heads for Dutch display
THE British Army’s only surviving railway gun is about to become the centrepiece of a War and Peace exhibition at the Dutch Railway Museum in Utrecht to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht.
This massive gun, currently at the Royal School of Artillery at Larkhill, is the largest surviving UK artillery piece and will move to Holland tomorrow.
There are only 12 surviving railway guns in the world but the 195 ton Breach Loading 18” Howitzer Serial No L1, manufactured by the Elswick Ordnance Company (EOC) has been at Larkhill since 2008 and has been lovingly restored by serving and retired volunteers .
The barrel was built during the First World War but was completed too late to see action and was then used to test the accuracy of the 18” Howitzer in Shoeburyness, Essex.
At the start of the Second World War, the barrel was brought out of retirement and fitted onto its current 95 ton proofing sleigh.
With fall of France in 1940 and the fear of invasion, the railway guns were deployed to the Kent coast where they remained until 1943.
They never fired a round in battle and by the end of 1943 all the guns were withdrawn from Kent railways, with the detachments and manpower dispersed.
The UK’s railway guns were dismantled and scrapped in the early 1960s.
The only exception was Barrel No L1, still mounted on its proofing sleigh.
This was sent back to Shoeburyness to test fire the efficacy of 1,000lb Bunker Buster Bombs.
It was finally retired in November 1959. The Howitzer and proofing sleigh were moved to Woolwich, the then home of the Gunners, in June 1991, where they were gifted to the Royal Artillery Historical Trust and put on public display outside the Rotunda on Repository Road. They were moved to Larkhill in 2008.
In Holland the gun will form the centrepiece of the exhibition, to open on March 30 in what promises to be a grand official opening ceremony, involving many dignitaries invited to Utrecht 300.
There it will remain until September this year, before returning to the UK to a location yet to be confirmed. This will be the first of hopefully many public displays of this artillery railway mounted weapon of historic importance, with the Gunner world waiting with bated breath to discover the final resting place for the Howitzer.