It is with regret that I write this blog to celebrate an old friend who will not be with us much longer. When Firepower first opened they had a Cold War Gallery which displayed many vehicles I had grown up with as the daughter of a soldier in the British Army of The Rhine. Through time, as storage facilities became cramped and new developments took place in the Arsenal, this dwindled from being a full blown gallery, to becoming a store room for exotica and BIG STUFF, a kind of Aladdin’s cave of Artillery and other military vehicles, which we volunteers were privileged to be able to guide the public round, as it eventually became too cramped for people to just wander in. Although the gallery is closing, it is probable the vehicles will surface in a different museum somewhere else. Meanwhile, I am publishing some photos and some memories to pay homage to the sheer scope of the collection.
This is a gun from the ‘Mary Rose’. It has been in the collection since before the ship was raised, in the nineteenth century a firm of local divers salvaged some guns and sold them on. This one is in serious need of conservation, the metal is seriously corroded. But at the same time, this allows us a brilliant insight into gun manufacture of the period, you can see the wooden planks forming the barrel with what is left of the metal forming the outer casing. Just one of our hidden treasures.
This is one of our more obscure pieces, found when someone was clearing a store room. After some research, it turned out to be a covering for a Gun Emplacement in the Crimea. The rope it is made of acts like Kevlar to protect the Gunners from incoming! Then there is the gun presented to Queen Victoria by Louis Napoleon:
This, from various angles is ‘Green Mace’ a massively over- engineered (and MASSIVE) project, which had to be abandoned partly because of the sheer impracticality of loading the ammo into the side pods, but also because the planes it was designed to shoot out of the sky, learned to fly higher and faster! In the foreground of one of the shots you can see a normal 25 pounder gun which has been adapted to shield the gunners from nuclear fallout. This design quickly fell out of favour when it was realised that if they didn’t choke on the fumes from the gun which would gather in the bell-like canopy, the nuclear fallout would definitely get their legs!
This is the ‘Cardinal’ a successor to the ‘Priest’ and ‘Abbot’ designs which had proved highly successful in WW2 and after- it was MUCH bigger, and no doubt would have been very successful, but guess what? we all went nuclear!
Yes, we have nuclear weapons platforms in 41- and a warhead!
And as you see we have guided missile systems as well! And yes, one of them is ‘Rapier’ which guarded London’s homes during the Olympics (and it’s in a museum).
Some of our more successful designs:
The Centurion Tank, developed right here at the Arsenal, one of the best tanks EVER. Also an armoured personnel carrier, the last military vehicle manufactured before all production stopped at the Arsenal down to Defence Cuts. I remember troops rolling out to excercises in these in BAOR. I remember lots of bawdy chanting and thunderflashes being thrown into gardens!
We also have the biggest cannon ball EVER. This monster was launched from a huge gun called Mallet’s Mortar. If you go and look at it where it still stands outside the Royal Artillery barracks, you can still see the long split running down the barrel which put a stop to it being used on the field.
So that is just a few items from the highly varied collection in 41. Don’t forget that although 41 is closing, there is still much of interest in the main museum!