On my way out of Portsmouth last week, I called into the Royal Armouries Museum of Artillery at Fort Nelson. The fort is built on a ridge overlooking Portsmouth and was one of a string of forts constructed in the 1860s to protect the naval base from a French invasion. They were called Palmerston Follies because the invasion never came, which is a bit harsh on the then PM given the classic Napoleon III quote, 'It is easy to govern the French, you just have to give them a war every four years or so.'
It is one of the best-preserved Victorian forts in the country and an excellent setting for an artillery museum.
The artillery pieces range from the earliest weapons to the present day. My eye immediately landed on the Ottoman bombard, a gift from the Sultan to Queen Victoria. I have seen these in the Istanbul Army Museum, and they are quite a sight. However, I wonder if my wife is entirely convinced by the tea towel I brought back with the ornate design!
They have a collection of strange guns, particularly the early machine guns and WW2 improvised weapons.
|Smith Gun an improvised WW2 ATG.
|Hotchkiss 37mm, 1879.
My absolute favourite was the 18-inch rail gun. Just massive. Built in 1918, just too late for WW1, although one was based near Dover in WW2.
That is the first exhibit in a shed full of mostly 20th-century artillery from all over the world. Here are just a few.
|120mm British RCL.
|Soviet 45mm ATG
|Spanish 75mm Mountain Gun.
They also have a good collection of Napoleonic and 18th-century guns. With our Waterloo Day event coming up, I paid particular attention to these.
|1794 Sikh 7-pounder
You can't have an artillery museum without an 88mm.
Finally, a collection of the guns that worked the fort itself.
Excellent museum and free admission. The guidebook is worth a purchase as you are getting in for nothing. It tells the story of the fort and artillery generally.