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 and 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 Portsdown 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  a loud 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.

fortnelson 035

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 they 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 Self propelled gun.

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 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:


Naturally once I left Southampton they decided to move an 18″ Railway Howitzer to the museum. I would have loved to have seen this monster and I wont even think what it must have sounded/felt like when it fired, although it does not seemed to have been used in anger. Unfortunately I do not have images of my own of the gun but am including this image that was retrieved from

Jonty Wilde / By kind permission of the Royal Artillery Historical Trust.

And then it was time to leave, and I shall leave you with some 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 © 2013-2022. Images recreated 06/04/2016

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