Below is a fragment of Armstrong RML 7-pdr shrapnel shell, mounted at a paperweight. Base inscribed: "LIONEL HANDSON / TO / LAWRIE Mc GAVIN. / SEIGE [sic] OF MAFEKING / 1899".
This is from a shell fired into Mafeking by one of two captured British 7-pdrs, taken when the armoured train carrying them was ambushed at Kraaipan on 12 Oct 1899.
At the time of the outbreak of hostilities, Lionel Edwin Charles HANDSON, M.B., B.S., M.R.C.S., was an Assistant House Physician at Guy's Hospital, London. He volunteered for service in South Africa, and was assigned to the Imperial Yeomanry Hospital Staff at Maitland.
Lawrie McGavin was an old college friend of his, both men having studied at the Royal College of Physicians, London, in 1898.
Handson does not appear to have been present during the Siege of Mafeking, so it seems likely this piece was purchased as a souvenir during a visit to the town at a later date.
Note the extant copper stud together with the partial circular aperture for a second one on the left (towards the base of the shell). The sheering-pin hole on the right indicates that this is a shrapnel round, where the lead bullets are released by the head detaching on detonation.
Not to be confused with studded 9-pr Armstrong projectiles, which, although of the same calibre, are longer, with studs spaced further apart. SEE:
Armstrong 9-pdr RML studded shell
The armoured train which was ambushed by the Boers at Kraaipan. Two 7-pdr Armstrong RML guns, which had been despatched from Cape Town at Baden-Powell’s request, were captured during this engagement, and then used against the besieged British garrison in Mafeking.
Shells fired into Mafeking during the siege. One of the 7-pdr Armstrong studded shells can be seen on the left. The Long Tom shrapnel bases have been converted into ashtrays, complete with inserted ZAR coins. This is the work of Joseph Gerrans. SEE:
Detail from another photograph of shells fired into Mafeking, showing a fragment similar to the Handson souvenir. It seems that the inclusion of six longitudinal weakening grooves in the walls of the projectiles (see Treatise on Ammunition below), resulted in the shells breaking into these long, narrow sections.
Treatise on Ammunition (1897), pp. 261 – 264
PROJECTILES FOR R.M.L. FIELD AND MOUNTAIN GUNS.
For the present, the R.M.L. field and mountain guns of the British Service are the 16-pr, 15-pr, 13-pr, 9-pr, 7-pr, and 2.5-inch guns, and the 4-inch howitzer.
The 2.5-inch R.M.L. is the jointed gun formerly called the 7-pr (400 lb); but, as the designation was found to lead to confusion, it was re-named as above.
In the 16-pr, 9-pr, and 7-pr guns the twist of rifling is uniform, and the grooves are of the “modified French” form in the 16-pr and 9-pr, and of the “French” in the 7-pr.
Calibres 16-pr, 9-pr and 7-pr.
Shell, R.M.L., Shrapnel, are the most important projectiles, about two-thirds of all those in the equipment of field and mountain guns being of this nature.
The construction of these shell generally resembles that of the B.L. described at p. 209, but they have cast-iron bodies and copper studs for all natures. See cut, which shows the section of a 16-pr. They have the composite socket, gun-metal tube, and mixed-metal balls, packed as usual in melted rosin, brown paper lining, and felt washer, which for these shell is soaked in beeswax.
The bullets are of two sizes, the smaller ones being added to fill up the space and bring the shell to weight.
In the 9-pr. and 7-pr. the diaphragm is not coned, and in the 16-pr. the interior diameter is slightly reduced towards the top, with a view to increasing the number of fragments into which the shell breaks up.
The 7-pr. has six weakening grooves in body and base, the 9-pr. has them in the powder chamber only, and the 16-pr. has none, but the thickness of metal all round the tin cup is slightly reduced, as shown in the cut.
Fuzes: 15-seconds M.L. wood, time.
Paint: Black; studs unpainted; tips painted red for 1 inch in depth; markings, red band, &c., in black on red, or red on a black ground.
Issue: 1. Filled and boxed; 2. Empty and boxed.
Complete 7-pdr RML shrapnel shell (on right), on display in the Mafeking Museum. On the left is a 75 mm Krupp QF round, and at the back a 60 mm Krupp Mountain Gun projectile (with thanks to MC Heunis).
Armstrong RML 7-pdr Mountain Gun, on display at the South African National Museum of Military History, Johannesburg. Note the distinctive 3-groove rifling on the Woolwich pattern.
MC Heunis, O.V.S.A.C. Study No. 4, updated Apr-Jun 2004
ARMSTRONG RML GUNS OF THE BOER REPUBLICS
7-pr 200 lb Mark IV RML
In 1864/65, after Armstrong’s 6-pr 3 cwt RBL mountain gun proved to be too heavy for transport by mules, it was decided to replace it with a lighter RML. The first RML introduced was a 7-pr of 3-in and 2 cwt (designated Mark I) and was made by boring out and rifling old SBML bronze pieces on the Woolwich pattern. After this gun also proved to be too heavy, it was replaced by a Mark II of 200 lbs, which was produced by shortening the bore of the Mark I by two inches and turning the exterior down - in the process removing the old decorative mouldings. About 50 were made but not introduced into service because their preponderance was considered unsatisfactory.
In 1865 five steel Mark I guns of 190 lbs were made but no more of this pattern eventuated. In 1867 thirteen Mark II guns of 150 lb saw the light, but again no pattern was sealed. After this another 150 lb gun followed (Mark III), which proved not powerful enough and so, finally, in 1873 a gun with a longer bore superseded it, the Mark IV of 200 lbs.
The Mark IV was made from a solid steel ingot, being the first all-steel piece introduced in Britain. After this it was bored out and rifled on the Woolwich pattern with a twist of one turn in 20 calibres, to fire the standard studded shell. As on all RML equipment black powder charges in separate cloth/serge bags were used. Sights were graduated to 12° elevation.
Royal Navy landing party with a 7-pr RML gun, on board H.M.S. Camperdown (Navy & Army Illustrated, 20 Dec 1895)
Intended for use in mountainous regions and by Royal Navy landing parties, the gun’s carriage was designed to be taken apart easily and could be manhandled over obstacles with relative ease. When used by landing parties or in the field artillery role it was hooked to a double pole limber and drawn by mules. Ammunition was carried in two leather cases tied to the limber. When used in the mountain gun role it was carried in three loads on the back of mules – one mule carrying the gun barrel, a second the carriage and a third the wheels. Additional mules also carried the ammunition.
Guns of this type saw extensive service in nearly all Britain’s Colonial wars in Southern Africa. After experience had shown that the 7-pr’s small mountain carriage was liable to overturn when towed over the rough South African veldt and that the tall grass in South Africa made it difficult to sight low mounted guns, a good number were re-mounted on high, wide tracked field carriages. Modelled on the steel carriage of the 9-pr RML, these mountings became known as Kaffrarian carriages, after the region in the Eastern Cape where they originated.
Although completely outdated by the time war was declared in 1899, a total of 28 guns, mounted on various types of carriages, were still in service with local Colonial forces, while the Royal Navy landed one more gun for field use. Two guns were sent from Cape Town to Mafeking in answer to an urgent appeal by Col. Baden-Powell for more artillery. On the night of 12 October 1899 the armoured train carrying these guns was ambushed by Transvaal forces at Kraaipan and both guns, complete with limbers and ammunition were captured.
The two 7-pr RML guns captured at Kraaipan - note the narrow-tracked carriages and limbers (with thanks to Tinus le Roux).
After their capture the Boer forces besieging Mafeking used the guns against their intended owners. Today some of the studded shells fired into town are still on display in the Siege Room of the Mafikeng Museum. On 25 November 1899 Mr. Algie, the Town Clerk of Mafeking, mentioned in his diary that the Boers fired “dummy 7-pr shells” from a slow firing gun. They were so named because most never exploded and simply came in with a heavy flop or thud, doing little or no damage. Some even went as far as to say that they were old shells captured by the Boers in the 1881 Transvaal War.
Another gun of this design was captured from a British armoured train between Frere and Chieveley in Natal on 15 November 1899. This gun was mounted “in the bows” of one of the train trucks and was manned by Naval gunners. It could not be verified whether this specific piece was a Colonial gun or possibly the single 7-pr landed by the Navy a few weeks earlier. In later years the same armoured train incident became famous as the engagement where Winston Churchill was captured.
A further two 7-pr mountain guns were captured later in the war, but it is unknown whether these were Mark IV 200 lb guns or 2.5-in 400 lb guns. The first gun was captured from a South African Constabulary (SAC) post south of the Vaal River on 12 July 1901, while the second was captured by Jan Smuts’ invading commandos at Modderfontein in the Cape on 17 September 1901.
The exact date and location of the re-capture of the British guns could not be pin pointed, as the majority of War Office documents do not list any 7-pr guns. Only WO32/8111 contains two “7. pr. M.L.” guns, one dug up at Wonderstroom and a second captured at Pietersburg. It is possible that some of the remaining guns were accounted for under the 2.5-in 400 lb guns, which were also 7-pr mountain guns, or under the 9-pr RML guns, which had the same 3-inch calibre. A recent survey of muzzle-loading guns in South Africa revealed that about a dozen examples survived in museums and private collections. It is not known whether any of these were the Boer guns and without proper serial number records the origin of these pieces will probably never be determined.
The following user(s) said Thank You: djb, EFV, Moranthorse1, Gustavo Alvarez
Bethune's Mounted Infantry slouch hat badge fashioned from a length of copper driving band from a shell fired by one of the R.F.A.'s 15-pdr BL Mk I Guns.
The reverse retains the rifling-groove pattern, the spacing indicating that the gun that fired this round had 12 grooves (Mk I Rifling), rather than the more common 18 grooves (Mk II Rifling).