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Baltonsborough War Memorial - Shell Case Provenance

World War 1 & 2 - Detailed information
Compiled and Copyright © Colin J. McNamee 2004
Photographs and Copyright © Colin J. McNamee 2004

During my research into the War Memorial very little information was actually obtained from within the village as the relevant first 30 years of the Branch Minutes of the (Royal) British Legion were not available and the Parish Council Minutes (read 1898 - 1999) do not record the detail of the War Memorial. Separate organisations are referred to in the Parish Council Minutes, ie ‘Baltonsborough War Memorial Committee’, whose members included representatives of the British Legion, Parish Council and the Vicar of St. Dunstan’s Church but no Minutes appear to have survived.

My research therefore developed outside Baltonsborough and included the County Council Archives, Taunton, Imperial War Museum, London and Ministry of Defence Pattern Room, Nottingham.

The shell case at the War Memorial, mounted on a circular quarry stone and supported by a mill stone on a circle of bricks, was installed when the site was created. Both it and the Memorial Cross were draped with the Union flag for the Service of Dedication and Unveiling ceremony in August 1922. (Source: original photograph of the ceremony).

The following information was received from enquiries, photographs and case dimensions sent to establish the provenance of the shell case to which is attached the Roll of Honour 1914-1918 and forms an integral part of the War Memorial site.

The shell case is 14.965in diameter x 52.29in long and contained 1400lb of high explosive for the Carriage Siege 15in BL Howitzer MK1.

From ‘British Artillery Weapons and Ammunition 1914-18’ :

“The 15in howitzer, like many other weapons in both World Wars, was never planned by the military. It just happened. When the Coventry Ordnance Works produced their successful 9.2in, they began a private venture with the intention of producing something bigger and better. By taking the 9.2 design and enlarging it, they arrived at a 15in, and proceeded to build one. The Carriage Siege 15in BL Howitzer MK1. Once it was built and had been privately tested, the next question was one of getting it accepted. One of the directors of the Works was Admiral Bacon, retired from Naval service, and he decided that his service contacts would enable him to bring the weapon to the notice of the proper authority. He informed the Admiralty, more or less expecting them to pass the news on to the Army, but instead of this, the First Lord, Mr Winston Churchill, decided that here was a method of getting some of the Navy into action. Things were relatively quiet on the Naval Front, and Mr Churchill liked to have the Navy well in the public eye. So the Admiralty took the 15in howitzer and, manned by a detachment of the Royal Marine Artillery, it went to France. Further, eleven more were ordered and duly constructed. Admiral Bacon by some legerdemain managed to become a Marine Colonel and command the weapons in action.

By 1916 the Navy found they had enough to do without getting themselves embroiled in a soldier’s war, and they withdrew their Marines and presented the howitzers to the Army, who perforce had to find men to man them and look happy about it. In accordance with precedent the Director of Artillery approached the Ordnance Board to ask them what they knew about this sudden gift, and the Ordnance Board were a trifle caustic. ‘These equipments were obtained by the Navy in direct negotiation with the manufacturers, and the Board were not consulted at the time. In view of the poor range achieved, it is felt that these weapons are a waste of money and material’. They had a point. Ten thousand yards from an equipment of this size was simply not worth the effort of emplacing it. The Director of Artillery asked if the Board would care to begin development of a lighter shell which might enable a better range to be achieved, even if with a lesser lethal effect, and the Board duly put some ballisticians on to the study of possible alternatives. After some six months of work they reported back that a lighter shell would be possible, but the increase in range would be no more than about 2000yd and that they suspected that the accuracy of the howitzer would suffer. The Board decided that it would be a waste of effort to go any further and recommended that the Artillery carry on using the weapons as they were, wherever the circumstances allowed them to be put to good use. This was done, and the 15in howitzers passed their time away quietly, shooting here and there when their short range was acceptable. Once the war was over they were rapidly declared obsolete, not, one feels, without some sighs of relief ”.

Carriage Siege 15in. Breech Loading Howitzer details:

  • Range 10795yds (6.13 miles), at max. elevation
  • Maximum elevation of 45 degrees;
  • Muzzle velocity 1117f/sec;
  • Recoil length of 31in.
  • Weight including breech assembly 10ton 15cwt.

Information sources:

  • Publication: British Artillery Weapons and Ammunition 1914-18 by I V Mogg & L F Thurston published 1972
  • also refer: Notes on Guns and Howitzers in the Field. Vickers Ltd. 1918

No museum exhibition examples of the howitzer located during the research.

25 November 2004

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