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The BL 18-inch railway howitzer (formally Ordnance BL 18-inch Mk I howitzer on truck, railway) was a British railway gun developed during World War I. Part of the progression of ever-larger howitzers on the Western Front, it did not enter service until 1920.

BL 18-inch railway howitzer
Example at Catterick, 12 December 1940
TypeRailway howitzer
Place of originUnited Kingdom
Service history
In service1920–1945
Used byUnited Kingdom
WarsWorld War II
Production history
ManufacturerElswick Ordnance Company
No. built5
Mass85.7 tons (barrel & breech)
Barrel lengthBore: 52 ft (16 m) (34.7 calibres)[1]

ShellHE; 2,500 lb (1,134 kg)[1]
Calibre18-inch (457.2 mm)
Elevation0° - 40°
Traverse2° L & R
Muzzle velocity1,880 ft/s (570 m/s)[1]
Effective firing range22,300 yd (20,400 m)[1]



"Boche Buster's" crew posing with the gun

Five guns and two complete equipments on railway wagons were produced. After World War I there was no use for such large but relatively short-ranged weapons and they were placed in storage. In World War II the two wagons were used to mount 13.5-inch guns, which were capable of engaging targets on the German-occupied Channel coast of France. In late 1940 one 18-inch howitzer was mounted on the railway mounting nicknamed "Boche Buster" which had been used in World War I to carry a 14-inch gun. It was deployed at Bishopsbourne in Kent on the Elham to Canterbury Line as a coast defence gun as a precaution against possible German invasion.[2][3] The gun's range was insufficient for cross-Channel firing and hence it was never fired in action.


The 18-inch "barrel number one" on display at the Dutch Railway Museum in 2013.

The four BL 18-inch railway howitzers that were deployed during the Second World War were all scrapped in the post-war period.[4]

Only the gun from the fifth howitzer, named "barrel number one", survives,[5] it was used for artillery testing at MoD Shoeburyness in 1920 before being put into storage at the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich.[5] In 1940 it returned to Shoeburyness to be used again for experimental firings.[5] Post war it continued to be used until 1959.[5] Its final series of tests was firing experimental 1,000 lb (450 kg) cannon shells using much reduced charges.[5]

After decades in storage, the barrel was put on public display at Larkhill, when the Royal Artillery relocated there in 2008 with the closure of its Woolwich Barracks. In March 2013 it was loaned to the Spoorwegmuseum, the Dutch national rail museum.[6]

In September 2013 it was moved back to the Royal Armouries artillery museum at Fort Nelson, Hampshire.[4] It is mounted on a proofing carriage, a gun carriage with very limited elevation and traverse intended for test firing.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d Hogg & Thurston 1972, page 200
  2. ^ Clarke 2005, pages 41-42
  3. ^ "The Elham Valley Military Railway". Archived from the original on 20 August 2008. Retrieved 24 January 2010.
  4. ^ a b "Giant first world war gun on the move across southern England this week". The Guardian. 2 September 2013.
  5. ^ a b c d e Hall, Nicholas (1991). "The 18inch Railway Howitzer". Journal of the Ordnance Society. 3: 69–76.
  6. ^ "The UK's largest artillery piece, 1 of 12 surviving wartime railway howitzers in the world, is being moved for exhibition in the Netherlands". United Kingdom Government. 27 March 2013. Retrieved 8 April 2013.

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