IT SEEMS THAT IF YOU LOOK AT ANY PICTURE OF THE MAIN ENTRANCE TO IWM LONDON THEY ARE THERE. Which is why it may come as a surprise that the huge naval guns in front of the museum have only been in place for 50 years being officially unveiled on 8 August 1968. (1)
Dating from 1914 when they were ‘state of the art’ weaponry – having been developed for the Queen Elizabeth class battleships – this type of gun would eventually arm some 22 ships serving in both the First and Second World Wars.
Having a calibre of 15 inches (381mm) each gun weighs 100 tons (102 tonnes) and can fire a shell that weighs 1900 lbs (862 kg) up to 16.75 miles (30 km). (2)
The guns were interchangeable between ships and removed for maintenance and relining as necessary.
Standing outside the museum and facing the guns, the one on the left was fitted to HMS Resolution, (being removed in 1941) while the one on the right was on HMS Ramillies until 1938 when it too was removed and then remounted on HMS Roberts, a specialised ship called a monitor designed to bombard shore targets. It was named after Field Frederick Marshall Roberts. (3)
Both HM Ships Ramillies and Roberts were part of the Allied force for D-Day, with HMS Roberts opening fire on the German artillery battery at Houlgate in Normandy on 6 June 1944, although when one of her twin 15-inch guns became unserviceable, the ship withdrew for repairs. (4) (5) Arriving back on station the ship continued bombarding shore targets.
Perched on the top of a 300 foot (91m) cliff and having a number of dummy gun emplacements, (6) the site had been identified as a potential obstacle to the landings the Houlgate battery had been attacked from the air in the run-up to D-Day; however air bombardment and the firepower of Roberts had little success and it was not until the end of the month that the battery was finally silenced.
HMS Roberts would continue to shell German positions near Caen before moving to bombard enemy gun emplacements at Westkappelle on the Dutch island of Walcheren in November 1944.
Sources and further information
(1) https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/iwms-early-years-in-16-images – Retrieved 28 February 2018
(2) (3) https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30025302 – Retrieved 28 February 2018
(4) http://www.naval-history.net/xGM-Chrono-01BB-Ramillies.htm – Retrieved 28 February 2018
(5) http://www.naval-history.net/xGM-Chrono-03Mon-Roberts.htm – Retrieved 28 February 2018
(6) https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205178115 – Retrieved 28 February 2018