Proof sleigh No.10 of 95tons was used at Shoeburyness for a variety of purposes, moving heavy ordnance, test firing. It was built in 1886 to mount barrels from the 12inch BL of 43 tons to the 16.25inch BL of 110 tons for testing purposes.
The Jubilee Shot of 1887
The Railway Proof Sleigh was used to test the 9.2inch BL wirewound barrel of 19tons in the High Angle role at Shoeburyness. The barrel was lashed to a huge baulk of timber by several turns of rope and the timber then lashed to the recoiling portion of the proof sleigh. The School of Gunnery at Shoeburyness decided to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1887 in a practical manner. They raised the 9.2inch gun up to 45 degrees to see how far it would fire. The actual firing did not take place until 1888.
In a series of trials the shells fired were Palliser shot weighing 382lbs. with a powder charge of 270lbs. The gun was fired at various angles of elevation, the maximum range obtained being not less that twelve miles. The elevation was then forty-five degrees and the calculated extreme height attained by the projectile was 16,000ft (three miles). The time of flight was slightly over one minute.
Before performing the 'Jubilee Shot' as it came to be known, the school of Gunnery invited various experts in ballistics to forecast what the result would be. Ten experts submitted their calculations for the range and time of flight to be anticipated for a quoted muzzle velocity at 30, 35, 40 and 45 degrees elevation. Their forecasts for 40 degrees ranged from 12, 500 to 20, 024 yards, but for 45 degrees they were rather closer together, offering solutions between 20,650 and 21, 900 yards. All the experts offering reams of calculations and formulae to back their estimates.
The result for the 40 degree elevation was that the shot landed 21,203 yards from the gun, and at 45 degrees it landed 21,800 yards away. Only one estimate in the 40 degree group was at all close to the real actual result, at 20, 024, but Quarter-Master Hadcock forecast 21,886 yards for the 45 degree shot, no more than 86 yards out, which was a creditable piece of calculation.
The 1886 Railway Proof Sleigh outside The Rotunda at Woolwich in 1996.
In June 1942 the first gun from the 8inch/13.5 hyper velocity gun set produced to fire over the Dover Straits was tested on the Railway Proof Sleigh No.10 at Yantlet battery on the Isle of Grain achieving ranges from 26,000 to 27,00 yards.
The 1886 Railway Proof Sleigh at Fort Nelson in 2013 with the 18inch BL Howitzer Mark I (L1) of 1918.
The 18inch BL of 85tons 14cwt is the largest gun (Howitzer) ever manned by the Royal Artillery. Railway guns like this were made in many sizes and were designated as super-heavy calibres where the weight of the gun was so great that it was virtually impossible to move them by road. Five guns were constructed of this 18-inch calibre by the Elswick Ordnance Company, intended for service in France to pound the Hindenburg Line but they were not completed in time. They were designed to fit the 14inch mountings, a railway carriage of 164tons. Two railway carriages were completed, Piece Maker and Gladiator. They were used for a very short while in the 1920s before being put into storage. In 1940 both were recovered from ordnance depots and re-used. Piece maker was fitted with a 13.inch barrel from the Duke class battleship reserves and emplaced near Dover. Galdiator was also fitted with a 13.5inch BL and it supplemented Piece Maker in May 1941. Both were scrapped afer WWII. The gun now mounted on the Proof Sleigh is the 18inch L1, the only remaining example. It fired a shell weighing 2,500lbs to a maximum range of 24,600 yards (14 miles) using a propelling charge of 282lbs.
For many years it was retained by the Proof and Experimental Establishment at Shoeburyness. It was used to project 1000lb aerial bombs at 2ft thick reinforced concrete targets from 1943 to 1959. In June 1991 It was moved from Shoeburyness and put on display at the Royal Artillery Museum outside the Rotunda at Woolwich. It was removed by the Army when the Rotunda closed and sat for several years in a car park at Larkill from 2008 as it would not fit into the new Firepower Museum at Woolwich. It has recently been on display in Holland at the Utrecht Raliway Museum as part of their special railways at war exhibition to mark the 300th anniversary of the Treaty of Utrecht.
On 6th September 2013 It arrived at the Royal Armouries Museum of Artillery at Fort Nelson on Portsdown Hill at Fareham, Hampshire. It will be on display there until 2018. The gun and mount is owned by the Royal Artillery Historical Trust.
Other railways guns saw service in England during the second World War as part of the defences of the Channel ports.
Boche Buster was one of twelve built to take the 14-inch BL or 18-inch BL Howitzer. This mounting had seven axles in rear and eight in front, and when fired at high angle had a pull of recoil of 420 tons. Consequently it was to be fired along the line of rail and the whole mounting was to recoil. The service mounting was much larger than the proof mounting allowing greater elevation.
Boche Buster was fitted with the 18-inch Howitzer barrel No.1 Mk 4 which had been constructed in 1918 and completed in 1919. Ordered during WWI each mounting cost £250,00 to £300,000 to construct. In 1936 they were sold for scrap beacuse the authorities refused to pay £50 each to maintain them: Gargantua was cut up at Shoeburyness whilst others met their end at Woolwich, however somehow four survived.
The 18inch BL howitzer was designed as a partner piece to the 14inch guns and was interchangeable with them on the same mountings. Four of these barrels were built, mounted in turn on one of the carriages for test firing and then put into store. In the 1920s the 14inch barrels were declared obsolete and two 18-inch barrels were mounted. Periodically one of these was brought out to be deployed on Salisbury plain either on a siding near Bulford or on the terminus of the Larkhill military railway at Druid's Lodge. In 1938 one was taken to Shoeburyness Proof Establishment and mounted on the Raliway Proof Mounting No.10 for testing amour plate. This meant that in 1939 there were four railway mountings, one with the 18-inch Howitzer (Boche Buster) and three empty.
In November 1939 Lt Col Cleeve was tasked with forming a Super Heavy Railway Regiment and he searched Britain for ralway mountings. He found three mountings rusting away in a shed at RAOC Depot Chilwell. They were Boche Buster, Scene Shifter and a third unfinished and not named later to become Galdiator, all empty of their barrels. Later someone found Peacemaker (note the change of name) and all were sent to be refurbished. The barrel and mounting were united at Darlington North British Locomotive Works in October 1940. The gun then travelled to Catterick where a name plate was added. It left in February 1941 with two trains- an extra diesel engine, a shell waggon, various living waggons and brake vans. The diesel was for use in action to avoid giving away the position. Lt Col Cleeve drew up a War Establishment for the 18-inch Howitzer battery. It was suggested that the 11th Super Heavy Battery be given some special title to associate it with 471 Siege battery which had manned the Boche-Buster in the Great War. Boche Buster was parked near Canterbury in an anti-invasion role.
In 1943 there was a plan to assemble the three 13.5-inch mountings, now handed over by the RM to the Army with the 18-inch mounting at Catterick to form the Super Heavy Railway Regiment to follow the invasion to France. An Anti-Concrete shell was tested by Boche Buster at Salisbury Plain but the idea was abandoned. The unit was disbanded and all the Railway mountings were withdrawn from their coastal positions and placed in store. They remained until 1946 when they were scrapped.