The Railways True Big Gun

We are approaching the season where up and down the country heritage railways will be hosting Second World War themed galas. These events come complete with tanks, planes and reenactors but for me something is always missing. For me when I think of a World War and the railway I think of these.


An 18-inch Railway Howitzer! Due to its location getting a photo of the whole cannon is a real challenge.

To put the scale of this monster into context the largest calibre rifle fitted to a naval ship was 18.1 inches (fitted to the Japanese superbattleships Yamato and Musashi), but the shell this monster fired was heavier. This  mighty beast is the world’s largest surviving military gun and weighs 200 tons which about the same as 17 double-decker buses.


The beast lurking in its new home

The Howitzers were developed during the First World War as part of an arms race to build bigger calibre guns which were capable of firing heavier and more destructive shells in hope to break the stalemate on the Western Front. Each of the Howitzers 18 inch shells weigh about a ton and would destroy whatever it hit. However the guns were not completed until late 1918 and by that time the First World War was over and the 4 guns never fired a single shot in anger. 5 barrels were actually built but one was rejected by the British Army for having a fault.


They found a new lease of live in the Second World War when they positioned on the Kent coast ready to blast the beaches if the Germans ever attempted to invade. Again the invasion never happened and the guns went through another World War without firing a single shot in anger. I found an old British Pathe video of her on the Kent coast which shows the complete train.




The guns very impressive statistics:

Calibre: 457mm (18 inch)

Length of Barrel: 15.8m (52ft)

Lenght of Sleigh: 7m (23ft)

Weight of Barrel and Sleigh: 182,889kg (180 tons)

Weight of Projectile: 1135kg (2,500 lbs)

Range: 20.3km (12.6 miles)

Crew: 24

I took loads of photos of the detailing on the gun but its a photographers nightmare very poor lighting and the museum has put things in the way to block good profiling shots.

DSCN4716 DSCN4715 DSCN4719 DSCN4720  DSCN4728 DSCN4729 DSCN4731 DSCN4733  DSCN4738


This gun is the largest surviving railway Howitzer in the world and currently lives at the Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson just outside Portsmouth. The Museum is free to enter and well worth checking out just for the Howitzer.

Thanks for reading


4 thoughts on “The Railways True Big Gun

  1. Very interesting, thanks for posting Simon, they would look brilliant in our freight train!


    • I would love to know how they move this around the country! The barrell and the cannon on it own weights 200 odd tons then you got to add ammo (each shell is like a ton), all the crew and the guards.


  2. Fascinating. The ex-Southern Railway crane that was at the Kent gun location – Martin’s Mill Military Railway? – is now on the Swanage Railway. I did take some shots when I was working I tried to research the history of the crane.


    • That would make sense. I was looking at that film which showed the gun during the second war and didnt have a crane on the train which I thought was strange. Each shell weighs 1.25 tons which would rule out physical loading by soliders and the wagon behind it doesnt look tall enough to have some sort of automatic loading device in it.


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