musings while allatsea

Musings of a curious individual

Tag: Fort Nelson

Nelson’s last stand?

Recently there was a spate of “statue bashing” in the United States, mainly centred around statues pertaining to the American Civil War. We are no stranger to  statue bashing in South Africa, and I would hate to think that it originated in South Africa. The dilemma is that one man’s statue is another man’s enemy, and as usual the PC mob is ranting and raving and foaming at the mouth about the whole issue. I can understand their “grievance” up to a point but what I do find irritating is that they really want to expurgate history of what they perceive as the “bad guys”. Whether we like it or not the bad guys shaped the world and enriched themselves and their cronies at the expense of their fellow man. It is history, it happened, we cannot do anything about it but we need to know about it or we end up repeating it.  

The PC mob was also at it in the UK, centred around Trafalgar Square, and Nelson’s Column where Admiral Horatio Nelson peers into the distance from his lofty perch. 

Trafalgar Square is one of the many icon’s that you find in the UK, it is on the same level as The Tower of London, Big Ben, Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace, St Paul’s Cathedral, the London Eye and a few other things too numerous to remember. In fact, having lived in London for a month is 2013 I got used to seeing the column, so much so that I never really took too many contextual images of Trafalgar Square. I do know that there were lots of people there all talking on their phones, so I tried to avoid passing through it. 

Unfortunately there are those who want Nelson removed because he may just offend somebody. The reality is that he probably doesn’t fit in with their sanitised version of history. A quick glance at the headlines leaves you with the following “….should be torn down because the 18th Century naval hero was a ‘white supremacist’….. ” I kid you not. Incidently, the building on the right trying to hide behind a lamp post is South Africa House,  it is the South African Embassy in the United Kingdom. 

The one thing I like about the British is that they tend to embrace history, warts and all. Nelson probably would turn a blind eye at the frothing and foaming tirade about him being torn down. Personally I would like to see him brought down a bit closer to where you can see him, but that ain’t going to happen. In fact if the bulldozers did rock up the chances are they would be attacked by little old ladies brandishing brollys bedecked in the Union Flag and champing their choppers energetically as they chant “Do not mess with our history!”

Nelson is probably more concerned about the pigeon population than anything else. 

In fact it was the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar recently (21 October) and besides Nelson there is one other remnant of that Naval action by the Admiral. HMS Victory still exists in Portsmouth and she is well worth the visit, and will leave you in awe of the men who fought and died in that battle. Unfortunately she is sans her upper masts and yards so was somewhat of a sorry sight when first I saw her in 2013. I am surprised the PC mob haven’t had a go at her too. 

However, one thing that this statue bashing incident did remind me of was another obtuse reference to Nelson’s Column that I found in Portsmouth when we were there in April 2013.

One of the places where we paused was Fort Nelson, and  one of the things we saw while traveling is this column seemingly in the middle of nowhere. In fact it is surprisingly historical too. 

The handy dedication plaque gives us a bit more information.

Known as The Nelson Monument, it stands on Portsdown Hill about 2 miles (3.2 km) north of Portsmouth Harbour and Fort Nelson is named after the monument.  Work was started on 4 July 1807 and it was completed just over a year later. 

I am not sure how visible it would be as a navigation mark though because that was one of the intentions, certainly I was not able to spot it from Portsmouth Historical Dockyard, but that was probably because I did not know where to look. However according to one of the information boards it is used as a fixed point by which the Navy can check the deviation of a magnetic compass. 

When will this statue bashing cease? probably never; there will always be somebody somewhere that will be angry at something, The fact remains that in many cases they are in a minority, and I do respect the fact that they may have an opinion that differs from the majority of people. All advice I can give is for them to walk a different route, or close their eyes as they pass a statue, and if they are so offended then there are other avenues to explore, non-violence being one of them. Nelson would have taken no notice of them, he was too busy winning a battle to care about offending anybody. All he was interested in was expecting that England expected every man to do his duty. 

I do know one thing, if ever I get to London again I had better get more pics of that column before it is too late!

© DRW 2017-2018. Created 02/09/2017. Updated 14/10/2017

Updated: 01/01/2018 — 17:03

A Loud Bang

Naval gunnery is one of the many aspects of warfare that is almost a science in itself. The fact that your artillery piece is now mounted on board ship means that there are a whole new set of problems that need dealing with. It also means that you are no longer tied down to having to move your gun and ammunition wherever you go, instead you get to take the whole fort to where the action is.  I am not going into the mechanics and technicalities of gunnery, I was a mechanised infantryman, and our lives really revolved around our personal weapon and vehicle. 
There are three specific examples I am interested in, and they really come from the age of the battleship. When large ships traded fire with equally large ships at long distance. What I find very interesting is the sheer size of these guns, and some of the statistics relevant to them.
The first pair are mounted outside the Imperial War Museum in London.
The gun on the left came from HMS Ramillies, and was mounted on the ship in 1916 and saw action in 1920 and 1940. It was removed from servce in 1941. 
The right hand gun originally comes from HMS Resolution, and was mounted on that vessel from 1915-1938. It was removed and remounted in HMS Roberts, and saw action at D-Day. It was removed in 1945. Both were mounted outside the Imperial War Museum in 1968
Both guns are 15 inch and were developed in 1912, seeing service in 22 ships. Each weighs  in at a hefty 100 tons, and fired an 876 kg projectile at a maximum range of 29 kilometres. 
london 090
The next example I photographed at Fort Nelson near Portsmouth. 
This example is 14 Inch MK VII, and was made by Vickers-Armstrong in 1946, and is the last of her type. These were destined for ships of the King George V class battleships, although this particular gun  never went to sea. The gun with its counterweight weighed in at 91 tons, the maximum range at 40 degrees elevation was 35,4 kilometres. 
Projectiles weighed in at 660 kg with a propellant charge of 153 kg of Cordite.  1000 projectiles were taken to sea. 

These huge guns are very impressive to see, and when you consider that they were usually mounted in pairs, or triples in a turret (or even a quadruple turret), it makes you wonder what size the ship was!. They were also not the largest guns to go to sea, the Japanese battleships Yamato and Musashi had 9 x 18,1 inch guns and they were the largest of naval artillery ever fitted to a warship.

Fortunately a number of these guns still survive in some form or another, although the United States probably has the largest collection of big guns still around, and I speak under correction but I think 16 inchers are the biggest naval guns still around today. An 18 inch railway gun still survives in Britain and that has been relocated to Fort Nelson where the 14 inch gun is. Unfortunately that happened after I visited the fort in May 2013

Cruisers usually mounted smaller guns, although these were no less deadly than their much bigger sisters. HMS Belfast on the Thames has a wonderful set of turrets mounting mounting 12 x 6 inch guns which gave her quite a punch. Although, taking on a battleship would not have been a good idea.


The workings of the turrets and their shell and charge handling equipment is really fascinating to see, but in a static role it becomes almost mundane. In the heat of battle it must have been a totally different story altogether.
Turret interior, with the breech of one of the guns.

Turret interior, with the breech of one of the guns.

Shell hoist with ready use ammunition

Shell hoist with ready use ammunition

Todays modern warships lack the massive gunfire capabilities, but then given their ability to fight it out over the horizon with an opponent using anti-ship missiles, those heavy guns are no longer needed. The capital ship was rendered obsolete by the aircraft and submarine, and with their demise the big gun left centre stage and was relegated to museum piece or as part of a preserved warship.

Twin 4" gun turret.

Twin 4″ gun turret.

© DRW 2013-2018. Images recreated 11/04/2016
Updated: 29/12/2017 — 07:38

Visiting Fort Nelson

Another retro blogpost, and this time it is Fort Nelson near Portsmouth. I had seen the fort when we had popped into Portsmouth in April, I had intended going back there one day but logistically it was too difficult to reach it without a vehicle.  One of five forts situated on the summit of Portsdown Hill it is part of the protection of Portsmouth Naval Base. Fort Nelson is now part of  the Royal Armouries and houses their collection of artillery.  

Portsmouth from Portsdown Hill (1500×78)

According to my landlord, the forts were built to protect from invasion by the French coming over the landward side of Portsmouth, and it is confirmed by the fields of fire that the fort has. 

Portsmouth from Posrtsdown Hill (1500×609)

The first thing you see at Fort Nelson is: 
This is 14 Inch MK VII, and was made by Vickers-Armstrong in 1946, and is the last of her type. These were destined for ships of the King George V class battleships, although this particular gun never went to sea. The gun with its counterweight weighed in at 91 tons, the maximum range at 40 degrees elevation was 35,4 kilometres. 
A portent of things to come?

The Fort is a typical grim foreboding place,  It was purely functional so aesthetics did not come into its construction.
 But once inside it was a different ballgame altogether.

Some of these guns are the stuff of legend, like the mighty 3.7 inch anti-aircraft gun or the equally deadly and respected 88mm gun used by the Germans in WW2 in both and anti-aircraft and anti-tank role. .
My own particular interest is in naval gunnery so my eyes would really be on the lookout for that.  I am an infantryman though, so the Arty is just seen as a necessary evil to make  aloud noise while we did the cleaning up.
There are a number of naval weapons on display, although I do not have the information on them because that was sadly lacking on a number of the displays outside the building.
My landlord was hoping that we would be able to see the firing of the 25 Pounder which happens each day, but we got our timing wrong so had arrived too late for that. It was a pity because I had last seen one in action when I was very young at a Military Tattoo.
This image taken from the battlements shows the parade ground with the solitary 25 pounder in the middle and my landlord admiring a rather large gun. 
While the image below was taken from a building above the gun emplacements and the direction from which the French would theoretically have come from. 
Assuming the got close to the fort in the first place they would have had to have then dealt with the ditch in front of the fort 
as well as the sheer walls of the fort itself. Naturally there would be English soldiers on the battlements throwing things at you and shouting about how “your mother is a hamster  and your father smelt of elderberries.”
At this point the long range weaponry of the fort would have been of little consequence as they were designed to keep the enemy away. 
The fort is riddled with tunnels and if the lights went out you would really be in a pickle.
and you find guns in some of the strangest places. These are actually mortars and they would be ideal to drop on the head of an invading force.
There is also an enclosed space with a number of interesting items, like a Sexton SPG.
And this almost familiar 155mm Howitzer from Iraq.
Upon closer examination it does bear a resemblance to our own G5 used during the Bush War in SWA/Angola. There is also a 5.5 inch howitzer which would not be out of place in the Artillery in South Africa. 
And a reminder that even behind steel armour there will always be a something that will penetrate it.
Of course there was a garrison of men who manned the fort and like soldiers everywhere you can bet spit and polish was more important than actually firing anything.
The building is laced with an untold history, and the amount of bricks used must have been staggering.
There are other period guns there, and one is tempted to ignore them as more modern exhibits are really what we can relate to so many years down the line. But it is worth remembering that many of the weapons here were considered “State of the Art” back then.
A place like this really provides a rare glimpse into a different kid of siege warfare, at a time when there was faith in big guns and the aircraft was not even considered. 
During WW2 anti-aircraft ammunition was stored here, and it must have been a very interesting place to get view the raids on the nearby naval base of Portsmouth. The bomber would destroy your previous impenetrability, and the fort was abandoned in the 1950’s. 
Of course ornamental weaponry is also on display, and I am particularly taken with these two examples:
And then it was time to leave, and I shall leave you with some random images.
Random Images.
And finally, a granddaddy from 1464.  Turkish Bombardon, To quote the blurb Made in 1464, this is one of the oldest and most extraordinary cannon in our collection.
The Turkish Bombard, with its two giant tubes screwed together, can be seen as a forerunner of the Iraqi Supergun. Beautifully inscribed in Arabic text, this Bombard is one of the jewels of the Royal Armouries collection. Unlike the Supergun, this mighty weapon was used – to hurl a 300 kg stone cannonball against its enemies.
The Great Bombard, firing huge stone balls, was the heavy demolition weapon of the Middle Ages. In 1453 the Ottoman Turks, using bombards, captured Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire.
Turkish armies, with their bold use of artillery, came to be universally feared. Sultan Mehmet II (1430–81) was a great artillery innovator: he first employed a skilled Hungarian gunfounder, Urban, to cast bombards for the siege of Constantinople. Later, he ordered this bombard from bronze-founder Munir Ali. It is a masterpiece of medieval technology, having been cast in two pieces: barrel and powder chamber, which screw together.
It was once sited to attack ships sailing through the Dardanelles Narrows. After 400 years, visitors to Turkey continued to mention it, especially as it was still being fired in the 19th century. In 1866 Sultan Abdul Aziz presented it to Queen Victoria.”


© DRW 2013-2018. Images recreated 06/04/2016

Updated: 29/12/2017 — 07:09

Popping into Portsmouth

On the afternoon of 19 April I made a half day trip to Portsmouth with my landlord. It was a spur of the moment thing so there was no real itinerary or end destination. I did however want to at least see HMS Warrior and HMS Victory if possible. Anything else would be a bonus. The weather was sunny, but extremely windy in Porstmouth, so much so that some of my images were at crazy angles as I tried to take pics. 
First vessel on view as HMS Warrior, and she is magnificent. We did not have the time to go on board any of the attractions, but some quick pics will do for this post. She is much bigger than I expected and is really a unique vessel in so many ways. 


Dominating the skyline of Portsmouth is the Spinnaker Tower and of course the buildings that form the Historic Naval Dockyard predate it by many years. There are quite a lot of really beautiful old buildings in the city, but time was not on my hands to explore any of them.

 At the Historic Dockyard is the long lived HMS Victory, much to my dismay her upper masts and spars had been removed. This venerable old lady is really worth seeing because she is a unique vessel, and in a class all of her own. Over 250 years old, she still looks as good as when she was built. The removal of the yards and spars have to do with her ongoing restoration, and hopefully in a few years she will get them back. 


Close to the Victory is the Monitor M33, a 1915 vintage vessel that is neither glamorous, or as famous as the wooden wall close by.  (At the time of writing this post she was not open to the public, but she has since been undergoing preservation so that she can finally be opened).


Behind her lay modern warships of the Royal Navy, and I had to wonder what it must have been like here during the World Wars. The drydocks and inner basins would have been occupied that’s for certain.


There was a lot of ferry traffic about too, with vessels destined for the Isle of Wight, the continent, and other ports close by. Strangely enough there were none to Southampton.

We then headed to Southsea to have a look at the hovercraft that goes across to Ryde. It was not in yet so I took a look at the surging waves and the shingle beach. The wind was still blowing a gale and it was decided unpleasant.

While we waited a cross channel ferry came past and we decided to go take a closer look at the Portsmouth Naval Memorial. How many ships have passed down this channel? If only the sea could talk.
The Memorial is a magnificent structure, but again it is just so difficult to photograph because of its sheer sze and the number of plaques on its walls with 24600 identified casualties listed there. I would like to revisit the Memorial and rephotograph it.

By this time the hovercraft had made an appearance and I headed towards its “landing pad” as it beached itself.


By the time I got to the pad it was almost ready to leave, and inflating its skirts it turned and charged down the beach, hitting the water in a burst of spray, which was then flung straight at me as it headed off once again. I was drenched, but it was worth it!

Then it was time to go home again, we wanted to head out and have a look at the forts on a hill protecting Portsmouth so headed out there. The view was spectacular, but the glare did make it difficult to take photographs. These images are all 1500 pixels wide


Then we headed off for home. The weather was starting to get odd, and the artillery museum at Fort Nelson was closing so there was no real need to stay any longer. Portsmouth is on my list for a day trip, but first I must get to Isle of Wight. But even before that, we had to get home.

© DRW 2013-2018. Images recreated 01/04/2016

Updated: 28/12/2017 — 07:51
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