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2022 marked 40 years since Argentine and British troops fought to gain control over the Islas Malvinas or Falkland Islands. The ten-week conflict started on 2nd April 1982 and ended on 14th June when Argentina surrendered.

Falklands 40: What Portsmouth Saw, our temporary exhibition at Fort Nelson marks the 40th anniversary of the Falklands War. It depicts Portsmouth during the war from the point of view of the local Portsmouth newspaper, The News and features moving stories from Falkland War veterans.

HMS Intrepid in the water with a group of boats

HMS Intrepid returns to Portsmouth from the Falkland Islands. Credit: The News

What Portsmouth saw

Portsmouth played a significant part in the Falklands War. Thousands of Portsmouth dockyard workers rallied to prepare ships that carried British troops to the Falkland Islands.

Later, images of the Dockyard became front page news as huge crowds flocked to welcome the ships and troops back once the war was over. They show some of the scenes that played out in 1982 as the ships of the British fleet returned from the Falkland Islands to Portsmouth Dockyard after the war.

The homecomings

Portsmouth City Archive were contacted by the Royal Armouries team who were looking for photographs of Portsmouth at the time of the Falklands War. We found a treasure trove of negatives containing images of the Dockyard. The negatives, taken by journalists for local paper, The News, featured families, crowds, ships and homecoming banners.

Every emotion was visible on the pictures, and we knew we would like to share them with our visitors to help us tell the story of the part Portsmouth played in the war.

Falklands War veterans’ stories

In April 2022, as part of the Falklands 40: What Portsmouth Saw exhibition, 10 Falklands War veterans visited Fort Nelson and shared their stories with us. We spoke about their time in combat and the return home. Some sailed into Portsmouth and were greeted by tens of thousands, others had smaller welcome parties. All told fascinating and moving stories, which can be seen in the videos below.

The weapons of the war

As a much richer and more powerful nation, Britain entered the war with more and better aircraft, ships and missile systems than Argentina.

Despite this, the soldiers fighting on the ground were armed with weapons that were virtually identical and equally effective. Even the same ammunition was used.

This meant that firearms were not a deciding factor in this conflict, but they did create common ground for the soldiers of each side. They knew exactly how their enemy’s weapons worked and what their capabilities were. If necessary, they could even pick them up and use them.

The image below shows an example of one of these firearms in our collection.

L1A1 Self-Loading Rifle

The powerful and tough Belgian FN FAL rifle was adopted by many nations during the 1950s. This is the British version, known as the L1A1 ‘Self-Loading Rifle’ or ‘SLR’. Argentina’s version could fire automatically, like a machine gun, but it kicked so hard that it was hard to control.

Centrefire self-loading military rifle - SLR, L1 A1

Centrefire self-loading military rifle – SLR, L1 A1. PR.5223

Zoomable images give a closer look at the rifle in collection catalogue entry for this rifle, a centrefire self-loading military rifle – SLR, L1 A1.

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Women warriors in the pre-modern world were rare. Some led armies when their husbands were dead, imprisoned, or otherwise occupied; others defended cities, fortifications, and even islands from attack and sieges. But only one rose from peasantry to lead her kingdom’s armies, Joan of Arc. Her military career lasted only a year, but it was an extraordinary year for an extraordinary woman.

Joan of Arc painting. Woman in armour carruing a banner and sword

Joan of Arc was born in the small village of Domrémy, in the northeast of France, what was then the county of Bar and soon to be controlled by the duchy of Burgundy (allies to the English from 1418). Historians have placed her birthdate at 1412, although it was never recorded at the time. (During her trial in 1431 Joan said she thought she was about 19.) Testimonies of those who knew her as a child claimed she had a close family – mother, father, three brothers, and possibly a sister (the sources are vague on the latter). Joan was not an odd, or even a special child to others in the village. They recalled that she was particularly devoted to Christianity – her priest was forced to instruct the young Joan that she did not need to confess every day – but that she also participated in the village’s traditions, even those that originated in a pre-Christian past.

Around the age of 13 Joan started to hear voices. In the grove of trees in between her house and the church – visible still today, although the trees have needed to be replaced more than once in the ensuing centuries. These voices, of many saints, ensured Joan that she was on the right path, but that a ‘mission’ was in her future.

That mission came in 1428, when Joan of Arc was 16 or 17 years old. She testified later that her voices revealed a two-fold mission: raise the English siege of Orléans, which had just begun; and see the French dauphin (heir) crowned as king. Later, her confessor, Seguin Seguin, testified that her voices added two more missions: recapture Paris, then held by the Anglo-Burgundians; and gain the release of Charles, the duke of Orléans, who was captured at the battle of Agincourt in 1415 and had been held in England ever since. That she accomplished those she testified to but not those later remembered by her confessor has called the additional missions into question.

Joan was confident and persistent. She convinced her uncle to take her to Robert de Baudricourt, the leader of the nearby town of Vaucouleurs. Baudricourt and Vaucouleurs had a special credibility with the French as the town and its leader had declared themselves for the dauphin, despite being deep in Burgundian territory. Initially Joan was turned down. But she returned, and this time convinced Baudricourt. A few weeks later she was at Chinon Castle on the Loire River in the very presence of the dauphin. He tried to prove that she was a charlatan with what was essentially a parlor trick: switching clothes with an underling. Joan did not fall for it; instead, she told Charles that God wanted him to be king.

All rulers want God’s approval. Yet Charles wasn’t entirely satisfied, and he made Joan take more tests – including ascertaining her virginity – before he allow her to join the French soldiers attempting to relieve the siege of Orléans. The troops and the citizens were exuberant at her arrival. Rumors had been circulating for weeks of a savior’s appearance – they knew she was a peasant woman, but their faith was strong. When she entered the city, passing an English force without any hindrance, the Orléanais surrounded her, believing that they were in the presence of a living saint; even touching her horse would bless them.

The French military leaders there were less enthusiastic. Confident in her mission, on 5 May 1429 she would reprimand them for excluding her from their planning meeting: Lord Dunois, the leader of French forces at Orléans, later testified that Joan of Arc threatened that, were they to exclude her again, she would surely have ‘their heads’, to which he said that ‘he did not doubt that.’

But Joan did not have the patience to wait for the French generals to like her. So the next morning she took matters into her own hands, leading an attack of the fortified bridgehead, the Tourelles, and the earth-and-wood fortification (called a boulevard) filled with gunners and archers that had been built in front of it. Joan claimed she was first up the wall, carrying the banner filled with religious symbolism that she had recently fashioned. The fighting was intense, and then it stopped. Joan had been wounded – shot between the neck and shoulder. She was taken back to camp and the battle stopped.

Miraculously, at least to contemporary sources, Joan of Arc woke up early the next morning and the conflict resumed. The French rallied behind her, and the English were quickly defeated. Now the French military leaders were impressed. Within 5 weeks the rest of the occupied towns along the Loire had returned to French control, and the French had thoroughly defeated the English army at the battle of Patay.

One mission down, one to go. Orléans was relieved, but the dauphin had not been crowned – and the land between the Loire and Reims, the historical site for all French crownings since Hugh Capet in 987, was held by the enemy. The large towns of Auxerre, Troyes, and Reims fell quickly and bloodlessly – their garrisons having fled – and the French, army, its size growing daily, rode into Reims unimpeded. On 17 July 1429 Charles VII was crowned king of France. Joan stood in armour next to him.

And that was about it.

From Reims she took the army to Paris and prepared an attack. But it would not come until 8 September, and then it didn’t last more than a day. Joan was again wounded, and this time she would not recover so quickly. Her third mission, if Seguin Seguin was correct, was a failure.

Her wound had healed by October, and Joan wanted to return to the action. However, she was sent by the king to fight a mercenary leader, Perrinet Gressart, who had carved himself a little ‘kingdom’ by playing the English and French and Burgundians against each other. Although Joan had only served as a general in the French army previously, against Gressart she was the general. But she was poorly supplied. An unfortified village, Saint-Pierre-le-Moutier, fell, but the mercenaries’ headquarters, La Charité, did not. Joan wrote to every French town nearby pleading for food, cannons, and gunpowder. One of these letters survives, signed by Joan herself (only two signatures exist), but none of her letters brought results. She had to retreat.

She was kept at court, ennobled by the king between Christmas and New Years, but largely as a mascot. Several towns that had declared themselves for the French king were under attack by the English and the Burgundians. But Charles would not let her to join their fight. One day she just left, her escape not recounted in the sources. Joan of Arc ended up among the defenders of Compiègne where, after a couple of months of fighting with them, on 23 May 1430, she was captured.

Her trial in Rouen was a travesty. The English wanted her tried by the Catholic Church: undoubtedly being defeated by a heretic was better than being defeated by a peasant girl. Of course she was found guilty. On 30 May 1431 her judges tied her to a stake and burned her to death. The place can still be seen today, outside of a church built following her sainthood in 1920.

This British artillery piece, dated 1979 and currently to be found on the Parade at Fort Nelson, is not to be confused with the nearby, earlier and similarly sized, British 7.2-inch Howitzer on the American M1 carriage. Can you spot the difference?

Mounted Howitzer

7.2 in Howitzer (Dated 1944) A British 7.2 inch howitzer on the American 155mm carriage.

Mounted Howitzer

Artillery – Field Howitzer 70

Designed for the 1970s it was the first operationally towed artillery piece to move short distances under its own power – almost a self-propelled howitzer – and notable in that it was the last generation of artillery before the advent of computer assisted firing and the use of global positioning systems. Interestingly, the unit could be fitted with a digital display unit which was favoured by Germany and Italy but not by the Royal Artillery.

The Field Howitzer 70 concept was born in 1962 with a NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) requirement for a common howitzer involving America, West Germany and the United Kingdom agreeing on a joint venture – the first two countries both wishing to replace their 155 mm field howitzers and the United Kingdom its 5.5-inch Medium Gun (an example of which can be seen in the Artillery Hall). America soon withdrew however when their operational requirements for the unit differed too drastically for the Europeans. They required a lighter unit for helicopter transport and were not at all keen on the towed facility so they decided to develop their own system which become the M198.  This left West Germany and the UK in 1964 to design and build a new weapon with the following characteristics. A continuous high rate of fire with a burst fire capability; high mobility with minimum effort for deployment and increased range and lethality with a new family of ammunition as well as being able to fire all 155 mm NATO munitions.

Following the completion of the first six prototypes, Italy joined the collaborative project in 1970 which was good news since they were prepared to fund a quarter of the project costs. Then a second batch of eight more units was completed between 1971 and 1973 with extensive trials commencing in 1975. These, involving nineteen units in all, were successful and the weapon was accepted into British service in 1976 but was not fully operational until 1980.

Model Howitzer

This model Howitzer shows the structure of the gun.

The trilateral production committed the UK to manufacturing the carriage, traversing mechanism and propellant charge at Vickers Shipbuilding Group Limited, as it was then known. In West Germany, Rheinmetall manufactured the barrel, loading mechanism, auxiliary propulsion unit (APU), sights and illuminating ammunition and in Italy, OTO-Melara made the cradle, recoil system and elevating gear.

The gun was mounted on a split-trail carriage fitted with small guiding wheels on the trail ends with the APU a Volkswagen 1800 cc diesel engine capable of driving the unit at a maximum road speed of 16 km/h (10 mph) as well as powering both the hydraulics and electrics.

In the Royal Artillery it was deployed in regiments of eighteen guns, six to a battery. The first British regiment to receive its full complement of weapons was the 1st Regiment, Royal Horse Artillery, based in the UK, with the second regiment stationed in Germany with the British Army of the Rhine.

The new family of ammunition included a thin-walled, high fragmentation effect High-Explosive (HE) shell weighing 43.5 kg. A base ejection smoke shell and an illuminating round. Additionally it could fire the American M549A1 Rocket-Assisted Projectile (RAP) and the American M712 High-Explosive, terminally laser guided,  Anti-Tank ‘Copperhead’ projectile. The maximum range for the standard HE round was 24,000 m (15 miles) and for RAP 30,000 m (18.7 miles). Its firing rate was between 2 and 6 rounds per minute, the detachment numbered eight men and for towing its 9300 kg (9.15 tons) weight, the Royal Artillery used the Foden (6 x 6) Medium Mobility Vehicle.

Although ballistically successful, the weapon had an apparent reputation for unreliability particularly with respect to the high levels of maintenance required for the APU and the complex hydraulics. It was found to be prone to dust contamination in the field and suspect when experiencing the rough handling typical of a NATO exercise – conditions not accurately simulated in testing. An internet source states that its system reliability in 1981 was only 51%. Nonetheless, over a thousand units were constructed between 1977 and 1989. The Royal Artillery possessed 397, Italy 162 and West Germany 150. Eight other countries were sufficiently impressed to place orders, with Malaysia, the first non-NATO country, ordering 15. Saudi Arabia utilised 72 units, 40 of which remain in service today. Estonia originally purchased 32 units, 24 of which were in service in 2010 and Morocco maintain the 30 today they originally ordered. But it was Japan who became the largest single user of this artillery successfully negotiated permission to manufactured 480 under licence by Japan Steel Works.

This example was donated to the Royal Armouries in 2016 by Hesco Bastion Ltd of Leeds who manufacture specialist units for protection against small arms fire and/or explosives. FH-70 155 mm Towed Howitzer – DITCHED BY AMERICA? by Matsimus.

Railway gun on display

18-inch breech loading railway howitzer, 1918, Britain (AL.387) – on loan from the Royal Artillery Historical Trust. © Jonty Wilde / By kind permission of the Royal Artillery Historical Trust

This “Railway Gun” is on display at Fort Nelson in the Artillery Hall.

Getting up close is the best way to comprehend its size and to appreciate the manufacturing expertise expended in the construction of this super-heavy monster artillery. The barrel weighing 86,364 kg (85 tons) was designed to throw a shell of 1135 kg (1.12 tons) containing a bursting charge of 78 kg (172 lb) of T.N.T. to a range of just over 20 km (13 miles). To achieve this the barrel had to withstand around 25,401 kg (25 tons) of pressure per square inch around the charge of 120 kg (265 lb) of cordite. The reason for this was to bring an even greater weight of firepower down on the German Hindenburg defensive line on the Western Front than had been possible with two naval 14-inch guns. These were also railway mounted, made by the Elswick Ordnance Company (EOC) of Newcastle and named ‘Boche-Buster’ and Scene-Shifter’.

Responding to a request from General Headquarters in France for bigger artillery, the Munitions Council, probably towards the end of 1917, invited both EOC and Vickers Ltd to submit designs based on a bore of 18 inches. Eventually EOC built three, including the one we have today, and Vickers two but none of them were finished before the end of the war! However, they were put to very good use thereafter as will be revealed below. Introduced into British service on the 8th May 1920, this barrel, designated L1, had been proof fired and had its charge determined in April 1919 at Woolwich. Soon after it was sent to the Proof and Experimental Establishment at Shoeburyness in Essex for further proof firing and other firings to enable the compilation of its range characteristics, that is, the relationship of barrel elevation and propellant charge to range – vital information for a Battery Commander. The mounting upon which L1 sits is much older.

Mountings such as these were constructed by the Royal Carriage Department, Woolwich, solely for the proof firing of heavy calibre naval guns between 12-inch and 16.25-inch. This example as number 10 was built in 1886 and weighing 96,525 kg (95 tons) spent most of its working life at either Shoeburyness or Woolwich oftentimes ferried between the two on War Department barges.

In the years following 1918, most of the heavy artillery barrels and railway gun rolling stock was moth-balled at various Royal Army Ordnance Depots. The commencement of the Second World War in 1939 focussed attention again on the nation’s available artillery. Moves were made to locate, classify and note its condition and one of the experts called upon to help was none other than Major S.M. (Monty) Cleeve, Battery Commander of 471 Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery, who, with a 14-inch Mark III gun upon ‘Boche-Buster’ gave a demonstration firing to King George V on an official visit – the so-called ‘Kings Shot’ in 1918. Cleeve found four 18-inch barrels including L1 and four mountings at Chilwell, Nottingham. Could such important artillery be brought back into service? Winston Churchill certainly believed so following his coming to power as Prime Minister in May 1940 and the fall of France one month later. This allowed the Germans to commence emplacing powerful coast defence guns in the Pas de Calais region opposite Dover quite capable of cross-Channel bombardment. The Kent coast defences in particular needed strengthening and Churchill’s view was that these old guns and mountings could help but not before much inspecting, maintenance and railway line preparation. Eventually, barrel L2 and ‘Boche-Buster’ were united in October 1940 but the journey to Kent was not started until February 1941.

Large artillery gun firing from a railway carriage and track in 1941

18-inch Howitzer on ‘Boche-Buster’ firing a ranging round in Kent, May 1941.

Although operated by the 11th Super Heavy Battery, Royal Artillery, and housed in Bishopsbourne Tunnel on the Elham Valley Line, this unit was never called upon to engage an enemy target and was therefore regarded as somewhat of a white elephant by the other coast defence detachments. Nevertheless, Churchill enjoyed showing it off to visiting VIP’s when visiting that part of Kent. Its relatively short range meant that at best it would have been able only to cover the approaching shoreline in the Dover vicinity. By 1943 it had been withdrawn to Salisbury Plain to continue further investigative firing trials into concrete penetration.

These had started at Shoeburyness in 1943 involving L1 on No.10 with twin objectives in mind. Firstly, to use one or more 18-inch Howitzer in subsequent operations in France following the invasion of Europe specifically firing a shell of modified design strong enough to penetrate concrete and secondly, research into strengthening air-dropped rotating and non-rotating 454 kg (1000 lb) bombs when targeting concrete. It was far cheaper and simpler to use a gun rather than attempt to hit a target from an aircraft flying at height. It avoided taking an aircraft and its crew from front-line service and the post-strike recovery of the bomb was much easier. It is believed by the author of this piece that Barnes Wallis was involved in this research in order to help with the construction of his 5080 kg (5 tons) Tallboy and 10,160 kg (10 tons) Grand Slam earthquake bomb. Interestingly, L1 fired its last round, a 1000 lb bomb, as late as the 27th November 1959.

Large gun mounted on a railway carriage and track

18-inch Howitzer on Railway Proof Carriage at Shoeburyness, Essex on 7 June 1990. Crown Copyright.

For some years afterwards, both gun and carriage remained at Shoeburyness somewhat neglected in a remote siding. Apart from an occasional coat of paint and several attempts to pass the unit on to other defence establishment, it was not until 1979 that it was refurbished and moved to a more visible location there. Full retirement came in 1991 when it was gifted by the Ministry of Defence to the Royal Artillery Historical Trust and placed on public display outside the Rotunda at Woolwich. There it lay for seventeen years until 2008 when it was moved again, this time to the Royal Artillery Barracks at Larkhill where it was set-down on a section of railway line adjacent to the sports field. In 2013 permission was granted for it to star in the exhibition ‘Tracks to the Front’ at the Dutch National Railway Museum (DNRM) in Utrecht, Holland detailing the story of trains in wartime as part of the 300th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht. A clause in the six-month loan agreement committed DNRM to meet the expense of its relocation to an English site which, after a short period of negotiation, was agreed to be the Royal Armouries (RA) Museum of Artillery at Fort Nelson. Its transport by road and sea to Holland and back was of sufficient interest to feature as a documentary in the Monster Moves television series for Channel 5. The loan to the RA was originally for five years but this was extended in 2018 to 2023.

18-inch Railway Howitzer and Railway Proof Carriage arriving at Fort Nelson

18-inch Railway Howitzer and Railway Proof Carriage arriving at Fort Nelson on 17th September 2013. © Philip Magrath

More information about the gun can be found in our Collections Online.

triang toys

The outbreak of war in 1939 required manufacturing companies to stop making peacetime goods like children’s toys and start churning out deadly weapons and ammunition. One of these firms was Lines Brothers, based in Merton in south-west London. Lines Bros was better known under its tradename ‘Tri-ang’, named for the three sides of a triangle and the three founding brothers Walter, William and Arthur Lines. Some readers will remember the ‘Tri-ang’ range of colourful sheet metal toy cars, trucks, and other vehicles. Successive generations grew up playing with these toys from their launch in 1919 until well after 1971 when the company ceased trading. Today the toys are collectors’ items.

By 1939 Lines had one of the largest and most modern factories in the world, which made it a prime candidate to be repurposed by the British government for war work. Lines started taking on contracts for small arms ammunition, artillery shell fuzes, and parts for weapons. In 1941 Walter Lines offered to do more than just make parts of weapons. As well as a capable factory, Lines’ company were specialists in making things out of ‘pressed’ sheets of steel. Walter proposed a new version of the Sten submachine gun that made extensive use of sheet steel. Lines himself redesigned the already cheap Sten to suit the machinery and processes used in his factory, reducing manufacturing time down to just 5 ½ hours per gun. The War Office approved the design as the Sten Mark III. This differed from the better-known Mark II in several ways. Its sheet metal body was longer, extending out along the barrel and replacing the separate hand guard of the Mark II. The sheet metal construction resulted in a long distinctive rib along the top of the gun where the two ends of the sheet were welded together. The Mk. II magazine housing, designed to rotate for storage, was replaced by a simpler welded-on version. Because the barrel was permanently welded into the body, the barrel could not be replaced when it wore out – this was a truly disposable gun and so less cost-effective in the long run. The gun could also no longer be fitted with a bayonet, although these were rarely used anyway.

Second World War Sten gun without magazine

Centrefire automatic submachine gun – Sten Mk.III (about 1943-1944) Late pattern model, British. PR.7575

The new Sten was put into production in Spring 1942, and an initial contract of 500,000 guns was completed on time only by employing three shifts of workers on 24 hour per day production. As they did in other arms factories, many women worked in the critical roles of welding and final hand assembly of the guns, whilst men with prior manufacturing experience (and in a reserved occupation) tended to set up and operate the machine tools that made the individual components. Another 500,000 gun contract was won from the government as a result. Unfortunately the adaptation to stamped steel was not without problems. This was hardly surprising given the record time in which Lines were turning out a product that they had never before made. Still, a delicate balance of cost, speed, and effectiveness was being attempted, and more defects were found with Mark IIIs than the Mark II. As the need for guns was easing, with production of Mk. II guns now sufficient in other factories, the decision was taken to cut the second contract short. Minimising the chance of additional reliability problems in the field (the Mark II was hardly the most dependable gun as it was), Mark IIIs were prioritised for issue to the Home Guard. In Home Guard service the guns would be shielded from the sand, mud and hard service of frontline combat. Despite this, Mk. III guns did see widespread foreign service, and were also dropped to partisan fighters in Europe. When production ceased in Autumn 1943, an astonishing 876,886 had been made at Merton. Walter Lines and his company had made a significant contribution to the nation’s defence – just as they did to its collective childhood.

You can see an example of the Mark III Sten alongside its tinplate toy forerunner in our permanent War Gallery display ‘Firefight: Second World War’.

The life and times of Frederic Baron von Eben

What does a hero of the Spanish-American Wars of Independence have in common with the 10th Hussars, the adoption of the rifle by the British Army, and the Battle of Waterloo — quite a lot as it turns out. Frederic Christian Baron von Eben was a Hanoverian, born at Creutzburg in Silesia in 1773. The son of a Prussian general, he joined the Prussian Army in 1787 at the age of fourteen, distinguishing himself in his father’s regiment of Hussars fighting the French in the Low Countries between 1792 and 1795, and earning the Prussian Order of Merit for his bravery.

A man with a mustache and sideburns is wearing a ornate blue and red hat while a horse looks energetic in the background.

Frederic Baron von Eben, his appearance in the larger painting of ‘HRH The Prince of Wales at Review’ signifies his importance to the Prince Regent. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Mass.

When Prussia refused to renew the war against France in 1799, Eben resigned his commission and travelled to England. He gained a commission as a captain in the York Hussars in 1800, and by 1802 he was in the 10th Light Dragoons (Prince of Wales’s Own), where due to his status as a socialite, he became friends with the Duke of Sussex who was the brother of the Prince Regent. During his service with the 10th Light Dragoons he composed a book, ‘Observations on the utility of good riflemen‘ which contained instructions for the use of rifle-armed light cavalry and infantry. At a time when fighting was done by standing in long lines and manoeuvring to get the upper-hand on the enemy, the employment of troops using dispersed, hit and run, tactics was something of a bold idea.

Observations on the Utility of Good Riflemen

An old book laid out with its pages open. One side has a picture of a man shooting wit his rifle resting on the back of his horse. Right hand page has hand written notes on rifleman ship.

‘Observations on the Utility of Good Riflemen’

It is unknown how many copies of Eben’s book were produced, but only three which we know of survive. One was presented to the Prince Regent and is held in the Royal Collection, another was presented to the Duke of Clarence, and the third appears to have been his own copy, which is now in the Royal Armouries collection. His book may well have influenced the Duke of York who at that time was in the process of raising the Experimental Rifle Corps (the famed 95th Rifles), which was armed with the Baker Rifle.

A Baker Rifle on a white background. The body of the gun is made of dark red wood and the metal is polished brass.

The Baker Carbine issued to members of the 10th Hussars and used at the Battle of Waterloo.

Eben’s book goes into extensive detail on the employment and training of riflemen. The most important part of his work was the emphasis on the skill of the men chosen and their training. He stated the men “must be of the most sound body and mind,” and of course good marksmen, as their main goal was to use their rifles to expertly harass the enemy. He drew up numerous methods for training soldiers how to hone their shooting skills including ringed targets with associated score cards, moving targets pulled on trolleys and static targets painted as French soldiers. The emphasis was placed on training multiple times a week with the rifle as opposed to the normal infantry soldier who would not fire his weapon very often and even if he did, might not even shoot at a proper target.

The Prince of Wales’s Own

A man in horse in a red British officer uniform points to the distance while troops maneuver in the background

HRH The Prince of Wales at Review, Attended by Lord Heathfield, General Turner, Col. Bloomfield, and Baron Eben; Col. Quinton in the Distance. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Mass. You can see Eben on the right wearing a red hat.

At the bequest of the Prince Regent, Eben raised a squadron in the 10th Light Dragoons based on the Hungarian Hussars and armed with Baker Carbines for use as mounted riflemen. Their training and uniform which he designed were probably a significant influence when the whole regiment was converted into Hussars in 1806.

A man poses in an ornate black uniform with extensive white trim, a red waste sash, a tall fur helmet and sword.

Officer of the 10th Hussars showing the uniform design laid down by Eben and adopted by the Prince of Wales. National Army Museum.

Although Eben left the regiment in 1806, his works may have had a direct influence on the employment and success of the Hussars. The regiment embarked for Portugal in 1808 and was used to screen Sir John Moore‘s retreat to Corunna in 1809. Evacuating with the rest of the army in January 1809 the 10th Hussars didn’t return to the Iberian Peninsular until 1813, taking part in the invasion of France in 1814.

During the Waterloo Campaign, the 10th Hussars distinguished themselves during the retreat from Genappe on 17 June, when they were ordered to dismount and take up a position on the opposite bank of a river the French needed to cross. When the French came near they opened fire with their Baker Carbines, halting the French advance and preventing them from crossing the river. This action led to the Duke of Wellington’s army being able to move into the positions near Waterloo without harassment from French cavalry. Thanks to the swift action of the 10th Hussars, and the skill of its mounted riflemen, a possible disaster was averted.

Frederic Baron von Eben’s final years

After Eben left the 10th Hussars in 1806, he spent a year fighting as a volunteer in Prussia under General Blücher. In 1808 he went to Portugal where after the embarkation of the British army at Corunna, he formed a corps of a thousand men from volunteers and scattered English soldiers. He was made commander of the region of Braga, and occupied Oporto with around 19,000 troops, but a few days after his arrival his forces were routed by the French under Soult and forced to flee the city.

A painting of mounted riflemen ride across a bridge and one shoots his rifle at the enemy

10th (Prince of Wales) Royal Hussars. Retreat from Corunna 1808 from painting by Richard Simkin.

Eben continued to serve with the Portuguese forces in the army commanded by Wellington, and by 1814 he had been made an aide-de-camp to the Prince Regent. He remained in Portugal, and offered to serve the King in the Army of Brazil, but by the contrivance of his enemies he was implicated in the conspiracy of General Freire de Andrade, was arrested, and sentenced to exile. He made his way to Hamburg where he lived for several years, and then in 1821, he travelled to South America, where he offered his services to the Republic of Colombia. Eventually, he was appointed A Brigadier-General in the Army of the Republic, helped organise and train the army, and played a significant role in the victory of Simón Bolívar.

His final years were spent in Colombia, living his life as a successful commander and hero of republic, and died in Bogata in 1835. Although he wasn’t very well known, his legacy lived on through the 10th Hussars and the other light cavalry regiments, who had adopted many of the methods laid down by his work, and 60th and 95th Rifles.

Warfare is often considered a very human endeavour, often forgetting the part animals played in it. We could talk about dogs, camels, and even elephants, but we are going to talk about horses in recognition of World Horse Appreciation Day. We want to give you a sense of what these animals went through in warfare and hopefully highlight some of the fantastic armours we have in the Royal Armouries collection.

Horses have been used in warfare since ancient times up until the present day. They were used in many roles, from combat mounts to pack animals, and across many cultures and civilisations.

Knightly companion

Two horses nuzzle each other while their riders talk. Riders are dressed in medieval clothing.

At the Royal Armouries, we still use horses for jousts and mock combat today.

Medieval warhorses were so valuable that they might have cost up to three years’ worth of a knight’s wages, and even used in place of tax payments should it be required.

Horses were trained for battle by the warriors. Italian riding instructor Claudio Corte (1529 – ?) advises keeping steeds fit by running up and down hills and jumping hedges and ditches. The horse must also get used to the sounds of battle and weapons. Tournaments and hunting were often used to prepare both rider and horse for war. Other aspects of training mentioned by Corte include night-riding, swimming and waiting while the rider mounts and dismounts.

Because horses were highly valued, it was preferable for them to be captured by an enemy than killed. But many did die on campaign from injuries, disease, or even receiving medical treatment.

Sometimes knights would fight on foot using the horses as a mode of transportation, but many horses were active battle participants. In close combat, they were as much warriors as their human counterparts: kicking, biting and head-butting the enemy.

Mounts of the Khans

Mongolian horseman sits on his armoured steed

Our Oriental Gallery has several stunning examples of horse armour from around the world. Mongolian heavy cavalryman of the 13th-15th century on display in the Oriental Gallery, Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds. XXVIA.122.

One of the most impressive examples of cavalry warfare was the Mongols from the 13th century. The Mongols slept in the saddle, so their horses had to carry their riders non-stop for days, grazing on the move. The Mongol warriors cut their horses’ veins to drink their blood in harsh conditions and used mare’s milk to make an alcoholic drink called kumis. By using their horses for sustenance and by rotating riding horses on marches they travelled about 60-100 miles in a day, an impressive feat until the invention of mechanised warfare.

Horse and elephant

Two riders ride an armored elephant in a museum duisplay

Our war elephant armour is one of the only surviving examples of its kind in the world. We have toy ones too.

Indian horses had a formidable enemy on the battlefield: the elephant. The elephants’ enormous size and strange smell was terrifying to the horses and their riders. However, horses would also sometimes fight alongside elephants as supporting cavalry.

Horses feature prominently in many of our museum displays, and we hope that this article has shown you why. So the next time you’re wandering through our galleries spare a thought not just for the men but for the animals as well. They’ve trained with us, carried us, and fought with us since records began. They indeed are every bit as brave as the people who rode them.

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An indian ruler sits crossed legged

Credit: Ranjeet Singh. Gouache painting by an Indian painter. Wellcome Collection. Public Domain Mark

In 1838 the Governor-General of India Lord Auckland arrived in Lahore to persuade Maharajah Ranjit Singh to allow British Indian armies to march across Punjab. The British planned to install a puppet ruler on the throne of Afghanistan. To sweeten the deal, Lord Auckland gave the Maharajah two new howitzer guns, cast in the Company foundry in Cossipore, one of which is still in the Royal Armouries collection at Fort Nelson.

Guest historian Gurinder Singh Mann, Director of the Sikh Museum Initiative, explains the thinking behind the gift, and how it ended up in Hampshire.

‘Lion of the Punjab’

Maharajah Ranjit Singh (1780 – 1839) known as the ‘Lion of the Punjab’ was a young military leader of the Sukerchakia Misl, one of the Sikh Confederacies. He managed to absorb the various Sikh Misls and carved out the Sikh Empire in the region of the Punjab, India between 1801 and 1839. His reign ushered in a renaissance of Sikh culture from the minting of coins to the employment of artisans who created and beautified Sikh places of worship (Gurdwaras) and other Mughal structures.

His sovereignty was challenged by the Afghans to the west and the British–run Honourable East India Company to the east. As a result, Ranjit Singh needed to consolidate his military strength. But resistance to change came from within and this was mainly from the Akali Nihangs, the Sikh warrior elite.

The legend of the Akali

This traditional order was ordained by the Tenth Guru-Gobind Singh (1666-1708) when he created the Khalsa or the ‘fraternity of the Pure’. Whilst Ranjit Singh embarked on hiring Europeans or Ferengi this was not to the liking of the Akalis who had a distaste for anything foreign.

Tall blue turban with steel quoits and daggers

Quoit turban (dastar bungga), also known as a Fortress Turban, Northern India, about 1775-1848. (XXVIA.60) Turban composed of quoits, kirpans and held by plaited steel wire. Worn by the Akali Nihangs.

The Punjab Pie: the British take a bite

Ranjit Singh recognised the strength and the importance of the Akalis but also realised that he needed to modernise his army if he was to gain more territories as well as protecting his borders from the East India Company. In 1809 the Treaty of Amritsar had defined the borders between the Sikh Empire and British territories with the River Sutlej being the nominated marker. However, the British were also mapping the territories of Punjab and obtaining intelligence on its resources and capabilities. With the aid of his Ferengi generals, the Maharajah updated his army formations and training, adopting more European-style infantry and artillery divisions and drill.[2]

Bronze cannon

9 pr howitzer gun, 1838 (XIX.247) presented to Maharajah Ranjit Singh by Governor General Auckland in Ferozepore. Made in the Cossipore Foundry.

At the same time, the British were keen to keep good relations with the Sikhs as they wanted to control the affairs in Afghanistan. Punjab was the buffer state between both powers. So when Lord Auckland arrived in Lahore to broker a deal, his gift was intended to appeal to the Maharajah’s continued modernisation programme.


The Maharajah died in 1839, and his death plunged Punjab into turmoil. Communications between the Sikh Empire and the East India Company broke down and in 1846 the First Anglo Sikh War broke out.[3]

The highly trained Sikh army was more than a match for the East India Company and its native armies. Ranjit Singh’s modernisation programme, combined with the traditional fighting methods of the Akalis initially proved highly effective. In the hands of ‘the pure’, Sikh swords like the talwar were superior to their British equivalents. However, the British were ultimately successful in the wars and in 1849 the Punjab was annexed, one of the last states to fall to the Company.

decoratie indian sword and scabbard

Sword (talwar), scabbard and belt, 1801-1830 (XXVIS.138)

The Sikh treasury or Toshkhana, which consisted of exquisite jewellery, arms and armour, was seized and catalogued. Some of the items were sold off; others made their way to various collections in the UK, including the Royal Armouries, where several items are on display at the museum in Leeds. They include armour we think belonged to Maharajah Ranjit Singh himself.

helmet decorated with gold

Helmet, 1800-30. (XXVIA.36) Traditionally of Ranjit Singh.

The cannons were taken by the Royal Artillery, and one was transferred to the Royal Armouries in 1968.

As a gift captured as the spoils of war within the space of a decade, the Maharajah’s howitzer is a symbol of contradiction: of warfare and friendship between empires; of a monarch balancing the demands of the past with the needs of the future.


    1. K. Singh & G.S. Mann, The Granth of Guru Gobind Singh: Essays, Lectures and Translations (Oxford University Press).
    2. G.S.Mann, British and the Sikhs: Discovery, Warfare and Friendship (Helion and Company).
    3. Visit for more information on the battles.


75 years since the Normandy landings and D-day we take a look at the weapons carried by soldiers on both sides.

British infantry section on Gold, Juno and Sword beach, 6 June 1944

These are the weapons which would have been carried by a British infantry section which landed on Gold, Juno and Sword beaches on D-day. Allied armies including the Canadians and Polish also used British equipment.

A section was the smallest unit of the army: 8-10 men who fought together and worked as a team. Their main firepower was the highly accurate Bren light machine gun. Each section had one Bren gun and everybody helped carry ammunition to keep it in action.

The section leader, a corporal, carried a Sten submachine gun and everybody else used the Enfield No. 4 rifle. Even some training manuals implied that the rifle was for personal protection, but it was an accurate and reliable weapon of war.

To give the section increased firepower against tanks or fortified positions, they could carry the platoon PIAT anti-tank launcher. This could also be fired against infantry – with devastating effect. Everybody was trained to use the Bren and PIAT, as keeping these weapons in the fight was vital to British tactics.

Sten Mk. III – PR.7575
Bren Mk. I – PR.6948
Enfield No. 4 Mk. I rifle – PR.5899 (this is a nice sectioned rifle, sectioning being used for instructional purposes to show soldiers what the inside of their weapons looked like)
PIAT Mk. I – PR.1551

German infantry gruppe defending the Atlantic Wall, 6 June 1944

These are the weapons which would have been used by a German infantry gruppe defending the Atlantic Wall on D-day.

The gruppe was the German infantry section. Comprised of 10 men, this was the smallest unit of military organisation. Its members lived, trained and fought together. Most of their firepower came from the MG 42 – a versatile weapon which could be fitted to a variety of bipods, tripods and anti-aircraft mountings to engage different targets. One man fired the machine gun but was assisted by two men who helped carry and load the ammunition. These men carried pistols, either Lugers or Walther P38s, for their own defence.

The section leader carried the iconic MP 40 submachine gun. Both these weapons were popular with Allied troops who sometimes made use of German weapons they found on the battlefields.

The rest of the gruppe were riflemen. By the time of D-day, they would have been equipped with a combination of the Kar98K bolt action rifle, the Gewehr 43 self-loading rifle and possibly the Sturmgewehr 44 assault rifle.

British intelligence reported that every German gruppe had one sniper rifle, but it is difficult to be certain if this was true.

MP 40 – PR.13314
MG 42 – PR.79
Walther P38 – PR.10741
Kar98K – PR.6438
Gewehr 43 (with telescopic sight) – PR.6661
Sturmgewehr 44 – PR.5364

British Airborne section behind enemy lines, 5-6 June 1944

The night before D-day, British and American airborne soldiers dropped by parachute or landed by glider behind enemy lines. Their mission was to secure strategic objectives, such as bridges, to prevent the Germans from reinforcing the beaches.

The Airborne section consisted of 8-10 fighting men, just like its infantry equivalent. However, they were frequently much better armed. They carried at least one Sten submachine gun and one Bren light machine gun, possibly drawing more from company stocks prior to entering combat.

They used the same Enfield No. 4 rifle as the infantry, but it was commonplace for Airborne forces to give one sniper rifle to each section. In the regular infantry, telescopic rifles were reserved for well-trained specialist snipers who operated with more independence.

Airborne forces also carried a variety of pistols. One of the most common and popular was the American Colt 1911.

A special lightweight version of Britain’s 2 inch mortar was designed for Airborne soldiers. This could fire high explosive bombs, but was often used to create a smokescreen to cover the section’s assault.

Sten Mk. V – PR.7342
Bren Mk. I – PR.6948
.45 Colt 1911 – XII.3661
Enfield No. 4 Mk. I rifle – PR.5899
Enfield No. 4(T) – PR.5947
2 inch mortar Mk. VII* – PR.172

When the empires of Europe clashed in 1914, military commanders struggled to adapt to the new weapons available on an industrial scale. Military technology was further developed, and new ways found to use it. In this blog post, we take a look at the No.5 Mark 1 Mills grenade, first British hand grenade ever to be issued on a large scale.

Development of the No.5 Mark 1

During the First World War, the War Department believed that the Belgian designed self-igniting hand grenade would be a valuable asset for British soldiers in the trenches. Patented in 1912 by Captain Leon Roland of the Belgian Army, the Compagnie Belge de Munitions (CBdM) was established in order to market the grenade to a British manufacturer.

The task was given to William Mills of Mills Co. An experienced engineer, he was given the task of redesigning the grenade, making it safer and more efficient than its Belgian counterpart.

Shiny black painted hand grenade

Hand grenade – No.5 Mk. 1 Mills Bomb (about 1915) XX.2204

After a few false starts, Mills in 1915 sent prototypes to the troops in France of his cast iron bodied, egg shaped grenade. Eventually this prototype became the No.5 Mark 1 and was the first British hand grenade ever to be issued on such a large scale.

Resembling a small pineapple due to its segmented outer form, these segments were originally designed to fragment. Due to the nature of explosives, however, they failed to do so, but instead provided a firm grip in the wet conditions of the trenches.

How was it used?

To detonate the grenade the safety pin had to be removed. Once the pin was pulled out, by use of the attached ring, the user would hold the lever down and prepare to throw. When thrown the lever would release. As the lever released the striker would drop onto a percussion cap, the blast from which lit the fuse. This burned for five seconds before it reached the detonator.

A good bomber would have to be able to throw a bomb to a distance of around 30.5 m (100 feet), thus protecting themselves from the blast. It was deemed that cricketers, especially those with a good bowling arm, made the most effective bombers.

The No.5 grenades were supplied to the infantry in wooden chests, each containing 12 grenades, with a tin of igniter sets. These complete detonator units each comprised the detonating charge, a 5-second fuse, and a cap chamber housing the initiating percussion cap, along with a base plug key.

Diagram of a No 5 Mills hand grenade

Instructional diagram showing the Mills Hand Grenade, Godstone Grenade School, Britain, 1917, taken from a loose-leaf notebook belonging to Lieutenant J.M.Y Trotter, No.2 Officer Cadet Battalion, relating to his training.

Arming a Mills bomb was straightforward, requiring only that the base plug be unscrewed, the detonator assembly inserted and the plug screwed back down. This was always done ahead of time and whilst in cover, but remained an inherently risky task. Private Clarrie Jarman, a scout bomber of the 7th Queen’s Regiment recalled: “There was a bang and screams and the stretcher bearers went at the double to some poor devils who had let their concentration wander.”

Personal recollections

Private J. Curdie, 6th Battalion, Highland Light Infantry/Royal Flying Corps

Private Curdie describes how to make improvised hand grenades out of jam tins (mp3, 2 MB). [download transcript (txt, 2 KB)].

Private Thomas Nash, Manchester Regiment

Private Thomas Nash gives a gruesome account of the effects of throwing a Mills bomb hand grenade at a German soldier (mp3, 3 MB) [download transcript (txt, 2 KB)] being under machine gun and artillery fire, and going ‘over the top’ with bayonets fixed. He enlisted in 1916 and served on the Western Front.

What effect did they have on trench warfare?

These grenades were an essential part of trench warfare, in particular during raids. Interestingly, notes from a bombing course that took place at the School of Arms in Hythe in January 1920, still taught the tactics of bombing a trench. It has to be concluded that the lessons learned from the War impacted on the future of bombing and what tactics to use to gain optimum effect.

In order to storm a trench you would need eight men and one NCO  in the following formation:

Like many of the weapons developed for industrial scale use during the First World War, the Mills bomb defined a class of grenade that remained the standard British fragmentation grenade for over 55 years.

Written by Lisa Traynor, Curator of Firearms.

You can read more about the origins and use of the Mills bomb and other arms of the First World War on our collections online feature.