Part three: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s First World War campaign

 

Part Three: Private Companies

Written by Philip Abbot  Archives and Records Manager for the Royal Armouries in Leeds.

At least eighteen designs for armour using steel plate, mail and even textiles were manufactured commercially in Britain during the First Word War, and no less than forty patents for helmets and armour were taken out in Britain between 1914 and 1918. It comes as no surprise therefore to learn that Conan Doyle also received letters from a number of private companies who were already producing armour for private purchase.

John Pullman, the retired owner of R. and J. Pullman Limited, leather-dressers of London, Godalming and Woodstock, sent Conan Doyle an improved version of his A1 Shield, which was on sale for 25 shillings at the Army and Navy Stores, Harrods and Selfridges.  Pullman’s shield was made of steel, “Government tested and found proof against shrapnel bullets at 700 feet per second velocity, and enemy service revolver at point-blank, and against bayonet or lance”, and weighed just less than 3 pounds. It provided protection to the chest and abdomen, and consisted of four overlapping steel plates, which were attached to one another by means of canvas webbing, and secured by adjustable straps at the neck and the waist. Each individual plate measured 12 inches by 5 inches, was curved to fit the contours of the body, and riveted to a stout canvas backing. When not being worn it folded up neatly into a canvas or leather case, which could be carried over the shoulder in the same manner as a haversack.

Credit: Royal Armouries. DOY 1-1A Pullman 1 and DOY1-1B Pullman 2.

Conan Doyle also received an example of the Dayfield Body Shield, which was made by the Whitfield Manufacturing Company. The Dayfield was probably the most popular of all of the privately manufactured body armours, and was widely advertised in newspapers and magazines as “an invaluable gift to send to your soldier father, brother, husband, son or friend”, and claimed to be proof against bayonet, sword, lance, spent bullets, shrapnel, shell splinters and grenade fragments.

Dayfield Body Shield Heavy Model 1916

Credit: Royal Armouries. Dayfield Body Shield, Heavy Model, 1916.

Its advertisements and promotional literature certainly carried an impressive number of unsolicited testimonials. One Lieutenant Colonel recalled:

“When wounded on March 17th I consider that the Dayfield saved me from a very ugly wound in the back or right shoulder. I was going along a front line trench when an officer immediately behind me was killed outright and something hit me hard on the right, below the shoulder, knocking me on my knees. Some splinters from a bullet casing got in above the steel plate, causing small wounds.”

DOY 1-9B Dayfield 3

Credit: ROyal Armouries. DOY 1-9B Dayfield 3.

The original version of the Dayfield Body Shield was fairly simple, and consisted of a breastplate and a backplate, each composed of four steel plates, sewn into a canvas waistcoat with metal bands taped over the unprotected seams, but it was quickly modified so that the front plate was extended up to the shoulders and shaped at the neck. It could be purchased as either a single shield to protect the chest only (weighing 3 pounds) for 21 shillings, or a double shield to protect the front and back (weighing 5 pounds 8 ounces) for 52 shillings and 6 pence.

Credit: Royal Armouries. DOY 1-9A Dayfield 1 and 2.

Roneo Limited drew Conan Doyle’s attention to two designs for body shields that they had produced in association with the Miris Steel Company, which were then being tested in the field by 12th Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Martin Archer Shee, MP. The first was a breastplate shaped to cover the left side of the body, which was more often exposed by an advancing soldier than the front, and provided protection to the heart and abdomen. The second was a large breastplate with shoulder straps and belt, which covered the whole of the chest. Both shields were made of Miris steel, a 1/3 inch (about 7.5mm) thick, which it was claimed would stop a Mauser rifle bullet at 40 yards, and were padded to help absorb the shock of impact.

DOY 1-8B Miris steel

Credit: Royal Armouries. Miris steel.

Conan Doyle was a keen rifleman, and tested the armour and shields he had been sent in his garden at Crowborough with his own service rifle. His younger sons, Denis and Adrian, were forbidden to come close, when their father was engaged in his experiments, but could hear the sounds of bullets being deflected or thudding into their target. He probably included a summary of the results of his experiments in his letter to Lloyd George on 8 August.

 

The Battle of Jutland: an eyewitness account of the largest sea battle in history

The 31 May/1 June marks the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Jutland. It was the only major First World War fleet action fought between the British Grand Fleet and the German High Seas Fleet, and the largest sea battle in history.

Our Archives and Records Manager, Philip Abbot, uncovers some of the details of this important battle through the journals of Gerald Slade, midshipman on HMS Inflexible.

Gerald Slade was born in Hong Kong in 1899, and entered the Royal Naval College, Osborne, Isle of Wight, as a cadet shortly before his thirteenth birthday. After completing his education and training he joined the battlecruiser, HMS Inflexible, as a midshipman on 8 September 1915.

HMS Inflexible

HMS Inflexible. Source: US Library of Congress. Public Domain.

During the Battle of Jutland he was stationed on the ship’s fighting top high up on the main mast, where he had an excellent view of the action. He left a personal account of his experiences in the form of a journal:

 

May 30th 1916

Proceeded from Scapa Flow ahead of Battle Fleet at 8.15.

May 31st 1916

3.0 PM closed up at action stations.

4.0 PM were given half an hour for tea. Heard that the “Lion” was engaging the enemy. The 5th B.S. Sqn Queen Elizabeth was with them. We were now proceeding at full speed (about 27 kts). It was 3.50 when the “Lion” reported that she was engaging the enemy.

5.29 heard the sound of firing right ahead + a short time later saw numerous gun flashes.

5.40 sighted enemy light cruisers and destroyers. These were all concentrating on the “Chester” + she was having a very hot time of it.

5.55 opened fire on enemy light cruisers + succeeded in sinking at least one. She blew up in a dense cloud of steam.

On the evening of 30 May 1916, the Third Battle Cruiser Squadron under the command of Rear Admiral Hood (flagship HMS Invincible) sailed from Scapa Flow, and steamed south westwards at high speed, followed at intervals by the rest of the British Grand Fleet.

The opening phase of the action was fought between the German battlecruisers under the command of Admiral Hipper (flagship SMS Lutzow) and their British counterparts under Admiral Beatty (flagship HMS Lion), supported by the 5th Battle Ship Squadron, consisting of the Queen Elizabeth class battleships (the most modern and powerful ships in either fleet). Two of the British battlecruisers, HMS Indefatigable and HMS Queen Mary, blew up with heavy loss of life, and a number of the German ships were badly damaged.

Shortly after 4.00 PM, Admiral Jellicoe (flagship HMS Iron Duke), in command of the Grand Fleet, ordered the 3rd Battle Cruiser Squadron to increase speed and join Beatty’s hard-pressed forces. HMS Chester, scouting ahead of the squadron, was engaged by four German light cruisers, and badly damaged. When the battlecruisers opened fire, the German light cruiser, SMS Wiesbaden, was quickly disabled, but despite Slade’s claim she remained afloat.

Additional entries in Slade’s journal describe the battle:

6.0 check fire. A Torpedo passed under our stern.

6.15 we are to starboard in order to avoid a Torpedo which passed about 10 yds away along out port side. We watched it from the Fore Top + could even see the propellers moving. The Torpedo Lieut was afraid that the Gyro would fail + she might turn + bump us.

6.20 openned fire on a Battleship of the “Kaiser” class. We landed one salvo on her fore turret + appeared to have flatenned it out.

6.35 the Grand Fleet openned fire on the enemy. It was a fine sight to see them. They were so formed as to be able to bring every gun to bear. Indom. [HMS Indomitable] and Inflex. [HMS Inflexible] formed astern of the B.C.s.

6.30 the “Invincible” was blown up. She went up in a tremendous cloud of yellow cordite smoke. She broke in half + bows and stern were left floating but I saw no survivors. Apparently a salvo pitched amidships + blew up her P + Q magazine. Huge pieces of steel + iron were falling everywhere but none touched us. We have heard that six were picked up after + I think were all part …

Several torpedos were fired at the British battlecruisers, but they managed to dodge them all. As the main body of the High Seas Fleet under the command of Admiral Scheer (flagship SMS Fredrich der Grosse) were enemy’s observed ahead, Hood ordered his ships to alter course to port, and opened fire at a range of about 8,000 to 9,000 yards. Inflexible’s Gunnery Officer later reported that the first salvo hit the target. The battlecruisers themselves came under heavy fire, and although Inflexible was not hit, Slade later admitted in a letter to his mother that “we had a good many shells bursting pretty close to us & we got a few splinters from one. Invincible was sunk with the loss of all but six of her crew of 1,032 officers and men. The Inflexible had to alter course to avoid the wreckage.

HMS-invincible-being-blown-

HMS Invincible exploding at the Battle of Jutland, 31 May 1916. Source: Fighting at Jutland: The personal experiences of forty five officers and men of the British Fleet, (London: Hutchinson and Co, Ltd, 1921). Image is available online at Internet Archive.

Battlecruisers were large ships designed to scout ahead of the main battle fleet and find the enemy, to protect the battleships from torpedo armed cruisers and destroyers, and to pursue the enemy fleet and use their guns to damage or slow opposing ships. They were armed with heavy guns (similar to those of the battleships) but were forced to compromise protection in favour of speed. The vulnerability of the battlecruisers combined with the practice of storing shells in gun turrets, ammunition hoists and other working areas to increase the rate of fire poor shell resulted in the loss of three battlecruisers at Jutland.

 

The Inflexible and Indomitable formed astern of the Beatty’s ships as the main body of the Grand Fleet finally appeared and engaged the enemy. Jellicoe ordered his squadrons to alter course in an attempt to bring all guns to bear (in a manoeuvre known as Crossing the ‘T’), and the High Seas Fleet was forced to turn away. Outnumbered and outgunned Scheer decided to break off the action.

… of their Fore Top’s crew (52 4 N, 6 6 E).

7.25 opened fire on a flotilla of German destroyers which were probably going to attack with Torpedoes. They were successfully driven off. Light cruisers + destroyers were now ordered to proceed at full speed + attack with Torpedoes.

7.45 a Torpedo passed 150 yds astern.

8.20 opened fire on Enemy Battle Cruisers + a Battleship of the “Kaiser” class. I think we made a few hits but the light was so bad + the mist so thick that it was extremely hard to see any fall of shot. As it was we were only firing at the flashes. We were not firing for very long. But the Indomitable carried on firing at something for about another 10 salvoes.

8.30 check fire. 3 ships appeared to be firing at “Inflexible”.

8.35 a Torpedo missed out bow by about 50 yds.

8.40 there was a violent shock felt under the ship.

8.45 a submarine broke surface? about 100 yds on the starboard beam. She may have been struck by the ship or the ship may have run on some submerged wreckage.

9.30 A/C south.

Was in the Fore Top until 10.15 then on the Bridge…

As the High Seas Fleet headed south at high speed under cover of a smoke screen the German light forces mounted a torpedo attack. The Inflexible had to alter course sharply to avoid being hit, and Slade admitted to his mother that they were “pretty lucky”. The British battlecruisers caught up with their German counterparts at dusk, and opened fire at 6,000 yards.

HMS Inflexible carried eight 12-inch guns mounted in four twin turrets, one forward (A), one aft (X), and two amidships on either side of the ship (P and Q). The guns fired shells weighing 850 pounds at a maximum muzzle velocity of 2,725 feet per second. They could be elevated to an angle of 13.5 degrees, which enabled a maximum range of 18,850 yards. The control of the guns was centralised under the ship’s Gunnery Officer in the Director Tower.

 

HMS_Indomitable

The 12-inch guns on HMS Indomitable. Source: US Library of Congress Bain Collection. Public Domain.

Powerful optical systems (9-foot coincidence range-finding equipment supplied by Barr and Stroud) were used to establish the range and bearing to the target. The results were then fed into a fire-control table (Dreyer table Mark I), a form of mechanical computer, which combined the Inflexible’s and the target’s courses, bearing and speeds, and presented a firing solution. The guns were then trained and elevated on the target, and fired together in a salvo.

 

 

Barr and Stroud Range Finder

9-foot Barr and Stroud Range Finder.

The fall of shot was observed (the shells caused huge splashes) and corrections made in the firing solution until the target was straddled. It was a complicated process, and made more difficult in action by poor visibility, rough seas, the ship’s own violent manouveres, and by the enemy’s fire. The Grand Fleet’s gunnery was much criticised after the battle.

 

… until 12.0. Managed to get 1/12 hours sleep + then closed up at action stations at 2.15 AM.

June 1st

3.15 AM Sighted a Zeppelin on the starboard quarter about 17-18000 yds away. The “Indomitable” fired two rounds of shrapnel at her but they did not burst anywhere near her. She then turned away + very nearly went out of sight but again turned + came towards us. A light cruiser squadron opened fire on her. Most of the shells were short except about two which burst just ahead of her. By the she was going full speed away.

11.45 passed the wreck of a big shop on the starboard side, Name unknown.

2.24 PM Passed a boat of German design marked “V29” (she is on of their latest destroyers).

2-30 – 2.50 passed through a large area of dead bodies (all German I think). Some of them had their part of the watch bade on their shoulders. All had cork life belts on. One lief buoy we passed had the letters S.M.S ____ pn it but a body was lying acorss the name of the ship.

2.45 passed the wreck of the Invincible again + a destroyer was sent to sink it.

3.15 we passed through a large track of oil which was probably from the Invincible + a large amount of wreckage probably from a destroyer.

Jellicoe was unwilling to risk a night action, and ordered his fleet to steer a course that would intercept the High Seas Fleet at dawn. However Scheer altered course during the night to cross the wake of the Grand Fleet, and although the British light forces made a series of torpedo attacks throughout the night, they failed to receive support from the main body. By daylight the High Seas Fleet had escaped.

Both sides claimed victory after the battle, but the result was inconclusive. The Imperial German Navy had hoped to surprise and destroy a portion of the British fleet, but although it inflicted heavier losses in both men and ships, Scheer was forced to withdraw. The Royal Navy had hoped for a decisive battle, but Jellicoe was unable to prevent the enemy from breaking off the engagement, and lost contact with the enemy during the night.

The Inflexible sustained no damage or casualties during the battle, other than a small indentation in the ship’s out skin cause by the collision with the underwater wreckage (Slade’s report of a submarine is not confirmed), and a crack in the right gun of “Q” turret, which had been caused during the gun’s calibration and was enlarged.

Gerald Slade continued to serve aboard the Inflexible until March 1918 when he volunteered for the submarine service. He served in submarines until 1935, when he became the Fleet Photographic Officer in the first the Mediterranean and then with the Home Fleet. He retired in 1944 with the rank of Commander.

750th Anniversary of the Battle of Evesham

The 4th of August is the 750th anniversary of the Battle of Evesham. Evesham was the second and final pitched battle of the Second Barons’ War (1263-67).

Setting:

Henry III’s mismanagement of the realm through failure in foreign wars, rebellion in Gascony, poor distribution of patronage and increasing financial and judicial grievances, had led to increasing baronial dissatisfaction. This culminated in the Provisions of Oxford (1258) and Westminster (1259) where the barons forced reforms on the King. These covered three broad areas of grievance. The first was to check his favouritism of his foreign relatives. The second involved restructuring a judicial system which had become increasingly unjust, and the third was an attempt to force the royal finances to be better managed, reducing the need for constant, excessive taxation.

However this watershed moment in English constitutional history, which forced the King to have a privy council partly elected by the nobility, was soon undermined.  Fracturing in the baronial party meant that the King was able to secure a Papal Bull in 1261, declaring the provisions as null and void.  But the royal faction was similarly disparate, and infighting caused by political manoeuvring for power surrounding the Lord Edward (later Edward I) and Queen Eleanor alienated several keys nobles from the King’s cause. When Simon de Montfort returned to England in 1263 to lead the baronial faction, the scene was set for a civil war. This began with both sides raiding the lands of their rivals, with side neither gaining a clear advantage.

Soon both sides attempted to end the troubles peacefully at the Mise of Amiens (1264) when Henry III and Earl Simon de Montfort’s parties agreed to the arbitration of the King of France, Louis IX.  Perhaps unsurprisingly Louis ruled heavily in favour of his fellow royal, which far from ensuring peace left no option to the baronial faction but full scale civil war. A series of sieges (the mainstay of medieval warfare) ensued with neither side gaining significant advantage, and it was not until the Battle of Lewes (14 May 1264) that the two opposing forces met in strength.

Sword, probably English, about 1250. IX.5614

Sword, probably English, about 1250. IX.5614

Lewes:

Despite having fewer troops, perhaps as little as half the King’s number, the baronial army under Simon de Montfort won a significant victory.  A seasoned campaigner experienced from the Crusaders and fighting a series of rebellions in Gascony, Simon de Montfort was able to outmanoeuvre the much larger royal army with a forced march in darkness, overwhelming royal sentries and deploying his force on the high ground.

By way of contrast to the Earl Simon, King Henry was no warrior but a scholarly and pious man, who contemporaries said was better suited to a hair shirt than a mail one. De Montfort not only demonstrated his strategic superiority over his King by his forced march and domination of the best ground, but he also showed tactical shrewdness in the disposition of his forces.  Drawing his army into four divisions (known contemporarily as ‘battles’) he deployed three of these to his front and, crucially, kept the fourth under his own command as a reserve.

The royal right was commanded by the Lord Edward. Wishing to avenge the insult that the Londoners had given his mother Queen Eleanor, the Lord Edward led his cavalry against the left wing of the baronial army  – where the Londoners were deployed.  Although the heavily equipped royal knights routed the London levies, the protracted pursuit took Lord Edward and the cream of the royal army from the battle.  By the time they returned de Montfort had, using his command of the ground and tactical reserve, defeated the King’s larger army.  Lord Edward returned only in time to witness defeat.  The battle was a baronial victory against the odds, which resulted in the capture of King Henry, his brother Richard Earl of Cornwall and Lord Edward. Henry III was forced to comply to the Provisions of Oxford once more, with de Montfort effectively a ‘quasi-king’.

[DI 2013-0611] Lance head, European, 12th-14th century. VII.3048.

Lance head, European, 12th-14th century. VII.3048.

Evesham:

Nevertheless, a little over a year later the reforming baronial movement was dealt a fatal blow at the Battle of Evesham. The barons’ once again fractured over patronage and self-interest, with important nobles such as Gilbert de Clare deserting de Montfort’s cause.  By 1265 the Marcher lords Roger Mortimer and Roger Leyburn were in open rebellion against de Montfort, and when Gilbert de Clare orchestrated the escape of the Lord Edward, the Marchers had a royal figurehead to lead them.  Their cause was given added legitimacy by Papal support for Edward to rule in the captive King’s stead.  Running out of powerful allies, de Montfort looked to the Welsh king Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, a move that whilst adding men to his cause, made him more unpopular with English barons and only steeled the Marchers against him.

Whilst de Montfort’s Lewes campaign demonstrated strategic and tactical shrewdness, the events leading up the fateful battle of Evesham showed no such brilliance.  A large portion of his forces, under the command of his son Simon the younger, were ambushed and seriously weakened by a dawn raid by Lord Edward at Kenilworth.  Unable to join his forces, the elder de Montfort found himself outmanoeuvred by Lord Edward’s Marcher army.  When the two opposing forces met at Evesham Simon de Montfort was trapped between the river Avon and the much larger Marcher army.  Lord Edward had totally outmanoeuvred de Montfort, whose escape over the bridge to the east was guarded by the Marcher lord Roger de Mortimer.

Realising the hopeless of his situation, being out numbered and surrounded, Simon de Montfort prayed for God to have mercy on his soul – realising the enemy would soon have his body.  Forced to attempt to fight his way out, de Montfort ordered a central attack on Lord Edward’s army, hoping to break through the encircling force.  However, Humphrey de Bohun refused to led the baronial infantry in the assault, with de Montfort instead having to lead with his cavalry, uphill towards the Marchers.  Before battle was even joined de Bohun’s infantry quit the field, only to be caught and slaughtered in the rout that followed the battle, leaving de Montfort to a similar fate.

Cresting the hill, de Montfort’s contingent fully saw the task that confronted them and the Earl had his outnumbered force form a circle.  From this point the battle descending into a bloody slaughter, with Simon de Montfort, after being unhorsed eventually falling to the lance of Mortimer, who’s contingent  probably advanced from below, through the routing infantry of de Bohun to encircle the remains to de Montfort’s army.

Although the discrepancies between the various chroniclers mean the details of the battle will likely never be known for certain, all agree on its bloodiness. Lord Edward’s Marcher army secured victory swiftly, probably in less than two hours, and showed little mercy even to fellow knights.  Robert of Gloucester termed it the ‘murder of Evesham (for battle there was none).’ Such was the ferocity that the captive King Henry, taken forward by de Montfort when he advanced, only escaped being slain by his would-be rescuers by crying out ‘I am Henry of Winchester, your King. Do not harm me!’

After the battle de Montfort was stripped of his armour, and was found to be wearing a hair shirt underneath it.  A righteous and pious man, he had been convinced of the legitimacy of his cause and was prepared to die for it. But de Montfort’s righteousness did not dampen the ferocity of his opponents, who in the rout slaughtered so many in the local abbey as they attempted to escape or gain sanctuary, that the crypts ran with streams of blood.  Nor did de Montfort’s famous piety and self-conviction stop his enemies from mutilating his body. His killer, Roger de Mortimer sent de Montfort’s head and testicles, the latter draped over the dead Earl’s nose, to his wife as a trophy, whilst his hands and feet were cut off for public display.

With their leader slain, the survivors of the baronial faction fled to late Earl Simon’s stronghold of Kenilworth castle. The siege that ensured was much more typical of medieval warfare than the swift battle of Evesham, although the siege of Kenilworth was more protracted than most – being the longest in English history. The war eventually ended in October 1266, when the Dictum of Kenilworth brought peace to the realm and allowed the remaining Montfortians to buy back their confiscated lands.

The baronial reforming movement was over, and for the remaining six years of Henry’s reign there existed an uneasy peace.His successor Edward I went on to rule with a royal strength that his father had never possessed.  However, the seeds of reform had been sown, and in the 1275 Statues of Westminster Edward himself had enshrined elements of the Provisions of Oxford.  De Montfort was brutally slain at Evesham, but his legacy perhaps lived on.

640px-Morgan_Bible_10r

Image from the ‘Morgan Bible’

Although depicting a crusading scene, this image from the near contemporary Morgan bible shows some of the types of arms and armour that would have been used during the Second Barons’ War.  It also show the potential brutality  of medieval warfare that manifest itself at Evesham.

Arms & Armour at the time of Evesham:

The main form of armour of the knightly classes was mail, which by this time completely covered the body, including hand and feet defences.  Helmets ranged from the conical nasal helm, to the wide-brimmed kettle hat, to the fully enclosed great helm.

However, this level of protection would have only been available to the social and military elite.  Infantry would typically be more lightly equipped with less armour, perhaps of fabric rather than metal.  The padded gambeson, worn under mail, could also serve as armour in its own right, but even this level of protection would have not been available to all.

During this period knights still predominately fought mounted, as heavy cavalry dominated the battlefield. The lance was their primary weapon of shock, which when couched with the weight of horse and fully armoured rider behind it could cause immense damage in a charge.  Swords, axes, maces and daggers would have been carried for close combat and the melee or pursuit that followed. Larger, two-handed weapons were also known, but the shield was still an important part of defensive equipment at this time, so most weapons were wielded in one hand.

 

[DI 2010-1561] Sword, probably English, about 1250.

Sword, probably English, about 1250.

[A8.47] Sword, European, about 1260.  IX.1107.

Sword, European, about 1260. IX.1107.

The primary arms of the infantry would have been staff weapons or missile weapons.  The most common form was the spear which if not excessively long could be used in conjunction with a shield, but heavier forms of two-handed staff weapons were also in use.

[DI 2012-1576] Spear head, European, 11th-14th century. VII.1650.

Spear head, European, 11th-14th century. VII.1650.

The infantry of the period also used bows and crossbows.  And although English and Welsh archery had no yet gained the fame it massed use was to win in the next century, they still featured in armies of the period. However at a battle such as Evesham which was decided by a single charge, their opportunity to influence the battle would have been limited.  Crossbows, although also used in the 13th century battlefield, were particularly favoured in sieges. Not yet having reached their full power potential, with prods of the period primarily being wooden rather than composite or steel, they were still potentially deadly to even armoured men.

BL MS Nero D ii –  Detail from f. 177v – The Mutilation of Simon de Montfort,

BL MS Nero D ii – Detail from f. 177v – The Mutilation of Simon de Montfort,

 

 

Marking 70 years since VE Day – The Big Guns of WWII: 25 pounder self-propelled gun

To mark the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe day, our Portsmouth site Fort Nelson will be firing the impressive 25 pounder self-propelled gun at 1pm and 3pm today. Also known as the Sexton, the gun was developed to support rapidly advancing forces in later stages of World War Two. The gun will be fired at at 1pm and 3pm today.

The 25 pounder self-propelled gun pictured on the Parade at the Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson ©Royal Armouries

The 25 pounder self-propelled gun pictured on the Parade at the Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson ©Royal Armouries

The Royal Artillery experimented with a number of designs in their attempted to improve the mobility of artillery. Self-propelled guns on tracked mountings gave much better cross-country mobility. The ‘Flanders Mud’ of the First World War made it difficult and sometimes impossible to move heavy guns. Early tanks showed the way forward, leading to the gradual introduction of self-propelled guns [SPGs]. The towed 25 pr gun, examples of which can be seen on display in the Voice of the Guns gallery and the Artillery Hall, required a towing vehicle and limber and had limited off-road ability.

Early prototypes included the ‘Bishop’, combining a mounted 25 pounder quick firing gun to chassis of a Valentine tank. The Royal Artillery also used the American M7 self-propelled 105 mm which was known as the ‘Priest’, as its gun mounting resembled a pulpit. However, the British needed a self-propelled gun which incorporated the 25 pounder.

The answer, which came to be known as the Sexton, was created by adapting a Canadian Kangaroo chassis, based on the M3 American tank, to carry a 25 pounder field gun. Manufactured at the Montreal Locomotive Works in Canada, over 2150 Sextons were produced between 1943 and 1945.

The 25 pounder self-propelled gun on display in the Artillery Hall at the Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson ©Royal Armouries.

The 25 pounder self-propelled gun on display in the Artillery Hall at the Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson ©Royal Armouries.

This example on display at the Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson is painted in the colours of the 90th City of London Yeomanry, which landed in Normandy on D–Day, 6 June 1944. On the final run into the beaches they fired their guns from the landing craft in support of the troops already ashore. This example was transferred to Portugal after the Second World War and reimported in the 1980s and  has been restored to running order

See the mighty 25 pounder self-propelled gun fired at the Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson on Friday 8th May to commemorate the 70th anniversary of VE Day. Firings take place on the Parade at 1 pm and 3 pm.

Unusual War Efforts: Attack of the Easter-bunnies!

General CP Deedes_Rabbits

General C.P Deedes, Major of the Kings Own Light Infantry at the time. Credits: http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/general-sir-c-p-deedes-18791969-69660

On this day in 1915, the then Major CP Deedes, member of the King’s Own Light Infantry, currently G.H.Q (General Headquarters Staff) at the War Office, received a very unusual letter suggesting a new alternative “method of warfare”.

Rabbits. Around 200-300 Rabbits as a guideline.

Rabbits at War-1

Credits: King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry

Rabbits at War-2

Credits: King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry

This is a real letter, sent to the war office in April 1915, suggesting that rabbits be used as a weapon in trench warfare.

The unique idea was to train the rabbits to enter the trenches of the Germans by “feeding them at night on a diet, similar if possible, to what the Germans have.”

These bunny warriors would then be able to carry either smelling or sneezing gas, or even bombs on their “errand of destruction”.

The aim of this – “to play havoc with the enemy” and therefore “put the men out of action for a time, and enable us to attack”.

This may sound incredibly insensitive to us now, however the unknown author justifies this by writing “the above idea is not very humane, but at these times one has to drop sentiment, and adopt all sorts of ideas”. He even goes further to say if the plan proves ineffective, the rabbits could be used for a more savoury suggestion…!

How to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse…

With Halloween imminent and the chance of a so-called Zombie Apocalypse increased, our Visitor Experience Team have been exploring the different weapons and methods, that could be used to battle the living dead.

The Visitor Experience Team at Royal Armouries, Leeds get into the Halloween spirit...

The Visitor Experience Team at Royal Armouries, Leeds get into the Halloween spirit…

In a light-hearted blog, our team have identified the best and worst weapons within the Royal Armouries’ collection to defeat a zombie….

Short Magazine Lee Enfield/SMLE MK.III*
Country of origin: United Kingdom
Calibre: .303 in
Rate of fire: 12-15 rpm (rounds per minute)
Capacity: 10 rounds
Effective Range: about 500 -550 yards
Year: 1916
Pros: Easy to use, accurate at range and has a bayonet attachment.
Cons: Only carries 10 rounds, slow rate of fire compared to more modern guns, single shot.
Zombie Rating: 6.5/10

Mills Bomb No.5
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Effective Range: 30 yards
Pros: Potential to “kill” a large amount of zombies with one hit.
Cons: Only as good as your throwing arm. High possibility of accidentally blowing yourself up.
Zombie Rating: 2/10

Bren Gun Mk.I
Country of Origin: Czechoslovakia / United Kingdom
Calibre: original BREN .303 in changes to 7.62 mm in 1954 when we joined NATO
Rate of fire: 500 rpm
Capacity: magazine box 30 rounds or pan 100 rounds
Effective Range: 1800 yards
Year: 1937
Pros: Works with single fire or burst so you can either mow down en masse, or pick off targets. Accurate at long range. The bi-pod can be used to set up a defensible position. The handle allows the user to run and gun, Rambo style!
Cons: It’s very heavy; this is the heaviest version of the BREN gun and is prone to jamming if not loaded correctly. You may need to buddy up if there’s anyone left alive.
Zombie Rating: 9/10

Mosin-Nagant M1891/30
Country of Origin: Russia
Calibre: .303 in
Rate of fire: 12-15 rpm
Capacity: 5 rounds
Effective Range: 730 yards with optics/ 500 yards without (of course the usual trajectory, conditions and marksmanship principles apply)
Year: 1938
Pros: It’s all about head shots when it comes to zombies so you have to be accurate. This weapon has a very good effective range and takes a large round, which is good for stopping power. This is a sniping rifle in 7.62 x 54 Russian, it has a turned down bolt to allow for its PU sight, which is quite accurate.
Cons: Relatively slow rate of fire. Not very helpful at close range. Also the Mosin-Nagant – unlike most B/A rifles – has no holes in the bolt body for gases to escape should there be a catastrophic cartridge failure.
Zombie Rating: 7/10

Liberator Pistol
Country of Origin: United States
Calibre: .45 in
Rate of fire: Single shot weapon
Capacity: 1 round
Effective Range: HAHAHAHAHAHA
Year:1941
Pros: It’s very light.
Cons: Useless in a zombie horde, terrible accuracy, unusable after one shot. You are better off with a water pistol!
Zombie Rating: 1/10

Our resident “zombie expert” aka Curator of Firearms, Jonathan Ferguson couldn’t resist joining in with his own suggestions…

“The obvious choice to fit the bill is the famous Kalashnikov rifle (AK47), particularly the Chinese Type 56 version which has a permanently attached, folding spike bayonet that would make short work of a zombie’s skull when the 30 round magazine runs out. Weapons like this aren’t necessarily available in all countries, so the next best thing is the humble 12-gauge shotgun. Nothing is more devastating at close range and the right type of ammunition increases the chance of a hit. Some are available in semi-automatic guise, like the Franchi SPAS 12 pictured.

However, guns are loud, difficult to use precisely, and require ammunition and maintenance. You might be better off with an edged or impact weapon. There’s the cutting power of the legendary Japanese katana, or the British basket-hilt with its built-in hand protection. A staff weapon like the halberd pictured below would keep grasping hands and gnashing teeth at bay! All of these would require a degree of skill to ‘remove the head or destroy the brain’, as the famous quote goes, so a handier alternative would be something like the flanged medieval mace.”

If you can think of a better weapon or method to survive a zombie attack, let us know on twitter using #ZombieWeapon.

Join us all this week (26 Oct – 3 Nov) at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds for a variety of spooky activities including daily talks on how to defeat a zombie. For further details visit the website.

No sitting on the fence for these Giants!

Clash of the Giants ….

Huddersfield Giants’ quartet Jermaine McGillvary, Michael Lawrence, Luke George and Leroy Cudjoe clashed swords at the Royal Armouries in Leeds – thanks to the Royal Armouries Fencing Club.

3 men fencing with swords

L to R: Huddersfield Giants’ players Leroy Cudjoe, Jermaine McGillvary, Luke George, Michael Lawrence.

Like Rugby League, fencing requires considerable skill and speed so the Giants’ stars were ideally placed to enjoy one of Europe’s oldest combat sports.

Huddersfield Giants' Stars with Royal Armouries staff.

L to R: Michael Lawrence, Jo Clements, Leroy Cudjoe, Ann Lindsay, Jermaine McGillvary, Luke George and Royal Armouries Fencing Club coach Mark Murray-Flutter.

The RFL have encouraged all the Super League teams to try their hands at various sports and activities. To see a film clip of the rugby stars in action, visit The Giants’ website.

Bite the Bullet

In 1857 native soldiers of the Indian Army rose up against the British Empire in what became known as the Indian Mutiny. It’s often said that the cause of this unrest was the paper cartridge issued for use with the new Pattern 1853 Enfield rifle. These were greased at one end to lubricate the bullet, which had to be pushed down the barrel from the muzzle end for loading. In order to open the cartridge, soldiers were instructed to tear it with their teeth, resulting in the ingestion of some of the grease. Rumours spread that this grease was derived from pig fat, forbidden to Muslims, or from cows, which would be a serious issue for Hindus. Moreover, the rumours suggested that this was a deliberate practice intended to degrade and even to force conversion to Christianity.

Paper cartridge issued for use with the P'53 rifle, containing a lead 'Minié syle bullet

Paper cartridge issued for use with the P’53 rifle, containing a lead ‘Minié syle bullet

In fact, the causes and background to the mutiny were rather more complicated than this, but historians agree the cartridge rumours were one of the main triggers or tipping points for the mutiny. Some have disputed the claim of pig and/or cow fat, but although it is clear that their use was not intentional, both types of grease were indeed used on the cartridges. Although many officers in India recognised this serious oversight and attempted to address it, the offence and concern had already been caused. The result was widespread violence, bloodily put down by the Imperial authorities, with ringleaders being ‘blown from guns’, or tied to the muzzle of cannon which were then fired.

The tangent backsight of the Pattern 1853 rifle, graduated up to 900 yards, and the Pattern 1859 musket for native troops with its basic 'V' notch

The tangent backsight of the Pattern 1853 rifle, graduated up to 900 yards, and the Pattern 1859 musket for native troops with its basic ‘V’ notch

One less obvious result of the mutiny was the introduction of a new pattern of arm. Though it outwardly resembled the Enfield rifle, the rifling lands and grooves themselves were machined away, and a much more basic rear sight fitted. These new Pattern 1858 and 1859 smoothbore muskets effectively put ‘Brown Bess’ back in the hands of Indian troops. This was a deliberate attempt to limit the effectiveness of any future uprising, as they would be much less effective at range, and make the targeting of officers far more difficult.

Blogger: Jonathan Ferguson, Curator of Firearms

Illustrating Armour

The Royal Armouries, Leeds has teamed up with local artist Sean Casey to showcase some of his latest works inspired by the Museum’s collection.

Sean hard at work in the Tournament Gallery

Sean hard at work in the Tournament Gallery

The drawings Sean has produced at the Royal Armouries relate to a lifelong interest in armour, from playing with toy Timpo Knights, because he couldn’t get Greek warriors, but which were beautifully made all the same, to an admiration for the awe-inspiring skills of the people who produced the armour itself. For him war games, at the top of the landing steps, evoked childhood notions of a fairytale world of romantic heroism and honour, that gave way to the academic investigation into the true horrors of warfare, coupled with his feelings of pride in our armed forces.

Sean hopes that all those who see his artwork will gain an aesthetic pleasure through the medium in which the subject matter is presented – detailed and often intricate drawings that pay homage to the craftsmanship of the armourers themselves. An exhibition of Sean’s work is currently on display in the Tournament Gallery of our Leeds Museum.

Blogger: Projects Team

Weird and Wonderful

Though it looks like something out of a video game with its twin bayonets, this is a real gun. It is the Sterling S11 sub-machine gun, designed in 1965 as a follow-up to the classic Sterling Mk.4/L2A3 of the 1950s (the latter of which doubled as the Stormtrooper’s blasters in ‘Star Wars’). It was meant to compete with the then-new and now famous Heckler & Koch MP5, and took a few design cues from the equally well-known Israeli Uzi.

Dual bayonet experimental Sterling S11 sub-machine gun

Dual bayonet experimental Sterling S11 sub-machine gun

Due to falling sales of sub-machine guns in general and to reliability problems with the gun, only one example was ever made; ‘EXP 001’. This was presented to the Ministry of Defence Pattern Room in 1989 and came to the Royal Armouries with the accession of that collection in 2005.

Why two bayonets? One is of the type fitted to the SLR rifle and the other for the previous Sterling SMG. We can’t be sure why the S11 was fitted for both; the trouble Sterling went to suggests that it was intended to give export customers a choice. We can be certain of one thing however; you would never have used both at the same time!

Blogger: Jonathan Ferguson, Curator of Firearms