Thursday, 19 March 2015

Royal Firepower at the London Arsenal

This might be going a bit far back as backlog, but I visited The Royal Firepower Museum at the London Arsenal in August 2014. As a reservist artillery officer, engineer and military historian, this was the perfect museum for me.

The Royal Arsenal was founded at the mouth of the Thames in 1671 and turned into a massive foundry, storehouse, laboratory for making gunpowder and eventually also incorporated barracks and a training ground. At some point the workers of the Arsenal decided to put together a football club, which apparently has fared ok. Today the Arsenal is open to the public as an artillery museum.

A section of history's largest artillery piece: a supergun that was developed as part of Saddam Hussein's "Project Babylon": 

The museum also included other exotic pieces:

19th century spoils of war from China

18th century Indian mortar

20th century (failed) US effort to create a fully automated drum-fed heavy anti-aircraft gun

British 6pdr piece designed specifically to function as a carriage in state funerals
 There was a lot of modern heavy gear at the museum:
Myself and a tactical ballistic missile warhead

1940-50s equipment:

Forward observers (my own branch in the army) 70 years ago.
However, my main interest was in the pre-20th century stuff, which was also abundant in the museum.

More lethal to the artilleryman than the target?

My own favourite. One of Gustav Adolf's famous (but failed) "leather guns" - a thin copper tube that is tightly wound up with rope and then encased in leather. It could only fire grapeshot (which is all it really needed to) but even then the pieces wore out too fast.

The grapeshot pre-attached to a powder sack. These guns were lethal given that their rate of fire, range and volume of fire per frontage were much greater than contemporary musketeers.

Some early breech loading pieces from the 16th and 17th centuries:

Sometimes one barrel is just not enough
 Other pieces:

2" calibre Falconet from the English Civil War
 Napoleonic stuff:
Cross-sections of early military rockets (start of 19th century)

I was happy to note that the museum had some miniatures as well. It is no surprise that this one is yet another depiction of the British trashing the French at Waterloo.

Artillery fire can be lethal
 19th century innovations:

Gattling gun from 1865

12 pounder breech loading rifled artillery from 1860

An improvised Russian gunshield from the Crimean War. Finding their guns out ranged the clever Russkies came up with this rope solution. It was so effective that soon afterwards gunshields were incorporated into most field artillery pieces.

Forward observers in World War 1
Cross-section of WW1 shrapnell shell

Model of equipment used to test the potency of ordnance (calculated from the recoil)
All-together a very nice and diverse museum. I heartily suggest that anyone visiting London should go visit this often overlooked museum.

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